It's about that time! IAAPA is just around the corner, and Rethink Leisure & Entertainment will be once again hosting our annual Redrink Around the World event at EPCOT for current students and early career professionals! This year, we'll be joined by leaders from Garmendale Engineering, DJ Willrich Ltd, Electrosonic, HBG Design, Silkroading and Leisure Development Partners. Redrink Around the World takes place on November 17, 2017. Applications are available now – spots are limited, so be sure to apply by November 3 for your chance to join us. Check here for the application and all the info.
Recently, we had the opportunity to visit the new Motiongate theme park at Dubai Parks and Resorts. As Rethink had worked on an iteration of the park back in the day, we were eager to check it out and see it in person!
Overall, we came away very impressed with the finish and theming of many parts of the park. In particular, the DreamWorks building is extremely well done, with a lovely entrance plaza and enchanting fountain just inside.
The How to Train Your Dragon section was a particularly impressive standout. The theming in the Dragon area is top-notch, with convincing wood textures, large-scale sculptural pieces and impressive signage throughout. Dragon Gliders was our favorite ride in the park, combining animatronics, media, setwork and fun, swooping finale into a proper E-ticket attraction. The ride uses Mack’s system that they originally designed for Arthur & the Minimoys, and it is an exceptional piece of hardware. It is capable of delivering a dark ride experience combined with speed and coaster thrills, and Dragon Gliders is the incontrovertible proof.
A close second in the ride experience department was Mad Pursuit in the Madagascar section. The queue was enjoyable and inventive, taking guests through circus tents and train cars. Not sure what to expect out of the indoor coaster, we were pleasantly surprised by its speed and power! After being rocketed through a launch tunnel, we flew in and around a variety of setwork – essentially Rock n’ Roller Coaster, but with a Madagascar twist. I do wish it had a louder soundtrack, but outside of that quibble, it was a totally solid ride, and one that we’d recommend highly.
The Hunger Games area was in technical rehearsal, so we were able to experience the new Panem Aerial Tour as part of our visit. It was fun to see both Elizabeth Banks and Mahershala Ali reprise their film roles for the pre-show and ride, which gave it a nice boost of star power. The ride system itself is not quite up to the epic scale of the show presented, but the media is appropriately action-packed and well-produced. We unfortunately, did not have time to ride the Capitol Bullet Train, but it looked like a lot fun.
Our team had a great time visiting Motiongate, and hope to have more time to experience the rest of the offerings at Dubai Parks and Resorts next time we swing through.
- Stefan Lawrence, Creative Director at Rethink
Morgane joined Rethink earlier this year, and has already left an indelible mark on the projects she’s touched as a Concept Designer. While relatively new to the themed entertainment business, her journey is well underway, having already worked with Universal Creative, Disney Publishing, Disney Consumer Products, and Garner Holt Productions. Becoming part of the Rethink team, Morgane says she’s found her “dream job” and her place within the industry, of which she is an avid fan.
“Surprisingly, my love of themed entertainment or interests do not evolve from frequent childhood visits to Disneyland,” explains Morgane. “My childhood was bereft of the knowledge that Disneyland was a real, tangible place. I firmly believed that the ‘Disneyland’ television series Walt Disney hosted was nothing more than Hollywood sets and magic; I saw what he proposed on his show and thought, if only he had actually built this place – it would be incredible! That all changed when I was 13, on a family trip to Anaheim. And it was overwhelming. I remember being amazed by the architecture, and being lost in these new worlds, excited to ride whatever attraction each land held as its pearl. I was inspired to learn more, to set my course, and to really work hard at becoming a designer just like those who had created such an incredible place – and places like it around the world.”
As a Concept Designer, Morgane blends creative direction, storytelling, and her own exciting style into artwork – whether it be loose pencil sketches, or extremely detailed renderings – that gives each team a visual waypoint to work toward, ensuring that everyone understands what the given experience is supposed to look like, following the transition from concept to reality. This is a critical part of the creative process, since it’s so easy for an idea to get lost in transition. Beautifully-visualized concepts are part of the glue that holds every project together – a role that carries a lot of responsibility that isn’t lost on Morgane.
