The Friday Fives: Talking Teleportation, Pokemon and The Walking Dead with Wendell Huang

July 22, 2016

Wendell Huang

Wendell Huang

Happy Friday! Hope you had a great week.

We are extremely pleased to have Wendell Huang joining us this summer from the Savannah College of Art and Design's Themed Entertainment Design graduate program. As we like to do with our "new recruits", we asked Wendell to pick from a list of questions about life, work, hobbies, and even a few oddities. Here's what Wendell had to say...

Best thing about the industry...

To me the best thing about the industry is its people. Most of them are creative, talented, full of sense of humor and easy to talk to or work with. It looks like people are working funny, exciting, fascinating things out, but the truth is that they are bringing out the amazing things from their own character to share with people. To work and live among these people is the best thing about the industry.

If I had one extra hour in the day, I would …

It really depends on the weather, the mood on that day or the resources I have. Usually I will just lie down on the sofa and start watching "Game of Thrones" or other fascinating TV shows. Now I take walks with friends to catch some Pokémon!

I would advise anyone starting out in a creative career to …

Observe! I believe that any creative activities are relying on the accumulation of one’s experiences. In my opinion, the one who wants to be creative needs to have a keen eye and open mind to observe this world. The ideas will come with the observation, and it will push you to master the skills to realize the ideas. 

The best idea in the history of mankind was …

...definitely the idea of using electric power! You can see even in some “end of the world” movies or shows like “Walking Dead”, people are still to some degree relying on electric power. Though I fully understand people can still survive without it, just like Bear Grylls’ show, I can’t image a world without electricity.

If you could have any super powers, what would they be?

I would like to be able to teleport just like the characters in the movie Jumper (2008).  With this ability I can travel anywhere I want to visit by just thinking about it!

Thanks, Wendell! To learn more about Wendell Huang and his work, check out his portfolio.


Tags: JRA Team

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PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT: Mascot Hall of Fame to Open Late 2017

July 19, 2016

The $20 million, 25,000-square-foot National Mascot Hall of Fame, located on Lake Michigan in Whiting, Indiana, is set to break ground this fall. The family-friendly Hall, located less than 20 miles from Chicago, hopes to draw 50,000 visitors per year and will feature a number of interactive exhibit areas, including the "Department of Furry Arts," the "Science of Silliness Lab," and the "Phuzzical Education Department."

Championing the fundraising effort for the Mascot Hall of Fame is ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso, famous for predicting College Gameday victors by donning their team's headgear. He will help spearhead the capital campaign, as well as an endowment fund for future operations.

JRA is providing complete planning, design and project management for the National Mascot Hall of Fame. For a look at our renderings, check out this article in Crain's Chicago Business, and keep tuning in for future updates!

Tags: Project Spotlight

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What Do Petroleum, Airplanes and Canned Meat Have in Common?

June 10, 2016

Keith James accepts the Themed Entertainment Association's Buzz Price Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievement

Keith James accepts the Themed Entertainment Association's Buzz Price Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievement

...they were all parts of what has been a banner year for JRA so far! From new projects that have literally reached for the stars, to a recognition for a lifetime of achievement, from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico, JRA has enjoyed monumental success in the last six months. So take a trip in the wayback machine with us, as we recap 2016 to-date.



January 2016

Space Center Houston Takes Flight

Space Center Houston opens its Independence Plaza exhibit, in which visitors are able to enter an original shuttle aircraft and experience the groundbreaking era of space exploration through educational exhibits.

" is rare that average citizens get to see, in person, the awesomeness of NASA's capabilities. That's one of the reasons that the new exhibit at Space Center Houston, featuring the Boeing 747 jetliner that ferried the space shuttles to and fro across the United States, is so important." -


But it is rare that average citizens get to see, in person, the awesomeness of NASA's capabilities. That's one of the reasons that the new exhibit at Space Center Houston, featuring the Boeing 747 jetliner that ferried the space shuttles to and fro across the United States, is so important. - See more at:
But it is rare that average citizens get to see, in person, the awesomeness of NASA's capabilities. That's one of the reasons that the new exhibit at Space Center Houston, featuring the Boeing 747 jetliner that ferried the space shuttles to and fro across the United States, is so important. - See more at:
But it is rare that average citizens get to see, in person, the awesomeness of NASA's capabilities. That's one of the reasons that the new exhibit at Space Center Houston, featuring the Boeing 747 jetliner that ferried the space shuttles to and fro across the United States, is so important. - See more at:

 February 2016

A New Children's Museum Launches in Sioux City

LaunchPAD Chilldren’s Museum opens in Sioux City, Iowa. The museum’s 8,000 square feet of exhibits teach children basic STEAM principles through hands-on play on subjects such as agriculture, construction and health.

"Visitors young and old are impressed with the Museum's exhibits." - Sioux City Journal


An "Extreme" Presentation

JRA CEO Keith James provides the keynote address for “Designing for Extremes,” the Themed Entertainment Association’s SATE Academy Day in Rovaniemi, Finland. In his presentation, he discusses the opportunities and challenges of designing for extremes of climate, of client and of culture.



