Sunday, April 13, 2014

2nd Gate - Paris

With its Ratatouille sub-area nearing completion, I decided to take another look at WDSP.   Awhile back I did a radical revision/expansion plan of this park, changing its overall theme to ‘Lost Portal’.  This time, I decided to incorporate more of what is currently standing and keep it based on The Movies, specifically five distinct film-making entities and a sixth area showcasing Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1940s.   I hesitate to title this version “Walt Disney Studios” because only a few pieces represent the behind-the-scenes (studio) film-making process (Entry Plaza, part of the Pixar area) and very little represents Walt Disney Productions.  While the neighboring castle park has a lot to do with the foundation of the Company – DLP being a new vision of Walt’s original park and including attractions based on many of his films – this 2nd Gate is populated by outside entities the Company has since acquired or become associated with: Pixar, Lucasfilm, Studio Ghibli.  

This ‘build-out’ master plan (which actually includes a few sizable expansion pads) increases the on-stage areas of the current theme park by several times, ending up with an overall footprint slightly larger than its neighbor, DLP.   I realize that with such a huge increase in capacity the Studio One entrance/bottleneck would likely need to be addressed (demolished), but for this exercise, it’s nice to be able to reference some standing physical aspects of the park.

Since this is the sister park of Orlando’s DHS, I was inspired by the giant aerial hidden Mickey of the original D-MGM Studios (here the Mouse is lording over all its corporate subsidiaries) in shaping the central lagoon used for daytime fountain shows (Bellagio) and an end-of-day spectacular.

OLD HOLLYWOOD: The entrance to the park is unchanged, but once visitors exit Studio One they step into a highly-detailed, romanticized recreation of 1940s LA.   The Red Car trolley runs up and down Hollywood and Sunset Blvds.   The facades in front of Tower of Terror are expanded into functioning buildings or shops.  CineMagique receives an architectural shell (and interior) of a classic Movie Palace.  Nearby a competing venue houses a new take on the Great Movie Ride: an AA- and SFX-laden EPCOT-style omnimover with a canned spiel (select language in each ride vehicle) telling the story of film, with scenes from pivotal classic movies, not just by WDP.  I have my ideas of what greats should be included, but if anyone wants to list 10-15 movies/scenes in chronological order they think should qualify, feel free to do so in the comments section (don’t worry about acquiring the rights from rivals!). 

MARVEL SUPERHERO CITY:  Urban LA of the 40s transitions into a more contemporary but still densely-built cityscape.  The two existing attractions in this area are extensively re-skinned and re-themed.  Rock n’ Rollercoaster becomes Iron Man themed and the Armageddon FX walkthrough is themed to the Incredible Hulk (containment chamber fails).  Spiderman gets a new original family ride and there is a Dock Ock spinner.  The Red Line has a stop in the urban core.   Moving away from the city and into the greener countryside, there is a playzone (Redwood Creek) based on Captain America.  Finally, a small town gives way to the landmark Xavier School for the Gifted where a major thrill ride based on X-men awaits.

L’UNIVERS DE TIM BURTON:  This area brings the worlds of Tim Burton (via several different studios) to life in his very unique, twisted style.   There are several subsections, the linking factor being their similar design DNA (just as Pixar, Marvel, Ghibli each have a similar visual aesthetic style despite different times, places and rules of the individual films – that is how these type of “creator-based” lands can work).  Haunted Hill and Halloweentown would be the ultimate place to celebrate Halloween in the parks, with attractions, retail and dining based on ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, ‘Beetlejuice’, ‘Frankenweenie’, and ‘Corpse Bride’.   To confess, when drawing this I imagined the latter was the pink mansion from ‘Coraline’ but just learned Burton was not involved in the film.   Chris Merritt’s concept for a NBC ride has been floating around on the web for years and could easily find a home here.   There could be a Sweeney Todd barber shop in the central village area. 

