Redefining the Future of Science Centers: An ASTC Recap, with Colin Cronin

October 28, 2015

JRA Designer, Colin Cronin

JRA Designer, Colin Cronin

To continue our 2015 Conference World Tour, we turn the blogging mic over to designer Colin Cronin, who recently attended the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) 2015 Annual Conference in Montreal.


Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of heading up to Montreal, and representing JRA at the ASTC 2015 Annual Conference.  I have been to many of the different conferences in our industry, but this was my first ASTC. It’s always great to see past colleagues and clients, and catch up and chat about the cool projects everyone has going on. But what I really love is taking in all the new ideas, and concepts, and discussions, and use it as a source of inspiration for future projects.

The Great Next Thing

That’s always a huge topic at these conferences: the Future. What is the next, better, bigger thing? At ACM it’s often a discussion of technology – most recently social media – and how to incorporate it seamlessly into learning programs. At IAAPA, there’s always something faster, or with more degrees of motion, or an 11th or 12th “D”. And ASTC was no exception to this. Many conversations surrounded that question: What is the future of Science Centers?

I don’t think we’ve reached a saturation point for Science Centers – but we’re getting close, at least in the United States. Now that many History Museums, traditional Science Museums, or even Children’s Museums have begun to expand their missions to include Science-Center-like elements, more and more children and teenagers around the country are gaining access to Experiential Science Education. But once these Science Centers have been established, the question becomes how to stay relevant, current, and with an eye to – you guessed it – the future.

The most tried and true and common way to refresh an existing museum experience is through programming. This programming can take many forms of course: structured classroom-based learning, arts and crafts, performances and shows. But all of them create interactive and open-ended experiences for guests. Experiences that can create lasting memories, inspire learning, and encourage return visits.

At the Mind Museum in Taguig, Philippines, programming spaces – staffed by “Mind Movers” – are spread throughout the galleries to allow many opportunities for hands-on, open-ended interactivity.

And in the end, that’s what it’s all about: return visitation. And yes, it’s important to get those ticket and membership dollars, and keep the doors open. But just as important is for kids to come back multiple times, because as children grow and develop, their perspective of a museum can change entirely, and create new opportunities for learning and education.

Keep Theme Wanting More by Changing the Game

Taking a quick glance around the Exhibition Hall at ASTC, one can easily see the presence of another common way to refresh a museum experience: traveling exhibits. I think there were more displays for temporary exhibits for rental than anything else in Montreal, which makes sense. A changing gallery is a spectacular way to completely change the experience of a museum, and more and more Science Centers are making them a central part of their programming and planning. Often, they’ll have two or three changing galleries spread throughout their other exhibits.

Angry Birds Universe, a traveling exhibition, uses the brand of Angry Birds to spark an interest in young fans, leading them to learning about topics like Biology, Physics, and Math – just to name a few.

One aspect of traveling or temporary exhibits that sets them apart is how current they can be. Of course, the laws of Physics don’t change, and the core principles of Mathematics are pretty solid. So those won’t need updates any time soon. What does change, however, are kids’ interests. Kids now might be playing Angry Birds, or watching Marvel Superheroes on the big screen. Ten years ago it might have been Pokémon and SpongeBob. Temporary exhibits inspired by these current interests are a great way to encourage repeat visitation, yes, but they also serve as an excellent doorway into learning and the sciences. Tell a child they will be visiting an exhibit on physics and geometry, and that might garner some groans. But, package the science in an Angry Birds wrapping, and they’ll be chomping at the bit to visit.

Another great attribute of traveling exhibits that sets them apart is how specific they can be. Permanent exhibitions tend to center on very wide topics. Space. The Human Body. Animals. But temporary exhibits can provide a very deep experience on a very specific topic. Suddenly it’s feasible to have an experience all about the Digestive System, or just Theropod Dinosaurs. Children can learn everything there is to know about the planet Mars, or Jazz Music. They can learn about these topics at a depth that can’t be offered in the permanent exhibitions, which can create inspirations, which can lead to new passions, and even a future career in the sciences.

In the traveling exhibit A T. Rex Named Sue, concentrating on one spectacular fossil allows guests to learn more deeply about how this animal might have lived than in a more general dinosaur exhibit.