“I feel honored by the opportunity to bring an idea into a room for others to collaborate on,” says Morgane. “Building something with a group of people is a most rewarding experience, because everyone’s strengths have the potential to come together, creating something exceptional. Being a Concept Designer is rewarding because I need to conduct thorough research on whatever it is I am designing; as someone who loves to learn, this facet of the job is one of my favorites.”
Now that she is a professional in the industry, Morgane is setting her sights on becoming even more involved with her peers than she already is. In 2016, she applied for – and won – the TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) Summit scholarship, and at the beginning of this year, Morgane volunteered as House Manager for the TEA Summit and Thea Awards at the Disneyland Hotel. An active member of the Themed Entertainment Association, Morgane hopes to represent the NextGen Initiative – interested students and recent graduates seeking a career in the industry – and has applied to serve as the NextGen Representative on the Western Division TEA Board of Directors.
“I applied to be the NextGen Representative on the Western Division TEA Board because I think my story reflects what this program is for,” explains Morgane. “My success is largely attributed to the TEA, and I am excited be a part in helping newcomers in the industry realize their dreams, too.
“As a NextGen board member, I’d aim to help organize and promote NextGen-centric events that encourage intermingling and team building between up-and-coming young professionals in this industry; some of my closest friends now are fellow NextGen members, but it took us nearly a year to break out of our shells and start talking.”
It’s easy to see that Morgane is a busy go-getter, and she’s not slowing down on any front! We’re excited to have her as part of the Rethink team of creatives and appreciate her efforts within the TEA and our industry as a whole.
This past weekend, both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot at Walt Disney World celebrated anniversaries; 46 and 35 years, respectively. While Walt Disney World as a whole is a major cornerstone of themed entertainment, the two parks that not only stand out, but resonate with nostalgia are Magic Kingdom and Epcot. They have always represented Disney's expertise in design and imagination, and have left indelible impressions on many of our own team members here at Rethink. Some of them grew up going to Walt Disney World as kids, while others are fairly new to "Disneyland's younger sibling" here in the United States. As we mark these two anniversaries, some of our team wanted to share their own thoughts and impressions as fans and design professionals:
"My first time at Walt Disney World was last year, when I went with a friend who played tour guide and spent all day giving me an expert’s course on the history of Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. As a little kid in SoCal, I never got to experience the magic of Disneyland (I didn’t go until I was older), but Walt Disney World gave me that magical feeling. I can’t wait to go back!" - Morgane Keesling, Concept Designer
"The Magic Kingdom serves as a tangibly-grounded spot where truly remarkable experiences that eliminate the internal limits of disbelief can occur. Its complement, Epcot, is a space that applies optimism to the tangible factors of the real world and acts to give the guests a new context to their lives outside of the theme park.
"In short, guests are allowed to play pretend at the Magic Kingdom and are inspired by pretend play at Epcot; it’s a beautiful balance.
"I believe Tony Baxter may have said it best: “Epcot is the real world made magical, the Magic Kingdom is the magical world made real.'" - Kevin Kalbfeld, Show Designer
"Growing up on the West Coast, Walt Disney World was always this mystical place that existed in the far-off land of Orlando. It wasn't until I was 25 that I finally made my first trip to Florida and experienced the Magic Kingdom and Epcot in person. I was fortunate, in that I made it just in time to see Epcot in its 'original' state - Future World had its funky '80s soundtracks and awesome attractions, as well as the beloved Journey Into Imagination experience that lives in our hearts to this day. It was also my first time visiting the Magic Kingdom - a strange, dream-like experience where you kind of know the lay of the land, but yet, everything is different. I fell in love with both parks, and am fortunate enough to visit them at least once a year now as part of my profession. As storytellers, it's imperative that we benchmark and remain close to such iconic properties within the themed entertainment industry. Epcot and Magic Kingdom are stunning accomplishments that we continue to learn from all these years later." - Rick West, Show Writer
Senior Graphic Designer
Tracey joined the Rethink team in 2016, bringing with her a wealth of experience and expertise in graphic design. With a career spanning more than 35 years, at least 25 have been dedicated specifically to projects within the themed entertainment industry.
