Saturday, December 12, 2009

Singapore Pictures!

I've been home from my work trip to Singapore for a couple of days now and I finally found some time to put up some pictures.

SINGAPORE CITY - These are pictures that I either snapped from the car as I was shuttled around the city or that I took on the one evening I got to wander around Clark Quay and China Town.

HOTEL RE! AND FRIENDS - The hotel I stayed in was an absolutely bizarre (but nice) 1970's themed hotel. Also, I ran into 6 different people I know but haven't seen in 5 to 15 years on this trip. Quite a bizarre set of spontaneous reunions.

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS AT SENTOSA - Here are some pictures from Sentosa Island where U.S.S. is located. I also included the U.S.S. park and backstage pictures that I can get away with showing because they were in public areas or backstage areas that didn't "give anything away".

Now it's time to catch up on sleep. :-)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

IAAPA 2009

I am a very happy camper. Yesterday and today, I attended the yearly convention of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. Anyone who has known me for longer than a couple of minutes knows that I'm fascinated with the theme park industry and its various extensions. This convention is my Mecca. I've been to it twice before in 1997 and for part of a day back when I worked for Disney. This visit was overdue.

What made this time so unique was that I explored the convention with some of my favorite like-minded folk. The fun actually started after work Monday night when I met up with my friends (and former WDW cohorts), Kristin and Greg at the Wynn for "drinks" and pre-IAAPA conversation. We were actually in the Wynn's new extension, Encore. It was nice to see it. Very red in there.

The next day, I briefly caught up with Kristin and Greg again at IAAPA. However, I spent most of the day walking the floor with my friend, Dave ( ), from Los Angeles. He's a themed attraction designer / writer / creator for a company called Thinkwell and he's a great guide. That first day was a pretty casual walk. There were lots of stories and insider explanations of the various booths and their often bizarre displays. Check out the pictures on my Facebook to see some of it for yourself. Tacky plastic palm trees, creepy dancing costume characters, free food guaranteed to cause a heart attack, lots of weird / very Japanese plush, carnival rides, special effects and animatronics manufacturers, and (my favorite) design firms. I collected lots of company names to send resumes to later. In the last hours, I walked with Kristin and Ray ( ). We took time to visit out friends and contacts at the Medialon booth as well. The night ended with a nice dinner at Gordon Biersch with Dave and his friend Marty from Disneyland.

The second day, I was part of a larger group that seemed to continually add and lose members. It was mostly Kristin, Dave, Marty, Ray, and myself. We had a much more frantic walk through the place but I got to meet and / or see lots of cool people and things. One of the more unique things we did was sit in on the 1st hour (of 3) of a panel discussion by 5 "Disney Legends" that actually worked directly with Walt: Marty Sklar, Blaine Gibson (who was 91 years old), Bob Gurr, Richard Sherman, and Buzz Price. The stories were fascinating because they were first person accounts of the history of what essentially amounts to the creation of this industry as it is today. At the same time, they were unscripted stories told by old men that sometimes felt like Grandpa's boring old war stories. Gurr and Sherman were the most interesting to me.

Overall the IAAPA experience was wonderful. I certainly didn't see everything due to maintaining my night schedule and showing up at lunch time both days. I had no plan and no goals. It was just random exploration mostly dictated by others. Truth is, I've seen all this stuff before but there is something amazing about being in a huge building full of people who share my interests. That doesn't happen to me very often. There was a touch of economic desperation in the air that mostly became clear when vendors saw the default title of "buyer" on my badge. Thankfully, I put my freelance company name (Logic Box) on there. I'm sure I would have been stopped a lot more if I put Cirque du Soleil. Plus, Dave knows a lot of people in the industry and I think that helped deflect a lot of attention away from me as I explored the booths unnoticed. Sales people make me kind of uncomfortable. It was nice watching him do the interacting while I just absorbed the scene. In fact, this arrangement made for a very unique point of view. I saw the convention through the eyes of a new arrival and a seasoned pro at the same time. For me, it was the best of both worlds.

It was convenient this year since it was in Las Vegas but I really want to try to attend more often in the future. I didn't go very far this time, but it still felt like a great vacation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Ghost Hosts

My friend posted a cool little Halloween decoration today featuring the Hitchhiking Ghosts from Disney's Haunted Mansion attraction.  This reminded me of a moment from my childhood that I thought I'd share. 

Most of you who know me also know that I've had a nearly lifelong fascination with theme park design and technology.  That fixation began suddenly when I was (I think) 10 years old.  Up until then, I always said I wanted to grow up to be an Inventor.  Specifically, I wanted to build robots.

