Indianapolis Zoo: White River Junction Train Ride

Project Details

Name

The Gene and Ellie Show - White River Junction Train Ride

Date Completed

May 2005

Type

Location

Summary

Fun narrative played on the train rides to enhance an otherwise mostly backstage train ride

The White River Junction train ride opened at the “new” Indianapolis Zoo in 1988. As originally designed, the ride was to travel around the Plains biome, including views of African, Australian and American plains animals. Due to growing budgets, the American plains area was pushed out to a later phase, and some temporary support structures were built in the area.

Ultimately, the American plains never materialized, and the temporary support structures remained and grew. A relocation and expansion of the Afican elephant habitat in 2002 necessitated rerouting the train tracks. Original plans called for large trestle bridges to provide vista views of the new elephant exhibit and other plains animals. Unfortunately, the bridges were value engineered out of the plans and the tracks were run around behind the elephant exhibit with barely a look inside. As a result, approximately 2/3 of the views on the 10-minute White River Junction train ride are of the back side of maintenance buildings or large concrete animal housings – not a very exciting ride.

When I served as the Attractions Manager at the zoo, one part of my job was to create the audio recordings that would play on the trains as they made their grand circle tour around part of the plains and the maintenance buildings. The narration would change periodically depending on the messaging of the zoo being promoted at the time.

Over the years, I had countless ideas for how to improve the ride experience, however funding was never available to pay for such ideas. While I may not have had control over the physical scenery that could be viewed along the ride, I did have control of the audio. In 2005, I decided to take the ride in a new, more entertaining direction.

Enter Gene Giraffe and Ellie Elephant. Gene and Ellie were characters I invented who lived at the zoo and would broadcast a radio talkshow. Working with a fellow zoo employee with an artistic background, I secured funding to commission large, 2-dimensional cutout cartoon versions of Gene and Ellie who welcomed guests as they queued up for the ride at the station.

In addition to Gene and Ellie, another colleague and I scoured the zoo grounds as well as a local junkyard to find anything we could use for free as props along the back side of the ride. We devised several simple scenes along the tracks to add some visual interest.

Tying it all together was the audio recording that played during the ride. Guests would tune into “The Gene and Ellie Show” as they rode around the tracks. The narration cleverly gave facts about some of the animals that guests could see, and spent the back half taking calls from listeners, discussing conservation, and making jokes.

I wrote the script, found the voice actors among fellow zoo staffers, managed the recording sessions and edited everything together into the final product. I even make a brief cameo at the 5:42 mark as the voiceover in a commercial for the Polly Horton Hix Animal Care Complex – that happened to play at the exact time the train passed by the building of the same name.

Take a listen below:

In 2007, “The Gene and Ellie Show” was retired after just two years. In an attempt to improve the ride, we made the decision to run the trains in the opposite direction. This change was made in order to place the views of the few animals that could be seen from the ride at the end of the experience rather than the beginning.

With the trains running in the opposite direction, the recording of “The Gene and Ellie Show” no longer lined up with what guests would see. Though a temporary narration was put in place, I always intended to re-record a new version of the show. I left the Indianapolis Zoo later that year and with my departure, Gene and Ellie faded into history. Much like the “temporary” support buildings from 1988, the “temporary” narration below remained for another 5 years after my departure. Sadly, to my knowledge, Gene and Ellie have never returned.

Indianapolis Zoo: 2004 Zoo Boo Haunted Train Ride

Project Details

Name

2004 Haunted Train Ride

Date Completed

October 2004

Type

Location

Summary

An intentionally scary haunted train ride that includes a monster kidnapping the train full of passengers

For the 2004 Zoo Boo haunted train, I decided to experiment with how scary the ride could be while still being appropriate for a family audience. Inspired by the Disney attraction, The Great Movie Ride, I came up with a concept whereby the train would “unexpectedly” have to come to a stop due to an obstruction on the tracks. In reality, this was planned and the scene unfolded by having monsters ambush the train and drag the driver away while one of the monsters takes control of the ride. The show continued by passing through a couple more scary scenes before coming to a stop again where the driver miraculously “rescues” the passengers by defeating the monster.

In order to accomplish this, one of the “monsters” in the kidnapping scene was a trained ride operator dressed in a monster costume. When the driver was dragged offstage, a golf cart would be waiting to whisk them a couple scenes ahead where they would then rescue the passengers. This involved a costume change while riding on the golf cart to the rescue scene. The golf cart would park out of view and wait for the rescue to unfold. Once the train left the rescue scene, the defeated monster would run to the golf cart and be whisked back to the kidnapping scene just in time for the next train load full of unsuspecting passengers to arrive. This process would then repeat all night.

This is the layout of the ride path. The kidnapping would occur at Scene 2. The driver would board the golf cart at point A and be driven to point B to rescue the passengers. The defeated monster would then board the golf cart at point B and be driven back to point A to reset for the next ride.

Check It Out: Click here to listen to the source audio for the ride accompanied by corresponding production notes.

Indianapolis Zoo: Zoo Boo 2006 | WBOO Television Studio Tour

Project Details

Name

WBOO Television Studio Tour

Date Completed

October 2006

Type

Location

Summary

A child-friendly "haunted" train ride through the fictional WBOO Television Studios

For our 2006 season of Zoo Boo, I decided to take a more lighthearted approach to the annual “haunted” train ride. At the height of the reality television craze, I came up with the concept of turning the ride in to a backstage studio tour of the fictional “WBOO Television Studios.” The story is that this studio is the number one television network of the monster world, and for a limited time only, they are allowing humans to get a peek behind-the-scenes as they film some of their most popular programs.

