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Looking to get in to the field...what major tho?

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Joined: 04 Mar 2009
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Wed Mar 04, 2009 11:44 pm    Post subject: Looking to get in to the field...what major tho? Reply with quote

Hello, and I am new to the forums (but not the site). I am currently a junior in high school and I am already planning my college stuff and possible career. My issue is that I know what my interests are but I am confused on which major applies to which aspect of the theme/amusement park industry. My interests are mainly in designing; whether it be designing a ride, the architecture of the ride, or designing the theme park. I have always had a gnack (spelling?) for drawing. I also love to play the game Roller Coaster Tycoon for I love building the rides and designing the theme park. Also, I am in love and fascinated with theme parks, specifically, Universal Studios (Orlando)... I like no anything about the park(s).

The majors I am looking in to are Architecture, Mechanical Engineering, or Civil Engineering. (Of course that can change)

My problem is that on your website it says the illustrators and design artists design a ride. On it says that Civil Engineering designs roller coaster (there fore rides) and my brother, who is a very smart and reliable person, says I should major in Mechanical Engineering for this designing.

I love creating and designing a ride, so which major(s) best for designing/creating rides?

Thank you for your help!
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Joined: 16 Aug 2007
Posts: 171

PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2009 1:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

oooh a loaded question...let me see if i can spread some light on this for you...all you other veterans feel free to help me out here!

I am fairly new to this business as a professional, but my love of themed entertainment spans far before I even knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, much less what I wanted to study in college...

There are several facets of attraction design that covers many disciplines of engineering, art, construction, storytelling etc. It really all depends on what aspect interests you most. Do you enjoy math, do you like to know how things work and often try to find out ways to improve them or build it better? Are you fascinated by the stories and experiences that themed attractions create? Or perhaps its the creative side of the design that gets you going, such as the concept artwork of what the attraction COULD become...

For ride and show systems design, your best bet would probably be either mechanical or electrical engineering. You could also go the civil engineering route and focus more on structural design (the ride and/or show building has to be able to stay standing!)

Architectural engineering sortof blends a little math with a little art/architecture...Im not as familiar with this major but I know some folks in the field that have this degree

For creative design of show sets, props, scenic (visual storytelling if you will), you may want to focus more on an artistic degree such as theater, architecture, graphic design, industrial design, to name a few.

There really isnt a go-to college degree that will guarantee you a spot in the business, heck there are plenty of folks out there who have some atypical degrees for this industry, and its all about your experience and alot of who you get to know. I personally have a civil engineering degree, but my current job deals more with creative design with a little bit of technical design thrown in...Cant say Im using my degree as it was intended, but it definitely has helped me get my foot in the door, and I really enjoy going to work every morning.

So in closing I will say still have a good 6 months to a year or so to decide what your real interests are, and when you find that, it will help you choose a school and a field to pursue. Work hard, network and get to know as many people as you can, because 9 times out of 10 that is what will get you a career, not that piece of paper you work 4 years(or more) to get. But dont get me wrong, I still think its important in today's world.

All the best, and welcome to the boards!
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Joined: 06 Aug 2007
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Location: Orlando, FL

PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 11:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As an "attraction designer", I design the look of a ride -- Do the ride vehicles look like Dumbo? What characters, graphics or architecture is in the ride queue and ride? If its a "dark ride", are there sets? character sculpts? animatronics? effects? What is the story? What does signage look like? What does the pavement look like?

When it comes to the mechanics of an attraction and how it works, a whole different set of professionals step in. These are the people who design LIM launches, make the roller coaster track layouts, figure out how to make vehicles pivot, spin and tilt... There are people who lay out cable inside dark rides, install audio systems, fabricate everything from fake rocks to animatronic characters, make architecture drawings and design the software programs that run the ride.

Many specialties actually benefit from sketching skills because there is a lot of visual communication that needs to happen between people. Designers usually have to be at the top of their game in graphics and/or illustration. But there are many other people who are in the mix. Other specializations within the industry include: Computer Programmers (show & ride control), Engineers (ride hardware design), Architects (show buildings), Writers (ride/show & marketing scripts), Fabricators (sculpt with cement, fiberglass, foam latex, acrylic and other materials; includes mold-makers an other specialists), Set Dressers/Painters (paint, props, etc according to what they see in drawings), Drafters (make technical drawings of architecture, ride hardware, park layouts or rides, depending upon specialization), Costumers (create costume characters or costumes), "Techs" (do audio, lighting and control for live shows)... and on and on...

