Saturday, April 21, 2012

My Real Job

For those of you who were introduced to this blog in the past 6 months, I should tell you that I occasionally write posts that are not related to Journey Into Imagination but are at least a little bit related to the theme park industry.  I haven't really done that recently until now.

For the benefit of friends, family, and some complete strangers who've asked, "what do you do anyway?"...  Let me explain:

As you may be aware, I am a big time theme park nerd or a "foamer" as we are called by those in the industry.  Since I was 10 years old, I've wanted nothing more than to design theme parks for a living, and last Sept, I started working at a company in Burbank, CA called Thinkwell that does just that.  Since I've started, I've said almost nothing publicly about what I actually do despite this being a HUGE deal for me.  After almost 8 months there, I think I've had enough time to fully understand what I'm doing and what I am able to talk about.

Thinkwell is a themed experience company that produces creative designs for theme parks, attractions, museums, tours, special events, corporate branding, and just about anything else that could use a unique creative eye.  We are working for several clients right now on a diverse array of projects, only a handful of which are public knowledge yet.  You can see our currently announced projects on our website here and our latest cool thing, The Making of Harry Potter Tour here.  We'll get to my project in a moment.

I am a Technical Manager by title but the work I do is better known in theatrical circles as a Tech Director.  My job is to figure out to make the creative designs work in the real world with available technology, adhering to a set budget, and functioning safely and reliably.  As part of a team, I help create the technical designs and specifications for various things including lighting, audio, video, control systems, interactives, special effects of all sorts, networking, ride systems, facilities and utilities, and even some top-secret prototypical coolness that you'll get to see in attractions that will open a couple of years from now.

The majority of my time is spent on a theme park called Monkey Kingdom, opening in China in 2014.  This park and the project as a whole is huge.  It keeps me very busy on a wide variety of disciplines.  I am what is called a "project-based" employee.  This is very typical in the industry and it basically means that my employment is attached to the Monkey Kingdom project, theoretically through the completion of the park.  The reality is that I am not entirely tied to Monkey and have helped out in various ways on a dozen other projects - sometimes for a couple of days, sometimes for about 5 minutes.  Everyone at Thinkwell has specialties that are often additions to their core job descriptions.  I usually get to help out with projects that might involve large-scale special effects and theatrical automation, puppets, and show control systems.  Every experience I've ever had in my career has been pulled out of mothballs for use in something these past 8 months.

A typical week for me is 9am to 6pm with an hour lunch, Monday through Friday.  This is the first time in my life that I've had a full-time schedule like this.  Having weekends and holidays off is crazy!  I finally get why people like it.  Right now, Monkey Kingdom is still in the design phases.  As it starts to move into actual construction over the next couple of years, there will likely be longer and stranger hours with travel.  Right now, I feel like I'm on vacation all the time.

Most of the offices, including mine, are all open and located in one large room.  In this photo, my desk is to the left of the Hello Kitty desk and you're looking at less than a third of the whole space.  The environment is really cool.  Few or no walls, open dialogue, pretty much no politics at all (seriously), very casual and easy-going.  It is not uncommon to have strange costume days, food-related events, crazy desk decorating, or a random marching band here in the offices.  There's no class system here either.  I usually have lunch at the picnic tables outside where I might be eating with any co-workers including the company Owners and VPs.

During a typical day, I'm back and forth between my desk and various meetings or presentations around our building.  I get to meet all sorts of interesting people including clients, consultants, vendors, specialists ad service providers.  I do a lot of technical writing and AutoCAD plus a little bit of Sketchup, VBA programming, and testing of all sorts of different programs.  And they've let me try my hand at some creative work as well.  So far, I've written or co-written of a couple of show treatments that are part of Monkey Kingdom.  They are very encouraging when it comes to trying new things and expanding your skills here. Awesome.

Everything else I want to tell you... I really can't yet.  :-)  I'll post news as things are announced though.  So, that's it.  That's what I've been doing lately.

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