Fresh Faces Friday: Mikkel Jensen on Designing, Dancing, and Chasing Your Dreams

September 29, 2017

Fall not only brings cascading leaves, warm color palettes, and pumpkin spice. It also brings a bevvy of fresh faces to the JRA studio. As our list of projects grows, so must our team, and over the next month, we'll be introducing you to six new members of the JRA family.

To begin our Fall "Fresh Faces" Series, Mikkel Jensen, a design intern joining us all the way from Denmark, shares some thoughts about the design process, his journey to Cincinnati, and a few quirky tidbits that even his friends might not know about him...

Meet Mikkel:

I am an Architecture & Design student from Denmark. I finished my bachelor in Urban Design last year and am currently on my last year at Aalborg University in the Masters program. Moving to Cincinnati, I knew nothing about the city and had only been to America once during a university trip. But I love moving to new places and travel quite often, so it was a new adventure for me. Back home I teach breakdance, popping and occasionally snowboarding and skiing, and whenever I want to relax, I get in to the kitchen and start cooking, which is just another way to be creative besides designing and dancing.

The best thing about the industry is ...
...the enthusiasm of the people working within the industry. It is definitely one of the reasons why I wanted to get more involved with the industry to begin with, so I find that to be one of the best things. I think it is a success criteria as well, that good work is made by people enjoying what they do, and that really is one of my favorite things… and me being a kid at heart doesn't hurt!

My favorite part of the design process is …
… using sketches and ideas in a constructive debate with your team to reach well-designed solutions seen from the users perspective. That point where you look at the design and realize how each input has brought you to this solution as a team and achieved something you wouldn’t necessarily have achieved on your own.

I would advise anyone starting out in a creative career to …
… figure out what you like to do and how you express yourself creatively and then go from there. There are many ways to be creative, and people often think in different ways. It is always a good thing to have people guide you on techniques that can help, but eventually, you will probably realize you do not necessarily think the same way as your teachers. Much like one learning method doesn’t fit all, I believe that there is no single defined path to a successful creative career, but liking what you do is definitely a good starting point.

My dream vacation would be ...
Going somewhere new and remote with a handful of people and experiencing things I would not be able to imagine before being in the actual situation. I love being surprised by the beauty of nature, natural phenomena and new cultures, and as much as I try to capture it, nothing can really put you in the same situation and feeling as you have when you experience something for the first time.

If my house had to be made of something edible, I would definitely choose…
… tough one. Most of my friends would probably think I would say potato chips, since that is without a doubt my number one weakness when it comes to snacks, but, I would actually like to have a house I wouldn’t eat within minutes. Now, a house made out of fresh herbs, that would be amazing.

Stay tuned for more Fresh Faces Fridays - you may even see a few names that look familiar!



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Conference World Tour 2017: Immersing Myself in SATE

September 15, 2017

Hi! Clara, Blogger-in-Chief, here.

Storytelling is as old as human speech (and perhaps far older). While storytelling techniques have changed throughout the centuries, the need for audiences to step outside of their everyday lives and become immersed in compelling narratives remains steadfast.

Today’s technological marvels allow designers, fabricators, and engineers to create innumerable worlds through which visitors can laugh, cry, scream, and dance. In order to craft tmagical places and spaces, these creators must have opportunities to converge and network, to share their successes and failures, to teach and to learn.

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) SATE conference offers just such an opportunity. SATE explores the art and craft of experience design (Storytelling + Architecture + Technology = Experience), and on October 5 and 6, TEA and SATE will welcome over 200 industry professionals to California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Los Angeles.

Under the theme “The Future of Immersive Realities,” more than a dozen speakers will address such topics as the intersection of art and technology, immersive theater, and why the TV show Westworld may not deviate that far from real life. Michael Jung of Walt Disney Imagineering will offer a keynote conversation, moderated by Travis Preston, dean of the CalArts School of Theater.

Michael Jung. All photos courtesy TEA.