April 2016

Buzz Price Thea Award Honors "An Unbelievable Life"

Keith James receives the Themed Entertainment Association’s Buzz Price Thea Award Recognizing a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievement. This award is considered one of the greatest honors in the themed entertainment industry, and JRA is the only consultant company to have two Buzz Price Thea Award recipients (Jack Rouse received the award in 2008). As part of the awards presentation, Keith's friends, family and colleagues were asked to sum up his life and character in one word. Here's what they had to say: 

 Here is the video of Keith's acceptance speech. Grab a tissue, and prepare for #allthefeels.

Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History H-E-B Center

The Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History opens its new, JRA-designed H-E-B Science Center. The Center flows from micro to macro with hands-on, larger-than-life exhibits that include Chemistry, Particles, Cells, DNA, Engineering, Math, Physics, Space, Paleontology and a Planetarium.

"To have something of this level in Corpus Christi is amazing to see." - Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Permian Basin Petroleum Museum

The Permian Basin Petroleum Museum opens its $18 million renovation. Through its use of interactives, immersive environments and game-based learning experiences, the Petroleum Museum takes guests on a journey through over 250 million years of Permian Basin history and celebrates the determination and inventiveness of its people.

"Easier to navigate, interactive and heavy on science and technology while still portraying the growth of what remains America’s largest oil province over time." - Odessa American


The SPAM® Museum - A Slice of Americana

The SPAM® Museum opens in Austin, Minnesota. The 14,000-square-foot museum celebrates the 79-year history of the iconic SPAM® family of products and the 125-year history of Hormel Foods, housing a mix of galleries showcasing the iconic product’s popularity around the globe, its history with the military, and its presence today.

"The world's saltiest, most pork-forward museum" - Chicago Tribune


May 2016

George Carlin's "Stuff" Headed to National Comedy Center

Kelly Carlin, daughter of famed comedian George Carlin, announces that she will be donating “eight to ten steamer trunks” of her father’s memorabilia to create an archive at the JRA-designed National Comedy Center.


“There comes a time in one’s life when it’s time to let go of our parent’s stuff. … I am truly excited that there will be a place for my dad’s stuff — permanently.” - Variety


JRA Scholarship Supports Collective Impact of Children's Museums

For the eighth year, JRA sponsors the Association of Children's Museums Small Museum Financial Aid Program. The program offers scholarship recipients free registration to InterActivity, ACM's annual conference, and reflects JRA's desire to cultivate leaders at small museums for long-term careers in the children's museum field.

"ACM was thrilled when JRA approached us with the idea of the Small Museum Scholarship back in 2008, and we are happy that the scholarship has become one of the Association's most valued member benefits." - Laura Heurta Migus, ACM Executive Director.


June 2016

 Kids Rule at the First Annual "Theme Park Wars"

Kids were the designers earlier this month, as Shawn McCoy led the Cincinanti Museum Center Summer Camp's first annual "Theme Park Wars!" Forty campers, ages 10 to 13, were split into groups of eight and tasked with 1) selecting a theme park site (lake, beach, mountain or farm), 2) choosing a guest circulation path (hub and spoke, loop or random), and 3) procuring rides, shows and attractions for their park. The catch? They had to stay within their $500M budget and achieve an hourly capacity of 20,000 visitors. At the end of the process, the groups voted on which of the theme parks was their favorite. While there could only be one winner ("Nintendo World!"), a good time was had by all.


We may have had a banner six months, but we're not stopping here! For a sneak peek of what's in store for the rest of 2016 and beyond, stop by Booth 1546 at the 2016 IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo. And set your blog dial to this station for the latest updates!

Tags: JRA Journeys , Project Spotlight

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Meet Our Future Bosses

June 09, 2016

Greetings! It's Clara Rice, your JRA Blogger-in-Chief, coming at you with a few questions:

Imagine were given $500M to build a theme park. What would you create?

Where would you put it - down on the farm, nestled on a mountainside, encircling a lake, in the center of a metropolis, or at the beach?

Would it be themed? If so, to what?

What would your attraction mix be? How many rides, shows, parades? Would your park be geared towards adults, kids or families?

Now imagine you were answering these questions... an eleven-year-old.


This week, JRA Vice President Shawn McCoy asked 40 middle schoolers these exact questions. It was all part of the Cincinnati Museum Center's Amusement Park Science Camp.

After giving these fifth through eighth graders a brief overview of the kinds of awesome projects we get to work on every day, Shawn divided the campers into five groups. Each group had to pick a group name, a creative director, a project manager (in charge of schedule and budget), and a lead designer. Over the next two hours, these groups would each design a park before battling it out, Cupcake Wars-style.

After forming their group, the next challenge was to pick a site (the aforementioned farm, mountain, lake, city, or beach). Here's the catch. Each type of site had a different land value and infrastructure cost. The more the kids spent on the site, the less they'd have leftover for product.

Then it was time to learn about themes and the all-important concept of "intellectual property". Parks could have one theme for the entire site, a theme of each land, or no theme at all. They could have a generic theme (e.g. dinosaurs) or a branded theme (e.g., Jurassic Park). For the sake of the game, if they picked an IP, then their ride costs automatically jumped 10%, further eating into that $500M budget.