The second sub-area is based on Burton’s adaptations of Roald Dahl’s books, with Wonka’s Chocolate Factory being a pretty ideal set-up for a theme-park attraction (Chocolate River indoor flume).  The Giant Peach is an exploratory attraction.   The final Burton movie represented is ‘PeeWee’s Big Adventure’, where his trademark bicycle takes to the water in an Aquatopia-style ride. 

LUSCASFILM (STAR WARS) GALAXY:  Part of the conundrum of developing a StarWarsLand is that, while a lot of Star Wars takes place on planets’ surfaces, the over-arching backdrop to the saga is Outer Space.  To communicate this in this park – and to create shelter from the Parisian weather – I decided that the central part of the land would be a massive, domed ‘space port.’   At the 12 o’clock position, beyond the lagoon, it also serves as the park’s central landmark/weenie.    The Starport divides the planetary sections of the greater StarWarsland: one heavily-forested and occupied by the Empire (reminiscent of Endor); the other based on the dry, barren desert of Mos Eisley, Tatooine.    Through four access gateways, visitors would find themselves inside the central atrium of the Starport, beneath great domed windows with stars, planets and spaceships beyond (via super hi-def screens/projection).  The Starport would house numerous unique dining and retail facilities over two levels, as well as explorable ships on landing platforms, a Rebel hideout (laser tag), a spinner and a shooter darkride.   The Tatooine outdoors section would be home to the Cantina and a high-capacity Stunt Theater (with Jabba presiding).  The Imperial, forested side would house the park’s flagship E-ticket – a new ride through physical sets (and some screens) befitting the “king of movie franchises.”

GHIBLI: THE WORLDS OF MIYAZAKI: There is currently an area with large trees just above the new Ratatouille ride.   I thought that many of these mature trees should be spared and re-purposed, creating the lush Totoro’s Forest entryway to this land.  There is a canopy walk here among the branches of the giant (artificial) camphor trees.  In a clearing is Satsuki & Mei’s country house, which houses access to the gentle Cat Bus Tour around the area, as well as a dining facility.   The next film to be represented is ‘Spirited Away’ with a mountain coaster based on the River Dragon Spirit and a recreation of the Bath House, which holds both dining and an exploratory attraction.  The mountainous backdrop stretches into an area with a large airship (Goliath) docked above and a major suspended darkride into the worlds of Laputa.  The next sub-area of this land is based on the idealized Western European townscapes seen in films like ‘Porco Rosso’ and ‘Howl’s Moving Castle', the latter of which would be the subject for an elaborate ride, and the former, a telescoping plane spinner. 

PIXAR ANIMATION STUDIOS:  The main change to this area is its entry plaza, which here is inspired by the industrial brick facade of the Emeryville Campus.  A giant (animated?) Luxo figure stands outside the Studio exhibit/tour.   The Aladdin spinner is re-themed to Up, with the balloon house in the center.  Crush's Coaster, with its rockwork and visible ‘soundstage’ building is indicative of the transition from ‘Studio’ portion of the land to the ‘Cinematic Worlds’, such as Andy’s Backyard or Remy’s Paris (and the rest of the park).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Elevation and Colorboard

Tokyo DisneySea's Mediterranean Harbor has several sub-sections based on Italian geography.  Closest to American Waterfront are the Canals based on Venice.   In the center, where one enters the park, is Porto Paradiso, based on Portofinio Harbor and the Riviera.  The other sub-section is based on the hill towns of Tuscany.  For a top-quality photo tour of this area - and all areas - of DisneySea, I recommend sets by JeffFromHouston on Flickr:

Samples here and here.

