When is a movie not a movie? When it’s themed entertainment.

Many of Hollywood’s top-flight production and special-effects companies are taking the expertise learned from making high-tech movie blockbusters and applying it to theme-park rides or what is now called location-based entertainment.

Several of them will be on hand at ShowBiz Expo in a series of round-table discussions and at a display called Theme Park Technology Row.

“There’s a lot of crossover these days,” says Monty Lunde, president of the two-year-old Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), which is hosting the Showbiz Expo panel sessions. “Over the last five years or so it’s really started to take off.”

Lunde, president of Technifex Inc., a special-effects company specializing in theme parks and live venues, will discuss his work on one of the panels, with Tom La Duke of Artifex.

Other panels will feature Dick Lyons of The Lyons Group, talking about economic planning; Joe McHugh of Knutson-McHugh Consulting and Skip Palmer of The Palmer Company, on project development; and Larry Ziebarth of HHCP Design International and Richard Crane of Richard Crane Prods., on master planning and conceptual development.

Eddie Martinez of EME Design, Bob Rogers of BRC Imagination Arts and Fred Hope of The Works will discuss creative development and show design; Ilya Mindlin of Light Design Associates, Pat Gallegos of Gallegos Lighting Design, Bret Lazarus of Lazarus Lighting and Terry Zinger of Terry M. Zinger Consultants , talk about lighting design; John Hughes of Rhythm & Hues, George Roughan of Chimera Prods., Yaz Takata of Midland Prods. and Lee Parker of Daedalus, special format media production.

Frank Bencivengo of Lexington Scenery & Props and Vince Gabianelli of Museum Services focus on show set design and production; and Michael Dulion of Iwerks Steve Glenn of SimGraphics and Terry Collins of Collins Entertainment Concepts will discuss interactive and simulation attractions.

Bob Lasiewicz, president of Live Time Inc., which produces ShowBiz Expo, says themed entertainment was included in the show because of its enormous growth.

“Themed entertainment is a growing market,” says Lasiewicz. “They’ve found that a lot of the skills that go into creating special effects in movies are very important in creating theme park attractions. They’re trying to get away from real-estate intensive rides into more electronic or special-effects intensive entertainment.

The association of amusement park owners and operators (IAAPA) will hold its own show in Los Angeles in November. But Monty Lunde says the TEA represents those who actually design and produce the shows that go into parks, fairs and other live venues.

“We use the term ‘theme park,’ ” explains Lasiewicz, “but the deciding factor is that this is entertainment that usually takes place in an environment where people are interacting with what’s going on. It’s not a feature film. It’s not a television show. It’s entertainment with people interacting with sound and visuals within a controlled space.”

Lunde says that many of the disciplines and mechanical elements involved in making films are employed for themed entertainment. “The big difference is that in our industry things have to cycle time and time again, 16 hours a day, six or seven days a week, year after year,” Lunde says. “Things have to be set up differently than for a film shoot. A lot of the shows are outdoors or under water, in unique environments that a film team would not have to concern themselves with.”

Many special applications will be discussed at ShowBiz Expo, including animation and robotics, with Jim Goyjer of AVG Inc. and John Wood of Sally Corp.; special format film technologies, with Peter Henton of Showscan, Fitz-Edward Ottis of Omni Film International and Edward Newquist of Iwerks Entertainment; and show systems technology, with William Parry of Signal Perfection Ltd., Charles Richmond of Richmond Sound Design Ltd., Brian Edwards of Edwards Tech., Doug Hunt of Electrosonic and Steve McIntyre of Anitech Systems.

“The big thing is really educating the clients as to who we are, how we operate and what it is we can do for them,” says Lunde. “At times there are misconceptions, with clients saying they want it to be just like, say ‘Terminator,’ when it’s very hard to re-create that mood in a three-dimensional setting.”

Themed entertainment technology is very sophisticated. “There’s computer control, there’s lighting, there’s hydraulics,” Lunde goes on. “Everything has to work in real time, which is very different from a film experience where they can create pieces and parcels of scenes and pull it all together in post-production.”

The elements play an important part too. “We have to have equipment that will withstand wind loads, extreme temperature fluctuations, being underwater, any kind of adverse environmental condition,” says Lunde.

One of the hottest areas in themed entertainment involves simulators. “That seems to be the big thrust right now,” Lunde says. “Combining large-format films with simulators, you’re trying to get the audience to be part of the show.”

Virtual reality is the term given to simulator technologies that allow almost complete immersion within an environment, comparable to what Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character experienced in the movie “Total Recall.”

“Virtual reality is trying to get you pulled into the show and into the environment so you truly experience the events that are put on around you,” Lunde says. “There are a lot of different technologies working towards that. The thrust is to get people to believe that they really are in an environment that’s real.”

The VAactor is a variation on that theme. Created by SimGraphics Engineering Corp. and distributed by Iwerks Entertainment, VActors are computer-generated 3 -D characters–virtual actors–that can appear on TV screens, video walls and projection systems and talk and interact with an audience in real time.

“It’s a real-time character animation system,” explains Steve Glenn, VP and director, Entertainment Group, SimGraphics. “It’s a special application of virtual reality types of technologies. It basically allows actors, wearing special input devices on their face, hands and body, to be able to control the movements of computer-generated characters or objects.”