“Earning My Ears”: How I got my first job with the Disney company

20 Apr 2012 Career Advice

by Nate Naversen

This is a story of how I got my first job with the Walt Disney company.  It’s a story of perseverance and how I managed to turn failure into success in my job search.  Now just for clarification’s sake I don’t consider myself any better or any more qualified than anyone else just because I was successful in getting hired by Disney.  Indeed, there are many more qualified candidates than I.  But I was probably more persistent than most, and that was what made the difference for me in this case.  It was a good lesson to learn, and I hope to pass on my experience to you.  Please do not take this advice as a way to get the Disney company to hire you.  Too many people put Disney on a pedestal and sacrifice good jobs at other companies for not-so-good jobs at Disney.  My hope is that this article will help put you in a good frame of mind to be successful in any future job search.  In this great country of opportunity, no goal is too high for those of you who dream big.

Let me just say first of all that I remember visiting Disneyland as a 10 year old thinking, “Wow!  Wouldn’t it be great to work here some day!”   Later I shrugged away any such ideas as a kids’ fantasy.   Well, it was later the following during my second year in college that I got a call from my good friend, Will, who was then attending Washington State.  He told me he had just been accepted into the Disneyland College Program, and that he would be spending his summer down in Anaheim working at Disneyland. “Such fun,” I thought.  I already had a job that summer as a competitive swim coach which I truly enjoyed, but the seed had been planted. This was the first time that it dawned on me that people actually do have amazing jobs. . . that it is truly possible to have a career that you are excited about.  After all, I was very excited about Disney, as so many are, so why couldn’t I go work there? Truly, there was nothing stopping me short of going out and getting it.

The following January I attempted to get into the Disneyland college program.  Right off the bat I ran into a slight problem, though.  You see, I went to the University of Colorado, but Disneyland only recruited in the Pacific states. It took a little doing, but soon I was able to convince my parents to help me to purchase a plane ticket from Colorado to Pullman, Washington where Disney recruited (and my friend Will could house me for the weekend.)

Will warned me that the odds of being accepted into the Disneyland College Program were very slim, as only 10% of the applicants were accepted into the program.  “Hmmm,” I thought, “Maybe I was better off going for that Air Force fighter pilot slot?”   Nonetheless, I had made up my mind about what I wanted to do: get Disney to hire me. I knew the competition would be stiff, but I had a great chance, right?   After all, I was a clean-cut, good-old-fashioned, red-blooded, All-American boy-next-door type. I was the type of kid Walt was looking for.   How could they not hire me?

Well, when I went into Disney’s recruitment presentation, and it was like my worst nightmare come-true. There I sat in a room full of 200 other college students who looked exactly like me !  The Disneyland College program only accepted about 150 students each summer, and this was one of only 30 universities they recruited from!   Surely, the odds would be slim for me.  Steadfast in my determination, I watched the presentation and signed up for an interview, but with a lot less confidence than I had at first.

Now the interview the next morning was truly what I would consider a stress interview.  Because of the number of people who were applying for the job and the amount of time the recruiters had, interviews were conducted four at a time. There was a small room, where four potential Disney cast members went in and were asked questions by one interviewer.  Also, because of the time constraints, the entire interview was conducted in only twenty minutes. One wrong comment could earn you a hidden “X” next to your name, spelling certain disaster for anyone hoping to be hired that summer.  Will told me that the recruiter would either pick one of the four candidates for the job, or choose not to choose any of the four.  Now those are some great odds to defy!

Well, I went to my interview that morning on the Washington State campus, having gone to great lengths to make my appearance perfect for the recruiter.  I think I even clipped a nose hair that morning in preparation.  I was either extremely meticulous or extremely worried. . . I’m not sure which.

When I arrived, it was just as I had been told.  There were four of us: two boys, and two girls. The first girl was definitely dressed for success with a nice green dress on and a little binder clip board.  The second girl, who I later met again down at Disneyland was even more well dressed than the first girl.  She wore a funky designer dress and had her hair done up in a business-style crop. The young man impressed me less than the others because he wore old pants and muddy work boots.  He surely could not impress an interviewer dressed like that?  His lack of good interview appearance wasn’t comforting to me at all though:  first of all, he seemed very nice;  and second of all, I knew I had to beat all three of them to win the job. What a task!

During the interview the first girl made a critical mistake. When asked why she wanted to work at Disneyland, she said,  “Well, it’s either Disneyland or an Alaskan fish cannery, and I really don’t want to clean fish all summer.”  It was a terrible answer in my opinion, and I judged from frowning expression on the interviewer’s face that he probably was going to put an “X” by her name with that comment. The young man in the interview turned out to be a nice fellow, but he was a little less refined than the rest of us, so I assumed we would probably beat him out too.

But the last girl,  Shannon, had the perfect girl-next-door smile and nailed every question.  I knew it was probably down to the two of us. . . although I really couldn’t tell you how well I answered the interview questions.  I was too nervous.  The one thing I do recall was the interviewer asking me what job I would like to do at the Magic Kingdom.  I told him that I just wanted to work there that summer. . . that I would take any job.   “Give me the job as the custodial sweeper,”  I exclaimed.  “I’ll take anything!”

Well, there was nothing to do but to wait for a letter in the mail after the interview.  I’m not sure what was worse: The interview itself, or the waiting period afterward.  Will told me that when I got their letter I would know right away whether I had been hired or not.  “The hirees get a thick packet,” he explained.  “The reject letters come in a thin envelope.”  The weeks passed, and I waited, until finally spring break came around.  From Oregon I called Colorado to ask if I had received any mail.  “Not much, Nate,” my roommate said, “Except this letter from the Disney.” I was excited, and I couldn’t wait to get back to Boulder to open the thing.    “Tell me,”   I said, “Is it a thin letter or a fat one?”  “It’s just a regular letter,” he said.

When I got back to Boulder my wait was finally over. The answer I got from the Disney company was not the one I was hoping for, but it was just the answer I was expecting after what my roommate had told me. It was one of those typical form letters stating,  “You are very qualified, but were not chosen, we will keep your resume on file,  etc. . . ”   Just as I thought.  I got the thin rejection letter.

But in the midst of my disappointment I got an idea. . . a glimmer of hope to hang on to.  I put myself in the shoes of all the other college students in my position and asked myself what would they do when they got a thin envelope?  Well, I figured they’d do what any sane person would do. . .shrug their shoulders, say, “Oh well, I tried,” and go find another summer job. In my thinking, 900 people just took themselves out of the competition.

But the competition was not over yet in my mind. I assumed that of the 150 that made it at least 5 or 6 would change their mind and take another summer job. After all, Los Angeles is a scary, far off place to those coming from places like Pullman, Washington or Moscow, Idaho.  Surely someone would change their mind?  My goal was to get the spot of the person who changed his or her mind.

So that was my new strategy. . .  to nab one of the last 5 spots I assumed would be there.  That very day I sent my second thank you letter to my interviewer, Jay. (The first thank you was right after the interview) And thus my letter writing campaign began.  In my mind, keeping in contact with the interviewer was one of the keys to my success in this matter.

I wrote one letter each week. Not enough to be a pest,  but enough to stay in the back of their minds given the few short weeks until summer. I wrote the letters attempting to be as upbeat and excited about the college program as I possibly could without sounding too obnoxious.  I stressed my commitment to Disney as a career goal,  my personal assets (like good attitude, work ethic, being able to work with people, etc…) and the fact that I wanted the spot of the person who changed his or her mind.  Stressing those characteristics, I sent my letters, saying a silent, and somewhat silly prayer before dropping each letter in the mailbox. If nothing else, my letter writing skills improved dramatically in those few weeks. Later, I decided that God listens to even silly prayers, and sometimes He blesses people not because they deserve it,  but just to demonstrate how good He really is.

Three weeks from the end of school, I had not heard a word from Disney, and had all but given up all chances of getting the job.  So I prepared myself to go back to my old job at the pool.  And ironically,  it was the day after I had given up all hope that I got the phone call that forever changed the course of my short life.  Bridget Lindquist was her name, daughter of then Disneyland President Jack Lindquist.  She said, “Hello,  Nathan, how would you like to work on the Jungle Cruise?”  My heart leaped for joy.   I don’t remember what happened after that, but I obviously told her “Yes” before I hung up, because I actually did end up at Disney that summer.

I remember calling Will,  telling him to ask me what I was going to do after finals.  “What?” He asked.  “No no,” I said, “Ask it like I asked it!”   After some coaxing, he finally said “Okay you big dork,  what are you going to do after finals?”   “I’m going to Disneyland!”  I exclaimed, just like in the Disneyland television commercial.  It was the happiest day of my life to that point.  He sounded pretty happy too.

As it turns out,  Shannon actually had won our interview.  She won the custodial sweeper job, too.  Me, the “loser” ended up with what I consider the best job at the entire Disney company…. Jungle Cruise Skipper on the ” World famous” Jungle Cruise.   I’ve never felt so good about losing in my life.

It just goes to show you that sometimes an initial no in a job search is not always a permanent no.  Every wall is a door of opportunity if the right thinking can be applied to initial failures and if you stay persistent.  As for me,  I still remember the day God answered my silly little prayer.

So there you have it.  When you get turned down for a job, you may not be as out of luck as you might think.  Anyone can be hired at any time, especially in smaller companies.  Persistence in letter writing to perspective companies will help you succeed in the future.  I still make it a point to drop letters in the mail to those I have met while searching for jobs.  They are personal notes,  and are the true key to networking.

I hope this helps you.  That was the start of how I found my true passion in life, theme park attraction design.   For more information about jobs searches in the themed entertainment industry, be sure to check out my other article, “How to Become an Imagineer.”

Much luck! Nathan Naversen

How is a new themed attraction generated within the theme park industry?

20 Apr 2012 Dissertations

The Central School of Speech and Drama, London
by Lynsey Brown


My college experience as a scenic constructor within the theatre industry has encouraged me to find out more about the theme park industry within my profession.

I have always been excited and even amazed by theme parks and their attractions because they involve you in an environment that stimulates all your senses to achieve unbelievable experiences.

I chose this area for my enquiry for I believe if you have a passion you should pursue it. It was important to find how my role of a scenic constructor would fit in to the theme park industry at present and in the future.

During this IST term I spoke to and visited professionals within the industry, and through rigorous research into the subject revealed an overall sense of the variety of different methods and their approaches to working in this sector of the theme park industry.

I will be specifically looking at the designer’s input and the construction process and will be comparing these processes to theatre, would this be the same as or different to my experience within the theatre industry?

What is a themed attraction?

It is a common misconception that amusement parks and theme parks are the same, but that is not so. The words amusement and park mean quite literally: a place to be amused. The words theme and park, when used together very literally mean: a place for stories, the theme park uses story telling to move emotions.

A themed attraction can be any type of visitor attraction from small exhibitions within museums, to large budget special effect attractions within theme parks. Researching into themed attractions and designs I have heard the term dark rides used. The first dark rides were the tunnels of love at classic amusement parks. They are called dark rides because they are generally inside a building or within a themed attraction, e.g. Judgement Day in the London Dungeon and Pirates of the Caribbean in Disney. Dark rides are the basis of a theme park because they are story-orientated and have a single theme that runs throughout.

Created themed environments immerse an audience in the atmosphere of an attraction and although you will walk round some, others will have a ride within them to transport you in a sequential manner.

An example of this is Madame Tussauds. It began as and still is a waxwork museum with themed rooms like the Garden Party and Grand Hall. Now they have installed the ‘Spirit of London” ride and various other themed sets, it has become one of Britain’s most popular themed visitor attractions, totaling 2 million visitors a year.

Themes for attractions will range from natural disasters to historical facts like that of the London Dungeon. All of the Dungeons created in Britain have their themes, which are usually based on horror and facts surrounding the town or city in which they are placed.

Themes are chosen initially through market research and subsequently what the public demand through targeted survey groups. This process has resulted in staggering attendance figures of 750,000 visitors a year for the London Dungeon.

The attraction’s ‘theme’ will also depend on its location and when placed in a theme park with a movie style theme, e.g. Earthquake will be created within Universal Studios, Florida that re-enacts a scene from a famous movie.

Brief History and the future

Before theme parks were invented the roots of the industry go back to amusement parks in medieval Europe, featuring live entertainment, fireworks, dancing, games and even primitive rides. The world’s oldest operating amusement park, Bakken, north of Copenhagen opened in 1583 and is still operating today.

In the late 1800’s, the growth of the industry shifted to America; initially they were simple operations consisting of picnic facilities, dance halls, restaurants, games and a few amusement rides.

The amusement park entered its golden era in 1893 with the introduction of the Ferris Wheel and a wide array of rides. This was a huge success and dictated amusement park design for the next sixty years.

The amusement park industry grew tremendously over the next three decades and by 1919 over 1,500 amusement parks were in operation; new innovations provided greater and more intense thrills. Unfortunately this did not last as America entered the Depression and by 1935 only 400 amusements parks still remained.

With the end of the World War II, attendances and revenues grew to new records. A new concept, the Kiddieland, took advantage of the post-war baby boom, introducing a new generation to the joys of the amusement park.

The industry was again in distress in the 1950’s as the public turned to entertainment elsewhere like television. What the industry needed was a new concept and that new concept was Disneyland.

When Disneyland opened in 1955 many people were skeptical that an amusement park without the traditional attractions would succeed, but they offered five distinctive themed areas, providing guests with the fantasy of travel to different lands and times with different stories.

Disneyland was an immediate success, and as a result, the theme park era was born.

Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, theme parks were built in many major cities across America; many of the old traditional amusement parks could not keep up with competition and faced closure. In addition they also borrowed ideas from theme parks and introduced new rides and attractions to their existing parks.

Alton Towers became a theme park in 1980 with the Corkscrew ride. In 1990 the Park became part of The Tussauds Group who have opened many of London’s tourist attractions like Madame Tussauds and The Rock Circus. Although other parks have been around a lot longer than Alton Towers, Drayton Manor Family Theme Park is one of the oldest parks in the country. It began in 1949, as an ‘Inland Pleasure Resort’ and is still there to this day introducing themed areas.

Theme parks continued to develop into the 1990’s and on average visitors can stay up to 3-4 days. The average time spent in amusement parks was only 2 hours.

Designers and creators or imagineers as they call themselves in Disney are taking a more theatrical approach, requiring the audience to willingly enter the story, with more emphasis on light, sound, illusion, sets and artistry.

The industry has ever-increasing technology at our disposal to satisfy the ever-increasing sophisticated demands of the industry. There are high tech developments and technological advancements being created now, like the new ride at Islands of Adventure, Spider-Man, which integrates a whole range of new high technology.

Although I have been trained as a scenic constructor in the theatre industry, I do not feel daunted by all of the new technology, but excited that I will hopefully get the opportunity to be involved with it in my career.

Criteria for successful theme parks and attractions

Creating a successful themed attraction demands excellent design and the synchronised use of sound, motion, senses, illusion and a multiplicity of effects and skills coupled with imaginative story telling.

The first step is for the development and management company, like Merlin Attractions or Tussauds Group, to research an area in which they think an attraction would be successful. Through rigorous market research and public surveys an idea concept is established.

Once a yearly visitor figure is estimated this gives the company their budget amount required to spend on the particular attraction. They then approach various theming companies with the idea and state the visitor numbers they need per day and what the dwell-time will be. The theming companies then submit their project plan and the client decides, again through public surveys, whether or not it will be a success.

Return visitors are the key to successful attractions; a single memorable element is an essential ingredient. Success depends on drawing visitors in and recommending friends. If this doesn’t happen the managing company would monitor visitor satisfaction, which helps them to improve visitor attendance.

There has to be a real need to find new methods of enhancing attractions to entice visitors back, no returns means no attraction. This puts a lot of pressure on the theming companies.

There has been a recent 4% fall in visits to UK museums, which is attributable to lack of quality theming and imaginative flair. I believe this proves that theming has had a huge added advantage of being entertaining, inspiring and educational. An example of this is the animatronic dinosaur at the Natural History Museum, which may be the introduction of that imaginative flair that could salvage the recent fall in UK museum attendance.

How does the designer use that information and arrive at solutions when creating an attraction?

When creating an attraction, companies like Merlin Attractions first decide whether it is worthwhile becoming involved in a particular project. The result of their market research shows if the figures will bring in the return and if it does not they will only become involved if they are assisted with the investment.

The client will indicate some themed areas the designers will need to cover and how much space they have and of course the budget – the rest is down to the theming company and discussing requirements with the client.

In order to meet these requirements the designers need a good background knowledge of what entertains the general public, what is technically achievable, safe, and practically operational and have an imagination to deliver good ideas.

There are golden rules before designing an attraction in order to make them successful, aesthetically and technically. Designers need to consider how they want the attraction to succeed. Are they going to use ride systems, is the visitor going to watch sitting down or will they walk through? These are fundamental decisions that are discussed and solved between the client and the theming company.

When designers work with a concept they produce initial ideas about the kind of set, effects, layout and profile they want to create in the particular attraction or ride. These will primarily be a list of imaginative ideas that they will submit to the creative team who tackle the challenge of developing these ideas into a set of plans from which the attraction can be built.