Some highlights of the tour included:

Along the route of the tour, we also created billboards to advertise other fictional shows on the channel that were not featured on the tour itself:

The tour of WBOO Television Studios lasted approximately 10 minutes, and was a very popular attraction for the Zoo Boo event. In anticipation of the longer lines that would typically form for our annual haunted train attraction, we also created a 24-minute pre-show video that looped continuously and played commercials and gave previews of the programming that was available on the fictional channel. Click the links below to view the entire pre-show video loop and to hear the source audio from the ride itself, accompanied by selected images from the experience.

Check It Out: Click to view the entire pre-show video

Check It Out: Click to listen to the attraction source audio with selected images

Indianapolis Zoo: Zoo Boo 2007 | Howlywood Studios Backlot Tour

Project Details

Name

Howlywood Studios Backlot Tour

Date Completed

October 2007

Type

Location

Summary

A child-friendly "haunted" train ride through the fictional Howlywood Pictures Studios

After the success of our 2006 “haunted” train ride themed as a tour through the fictional WBOO Television Studios, I decided to stick with a similar concept of touring the fictional low-budget film productions of Howlywood Pictures. I came up with the backstory that Howlywood Studios had recently acquired WBOO Television Studios in a landmark merger in the monster world. This allowed us to save time and money and re-use several props that we had produced for the 2006 ride. Still, we came up with some original movie concepts that guests on our “backlot tour” would get a chance to see in production.

Highlights of the 2007 ride included:

Much like we did for the 2006 tour of WBOO Television Studios, we created a 24-minute pre-show video that looped continuously with previews of movies currently “in production” at Howlywood Studios. We also used the opportunity to expand the backstory of Howlywood Studios to the other “haunted” rides at the zoo by incorporating them into the Howlywood Studios Theme Park. If you watch carefully in the pre-show video, you’ll even spot a commercial for the park! Additionally, in partnership with our partners at Simex-Iwerks, we were given permission to use footage from the ride film that was playing in our 3D ride at the time to directly promote that experience to guests in the train ride queue.

Check It Out: Click to view the entire pre-show video

Check It Out: Click to watch a POV of the ride with source audio

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis: Haunted House Characters & Costumes

Project Details

Name

Haunted House Greeter Costumes

Date Completed

October 2013 & October 2014

Type

Location

Summary

Homemade costumes created for my role as a greeter at the annual Haunted House

Although I left my role as Visitor Services Manager at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in 2012, I returned in October 2013 and 2014 to help out with the annual Haunted House. My role was to greet and entertain guests waiting in line to access the Haunted House. The theme of the Haunted House would change every year, and I designed a new character each time that would correspond to the theme.

50 Years of Fear Host

In 2013, the theme for the Haunted House was 50 Years of Fear, celebrating the fiftieth year of the annual event. My character was a decrepit host of the 50th Haunted House, complete with a top hat. But the costume had a surprising, secret twist that often caught unsuspecting guests off guard. A clever illusion was built into the costume that allowed me to appear to detach my head from my shoulders and bring it down in front of my stomach.

Click here to view a video clip of the costume illusion in action.

Creepy Carney

In 2014, the Haunted House was themed as a “Creepy Carnival,” and I created a Creepy Carney costume to interact with and entertain guests in line. While not as complex as the previous year, I built another illusion into this costume whereby I would carry around a dismembered arm and ask guests to touch the hand. In reality, through the hand was my real hand, and as guests would touch it, I would wiggle my fingers or sometimes grab their hand to startle them! Below are a few pictures of the distressed jacket and hat created for the character, as well as my dismembered hand terrorizing a fellow colleague.

“Elf” Thanksgiving

Project Details

Name

Elf Thanksgiving

Date Completed

November 2018

Type

Location

At Home

Summary

Thematic elements designed and built for an "Elf" themed Thanksgiving

A fun tradition that my in-laws implemented several years ago is to hold themed Thanksgiving celebrations. What could be more fun than enjoying Thanksgiving dinner in a themed environment and in costume? Some of the past themes have included lumberjacks, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars and pirates. In 2018, I had the opportunity to help create the scenery for the “Elf” themed thanksgiving.

My portion of the project was to recreate the rolling snowy hills of the North Pole as they were depicted in the movie. Our North Pole was setup around the pool deck. In order to cover up the rest of the backyard, we used blue curtains to create a “sky” backdrop, then cut out the rolling hills of snow out of pieces of plywood and painted them white. The effect was then completed with dual projectors creating a snowfall effect on the backdrop. Here are some images of the project in progress and the completed effect.

We started by stringing up cables between various posts and hanging the curtains between posts.
Two mirrored projectors displayed an animated snowfall projected onto the blue backdrop.
The individual curtains were then carefully pinned together to create the full backdrop.
Repurposed pallet boards were cut into tree shapes and painted white to extend the decor.

Check It Out: Click here to view the snowfall scene in action!

Although my portion of the event was the design, construction and animation of the North Pole backdrop, the theme was completed with other scenes from the Elf film:

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