Over the years, SATE has been held mostly in the US, but recently the SATE calendar has expanded to include meetings in Europe and Asia. Last spring, SATE Europe took place in Beaulieu UK, and a few weeks after SATE 2017 LA, Beijing will host the first SATE Asia on November 3-5. The type of venue for SATE varies, but to underscore its educational and professional development nature, the conference is often held at a university with a themed entertainment degree program. CalArts goes one better: Not only is its curriculum complementary to the industry TEA serves; the school was founded by Walt Disney for that very purpose.

As a TEA International Board Member, SATE is one of the highlights of my professional calendar. Every year I arrive excited to reunite with friends, greet new members, and discover new ideas. And every year, SATE delivers. I leave with my mind blown, my (virtual) Rolodex full, and my spirit stirred to implement the insights I’ve gleaned from my distinguished colleagues.

By virtue of my love for SATE, I wanted to delve a little deeper into the secret of its success. Luckily, my good friend and SATE Co-Chair, Chris Conte of Electrosonic, was more than happy to oblige.

SATE 2017 LA Chairs

CR: You co-chaired last year’s SATE in New York City. What brought you back this year?

CC: I’ve been involved in the planning of previous SATE conferences, and I have always enjoyed the process. That said, the SATE conference is evolving into its refined format and I wanted to participate in the long-term planning and strategy for future SATE conferences. As we grow these events and begin to produce them for our international membership and community, we are setting in place processes and expectations for SATE to ensure the SATE conference is consistent wherever we take it around the world. It’s a very exciting time for the expansion of our SATE conference program.

CR: Talk about the curatorial process – how did you arrive at “The Future of Immersive Realities”?

CC: We felt strongly that the host city should be an important component of our theme. Los Angeles is the film, TV, and video gaming content capital, and because there is a huge trend to develop immersive experience based on film, TV, and video gaming content (IP), I thought it would be of interest to our SATE audience to explore the challenges of converting this “Hollywood content” into dynamic attractions, museum tours, and all levels of a guest experience.

[VP of BaAM Productions and TEA Past President] Christine Kerr pointed out that this theme concept resonated because there is an obvious connection between media producers and experience attractions as well as the current cross-cultural addiction to handheld screens and its wide-reaching influences (second screening, emoticon as language, avatars, reduced attention spans, push vs. pull content, etc.). It was a nice brainstorming effort with key industry leaders that made this happen.

I’ve been impressed by our SATE chair teams over the past few years. This year, I successfully recruited a few leaders from the film industry (producers, art directors, visual effects, etc.) as well as icons in our industry who have great experience across the board. I feel that my current team fits this requirement perfectly.

Last year's co-chairs - Conte, Traci Klainer of Luce, and Michael Blau of Adirondack Studios - discuss the importance of taking risks at SATE 2016 NYC.

CR: One could look at the title of this year’s conference and think, “oh, another conference on AR and VR,” but your session schedule alludes to a more diversified approach. Without revealing too many SATE secrets, what can audiences expect to learn this year, and what “knowledge nuggets” would you like them to walk away with?

CC: Funny you should ask. Presentations about AR and VR are exactly what we did NOT want to do. There is already so much buzz about AR/VR and we felt there was no reason for us to re-hash the same topic. I also suspect there is nothing new and groundbreaking about AR/VR that the industry is not already aware of.

Immersion in the themed entertainment world is so much more than an electronic recreation and media content additives via AR. Also, the isolation that is inherent to VR is very off-putting in my opinion. Immersion is best served as a group experience. Immersion is to design and blend unique elements to create experiences using all the tools available from architecture, technology, and dynamic storytelling.

We wanted to explore the use of all these elements in creating new and exciting immersive worlds. One of the big lessons I want our audience to take away is that we all have unique skills that can play a role in creating these immersive worlds. It can’t just consist of virtual software and hardware. I want our audience to be inspired to engage and contribute.

SeaWorld's Brian Morrow reviews a NextGen portfolio during GibGab at SATE 2015 Carnegie Mellon.