They will need to make fundamental decisions on how they apportion the budget between scenic embellishment, landscaping, special effects and finishes etc.

The ideas are initially sketches for there is no point producing high rendered design if the client is not happy. Once discussions with the makers have occurred they can start to think about producing drafted drawings either from CAD or by hand that will state all measurements.

Progressing to a scaled model helps realise the designs. Final submission of concept will outline all aspects of the idea resolving technical issues, composed music, show programming, lighting, special effects everything from where the power should enter the facility to how the animatronic figures are going to operate, all defined in detail.

Compromises also continue throughout the making and fit up process. They usually occur when discussing materials for a prop or scene. Using different cheaper materials that result in a similar outcome, could free up money for something new without going over budget. This compromise should have a minimum impact on the final appearance.

Now health and safety laws govern us more, many solutions to the design are dependant on rules and regulations that may have to change the design slightly.

Building compromises on site occur for structural reasons; if something is not feasible compromises need to be found to keep the end product to the client’s satisfaction.

On site, during fit ups, especially when there are a collaboration of companies involved, frequent changes happen due to falling behind schedule or adhering to original plans, creating a knock on affect for finishing themed companies.

There is always a set time for projects and the opening date never changes, only the time in which the theming companies have to install the themed set and effects resulting in a compromise of their time.

Staging solutions, materials and effects to meet the designer’s needs

There is a whole range of materials and effects that solve many design challenges, artistically and technically to create spectacular effects within themed attractions.

Designers will solve staging arrangements within the particular attraction from the layout to the theme or transport system, ultimately it is what the creative teams produce that brings it to realisation.

To achieve these themed designs the creative team work with a wide variety of materials and effects that create designers’ initial ideas and turn them into themed environments.

Depending on budget, structural, aesthetic or health and safety reasons these materials will be chosen carefully for they all have different properties.

All companies have very large resource books to source a particular prop or effect, if they can find it they will buy it rather than build it, which invariably works out more expensive.

The effects are quite specialised and need experienced and trained crafters to use the materials and create the best quality finish. The crafters are mainly split into carpenters, sculptors, scenic artists and engineers and branch off from those disciplines to, eg animatronic engineers and structural reinforcing engineers.

Creators usually move between skills, so a sculptor may well be able to paint and vice versa. This is encouraged in the industry partly because it keeps ideas and projects alive and mainly because it keeps people employed.

There are not only making craft materials to choose from but also lighting and sound effects have a huge impact on a themed attraction. The collaboration of all three can create very successful attractions.

How creators enhance the design with the wide range of skills and how systems are used within different companies?

There are many ways in which you can enhance a design even in very early stages when rough ‘fag packet’ designs are created into architectural CAD drawings.

These rough sketches are translated into 3D models on CAD, which helps the sculptors and set-builders to produce their scenery. 3D models are a very useful system that can enhance the design and describe it in ways a 2D drawing could not. Not all companies in the themed industry use model boxes unless they feel it will help the sale of a project. Projects have been known to go terribly wrong as a result of not having a model box.

All the effects mentioned so far are used whilst referring to some kind of reference, whether it is a photo, model or drawing. This helps the creator keep in mind the design source whilst producing it, which in the long run will reflect in the finished piece. There have been cases where lack of reference and supervision has resulted in the end product not reflecting the original design.

In some cases creators have tried to enhance the design on an existing ride but actually found that lack of research and testing of an improvement can lead to more problems.

Depending on the company all these approaches vary and some companies prefer to work with model boxes. Likewise some companies do not design in-house and will contract out to freelance designers; others will take on a project and from the concept idea design and build right through to installation.

It doesn’t necessarily mean they are the better company; it’s the one that submits the most competitive proposal that will win the project. It’s very difficult to find a theming company that is good all round.

Concept to Realisation – How does it differ to theatre?

The development of a themed attraction is in many ways very similar to the approach theatre practitioners have, and I was not surprised when the majority of the professionals I spoke to or read about all came from a theatre background.

Usually the method theatre practitioners from concept to realisation is fairly structured as we already have a story line or script and it is how the designer and director realises that play with their concept.

This is very similar to themed attractions as they are derived from a storyline, not as intense as a play or script. Eg the idea concept for the London Dungeon was based on historical events such as the Great Fire of London, the Plague and many others.

The next step, again, is very similar to theatre in that you cannot have a show unless there is a budget and it is very unlikely that the designers will design any kind of set or effects unless they know how much they have to spend. This also applies in the theme park industry.

Budgets within themed attractions are usually dependant on market research around the area of the site and by working out how many visitors they estimate, timed by the amount they will charge for entry will give them a round figure on how much to spend.

Once the budget is finalised you can start to think about what you can achieve with the materials and tools available. You need to assess all the plans and elevations at which point team discussions commence.

At Scenic Route, a particular company in York, assign Head of Departments from each discipline and they liase with the craftsmen on construction techniques. This is very similar to the process at Central and I believe it is very effective because that appointed person will deal with all aspects of the project, including any problems which may arise.

If there are several companies tendering for the same project they will submit the design proposals to the client who will then refer again to market research to ascertain whether the ideas will attain the desired attendance figures.

Within theatre finalised ideas and concepts will culminate in a model box produced by the designer. In the themed industry the designer does not always produce model boxes because they can be too complex. If required by the client they will be contracted out to a specialist model making company.

Design meetings and brainstorming ideas that follow are very similar in both industries. From these designs detailed drafts of the space and the set are produced very similar to the ground plans and side elevations in theatre.

Production meetings take place with appointed HOD’s throughout the process and when it comes to materials, the build and queries HOD’s will work closely with all craft disciplines to choose materials effectively for the job.

This kind of collaboration is very similar to the experiences I have had as a HOD at Central.

The building process is strictly scheduled particularly for an on-site project when installation of the attraction is required. Site visits are essential in order to communicate with other companies on site installing heating or water supplies etc before theming companies arrive. This prevents possible conflict of structures.

Fortunately when working within a theatre space, whether it is a studio black box or proscenium theatre, we begin with an empty space with all essential supplies installed, so ground plans are unlikely to change.

The fit-up process follows and is very similar to theatre with an appointed project/production manager working on-site controlling all activities. This is a very difficult integration process for many things do go wrong as in theatre.

Once fit up is completed theatre would progress with dress and technical rehearsals. The themed industry has the integration process, which usually allows them to run the attraction and test equipment installed. The director will work with show programmers to make adjustments in show timings to achieve the desired effect, just like any theatre practitioner would when creating a piece of theatre.

The opening night in both cases cannot be compromised. With the themed industry it is not unusual for severe penalties to be imposed on companies in their contracts for late completion.

Comparing company structures, what are the similarities and differences between the themed and theatre industry?

Within the themed industry many companies are used to produce themed attractions. These are contracted by management companies who run a whole chain of attractions like the Tussauds Group that have Madame Tussauds, Rock Circus, Thorpe Park and Chessington etc or Merlin Attractions who have the Dungeons and Sea Life Centres.

Similarly in theatre you have the main theatre company e.g. The Royal Opera House who will contract out various jobs to staging companies like Scott Fleary or Kimpton Walker.

Each of those companies will then specialise in a variety of skills and trades. All theming companies are different and like Scott Fleary, who do not specialise in scenic painting, some theming companies will not specialise in construction.

Sarner International in Shepherds Bush are not actually involved practically in the build of their projects but will advertise that they can design and build. Their main department is design and sound design, any lighting and build would be freelanced out but they will always follow a project through to opening. Their administrative side is fairly structured and they have Managing, Marketing, Technical and Creative Directors and production services who deal with the running of a project.

Space Leisure in Colchester who do own their own workshops deal with all the construction and installation of an attraction, but the design stages are undertaken off-site with regular free lance designers. Their administrative side is not so structured and their Managing Director will deal with all pricing, running and control over a job.

Scenic Route has a very large workshop and involved in the construction and installation process; they do not design in-house but contract out to regular designers. The administrative side is very structured and is split into departments ie buying, sales, marketing, production and project development.

A client company like Merlin Attractions do not design but have their own architects who turn their ideas into drawings. Their main job is in market research and finding new ways and sites to build new attractions.

My perception of the role of a Director within the themed industry is that it is split into many different roles from Creative to Managing. This differs within individual companies and only the company seems to structure that.

The designer’s role within the themed industry from idea concept through to design is very much the same process we use within theatre. They work with an idea concept, creating initial design drawings on the layout of the set and its staging, progressing to final designs either on paper or through a model and working closely with the craftsmen.

Within the themed industry there are more creative roles like sculptors and polystyrene carvers, whereas at Central it would prop makers.

Initially I thought scenic constructors consisted mainly of carpenters and engineers. Through further research I found they have a multitude of skills including animatronics and structural engineers or cabinetmakers and joiners.

Project Managers within themed attractions are very similar to the Production Managers or Stage Managers in theatre and are usually employed from an outside source. They are relied on solely for the running of a project, arranging necessary meetings and schedules etc.

Whether you are working on different theatre shows or different themed attractions the fact that each day is different and a challenge in itself, seems that either industry is very exciting to be involved in.


Referring back to my question ‘How is a new themed attraction generated within the theme park industry’? To generate it does not only rely on the actual making of the attraction but a whole process of steps that I have covered in my paper, from initial marketing research and surveys to designing a concept and the collaboration of crafts and skills to installation and running the attraction and improvements.

Developments within the themed industry are continuously improving, theme park and the theming companies that produce these attractions have to keep abreast of developments to progress and maintain their success.

It is considered that super technology, like that of The Spiderman ride at Islands of Adventure, is the new secret to entertaining visitors within theme parks and their attractions. My opinion is that super technology will provide us with fantastic effects but believe that the same strategies and creative processes that have been used within the industry for the last century will be the backbone for the next.

As a scenic constructor I look forward to working with both creative processes and new technology to improve my knowledge and continue to create themed attractions all over the world.

Written by Lynsey Brown

Theming the Thrills

19 Apr 2012 Dissertations

A study into the use of theming and design as a marketing medium to enhance the visitor experience at theme parks. RJ Cumberworth BA (Hons) Leisure Management Birmingham College of Food, Tourism & Creative Studies

March 2001

Preface & Acknowledgement

The topic of theming and design at theme parks has been chosen due to a very strong interest in the global theme park industry, with possible career implications in the marketing department of a major theme park. The topic, which is very expansive, combines three core aspects of the theme park industry – the need to visit for leisure stimulation, the marketing practices and operational service characteristics and the acts of theming and design themselves.

Working at the National SeaLife Center has allowed great repose to personally relate theories of operation and marketing to the working environment, especially while simultaneously studying a leisure degree.

Academia aside, I would personally like to thank Barry Emery for his continued support throughout this study and for having faith in me when this unusual and potentially disastrous topic was proposed! Also, particular thanks to Nate Naversen, founder of the Themedattraction.com (USA) and one of the few people in this world with direct experience in the industry, who has given me a lot of ideas to work with in an area, which is very limited in theory.


In relation to the objectives of this study, listed in the methodology section, it is possible to summarize the findings briefly. The concept of theming and design has been related to leisure stimulation, play theories and service marketing and the practice analyzed thoroughly, using relevant and up to date examples.

Therefore, in summary it is possible to state that the themed entertainment industry, and the theme park industry in general terms is developing through organic growth. Much of this is down to technological innovation and advancements and indeed the talent to put such ideas into practice. Ideas are also developing in accordance to marketing practice, with new ways of ensuring customer satisfaction and enhancing the core service product that a theme park offers.

Technology and innovation is allowing the ability to construct higher, faster, longer rides and attractions but when coincided with theming, complete new environments can be produced and with the use of virtual reality, complete false environments are being created. There is a coming move away from the traditional iron ride, although they are by no means in decline, technology and VR is being further developed to create more ambitious ‘dark rides’ where story telling combined with special effects creates visitor immersion, which is also apparent in restaurants, shops and other service orientated aspects.

Thus, in reflection, the future of the industry remains to be seen; yet serious adaptations need to be considered as visitors demand meaningful and often educational entertainment, with particular consideration to the increasing gray market.

Aim & Objectives


To study the use of theming and design as a marketing medium to enhance the visitor experience at theme parks.


Ø To thoroughly analyze the theming and design concept at theme parks in order to develop an understanding of the practice.

Ø To relate the concept of theming and design to marketing theories.

Ø To analyze theme park attractions in accordance to common leisure theories.

Ø To assess the importance of theming and design at theme parks with respect to consumer behavior.

Ø To conclude with justified forecast of the future of the industry. Methodology

Project Overview

This project examines the growing need to improve the leisure ‘product’ at theme parks, both in the UK and overseas. As competition becomes much more extreme, the need to produce bigger, better and more spectacular attractions is becoming much more important. New technology is helping to create the framework for these new physical experiences; however, the business marketers and project designers have the important challenge of creating more than just an iron fairground ride.

Secondary Research

“Secondary research is material that has been gathered by other people before you. It is available through a wide variety of sources such as books, academic and trade journals, company sources, newspapers and magazines.” (Research Methods, semester 1, 2000)

Secondary research is the main source of research used for this project due to the number of industry examples illustrated to define a topic, somewhat limited in business theory. A number of texts have been used, some common such as Kotler (1999) and Dibb (1994) for marketing theory, and some specialist publications such as Swarbrooke (1995) “The Development & Management of Visitor Attractions,” and Torkildsen (1992) “Leisure & Recreation Management” for business and leisure theories, respectively. Other specialist publications include souvenir texts from theme parks such as Port Aventura and Walt Disney World and respective design texts.

Secondary research is of great importance to this project as it enables the ability to set the scene through relevant examples. A number of the texts may however, now be limited through age and may give irrelevant examples, which are not up to date. The use of the Internet, leisure journals and magazines has helped to balance these issues, as they do offer the most up to date industry examples available. Apart from the general possibility of information being out of date, there is always the question of validity and reliability with secondary research, and indeed how this information was found initially. Thorough analysis is thus important to this piece so as to be unbiased in discussion (Research Methods, semester 1, 2000).

“Sometimes researchers seek to understand, rather than to explain or predict behavior. This is the case particularly when an area of enquiry is in its infancy.”  (Marshall, 1997, p.46)

The topic of theming and design is very much described in the statement by Marshall (1997), above. Indeed, research for this project has enabled explanation and a degree of prediction; however the majority of the research has given scope to understand the link between leisure and marketing theories at theme parks and of course theming and design – a growing business area which is arguably still in its infancy. It is fair to say that secondary research and the data triangulation of different visual and published literature, has worked to a great advantage both in theory and industry practice: “The use of multiple methods, or triangulation, reflects an attempt to secure an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon in question.”

(Denzin & Lincoln, 1998)

Primary Research

“Research undertaken in the field using one or several methods to collect data. Some generic sources of collecting primary data are interviews, questionnaires, surveys, focus groups, observation and experiments.” Research Methods, semester 1, 2000)

Primary research has been of great importance to this project because of the limited information available and the general wide spread basis of information, thus making it difficult to specify in which direction to approach for first-hand experience. Questionnaires and surveys seemed unnecessary for the theming and design topic, which can be confused in many ways and indeed, is a generally unknown field of information for the general theme park visitor.

The main basis for primary research therefore was to be an interview with an industry expert. The industry however is limited and those with a good deal of experience are few and far between. As the project explains, the UK is limited in development of its theme parks at present, so America was targeted for an expert, who was found via email over the Internet.

The Themedattraction.com, an interactive website for theme park designers and enthusiasts was the means to find Mr. Nate Naversen.

An unstructured email questionnaire/interview was arranged and the outcome has proven to be extremely beneficial for this dissertation through identification of further researching opportunities and validation to theories. The unstructured approach was chosen in order to allow the interviewee to talk freely about the subject thus giving further scope for discussion. Also the interview utilized broad open-ended questions: “An open-ended question is one which does not limit the answer to a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ or a range of set alternatives. Participants can answer questions any way they like. An advantage of this kind of question is that it does not threaten to bias the findings by imposing a frame of reference; effectively limiting the way the participant may answer. The main disadvantage is that the completed forms will be difficult to analyze.” (Marshall, 1997, p.39)

This interview however was easy to analyze, as there was only one solitary set of answers due to the lack of scope for further participants. Further email correspondence with Nate, also had benefits through the snowballing effect, as new opportunities were opened as new contacts were supplied: “Snowballing is a sample compiled by starting with a small group and asking the members for referrals to others who may also be prepared to participate.”(Marshall, 1997, p.108)

A full record of the ‘interview’ can be found in the appendices of this piece, however the main outcome to this correspondence was that theming all boils down to entertainment and escapism. Primary research has allowed the most up to date and first hand knowledge to be researched, as in addition to the interview, first hand observation through industry knowledge and personal visits has also been of benefit through many of the discussed examples. Marshall (1997) states that observational methods are: “Better quality data than retrospective interview accounts, are adaptable to many research problems and can tap data which may not be available by survey methods where the participants are relatively inarticulate and not very introspective.”

(Marshall, 1997, p.49)

However, Marshall (1997) also talks of observational findings having low reliability and validity. In reflection, observations where clearly justified with business theory.