So what does this all mean for the future of Science Centers? One route to take is to keep some of the traditional galleries – Flight, Human Body, Dinosaurs, etc. – but with more Changing Galleries. Maybe a 50/50 split, with a temporary space for every permanent one. Of course, you’ll need to make sure there are always exhibits to fill those spaces, or you’ll be sacrificing a huge portion of your exhibit space. Do you have backup exhibits to fill them, just in case? Or maybe design the other exhibits so they are modular and can expand to fill the available space?

Are Semi-Permanent Concepts the Future?

Or is there another direction? I’m imagining a possible future Science Center where none of the exhibits are truly “permanent”. Sure, there might be gallery topics, and they could still be the broad subjects we see today. And every gallery needs a certain amount of permanent infrastructure – lighting, server rooms, and the like. But what if the exhibits themselves are more temporary? Portions of every display could be designed to change and evolve constantly, always staying new, current, and unique. For example, you have a Space gallery. Maybe for the winter it’s Pluto, and for spring it becomes Venus. Galleries can change and adjust as much as needed, to update with new information, and to evolve to the current zeitgeist. You could imagine a Space Gallery in 2015 adding some Star Wars exhibits, for example.

I don’t know if there’s a complete concept there, but these are just some ideas that have been floating around my head since my return from Montreal. And who knows, maybe the final answer is some combination of all of these thoughts. What is clear is that experience-based science education is more popular than ever, and is here to stay. What form it will take, only time will tell.


Next week, we continue our tour by launching our coverage of the 2015 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo. What are the top ten questions we will ask about your project when you visit our booth? Join us back here next week to find out.

Tags: Blog N Learn , JRA Team , Outside the Studio

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JOB ANNOUNCEMENT: JRA Now Hiring Senior Project Manager

October 22, 2015

Join our team! We are currently searching for a Senior Project Manager to join us in our Cincinnati, Ohio headquarters. The ideal candidate has worked in a project management capacity and has led the realization of interactive/immersive environments in venues such as museums, visitor centers, sports or entertainment complexes.

JRA’s project managers are responsible for the planning, development and management of our client’s projects according to strict deadlines and within budget. Project management concentrates on the overall planning of resources, project organization, scheduling, contract administration and day-to-day coordination of the project. This includes acquiring resources and coordinating the efforts of team members and third-party contractors or consultants in order to deliver according to plan.

 An ideal candidate would:

  • - Direct and manage project development from beginning to end, through commissioning, handover and the opening of the park.
  • - Author project documents and presentations
  • - Quickly absorb and execute full-scale project plans and the associated communications documents.
  • - Effectively communicate project expectations to team members, stakeholders and contractors in a timely and clear fashion.
  • - Liaise with project stakeholders, such as general contractor, overall project management team and client, on an ongoing basis.
  • - Create, manage and maintain project budgets
  • - Estimate the resources and participants needed to achieve project goals.
  • - Set and continually manage project expectations with team members and other stakeholders.
  • - Delegate tasks and responsibilities to appropriate personnel.
  • - Identify and resolve issues and conflicts within the project team.
  • - Identify and manage project dependencies and critical path.
  • - Track project timelines, milestones and deliverables using appropriate tools.
  • - Develop and deliver progress reports, proposals, and requirements documentation, as required.
  • - Proactively manage changes in project scope, identify potential crises, and devise contingency plans.
  • - Define project success criteria and disseminate them to involved parties throughout project life cycle.
  • - Coach, mentor, motivate and supervise project team members and contractors, and influence them to take positive action and accountability for their assigned work.

Position Requirements:

  • - Ability to relocate. International and domestic travel is required with the possibility of temporary project relocations.
  • - Valid passport and international driver’s license.
  • - Experience working internationally is a plus.
  • - Experience at working both independently and in a team- oriented, collaborative environment is essential.
  • - Can conform to shifting priorities, demands and timelines through analytical and problem-solving capabilities.
  • - Flexible during times of change.
  • - Ability to read communication styles of team members and contractors who come from a broad spectrum of disciplines and nationalities.
  • - Strong written and oral communication skills.
  • - Ability to effectively prioritize and execute tasks in a high-pressure environment.
  • - Strong interpersonal skills; positive attitude; ability to promote co-operation and teamwork.
  • - Ability to work on multiple projects.
  • - Education and Training: Undergraduate degree or equivalent work experience in theater or production.
  • - Minimum five (5) years direct work experience in a project management capacity, with experience in entertainment projects, specific theme park experience a plus.
  • - Working knowledge of Microsoft Office, MS Project, Primavera P6 and FastTrack Schedule

Please email resume and cover letter to Dana Everhart, Assistant Operations Manager, at No phone calls, please.


