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.