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