Meet the Team: Five Questions for Rick O'Connell

February 19, 2014

Rick O'Connell

Rick O'Connell

For our latest Meet the Team segment, we're talking iPod, superpowers and Angry Birds with Senior Project Designer, Rick O'Connell.

Best advice anyone ever gave me:  If you shake someone's hand and agree to do something, you do that something and do it the best you can.

My iPod is full of:
  Everything.  If it's ever been on the radio, I probably know it.  Country, Motown, 80's, whatever...

If we had recess during the workday:
  I would play golf or go skiing depending on the weather/season.  I like being active outside.

If I could have any super power:  Flying for sure.  I could skip traffic or if I needed a break I could "go for a fly".

Best thing about the industry:  All of the extremely different topics you learn about.  I never thought I would know as much about the oil industry, Ferarri, Angry Birds, and children's safety issues as I do know. 

Tags: JRA Team

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The Art of the Sketch, by Colin Cronin

February 12, 2014

Colin Cronin

Colin Cronin

You may not know that by night, designer and JRA+blog contributor, Colin Cronin, is a sketch comedy artist!  His troupe, The Company Productions, unveils their Valentine-themed show "loveprobably" this Saturday, so we thought we'd ask him a few questions on the intersection of design and comedy, because we all know that sometimes, the process of designing an attraction can be pretty darn funny.

1. Tell us a little bit about your theater company (how it started, the kinds of people involved, etc.).

Well, I've been involved in community theater with a number of groups for almost my entire life. I think my first production was at age 6 or 7. I've met most of my close friends through these groups, and it's become an integral part of my life. Over the last few years, myself and a few of my theater-minded friends have moved more into the production side of things - producing, directing, and designing shows. We started to come up with tons of ideas and concepts for the types of shows we wanted to do, but no one was really putting on those types of productions. Well, after complaining about it for a while, we decided to just man up and create a new theater company.

We formed The Company Productions late last year. Our mission statement is that we "create and perform the theater we love with the people we like". Starting out, we've been writing and performing our own original sketch comedy, and we hope to put on our first full production later this year.

2. Much like with a new design, in comedy writing you're not really working from something that exists. How do you create something from that blank piece of paper? What kind of research do you do to stay current?

Well, the topics of our sketches are extremely varied. We've done scenes based on properties like Harry Potter, Star Wars, "Game of Thrones". The way our writing process works is that anyone can bring a concept to the table, and we all start riffing on the idea, and seeing what jokes come out. Some of our best sketches have really been written by a couple of us just acting out scenes and seeing what sticks. The advantage of this is that really by just being a part of popular culture, we're already doing our research. You've been watching a lot of "The Walking Dead"? Write a sketch. Had a weird experience at the DMV? Maybe there's a sketch there. (In fact, we've started to use "maybe there's a sketch there" as our mantra. Really, anything is up for grabs.)

3. In design, feasibility is always a big concern, as is matching the exhibit or ride mix to the target audience. You've mentioned that you've needed to cut jokes form time to time based on your audience. How do you determine your "joke feasibility"?

Well, if anything, we sometimes skew a little too "nerdy" with some of our sketches. But in general, our group itself is a mix of people from different backgrounds, with different likes, dislikes, and senses of humor. And just like an attraction like a theme park, it's not like every sketch needs to appeal to every person. Just like there are rides for families, and thrill-seekers, and kids, there will be sketches featuring sarcasm, nerd humor, or maybe something a bit cruder. There's something for everyone!

4. Right now, making guests part of the experience is a hot topic from design. How much audience participation do you do, and how do you think it enhances the experience?

It's very important for me as the MC of our shows to keep the audience engaged and an integral part of the experience. We have an interesting format that helps us do this - the audience picks which sketches we do. While we have written and rehearsed everything over the previous month or so, we don't know what order everything will be performed in. Not only does this make the audience part of the show, it also adds an excitement and a freshness to the show. Every performance is different.

We've also done some fun things such as pulling audience members into sketches, having sketches that take place in the audience.  We've even done "Mad-Lib"-style sketches where the audience will fill in the blanks in the dialogue.

5. In what other ways do you find sketch comedy akin to design?

You know, if you're looking for the "common denominator" between these two rather different disciplines, it would probably eventually come down to something like this: "In both design and comedy, you take a collection of disparate elements, let them rattle around in your brain for a bit, and then create something completely new that's even better than the sum of its component parts."  Huh.  That's not half bad.


Thanks, Colin!  And to our readers, check back to this blog and on Facebook next week for photos from the performance!

Tags: JRA Team , Outside the Studio

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Going for the Gold: Creating Attractions in the World's Olympic Cities

February 05, 2014

Photo courtesy

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Starting today, hundreds of thousands of athletes, spectators and journalists will descend upon Sochi, a city of over 340,000 people located on Russia's Black Sea coast. In honor of the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, we’re taking you on a tour of the Olympic cities we’ve been honored to work in, spiriting you across the globe and offering a few fun facts along the way. We’ll begin our journey with this year’s host.