But in order to properly plan their park, they needed to understand guest circulation and visitor capacity. Using Disney and other parks as examples, Shawn demonstrated the different park circulation types and told the campers that in addition to being within budget, their park had to achieve an hourly capacity of 20,000 visitors. They were given a chart of different rides, games and shows that included each attraction's base cost, base + IP cost, and capacity per hour.

Then it was time to lay out their park. The kids were given circular plots representing each zone, and discs representing each different ride, show or attraction. They then had to add up the individual capacities and costs to make sure they were reaching their targets while remaining within budget. Here are some of our favorite quotes from this "charrette process" (remember, these are 10-13 year olds):

  • "Do we have to include parking?"
  • "I love shopping! We need more retail!"
  • "We've included some convention center space for gaming expos."
  • "What else can we do to increase our hourly capacity for minimal cost?"
  • "Our creative director said that if we don't listen to him, we're all fired."

Finally, it was time to present their master plan masterpieces to the other groups.

  • Nintendo World featured zones themed to the brands iconic games and characters
  • Ocean City was anchored by a giant animatronic whale that emerged from the park's center lake
  • A T-rex towered above the prairie, as a quiet farm was transformed into Prehistoric Park
  • Another farm park featured a Horror Land, a Sci-Fi Land and a Marvel Superhero Land
  • Life was a beach, as the final group decided to locate its park seaside, featuring a walkthrough aquarium that included deep sea, bioluminescent fish

The moment of truth arrived, and each camper was given a (fake) $500 million bill to vote for their favorite project (note: they could not vote for their own).

The overwhelming winner...Nintendo World! From its thoughtful design to its clever use of popular IP, Nintendo World managed to stay in budget and offer a mix of attractions that would easily draw 20,000 visitors per hour. So who knows? Someday you may be seeing Princess Peach's Castle or a Pokemon coaster at a park near you.

While there could only be one winner, we were unbelievably impressed by all of these youngsters and were happy we could present STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) principles in a fun manner that was relevant to our industry.

We are also extremely relieved they won't be looking to take our jobs for another 10-15 years...

A big THANK YOU to the Cincinnati Museum Center for inviting us to participate, and we hope there is a Theme Park Wars sequel!



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The Friday Fives: Talking Bananagrams, Death Cab and Coca-Cola with Natalie Prager

June 03, 2016

Natalie Prager

Natalie Prager

For the final installment of our Friday Fives series, we're talking board games, space explorations and culinary pursuits with DAAP student, Natalie Prager.

My favorite part of the design process is…
    …getting user feedback. It can be very easy to slip into designing from your own perspective instead of from that of your user. At the end of the day, the entire design process is about the humans who will be using the end result, and watching people interact with their designs helps pull designers back to that reality. And if you manage to get everything right, it’s incredibly satisfying to see a product generate exactly the reaction you were aiming for.

Do you collect anything? If so, what?

I’m a big traveler, and every time I visit a country, I try to find a glass Coke bottle printed in that country’s language. The neat thing about Coca-Cola is that no matter where you go in the world, you can pretty much guarantee that it’ll be for sale in one form or another. I’ll settle for any sort of Coke-branded can or plastic bottle if I can’t find a glass one, but I really prefer the glass! So far my collection includes bottles of various sizes in Icelandic, Japanese, Spanish, French, Dutch, Greek, and of course English. I also have a can in Italian and a plastic bottle in Turkish.

What’s your favorite band?
    This answer is never the same, as my music taste changes pretty much weekly. That being said, I’ve consistently found myself listening to Death Cab for Cutie since middle school. Seeing them live is on my bucket list.

Favorite board game?

    It’s a close call, but I’d have to say Bananagrams. My younger brother and I used to play very intense games of Monopoly together, but they usually ended the way most games of Monopoly do – someone goes bankrupt, storms away to sulk, and the other person smugly cleans up the pieces. Now we play Bananagrams. Games generally end much more amicably.

Best stress buster?
    The best place for me to relieve stress is the kitchen. I like cooking and baking, and I rationalize taking a break from whatever stressful thing I’m doing by telling myself that I need to eat anyway, so why not make myself something tasty? So then I’ll usually end up spending an hour or more on food before even sitting down to eat it. My go-to recipes are snickerdoodles for baking and stir-fry for cooking because they’re simple and delicious, but if I’m not pressed for time or ingredients I’ll get more adventurous.

Dream design project?

    If ever given the opportunity, I’d be thrilled to work on something for space-exploration related, with organizations like NASA or SpaceX or Bigelow. I’m very fascinated with the study of our universe and am frankly stunned that more people aren’t more excited about it. But as we get closer and closer to sending people to other planets, I think interest in the space industry is going to climb explosively. I want to somehow contribute. Since I’m on the less technical side of industrial design, I used to not have much hope that I could make it in the space industry, but SpaceX just hired the designer of the Iron Man costume to design their spacesuits and now I’m a lot more hopeful.


Tags: JRA Team

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