So one day when I was 10, I was exploring the attic for lost treasures when I found some old postcards from my parents' previous visit to Disneyland.  Then I flipped to a postcard that looked a lot like this picture.  I made my Mom explain to me what they were.  Translucent robot puppets in a ride that looked like a giant funhouse of special effects.  Something snapped in my head.  From that moment on, there was no way for me to get enough information about Disney.  Suddenly, I wanted to design and build my own parks which eventually turned into a desire to become a Disney Imagineer.

By the time my family made my first trip to Walt Disney World a year later, I had already collected tons of articles and books and photos of the parks.  I already had the maps of the parks memorized and had detailed knowledge of the contents of most attractions (including names of some of the designers).  It was everything I hoped it would be and more.

15 years later, I got to work for both Walt Disney World and Imagineering.  I've taken many side-trips in my career but that goal of being a theme park designer has never changed.  Even my decision to leave Disney was made as a step towards achieving that goal by varying my experience and moving closer to California where most of that work happens.  I'm still working on it.

I've been asked many times throughout the years why I have this apparent obsession.  I don't really know for sure (but it's probably this).  All I know for certain is that moment when it started.  I think it's strange, wonderful, and a bit scary that most of the direction of my life was dictated by a chance encounter with a postcard.

I'm just grateful my parents didn't have pictures of car dealerships in the attic.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sea World's Journey to Atlantis

The Journey to Atlantis attraction was installed in Sea World Orlando while I lived in Florida but I never got the opportunity to check it out.  I heard that it had unique ride systems and the reviews were mixed.  However, I never let anybody that had ridden it tell me much.  I honestly wanted it to be a surprise and I've been excited to see it for a long time.

Years later, I live in Vegas but this past week, Danny and I took a trip to Sea World San Diego where I was pleased to discover the ride existed there too.  Finally!  Due various boring logistics, we didn't get to ride it until the very end of the day... twice.  Now I understand the mixed reviews.

This ride has a great deal of potential.  The ride systems are technologically very interesting.  It switches between a traditional water flume ride and a simple roller coaster.  It also has a cool tilting elevator.  Really neat.  I must say that Atlantis is one of my favorite mythological themes and the architecture of the structure is pretty cool.  Finally, as an element that is very unique to Sea World, the attraction has a large, nicely themed aquarium housing Commerson's Dolphins.  These small black and white dolphins are very energetic, interactive, and amusing.  They spend about 50% of their time swimming around upside-down.  They are the best part of the attraction and you don't have to get in line or ride the ride to see them.

However, this attraction is very disappointing in some respects.  It is almost entirely devoid of any recognizable story.  They did put some effort into a storyline in the form of a disembodied female voice that talks to you from great big obvious speakers sitting on the sides of the track.  She says something about talking to dolphins and "redemption for Atlantis".  The implication is that the ride is a series of challenges to survive.  The dolphin element is tied in via some CGI versions of them that appear on a video screen in the elevator.  I think they saved us or something.  My personal opinion is NEVER use a CGI animal when riders have just seen the real thing up close mere minutes before.  Finally, this ride lasts what feels like about 30 seconds.

So close!  Honestly, I think this same ride system (and even the theme) would be best served in an indoor attraction.  Perhaps a dark ride that has a surprising and sudden thrill ride element that you don't see coming.  I'm thinking of something like a Splash Mountain 2.0.  From what I've read, the Orlando version of this ride does have more dark ride-like elements to it but I can't really judge that version yet.

Anyway, I'm glad I finally got to do this.  There were great elements that I enjoyed immensely but as an entire attraction it felt unfinished.  Now they just need to build a Kraken and Manta in San Diego so I can try that out.

Click here for more pictures from our Sea World visit...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

CSI: The Experience in Las Vegas

I have mourned the loss of my favorite bit of Vegas theme parkiness in the past. Star Trek: The Experience died almost exactly a year ago. Since then, there have been rumors of it being reborn and moving to something called Neonopolis in the long suffering Downtown area of Vegas. According to a Screamscape article today, it looks like this potential move is still in the works with a target opening of 2010. I have 2 things to say about this:

1. Squeal!

2. Do they need a
Show Control Programmer to help with the installation?

In other related news, the new
CSI: The Experience attraction is opening at the MGM Grand Casino on September 13th. While not exactly kid-friendly, this is an encouraging sign that Vegas might be swinging back towards having attractions that are not solely based on drinking and boobs. I guess this permanent attraction at MGM Grand is based on touring versions already operating in a big city near you. There is some information about this new attraction and some other Vegas news in the same Screamscape article about Star Trek. Good times...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Lost and Found: Hunchback Parody Show

Back in 1998, I spent a few months working as a Technician backstage at "The Hunchback of Notre Dame: A Musical Adventure" in the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park at Walt Disney World.  It was a fun show and got great reviews.  It was unusually artistic for 32 minute long theme park show and all of the singing / acting was live.  It finally closed in 2002 and last I saw, it was a storage facility for Spectacle of Lights.

