A Healthy Mix of Gray and Green

 

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.

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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.

 

Creative Fusion

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.

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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.