Join our team!


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Conference World Tour 2015: Chloe Hausfeld's Adventures at the IAAPA Euro Attractions Show

October 21, 2015

Chloe James Hausfeld

Chloe James Hausfeld

Welcome! Some our favorite blogs of the year are Executive and Marketing Assistant Chloe James Hausfeld's conference travelogues. This week on the 2015 JRA Conference World Tour, she takes us to Sweden for a recap of the recent IAAPA Euro Attractions Show.


Welp, IAAPA EAS has come and gone, but I’d like to share what a great time I had in Gothenburg, Sweden, with all of you.  Hope you enjoy some of the pictures, as much as I enjoyed that fabulous city…

Travel Time! - Saturday, October 3 and Sunday, October 4

I began the trip on a high-note…as usual.  Natalie’s Candy Jar is my first stop after security on almost every trip.  My dentist curses them, but my colleagues praise them.  I figure, I only have to visit my dentist a couple times a year, while I have to see my colleagues every day.  I know where to choose my battles ;)

Natalie’s was an even bigger hit than usual for Keith James (JRA Owner/CEO), Patti James, Linda Round (JRA Marketing & Business Development), and myself.  We were supposed to fly through Detroit and Amsterdam, but got re-routed to Atlanta and London…MUCH LONGER layovers, and unhappy travelers.

At least I had time to channel my “inner Diane Keaton”,

Catch up on some scores in the Sky Club,

Take a walk through my terminal (ha!),

AND, even make a donation for Breast Cancer Awareness! 

I have to say, after all of the unnecessary hours of traveling, I was not overly excited about the cuisine in Sweden.

But the sweet smile on the woman working at immigration made my worries go away.  I was ready to get the trip started!

We got checked into the hotel, and immediately bumped into friends.   What a great industry!

And, to think I was worried about the food.  24/7, the market at Gothia Towers Hotel, had chips that were made for the record books.  As you can see, our first dinner was FABULOUS.  YUM!

Monday, October 5

Time to check on the booth! 

Things were looking good, and all of the boxes got unpacked quickly…not a bad way to start a “show week”.

We had a fabulous dinner with great clients, and then headed up to Heaven…

…that’s really what this place is called.  It became the “stomping grounds” for the week rather quickly.

Expo Day 1 - Tuesday, October 6
The Expo begins!!!

IAAPA President & CEO, Paul Noland addressing the crowd at the Opening Ceremony

The IAAPA Officers cut the ribbon to officially open the show floor.

Liseberg really threw out all the stops….beautiful EAS ice sculpture!

Nobody tell my husband, but I have a serious crush on this bunny…killer dance moves!

I lost my voice for the remainder of the week due to the Haunted House.  Or, was it because of

Helix, Mack Rides' new coaster?!  As you can see, it was a great ride.

The night ended with a bang...


Expo Day 2 - Wednesday, October 7

Day 2 began with the IAAPA Leadership Breakfast

Keynote Speaker: ABBA-singer, Björn Ulvaeus

Owner/CEO, Keith James addressed Intellectual Property during the TEA Presentation

Keith with Ray Hole (RHA) and David Camp (D&J International Consulting)

After the floor closed for the day, it was time to support my fellow Young Professional sub-committee member Ash Smart (Harbour Park) as he hosted the Young Professionals Forum at Liseberg.

Ash with Paul Noland (IAAPA CEO/President), Gerardo Arteaga (IAAPA Chairman), John McReynolds (IAAPA First Vice Chair), Greg Hale (IAAPA Second Vice Chair), and Henk Salemi (IAAPA Treasurer)

I met the rest of the JRA crew at the TEA Party as it ended.  We decided to split in a few different directions…

I think Patti (Mom) may have been a little tired of fish.

Tyrolen was an unbelievable band that ended with an unforgettable encore for us!

