Purdue University: Show Us Your Story

Project Details

Name

Show Us Your Story

Date Completed

February 2021

Type

Location

Summary

Assignment for students to introduce themselves to the class in a fun, creative way

After enrolling in the Themed Entertainment Design Certificate Program at IUPUI, the very first class I took was called Intro to Themed Attraction Design. One of the very first assignments we were given was to introduce ourselves to the class in a creative way. The assignment was called “Show Us Your Story,” and the idea was to Each presentation was required to answer these questions:

  1. Name
  2. Major
  3. Why you’re taking this class
  4. Career goals
  5. Fun fact about you

As a newly minted Themed Attraction student, I knew I needed to come up with something that would be relevant to the industry, while also being fun, imaginative, and actually fulfilling the requirements of the assignment. As I was brainstorming ideas, I realized that a proper introduction in the themed entertainment world is delivered via a pre-show. After considering several different popular attraction pre-shows, I decided to do my own take on a pre-show video inspired by a Disney classic.

Purdue University: Dreamland

Project Details

Name

Dreamland

Date Completed

May 2021

Type

Location

Summary

Class project to design a completely original theme park land

As a part of and Introduction to Themed Attraction Design class, our project for the semester was to create a theme park land. Our four-person team had to come up with an original concept for a land that would be part of a larger theme park. All ideas had to be our own. We were not able to rely upon existing intellectual property (IP) that is either owned by or currently in use by another theme park or company.

Throughout the semester, we went through the creative and story development process. We thought through the entire guest experience, including land layout, attraction and restaurant concepts, entertainment offerings, graphics, nomenclature and signage among other things. Other aspects of the project included: researching locations for feasibility, completing a budget and revenue analysis, creating a project timeline from concept to opening day, generating operations plans and analyzing sustainability options.

All of that work came together to create Dreamland:

Step into a world of dreams where you can feel lighter than air or venture into the darker corners of unconsciousness. DREAMLAND is just one land of a larger theme park concept that focuses on the themes and stories of timeless characters such as Mr. Sandman, Father Time, Mother Nature and Old Man Winter.

In addition to presenting our final project at the end of the class, we also had the opportunity to submit Dreamland to the Themed Attraction Student Showcase at themedattraction.com. This showcase was open to students in themed entertainment design programs from around the world and entries were judged by industry veterans according to eight categories:

  • Best in Class – Storytelling/Show Writing/Guest Experience Narrative
  • Best in Class – Ride & Show Systems (Engineering the Ride)
  • Best in Class – Master Planning / Area Development / Landscape Design
  • Best in Class – Appeal of Core Idea
  • Best in Class – Use of Technology
  • Best in Class – Costume / Character Design
  • Best in Class – Vehicle Design
  • Best in Show – Overall

While we did not win in any single category, Dreamland did receive honorable mentions in Master Planning / Area Development / Landscape Design and Storytelling/Show Writing/Guest Experience Narrative.

Check It Out: Click here to view our full project posting on the Themed Attraction Student Showcase.

Purdue University: ACME Factory Frenzy

Project Details

Name

ACME Factory Frenzy

Date Completed

In Progress

Type

Location

Summary

Class project to design a theme park attraction based on a given intellectual property (IP)

ACME Factory Frenzy is an attraction concept I developed for the Planning in Themed Attraction Design course at IUPUI. For the assignment, we were given a list of intellectual properties (IPs) that we could choose from the design an attraction around. I chose to design my attraction around the classic Looney Tunes characters. To make the project as realistic as possible, we were also required to choose a location for our attraction from a list of pre-selected locations.

Thinking through the Looney Tunes universe, I pretty quickly focused in on my favorite duo, Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. As a child, I was always entertained by what creative contraption the Coyote would think up to trap the Roadrunner next. In the context of what would make an intriguing attraction, I started to wonder what it would be like if we could actually step into the famed ACME factory. I then summed up the experience with my high concept:

Tour the famed ACME Corporation and see where the best-selling products are made.

Here was my original concept submission:

The IP I have selected is the classic Looney Tunes characters from Warner Brothers. The attraction, tentatively titled “ACME Factory Frenzy,” will be a trackless dark ride themed as a tour of the ACME factory where you can see all the great products ACME offers and how they are developed and made. We may even catch a glimpse of Wile E. Coyote on the tour as he plots his next trap for the Roadrunner. Wile E. Coyote can’t resist remaining seated in his tour vehicle, as he wants to get his hands on some of the products showcased right away. So, of course, things get out of control quickly as he inadvertently creates a frenzy throughout the factory tour.


I selected this IP and story, as it would appeal to a wide audience. Older generations remember the classic Looney Tunes characters with fondness, while the younger generation is being re-introduced to these characters through newer movies, such as Space Jam: A New Legacy. The story of the ACME factory tour has a lot of possibilities, and using a trackless ride system adds to the fun as rides can be different each time and you may never know what is going to happen next.


In the alternate universe where this ride is being developed, I imagine that The London Resort has acquired the theme park rights for the classic Looney Tunes characters from Warner Brothers. The London Resort is currently under development in Kent, just a 17 minute train ride from central London, with a proposed opening date of 2024. The land in the map below that is currently designated as “The Studio” would become “Warner Brothers Studios” and the massive and imposing ACME factory would sit at the end of the main thoroughfare, acting as the weenie drawing guests further into the land.