Constraints & Limitations

The main constraints and limitations to this dissertation would be the general lack of business theory in relation to the speedily developing industry of theming. The topic, which comprises of three core directives -leisure stimulation, service marketing and theming and design issues, made it very difficult to integrate the three in an academic manner. Clearly, the three directives are integrated however it was important to focus this in writing and create a justified conclusion to the research. The other main limitation was the general unhelpfulness of many venues regarding the project and the inability to find first hand help initially.

The mentioned British parks offered little or no information regarding the topic, whereas there were language constraints imposing on correspondence with other European parks. These constraints did not disrupt the flow of progress, and contacts were discovered and sufficient information was researched by various means in order to coincide with the aim and objectives of the project satisfactorily.

“The themed entertainment industry is growing as corporations all over the World seek their skills out.

.Our industry specializes in story telling.”

(Brian Edwards, President of the Themed Entertainment Association, May 2000)

Contagious Business Philosophy the “Disney” Way!

Once every other decade a company comes around that dares to defy the odds and do things differently.  We saw this with Henry Ford in the 1900’s-1920’s, with Walt Disney in the 1930-1960’s, and with Saturn and Netscape in the 1990’s.

Here’s a friendly Q & A about how to defy conventional wisdom and transform your company into a contagiously successful business. It was developed from letters written between Themedattraction.com founder Nate Naversen and Donna Brewster of the Weyerhaeuser Company in Oregon.

Dear Nate,

I am employed by Weyerhaeuser Company. Disney is one of our corporate heroes in developing pride and customer service. Many of our employees have benchmarked the Disney maintenance department in Orlando, along with classes at the Disney University and visits to the Disney theme parks.

My thoughts are, correct me if I’m wrong, that the design group would be an excellent study for our Committee. Previous trips to Disney have taught us the importance they place on safety… I came across your name on the net… and so I contacted you for any information or help you can give.

Thank you for your time.

Donna Brewster Weyerhaeuser Company Cottage Grove, Oregon

Hi Donna,

To begin, I believe Weyerhaeuser can be far superior to Disney in terms of pride and customer service. I know they may seem like an untouchable corporate hero, but take it from a person who has seen it from the inside: It can easily be improved upon.  The key is to capture the spirit of a contagiously successful business.

The following is a list of some of the key philosophies that made the Walt Disney Company and other companies a success, in Q & A form. If you can apply them to your situation you will certainly have a contagiously successful company.

Q> Do you know what the Disney product is?

A> “We create happiness.”   Who wouldn’t want to work for a company whose product is happiness?

A question to ask yourself:  What is Weyerhaeuser’s product? Is it wood product?  Maybe, but I think not.  If you became a contagiously successful business, maybe your product would become home sweet home?

Apply positive, innovative thinking to your situation, and you will begin to transform your company.

Q> What are the three keys to Disney quality?

A> Courtesy, Efficiency & Show

It is well known that no expense was spared to make Disney films and Disney theme parks the absolute best. But what made Disney so successful was the attitude they took while doing it.   In fact, Walt Disney spent so much of his capital on his projects that the bankers and all of his competitors thought he was crazy.

Did you know that Walt Disney once completely re-did an almost complete black and white cartoon because new color technology came out? His company was nearly bankrupt at that point, but he felt it was worth the risk. The movie was called Flowers & Trees, and it won an Oscar!  Why was he so successful? He far surpassed everyone’s expectations.

Now, just for your information, if you start to surpass people’s expectations, you will probably end up spending much more on things that financial minded people find frivolous. But in the end, it will make all the difference in the world.

Caring about product over the bottom line and people before sales to surpass expectations is a good step to transforming your company into a contagiously successful one!

A fourth Disney key was added after Walt’s death: Safety.

Did you know that the built-in structural safety factors on Disney’s roller coasters are generally three times what the competition uses and is required by structural code? *

It costs more initially to design and construct the attraction, but people rarely die on Disney attractions due to mechanical failure. No wonder Disney has such a good reputation when it comes to safety.  People feel safe at Disney parks, and the extra business generated from such a positive guest outlook more than pays for the extra cost of the coaster.

* Source: Interview with Disneyland ride & safety engineer, 1994

Positive guest service:

Here is a list of some of the activities a Disney cast member (employee) cannot do while “on stage” at a Disney theme park.

1.Eat 2.Drink 3.Smoke 4.Sleep 5.Sit down 6.Chew gum 7.Lean against a wall or a railing, 8.Fold his or her arms.

Does this seem extreme? Of course it does. But when it comes to customer service, it makes perfect sense. Imagine how a potential guest would feel when walking up to a cast member doing one of the above no-nos.

Making sure the cast-member is courteous and efficient is key while “onstage” at a Disney theme park. It helps create a positive guest experience whenever a guest interacts with an employee.

“The first year (of Disneyland) I leased out the parking concession, brought in the usual security guards — things like that — but soon realized my mistake. I couldn’t have outside help and still get over my idea of hospitality.   So now we recruit and train every one of our employees. I tell the security police, for instance, that they are never to consider themselves cops. They are there to help people. The visitors are our guests. It’s like running a fine restaurant. Once you get the policy going, it grows.”  — Walt Disney

The cast members who follow these rules develop a sense of pride about their work.  When these rules were first put in place, they quickly began to believe in the need to sacrifice their personal convenience in order to be part of something special.  Guess what?  It works!

Q> Are there any V.I.P.s at Disneyland?

Answer: Yes. Everyone is a V.I.P.

Fact: Too many places of employment make a customer feel like it is an inconvenience to be given service. Personally, I feel this way every time I walk into an automobile repair shop or an auto parts store. At those establishments customers are forced to wait at the customer service counter for minutes at a time while the service man works in front of them, ignoring their presence.

Turn it around, and make them feel like a V.I.P. and you have the beginnings of excellent customer service.

Q> True or False: Disney World’s Magic Kingdom was built on the ground.

A> False. Disney World was built on the second floor of a structure.

Let me ask:  What sort of fool puts an entire theme park on the second floor of a building? It seems crazy, does it not? At first maybe, but by building it that way Disney solved many operational dilemmas and contributed to a contagious guest environment!

Now Disney can quickly whisk supplies in and out of the park from below without having to bring a truck through the front gates. In medical emergencies, heart attack victims may be quickly taken off stage to a medical facility without disturbing most guests. Also, at Disney World, the guests never see a dumpster. Trash may be placed in an underground vacuum network at dozens of locations around the park, where it may be quickly vacuumed to a central receiving area, saving time and energy for custodial people. Lastly, cast members in costume can walk straight into their themed land without having to walk through another land. How out of place would it be to have a Tomorrowland costumed cast member walking through Frontierland?

Truly, there are many positive benefits to their innovative, seemingly crazy plan. It is counter-intuitive, yet it works!

Q> What is the job of the custodial sweeper at Disneyland?

Incorrect answer: Pick up trash

Correct answer: To be a human signpost.

Says former Disney executive Keith Kolbo, “There is something very therapeutic going into the park to simply help people find their way, even if it’s just to point out a bathroom.  I used to go out after a rough day, just to walk around in the park to give directions. It did wonders for my psyche.”

Along the same lines, Walt Disney used custodial people to guide and provide friendly service to guests. As a secondary job, they also swept up popcorn… but primarily they were there to help people. Imagine what that does to the attitude of someone who is told his job is to pick up trash!

Apply positive, innovative thinking like this to your situation and you will begin to transform your company.

Q> Maintenance: When does Disneyland shut down?

A>: Never. Disneyland never sleeps…

When the Disneyland closes, the maintenance starts. At the beginning of every day the park is to look like it looked on opening day July 17th, 1955. Not only does this make the guest experience better, but it also creates a better atmosphere for the cast members. At night, everything is repaired to look like new. Instead of having one or two people maintaining the park, Disney hires hundreds. Do those workers pay for themselves? I guarantee they do.

“Disneyland is a work of love.  We didn’t go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money. . . even trying to keep that Park clean is a tremendous expense. And those sharp pencil guys tells you, ‘Walt, if we cut down on maintenance, we’d save a lot of money.’  But I don’t believe in that — it’s like any other show on the road.  It must be kept fresh and clean.” — Walt Disney

Imagine what a maintenance philosophy like this could do for the morale of your employees. What if your employees got to use seemingly brand new machines every day?

Weyerhaeuser should always keep the mill updated with the best equipment, and it should always be replaced well before old machinery wears out. It may mean hiring a staff of five or six guys to go through and make the mill “new” each night.  I am not an expert in the logging industry (even though I grew up around it), but I’m sure you can apply this sort of thinking to your situation.

An Example from United Parcel Service:

A few years ago, UPS had a commercial on TV talking about the maintenance and cleanliness of their aircraft fleet. They got it exactly right. The announcer narrated the commercial something like this:


Each night we wash every single one of our 300 aircraft fleet.

Of course, our competitors think we are crazy.

But having clean planes helps keep mechanical problems down, ensuring quick delivery of your package.

And the lack of dirt on our planes saves thousands of dollars in jet fuel each year.

Plus…. we happen to like our planes clean

That’s exactly the right attitude. The extra cleanliness contributes to a good work environment, higher employee morale, a sharper corporate image, improved maintenance, and it even saves jet fuel!  Their philosophy is innovative, counter-intuitive, and it helps contribute to a positive, contagiously successful business.


If you are going to be successful in your endeavor, remember: Newer rules and procedures are never the answer, nor is a cleverly worded corporate mission statement. Mission statements come off as very hollow sounding when the management is not sincere.  On the other hand, transforming your company with contagious business techniques will empower your employees to make a difference.

Always surpass your employees and your clients’ expectations. If your employees expect a $100 Christmas bonus, give them $300. If a client expects a shipment in 3 weeks… get in there in three days. It WILL cost more.  You make your company special by doing the things that other companies will not do because it seems ‘above and beyond’. After time you will begin to reap a snow-ball-effect of positive benefits.

“Well, I think by this time my staff, my group of young executives, and everything else, are convinced that Walt is right.  The quality will out. And so I think they’re going to stay with that policy because it’s proved that it’s a good business policy. Give people everything you can give them. Keep the place as clean as you can keep it. Keep it friendly, you know. Make it a real fun place to be..” — Walt Disney

No idea is too outlandish.

When we are brainstorming a new attraction during the bluesky phase, the one thing we are never allowed to do is say “No, that will never work,” when someone is presenting an idea. As soon as one person says, “‘No, I don’t like it,” the creative process stops.

On the contrary, when a working environment is set up so that no idea is bad; eventually someone blurts out a crazy idea that leads to a radically wonderful new concept. Nearly every great idea starts from someone’s crazy blurt. But you have to get the ball rolling by setting up an environment where ‘no’ is not allowed.   If you can get your employees in this mindset, you will have a company made up of positive, contagious “Yes-men” before long.  That is a very good thing.

Congratulations. You are now an un-official Disney University graduate.  I wish you all the success in the world in transforming your business into a contagiously successful business.

The Disney Dream Job Page

19 Apr 2012 Career Advice

Would you like to work for the happiest company in the world? Well if so, you are in luck! Here’s some information to get you headed in the right direction:

Disney Company Job Line: 1 (407) 828-2850

Walt Disney World Casting Office 1515 Lake Buena Vista Dr. Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830 1 (407) 828-1000

Walt Disney World College Relations Department P.O. Box 10,000 Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0090 American Students (407) 828-3091 International Students 407-828-2850

Disneyland College Program Disneyland College Relations 1313 Harbor Boulevard PO Box 3232 Anaheim, California 92803

Walt Disney Imagineering Attn: Human Resources 1401 Flower Street PO Box 25020 Glendale, CA 91221-5020 (818) 544-6500

Help! I want to be a Theme Park Designer. What Do I Do Now? 13 Guidelines for your success

19 Apr 2012 Career Advice
So, you want to be a theme park designer, do you?  I get hundreds of emails every year from people who want to design rides and other theme park attractions for a living. In this article, I hope to answer a lot of the commonly asked questions so that you too will have a better idea about how to get started in the themed entertainment industry.

If you remember all guidelines I’ve laid down for you and follow them, your chances for success will be greatly increased.

Guideline #1:  The average job in the themed entertainment lasts about 18 months

The average job in this industry only lasts about 18 months. This industry is volatile and almost all work is done on a project basis.  When the project ends – you lose your job.  It is not a bad thing. Usually it mean that you simply go onto the next job, wherever that may be. Successful designers are networked so well that they can move around from job-to-job without much difficulty. But it is not for the faint of heart. And while for a young kid starting out without any job it’s easy to remain short sighted about this and say it doesn’t matter.  Down the road when you are trying to support a family this lifestyle becomes something more difficult to sustain. To be successful, you must be willing to accept change as the only constant.

Guideline #2: Learn how to draw even if you don’t think you can.Walk around with a sketch pad wherever you go and draw everything you see.  Everyone should learn how to express their ideas visually, especially if you want to be in the themed entertainment industry. Everyone can learn to draw well given enough practice.

I fondly recall asking two Disney animators about their figure drawing skills a couple years ago. At that, they both confided in me: “I’m scared to death of drawing people.”   I was shocked. I said, “Wait a minute, you just finished animating Mulan and Hercules.  How can you be afraid of drawing people?”

I concluded that most sane people have an apprehension about sketching.  If these Disney animators don’t think they can draw, yet somehow manage to produce masterpieces. . . then why can you not draw very well too?  I believe you can.

If you still think you need help learning to sketch, get the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain , by Betty Edwards.   It will help you draw in the best way a text book can.

Guideline #3:  Get the right reading material and start learning.

Read a biography of Walt Disney.  Themed entertainment was revolutionized by this man, so you will do well to learn about him. A very good book on both Walt Disney’s life and Disney philosophy is Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney and the American Way of Life . By Watts. Subscribe to the industry magazines as well. They will help you think like a theme park designer.

Guideline #4: Get a good education.

Your chances of a successful career are reduced dramatically without a college degree.  The bottom line: You cannot chase your dreams without a good education. It is highly unlikely that you will have much success developing skills to make companies want to hire you without a degree.  I therefore encourage you to work as hard as you can while you are in school.  Learn good study habits by doing all your homework assignments and stay in school until you get a degree.

I recommend the following schools of higher education:

  • Art Center; Pasadena, California
  • California Institute for the Arts; (CalArts), Valencia, California
  • Ringling School of Design; Sarasota, Florida
  • University of Cincinnati; Cincinnati Ohio
  • Most schools in Southern California like Cal State Fullerton, USC, UCLA, UC Irvine are good choices as they are close to where the themed entertainment industry is located.  Be sure that these schools have a major appropriate to your interests.

Guideline #5:  Choose the right college major:

You might wonder what your college major should be in order to become a theme park designer. The answer to that question is simple and complex. There are many hundreds of career fields involved in theme park design because it takes many disciplines in order to produce one.  The real key is just finding something that you love to do.  Life is too short to spend it doing a job you don’t like.  Here are some theme park design careers and how to get involved in them.

  • Illustrator/Concept artist:  Illustrators are the people who actually draw out what they think an idea will look like. They draw every picture that architects and engineers will eventually design from. Very often illustrators will have an art director looking over their shoulder guiding them. In terms of the original concepts, illustrators play a huge role in the design, and it is often their inspiration that determines a final look of an attraction. Illustration can be learned at a public or private art school, or on your own.
  • Engineering: On the opposite side of the spectrum from illustration is engineering. Engineers have no say as to what the concept looks like or does, but engineers figure out how to make it work. Whether it be sizing the structural columns, calculating shear forces on a roller coaster, or developing new electronics to make an animatronic figure function; engineers do the math and programming to make it work. Engineering schools are found at major colleges and universities. Structural, electrical, computer science and mechanical engineering are the most common majors.
  • Architects create atmosphere with the space that they design. They use drawings from illustrators and engineers to create buildings and spaces. Their focus ranges from the “big picture” of building layout all the way down to the smallest detail of accounting for the code requirements of a space.
  • Interior designers focus on the interior of the space. They are generally concerned about furniture, paint colors and material choices. They also design the layout of spaces and focus on ergonomics… the human factor. Interior designers can play a very conventional role in a normal interior space, but they also design highly specialized themed spaces as well. Some specialize in selecting the very unique themed finishes in an attraction while others help to select the movie-like props that will go into an attraction.  Interior designers have illustration skills, space planning skills, materials selection skills, and computer skills. They learn their trade at design schools.
  • Industrial designers are very similar to interior designers and architects in many ways. Industrial designers design products like the shape of car, a shampoo bottle or of the look of props or sets in an attraction.  In the themed entertainment industry, many of them become show designers because of their varied skills.  They sometimes are used to design exhibits and exhibit elements, commonly used in theme parks.  Industrial designers learn industrial design at art schools.
  • Film people are a very important to the success of themed attractions. Motion control simulator rides like Back to the Future at Universal Studios or Star Tours at Disney are technologies that opened up an entirely new area of expertise in themed entertainment field. Video and film production specialists are needed to produce the ride films for those attractions. Frequently, film people are also used in many other applications, from attraction pre-shows to commercial advertising in television.
  • Set designers create many different aspects of a theme park, both interior and exterior.  Set designers in themed entertainment are a hybrid of theatrical set designers and cinematic set designers.   Because a theme park can be thought of as a “three dimensional show that one can walk through and experience,” set designers are a very necessary part of the equation. In fact many interior attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney are little more than a series of overlapping sets that a ride passes through. Set design can be learned at an art school or at a theatrical school.
  • Graphic designers create all of the signage and some other architectural facade details at a theme park. Their trade is learned at art schools.
  • Show writer:  In theme park design show writers are invaluable. The show writer is one of the most key people in conceptualizing new themed attraction ideas.  Like in a film in the movie industry,  every themed attraction is based on a story.  Some are subtle, and some are overt.  It is the show writers’ job to create the compelling story that we will all experience.  Further, it is then his job to collaborate with the other designers to make sure that the story is effectively communicated through the design.  Jobless writers, fear not.  Show writing is an exciting possibility for you.
  • Landscape architect / planner:  Do not let the name fool you.  Landscape architects aren’t gardeners.  These are the people who lay out the overall footprint of the theme park, resort or other project.  They create outdoor atmospheres through land planning and environmental design.
  • Props / Set Decorator- The last “layer” for any themed attraction is the prop and set decorator. These people specialize in finding the right props and artifacts to make a themed environment seem real.