Have I mentioned that this is not only a family oriented business, but a family oriented industry as well??

The James’ (and Hausfeld) of the JRA Team, with The Woods’ (and Weaver) of Sally Corp.

I have to admit, I think that this one suits our personalities better though…

Made sure to end the evening with the birthday boy…Shawn McCoy (JRA’s Vice President, Marketing & Business Development).

Day 3…Final Day of the Expo - Thursday, October 8

The JRA crew was ready…even though our stash of Natalie’s treats was finished.

Keith and his dear friend, and former IAAPA Chairman, Bob Rippy (Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park).

Apparently it wasn’t a day for flats…

My bodyguards from the UK; Edward Pawley (Simex-Iwerks) and Patrick Lamb (Severn Lamb).

I flew my sister-in-law, Courtney Hausfeld, over for a long weekend, and she got to Gothenburg that morning.  Just in time to see the crazy/fun world I get to work in.

The JRA crew always likes to end a show with a good meal since we rarely have a “sit-down” dinner.  After an excellent Italian dinner (suggestion courtesy of the guys from S&S), Court and I accompanied our dinner guest, Nathan Jones (Vekoma Rides) to watch the Toronto Blue Jays in the Playoffs with some of his fellow Canucks.

Not a great picture, but we’re still holding out for your Jays!!!

Friday, October 9

We spent the day exploring the city on foot…what a great place!

One of our favorite pastimes…exploring a shopping district!  Haga, we like you…

The “Fish Church”

Time for dinner!

Great shot of Keith and Patti from dinner…

Some pictures are just too important not to get…

Back at Heaven…

…because, who can get enough of Liseberg Park??!

Saturday, October 10

I’d been dying to get in the hotel pool since the start of my trip, so Saturday morning was just the day to do it!!!

Had to take a selfie.

It was a little eerie when the jets turned off and you could see the street below you…pretty cool though!

Can’t go to Europe without seeing a Castle…

Tjolöholm Castle

Not a bad view to wake up to if you ask me!

The cottages where the workers lived can now be rented for a nice getaway…

We made sure to check out the Universeum after hearing such great things!

Beautiful view of the Gothia Towers Hotel

The pool from the ground up…glad I went in it before checking it out from this vantage point

On the walk before Court and my last dinner with Mom and Dad

Sunday, October 11

We started our last day at the Botanical Gardens.

Walked throughout the city...

...and made a new friend.

But, most importantly, made it to the pub in time to watch our Bengals…

...and had a panic attack the entire game.

One last “cheers” at 24/7 for our Bengals being 5-0 (NOW, 6-0!!!).

Monday, October 12

Final view of the beautiful Liseberg Park

Thanks for being great hosts!

Heading to Paris…one step closer to home

And…I’M HOME!!!

With this handsome boy by my side. 

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you in Orlando for the IAAPA Attractions Expo!

- Chloe

Thanks, Chloe! Next week, our Conference World Tour continues, as Colin Cronin reports back from the recent Alliance of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Conference in Montreal, Canada.

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

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PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT: Toasting Jim Beam's Newest Brand Attraction

October 09, 2015

Last week, Beam Suntory, the world’s leading Bourbon maker, celebrated the grand opening of Jim Beam’s new visitors’ experience in the heart of Louisville’s Fourth Street entertainment district.

Last week, Beam Suntory, the world’s leading Bourbon maker, celebrated the grand opening of Jim Beam’s new visitors’ experience in the heart of Louisville’s Fourth Street entertainment district.

Beam Suntory, the world’s leading Bourbon maker, today celebrated the grand opening of Jim Beam’s new visitors’ experience in the heart of Louisville’s Fourth Street entertainment district. The 4,300-square-foot Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse not only establishes a highly visible presence for the world’s No. 1 Bourbon in the most vibrant tourist destination in Louisville, but also offers guests a hands-on bourbon experience unlike any other.

“For more than 220 years, Jim Beam Bourbon has made history and continues to do so by opening its first visitors’ destination outside of our flagship distillery,” said Kevin Smith, Vice President, Kentucky Beam Bourbon Affairs. “We’ve taken the brand’s rich heritage and put an urban spin on it, offering guests an interactive Bourbon experience coupled with a retail location, right here in downtown Louisville. The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse is another place Jim Beam fans can call home as an extension of our Jim Beam American Stillhouse experience in Clermont, Ky.”