Olympic Year:
2014 (Winter)
Location: Russia
Olympic Fun Fact: Six new events will debut at this Olympics: Men’s Ski Halfpipe, Women’s Ski Halfpipe, Women’s Ski Jumping, Biathlon Mixed Relay, Team Figure Skating, and Luge Team Relay.
Project: Sochi Park

Set to open in early 2014, Sochi Park will combine state-of-the-art technology with Russian art, history and folklore. JRA developed a 53-hectare park concept with detailed sketches and designs for the several theme zones. In 2014, Sochi Park will open its first stage, with a 20.3-hectare park that will offer a wide range of attractions reflecting milestones in the nation's history as well as thematic areas and shows inspired by fairy tales and sagas.

The first 12 attractions planned for the park are divided into five thematic areas, including “Avenue of Fire” with a lake and various restaurants and souvenir shops, “Land of Bogatyr” where Russian heroes lives, “The Enchanted Forest” which features fairies from Russian folklore, the nature-inspired “ECO-Village” and the interactive “Land of Science and Fiction.” Several new attractions will be added in future phases.

JRA provided overall master planning, concept design and schematic design for the highly anticipated park, and is currently providing art direction and implementation consulting. This is the first time JRA has worked on a project in a Winter Olympic city.

Now that we’ve shown you the present, let’s revisit some cities of Olympics past that also play host to a JRA-designed attraction.

Olympic Year: 1904 (Summer)
Location: United States
Fun Fact: Originally slated for Chicago, the 1904 Summer Olympics were moved to St. Louis to coincide with the World’s Fair.
Project: The original Mr. Freeze™ Rollercoaster at Six Flags St. Louis
JRA has worked with the Six Flags theme parks on a variety of projects over the years, including several Gotham areas, for which JRA was responsible for the concept and detail design. For the popular Mr. Freeze attractions at both Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags St. Louis, JRA designed and themed interiors and exteriors for the queue of this 70-mph rollercoaster, themed around the hit Warner Bros. movie “Batman & Robin.”

JRA is currently working on a new attraction to be housed within St. Louis’ historic Union Station. More details will be available soon about this exciting project, set to open this Spring.

Olympic Years: 1908, 1948, 2012 (All Summer)
Location: United Kingdom
Fun Facts: The 1908 Olympics were supposed to take place in Rome; however, the games had to be moved due to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. London has hosted more Olympic Games than any other city.
Project: Ripley’s Believe It or Not! London
London’s Piccadilly Circus welcomed an exciting new attraction in 2008, as the JRA-designed Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum opened within the iconic London Pavilion entertainment complex. Spread over five levels, the museum occupies approximately 25,000 square feet of the Pavilion, and has become one of London’s major tourist destinations.

Olympic Year: 1956 (Summer)
Country: Australia
Fun Fact: The equestrian events for these Olympics were held in Stockholm, Sweden. Sweden was considered a co-host for the Games and had its own torch and mini-Opening Ceremony.
Project: Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)
JRA worked with the MCG’s project development team to define the overall concept and aesthetic direction for the renovation of the historic stadium’s three major grandstands. JRA’s specific areas of focus included initial concept development for a variety of entertainment components, sponsorship zones, interactive experiences, retail and food court areas. JRA also provided conceptual design direction for the stadium’s entire redevelopment to ensure consistent thematic treatments, efficient guest flow patterns, optimal revenue generation and an overall integrated guest experience.

Olympic Year: 1996 (Summer)
Country: United States
Fun Facts: For the first time in Olympic history, all 197 recognized National Olympic Committees were represented at the Olympic Games.
Project: The (NEW) World of Coca-Cola
Opened in May of 2007, the NEW World of Coca-Cola is the only place where visitors can explore the complete story—past, present and future—of the world's best-known brand. JRA is proud to have worked with The Coca-Cola Company to design and produce the guest experience for this re-envisioned Atlanta attraction.

With 62,000 square feet of guest areas, the NEW World of Coca-Cola has something for everyone, including a variety of interactive exhibits, a thrilling 4-D Theater, the world's largest collection of Coke memorabilia, a fully functioning bottling line that produces commemorative 8-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola®, a Pop Culture Gallery featuring works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and Steve Penley, and a unique tasting experience allowing guests the opportunity to sample up to 70 different products from around the world.

JRA provided the overall creative direction for the project, including planning, design and coordination of a team of vendors that included world-class animators, film makers and exhibit builders.

Olympic Year: 2008 (Summer)
Country: China
Fun Fact: Before the Games began, over 400 million Chinese youth took lessons about the Olympics in more than 500,000 schools around China.
Project: Magic Bean House
With colorful environments themed around classic fairytales and Chinese proverbs, Magic Bean House, which opened in 2010, features a number of exhibit areas specifically designed to engage and educate young children up to eight years old.
Specific experiences and environments within the facility include a themed climbing structure, a water play table, an interactive science gallery and a creative arts area, along with a variety of role play opportunities such as a miniature grocery store, construction site and mechanic’s shop.

JRA provided master planning, concept design and schematic design for Magic Bean House. Final design, fabrication and implementation was provided by Kingsmen.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our global adventure, and we look forward to working in more Olympic cities in the future. Whatever country you’re rooting for this February, best of luck!



Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

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