This was just a sample of the types of people needed to produce a theme park. Indeed literally hundreds of trades are needed: lighting designers, carpenters, model builders, contractors, landscapers, lawyers, financial managers, sculptors, painters, actors, dancers, and vendors. The list is endless. So to be involved in this industry, you simply find a career that you like, and go out and pursue it.

Guideline #6:  Become an expert in one skill and a generalist in many skills. 

A few years ago I asked Tony Baxter, Vice President of Creative Services at Walt Disney Imagineering what a person needed to do to get started as a theme park designer. He told me that the most important thing someone needed to do to become an Imagineer is to become “Very good at just one thing.” I asked the same question to Bob Rogers, President and founder of BRC Imagination Arts, an attraction design company located in Burbank, California. Mr. Rogers told me that he always looks to hire generalists — people who can do a lot of things very well. The bottom line?  Become an expert in one thing, but be able to do many tasks well.  A single skill makes you employable. A lot of skills makes you attractive.

Guideline #7:  Be nice to everybody.

The themed entertainment industry is a very small group of people.  Everyone knows everyone.  If you start making enemies you will soon be out of friends.   Never burn a bridge!  Repeat after me:   I will never, never, ever, burn a bridge! Patrick McGarry, the area manager of Disneyland Engineering told me,  “We know that there are lots of people who can do the job here, but what we really look for is people who can interact and communicate and get along with others.” For Mr. McGarry it is the interpersonal skills that make the difference. And that makes sense. If you are going to spend all day with someone, you want to be around those dynamic people who can solve problems while maintaining a good sense of humor.  People who throw temper tantrums or get stressed out during those normal storms of life are never much fun to be around!

Guideline #8:   No one owes you a job.

Market yourself with the correct mindset: In the real world there is no affirmative action to help you succeed.  No one owes you any sort of job, and no one is going to do it for you. Everything is up to you.  No one will ever come looking for you unless you make the phone calls and write the letters and go meet people. When you are turned down for a job, you are never “out” like you would be in baseball.  Instead, keep talking to your contact every month or two, letting them know that you are still interested. After a while, you will know lots of the right type of people and that good job will eventually come around to you. After all, it’s not what you know; it’s “who you know.” If you were to fail in 50 straight interviews, but on the 51st interview you got your dream job then it would all have been worth it. So look at interviews as OPPORTUNITY, and never give up.

Guideline #9:  Begin networking right here on Themedattraction.com.

  • Pay attention to the message boards.  You have a unique opportunity to talk on a first hand basis with industry insiders.  Use this opportunity to your advantage.
  • Utilize our career page .  We have assembled some of the best online job resources for the themed entertainment industry.  Some jobs are temporary, some are permanent. But any job will help you to get valuable experience in this industry.

Guideline #10   Join Professional Organizations

Join professional organizations like the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions , (IAAPA) and the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and go to their meetings and conventions. It’s a good place to get to know the right people. You can go and talk to dozens of company executives at the convention. They are always happy to talk to you too, because every smart executive is always looking for good people. As Bob Rogers says: “Companies are ALWAYS hiring, no matter what they say.” If the right person comes along, they will create an opening for that person. There are no rules in the business world and anyone can be hired at any time

Guideline #11:  Get your foot in the door any way you can.

It is often a good idea to take a part time hourly position at a theme park because once you are inside the company, it is much easier to get hired into a more desired salary positions.  Hourly work at a theme park provides invaluable experience that I highly recommend for everyone, but most design jobs are not at theme parks.  It’s a good idea to get in on the ground floor with any company that offers promising opportunity.

Guideline #12: Move to where the industry is located.

The themed entertainment industry is spread out widely throughout the United States and the world.  However, the most concentrated areas are in three locations: a). Los Angeles, California; b). Orlando, Florida;  and c). Cincinnati, Ohio.  Other smaller areas of concentration are spread across the country and the world.  Because of the thousands of resumes each company receives each year, it is doubtful that anyone will get serious consideration for a job if they live out of state. If you were a staffing professional looking to fill a job, where would you look first, in Bristol, Connecticut, or in your own city?  Of course there are always exceptions, but in general, LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION are three very key words to know.  This holds true for any company.If you’d like to work for the Disney Company or Universal Studios in a professional capacity (or any theme park for that matter) it is a wise decision to move to where they are located (Southern California or Central Florida).

Guideline #13:  Don’t put Disney on a pedestal.

Don’t hold the Disney company as the end-all and be-all of themed entertainment.  Up until 1990, Disney set the standard for themed entertainment,  but there is a world of opportunity out there, so don’t limit yourself to just one company. Too many people sacrifice good jobs at good companies for not-so-good jobs at Disney.  Disney is a fine company, but please keep everything in perspective and realize that there are many great opportunities out there for you.

by Nate Naversen

Confessions of a Freelance Attraction Show Writer

19 Apr 2012 Career Advice

In response to your excellent questions about getting into the business of becoming a freelance themed attraction writer, I can only refer to my own experiences. As you know, I worked as a freelance writer in the themed attraction design business for several years before ITEC Productions finally hired me to be their full-time show writer. But I actually started my writing “career” many years earlier writing for free. Yes, I actually gave my work away. The point was to get myself published in any way possible so I could get the experience and the portfolio. So my first assignments were writing articles and book reviews for a newsletter published by a space advocacy organization to which I belonged. I was still in college at the time. Though it did nothing to enrich my wallet, it was excellent training for me and helped me develop certain journalistic skills (getting my facts in order, learning how to communicate quickly, clearly, accurately, working under deadline, etc.)–skills which have served me ever since.

Later, I started writing professionally (for money, though not very much). It was very opportunistic; I had recently graduated from film school and was working for a motion picture visual effects firm in L.A. as an f/x cameraman. During slow periods, I also wrote press releases and ads for the company. More good, basic training–this time in marketing. One day, I happened to find myself on the phone with the publisher of a major movie industry magazine and, on a whim, I asked if they might be interested in an article about a recent f/x project we had been shooting. To my surprise, they said “yes.” They didn’t know or care if I had any writing skills. They just wanted the facts behind the project. I ended up spending much of my vacation time that summer writing the article, which they published with almost no editorial changes. The check they wrote me was tiny, but it was just cool to see my article on the newsstands a few weeks later. So in this case, I saw an opportunity and grabbed it. I ended up writing another article for the same magazine, and later I was able to get other industry magazines interested in having me write articles for their publications. It helped a great deal that I had a publication history and a reputation for turning my manuscripts in on time, properly written, and neatly typed to the assigned word count.

I later moved to Orlando, where my journalistic background and my portfolio of published articles helped me land a part-time writing gig with WDW Cast Communications, writing articles for Eyes & Ears (the Cast Member news publication). At the same time, I was writing more articles for other magazines. From time to time, one of my old film school pals would ask me to write a training video script. So I was doing a lot of little writing jobs. But, like you Will, I had always longed to be an Imagineer. Alas, WDI was not in a hiring mode during that period. Nevertheless, I decided to supplement my portfolio with sample attraction design manuscripts and spent months composing a small pile of them to add to my portfolio. Eventually, a friend gave me the name of a contact at one Orlando-based attraction design company. We set up a meeting, I showed them my portfolio, and they gave me my first freelance attraction writing assignment. Tiny amount of pay and ridiculously tight deadline. But I took the job eagerly and they were pleased with my work.
The next freelance attraction writing gig did not follow quickly. Instead of waiting around, I found out about a charity design project that one themed design company was working on. I promptly offered them my writing services for free and they accepted. I worked my tail off on that charity project, donating literally hundreds of hours of my time as a writer. The quality of my work earned me a fair amount of professional respect, if not any actual money. The gig also gave me ample opportunities to hang around the design company’s office where some of the charity project meetings were held. I made friends with the folks there and became a familiar face. Occasionally, since I was already in the building on charity business, they’d call me into one of their other project meetings and the next thing you know, they were giving me paying assignments.

Over time, some of the folks from this first design company left to join other firms, or sometimes they started their own. They all remembered me along with the quality of my work, so whenever they needed an attraction writer, they would call me. In this way, I managed to cultivate a growing list of entertainment design clients. It took years, and some of those were very lean and hungry years! To make ends meet, I had to continue taking occasional journalism gigs. Once, I even took a gig writing an employee benefits manual for a local construction supply company! Eventually, as the market and US economy in general improved, the flow of work became quite strong. At times, it even became a flood, and I occasionally had more work coming in than I could handle–almost. It was during one of these busy periods that one of my top clients–ITEC–offered me a full-time gig. After some quick negotiations, I accepted their offer. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So what are the lessons to be learned from my experience?

– Do whatever you must do to get experience as a writer, even if it means writing free articles for some organizational newsletter. You may not have any desire to be a journalist, but the skills and habits you will learn doing that kind of writing will serve you well for the rest of your career. It’s also a good way to get yourself published and thus build up your portfolio.

Today, there are also many Web-based venues that will gladly accept free submissions from aspiring writers. Find a topic that interests you, find a Web site that addresses it, and make your move.

– Be on the lookout for opportunities and be prepared to seize them if they come your way. They don’t have to be attractions-related. Any chance to get yourself published is worth taking–especially if someone’s offering you money for the privilege.

– But don’t turn up your nose at volunteer writing work–especially if it gives you a chance to prove your talent in front of potential clients. Success often hinges on being at the right place at the right moment, and a volunteer gig that puts you into contact with potential design employers will improve those odds immeasurably.

– Be nice to everyone you meet in the field and keep in touch with them. You never know when they might throw you a writing gig.

– Make yourself reliable, someone the clients know they can always depend on to deliver. You should earn a reputation as a perfectionist who always submits his work on time and gives them exactly what they had in mind–even if they didn’t know what that was. And yes–spelling, grammar, punctuation, and neatness DO count!

– Don’t quit your day job anytime soon. Until you build up your client list, writing alone will seldom pay your bills. You may often have to take writing jobs that have nothing to do with your ambition. Accept them with enthusiasm.

– Use the slow periods to build up your portfolio with sample manuscripts–especially if you don’t have a lot of real ones to show off.
Will, I’d like to clear up one misconception that I perceived in your letter. You didn’t say it in so many words, but it sounds like you are under the impression that freelance writing is a sort of “stop-gap” profession–something a writer does until a full-time (i.e. “real”) writing job comes along. The truth, however, is that for many writers, freelancing is their entire career. True, it may sometimes turn out to be a “stepping stone,” as it was in my case. But that doesn’t mean that the freelance world is a mere training camp for aspiring writers. Yes, it’s a good learning experience. But it is also extremely demanding work, often requiring more effort and concentration and energy than a full-time writing job. I even know a few writers who voluntarily gave up full-time employment in the attraction design field to become freelancers because they wanted a greater challenge and more variety. They also wanted to be “their own boss.” (Surprise! As a freelancer, I had more than A DOZEN bosses!)

As for your question about what “those companies” look for in a freelance writer:

– Track record. Your clients will count on you to deliver what they ordered, well written, and on time. They’d rather not have to take it on faith that you will come through. They would much prefer it if you have proven yourself in the past with other companies. The better your track record, the more interested they will be in you.

– Quality portfolio. They will want to see actual examples of your work. If you don’t have enough professional examples, show them exercises. But everything you show should be as close to perfect as possible. Quality really does count.

– Knowledge of the profession. Know your stuff as a writer and as a designer. Most of your design clients won’t have time to explain all the design basics to you, so you should go in with an understanding of their “language.”

– Knowledge of the world. Often, you won’t just be asked to write down something someone else has thought of. Rather, you’ll be required to contribute your own ideas. The more you know about the worlds of science, art, architecture, music, nature, literature, theater, etc., etc., the more you’ll be able to involve yourself and the more valuable you will become in their eyes.

– Versatility. You may be asked to write all sorts of different types of manuscripts. One client might need a script for a 4-minute simulator ridefilm. Another might need a guest experience for a themed restaurant. A third client might need you to write captions for displays in an interactive museum exhibit. And a fourth client might want you to write a marketing sheet describing a recent technical project they just completed. If you can switch gears and capably handle all the above and more, you will become quite popular with your clients.

– Affability. There are plenty of prima donnas out there. A few get hired; most don’t. Be prepared to get along with your clients and colleagues. Design is a collaborative profession, so be prepared to see things from many other points of view.

– Proximity. In this wired world, you’d think it would be easy to do business by long distance through faxes and e-mail and never have to sit down face to face with your client. This, in fact, does happen from time to time. While living in Orlando, I occasionally did gigs for clients in Missouri, North Carolina, Alabama, and even Japan. But it was often difficult at best. Clients like it a lot better if you are based in their vicinity. This way, they can call you in for meetings, show you story boards and models, get you involved in group brainstorms, etc. So the best place to be if you want to freelance in the entertainment design field is wherever the design companies are located. Like Orlando, or L.A., and I think there are a few others around the US.

I know a lot of this advice may sound like “paying your dues.” And I guess that’s true. My experience tells me that clients always prefer a “known quantity.” There’s too much at stake in this business to take chances on someone unproven. Folks just don’t want to risk giving some newcomer “a break” when there’s so much riding on each project. So if you can show them that you’ve done it before and delivered, the clients will take you much more seriously. You need to get professional experience wherever you can. If you aren’t writing every day–even if it’s for charity–you are passing up an opportunity to build your credibility and expertise.

I’m not trying to discourage you. But the truth is that success seldom comes overnight. If you are truly serious about a career as an attraction writer, you should be prepared to devote YEARS to achieving that goal. The good news, though, is that IT’S WORTH IT!
Adam Berger Attraction Show Writer
ITEC Entertainment Corporation (theme park design)

A Short History of Roller Coasters

19 Apr 2012 Roller Coasters

Today, they are high-tech marvels rising more than one hundred feet in the air with tubular steel tracks, loops, corkscrews and boomerangs. Their riders are hurled through space at 60 miles per hour — while sitting, standing or suspended from an overhead track.

Their roots are still with us today — majestic wooden labyrinths with steep rises and swooping plunges and superstructures that look like delicately balanced matchsticks. Steel and wooden roller coasters may look different, but there is much they have in common. All exist to exhilarate and terrify. The exhilaration began with Russian Mountains, in the 15th and 16th centuries. They were ice slides built near Russian towns, some as high 70 feet in the air. The track was ice and the sleds was ice, with straw stuffed in chiseled hollows to serve as seats. The ride — and the sleds — became more elaborate as Russian royalty adopted the idea.

The first wheeled roller coaster was invented in Russia too, built in 1784 in St. Petersburg. The rides then made their way to Paris, where a wheeled coaster attraction was opened in 1804. But there were problems. The wheels often fell off and the cars did not always stop at the end of the track.

It was in Paris where the phrase roller coaster originated. Early rides used tracks made of rollers and sleds with runners — thus the art of roller coasting. The name stuck after runners were replaced with wheels.

Early coaster rides came in two parts. Riders rolled down one hill to the bottom and then walked up a second hill to get enough height for the return trip. The coasters were dragged uphill by attendants.

The first ride resembling modern roller coasters opened in Paris in 1817. Called Promenades Aeriennes, or Aerial Walks, it had two separate, continuous tracks. Its cars were locked onto the track and reached speeds of 40 mph. The speed gave the coasters enough momentum to complete a circular track and return to the starting point.

America s first coasters were a bit tamer. The first roller coaster ride in America was a gravity-powered mine train used to haul coal through the mountains of Pennsylvania. It was called the Mauch Chunk Railway, and after the mine shut down, the railway became a full-time attraction. Hundreds of people paid a nickel each for the six-mile-per-hour trip downhill. Mules pulled the cars uphill and shared the ride down with passengers.