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined 7th generation Master Distiller Fred Noe, company leaders and local dignitaries to officially open the doors and commemorate Jim Beam’s unwavering commitment to the Bourbon industry – an industry it helped create when Jacob Beam made his first Bourbon whiskey in Kentucky in 1795.

“Bourbon is one of Kentucky’s most historic and treasured industries – a thriving $3 billion economic engine that generates more than 15,400 jobs with an annual payroll topping $700 million, and $166 million in tax revenue every year,” Gov. Beshear said. “With the opening of the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse in downtown Louisville, the company is once again raising the profile of our Bourbon industry and giving visitors another great reason to come to Louisville.”

“We are happy to see Jim Beam expand its footprint in downtown Louisville,” added Fischer. “Fourth Street is a booming destination for tourists from near and far, and places like the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse offer a great opportunity to spotlight Kentucky’s heritage while driving increased visitors to Kentucky Bourbon distilleries.”

The new location is located in the heart of Louisville’s 4th Street entertainment district and includes a small working distillery, bottling line, tasting experience and its own exclusive bourbon, Jim Beam® Urban Stillhouse Select.

Located 25 miles from its flagship distillery in Clermont, Ky., the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse operates as a small working distillery and visitors’ experience like no other, with special features that include:

  • • A distillation system showcasing a small copper pot still with a unique rectifying column and see-through glass vapor condenser.
  • • Interactive displays and décor that immerse Bourbon enthusiasts in the Jim Beam® brand and educate them on the fine nuances of whisky making;
  • • A one-of-a-kind tasting bar crafted from reclaimed wood and designed to reflect barrel staves and flowing Bourbon;
  • • A sculptural American Oak tree built from barrel staves. The tree features a canopy crafted from laser-cut steel leaves and illuminated Jim Beam bottles, symbolic of the First Family of Bourbon;
  • • A full retail store offering branded items, as well an opportunity for guests to label, fill and customize their own bottle of the site’s exclusive Bourbon offering, Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse Select.

JRA provided complete master planning, design and project management for both the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse in Louisville and the Jim Beam American Stillhouse and Distillery Tour in Clermont. According to Noe, the Urban Stillhouse is a natural extension of its Clermont distillery, likening it to "putting a new room on your house."

"We enjoyed working with the 'Beam Team' to create a spectacular urban presence for Beam Suntory in Louisville," said Rob Morgan, JRA Senior Project Director.  "The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse is a unique addition to the 4th Street Live District, reflecting Beam's rural Clermont origins with a sophisticated twist in an exciting downtown setting."

The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse is located at 408 South Fourth Street in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. Like Jim Beam on Facebook or follow #UrbanStillhouse on Twitter for the latest updates.


Tags: featured , Project Spotlight

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Keith James Talks Intellectual Property at the 2015 IAAPA Euro Attractions Show

October 06, 2015

JRA CEO/Owner Keith James addresses the crowd for

JRA CEO/Owner Keith James addresses the crowd for "TEA Presents: The IP Landscape" at the 2015 IAAPA Euro Attractions Show.

Earlier today, JRA CEO/Owner Keith James spoke to the "IP Landscape" as part of the Theming, Storytelling and Design Track at the 2015 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions' Euro Attractions Show (EAS). The track, presented by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), explored intellectual property (IP) from a variety of perspectives, and Keith offered a designer's view of why and how IP is currently used at attractions around the world.

In case you weren't able to fly to Gothenburg, Sweden for EAS, below is a transcript of Keith's presentation, which not only addresses the question of "Why IP" but also some of the benefits and challenges of incorporating branded (and often guest-cherished) material.


IP Opportunities

Over the past few years, it seems that more and more IP’s are making their way into the attractions industry, so I’d like to look at some of the opportunities and challenges in designing attractions based upon intellectual property. But before we look at designing with IP, I think it’s important to first look at why owners decide to invest in IP-based attractions in the first place.

Reason #1: Familiarity

First, using IP allows the licensee to capitalize upon years of the public’s familiarization and affinity for the selected IP’s stories, characters and environments. For example, would you rather..

