Sculpting the Tiger Shark Amusement Park Prop for Six Flags New England

Sculpting the Tiger Shark Amusement Park Prop for Six Flags New England

How we made a 15 foot shark sign prop from foam

How we made a 15 foot shark sign prop from foam

Sculpting a Custom Amusement Park Shark Prop

Props in amusement parks are essential for creating immersive and engaging environments. They enhance themed areas, making attractions more believable and captivating for visitors. From life-sized statues and intricate sculptures to interactive elements and themed decor, props contribute to the overall atmosphere and storytelling of the park. They help transport guests to different worlds, whether it’s a magical fantasy land, a futuristic space, or a historical setting, adding depth and excitement to the amusement park experience.

This custom Tiger Shark amusement park prop  was commissioned by Six Flags New England for their Hurricane Harbor water park section. You can find the 15-foot-tall shark in front of the wave pool “Monsoon Lagoon.” It made its debut at the opening of the 2024 season.

Completed Six Flags New England Tiger Shark Prop
On location at the Six Flags New England waterpark hanging in front of the wave pool “Monsoon Lagoon”

The Six Flags History

Six Flags New England logoSix Flags New England, located in Agawam, Massachusetts, has a rich history dating back to its beginnings as Riverside Park in 1870. Initially a picnic grove and roadside attraction, the park evolved over the years, adding rides and attractions. In the 1940s, it began transitioning into an amusement park, gaining popularity in the region.

In 1996, the park was purchased by Premier Parks, which rebranded it as Six Flags New England in 2000 after acquiring the Six Flags chain. With this rebranding came significant investments and expansions, including the addition of a water park, initially called Hurricane Harbor.

Hurricane Harbor, the water park section of Six Flags New England, opened in 1998 and has since grown to feature a variety of water attractions such as wave pools, water slides, and lazy rivers. This expansion aimed to offer guests a diverse range of entertainment options, enhancing the park’s appeal and solidifying its status as a premier destination for both thrill-seekers and families. Today, Six Flags New England continues to innovate, providing a blend of classic amusement park thrills and modern water park fun.

Previous Shark

Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop Temporary
Previous signage

New Shark

Completed Six Flags New England Tiger Shark Prop

Starting with Digital 3D Model

Our process usually starts with the digital design of a statue or prop, ensuring that the physical replication precisely matches the digital model. A digital model also helps the client visualize exactly what the end result will be and it’s at this point that details such as form, texture, color, etc. can be worked out and decided upon before physical production even begins. This replication is then partially automated using various machines, including CNC machines, which maintain consistency and speed up production.

For this sculpture, we began with a basic 3D digital model of a tiger shark that we purchased. After engaging in creative discussions with the customer to finalize the pose, mouth position (open vs. closed), and other details, the 3D model was customized and approved.

Tiger Shark 3D Digital Model

Why EPS Foam was Chosen for the Sculpture Material

We opted for EPS foam for this massive sculpture instead of other methods such as fiberglass or 3D printing for several compelling reasons. EPS foam, or expanded polystyrene, is an adaptable material perfect for a variety of creative props and signage.

One major advantage is its lightweight nature, which significantly eases handling, especially for large sculptures, compared to heavier materials like stone or metal. This shark will be hanging high in the air so something light weight is ideal. This feature not only streamlines transportation but also offers a cost-effective solution. Moreover, EPS foam’s malleability permits intricate shaping, providing artists with enhanced design flexibility using tools such as hot wire foam cutters.

In addition to being lightweight, EPS foam boasts impressive durability, as it resists moisture, rot, and outdoor elements, making it an excellent choice for outdoor sculptures. To further bolster its durability, a protective ‘hardcoat’ layer can be applied, ensuring longevity and resilience.

Expanded Plystyrene Foam (EPS)
Expanded Plystyrene Foam (EPS) A.K.A. Styrofoam
Foam Blocks
Large Foam Blocks

How to go from a 3D Digital Model to a Physical Foam Sculpture

To swiftly transition from a digital concept to an 15-foot-tall shark sign with perfect scale and proportion, our team employed a hybrid strategy of machine cutting and manual shaping. This method not only saves time and labor compared to traditional hand-carving but also ensures precision and accuracy in the final product.

Our production designers began by breaking down the 3D digital model, which consisted of thousands of polygons, into virtual foam sections necessary for the project. Using a CNC hotwire machine, we cut EPS foam by melting it with a heated wire along pre-programmed paths. This CNC software-guided process quickly and precisely shaped the foam into the desired forms, allowing for intricate designs to be achieved with ease.