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According to a report released by the planners of The London Resort, they anticipate 6.5 million visitors annually during the first full year of operation in 2025. This means the park would expect approximately 33,000 guests per day on average, with a peak day of around 41,000 guests. The attraction will be designed with an hourly ride capacity of around 2,000 guests.  With over 100 days of rain annually and temperatures that can range from lows around 3°C (37°F) to highs around 22°C (72°F), ACME Factory Frenzy is being designed as a fully indoor experience to enable year-round operation.


The experience would begin as guests enter the main entrance to the factory and pass by the reception area. Phones will literally be ringing off the hooks at a desk with no one there to answer. In the background, you will see and hear the ACME Automated Phone Messaging System playing recorded messages to incoming calls. The queue will continue through various offices and rooms of the administrative areas of ACME Corporation, all of which show various ACME products in use. This may include passing through the mail room, the receiving dock, a maze of seemingly endless cubicles, a break room, the product development office and the president’s office before making your way into the factory tour guide’s office. Here, guests will receive a briefing on some of ACME’s most successful past products as well as catch a glimpse of some of their newest products under development. Guests will then proceed to board their ACME 5000 Automated Tour Vehicles to begin their tour of the factory floor, joined by Wile E. Coyote (an ACME Corporation VIP customer) in his own, special VIP vehicle. Wile E. Coyote zips off ahead of everyone else while the very important safety instructions are given and final safety checks are made. During the course of the ride, Wile E. Coyote leaves his vehicle numerous times in an effort to get his hands on the latest and greatest new ACME products. In the process, he is subjected to numerous unsafe events that unleash chaos throughout the remainder of the factory tour. After an explosive finale, guests find themselves at the end of the tour and, of course, exit through the gift shop where they can purchase a variety of ACME gags and products.

As I continued to develop this attraction throughout the semester, I began the blue sky process with virtual sticky notes of all the ideas I could think of. From that, I refined the ideas and generated mood boards, story boards, a full script and even a ride layout:

After five weeks of class, our instructors threw us a curve ball. While each student had been developing their own individual ride concept, we were now being asked to pitch our concept to the entire class. Our professors were acting as the clients and would choose the concept they felt would be the most successful for the class to then work on together for the remainder of the semester. After all the pitches were made and the votes were in, ACME Factory Frenzy was selected to advance as the singular project that the entire class would now work on for the remainder of the semester!

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

Bedroom Light Show

Project Details

Name

Disney Magic

Date Completed

Mid-1990s

Type

Location

At Home

Summary

A light show manually choreographed to music setup in my bedroom

As a teenager, I often spent my free time dreaming up ways to entertain people – my family, friends, neighborhood kids. Once such expression of this was a light show that I created in my bedroom. This show was choreographed to music from classic Disney theme park entertainment, such as “Baroque Hoedown” from The Main Street Electrical Parade, or music from IllumiNations 25 at Epcot. I invested in special “hologram glasses” that spectators would wear to further enhance the excitement. I called the show, “Disney Magic.” The show was controlled by a home-made light board that I built with the help of a friend and a do-it-yourself book on house wiring. I literally sat at the control board and, much like a pianist tickles the ivories, continuously flipped switches on and off in synch with the soundtrack. Eventually, the light show even spilled outside of my room and included a pre-show that took place in the hallway.

My first light control board was built into my desk drawer so that I could hide it away when not in use.
As the show grew, more channels were needed, so this larger control board was built to add capacity.

Check It Out: Click to view a video of the Disney Magic preshow

Check It Out: Click to view a video excerpt of the Disney Magic main show (with the hologram glasses effect!)

Images from the show:

Haunted Mansion Office

Project Details

Name

Haunted Mansion Office

Date Completed

Perpetually being improved!

Type

Location

At Home

Summary

Multimedia sound & light show tribute to Disney's Haunted Mansion attractions

My first memory of visiting Walt Disney World is as a six-year-old, and includes a visit to the Dutch Gothic styled Haunted Mansion looming on a hill overlooking Liberty Square. I can remember being curious of what was inside, but the prologue – with that infamous stretching room – put me on edge. Once on board our “Doombuggies,” my face remained firmly planted into my dad’s side, with my eyes only opening every once in a while to catch just a quick glimpse.

That fright as a child gradually turned into an obsession as I got older. Today, The Haunted Mansion is my favorite Disney attraction of all time. The perfect blend of spooky and silly made it an instant classic that is just as popular today as it was when it opened in 1969. I would dare call myself a Haunted Mansion aficionado, though I’m always thirsty to learn new things about Mansion lore. A fun fact about me is that I can launch into the macabre narration of the entire ride – both the East Coast and West Coast versions – upon request.

A favorite pastime of mine as a teenager was creating attractions to entertain people. Perhaps a manifestation of my fascination with the Disney Haunted Mansion, I would often gather my cousins together and create a haunted house in my grandma’s basement…usually at our annual Christmas family gathering. More appropriately, our house became known in our neighborhood on halloween as the house that had a haunted garage. Over the years, I produced several versions with the help of my sister and friends.

Programming Mark’s Haunted Mansion Office 2.0.

It only makes sense that when I got older and owned my own home, these two past projects would collide as I built a Haunted Mansion themed light show in my home office. Much like the original light shows of my childhood, the original show was controlled manually with some cleverly hidden switches and was presented with me delivering the narration in full. Eventually, I invested in a Light-O-Rama kit that is typically used to control Christmas light shows and programmed it to create a fully automated Haunted Mansion tribute experience.

Check It Out: Click to view a “commercial” for Mark’s Haunted Mansion Office

The Haunted Mansion Office has moved several times, and the setup has changed over the years. It continues to be a work in progress with new features being added whenever time and budget allows.

“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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