The first specially built roller coaster in America was the Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway built by La Marcus Adna Thompson in 1884 at Coney Island. The ride was a series of leisurely wooden waves and passengers paid a nickel each to sit sideways in cars that reached a top speed of six miles-per-hour. Thompson recovered his $1,600 investment in three weeks, and his success made for roller coaster mania in the United States.

Within a few years, Americans re-invented a circular track for coasters. Another American, Phillip Hinckle, invented a steam-powered chain lift to tug coasters to new heights — and new downhill speeds. As inventors worked to make coasters better and faster, someone got the idea that it would be fun to turn riders upside down. The first loop was built in Paris in 1846 and called the Centrifugal Railway. The ride was tested with sandbags, monkeys, flowers, eggs and glasses of water before humans were allowed on board.

Similar rides appeared in America in the early 1900s — but the strain and speed necessary to get cars through the loop proved too much for passengers and loops disappeared until the 1970s.

The 1920s were the golden age of roller coasters. Large, wooden figure-eight tracks were popular and newly-invented safety devices allowed coasters to go faster and more furiously. By 1929, there were more than 1,500 roller coasters in the world.

It was in 1927 that the benchmark for roller coasters was built. Called The Cyclone, and built at Coney Island, it featured an 85-foot plunge and incredible 60-degree angles. Today, the Cyclone is still an industry standard.

Roller coasters suffered along with everything else during the Great Depression. Amusement park attendance was down and owners could not afford to keep coasters in good repair. Rides were abandoned or torn down. By 1960, there were fewer than 200 coasters in the United States.

Then a man named Walt Disney decided to build a theme part in California. With Disneyland came a revival of amusement parks — and, later, roller coasters.

The first tubular steel-tracked coaster was Disney’s Matterhorn Bobsled Ride, built in 1959. Steel rides were quieter — but more importantly, they allowed designers to build twists, turns and other thrills not possible with wood coasters.

Roller coaster fans mark the advent of a corkscrew-shaped ride in 1975 and a perfected, tear-drop-shaped loop in 1976 with the same passion as historians mark the Renaissance.

As theme park attendance rose, wooden coasters became popular again, too. These grand visions of the past reached higher into the sky at the same time their metal descendants torqued and twisted riders through weirder and faster paths.

Today, the roller coaster industry belongs to engineers and computers. There is talk of rides that will exceed 100 miles-per-hour. The only limit will be what physics — and the human body — will allow.


A Chronology of Important Developments

15th and 16th Centuries First gravity rides were constructed in Russia Middle 18th Century Russian gravity rides on wheels 1817 First coasters with wheels locked onto tracks are built in France 1846 First Centrifugal Loop is built in France 1873 U.S. Mauch Chunk Railway becomes exclusively a passenger ride 1884 First known U.S. roller coaster opens at Coney Island in Brooklyn 1885 Philip Hinckle invents a mechanical hoist for cars 1907 First high-speed coaster opens at Coney Island 1959 First tubular steel track roller coaster built at Disneyland 1984 Advent of the first successful stand-up coaster at Paramount’s Kings Island and the first successful suspended coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg 1992 First successful inverted coaster introduced at Six Flags Great America  1995/96 Approximately 100 new coasters built worldwide

The Who, What, Where and Weird

Hey you! Looking for some deeper meaning in all of this roller coaster stuff! Want some unusual angles? Here are some ideas!

Why do people do this to themselves? Think about it. You get strapped into a metal bucket and hurled around a track at incredible speeds. You go up. You go down. You get whipped around. Then you get back on and do it again. Why? Because you need to. Let’s face it. Life can be dull. Roller coasters change that for a couple of minutes. They let you push your personal edge. But don’t take our word for it. Talk to some of these people:

1. Dr. Roller Coaster: We didn’t make this name up. He comes with it. The man is a psychiatrist who can tell you why some people are driven to get on roller coasters. He, himself, is one of them. His real name is Glenn Wilson. You can reach him at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, England. His telephone number is 44/1717035411.

2. Marie L. Miller: You will want to call this woman. She is the oldest member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts — we’ll let her tell you just how old. She also is a former vaudeville star. Marie has been on hundreds of roller coasters. She lives in Washington, NJ, and you can contact her at (908) 689-2992.

3. Dr. Robert Cartmell: Dr. Cartmell has written a book on roller coasters called The Incredible Scream Machine. He must know a lot about roller coasters, because his book is pretty thick. He is a professor at the State University of New York at Albany, and his phone number is (518) 489-7647.

Fans and the things they do.

Imagine people so dedicated to roller coasters that they work them into major life events. Picture such things as bridal veils flapping in the wind. These people can help:

1. The Rev. Cliff Herring: Want to get married on a roller coaster? Rev. Herring is your guy. He has performed many coaster weddings and can tell you how the bride is able to hold on to her flowers and other cool stuff. He lives in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania and his telephone number is (610) 266-1169.

2. Matt and Betsy Crowther: This happy couple got married on a roller coaster, April 1990, in Georgia. They’re still happy. You can reach them at (404) 588-9015.

Who builds these things anyway?

Roller coasters ain’t cheap. Modern coasters can take two- to three-years to design and can cost millions to build. Recent designs have topped the $8 million mark. The design process has gone from trial and error to high-tech computer imagery. Here is a list of roller coaster manufacturers and suppliers:

1. Arrow Dynamics, Inc., Clearfield, UT, USA (801) 825-1611 Ron Toomer, Consultant Director

2. Baynum Painting, Inc., Covington, KY, USA (606) 491-9800 Chris Baynum, President

3. Bolliger & Mabillard Consulting Engineers, Monthey, Switzerland 41-257-21580 Walter Bolliger, President

4. Custom Coasters International, Inc., West Chester, OH, USA (513) 755-0626 Denise Dinn Larrick, Owner/President

5. F.A.B. Freizeit-Anlagen-Bau s.a.r.l., Luxembourg 352/471083 Rolf Dupmann, General Manager

6. FCC Construction, Inc., San Diego, CA, USA (619) 673-6390 David A. Phillips, President

7. Great Coasters International, Santa Cruz, CA, USA (408) 464-9551 Mike Boodley, President

8. Intamin AG, Wollerau, Switzerland 41/17869111 R. Spieldiener, President

9. Interpark s.r.l., Spilamberto, Italy 39/59785000 Giulio Demaria, President

10. John F. Pierce Associates. Dallas, TX, USA (214) 871-2872 John Pierce, President

11. Mack GmbH & Co. Waldkirch, Germany 49/768120000 Franz Mack, Owner

12. Maurer Sohne. Manchen, Germany 49/89323940 Hans Beutler, Managing Director

13. Maxifoto International B.V, Energieweg 10d, 5145NW Waalwijk, The Netherlands + 31 (0) 416 671717  Fax  + 31 (0) 416 671718 Peter C. Meininger, Director

14. Miler Coaster Co., Inc. Portland, OR (503) 256-3019 Fred Miler, President

15. Molina & Son/ Machine & Metal Works, Inc. Miami, FL,USA (305) 634-2735 Manuel Diaz, President

16. Morgan Manufacturing. LaSelva Beach, CA, USA (408) 724-8686 Dana Morgan, President (Dana’s father, Edgar Morgan from Scotts Valley, CA, USA co-designed the first coaster with tubular steel tracks for Disneyland.)

17. O.D. Hopkins Associates, Inc., Contoocook, NH, USA (603) 746-4131 Jerry Pendleton, President

18. Pax-Park Ltd., Moscow, Russia 7/0954904864 Vladimir Gnezdilov, President

19. Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, Inc., Lansdale, PA, USA (215) 362-4700 Tom Rebbie, President

20. Roller Coaster Corp. of America, Atlanta, GA (770) 448-7931 Michael Black, President

21. Sanoyas Hishino Meisho Corp., Osaka, Japan 81/62014052 Isao Ohono, President

22. S&MC s.r.I./SMC Structures and Machines 39/522514476 Construction s.r.I., Reggio Emilia, Italy; Andrea Mazzeranghi, Co-owner/Managing Director

23.Togo International, Inc., Middletown, OH, USA (513) 772-8408 Tom Yamada, President

24. Vekoma International B.V., The Netherlands 31/47429222 Roger P.E.G. Houben, Vice President of Marketing and Sales

25. Zamperla, Inc., Parsippany, NJ, USA (201) 334-8133 Chris Sisco, Marketing

Psssst! Wanna buy a coaster?

There is a used-roller coaster market out there. Imagine buying a coaster, taking it apart, moving it and putting it back up again. It happens regularly. Parks move coasters because it can be cheaper than building a new one and they get a proven design. Plus, the American Coaster Enthusiasts organization devotes a lot of time and energy towards the effort of preserving old coasters so that they may be enjoyed by future generations. Here are a few examples:

1. Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, PA, USA (717) 672-2572 Dick Knoebel, President This park was the first modern-day park to move a wooden roller coaster. It bought a coaster in Texas and moved it to Pennsylvania.

2. Premier Parks, Oklahoma City, OK, USA (405) 478-2412 Gary Story, Chief Operating Officer One Premier Park moved a roller coaster from Missouri to Oklahoma and another moved a coaster from Massachusetts to Maryland.

3.T he Great Escape, Lake George, NY, USA (518) 792-3500 Charles R. Wood, CEO This park moved a coaster from Canada to the United States.

4. Tom Halterman, Philadelphia, PA, USA (215) 665-0366 Tom is ACE’s preservation director and can talk about moving

Roller Coasters and Safety

They raise you more than 100 feet in the air and send you shrieking down a hill at 50 mph — yet their wood seems so delicate and their metal so strangely twisted. And as you clack- clack-clack your way to the top of the first hill and feel the pause before the downward rush begins, a thought may run through your mind:

So are roller coasters safe?

The Numbers Show Safety Statistics show that roller coasters are quite safe. And behind the statistics are built-in safety features and armies of specially-trained technicians who spend their days making sure coasters stay safe.

Park officials make safety a top priority — both because it is the right thing to do and because a park cannot afford an accident.

“We cannot run and hide if we have an accident,” said Andy Quinn, a spokesman for Kennywood Park, in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, USA. “We want peace of mind, our patrons want peace of mind and our insurance company wants peace of mind.” Estimates from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and surveys conducted for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions show that more than 270 million visits are made to permanent U.S. parks and attractions each year. Yet less than .00002 percent of all visitors are injured as a result of being on amusement park rides — coasters included.

The CPSC estimates there are between 3,000 to 3,500 accidents each year involving permanent amusement rides. Of those, just 2 percent are serious enough to require overnight hospitalization. There are an average three fatalities per-year related to amusement park rides — or one fatality in every 90 million park visits.

But CPSC and other studies show that only a small portion of ride-related injuries are caused by design, operation or maintenance problems. Most are the result of horseplay, patron negligence or situations unrelated to the operation or condition of the ride.

Maintenance is Key to Keeping Coasters Safe

Parks divide their safety inspection programs into daily, weekly, monthly and yearly activities. They follow detailed manufacturer guidelines for inspection and safety — and many parks use outside specialty companies to periodically re-inspect coasters and the work of full-time park employees.

Beyond park inspection programs, more than 85 percent of all permanent parks are subject to additional government codes and inspection requirements.

At most parks, technicians begin inspecting rides long before those who will enjoy them are awake. The daily safety inspection of roller coasters can take longer than four hours.

“We inspect every length of track, every car and every lap bar,” said Dan West, Rides Maintenance Manager for Paramount s Kings Dominion Park, in Doswell, VA, USA. “Each (maintenance) worker has the right to shut down a ride. They will not let that ride operate if it is not safe.” Workers walk the tracks twice — once to check the left side and once to check the right side. They look for loose bolts and track spikes, cracked wood and any other problem that may have occurred during the night. They inspect the lift chain and braking mechanisms and they inspect the cars for loose bolts, cracks or safety devices that need attention.

Each day, the coaster is first sent around the track empty, then with technicians aboard. Technicians listen for changes in sounds the coaster makes — sounds that might signal a loose bolt or track spike.

Monthly inspections are a more detailed look at the coaster s machinery and track. And yearly inspections involve taking every coaster car apart and rebuilding it, replacing wood that has shown wear and replacing track that may show wear.

At least once per year, most parks X-ray their track or use magnetic scanners to check for metal stress or welds that need attention.

The daily inspection of tubular steel metal coasters is slightly different from that for wooden coasters. Technicians cannot walk the entire track. Instead, they use high-power binoculars to check joints and key metal parts that would otherwise be out of reach.

Technicians know just how tight key bolt assemblies are, and use binoculars to literally count the number of threads left exposed after the bolt has been tightened. If the number of exposed threads changes, technicians know the bolts must be tightened.

Design Safety

A wooden roller coaster is built using many wood boards of various sizes bolted together to form a beam that rests on top of supports. It is that beam that supports the metal track that coasters glide along — and some estimates show that the structures of wooden coasters are overbuilt by at least 25 percent.

There are three wheels on every roller coaster — running wheels, or the main wheels on which the train runs, friction wheels, which help control side-to-side motion of the roller coaster, and upstop wheels, which are underneath the track and make it impossible for the coaster to leave the track — even if inverted.

As the roller coaster is pulled up its first hill by the lift chain, there are safety devices that click into a set of metal dogs (or stairs) on either side of the chain to prevent the coaster from rolling backward should the chain stop.

And after the coaster has completed its ride and is headed into the station, a series of brakes, operated by compressed air and complete with backups, slows the coaster and brings it to a stop so that riders can get off.

Year of the Roller Coaster

January 11, 1996– The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, along with the American Coaster Enthusiasts, has named 1996 as the International Year of the Roller Coaster. The year will be filled with tributes to roller coasters across the world and other events to honor what is the ultimate ride of exhilaration.

Roller coasters have been with us since the 15th century and they still represent our best attempt at the ultimate thrill, said IAAPA president Geoffrey Thompson. The rest of life is so complicated. But roller coasters are simple. They are pure fun. They are part of our culture — and it s time we recognize them.

Technology and a renewed interest in leisure and recreation have meant a resurgence for roller coasters. The number of coasters worldwide peaked in the early 1900s, with about 1,500, and dropped to just a few hundred during the 1960s.

Now, all we have to do is go to any theme park, or amusement park and we can hear the roar of coasters and the screams of riders, said Thompson. Millions of people now enjoy the thrill of roller coasters, and new wood and steel coasters are under construction everywhere.

Currently, there are an estimated 500 coasters worldwide with more than 50 new projects underway in 1996.

Roller coasters can be traced to 15th and16th century Russia, where people built ice slides and used hollowed-out blocks of ice as the first coaster cars. The first commercial roller coasters appeared in France during the early 1800s and the first specially-built U.S. coaster was constructed in 1884.

There are two kinds of roller coasters — those with tubular metal tracks that take riders through high-speed loops, corkscrews and boomerangs, and wooden coasters that tower over parks and feature swooping plunges and matchstick-like construction.

We are in the best of times for roller coasters, said Thompson. Engineers working with computers allow us to create the safest, wildest rides ever. The only limits are what people are willing to ride. And people are willing to do some pretty intense things.

Restoration efforts are underway to preserve the world s great wooden roller coasters and advances in metal roller coasters allow riders to do everything from stand or be suspended as they ride. In 1996, the oldest wooden roller coaster, located at Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania, will be restored as the newest generation of steel roller coasters debuts at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, in Florida.

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions is the largest international trade association for permanently-situated amusement facilities worldwide. IAAPA represents more than 4,000 facility, manufacturer and individual members in more than 72 countries, including most major amusement parks and attractions in the United States.

The American Coaster Enthusiasts is an all volunteer, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation, appreciation and enjoyment of the roller coaster. Founded in 1978, the organization has approximately 5,000 members worldwide.

This article reproduced with permission from International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions

Design Tools: What tools are used?

19 Apr 2012 Design Tools

One subject that themedattraction.com has not addressed yet is the question of design tools: That is, what tools are used by designers to create theme park attractions?

AutoCad drafting

AutoCad is a tool that has almost completely replaced hand drafting for the development of plans, sections and elevations in most of the world of design and construction. AutoCad is a part of many attraction designers’ skill sets.

AutoCad designers are an essential part of the design team, and often translate concept sketches into objects with real dimensions. Cad drafting in the theme park design world is used in the creation of a ‘show set package’ that describes the required show elements necessary for the production of a theme park attraction.

We might mention that one of the few places that AutoCad has not completely replaced hand drafting is in the realm of theme park attraction design. Simply put, the straight, vector-oriented lines of cannot reproduce the layers of detail and texture required for theme park attractions. Old fashioned pencil-on-drafting table is still quite necessary and is not obsolete – yet.

As a word of caution to those starting out: There are a lot of immitation Cad programs out there, but the industry standard and the only one used industry wide is AutoCad. Anyone attempting to market their skills has a much stronger hand knowing AutoCad.

Autocad is made by AutoDesk, Inc, based in San Rafael, California. Student versions can be obtained through local colleges and universities for hundreds of dollars. The full version costs upwards of $5000 retail. Classes in AutoCad are widely available through local community colleges, although the best skills are acquired when accompanied by training in architecture.