While the overall design required final manual sculpting and finishing to achieve realistic textures, wrinkles, and small details, the machines first formed the rough shapes. Over several months, our sculptors meticulously carved each section of the shark from these rough shapes. The foam pieces were assembled over a metal internal structure for support. After completing the individual components, like the shark head and body, we assembled the entire sculpture, refining it further before applying smoothing plaster and carefully sanding it down for a seamless finish.

CNC Foam hotwire Machine
Foam hotwire machine
Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop In-Production
Rouch pieces cut from CNC foam cutter and then glued together

Shark sculpting progression

Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop In-Production
Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop In-Production
Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop In-Production

Smooth coat applied and sanded

Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop In-Production
Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop In-Production

Making realistic shark teeth and mouth and eyes

To make the shark’s teeth, mouth, and eyes as lifelike as possible, our team custom-made each tooth and assembled the resin teeth and mouth separately. Once the mouth was complete, it was mounted in the shark’s head and secured with additional resin before being hand-painted. The two eyes were also made from resin and were affixed in place after everything was painted.

Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop In-Production
Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop In-Production

Polyurea ULXT66 Hardcoat

To ensure the sculpture could endure harsh outdoor conditions and to enhance its structural integrity, we applied a Polyurea ULXT66 hardcoat to the entire piece. This durable coating is a standard for most of our foam projects, particularly those intended for outdoor use, as well as for many of our metal letters and statues. Polyurea is typically sprayed onto the surface, offering several advantages, including high flexibility, water resistance, and a remarkably quick setting time. Its protective properties make it ideal for both outdoor and indoor projects that may face chemical or physical damage.

Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop In-Production

Painting the Tiger Shark Prop

After thorough preparation, the giant shark is now ready for painting. Before applying the natural colors that make it lifelike, a uniform white primer base coat is carefully sprayed onto the surface. Once the primer sets, the foundational colors are delicately layered onto each designated section. While some projects require precise masking and taping for different colors, this shark was air sprayed with basic grays and blues that were blended together for a natural appearance. Finally, the tiger-like stripes unique to the tiger shark were expertly added, along with details such as the spots around the mouth and underside. The progression of this process is vividly captured in the accompanying photos below.

Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop In-Production
After the white primer dries, additional base colors are sprayed
Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop In-Production
Six Flags Tiger Shark Prop In-Production

As the base colors solidify, further intricacies are incorporated, culminating in the airbrusher’s masterful addition of gradients, highlights, and shadows, elevating the detail to extraordinary levels. 

Life size Tiger Shark model made for water park.

Prior to shipping, the sculptors at WhiteClouds indulged in a playful photoshoot featuring their creation.

Life size Tiger Shark model made for Six Flags amusement park.
Sculptor posing with finished shark prop with a few 'playful' elements.
Life size Tiger Shark model made for national amusement park.
15 foot life size Tiger Shark prop made for Six Flags New England waterpark.

Shipping a Giant Foam Sculpture

Shipping large custom foam statues can be a challenging process, as these items are often fragile and require careful handling to avoid damage during transport. WhiteClouds boasts an experienced woodworking and shipping team that custom builds each crate to specific shipping requirements. A wooden crate is first built to match the size perfectly. Additional supports are added, and the display is either tied down with straps or supported with additional foam pieces to minimize movement. Just as every custom project is unique, so is each shipping crate and method. For giant pieces like this, a flatbed truck is used.Shipping large custom foam statues presents unique challenges, as these fragile items demand meticulous handling to prevent damage during transit. At WhiteClouds, our skilled woodworking and shipping team custom builds each crate to meet specific shipping needs. First, a wooden crate is constructed to fit the statue precisely. Additional supports are then added, and the display is secured with straps or cushioned with extra foam pieces to minimize movement. Each custom project requires a unique approach, and so does each shipping crate and method. For enormous pieces like this, a flatbed truck is utilized.

The large prop was delivered to the Six Flags New England location and made its public debut when the waterpark opened in 2024. This moment captures our favorite part: seeing our hard work appreciated by thousands. We look forward to seeing many photos and selfies on social media for years to come.

Final Completed Sign Image Gallery

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WhiteClouds is a Next-gen 3D fabrication company. We use 3D technologies to fabricate a wide-range of products for businesses and consumers but our key ingredients are innovation, craftsmanship and creativity. Please contact us to see how we can help with your next project by filling out the form below, emailing us at [email protected] or by calling us at 385-206-8700

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