Working for companies such as Universal Creative, Thinkwell, Riva Creative, and Walt Disney Imagineering, Tracey has helped create some of the world’s most acclaimed attractions including: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Springfield Expansion at Universal Studios Florida, Bollywood and Motiongate at Dubai Parks Resorts, and Paradise Pier at Disney’s California Adventure.
“Serendipity lead me from agency advertising to environmental graphics,” says Tracey when reflecting on getting into themed entertainment. “That, and a lot of networking.”
Tracey designs graphics that communicate the story in an easily-readable form. Be it an attraction marquee, set graphics, restaurant menu, or wayfinding, environmental graphics add to the guests’ experience and offer information. Like every other creative at Rethink, she is a storyteller in her own right, essential to our process.
Working with each in-house discipline, Tracey brings each graphic idea to its final form, developing the concept into a dimensional, buildable design that is integrated into a themed environment. It’s a complex and extremely involved process, but one that she enjoys, and is wonderfully adept at.
“I love doing what I do,” adds Tracey. “When things get irksome, I remember the faces of people who are having fun in the places we design. Not so many jobs are focused around bringing about joy.”
When she’s not at Rethink, Tracey is heavily involved with the Boy Scouts. Not only does she help youth develop into outstanding adults, it gets her outside on adventures – unplugged from her computer for a short time, with people who can carry her out of the backcountry when she’s exhausted!
Kevin joined Rethink in 2013 as a Show Designer. Here, he works closely with the creative team to ensure that the final vision of our design holds true to the conceptual intent through detailed modeling and drafting, which is carried out from “blue sky” development, to final installation.
Before coming to Rethink, Kevin worked for groups including NBCUniversal, Leslie Iwerks Productions, and 20th Century Fox Studios Dubai. His skillset includes show design with an emphasis on 3-D modeling. He graduated summa cum laude from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and is an active member of the Themed Entertainment Association’s NextGen committee, participating in industry events and planning.
“To be honest, when I was young I was terrified of roller coasters, audio animatronics, and costumed characters. That fear became obsession, and through my macabre fascination, I began to love the level of tangibility inherent to the worlds created in theme parks; something that cannot be achieved in any other entertainment medium. This unique group of artist and creators are, as Joe Rhode (Walt Disney Imagineering) once told me, the ‘rock stars’ of their respective fields. There’s definitely something to be said that no other brick-and-mortar creative industry has raving fans as much as theme parks do. It truly is an amazing and exciting artistic community, and with programs like the TEA NextGen, we are constantly creating new ways of connecting with youthful talent. I’ve had some amazing mentors to learn from, and I feel that if I can impart some of my knowledge, I will be paying it forward and doing the same as those who most influenced me. And it doesn’t hurt to talk to the NextGen. You never know which one will be hiring you in ten years!”
While at Leslie Iwerks Productions, Kevin was a Production Assistant on the highly-anticipated documentary The Imagineering Story, a rare glimpse behind the scenes of Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative arm of the Disney Company responsible for the production of its theme parks and resorts worldwide.
“While at community college, gaining credits to apply to the Savannah College of Art and Design, I found the unique opportunity to work with the wonderful Leslie Iwerks on her project, The Imagineering Story. Through interviews and meetings, I listened closely to Imagineers who were creating some of the greatest themed entertainment designs in the industry. These folks, both past and present Disney employees, talked like I did; with the same passion and vigor for great design that I had fostered. I knew then that I had to become a part of this incredible industry.”
Here at Rethink, Kevin is a vital part of the operation, interfacing daily with our teams on projects in various stages of production. Recently, Lotte Undersea Kingdom opened in South Korea to rave reviews; a project that Rethink had major creative input on, which included Kevin’s touch as a talented Show Designer.
When not designing theme parks and attractions, Kevin enjoys playing and writing music; he’s proficient with the piano, drums, guitar, banjo, ukulele, and he even sings! An avid runner, Kevin often participates in marathons here in Southern California.
Show Set Designer
Diane joined the team at Rethink in 2015 as one of our Show Set Designers, shortly after graduating from SCAD’s Themed Entertainment Design MFA Program in Georgia. She holds a Bachelors of Civil Engineering degree from the University of Dayton in Ohio, where she also studied art history, and architecture. Currently, Diane is part of the Themed Entertainment Association’s NextGen Initiative, which assists students and recent graduates working their way into the attractions industry.