Part of the genius of TDS' design and master plan is that it is a theme park with a layout in three dimensions.   I am reminded of the line from 'Contact': "An alien intelligence is going to be more advanced. That means efficiency functioning on multiple levels and in multiple dimensions."  There are a number of theme parks with great master plans, but DisneySea is the only one I know of that really takes advantage of (or did so by necessity) the vertical aspect.   Stairs lead you down to boat rides below you, pathways take you, unknowingly, up over the roofs of restaurants and ride buildings, walkthrough attractions traverse three levels, and there are always alternative staircases or ramps up or down to other passages or pathways.   I don't know who or how many deserve the credit (WDI master architects Ahmad Jafari or Wing Chao?  Anyone know?), but I stand in awe of it. 

For this piece, I imagined a unique family darkride on two levels taking up part of the area used for boat/float storage: Leonardo's Workshop (a distant cousin to Mystic Manor?).  The idea is you approach an extravagant but dilapidated Renaissance structure: part 15th-century factory, part villa, part fortress.  The architecture must meld seemlessly with the surroundings and compliment the park's iconic Fortress Explorations, but also be a weenie in itself for a major attraction.  There should be some whimsy in the building (like the mechanical tower), but also stay true to the realism of the neighboring structures.  So I designed the front facade and created the main approach elevation and colorboard:

The gist of the attraction is tried and true: One queues through the workshop rooms, seeing various machines in the process of being invented, triggering effects, maybe passing through the living quarters and painting studio.  Then there is a pre-show featuring Leonardo, followed by a boarding room (DaVinci-esque ride-vehicles) for an adventure through the secret chambers of the workshop and then out into the Florentine countryside (indoors) for testing.  The ride would include a mild thrill element, but be accessible to all.  Since the footprint is limited it would take place over two major levels (its entrance is already at the upper level).

Maybe I'll post a detailed ride layout at some point. 

Monday, March 3, 2014


Readers of this site are probably familiar with Animatics (i.e., digital models featuring camera fly-throughs) as they apply to theme park design.  One was recently posted by WDI featuring the Dwarf Mine Coaster.   Some time ago, another was released that was a fly-around of the Shanghai castle.   For the scores of parks I’ve shared on this site, the only animatics are of the mind's eye.  

Then I came across the Rio Disneyland Resort Project by Cybertop77, Dr60Productions and WDSX Productions.  They imagined a castle park for Rio.  They built its constituent parts in RCT3 and then created many outstanding virtual musical tours and on-board ride videos.   This is the full, 50-minute tour of all the park’s areas and attractions:

After seeing the above, I thought it would be great fun to work backwards from this “animatic” and create a Conceptual Master Plan for the park.  So I got in touch with the creators, and they provided me with a lot of screencaps with which to plan out the park.   I quickly discovered a project of this scope in RCT3 is created in numerous sub-sections; views of which are then edited together to form a seamless movie of the whole park.  Like a movie, the concern in RCT3 is mainly what the camera/visitor will see.  As a park planner, my concern is not only what the camera sees, but also what it does not: things like show-building requirements, backstage access and sightlines, etc..  

Since each area of Rio Disneyland was modeled individually (e.g. five unique models for different parts of Frontierland), what I’ve drawn is the first and only detailed view of what the park could look like in its entirety:

If you follow the plan and watch the video, you’ll see that while my illustrative is inspired by - and attempts to include everything seen in - the virtual tours, it is not a rigorous, “brick-by-brick” recreation.  In many places, I've altered things for the sake of size requirements, aesthetics, crowd-flow, sightlines, or realism.    Rather than describe each area, many of which are influenced by DLP, I’ll let the illustrative and the videos do most of the talking.  But here are a couple of Designer Notes:

-The guys did some really outstanding On-Board videos.  One of the signature ones is Big Thunder.  I was able to follow this layout pretty closely in the Plan.  The main Frontierland Path would be over a sub-terr show-building housing several cavern segments of the ride (including the first dive out of the Loading Station):

Frontierland then transitions from the Desert Southwest to the virgin forests of Colonial Virginia for the Pochahontas sub-area.

Moving into Adventureland, Tarzan is a major indoor E-ticket.  It is reached by a jungle path leading to a queue cavern that passes under a version of Tarzan’s treehouse (non-accessible) as the ride’s weenie, then below the railroad berm (like IJA) and to the show-building outside the tracks. 

