Thursday, November 7, 2013

Day 4: Awesome By Design

The Planning & Design building is a magical place, sitting in the shadow of its own creations right on the Cedar Point peninsula. Inside the low building, the walls are lined with past Cedar Point concept art. This is Corporate Planning & Design, however, which means that they are responsible for all ride concepts, creative direction, and final imagery that we see when a new attraction is debuted.

I learned that quickly as I stepped inside, only to be greeted immediately by Rob Decker. Mr. Decker is a creative genius in the amusement industry and a personal idol (there's a great interview with him here and an article on the Planning & Design team here, check them out if you're interested). As a long-time Cedar Point fan, I have him to thank for many of my favorite rides and attractions. Extending his hand, Mr. Decker introduced himself and invited me into his office.

With layers on layers of foam project boards leaning against very wall, I managed to catch a glimpse of some of the cool projects the Planning & Design team has come up with. Tacked up on one wall were current projects; Mr. Decker's desk was piled high with papers and the large drawing table against the back wall was overshadowed by a massive poster for Volcano: the Blast Coaster (at Kings Dominion).

Sitting down at the conference table just inside the door, Mr. Decker pointed me to a set of blueprints for a project out at Cedar Fair's northern California park, California's Great America. Mr. Decker has been finalizing plans for a new group dining facility for catered meals. Not exactly the most exciting stuff, but we were just getting started. In one corner stood a large framed drawing of what looked to be a major entertainment complex, something along the lines of Universal CityWalk (see here). Mr. Decker explained that this was a concept for California's Great America as well from back when it was owned by Paramount; unfortunately, the project never got off the drawing board. Next he laid on the desk two large boards, each showing a park in its current state and the same park with new attraction ideas labeled. The first was Carowinds (Charlotte, NC), with the park divided up into various areas for attractions, waterpark, resort, and future expansion. The second was Cedar Point with similar markings. Both of them had several spaces carved out for new attractions - and let me just say, the new attractions look incredible. For those of us right here in Ohio, we've got a lot to look forward to if everything does in fact come to fruition. I can't give away any specific details, but you won't be disappointed.

Before I could get caught up in blueprints and ride concepts much more, however, in walked Mark Schoelwer. Mr. Schoelwer is Mr. Decker's right hand man, next in line for the throne if you will. His arms full of photo boards, he stepped into the office and set them down gently on the conference table. These are for a new dark ride at Canada's Wonderland (Toronto), Wonder Mountain's Guardian. Today, Mr. Decker and Mr. Schoelwer had a conference scheduled with a company called Triotech, their partner in designing and executing the new attraction. Wonder Mountain's Guardian is a new direction for Cedar Fair and will incorporate a lot of new ideas and technology.

I was honored to take part in the conference call as the Planning & Design guys and the Triotech executives discussed anything and everything for Wonder Mountain's Guardian: the ride vehicle, interactive technology, the ride's pacing, digital content, characters and plot, and so much more. The basic premise of the ride is that a dragon has stolen a kingdom's gold, and it is the task of the riders to recover it. By aiming electronic "gun" devices at various points on the projection screens, they'll be able to recapture the gold and will emerge as heroes by the end of the ride. One of the points that needed to be discussed was how the players would distinguish themselves on the ride when shooting at the projection screens. One idea was to use a different-colored dot for each gun; I suggested that riders could choose from a handful of character avatars at the start of the ride, which Mr. Schoelwer seemed to like!

When the conference call finished, Mr. Schoelwer returned to his office and Mr. Decker was kind enough to take me on a tour of the building. We started in the graphic design offices; here, all logos, pamphlets, mailers, merchandise, etc. are created by a team of six talented designers (more on this in a later post). The company also prints nearly all of its own materials here in a massive printing room. They've also got a separate sign shop for making everything from ride signs to speed limit signs. Many of the signs and banners you see in the parks have been made right there, in the back room of the Planning & Design building.

Also in the back sat about 12 carousel horses. Planning & Design isn't a maintenance crew, but they are the chief creative force at Cedar Point. That's why they take a handful of carousel horses each year, strip them down, and then repair them and repaint them by hand. They also maintain some of the finer pieces in the park - one of these is the Snoopy statue that sits in Planet Snoopy. I had just seen it being removed from the park that morning, and now it was sitting in Planning & Design's warehouse as Mr. Decker explained to me how they service it. Because so many kids climb on the statue during the season, they take it in each winter, cut it open and reinforce it to maintain structural integrity, and put it all back together by spring.

By that time, my afternoon with Planning & Design had come to an end. I shook Mr. Decker's hand and thanked him for showing me everything. After such an exciting afternoon, I left trying to figure out how I could quickly turn myself into an architect! It was incredible to see everything that the company has planned for its parks and to be able to see how everything travels from conception to realization right here in this office. Unfortunately due to the super top-secret nature of everything in the office, I wasn't really allowed to take pictures. Still, I'll be back on Tuesday with more from Cedar Point!

Stay tuned for lots more updates very soon!


Nick said...

Fascinating! When talking about players knowing which laser dot is theirs, I immediately thought of the customization options in first person shooter video games like Call of Duty where you can change the typical dot to a smiley face or skull.

Post a Comment