Visit a theme park based upon this story….

or this story?

Reason #2: Credibility

The use of IP also provides instant credibility to the public, potential project investors and the industry. As another test, would you rather invest in a new attraction based upon these characters on the left, or this character on the right?

Reason #3: Filling in the Gaps

IP also can help an existing theme park fill in a gap with an existing target market.

Kings Island, a successful regional theme park back in my home town of Cincinnati, in the United States, has done a good job of this. Over the years, they've used a variety of IP’s to develop themed lands specifically targeted to younger children and their families, beginning with Hanna-Barbera characters, such as Yogi Bear and Scooby Doo, which they used from the early 1970’s until 2006.

This land then changed to a Nickelodeon theme...

...and most recently to Planet Snoopy.

So by using a variety of known well-known, family-oriented IP’s, the park has been able to continuously attract and entertain a valuable segment of their audience since its opening in 1972.

Reason #4: Increasing Attendance

You can also add new IP to existing theme park to increase attendance, both in the short-term and long-term. Paulton’s Park is a 140-acre park located 2 hours southwest of London. Founded in 1983, the park featured no IP-based attractions and averaged about 500,000 guests per year. That was until 2011, when the park added the world’s first Peppa Pig-themed attraction - Peppa Pig World. That year, visitor numbers to the park increased from 500,000 per year to over 1 million, which has been mainly attributed to adding the new IP land.

The IP has been so successful that the park has now embraced the land as a significant part of its marketing efforts, even resulting in a change in its logo and branding.

Probably a more well known example of an attendance boost through IP is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which, as Lesley Morrisetti pointed out in a recent article, boosted the park’s attendance by 70% in its first two years.

It also recently led to the development of the new Diagon Alley area, which created an additional 17% spike in attendance after its first year of operation.

(…meaning that it really doesn’t look like this too often, but ….more like this.)

Reason #5: PR and Marketing Opportunities

And finally, IP provides valuable marketing and PR opportunities and assets for the license holder. For example, the new Hunger Games traveling exhibit is able to tap into iconic characters and imagery from the movie franchise to market its current run in New York. The license holder also benefits from the IP’s own marketing, so the exhibit will certainly benefit from the media blitz accompanying the series’ final movie premiering next month.


So, those are some of the benefits in using IP.  From a designer’s standpoint, what are some of the challenges in working on IP-based projects?

Challenge #1: Balancing IP and Client Desires

One of the biggest challenges as a designer or architect is that you are typically hired (and paid) by the licensee, but also have to answer to the IP owner. And sometimes what a brand wants - and what it will take to fund or operate these wants - creates conflict.

For example, Ferrari licensed their brand to Aldar to create Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. The park’s spectacular building was created by Benoy, with a roof painted in vibrant "Ferrari Red".

…which becomes not so vibrant when the desert sand coats it.

As this specific red color is an integral part of the Ferrari brand, it was important for Ferrari to ensure that the roof’s color remained consistent. The idea for an automatic washing mechanism on the roof was suggested, but this option wasn’t operationally or financially viable for the Owner.  So, a compromise between the IP and Owner was reached in order to keep the roof clean and authentic to the brand…

...which consisted of a team of workers climbing on to the roof to clean it on a regular basis.

This creates some pretty interesting photographs, but it also symbolizes the lengths that often go into protecting an IP’s assets, and how early design decisions can have operational ramifications down the road.

Challenge #2: Sensitivity Toward Translating 3D Characters, Environments

A designer also has to be aware of the IP’s holder sensitivity toward creating three-dimensional versions of their characters and environments, especially when they have only been seen in a 2D format, such as print or traditional animation. But there are techniques that can be used to make this translation authentic to the brand.

For example, when JRA created a themed land based upon Curious George, we took the beloved children’s books as our design inspiration...

...and created designs that matched the illustration styles found within the books.

As seen in these facade drawings, our team worked hard to keep the lines loose. The drawings were then translated into three dimensional environments.

We even used giant reproductions of the books themselves to provide context for the guest through their exploration of the space.

Sometimes, the best way to translate 2D characters into the three dimensional world is to keep them as 2D.  This technique is used quite well within Springfield at Universal Studios, where you’ll find all of the series’ characters throughout the three-dimensional recreation of the Simpsons’ hometown,

from Bart and Milhaus... Homer and Maggie.