Also in Adventureland (which begins from the Hub with a Port of Entry-inspired retail & dining district) is the Indiana Jones Peril Miner coaster, one of my favorite on-ride vids:

Additional ride videos can be seen by exploring their Youtube page.

Even though the process was reversed (animatics would come after the planning and schematic phases), it’s fun to be able to see a series of imaginary ‘animatics’ for an Ideal Build-out park.  Apparently, the guys are at work on a 2nd Gate for their Rio Resort in RCT3, so stay tuned…

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Closer Resolution III: Family Coaster

This attraction plan pulls together several well-proven, but rarely well-integrated & -executed ideas:

1.    A queue through a meticulously-detailed archaeological dig of an Indian temple in ruins, nestled in the tropical dry forests of the Terai.  With booby traps, hidden artifacts, secret passages, special effects, the queue is an attraction in itself and sets the stage for the pay-off (the ride) (examples: IJA; extinct Dueling Dragons queue)

2.    A brief pre-show chamber to further develop the story and build the excitement (examples: Stretching Room; ToT library).

3.    A mine train coaster relying on visuals, quick dips and turns, proximity to the ground, foliage, rockwork - all to substitute for extreme drops, inversions or speed (example: Big Thunder)

4.    The train zips through multiple show-scenes of burial chambers or animatronic animal lairs (examples: Jungle Cruise; Grizzly Mountain).

5.    Landscaping: the backdrop and attraction must be enveloped in mature trees and other plantings to sell its age, the exotic locale and make it truly feel like a lost jungle adventure.

6.    Where the mine train coaster tracks are above the ground (like the over-water lift hills) the steel superstructure is disguised as knotted bamboo scaffolding.  From elsewhere in the land, the entire attraction (not just the temple parts) thereby enhances the wider story and feeling of being transported (as opposed to diminishing it, as a naked coaster track or showbuilding would do).

7.    Possibly add the novelty of the swinging cars of the 7DMT (an attraction that looks to beautifully demonstrate the design theory espoused here).

The rarity and value of an attraction of this sort is the sum of its individual parts.  The goal is to minimize any breakages in the illusion that the visitor is an Indiana Jones or Allen Quartermain-type explorer in an exotic, pulp adventure world.   My belief is that holistically-presented, magnificently-themed (but modest in scale or tech) experiences trump revolutionary thrills or hi-tech darkrides that lack the same level of theme-ing, inside or out. 

Of course, the best situation is to have both, but ride systems and their requirements need to be secondary to theme, story, vistas and area aesthetics.  The added costs of Tier I theme-ing, in this case, are off-set by the moderate size of the coaster and the time-lessness of the attraction (potentially very long-term shelf-life).

As always, the park should be the E-ticket.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Visualzing StarWarsland

Not long ago MiceAge reported the attractions being considered for converting Tomorrowland to a Star Wars-themed area.   I based the plan below on those rumors in order to visualize the sort of thing that may be in store.   

With the peoplemover track removed, the main boulevard becomes a StarWars-ian cityscape, with numerous sci-fi architectural facades, setbacks and towers.  I don’t think it was rumored, but for the land to become Star Wars, it would seem something would need to be done to Buzz Lightyear (as unlikely as that seems).   I imagine the best option would be to re-dress it to a kid-friendly ride set in the SW universe (maybe based on the animated TV shows).  The explorable Falcon sits atop the old Starjets platform, as rumored.   The new Cantina takes up all of the footprint of the TL Terrace, moving the Jedi Training show towards the Hub, replacing the M&G area there now (TL’s equivalent of the Fantasy Faire).  Don't think this last part was in the report.