Here’s a typical front elevation of theme park attraction. In the realm of themed attraction design, we would consider this a ‘show element’. In this case, the original TWA Rocketship ‘weenie’ for Tomorrowland. This drawing was not drawn by a professional, as you can see by the varying text height and the out-of-scale dimension style. But it does illustrate how AutoCad can be used as a tool when developing attraction elevations.

‘Authenticity vs. Staged experiences’ Christian Engler

19 Apr 2012 Dissertations

MA studies intourism management at the University of Brighton / England

1. Introduction 2. Is there any objective authenticity? 3. Constructed authenticity 4. Giving meaning to the world 5. Why the concept of objective authenticity is still preserved 6. Conclusion

1. Introduction

It is a commonly held view that mass tourism and the commodification of attractions are a threat to the ‘uniqueness’, ‘authenticity’, ‘natural state’ (Galla, 1994) or ‘scholarly credibility’ (Goulding, 2000) of ethnicities, heritage and culture (Wang, 1999). Many people fear that these valuable assets are sacrificed for the sake of entertainment, popularity, and profit (Goulding, 2000; Lancaster County Heritage, 2002) and hence agree that the ’original’ and ‘indigenous’ has to be protected from these ‘evils of late-capitalism’ (Taylor, 2001).

At the same time, in tourism, the binary opposition of ‘authentic’ and ‘inauthentic’ is fundamental in the creation of product value (Taylor, 2001). The label of ‘authenticity’ is used to sell festivals, rituals, cuisine, souvenirs, dresses or accommodation with the meaning of ‘made or enacted by local people’, according to ‘custom’ or ‘tradition’ (Wang, 1999). In ‘authentic’ landscapes the relation between local people and Mother Nature is still in balance (Nishimura, 2005).

In both ways, the term poses as objectivism, holding the power of ‘the truth’ both spatial as temporal (Taylor, 2001). However, the myth of an ‘objective authenticity’ has been disassembled by supporters of constructivist, post-modernist and existentialist thinking (Wang, 1999). This essay will explore different approaches to authenticity and verify their meaning in the context of tourism. The question will be raised if not every tourism offering can be considered a ‘staged experience’ and if not everything, from a museum object to a medieval town to the infamous Disneyland can be seen as equally authentic.

2. Is there any objective authenticity?

Objective authenticity assumes that there is something inherently ‘authentic’. This is a very ‘museum-linked’ way of perception, based on ‘original’ objects, such as an ‘authentic Roman coin’ to which ‘authenticity’ attributes a certain origin in time. However, tourism transfers this concept to people, sites, services, or events and any subsequent modification, transformation or creativity to the ‘original’ idea is negatively seen as inauthentic (Wang, 1999). Towns, regions and countries publish authenticity guidelines to preserve historic structures, culture and tradition. Tourism councils define criteria of authenticity to award tourism businesses with accreditation and logos of ‘official heritage’. The criteria and terminology used are based on an objective understanding of authenticity. Examples are the County of Lancaster’s (2002) ‘Authenticity Guidelines and Criteria’ or the Baltimore City Heritage Area Association’s (2001) ‘Authentic Baltimore Program Guidelines’. Such an understanding of authenticity is rejected by other authors as ‘antiquarian’ and ‘elitist’ (Schoorl, 2005).

One problem of objective authenticity is that nothing is static but in constant change, so there is no absolute point of reference (Wang, 1999). Just as heritage is ‘fabricated’ over time (Schoorl, 2005), so are tradition (Hannabuss, 1999), custom and culture (Wang, 1999). Urry (2002:9) asks what the difference is between an ‘apparently inauthentic staging for the tourist’ and the ‘process of cultural remaking that happens in all cultures anyway’.

Something that initially has been considered ‘inauthentic’ can subsequently with the passage of time even widely be perceived as ‘authentic’ (Wang, 1999). Examples of tourism sites that by the time of their creation could not objectively have been called ‘authentic’ in reference to their time and place, but that are today seen as important heritage monuments are the Grotto de Thetis at Versailles, an ancient Greek underwater world designed in 1665 (Hedin, 2001), or the landscape garden of Stourhead in England from 1745, hosting a Greek temple, a copy of the Roman Pantheon and a gothic cottage (Viau, 2002a). The Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, a medieval style castle, was accomplished in 1886 ‘in the authentic style of the old German knights’ castles’, as Ludwig II, King of Bavaria wrote in a letter to the composer Richard Wagner (Bavarian Department for State-owned Palaces, 2003). This shows that in the past people were less concerned about ‘authenticity’ than today. Eco (1990) recognizes that the reproduction team of the Getty Museum, faithfully reconstructing an ‘authentic’ Herculaneum villa in Los Angeles, were in fact reproducing an ‘inauthenitic’ copy of a Greek villa, because Herculaneum patricians used to copy Greek buildings in a way far less ‘faithful’ to authenticity than the contemporary reproduction team. Even Disneyland, 50 years after its opening, is nowadays widely recognized as an ‘authentic’ theme park (Wang, 1999). In order to find cultural ‘objective authenticity’ one might have to go back to prehistoric times. However, nostalgia for a wild, prehistoric, hunting-gathering past is not widespread (Young, 1999).

Another problem of objective authenticity is that – even if one accepts that there might be ‘authenticity’ of single objects such as a costume or a building in reference to a certain time or place – the selective portrayal of these components will always be based on the taste and perception of a modern biased society (Goulding, 2000). Hence, the meaning of the ‘authentic’ object gets both disassembled and reassembled in a new context (Hannabuss, 1999).

A third problem is to decide who has the power to decide what can be regarded as objectively authentic and what not. Many historic developments are controversial even amongst academics and scientists and there is no clear evidence to the exact manifestation of many things from the past. So a great portion of portraying the past is merely ‘guesswork’ (Fuller, n.d.).

3. Constructed authenticity

Assuming that there cannot be objective authenticity, why do people ‘believe’ in its existence? Constructivist philosophers assume that there is no real pre-existing world independent of human activity. Nothing is inherently authentic; authenticity is constructed by a society based on points of view, beliefs, perspectives, interpretations or powers. Therefore, what consumers or tourists do is projecting their expectations, preferences, consciousness and stereotyped images onto toured objects and sites and believe them to be authentic when they meet their expectations (Urry, 2002; Wang, 1999). For constructivists, authenticity is elative, negotiable, contextually determined and even ideological (Wang, 1999).

According to Urry (2002), today’s mass media are constructing and sustaining the consumers’ concept of authenticity. In a ‘three-minute-culture’ people ‘gaze’ upon and collect signs and images of many cultures in an extreme form of ‘time-space compression’ or ‘global miniaturisation’. In that way they acquire an extensive reference system of semiotic signs such as ‘timeless romantic Paris’ or ‘real olde England’. Beeck (2003) characterizes this perception as plural, fragmented and decontextualised.

Taylor (2001) describes the observations of MacCannell (1992) how the West’s image of the ‘ideal primitive’ is teaching native ethnicities how to act primitive for tourists. The concept of the ‘performative primitive’ has also been addressed by Desmond (1999), manifested in the way ‘authentic Hawaiian hula dancers’ have to look like in tourism shows and tourism marketing, always featuring a slightly Polynesian black-haired and brown-skinned Sophia Loren look, which has little to do with the ethnic composition of the island being the ‘melting pot’ of the Pacific. Beeck (2003) writes that for tourism purposes, European inner cities get a ‘historical staging’. They are becoming symbolic spaces with little relation to today’s everyday life. They are merely scenery in which tourists would consider heterogeneity as irritating and molesting. All these examples are a blurry mix of ‘objectively authentic’ elements and a big portion of myth (Hannabuss, 1999).

Such a view of the world and the past however is not a product of today’s media consumption. An earlier ‘media mix’ constructing ‘authenticity’ was set up for example by explorers’ reports, ‘missionary diatribes’ (Desmond, 1999), and works by fictional writers and artists such as Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, Karl May or E. T. A. Hoffmann whose views were based on different concepts such as colonial expansion, racial discourse (Desmond, 1999), romanticism or classicism. Eighteenth century English gardens introduced ‘the tourist viewpoint’ into park design, displaying miniaturized scenes from other times and places (Beeck, 2003). This is an early form of ‘sampling’, as post-modern artists would call it, which through simplification, reproduction and decontextualization blurs the concepts of ‘real’ and ‘fake’ (Hannabuss, 1999).

Some authors think that today’s consumers are aware of the constructiveness of their ‘authenticity’ (Beeck, 2003; Hannabuss, 1999; Urry, 2002). For instance, tourists know that sitting at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in the middle of an Italian setting with a view upon an artificial ‘Lago di Como’ does not mean being in Italy. The point is that they do not have any problems with this ‘cultural discrepancy’ (Beeck, 2003). They do not seek ‘authenticity’, but enjoy the staged experiences like playing a game (Urry, 2002; Xie, 2004). The change of the perception of authenticity in media consumption is often illustrated with the anecdote of the first public performances of the Lumière brothers’ film ‘Arrival of the train at La Ciotat’ in 1895, where a terrified audience stampeded the exits seeing the train approaching on the screen (Suttner, 2000).

Supporters of objective authenticity do not accredit tourists the capability to differentiate between ‘fake’ and ‘real’. Kelleher (2004) refers to Bryman (1995) who argues that for tens of millions of people the Disney version of history becomes ‘real’ history. Xie (2004) names a lack of depth of understanding of history and culture as the reason. Mc Kenzie (1996) remembers that when Disney planned to construct a theme park on American history, ‘Disney’s America’, they had to face very strong resistance. The president of the Society of American Historians, David McCullough, began a campaign to stop Disney’s plan with the argument that Disney would provide a ‘synthetic history by destroying real history’. However, other historians credit Disney for having taught more people more history in a memorable way than they have ever learned in school (Kelleher, 2004).

4. Giving meaning to the world

Eco (1990), in his collection of essays ‘Travels in Hyperreality‘, originally published in 1975, goes on a pilgrimage through the USA in search of ‘hyperreality’. The hyperreal world is the world of ‘the Absolute Fake’ where imitations do not only reproduce reality, but try improving it. Wang (1999) gives the example of recorded birds singing at zoos, which makes the visit more ‘authentic’ than the actual birds singing, because the latter cannot guarantee the presence of a bird and a performance for each and every visitor. Today, with the advancement of technology, a reality ‘better than the real’ can be created that even Eco couldn’t have imagined in the seventies. In the world of zoos, Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida is the epitome of improved reality and simulated authenticity.

Sanes (2000) writes that Animal Kingdom makes fantasies remarkably lifelike, taking visitors back into a world of innocence where they should save Eden from falling into the ‘realm of death brought by society’. A central symbol of the park is ‘the Tree of Life’ visitors have to pass through, a fabricated fourteen stories high tree with more than 100.000 artificial leaves. Sanes quotes Disney’s promotional materials, comparing its choice of words with a televangelist’s Sunday sermon: ‘It is a tree like none other, rising fourteen graceful stories into the sky, its leafy canopy spreading 160 feet across the landscape, its upraised branches beckon: Come, take a closer look.’ The tree becomes a godlike symbol, the symbol of Mother Nature.

This symbol becomes readable to visitors because social and cultural context provides the ‘correct’ or widely accepted interpretation (Gottdiener, 1997). Postmodernists such as Eco refer to this as the ‘metaphysic of the code’. They say that it is irrelevant whether something is authentic or inauthentic, because in a world of representation, industrial reproduction and simulation there is no original that can serve as a reference (Wang, 1999). Encoded signs, however, have always existed in the history of human culture in the form of texts, images, myths or symbols defining an individual or a society (Beeck, 2003; Gottdiener, 1997). Gottdiener (1997) gives the example of the cave of Lascaux in France. Its wall paintings are symbolic productions projecting a window into the past and giving meaning to every object of nature. The author argues that conceiving the natural world as a meaningful and significant place created the earliest instances of themed environments as they are known today. During prehistoric life, everyday life was fully themed: every stone, tree, place or individual had a connotative symbol attached to it. Also ancient cities such as Athens or Beijing were over-endowed with cosmological and religious themes.

A theme can be anything that provides a symbolic readability. The Latin and Greek origin of the word ‘theme’ is ‘thema’, which literally means ‘something set down’, based on the Greek verb ‘tithenai’, ‘to place, put down’ (Harper, 2001). The same meaning has the French term ‘Mis-en-scene’ used in theatrical language synonymously to staging (Bordwell and Thompson, 1993). Hence the terms ‘themed environment’ and ‘staged environment’ are used synonymously. Today tourism and leisure make extensive use of theming and staging, not only in theme parks, but also in zoos, shopping malls, restaurants, festivals, hotels, tours, video games or virtual reality.

Just as their prehistoric and ancient religious and cosmological predecessors, themed environments make use of ‘the code’ to provide orientation and identity (Gottdiener, 1997). Sanes (2000) states that these ‘symbolic arenas of simulation’ make it possible for participants to act out their fantasies, fears and desires, giving them the illusion of transcendence from time and space, and from the roles they play in society. These roles are larger and more exciting than those of everyday life. Psychoanalytic concepts of Stoller, Freud and Kohut dealing with power, phallic aggression, revenge, sex, love and success can be used to explain the underlying motivation of using simulation. Simulation can also be seen as an integral part of nature in the struggle for survival. Plants and animals manifest deceptive appearances in great profusion and early humans possessed the ability to walk with stealth, to act threatening, to communicate through iconic behaviour – doing something that seems like something else – and to play.

Rousseau used the word ‘authenticity’ to refer to the personal integrity of man being good by nature, a ‘noble savage’. In his opinion, authenticity was destroyed by the desire to have value in the eyes of others (‘Jean-Jacques Rousseau’, 2005). This comes close to the idea of existentialist philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre who see authenticity related to the conscious self and its relation with the world (‘Authenticity [philosophy]’, 2005). For Heidegger, to look for the meaning of authenticity was to ask about the meaning of Being. Freud considered a person to be ‘authentic’ when he or she was in balance between reason and emotion (Wang, 1999).

In the modern world rational factors often over-control non-rational factors (Beeck, 2003; Gottdiener, 1997; Wang, 1999) and tourism activity is expected to activate the ‘authentic self’ (Wang, 1999). People seek to alleviate the anxieties in their lives through a ‘pilgrimage’ to places of self-fulfilment (Young, 1999). For this ‘existentialist authenticity’ the objective authenticity of toured objects becomes irrelevant or less relevant – both an artificial hyperreality and tourism that includes elements of ‘objective authenticity’ serve the same existential needs (Urry, 2002; Wang, 1999; Xie, 2004). Urry (2002) quotes MacCannell (1999) noting that anything is a potential tourist attraction; it just takes one person to point it out as something worth seeing.

Disney designers understand how to make use of symbolism to provide an ‘existentialist authenticity’ that serves middle class Americans (Beeck, 2003). Offering relief from the constraints of everyday life, tourism in general and theme parks in particular, have often been described using religious terminology. Substituting Jerusalem or Mecca, they are new pilgrimage sites that serve utopian ideas selling consumers the myth of a perfect world (Eco, 1990; Gottdiener, 1997; Sanes, 2000; Urry, 2002; Viau, 2002b; Young, 1999). There are many similarities between Thomas More’s (1901) island of Utopia, released in 1516, and modern theme parks. Today‘s ‘Waltopias’ (Viau, 2002b) are often designed and marketed as removed in space and time, such as ‘Universal’s Island of Adventure’, ‘Terra mítica’ or ‘Isla mágica’. At the same time they are bound so that ‘the outside world’ would not ‘leak in’ (Naversen, 2000; Young, 1999). Gottdiener (1997) contributes the point that theme parks provide the illusion of escaping from the demands of economy. Once paid the admission fee, all the rides and attractions are ‘free’. More’s (1901) Utopia – often used as a reference model for socialist fantasies – features a similar egalitarian distribution of goods, and money is abolished. Both theme parks and ‘Utopia’ seem to remove physical and economic barriers to pursuing authenticity. All-inclusive holiday packages are a very similar phenomenon.

However, theme parks and holidays packaged for ‘mass tourism’ are commonly defamed as two examples of absolutely ‘fake’ forms of pleasure-seeking. Urry (2002) observes that there is a growing clientele for ‘real holidays’ instead. ‘Real holiday’ seekers tend to go to places well away from the masses, such as Bolivia or Syria, buy at small ‘delicatessen’ travel agents and educate themselves through books and travel guides. They have an interest in cultural, heritage and ‘green’ tourism. The constructiveness of this ‘authenticity’ and the underlying concept of the search for existential authenticity however are the same, only the fetishes may differ. Wang (1999) gives the example of Daniel (1996), about tourists learning to dance Salsa in Cuba which transforms their reality into near-ecstatic experiences. This ‘authenticity’ can be seen as a constructed romantization of non-western societies, whose people are supposed to be freer, purer, more innocent, more spontaneous and spiritually more authentic than the self-constraint and rational tourist-sending societies (Taylor, 2001; Wang, 1999). In the case of the nostalgic reaction visitors have at heritage sites described by Goulding (1999), the positive orientation towards the past reflects a negative appraisal of the self in the present and feelings of a loss of ‘the golden age’. Also ‘green’ tourists’ ‘obsession with the countryside’ is a highly selective romantic gaze that comes close to a ‘theme’ (Urry, 2002).

