Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Big Changes

Big changes are happening for me and it has been a long time coming.  Anyone who has known me for longer than 10 minutes knows that my lifelong goal is to help design and build theme parks for a living.  A few days ago, I accepted a job with a company called Thinkwell Design and Production that does this very thing.  I start in September and the job is in Burbank (so I won't be moving again).
I will be a Technical Manager, helping take creative designs and figure out how to make them work in the real world.  My first assignment will be working on a new $1.5 billion theme park in China called Monkey Kingdom, but I may also be working on other projects at the same time.  Check out some pictures of Monkey Kingdom here.
I'm excited and terrified.  It's a little intimidating when when your dream for the last 3 decades is suddenly real and sitting right in front of you.  I'm very happy, but part of me still can't believe this is happening.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Florida Vacation

Harry Potter at IOA
I have just returned from a great vacation to Orlando.

Pictures, pictures, pictures....

This vacation was a trip to the WDW and IOA theme parks and also a family reunion.  There were 19 of us though the group never got bigger than 16 at a time.

"How many in your party?"
"A metric ****-ton.  Just give us the whole boat, please."

In addition to a much overdue family visit, this was my first time back in Orlando since I left Disney back in 2007.  I didn't get to see a lot of my old friends and co-workers but I did get to see some.  Good times.

I also got to see all of the new things that have been added to WDW and IOA since I left (although some of it was technically added before I left but I never had the chance to check it out).  And since I'm a hardcore theme park nerd, this is the part where I dish on those new additions.  If you aren't a theme park nerd, you may want to eject now.

Quite possibly the most beautiful piece of bad traffic management ever conceived.  I'm consistently amazed at how gorgeous and detailed IOA is while simultaneously missing the mark on traffic flow, ride capacity and American-sized seating.  The Harry Potter land itself was eye-popping and very true to the movies visually.  And much to my surprise, I liked the butterbeer.  The ride was also very well done and had a great queue line... with one exception.  SERIOUSLY, setting the queue in a greenhouse does not help with the stifling heat on a psychological level no matter how much fake snow you put outside.  The ride was cooler than I thought it would be.  Well done.  As for the queue to for the Dragon Challenge.  How did they manage to make the coolest queue in IOA into the lamest?

I was really looking forward to this and I was not disappointed.  I believe this was done as a series of separate enhancements over a long period of time.  All of them were great without interfering in the original flavor of the attraction.  The staircase scene was my favorite and the new attic was extra creepy.  Loved this.

Holy ****!  I heard good things about this but still didn't know what to expect.  An amazing surprise is what I got.  This was more than an update.  It's a whole new attraction and the quality is unmatched.  I knew I was in for something cool when I saw the detailed new console graphics next to C3PO in the queue.  I thought the abandoned Rex pilots in the queue was a nice touch.  I only got to ride once (Kashyyyk and Coruscant) and was blown away.  The depth of the CGI is intense for a theme park ride.  It kind of made the prequel trilogy worth it.  I can't wait to do it again.

The replacement of Herbie with characters from Cars was a good choice.  Making the sequence go on for what feels like 20 minutes... not so much.  Also, the assumption that everyone has seen Cars 2 was annoying.  The "story" made absolutely no sense to me, not having seen the 2nd film.

I don't know if it changed since re-opening or if the WDW version was done differently from Disneyland.  Either way, this was a much better experience.  Gone away was the annoying bounce through the entire "We Are Here to Change the World".  The subtler theater movement and whip warrior / rat tail programming was a nice enhancement here.  I know this attraction's rebirth may be a short one but I'm glad to see it back for now.

This is just cute and I really enjoyed it.  Elements of it seem eerily similar to a proposal I made while working at WDW but that's OK.  I doubt they stole my idea but if they did, somebody owes me lunch.  As much as I miss Timekeeper, I do really like this.  Fun!

I thought this was going to be another update like the Mansion.  Mostly, it was just a sponsor removal.  I still like the ride but the changes are very "Meh".  Why did they kill the man and dog robots in the exit scenes!?  Lame!

I knew these changes would be minimal.  Best I could tell, the only change was the film on the fog curtain to include the latest movie.  Since the fog curtain is the most out of place enhancement in the ride, I can't say the film change helped much.  Oh well.

Mixed feeling about my old stomping grounds here... and mostly about pyro.  Simply, the decision to cut pyro from the 1st half of the show (Sorcerer comets and flowers) was just wrong.  Shame on y'all.  The additions of pyro later in the show were cool though.  I miss the saxons on the Steamboat but the waterfalls do add some consistency.  Making all the tracer plates the same color was a little lame though.  The strobes and twinkle lights in the mountain looked better than I remembered seeing in a long time.  If they rehabbed those, good choice.  All nit-picking aside, it was nice to see the show again where a little piece of my soul (and a lot of my programmin still lives.

Whew!  I've got my park and family fix for a little while now.  I'm happy and exhausted (and somehow NOT sunburned for once).  I'd been looking forward to this trip for a long time and it was exactly what I hoped for.