The major addition to the land is a motorbike launch coaster themed to the Endor Forest (the many large, beautiful trees currently adorning Autopia were, I assume, the reason for this concept, and, hopefully, will somehow be built-around, versus cut down, if this ever comes to pass).  Since speeder bikes involve chases, I made this an intertwined, dueling coaster – a terrain-hugging cousin to Dueling Dragon – with caverns, AT-AT and bunker.  There is a walkthrough Ewok village as well (not rumored, as I recall).

In the process of drawing this, it occurred that there was little point in attempting to convert the popular Space Mountain so it could inhabit the SW universe (Star Tours already covers a space adventure in this world), so I kept this area as close to “Classic Tomorrowland” as possible.  There’s a new monorail station (much shortened loop), and a Pedestrian Walkway over the backstage area to Town Square (allowing crowds to dissipate).

Since there is a lot of hoopla surrounding the success of ‘Frozen’, I added an addition to Fantasyland carved out of the Motorboat area.  It would have storybook facades (but more Nordic in style) and house a M&G, restaurant, and gliding LPS darkride.  

I added a couple of personal, original attractions in Frontierland and Critter Country to complete the 'build-out' of the park.

It will be interesting to see the specifics of what WDI has planned if the project moves forward.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Closer Resolution II

For me, once the medium-resolution thematic/conceptual master plan has been established, the next step is to further consider and illustrate the park in higher resolution, with an emphasis on architecture.  What exactly will all those buildings look like?  How will facades be massed?   To answer, here is a sample from a recently posted park that shows a closer look at a portion of the Australian area and gives the viewer a clearer idea of what I had in mind:

I wanted to create a romanticized, dusty old Outback town for this area.  I’ve found that an interest in (and desire to research) architectural history is critical in designing theme parks.  In this research (which is conducted before the mid-resolution plan is created), I found historic Australian rural architecture is characterized by metal, hipped roofs (kicked-hipped and 'Australian-hipped').  There are also parapet roofs not unlike what one might find in an Old West setting.  Covered porches are common.   Leathery-leaved gum trees abound.

In my plan, the central complex with retail, dining and restrooms starts to take shape here as the heart of a classic bush town or outback cattle station, with numerous ramshackle pubs, hotels and other facades, crammed together.  The metal roofs are patched and rusty.   You will also note the ride vehicles for Platypus Flats (Aquatopia re-theme) and the Steamer coming into the dock.  An old water-tower is attached to southern Dock building.   

With the basic architecture and building layouts now established from above, the area is ready for elevations, perspective/dimensional renderings and modeling.

Best wishes to all readers for the new year!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Interview & Tokyo 3rd Gate

 The kind editorial team at Theme Park Investigator conducted a Q&A with me, and in it you can see a preview of one of my concepts for a new park for Tokyo.  Here's the interview:

TPI: What inspires you to create your artwork?
SWW: Anything and everything inspires me, as long as I see something interesting or excellent in it.  Art, film, photography, architecture, history, science, games, writing, illustration, music.   My inspiration is often seemingly unrelated to theme parks/entertainment design.   My underlying love for parks came from my boyhood: annual family pilgrimages to WDW during the mid-80s to mid-90s.  Original EPCOT Center impressed on me that theme parks can be something greater than theatrically-designed amusement parks or places where well-known movies are realized in three dimensions.    They can inspire, transport and educate, as well as entertain.  They can be the medium for original creative content and storytelling, and they can re-create history.  They can be rendered and taken seriously.  They don’t have to be dedicated to consumerism, marketing, film franchises and animated characters.  They can be closer to virtual reality.    They can aim higher.   Personally, I’d much rather spend time in a world-class city, nature park, museum or zoo than any plain thrill or amusement park.   But with theme parks there is the possibility of melding these into something brilliant – the fun, adrenaline and excitement of the latter with the beauty, depth, and intelligence of the former.  That potential is what inspires me.