If roller coasters really interest you, Engineering very well might be the way to go. You could probably e-mail manufacturers to get a handle on what their business is like and how to get into it. Major manufacturers include Vekoma, Intamin, Gerstlauer, Bolliger & Mabillard, Zierer and Premier Rides.

You're definitely going a good way in choosing majors that hold great interest for you. College is a great time for exploring ideas and careers... and if you find a major that you're fascinated with, you may find 5 more fields that are amazing and would be fun to work in that you had no idea employed engineers or architects! Find something that you love to do -- because you'll have to do it everyday when you have a job! Whatever you do, have fun, enjoy college, and get involved in some projects and organizations outside of class where you can meet new people and explore new ideas.

Good luck!
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Joined: 04 Mar 2009
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 08, 2009 1:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you, both of you, for the information and in helping me. Even though I may be over zealous with trying to find my major out this early, I kind of want to (especially if I do major in an engineering). I live in NJ so the major theme parks around me are Great Adventure and even Hershey and Dorney Park. I feel that if I do pursue a career in the "park" industry then it would be prime to move to Florida, which is a decision that I would have to make unless I can "park" career within the area I live in.

I believe that I am more interested in the design aspect of the attraction, even though I definitely wouldn't mind doing park layouts. Even though both of gave great descriptions and help I am still kind of confused. If I major in engineer I would design the ride, but I would design a ride (using a roller coasters an example) so it won't stop or go backwards? Where as if I was a drafter, I would design the ride but not worry about the physics? My dream job is designing/creating a ride but it would be a design without worrying about the physics (even though I wouldn't mind worrying about the physics if need to).

Maybe these questions I have; the answer would help diminish my confusion: (Use Spiderman the ride at Islands of Adventure for an example)
What major(s) would design the interior of the ride?
What major(s) would design what the ride does "at this point"?
What major(s) would design the track layout?
What major(s) would design the effects of a ride?
What major(s) would design the concept or the idea of the ride?
What can a degree with Architecture do with an attraction or theme park?

Sorry for my confusion still. Also, I know that the major I choose is up to myself, but I came here to know what can I do with a particular major. Also, I understand that some of the questions that I asked are loaded with answers, so I am sorry if that wastes your time.

Thank you for your help again!
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Joined: 03 Jan 2008
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 08, 2009 6:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

California, not Florida. I grew up in FL and went to undergrad here - there are some links to the industry but mostly in the way of fabrication houses, not necessarily design groups.

In my search for a grad program a question I'm frequently asked is if i want to design ride/show or the whole park. Lots of people assume I want to design a whole - which in theory I do - but not in the terms of the landscape and urban planning way that 95% of people i've met interpet it.

I have my undergrad degree in scenic design (for the theatre) and i've also learned other parts that are useful from my program - there's a mix of technology and other design elements like costume, lighting, sound, etc. Many undergrad theatre design degrees will give you the big overall view of the design process in that sense.

From there, it's a huge distinction from theatre (note the reversed "re" at the end) to theme parks/attractions in most academics minds. Finding a school that supports the idea of it at the under grad level is exceptionally difficult - or at leas that was my experience. At the graduate level in theatre design I've found some groups interested in furthering my path.

I got a whole lot of "I have no idea how to get you where you want to be, but i wish you the best of luck" when interviewing with graduate programs. People may think that's an over exageration - but really, I went through a lot of interviews that went that way. The worse end of it is the people who are "theatre snobs" who don't see any relation between the "art" and themed design - the "kitsch" (yes, i had an interviewer tell me i was wasting my talents on "kitsch crap").

Long story short, scenic designers decide what a physical space will look like and that heavily effects all other aspects of a design. Yes, there are other specialized areas but the scenic designer tends to have the most control of a project. It's an American system that we even have "scenic designers" as in Europe is mostly "scenographers" who control all elements of the look/presentation of a show. They exist in America, but aren't as prevalent as the coined "scenic designer."