Designers and fabricators of IP-based environments must also share the same magical attention to the details, as do the IP’s creators. For example, representatives for JK Rowling review every detail of any attraction or environment based upon the popular books and movies.

Even if those details can’t be seen by the naked eye (such as this turret top) they have to meet the IP’s guidelines, because a guest might be able to see the detail through a telephoto lens, and it has to remain authentic to the IP.

Challenge #3: Lack of Usable Design Assets

One of the biggest challenges in working with IP is the lack of usable design assets. Sometimes this is because the assets haven’t been created yet. In the early 1990’s, JRA worked with Universal Studios to create a children’s play zone based upon the animated film Fievel Goes West.  The problem was, we had to finish our design work before the actual movie was even finished.

So, we had to work with the studio to review their work in progress and develop the renderings based upon key sections of the film that were completed. Luckily...

...the project turned out well, and has been open for over 23 years.

Sometimes the IP’s assets are already created, but they aren’t usable from a technical standpoint. For example, our team has worked a lot with Rovio, the creators of the Angry Birds games. And while Rovio has a large inventory of digital characters and environments, they were formatted for mobile phones and iPads. Needless to say, the resolution of their graphics wasn’t high enough for themed environments. 

So our team had to recreate all of their graphics for a large-format output - beginning with their characters and building blocks… their lush background environments... that we could create large printed murals. 

So, again, another challenge in working with with IP is that their assets might be available, but unusable.

Challenge #4: Changing IP Assets

Another challenge in working with IP is that some IP is constantly changing.

For example, keeping with our work with Angry Birds.  When we began designing an indoor attraction based upon the IP, the characters looked like this, as they are seen in the game (no wings, no feet, and they don’t talk). Then, midway through our design process, the characters had evolved (for use in Rovio’s animated shorts or Toons), and now looked like…

...this. So, we had to change many of the attraction’s graphics to reflect the updated characters.

Then, Rovio created a new game based upon their relatively new Stella character, so a new themed zone had to be created to reflect these new assets.

And, most recently, images for how the birds would appear in next year’s animated feature were released - showing dramatically different looking birds - who now have wings, and feet, and speak. So, future attractions will have to accommodate the changing look of these characters and need to make decisions on which assets to use - the game version, the Toons version or the Movie version.

Challenge #5: The Lifespan of IP

Another challenge in creating attractions using IP is that they all typically have a lifespan and will need to be changed at some point - either due to an expired licensing agreement, or a change in park ownership or strategy.

Using the Kings Island theme park again as an example, when I first worked at the park in the 1970s, this restaurant was designed around a generic Octoberfest beer hall theme. However, when Paramount purchased the park, they asked us to turn it into a themed restaurant based upon one of their more popular movies.

So, the Fest Haus became a Bubba Gump Shrimp Shack, based upon the movie Forrest Gump.  Our designers were careful to limit the theming to decorations and paint treatment only, however, so that the facility could easily be changed to future themes once the IP agreement expired, which it did when Paramount sold the park to Cedar Fair and their designers took over. 

So now if you visit the restaurant, instead of Bubba Gump Shrimp Shack, you’ll find Big Hank’s Burrito Shack.  So again, it’s important to keep that flexibility built into your designs when working with IP.

Putting It All Together: The Benefits and Challenges of Working with IP

So, to recap, the are a variety of benefits in working with IP, including…
    •    Capitalize on proven popularity, stories, characters and environments
    •    Instant recognition and credibility
    •    Can instantly fill in a gap with desired target market
    •    Can provide short-term and long-term boost in attendance
    •    Valuable marketing and PR

But, there are also a variety of challenges that accompany these benefits from a design standpoint, such as…
    •    Sensitivity toward translating 3D characters, environments
    •    Lack of usable design assets
    •    Changing IP Assets
    •    Lifespan of IP

As the use of IP seemingly becomes more and more popular, I think that it’s great to have these discussions, so that we can all learn from one another and ultimately create attractions that benefit the owner, the IP owner and, most importantly, the guest. 

Keith answers audience questions alongside Ray Hole of Ray Hole Architects and David Camp of D&J International Consulting.

Tags: Blog N Learn , featured , JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

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