Insights from Experts

The Sliced Onion Technique: How to Theme a Space

by Nate Naversen This article discusses how to theme a space or an attraction building the way professional theme park designers do it. This is the technique that a host of experienced themed entertainment designers approach the design of a space from the perspective of theme. This technique, describe here is what we call, ‘the sliced onion’. An onion is built with layers upon layers, and this is how themed spaces are created as well. There are no established guidelines as to how many layers one adds when defining a theme. But there is a hierarchy that many themed...
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Insights from Experts

Roller Coaster Wait Times – A Budgetary Necessity

by Nate Naversen On a hot day in August, a family of 5 walks up to the hottest new “E-ticket” attraction and gets in line for a staggering 90 minute wait. At the end of the line is a new roller coaster, an experience that lasts just over 1 minute. Sometimes such long wait times are appropriate and can actually contribute to a positive guest experience. But more often, the need for a wait time is intentionally designed into attraction in order to preserve other elements of the ride or show experience. Budget – A Balancing Act If given...
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Insights from Experts

Trolley Parks – America’s First Amusement Parks

The Trolley Park may have been America’s first amusement park. These parks started in the 19th century and rose in popularity when Charles J. Van Depoele created an electric trolley pole which could power a trolley car. This new invention replaced horse-drawn streetcars in the United States around the beginning of the 20th century. Trolley Parks naturally followed. They were both picnic and recreation areas, and an attempt by trolley companies to earn extra revenue by providing customers a destination at the end of the trolley lines. These parks enjoyed a lot of success and looked upon the success...
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Insights from Experts

Attention to Detail: How the Details Make the Difference

These two pictures were taken at two different theme parks, owned by two different theme park companies. The train on the left is at a park on the West Coast, and the train on the right is in a park on the East Coast. Both trains look identical at first glance, don’t they? But upon further inspection, it is easy there is quite a lot of difference in the details that make one experience far greater than the other. When creating theme parks and themed attractions, attention to detail makes all the difference. I took these two pictures with...
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Career Advice

Online Theme Park Engineering Class Peeks Behind the Scenes

  ORLANDO, FL — Have you ever gone to a theme park and wondered, “How did they do that?” Now you can find out, in Theme Park Engineering. This fun new online class surveys everything about the design of theme park attractions. The course is taught by Steve Alcorn, president of Alcorn McBride Inc., a company that engineers equipment for theme parks all over the world. “For over twenty years I’ve been having great fun bringing hundreds – perhaps thousands – of attractions to life all over the world,” says Mr. Alcorn. “Now it’s my students’ turn to do...
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Insights from Experts

Learn From Your Mistakes – A Life Lesson. Nathan Naversen

This story is reasonably accurate, although most definitely hearsay and quite possibly exaggerated. But it is worth repeating because there is a good life lesson in this story: Many years ago there was a college student who wanted to become a Disney Imagineer and work at WED Enterprises, as it was called then. His goal was to design a theme park ride, a particular idea that he had imagined. Not just design it, but make it reality at a Disney theme park. So he spent days and weeks, and even months conceiving of an idea that he imagined. He...
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Themed Attraction Design, Part Three The Sixth Sense, the Story, and the Cliche`

In part one we explained how an immersive themed environment creates an envelope around the viewer with the intent to convince him that what he is experiencing is real.  This is accomplished by designing an environment that influences all five sense. But how do we complete the task?  How do we take a passive viewer and pull him from a relaxed realm as an observer into a realm of fantasy that truly seems real?  Part of the answer is in what we like to call the sixth sense.   In themed entertainment, this sixth sense is the imagination or the...
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Themed Attraction Design, Part One. Immersive Environments

Environments Like storytelling, illustration, or musical composition, the design of immersive theme park attractions is very much an art form. An artist’s canvas is limited in that it can only be seen. A motion picture or at a stage production is limited to sight and sound. But an immersive theme park attraction utilizes all the senses in order to seemingly take a person on a journey to the ends of the earth, or beyond. This experience oriented architecture is much more complex than many forms of art or entertainment because it must be cater to all the senses. Seeing...
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Show control: It’s all about the timing

“The key to great storytelling is not just in the content, but in the timing. . .” — Tom Soranno He’s a talented ride and show engineer who has played a major role in the design of many of the world’s newest and complex theme park rides.  Here’s our exclusive interview with Tom Soranno, ride and show engineer with ITEC Entertainment Corporation in Orlando, Florida. Nate Naversen:  Thanks for agreeing to this interview Tom. Just to start off, can you tell us a little bit about your position? Tom Soranno: Well, as a themed entertainment engineer, I am one...
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Insights from Experts