Film and theatre overlap extensively, so a program in design for film (though a bit rare) is also a good place to start if that's the element you're interested in. There is also 'technical direction' and technology for theatre/film but you really need to find a good school in that to not end up merely a carpenter - only certain schools have the time or money to focus on automation and such. Engineering on the other hand will have you doing such things, but essentially removed from the artistic element of it.

Personally, I think that's what's 'wrong' with much of themed design today. Too many engineers and not enough artists. You need both, but if the basic artistic merit isn't there it can't be infused into a show via technology. You can tell a good story without all the bells and whistles but all the bells and whistles in the world can't fix a bad story.

I will admit right now that I have no clue who writes scripts for themed attractions. I have heard that on that front funding is usually minimal and thus you often see very low production values in preshow films and such in attractions. I get the impression it is often grouped in the "scenographer" bit of the whole design. I'm not sure if attractions with good scripts have had designers who can write or if they had writers who were really interested in such a design. Dunno.

Architecture can make a building. Well, not just a building, but a space for people to do whatever it is that people do. If you just make buildings, you're not an architect according to most people I've met in the field. They're more of the overall look of a park/area and the buildings then being really into what is inside of them and being experienced. If an architect were to take it upon themself to become interested in the inside of the building they'd likely think "oh, i'm an interior decorator!" but really what a theme park needs is moreso scenic design. It's hard to explain, but they're a different think tank. They're like sculptors working on a really big scale. And as with a specialized field like sculpture or painting - if you don't need them, you don't use them.

Long story short - if you don't give a crap about the physics then go into an artistic field. Pick a specialty, then keep expanding what you can do. The more you know how to do the more people will give you the ability to do what you want in the context of a show. You'll start out just being able to pick out what linens go next the china on a table, then you get to the pick the table on the next project, then you get to choose the room for the table for the next project, then you get to decide on the house and the street and so on and so forth. The more people trust you and your vision then the further your design influence will reach.

Keep stretching that boundary and eventually you'll be able to make themed environments Smile which are meant to fully encompassing designed worlds.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 08, 2009 10:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good points there, both of you...Loric is correct about there being many more design groups in CA than FL, though there are a handful here. Places like Gary Goddard, American Scenic, BRC Imagination Arts...all of those in CA, all primarily design attractions and experiences. To answer your detailed question about the Spiderman attraction:

The interior of the ride would be the scenic designer, in which you can refer to Loric's post.

As far as what a ride does at a certain point, its up to the attraction designers (many disciplines) For instance the folks who write the show script say that they want Spiderman to jump onto the ride vehicle...well its up to the electrical and show control engineers to make that happen, of course in close collaboration with the visual effects company that would produce the 3d video, art directors, technical directors etc etc.

The track layout is most likely more than one persons job, the initial attraction concept will show a basic path for the ride, but depending on whether it is a roller coaster attraction or just a standard dark ride like spiderman, there will be more engineering and mechanics involved.

The effects will be designed by mechanical, electrical, computer engineers if youre talking about pyro, water effects, explosions or complex effects..there are companies in the business who do nothing but design and manufacture special effects for attractions (i.e. Technifex, also in CA)

The initial concept or idea can come from many different disciplines, and this is one thing Im still not sure about truly how an attraction comes to be...Obviously there has to be some sort of catalyst to spawn the idea that a park needs a new attraction(maybe its been a few years so its time, park attendance and income are up, etc)...then i guess thats followed by countless meetings until an idea is decided upon, or they want to take another intellectual property (for example Spiderman) and create an attraction around a fictional story written by a show writer.

There really is so much involved in creating an attraction but I hope that all of us can help each other understand it more. And on top of that it would seem that each attraction has a different set of steps involved, other than cookie cutter attractions.

It sounds like youre interested more in designing the overall look of the ride, the show sets, and the layout. You would be better suited to pursue more of an art/theatre degree than engineering...but if you had time and they allowed it, taking some basic physics/engineering courses wouldnt hurt you, because you never know in your career when youll need to have some basic knowledge.
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