CR: One of the components of this year’s SATE is GibGab, a product of the TEA’s NextGen program in which students and recent graduates engage in a rapid-fire round of interviews with top industry leaders – speed dating meets “Shark Tank”! As SATE Co-Chair and as a hiring manager, what does GibGab bring to SATE and to the TEA NextGen program as a whole?

CC: GibGab is all about preparing new talent for our industry. For years, new graduates from universities were schooled well on the subject matter but were not ready for the real-world challenges that awaited them. The SATE/GibGab format helps with perspective, informs them about real-world challenges, opens their minds to future possibilities, and hopefully inspires them to think freely. They witness first hand that no one person has all the answers. Success is a collaborative effort of talent, diligence, and most importantly, hard work. The most important thing for the GibGab audience can take away is that you never stop learning.

CR: Why is SATE important to the TEA’s mission?

CC: SATE is all about challenging our thought processes and how we do things. Specifically, SATE is about challenging our audience to think differently and explore new ideas. We guide content and encourage our speakers to offer new ideas and challenge the norm. We know that audiences come to SATE to see presentations that are thought-provoking and even controversial about how we normally approach design and implement ideas. It’s also one of the best opportunities to network with interesting people both inside and outside of our industry.

The themed entertainment industry is growing and diversifying at a rate heretofore unimaginable. In order to sustain this pace, we as industry professionals must continue to meet new challenges, seek new answers, and benefit from each other’s expertise. I hope you will join me at SATE to hear professionals from within and without our industry tell stories about better ways of telling stories. If you’re like me, you’ll leave with a fresh perspective on the role of immersive realities in creating narratives that engage minds, evoke emotions, and conjure memories to last a lifetime.

The Themed Entertainment Association’s SATE Conference takes place October 5-6 on the campus of CalArts in Valencia, California, USA. To find out more about the TEA, purchase tickets to SATE, and view sessions from previous SATE Conferences, please visit JRA is a proud global sponsor of the Themed Entertainment Association.

Industry professionals gather for a museum tour during SATE 2016 NYC.

Tags: JRA Journeys , JRA Team , Outside the Studio

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New Voices - The Importance of Designing Responsibly

September 08, 2017

Mikaila Wenker

Mikaila Wenker

In a new series on the JRA blog, we ask our co-ops, the future leaders of the themed entertainment industry, to share their thoughts on topics of interest in the design field.

To kick things off, Mikaila Wenker, a graphic design student at the University of Cincinnati, discusses two critical components of a company’s social responsibility policy: developing the next generation of talent, and creating experiences that all can enjoy.


I think of social responsibility as being an ingrained aspect to any company or individual. It’s the idea that all actions should respect and benefit a business and the community around it. I think responsibility is a good word for it because it really is almost an expectation as opposed to a decision.

Amplifying New Voices

An obvious example (and the most impactful to me) would be a company participating in a university’s co-op program. I find this act to be a big gesture towards social responsibility, because the participating company is quite literally training the future of the field. In doing so, they not only benefit themselves, but they also benefit the clients looking for designers to transform their visions into realities.

Co-ops should not take these work-study opportunities for granted. These companies are going above and beyond to ‘pay it forward’, so to speak. Reaching out and encouraging co-ops like me is definitely not a requirement, but it is something smart companies do anyway because they know the positive impact it makes and the ripple effect that strengthens the design community.

Experiences for All

The next example is far more general but it was certainly an eye opening aspect to design that struck me in both of my co-op semesters – the importance of designing for accessibility. Now, I realize that adherence to ADA guidelines is the law, but in design it really starts at Day One. Although an often-overlooked detail, it has really been something I’ve taken account of this semester. To me, it has really stood as a proud example of always keeping in mind the audience you are designing for – which is like the golden rule to me. Obviously, it shows social responsibility because it ensures that no matter the physical setback an individual may have, they can still enjoy a design like anyone else.

An investment in the talent of the future, and an eye for inclusive design, are the hallmarks of a socially responsible company, and important actions for ensuring the successful future of the industry.

Tags: Blog N Learn , JRA Team

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