Anyway, while I worked there, they would put on a parody show once a year for employees.  Inspired by the one I watched, I wrote a line-by-line parody for the cast and crew including alternate lyrics to every song.  Unfortunately, the parody was never performed but the script circulated backstage for a couple of more years.

I dug out that script again today and thought I might post it for those of you who might enjoy that sort of thing (or were directly involved with it).  The parody is definitely centered on the stage show version and the dialog has a lot of in-jokes.  The song parodies are more generic to the theme park stage show experience though so I made a separate copy with just the songs (sample at the bottom of this post).  Musically, it is exactly the same as the movie.


Need Air (to the tune of Out There)

Trapped behind this rubber mask, and hump made out of foam,
Singing to the people right before me.
Sweating out electrolytes, and wanting to go home,
knowing that I really have to go pee.
All day long I suffer through this heat and do this show
Fighting off the urge to stop and then flee
All my life I've wanted to perform upon the stage.
Not like this though
Is this a heat show?

I'm out there,
Melting in the sun.
Hot inside this orange hair,
This really isn't fun.
I hate this weather.

Out there.
Does anybody care?
What I'd give,
Who's butt I'd kiss,
If I could get out of all this.

Out there are all the people who don't have to wear this crap.
The audience is sitting there and sighing.
Everyday they sit and stare and act like they are warm,
Heedless of the fact that I am dying.

Each time I hit these notes,
I swear my head explodes

I need air.
Please call 911.
Put me on the stretcher.
Please turn off the sun.
How long 'til Winter? - Need air!
I'm working off my buns.
I swear I'm in real pain.
Feeling faint.
Rubber face.
Hot-ass place.
Plastic hair.
It's not fair.
Please give me air!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Blizzard Theme Park Contest Results

Well, the results of the Blizzard Theme Park Contest are in... and we didn't win.  But that's cool, I still had a lot of fun doing it.  They did post our entry on the website under the heading of "Honorable Mentions" along with 18 other entries.  For all I know, that is everybody that submitted but it's still nice to see it posted there.  The actual winners can be seen here (until this news story drops off the website front page).

So speaking of this, I've decided I do want to do it again.  I'm going to try to convince my friends  (who did the contest entry with me) and  (another theme park design geek friend) to design a new park just for our own amusement.  No contest rules or time limits and we can flesh things out in more detail.  I'm going to write them shortly after I finish writing this...

So that is that.  The contest is over but the park designing goes on!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Blizzard Adventure Park

So now that our entry is in and the contest is closed, I wanted to show anyone interested what   and I have been working on.  This is our theme park that we designed for the Blizzard contest.  I'm actually really happy with it considering the constraints.  There was a lot more we wanted to do but the deadline happened too fast.  Feel free to look it over and let us know what you think.  Just bear in mind that we didn't have the best working conditions.  This entire thing was conceived and drawn in our spare time over 15 days and we coordinated it exclusively by e-mail and instant messenger.  Also, everything I know about Blizzard Games, I learned in the past 2 weeks.  That's Erik's expertise.  I've still never even watched them being played.

Anyway, it was a really fun challenge and I'm glad we did it.  We enjoyed it so much that we're thinking about doing another one just for fun / portfolio fuel.  In the next one, we want to actually flesh out the attractions (which we had to force ourselves not to do too much here), take our time, and do all the technical work we skipped over here.  For example, this park doesn't take sight lines into account very much and the scale is extremely fudged.  I also wanted to avoid a standard hub and spokes layout but the concept and time limit sort of dictated it.  And we never did think of a more clever name...  Oh well.

It's now in Blizzard's judges' hands.  We should know how we did within the next 15 days.  Regardless of the results, I think it was worth the time.  I haven't had a project that's this much fun in a long time.

