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Live Active Cultures

Seth Kubersky gets a peek behind the theme-park curtain at the Entertainment Designer Forum

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The audience was filled with Halloween Horror Nights and Harry Potter fanboys (present company included), but if anyone came expecting spoilers about the future of either franchise, they were destined for disappointment. I'm proud to say I asked the only question of the night (about disabled effects hidden inside the Forbidden Journey attraction) to violate the "no spoilers" edict, eliciting a firm but friendly "NO!" from Aiello.

Still, there was plenty to placate Potterphiles, particularly from props guru Eric Baker. As the first in-house props master at Universal, Baker oversaw the assembly of more than 40,000 individual items to fill the windows and shelves of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade (there are 15,000 wand boxes in Ollivanders alone). Many of the objects on display were scanned and molded from the original film props, and a few (the Quidditch pads in Spintwiches' window and the Gilderoy Lockhart books near the Fat Lady portrait in Hogwarts) were actually used on screen, but Baker found the chair in the Gryffindor common room on the side of I-4 near the Millenia Mall.

Similarly, the Halloween faithful got tidbits about Halloween good (Keaton recounted his first public appearance as Halloween Horror Nights icon Jack, asking at City Hall to talk with then-mayor Glenda Hood and being questioned by the cops), bad (T.J. Mannarino discussed toning down the event after 9/11) and ugly (Sauls recalled an enormous experimental Tesla coil effect that destroyed speakers and tree limbs with artificial electricity).

But my favorite stories of the night were non-gory career insights. Nesler, who spent 15 years at Disney before working at Universal for the past dozen, compared them thusly: "If Disney is a like tea party, Universal is a block party." As a former freelancer who kick-started 
her career by secretly designing Christmas decor for Islands of Adventure on spec, her advice to hopeful designers was "dig down, find your chutzpah and hope they don't hit you." Likewise, Lepre said the "twists are what makes it fun." Finally, freelancer Cindy White (who has designed everything from Junie B. Jones at the Orlando REP to the new parade at Sesame Place, a Sesame Street-themed park in Pennsylvania) said that as big parks close their in-house fabrication shops in favor of outsourcing, "you don't need a job, you need to start a company." The bottom line, according to all these dream-job holders, was "follow your bliss." That's a sentiment I'm sure Stephanie Girard would have applauded.

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