I’ve designed around 130 parks now, so there has been lots of specific and varied inspiration, park-to-park.   I’ll give you an example of my inspiration for a Conceptual Master Plan (CMP): I’ve designed several 3rd Gates for Tokyo, but this Plan was initially inspired by photos from within the Tokyo Disney parks wherein the un-themed, ‘official’ Maihama Hotels were visible as intrusions into some otherwise highly-transporting vistas.  I wanted to address this issue, and I did so by coming up with a new 3rd Gate concept:

TPI: What process do you go through in preparation for creating a piece of work?
SWW: Continuing the above example… I began by looking at the entire property and saw that a potential to improve the resort (via (i) creating a 3rd Gate to ease crowding, (ii) eliminating the visually-intruding Official Hotels, (iii) avoiding reclaiming more land in the Bay) was to place a new park over the surface parking lots and un-themed hotels.  The acreage was about the same as DisneySea.   The new park could then share backstage facilities with its sister parks.  I knew I wanted to add a large in-park, heavily-themed hotel (equivalent to Mira Costa) to provide an architectural berm and make up for some of the lost rooms.  I knew there would have to be a massive parking garage to make-up for the lost lots.  There needed to be a rerouted Resort Line monorail that serviced the new hotel.  There also should be a landscaped pedestrian promenade between the garage and the two adjacent theme parks.  I also took into account sightlines from within the existing (and new) parks in deciding where major show-buildings and weenies would be located.  Crowd-flow should be something distinct from TDL’s hub-spoke and TDS’s lake-loop. 

Regarding park theme and contents, I thought about what would complement the two existing parks.  I’d already designed a Tokyo DisneySky master plan (on reclaimed land) earlier in the year, so I wanted to do something different in this case.    I came back to my “Lost Portal” concept which I used to re-invent WDSP on a plan posted here.  Lost Portal acts as an ‘anything-goes’ umbrella (similar to MK or IoA but with an added central SFX/architectural element), giving the freedom to put six or seven fairly un-related lands/themes into one park.  Each land and attraction would be unique to what exists at the current resort (I may show details of this park in a future post).

 With all this in mind, I began the design process with rough pen sketches by hand in a sketchbook.  Once a general layout had formed in my mind and on paper, I began the long, laborious process of drafting it on the computer.

TPI: One of our favourite pieces is the Mary Poppins attraction.  Any plans for more work like this (rides as opposed to whole Parks)?  

SWW: My credo is “The Park is the E-ticket.”  This means the park as a whole should work as a grand symphony, with every note and instrument, orchestration and movement, aiding in the creation of a satisfying whole.  I believe in “top-down”, far-sighted park design, with all the park components following the guidelines of the thematic master plan so that it may thrive in the long-term.    The opposite of this, to which I don’t subscribe, is “bottom-up” development where an attraction is developed in a vacuum and then put into an existing themed area (land) with less regard for how it affects the land and park as a whole.  ‘Fully-integrated’ is the goal.   So to answer this question, every show-building, coaster-layout, walkthrough, etc. on the scores of plans I’ve drawn is the beginning of an attraction plan (as I adapted the Mary Poppins ride from a reader’s description into an allocated showspace in an alternate MK).  This equates to hundreds of nascent attraction plans, each in service to their wider environment.  I have taken a number of these to a more advanced stage of design development (illustrated layouts).  I will likely share more of these in the future.

TPI: Do you have a favourite piece of work?
SWW: I tend to like whatever piece I’ve recently finished.  But as time passes, I look at ‘completed’ plans, and I see something I want to improve or a layer of detail I’d like to add.  The pieces have all become works-in-progress, in a way, so it’s difficult to pick a favorite. 

TPI: Any hints on what we can expect in the future?
SWW: At this point I’ve presented scores of park master plans on the blog, so I think the future will see more zoomed-in works (e.g., land or attraction-level media) and other types of renderings.  Maybe a new transportation plan for WDW that minimizes buses.   Eventually, there will be some full-park birds-eye views to share.


Thanks to the crew at Theme Park Investigator.  Be sure to check out their site!