5. Why the concept of objective authenticity is still preserved

Assuming that authenticity is only a construct to find existential meaning, why is the myth of objective authenticity still preserved?

The first motif is moral energy. The idea of an existing truth and the Christian concept of guilt are dictating a morality of duty to truth itself to many people (Dworkin, 1996). It is ‘political correctness’ to respect past ‘as it really was’ and failure to do so is not just considered as wrong, but as ‘wicked’ (Fuller, n.d.). This aligns with a ‘fear of pleasure’ that is equally seen as guilt, prohibiting the fusion of the ‘truth of the past’ with ‘the vulgar’ (Urry, 2002).

A second motif is that of social class affiliation. It is especially a habit of the ‘service class’, those with professional managerial jobs, to defame staged experiences as ‘fake’, ‘tastelessness’ or ‘kitsch’ in the sense of modernists such as Dorfles (1968) or Broch (1968) and to associate staged experiences with social classes of lower education (Urry, 2002). The wish to experience something ‘more authentic’ instead, is the wish to be distinct from the masses and to belong to a certain elite (Beeck, 2003; Gottdiener, 1997; Hannabuss, 1999; Urry, 2002; Wang, 1999).

Young (1999) shows a repeating pattern of acceptance and refusal of European gardens, which are commonly regarded the progenitors of theme parks, depending on social class affiliation. First, it was the aristocracy that built early ‘hyperrealities’ for their private pleasure, including grottos, artificial landscaping, foreign and historic buildings and staged performances. In the eighteenth century, the bourgeoisie imitated this lifestyle by having pleasure gardens that were situated out of town to exclude visitors that could not afford to come by carriage. In the nineteenth century, the gardens became popular for the working classes, which were fusing their own tastes with upper-class styles. The wealthy as a consequence avoided their formerly favourite places. Urry (2002) observes that today in ‘rural tourism’, certain kinds of transport and accommodation are necessary to show affiliation to the ‘intellectual’ social group capable of appreciating ‘authentic rural tourism’. A convoy of motorbikes for example would be unacceptable.

The service class’ aversion of themed environments is based on the philosophy of ‘modernism’, that in Europe still is ‘a commonly held set of beliefs’ (Thomas, 2000:54). Modernism and its various subforms, such as futurism and progressivism, proclaimed that all ‘traditional’ forms of art, literature, social organization and daily life had become outdated. For modern creations, all forms of symbolism and the process of codification and decodification were rejected in favour of structure, function, efficiency and abstraction (Beeck, 2003). Modern cities were reduced to basic geometrical shapes (Gottdiener, 1997), where ‘overt theming is not just professionally taboo [for architects]; many ordinary people are likely to have reservations about its more exuberant manifestations’ (Thomas, 2000:54). Modernism is a philosophy of differentiation, between high and low culture, between art and popular pleasures, and between elite and mass forms of consumption (Urry, 2002).

Postmodernists criticize modernists for this ideology as being ‘cut off from the culture of society’ (Gottdiener, 1999) and inhuman (Alexander, 2003). Cities became characterless, ties to home and the familiar got diminished (Corbin, 1999), and societies had to find other ways to acquire meaning in their lives (Gottdiener, 1997). While some people can find this meaning in ‘inauthentic’ experiences, the ‘elite’ still is dominated by the rationalism of modernism, only allowing existential authenticity to be set free with the help of fetishes that they construct into pre-modern times and cultures.

The third motif, tourism marketing, is rather a consequence of the previously mentioned motifs. ‘Malaysia truly Asia’, ‘Tanzania – Authentic Africa’, ‘Bodegas España Auténtica’ – tourism marketing takes advantage and fuels the simple black and white concept of authenticity and inauthenticity, because the ‘authentic’ becomes ‘a stylistic reference’ (Hannabuss, 1999) that gives value to tourism products tailored for its target group (Taylor, 2001). When ‘inauthentic’ experiences such as Disneyland are criticized for having ‘a single authority, a common viewpoint, and homogeneity of experience’ (Corbin, 1999:187), dominated by consumption and profit-seeking (Gottdiener, 1997), the same can be said about ‘authentic’ holidays. The Baltimore City Heritage Area Association’s (2001) webpage clearly states that the city’s strict authenticity program, condemning all kind of tourism activity that is not ‘providing authentic interpretations of local heritage’, has been established with the only purpose of increasing visitor spending and have tourism boost the local economy.

6. Conclusion

Besides the concept of single ‘museum-style’ objects, the whole idea about authenticity in tourism is that of a socially constructed existential authenticity. To reach existential authenticity, it does not matter whether the tourism experience includes objectively authentic elements or not, so Disneyland is as ‘authentic’ or ‘inauthentic’ as Hever Castle.

The morality of guilt and pressure of social group affiliation however preserve the myth of authenticity, which marketing takes advantage of and fuels.

The postmodernist approach is adequate, because it combines a scepticism about and awareness for the ambivalence of provided experiences and at the same time accepts it as natural and inevitable (Hannabuss, 1999). This does not mean the decline of culture, but the exact opposite: as part of a dynamic concept of history it opens the way ‘away from an untouchable pigeon hole’ to a more democratic understanding of the term, giving new combinations of symbolic meaning, sense and identity to the people (Schoorl, 2005:80). It is a way to see authenticity as de-differentiated and anti-elitist, which is particularly suitable for tourism because tourism combines ‘the visual, the aesthetic, the commercial and the popular’ (Urry, 2002:78).

Schoorl (2005:84), responsible for the Netherlands’ policy on World Heritage and member of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is content that ‘the Netherlands in the last few decades has undergone a tremendous paradigm shift in which it freed itself from the illusion of a fixed past with sacrosanct originals to a more socially based, dynamic and integrated approach.’

Bibliography Alexander, P. (2003). Theme Design vs. Architecture [Online]. Available at: http://www.themedattraction.com/theme_design_vs_architecture.htm [Accessed November 08 2005]. ‘Authenticity (philosophy)’. (2005). In: Wikipedia [Online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authenticity_%28philosophy%29 [Accessed December 08 2005]. Baltimore City Heritage Area Association (2001). Baltimore City Heritage Area [Online]. Available at: http://www.ci.baltimore.md.us/government/heritage [Accessed December 12 2005]. Bavarian Department for State-owned Palaces (2003). Neuschwanstein Castle Building History [Online]. Available at: http://www.neuschwanstein.de/english/castle/history/ [Accessed December 14 2005].

Beeck, S. (2003). Parallele Welten. Theming: Analyse einer Methode aus dem Bereich der visuellen Kommunikation zur semantischen Programmierung, bezogen auf den Kontext von Architektur und Städtebau im 21. Jahrhundert’. (Translates to: Parallel worlds. Theming: Analysis of a method of visual communication for semantic programming, related to the context of architecture and city building in the 21st century). Doctoral dissertation, University of Karlsruhe.

Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K. (1993). ‘Film Art – An Introduction’, 4th Edition, Wisconcin: McGraw-Hill.

Broch, H. (1968). ‘Notes on the Problem of Kitsch’. In: Dorfles, G. (ed.) (1968) Kitsch – A World of Bad Taste. New York: Universe Books.

Corbin, C. I. (2002). ‘The Old/New Theme Park: The American Agricultural Fair’. In: Young, T. and Riley, R. (eds.) Theme Park Landscapes: Antecedents and Variations. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks.

County of Lancaster, Pennsylvania (2002). Authenticity Guidelines and Criteria [Online]. Available at: http://www.lancastercountyheritage.com/heritage/cwp/view.asp?a=11&q=512158&heritageNav=|6445| [Accessed November 18 2005].

Desmond, J. C. (1999). Staging Tourism. Bodies on Display from Waikiki to Sea World. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Dorfles, G. (ed.) (1968). Kitsch – A World of Bad Taste. New York: Universe Books. Dworkin, R. (1996). ‘Objectivity and Truth: You’d Better Believe It’. Philosophy & Public Affairs, vol. 25, no. 2. pp. n/a. Eco, U. (1990). ‘Travels in Hyperreality’, Reprint Edition. San Diego: Hartcourt Trade Publishers/Harvest Books.

Fuller, D. (n.d.). ‘Authenticity’. [Online]. Available at: http://www.nysema.com/hip/articles/fuller.html [Accessed December 12 2005].

Galla, A. (1993). Heritage Curricula and Cultural Diversity, Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Gottdiener, M. (1997). The Theming of America: Dreams, Visions, and Commercial Spaces. Boulder: Westview Press.

Goulding, C. (1999). ‘Heritage, nostalgia, and the “grey” consumer’. Journal of Marketing Practice: Applied Marketing Science, vol. 5, no. 6/7/8, pp. 177-199.

Goulding, C. (2000). ‘The commodification of the past, postmodern pastiche, and the search for authentic experiences at contemporary heritage attractions’. European Journal of Marketing, vol. 34, no. 7, pp. 835 – 853.

Hannabuss, S. (1999). ‘Postmodernism and the heritage experience’. Library Management, vol. 20, no. 5, pp. 295 – 302.

Harper, D. (2001). ‘Online Etymology Dictionary’ [Online]. Available at: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=theme&searchmode=none [Accessed December 16, 2005].

Hedin, T. F. (2001). ‘The Petite Commande of 1664: Burlesque in the Gardens of Versailles’. The Art Bulletin, vol. 83, December issue, pp. 651 – 85.

‘Jean-Jacques Rousseau’ (2005). In Wikipedia [Online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rousseau [Accessed December 17 2005].

Kelleher, M. (2004). ‘Images of the Past: Historical Authenticity and Inauthenticity from Disney to Times Square’. CRM Journal, Summer edition; pp. 6 – 19.

McKenzie, J. (1996). ‘The Disneyfication of History: Why Books, Libraries and Librarians Remain Essential’ [Online]. Available at: http://www.fno.org/nov96/thanks.html [Accessed December 12, 2005].

More, T. (1901). ‘Utopia’. Collier & Son edition. New York: Ideal Commonwealths, P.F. Collier & Son, Colonial Press.

Naversen, N. (2000). Themed Attraction Design [Online]. Available at: http://www.themedattraction.com [Accessed February 03 2001].

Nishimura, Y. (2005). Rethinking the Notion of Setting in Changing Landscapes. Xi’an City: Bureau of Cultural Heritage and Parks, Xi’an Municipality.

Sanes, K. (2000). ‘The age of Simulation’ [Online]. Available at: http://www.transparencynow.com/tablesim.htm [Accessed December 12, 2005].

Schoorl, F. J. (2005). ‘On Authenticity and Artificiality in Heritage Policies in the Netherlands’. Museum International, vol. 57, no. 3, pp. 79 – 85.

Suttner, B. (2000). ‘Ein neues Literaturmilieu zwischen Transfugalität und “Event-ualität”’ (translates to: ‘A new milieu of literature between transfugality and „eventuality“’) [Online]. Available at: http://www.netzliteratur.net/suter/kassel.htm. [Accessed December 14 2005].

Taylor, J. P. (2001). ‘Authenticity and Sincerity in Tourism’. Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 7 – 26.

Thomas, R. (2000). ‘The Meaning of Theming’. Hinge Magazine, vol. 70, November issue, p. 54.

Urry, J. (2002). The Tourist Gaze. 2nd edition. London: Sage Publications.

Viau, R. (2002a). ‘18th century studies’ [Online]. Available at: http://www.faculty.de.gcsu.edu/~rviau/ [Accessed December 14 2005].

Viau, R. (2002b). ‘Utopia/Dystopia’ [Online]. Available at: http://www.faculty.de.gcsu.edu/~rviau/honor03.html [Accessed December 17 2005].

Wang, N. (1999). ‘Rethinking Authenticity in Tourism Experience’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 349 – 370.

Xie, P. F. (2004). ‘Visitors’ Perceptions of Authenticity at a rural Heritage Festival: A Case Study’, Event Management, vol. 8, pp. 151–160.

Young T. (ed.) (2002). ‘Grounding the Myth — Theme Park Landscapes in an Era of Commerce and Nationalism’. In: Young, T. and Riley, R. (eds.) Theme Park Landscapes: Antecedents and Variations. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks.

Design Toolchest: Using Theming Foliages

19 Apr 2012 Design Tools


by Brett Peterson of Commercial Silk Int’l

What is Themed Foliage?

Themed foliage is the process by which a designer selects a pallet of artificial foliages from hundreds of foliage varieties in order to be used in combination together to create a desired theme.

How should you evaluate and choose a themed foliage company?

There are three main disciplines to evaluate when selecting a foliage Company; design, manufacturing and installation. Many foliage Companies only supply the product and it is the responsibility of the client to hire a themed fabricator to use the product to create the theme design. This approach has it limitations in that a themed fabricator is skilled at building products from the ground up, but in order to create a theme using foliages you must have an expert in landscape design. You will not get the desired effect if you simply think putting a palm tree in the corner of a room will give you a tropical theme. You must select a Company that can take the themed fabricators vision and add foliages, plants and trees to create an immersive landscape design that invokes the theme.

Second, you must select a Company that can manufacture complete plants and trees to your exact specifications. This does not mean they are custom, it simply means that they built to order and that they are not selling you imported pre-built Asian plants. This is important, because with any theme design you must manufacture the products to appropriately fit into the design. For example, if the foliage supplier only has 6′ plants but the space is large and expansive and requires 10’+ trees, the supplier needs to be able to build these to the specifications required to create the correct design.

Finally, the last and perhaps the most important consideration would be if the foliage supplier has the ability to install the project. As mentioned previously, in order to create the entire effect, you must have a team capable of strategically planting all the material in the right areas in order to pull off the intended theme. This is a difficult thing to evaluate and the best way to determine if the Company is capable is to review their previous installed projects. It will be visually apparent what Company is truly capable and what Company is not.

What types of themes can be created with foliage?

The most typical theme is a tropical theme and is mostly seen at themed restaurants and entertainment venues. Additional themes include; northwoods, wilderness, southwest, asian and more.

How are the foliages used to create a theme?

The designer will be experienced in the art of both design and manufacturing in order to create the desired theme. The designer must know both how a single foliage branch can be used individually in the display as well as how the foliage branch can be used in the crafting of a bigger larger themed plant/tree. Often times the designer will need to know how to use a multitude of different materials including epoxies, urethanes, foam and paint to manufacture the finished plant/tree on-site. In addition, the designer will need to be aware of the many crossover applications of trees, plants and foliages. A Maple Tree for example, depending upon its color / shape / density, can be used in a residential boulevard setting, a forest diorama, a winter scene or a graveyard. Customization of products, either by the manufacturer or on site is critical in achieving the desired effect.

We at Commercial Silk Int’l have worked with architects and designers all over the World to create various themes using our foliages. To date, our product has been installed in over 50 countries. To learn more about how we have used trees, plants and foliages to create themes, visit our Case Study pages on our website. All of our Case Studies can be sorted by theme.

What are the requirements for themed foliage complying with building fire codes?

Most building inspectors require fire retardant materials throughout the theme displays. Even if they do not specify it initially they will sometimes retroactively require it to be applied after the display is installed.

What are the advantages of IFR** Foliage (Inherently Fire Retardant) foliage:

Foliage that is created through a process by which fire retardant chemicals are impregnated into the materials during the manufacturing process is called IFR, or Inherently Fire Retardant. These chemicals are blended with the fabric as well as the plastic or PVC parts at the time the materials are injected into the mold. Commercial Silk Int’l is a direct importer of the industry’s largest selection of IFR TM Foliages. We have developed the most extensive line of IFR TM Foliages in order to provide architects and designers the ability to create their entire theme using fire retardant foliages. This is an important distinction, because often times architects and designers become limited in their selections and are unable to fully create their themes with fire retardant material. Our large selection of IFR TM Foliages enables our clients to create entire themes that are completely fire retardant.

What are the alternatives to foliage that are not IFR** (Inherently Fire Retardant), and why are they not as desirable?

Non-IFR foliage may be treated by spraying or dipping it in topical fire retardant chemicals. This process of fire retarding is not done during the injection of the material into the mold. Rather, this is done as an after-market application. This method often leaves a spotty or discolored film that can degrade the foliage giving it a wilted look. The tacky surface film that is left on the foliage can attract dust and can wash or wear off easily, requiring expensive re-application of the chemical. The level of protection provided by this topical chemical is often very inconsistent and inadequate for meeting fire codes. This is why the process of impregnating chemicals directly into the materials during manufacturing presents a superior result that is often preferred over other methods, such as this topical application.

What are the Benefits of IFR** (Inherently Fire Retardant) Foliage ?

IFR** Foliage  Other Fire Retardant Applications   Chemicals impregnated into the materials during manufacturing  Treated by spraying or dipping it in topical fire retardant chemicals   Will not wash or wear off  May wash or wear off and requires periodic reapplication   Consistent fire protection

(NFPA 701; NFPA 705; ASTME 84-97a Class A; UL 723; California Title 19; US Gov SIN 722-06)  Inconsistent fire protection   Structurally sound; premium grade materials withstand commercial application.  May degrade materials, resulting in a wilted appearance   Smooth surface reduces dust build-up  Tacky surface film attracts dust   Visually identical compared to standard foliages  Appearance may have a spotty or discolored film

What are the design considerations for artificial foliages used in outdoor applications?

