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Live Active Cultures

Seth goes behind the scenes and inside the brains of local theme park designers

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That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of goodies for park geeks. Asked about their all-time favorite attraction that they didn’t create, Gromoll gravitated to the hairy-legged Pirates of the Caribbean, Babel gave an impassioned defense of the story structure of Universal’s long-closed Ghostbusters show, and others praised Space Mountain, Test Track and even It’s a Small World. (“I just wanted to stick that song in your head,” joked Petty.) And when questioned on projects that started big and shrunk, Gromoll revealed that a proposed Shrek stage show was scaled down to a parade, then to an exhibit, and finally to a single sign.

But what I most enjoyed were the thoughtful responses relating to the more philosophical side of the participants’ work. All praised the emotional power of live theater, with several citing Cirque du Soleil’s KA as particularly inspiring (Petty: “It’s like watching a good magician work, even if you know how all the tricks are done”), and shared the ways in which childhood obsessions – Legos, Star Wars, sword & sandal epics – contribute to their current work. Particularly fascinating was the conversation on the role of technology in creativity (digital drawing tablets and Google SketchUp are great, but sketching on paper is still vital) and the emergence of interactive attractions. Babel sees things like Epcot’s Kim Possibleas a “flippin’ brilliant” harbinger of parks that are more like cosplay games; Gromoll sees interactivity as another tool for storytelling like lighting or sound; and Petty says he feels sad for modern kids who are too busy “interacting” to talk to each other.

The common thread among speakers was that they fell into their careers, with several saying things like, “I came in for a few days and stayed for 13 years.” Today, Bowlin says, “To get a full-time job in [Universal’s] art department, one of us has to die,” as all parks now rely heavily on project-based freelancers. Anyone with the cash can visit Orlando’s fantasylands, but only these talented few get to build them.

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