By Ellen Albanese
Gulliver's Gate version of Grand Central Station
Photo Courtesy of Gulliver's Gate
As you enter Gulliver’s Gate, the massive interactive world of miniatures that opened in May in New York City’s Times Square, you’re greeted by the iconic landmarks of Manhattan: the soaring Empire State Building, the World Trade Center with its reflecting pools, and Grand Central Station with its celestial curved ceiling. And there, tucked onto a sliver of shore between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, is a Lenape Native American village, complete with bark-covered longhouses. Of course, there’s not really a Native American village in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. But today’s Manhattan was once the land of Native Americans.
Gulliver’s Gate, a 49,000-square-foot indoor display, features more than 300 miniature scenes depicting sights from 50 nations. Nearly 200 craftsmen in six countries built the scenes by hand over the course of a year. All told, the display features 1,000 trains, 10,000 cars and trucks, 12,000 wagons and 100,000 people—all built on an HO 1:87 scale, the standard for miniature models (for example, a 6-foot-tall person would be represented by an 0.8-inch figure). In a separate working airport simulation, 50 planes take off and land.
The displays also mix historical periods to portray familiar places in different eras, such as the Lenape Village in Manhattan. Sometimes they layer myth over reality: Mount Olympus looms over modern-day Greece, and as lightning flashes at its peak, the face of Zeus appears in the clouds. And there are dozens of tongue-in-cheek sight gags, such as the bull in Spain that waves a red cape at a befuddled toreador and the monster Nessie that emerges from Scotland’s Loch Ness with a throaty roar while miniature people on shore snap photos.
Figures are so tiny that model-makers need to use tweezers.
Photo Courtesy of Gulliver's Gate
Miniatures appeal to people because they change our perspective, says Michael Langer, CEO and co-founder with Eiran Gazit of Gulliver’s Gate. “Miniatures allow us to see things in a different way. They give us the ability to capture a specific scene or feeling in a single moment. It’s an experience similar to being there.”
The attraction is a striking combination of Old World craftsmanship and modern technology. To create Niagara Falls, Langer says, drones took photographs from above the falls; computer technology linked the images and then projected them onto the hand-molded landscape. In the Russia scene, incredibly detailed buildings and vistas sparkle under a dusting of snow, while vehicles move with the help of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. Over in the Latin America setting, a cargo ship moves through working locks on the miniature Panama Canal.
Several displays feature an interactive element. Insert the key you receive on entering and activate an element of the scene before you—such as the Beatles concert in the London set.
If you want to know more about how it all works, ask questions at the open control center and visit the on-site model shops. And if you want to become a “model citizen” of Gulliver’s Gate (for a fee), enter the 3D scanner, and the model makers will create a mini-you that will become a permanent resident of the country of your choice.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of AAA World.
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