Outdoor foliages are manufactured the same way as the IFR foliages in that a UV inhibitor is impregnated into the foliage at the time of manufacturing. By injecting the UV into the plastic, PVC and fabric, as opposed to post treating the foliage with a spray-on UV, you lock the properties into the main materials of the foliage thereby creating a higher quality UV protection. In addition to the UV component, it is also important that the foliages are made from durable materials capable of withstanding the harsh outdoor environments. Most outdoor foliages are manufactured from plastic. Commercial Silk Int’l manufactures outdoor artificial trees, plants and foliages for a number of applications including boxwood hedges, topiaries, evergreen trees, and more.

What are the costs associated with themed using foliages, plants and trees?

It is dependent on the size, amount of customization, amount of detail, botanical correctness (ie; is it imperative for a Norway Spruce to be built on a Spruce trunk?) and the ability for the display builder to do on site modifications. Often times, museums are the only application where recreations must be totally authentic and botanically precise. For theme parks, water parks and other entertainment venues, the idea is to create the desired look by using existing foliage molds and altering them slightly to create the theme. By using existing foliage molds, the clients are able to save substantial costs that normally are associated with building custom molds.

Is plant customization available?

To a point. If you need two fall color Poison Ivy plants you may be better off modifying a readily available plant from a catalog. If you require 2 acres of an Autumn Prairie grass a supplier may be able to manufacture the product. As with all things, as soon as it becomes custom the costs increase dramatically. Commercial Silk Int’l has extensive experience building custom trees, plants and foliages for themed applications. Our catalogs are used as a starting point for architects and designers. From there, we custom manufacture to each client’s specific application. From half trees, to column wraps to foliage ceiling screens we can manufacture what you need.

What is the time frame for obtaining plants?

It depends upon the product, size and custom nature of the plant. Generally loose foliage can be shipped within a day or two. Built products usually have a lead time of 3 – 5 weeks. Large product quantities, manufactured specifically for a project can take 6 months to a year to produce. Check with the manufacturer to obtain a production schedule and availability.

How can we get design and budget assistance?

Most reputable manufacturers have staff designers and graphic designers that can assist in budgeting, plant selection, installation procedures and product photos. Make sure you select a supplier that can aid in design as well as can provide a turnkey solution by providing installation. Commercial Silk Int’l is a full service design / build Company specializing in the manufacturing, design and installation of trees, plants and foliages exclusively for commercial projects.

What foliage features should I be looking for in a Supplier and what are the Benefits?

Features  Benefits   Exclusive Foliage Designs  Botanically correct / More selection / Not cookie cutter   Custom Foliage Availability  Able to make any type of Foliage   Unitized Foliage or Pin Sealed  Lasts longer / looks better longer   Thicker Gauge Wire in Stem  Foliage will not spin / Holds shape longer

Easier to reshape / Lasts longer   Coating on Leaf Surface  Easier to clean / Lasts longer   Custom Painted Foliage  Can create seasons / more authentic / Can add shading or color   Inherently Fire Retardant  Meets current codes / Safer / User friendly/ Plastic and fabric are treated

What plant/treee features should I be looking for in a Supplier and what are the Benefits?

Features  Benefits   Use of Natural Material  More botanically correct / more authentic   Hard Wood Stems  Longevity – Ability to hold its shape   Add-A-Branch  Make a larger canopy / Can create a different shape, also get a larger tree through a smaller access area   Coned Tips  Better transition from branch to foliage   Cable System  Ability to hold its original shape – last longer and easier to install   Hand Painted  Blends imperfections into natural stem

Brett Peterson is a principal at Commecial Silk Int’l , a manufacturer and supplier of artificial trees and silk plants based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.”

** IFR™ Foliage (Inherently Fire Retardant) foliage is a trademark of Commercial Silk, International.


Universal Studios Art & Design

Since the year 2000, I’ve had the good fortune to work as a creative consultant for Art & Design at Universal Studios Florida. As a theme park attraction designer, there can be no better place to learn about theme park attraction design.

Unlike Universal Creative, charged with producing all of the permanent theme park rides; Art & Design is responsible for designing all of the new entertainment oriented shows and attractions for Univeral Studios. These are the yearly events that occur Universal Studios like Macy’s Christmas, Grinchmas, Mardi Gras, New Years, July 4th Celebration, and Halloween Horror Nights.

My personal opinion is that Halloween Horror Nights is one of the best theme park attraction laboratories in the world because for the past 15 years, Art & Design has produced an estimated 90 brand new haunted attractions. On average, that’s about one new haunted house built from the ground-up every two months.

As a theme park attraction development lab, the experiments are ongoing. Because no attraction stays in operation for longer than about 30 days, the group is constantly learning, adapting, and continuing to improve their attractions from year to year. With guest satisfaction surveys as well as personal experience, the folks down at Art & Design learn very quickly what works well as well as what not-to-do in theme park attractions. And because no Haunted House is ever in existence for longer than about 30 days, the group has the opportunity to experiment and try new things.

One of the best theme park innovations I’ve seen in years was the Terror Mines at HHN XV, an attraction I had the opportunity to work on. The miner’s headlamps each guest was provided were the only source of illumination throughout entire walk-through Haunted attraction. Sometimes the lights were pre-programmed to illuminate, sometimes flash, and sometimes extinguish altogether.

Of course these are not the only innovations that have been tested out at Halloween Horror nights. We’ve also had the ability to experiment with mazes, with completely dark houses, with 3-D glasses, ultra-violet light. Recently, the HHN web site has been used to provide interesting behind-the-scenes information and “easter eggs” to guests. A person solving a riddle on the web site could actually meet at Universal Studios at a particular time and place, and upon supplying the password would be taken to a secret location to get a behind-the-scenes view of the attractions with the attraction designers.

For those of you who want to learn hands-on what is means to be a theme park attraction designer, you should give a call to T.J. Mannarino at Art & Design at Universal Studios Florida and tell him you wish to be a part of their talented group. They are always looking for new talent.

– Nate Naversen www.themedattraction.com


About Nate Naversen – Creative Consultant to the themed entertainment industry

Nate Naversen is a creative consultant to the themed entertainment industry. Nate got his start working on the “world famous” Jungle Cruise at Disneyland in California. He also worked on such famous attractions as the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean while interning with the Disneyland Engineering department. After graduating from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Nate made his way to Orlando, Florida to pursue his dream of becoming a theme park attraction designer. With all that experience working in theme park operations, the transition was easy to make.

Early in his career, Nate worked with various theme park design groups like Richard Crane productions, ITEC Productions, Brand Architecture and more, developing new theme park attractions across the world including for companies including Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.

In 2001, Nate began consulting with Universal Studios Art & Design and Universal Creative, while also developing his web design and hosting company Magic Web Hosting, Inc. Today, Nate still consults for Universal on new theme park attractions. Other writings by Nate.

Universal Creative – Show Set Designer / Creative Consultant

Disaster Studios! Ride – Universal Studios Florida The Simpsons Ride – Universal Studios Florida Universal Studios Shanghai / attraction development Model builder / model shop Universal Entertainment / Art & Design – Creative Consultant

Grinchmas –  Grinch Cave Macy’s Christmas Mardis Gras Beach Bash Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure Halloween Horror Nights Haunted Attractions

Terror Mines Scream House Revisited  All Night Die-In Midway of the Bizarre Jungle of Doom Ship of Screams Psycho Scarapy Infestation Scream House Extinction Maximum Carnage Scary Tales 2 Fear Factor Run! Superstitions The Mummy Walt Disney Entertainment – Creative Consultant Mickey Mouse “100 Years of Entertainment” parade

Brand Architecture – Creative Consultant Creative think tank for Sweet Tomatoes Restaurant

Landscape Dynamics Site plans, drafting, irrigation plans, various projects.

3D Workshop – Model Builder Architectural model building for resorts & large scale developments

ITEC Productions (theme park design) – Show Production Designer

Egypt Dark Ride, Lotte World Japan The Holy Land Experience  Hummel Village Factory Tour – concept development / study model Disney’s Internet Zone, EPCOT  (Walt Disney Imagineering) The Road to Tomorrow, EPCOT (Walt Disney Imagineering) New York City Sports Experience, Madison Square Garden  The Scriptorium at the Holy Land Experience Television concepts for the BBC Titanic, Ship of Dreams – Orlando Fugleberg Koch Architects Splash Country USA; Branson, MO

Richard Crane Productions – Associate Designer

Wuxi Funworld Theme Park, China

“Friends of the World” – Theme park attraction “Flight 99” – theme park attraction Kyonju World Theme Park, Korea – Master plan Superland Theme Park, Israel – Water Rapids Ride Walt Disney World Company – Attractions Host

Disneyland Engineering – Architectural Intern

Disneyland Company – Attractions Host The “World Famous” Jungle Cruise Pirates of the Caribbean

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Ride Script

19 Apr 2012 Show Writing

(As our submarine Nautilus slowly pulls out of the dock of the home port of Vulcania, we hear the stern authoritative voice of Captain Nemo.  An organ musical track is constantly playing in the background, playing a variation of the theme from the movie 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.)

Captain Nemo:  Stand by to dive!

Mr. Baxter:  Diving stations.  (Bosun’s whistle sounds)

Captain Nemo:  Dive!  Dive!  (Diving claxon sounds)

Mr. Baxter:  Trim bow on diving planes.  Three degrees down.  (A stream of bubbles indicates diving has commenced)

Captain Nemo:  Take her to ten fathoms.

Mr. Baxter:  Aye, aye, sir.

Captain Nemo:  Steady as she goes.

(The Captain now addresses the passengers)

Captain Nemo:  This is Captain Nemo speaking.  Welcome aboard the Nautilus.  We are proceeding on a course that will take us on a voyage 20,000 leagues under the sea.  En route, we will pass beneath the Polar Ice Cap and then probe depths seldom seen by man.  So make yourselves comfortable, but please, remain seated at all times

(We catch our first glimpse of undersea life.   A lobster, followed by a giant sea crab)


Captain Nemo:  Here among the reefs, you will see many familiar inhabitants of the undersea world.  The great green sea turtles for instance, are the reptilian patriarchs of the deep.  These amphibious descendants of the dinosaur have changed little in the past 200 million years.  Groupers, or giant sea bass, roam the coastal bottom in search of food.  The giant clam obviously is quite safe from such marine predators.  (A giant clam is seen opening and closing.)  The fish world has always been considered a silent habitat, but through our sonar hydro phones, we’ve discovered that fish actually talk!  Listen.

(The sounds of fish “talking” fills the sub.  Several moray eels can be seen poking their heads through the coral formations)

Mr. Baxter:  Undersea party ahead, sir.  Divers to port and starboard.

Captain Nemo:  Witness the crew from one of our satellite ships.  They are harvesting their abundance that nature has sown here beneath the sea.  Kelp beds are cultivated.  Sea creatures corralled and protected from predators.  Just as terrestrial shepherds protect their flocks from ravenous wolves.    (We see a diver tethering a sea turtle to keep it from escaping)

Mr. Baxter:  Surface storm ahead, sir.

Captain Nemo:  Weather alert!  All controls, eight degrees down.  (Diving bells ring)  Hold her at 80 fathoms and proceed on course.

(A new stream of bubbles erupt to indicate we have dived deeper.  The scene now becomes dark as the “surface” light no longer penetrates our field of vision)

Captain Nemo:  The Nautilus can dive safely below the violence of ocean storms.    Surface vessels are not so fortunate. (The crumbling wreckage of mostly 18th and 19th century sailing ships now come into view) Witness the evidence of their fate.  The graveyard of lost ships.  For ages, these rotting holds have kept their secret treasures, safeguarded by silent sentinels of the deep.  Man-eating sharks.  Nature’s most unpredictable predators of the sea.  (A shark glides by our field of vision)

Mr. Baxter:  We’ve reached the Polar Ice Cap, sir.  There’s a clear channel at 40 fathoms.

Captain Nemo:  Steady as she goes.  (We see the submerged lower sections of icebergs.  Sonar pinging emits)   In this region of the Polar Ice Cap, you are witnessing a rare visual phenomenon.  The aurora borealis above us.

Mr. Baxter:  Ice wall breaking, sir.

Captain Nemo:  Take her deep!  (diving bell rings)  And keep an eye on the depth gauge.

Mr. Baxter:  Aye, aye, sir.

Captain Nemo:  We have past beneath the North Pole, and are now descending into that region in deeper water where the sun has never penetrated.  Here, in this realm of eternal darkness, nature has provided her creatures with their own….eerie luminescence.  (Several deep sea fish, one with jaws open, can be seen.  The alert bell rings)

Mr. Baxter:  Warning light, sir.  We’ve reached maximum depth limit.

Captain Nemo:  Take her back up to 80 fathoms!

Mr. Baxter:  Eight-zero fathoms, aye, aye.

Captain Nemo:  There are limits beyond which man and his puny efforts cannot survive.  We have almost exceeded those limits.

Mr. Baxter:  Unusual formations to port and starboard, sir.

(Elaborately carved classical structures come into view.    The remains of a Greco style city.    There are temples and the collapsed remains of giant statues, their faces staring upward)

Captain Nemo:  Ah, these crumbling heaps of stone betray the hand of man.  I believe we’ve made a startling discovery!  These…classic ruins could very well be the legendary lost continent of Atlantis.  Some scholars theorize that a remarkable civilization was destroyed by a tremendous volcano.  Others treat any concept of Atlantis as pure fantasy, along with legends of sea serpents and mermaids. Mr. Baxter:  Begging your pardon, sir.  But, did you say sea serpents are mere fantasies?

Captain Nemo:  Belay there mate! Anyone in his right mind knows there’s no such thing as a sea serpent or mermaids. Mr. Baxter, if you think you’re seeing mermaids and sea monsters, you’ve been submerged too long!

(We pass the sight of a giant, smiling sea serpent amidst the ruins of Atlantis.  Two mermaids are tethered to the creature.  There is no comment from Captain Nemo on this)

Mr. Baxter:  Captain Nemo, sir!  We’re experiencing unusual turbulence.   It’s a ruddy underwater volcano, sir!

(The scene outside grows more violent and darkens to a reddish glow.  Numerous columns are teetering as a result of the turbulence)

Captain Nemo:  By Neptune’s flippers!  This confirms it.  That seething mountain still denies rest to the civilization it submerged thousands of generations ago.  Helmsman!  Steer clear of the tottering columns.

Helmsman:   Aye, aye, sir.

Captain Nemo:  Red alert!

Mr. Baxter:  Red alert!  (Bosun’s whistle blows)  All hands to stations.

Captain Nemo:  Trim the tanks!  Steady as she goes.

Crewman:  Captain!  Giant squid dead ahead.  It’s disabled a submarine, sir.

Captain Nemo:  Good Lord!  It’s one of ours.  It’s hull has been crushed like an eggshell.

(The tentacles of a giant squid have ensnared a sister sub to the Nautilus.)

Crewman:  Another monster’s attacking forward, sir!

Captain Nemo:  Full repellent charge!

Mr. Baxter:  Repellent charge, aye, aye.  Maximum voltage.

(Lights flash around us to indicate the use of the electrical charge against the giant squid)

Captain Nemo:  All ahead!

Mr. Baxter:  All ahead, aye.  She won’t answer the helm!

Captain Nemo:  Emergency maneuver!  All engines, stand by to surface!  Surface!

Mr. Baxter:  Surface!  Surface!  Surface!  (A stream of bubbles indicates the surfacing procedure and then when they clear away the “surface” light is streaming through once again)  We’ve reached Vulcania, sir.

Captain Nemo:  Proceed on course.  All ahead.

Mr. Baxter:  All ahead, aye, aye.

Captain Nemo:  Station the maneuvering watch.

Mr. Baxter:  Aye, aye, sir.  All hands to stations.

Captain Nemo:  Ladies and gentlemen, in just a few moments we will be docking at Vulcania, our home port.  It has been a pleasure having you aboard the Nautilus, on this memorable voyage that has taken us 20,000 leagues under the sea.  Captain to bridge.  Reduce speed and proceed to number four berth.  Stand by to dock.

Mr. Baxter:  Bridge, aye, aye.  All ahead one-third.  Stand by for boarding.

Captain Nemo:  Thank you for sailing with us.  And now, when the cabin lights come on, stand by to disembark.  Gather your belongings, take small children by the hand, and watch your step.

Welcome to themedattraction.com

We are the world’s most comprehensive site dedicated to theme park design.  Started in 1995, we are one of the only places in the world where you can learn about theme park design.  What’s unique about this site is that it is produced and contributed to by people who actually design theme park attractions.  This is a rare look into a world sometimes known as “Imagineering.”

New Updates

Hey everyone – Nate here.   We’ve installed which will turn themedattraction.com into a social networking site!  The same great content will be available, and more.  We will continue to be the worlds greatest insight into theme park imagineering.   You can start your profile and help the site become even better.

1 2 3 4


Skip to toolbar