Here is the park concept:

"Welcome to Blizzard Adventure Park! It's not just a park, but an all-day adventure. Visit the Central Hub where you will suit up with your armor and weapon. Here you will also receive your Adventure Pass which will identify you throughout our 3 worlds. You are free to explore the lands of Tristram, Azeroth, and Koprulu Sector and enjoy the attractions within them but beware. Enemies wander the streets waiting to ambush so be on guard and keep your weapon ready. Each enemy defeated gains you points in an all-day competition with everyone else in the park. High scores and quest information are displayed on big screens throughout the lands. Never let your guard down, the adventure knows no safe area. You never know when or where mobs may attack and every element in the park is part of the game. Scan your Adventure Pass while shopping to gain strength (increasing the points your weapon collects per hit) or while having a snack or lunch to gain health (increasing your resistance to hits from enemies). You can even gain points on Special Quests (interactive attractions, rides, and shows). You don't just sit and watch our shows, you play them. You don't just ride our rides, you battle them. For a change of pace, try one of our Live Instances where you explore mazes and solve riddles alone or as a team. Anything and everything in Blizzard Adventure Park is a game. Can you collect enough points to be the best warrior of the day? Fight our enemies, take our quests, become a hero or a villain. Blizzard Adventure Park, it's not just a theme park... it's war!"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Theme Park Design Contest... Squeal!

When I first saw this contest on 's blog, I thought it was a dream come true.  Of course, it didn't take long for me to realize 2 big issues:

1.  It is due on March 30th, which is now 15 (already very busy) days away.

2.  The bigger issue - I don't know anything about the games this company makes.

That being the case, I sort of wrote off the whole thing as a bummer.  And that's when my good friend (and former co-worker at Disney World)   said, "Check it out.  Blizzard is having a 'Design a  Blizzard Theme Park Contest'!  I thought you might be interested in entering with me (tell me you're not foaming at the mouth already!)".  That was what I needed to hear (and yes, there was some foaming).  The month is still busy and the deadline is still close but Erik is an expert in the source material and we have a long history of working very well together (we designed and programmed big chunks of the show control systems for Fantasmic and Lights Motors Action together at WDW).  Even though we are on opposite sides of the country, we decided to go for it.

We got off to a slow start because of our equally busy lives but the ideas started going back and forth today and that momentum I was hoping for came back as though we haven't been apart for 2 years.  Wow, has it been that long?  Anyway, I think we've got a good plan now and it looks like Erik got our friend, Vic (a professional graphic artist) to lend some "final touches" assistance.  Win or lose, I think we've got a good entry in the works.  We'll see if the Blizzard folks agree.

I am so happy to be doing something like this.  Even if it is totally pretend, this is exactly the kind of outlet I live for.  I really miss doing these sorts of things at the open design forum at WDW and the Cirque one isn't really the same.  This is my idea of fun.

Now, I guess I better get to work on it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Captain EO... Fine Aged 80's Cheese!

Super major serious I-ain't-freakin'-playin'-around bigtime DISNEY NERD warning.  If you are "cool" or even just "socially acceptable", simply reading this topic could possibly tarnish your reputation or irreparably burn your retinas.

While wandering around on fan pages and groups on Facebook today, I made a wonderful discovery.  I found a full length video of the Captain EO film, formerly a 3D film attraction at various Disney Magic Kingdoms around the globe and EPCOT Center in WDW.  I watched a bit of the beginning and all of the musical portions today.  Wow, it is just beautiful and awful all at the same time. 

This attraction was a must see for me as a child and I probably tortured my family by making them see it over and over again.  I even had the "making-of" TV special on video and watched it over and over too.  It's not quite the same experience without the 3D, "in-theater special effects", and the cool mystical crystal pre-show music noises but my memory filled in the blanks well enough.  I still remember clearly waiting in line for about 3 days to see it and being entertained by the world's funniest Operations Host after the show ended.  He said, "You wanna see that again?  Well go get back in line!  Please grab your children firmly by the hair and move towards the nearest exit."  Hey, that's hysterical when you are 10 years old and deleriously exhausted.

So apparently, I'm not the only fan out there.  They aren't exactly packed with members but there are quite a few Captain EO fan pages on Facebook.  Maybe by the time you've read this, I'll have become brave enough to join one. 

I'm sendin' out a major love and this is my message to you...

Lost & Found - MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park

Kaleidoscope Theater
Originally uploaded by Mike Brister
Last week, a random stranger spotted this picture on my Flickr account and recognized that it was from the now closed and demolished MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park (of Las Vegas). I worked at the park as a performer when it opened in 1993. Anyway the stranger asked if I had any more photos from the park because apparently these photos are very rare. A quick Google search confirmed for me that there really aren't many pictures around. This leads me to 3 possible conclusions:

1. They don't exist.
2. Nobody has put them online.
3. Nobody cares.

In the event that it is either option 1 or 2, I decided to do this stranger a favor and put all of my MGM pictures on photobucket. These pictures are kind of unique not only because they are rare shots of a dead park but they are from the first 6 months of operation and include backstage shots. If you are a theme park geek like me, I think you might enjoy them.

And if anyone happens to have any pictures from this park I would love to get copies. Thanks! Here are my links:

MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park Photos
Kaleidoscope / 3 Stooges Show & Backstage Photos