Prior to coming to Rethink, Diane worked at Herschend Family Entertainment, where she had a hand in creating multiple attractions, including Firechaser Express for Dollywood, and Fireman’s Landing for Silver Dollar City.
“Part of my interest in seeking out this industry is its innate and unique mix of technology and creativity, and their interdependency,” explains Diane. “Between engineering and fine arts, I have had the opportunity to develop two very different tool sets that present a lot of compelling challenges together. Show set documentation and digital modeling have been my focus so far, but being involved in such large projects is a constant education in all the places the two intersect.”
A Show Set Designer’s skills allow them to take artists’ renderings, and create detailed, spatially-accurate digital models using industry standard programs such as SketchUp, and AutoCAD. These 3-D models are then used for presentations, advanced concept renderings, client presentations, and video fly-through simulations. In addition to 3-D modeling, Diane also creates – and is a firm believer in the use of – “white models”, which are practical 3-D models made of varying materials that are used for better understanding layout and general massing at any given scale.
“Both digital and physical modeling offer opportunities to the creative process in ways that the other can’t,” says Diane. “Digital design offers almost countless options for previewing and reworking with little waste, while physical models allow us to experience the presence and dimension of a space and engage more of our senses, producing a richer outcome. My own pursuit of themed entertainment started with a very personal environmental experience, which still influences my aspirations and design goals to this day.”
A resident of Pasadena, Diane designs costumes and props for Halloween in her spare time, and enjoys traveling. She’s also an avid Indiana Jones fan, with Raiders of the Lost Ark being her favorite film of all time!
Most folks don’t usually think about it, but the themed entertainment industry here in America has existed longer than any of us have been alive. Our first “amusement parks” evolved from picnic groves in the mid-1800s, followed shortly by major entertainment endeavors across the country. Coney Island rose on the shores of New York City in the late 1800s. More boardwalks and fun parks sprung up throughout the United States in the years to follow.
In 1953, Walt Disney unwittingly re-invigorated and forever altered the course of the industry when he formed Walt Disney Inc. (which then went on to be WED Enterprises, now Walt Disney Imagineering) to design and build Disneyland. In retrospect, the creation of WDI served as the modern “Big Bang” of modern themed entertainment. Not everyone remained a life-long Imagineer; in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any major creative organization – especially here in Los Angeles – that doesn’t have traceable roots to WED/WDI.
Today, many seasoned veterans work throughout the industry alongside college grads who’ve been hired fresh out of school. It’s not uncommon at all for younger staff to be completely unaware that one of their peers was on the creative team for Epcot, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Tokyo DisneySea or other projects that are considered industry cornerstones. For new designers entering the workforce, finding out that the older guy or gal they’re working with helped create their favorite childhood theme park or attraction is certainly surreal and good nerdy fun – however, it goes much deeper than that. At Rethink, we believe it’s extremely important that our team feature a healthy mix of “gray and green”.
You Can’t Learn That from Text Books
These days, up-and-coming talent interested in a career in our line of work have really great opportunities at their fingertips. Colleges now feature industry-specific courses, and entities such as the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) have set up programs like the NextGen Initiative to offer an unprecedented helping hand to students and recent grads seeking positions in what historically, is a very tricky business to get into. Most of the veterans in our industry today simply fell into it due to their given trades or schooling; theater majors, drafting, architecture, art, and finance – everything that is critical to our business, but was never specifically incorporated into a “themed entertainment” curriculum, as can be found today in universities and educational institutions around the world.
Even with the current tools and organizations available to students these days, there is still an incredible amount of information and hands-on know-how that simply can’t be taught in class or conveyed properly without placing experienced professionals and brand-new grads “in the trenches” together. When old-school meets new on any project, the result is a fantastic bond of learning, mentoring and collaboration that often extends well beyond the walls of the workplace; friendships are formed and the gap between “yesterday” and “tomorrow” gets smaller and smaller.
