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!