Mickey’s 10 Commandments – Marty Sklar

Every theme park designer should know what’s been done in the past.  Benchmarks and precedents are extremely important.   With that in mind, you should learn the ten guidelines to theme park design developed by Walt Disney Imagineering President Marty Sklar. Mickey’s 10 Commandments 1. Know your audience – Don’t bore people, talk down to them or lose them by assuming that they know what you know. 2. Wear your guest’s shoes – Insist that designers, staff and your board members experience your facility as visitors as often as possible. 3. Organize the flow of people and ideas – Use...
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4. Theme Park Master Planning – The Attraction Mix

The Attraction Mix – by Peter Alexander This is your big decision: what kind of attractions are you going to offer, and at what level of quality and professionalism? Part of this depends on your competition, and just how good you need to make the park to be the best in its area. For example, today, Universal Studios and particularly in Florida, is known for it’s high tech, story oriented rides. But, if the Disney company hadn’t beaten Universal to the punch and opened their MGM Studio Tour before Universal’s in Orlando, none of those rides would have ever...
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3. Theme Park Master Planning – Park Layout

by Peter Alexander Park Layout When people think of Master Planning, a lot of them think of how the park is arranged, which is what we call “park layout.” There are as many ways to lay out a park as there are designers who do it, but a few have been used more often than not, so we’ll touch on those first. The Disney approach, seen in the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, is what could be called the Icon Design Philosophy. The big Icon for Disney is the Castle at the end of Main Street, and that is also...
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2. Theme Park Master Planning – The Theme

The Theme A “Real Theme Park” needs a theme, which is a funny thing to say, but have you ever noticed that a lot of the places we call “theme parks” don’t have much of a theme at all? That’s because a lot of them are not really theme parks, they are just amusement or thrill ride parks with some pretty scenery stuck in between giant iron rides that look like Martian machines from The War of The Worlds. For this discussion, we are going to stick to “Real Theme Parks,” a term which describes Disney, Universal, many of...
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1. Theme Park Master Planning: So you want to build a theme park?

by Peter Alexander President; Totally Fun Company. So you want to build a theme park? What do you do? Where do you start? How about taking some cool rides, and putting them together with some good restaurants, fun stores and pretty landscaping? Well, you can do exactly that, and some people have, but if you want to make your theme park work you’d better do some master planning. The Numbers Game If you want to build a theme park, the safest place to start is by doing a feasibility study. This study will tell you what kind of market...
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The Waiting Game By Will Wiess

“We spent a whole afternoon and only rode two rides. I’m sure you can understand our disappointment.” “We paid close to $50 a person to wait in line for almost an hour…I plan to urge others to avoid it (the park) at all costs.” “I’m tired of waiting hours in line for just a 2 sec. ride.” If you’ve ever wondered how wait times are affecting the major theme parks, pay close attention to some of the complaints registered with PlanetFeedback.com. With no existing research able to accurately monitor the impact, it is an issue long ignored by many...
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An Introduction to Themed Attraction Design: Defining Terms

An Introduction to Themed Attraction Design: Defining Terms The following is a general overview of the terms and terminology you will encounter as a theme park designer. The terms are a combination of those you will see in theater, engineering, theme park operations, architecture and more. A theme park designer must know all of these terms to be able to communicate effectively with the various disciplines involved in the design of theme park attractions. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is useful nonetheless. “Ride Vehicle” – The vehicle that guests board to experience an attraction. “E-Ticket” –...
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How to develop a theme from scratch using an image board

Blue Sky Theme Park Attraction Design Developing the theme for a new theme park attraction may seem like a simple task. Begin with a ride, a restaurant, a retail location or space. Then select from a library of themes and apply it like a template to the space. This thinking may appear to work in some cases. A pirate theme, jungle theme or a space theme comes to mind. But what about when the answer is not so obvious? The question, “What should it really look like?” is a question that every themed attraction designer must be able to...
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Insights from Experts

The Coming Revolution in Themed Entertainment

A transcript of a speech by Bob Rogers at a forum on the future of themed entertainment From the IAAPA Tradeshow, Orlando, Florida 1997 Introduction Harrison “Buzz” Price Bob Rogers is a Renaissance man, a technology buff, and a great storyteller.  After leaving CalArts, he was an in-and-out man at Walt Disney Imagineering, working on Florida Disney attractions and Pavilions at EPCOT.   In 1981, looking for steadier employment, he founded BRC Imagination Arts; and his productions there have won him many prizes: Kennedy and Houston Space Centers, Spirit Lodge, Rainbow War, and Vancouver Expo where he stole the show. ...
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In-Pavement Fiber Optic Lighting

I am very interested in learning about the fiber-optic lighted pavement features at Epcot Center. Where can I get information about this type of light feature? I’d appreciate any help. Thanks – Joseph For any fiber optic application, there are basically three components: 1) The illuminator… this is the light source 2) The color wheel. This is a machine that rotates a colored gel in between the illuminator and the bundle of tubing. The color wheel is generally arranged so that two or possibly even three colors are lit at once. 3) The bundle of fiber optic tubing. The...
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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...
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