Creative design, no matter what your specific discipline may be, is an exciting, always-evolving art form that cannot be summed up in a book or online tutorial; it cannot be defined by a Google search or captured in a YouTube video. Like any learning process, there are things that simply must be done to be understood; often over and over again. A veteran that has participated in more creative charrettes than can be remembered, or taken an attraction from concept through installation numerous times throughout his or her career, is invaluable to any team. It’s one thing to sit at a desk and dream up the “latest and greatest” attraction in the world – and another completely to know what it’s like to take a team through the process from early concept development to opening day. This is where younger professionals and folks new to our business look to the vets for guidance and learning. If that fount of knowledge ever dried up, our industry would be in a world of hurt, because hands-on experience is the one thing we can’t order from a vendor.
The industry learning curve is a two-way street. While incoming professionals learn a great deal from seasoned veterans, they also have a lot to offer their seniors in the industry. Millennials are children of the Digital Age; they have grown up hard-wired to interface with cutting-edge design tools and computer technology that may be completely foreign or off-putting to long-time industry vets who have become comfortable and for lack of better term, set in their ways regarding various aspects of the design process. The knowledge and techniques that both groups share with one another is invaluable. When new and veteran members of our team learn from one another, not only do they expand their skill sets individually – our company grows collectively, strengthening Rethink’s capabilities while becoming more efficient and better equipped to handle anything our clients come to us with.
At Rethink, we carefully select our teams so that each project gels cohesively and is brought to fruition by the best people for the job. Every group is thoughtfully balanced with “gray and green” so there is leadership and steadiness in place as the creative process evolves, taking on a life of its own, often in uncharted territory. This “creative fusion” is incredibly important to us and ultimately, to the overall success of any effort we undertake. As cliché as it sounds, the wisdom of our leaders and the boundless enthusiasm of our industry’s newest professionals work in concert to bridge the gap between tried and true and limitless possibility. The outcome is exciting and remarkable.
Walt Disney was a master of team assemblage. While certainly visionary in his own right, one of Disney’s greatest skills was sniffing out talent and bringing the right people together to develop unique and special experiences. The results of these carefully-selected teams are many of the greatest attractions ever created, some more than 50 years old. We take that approach at Rethink; it’s a proven path to success, one that we believe in wholeheartedly.
Evolution of Creativity and Fun
Since its earliest years, the themed entertainment design process has evolved considerably, although creative intent and imagination remain at the core of everything we do. In the age of 3-D modeling, virtual reality tools, elaborate Keynote presentations, Google Chat, smartphones, and video conference calls with clients on the other side of the world, it’s almost impossible to imagine what it was like back in the day when creatives had little more than paper and pencil to work with. One constant common thread that hasn’t changed over time is that of having fun. Whether 1916 or 2016, creating attractions is a fun process that is incredibly rewarding professionally and personally. Granted, as is the case with any job, themed entertainment design work is fraught with unexpected challenges and sometimes demanding production schedules; in the end however, the work we do is greatly rewarding professionally and personally.
A healthy mix of green and gray helps bring both traditional and cutting-edge methodology to our workplace in new and exciting ways. As a company, we absolutely believe that creating exceptional attractions and experiences comes from a true understanding of where we’ve been as an industry and where we’re heading tomorrow. That begins with people; our diverse staff, who bring to the table an awesome willingness to learn from one another, exceptional drive for success, and the desire to have fun together in all that we do each and every day.
Rethink Leisure & Entertainment just completed work on the first ever Fan2Sea Comic Con Cruise! Under the creative direction of Stefan Lawrence, Rethink was responsible from day 1 for programming the cruise, including scheduling, guest selection, show content creation, and identity design. In addition, Rethink provided a team of producers on board who worked with the wonderful teams at Flying Dutchmen Travel and Cruise Production, Inc. to make sure the events ran smoothly.
According to our special guests as well as the fans on board, Fan2Sea was a smashing success, delivering on our promise to deliver a fun, intimate Comic Con experience with none of the stress of a big convention.
Rethink has sent an adventurous contingent across the world to Shanghai for the Asia Attractions Expo. Here they are enjoying Shanghai Disneyland in all its glory! If you see them on the expo floor, say hi.