February 6, 2022
While working for over three decades at Walt Disney Imagineering I enjoyed a deep and long connection to Euro Disneyland. I began working in the Chastain building in Glendale, which was where the EDL team was housed in what had been an industrial warehouse. I recall the building having no system air conditioning, spotty heat and bugs blowing out of the vents when the blowers were started.
After Euro Disneyland opened, I next assigned as the Show Designer (which then was the same as a Creative Director today) for five new projects that were part of the planned additional capacity program. These were the Old Mill Ferris Wheel, Bonjour Mickey, Casey Junior, Storybook Canal Boats, and the Aladdin walk through. Later, for the Walt Disney Studios Paris, I designed fully or completed concept design and led the creative teams for Toon Studios, Crush’s Coaster, Cars Road Rally, Toy Story Playland, Ratatouille and Avengers Campus Europe. During the development and delivery of each project I was fortunate to work alongside talented people who in their roles as project team members created and delivered the rides, shows and attraction to the guests.
Each project began in the same way and followed along the same arc. What I discovered is that attractions are comprised of three equal parts. Each of the circles is of equal value and each of the three need to be balanced against the other. Drawn as a simple diagram the project appears as shown here.
This diagram shows each of the three circles required for a theme park ride.
Two of life’s certainties which I acknowledge are time and money. When translated into the language of theme park design, they can be called capital investment and project schedule. When starting the design work on any Disney project, I needed to understand the project creative goals, project capital investment and time allocated to complete the project work. After competing my first Disney project I reviewed the process I had experienced and after thinking about the experience decided to structure a hierarchy of process to apply to future projects. This developed into a diagram that I followed for each project throughout my career at WDI.
Each circle in the hierarchy diagram contains the division of labor and investment associated with a project. The circles are co-equal in importance but not co-equal in weight. For example, a flat spinning ‘c’ ticket ride has a ride component combined with a small facility investment. Often such rides are in an open-air environment such as the CARS ride found in the Disney Studios Paris theme park.
Image of the Cars Quatre Roues Rallye, or Cars Road Rally at Disney Studios Paris.
The second diagram illustrates a ride design that requires an increased level of investment due to the addition of both a show component with a ride component. Such rides may have a facility component however the facility will trend to be standard in both design and construction. Rock n Roller Coaster is an example of a ride that matches this criterion, but Crush’s Coaster also is an example. Crush has a simple facility building, some show environments and a standard ride system. Note that these last two categories enhance and improve the guest experience overall, however their addition will not result in guests impelled or motivated to visit the theme park solely for the new ride.
Image of Crush’s Coaster at Disney Studios Paris.
Staying in Disney Studios Paris is the third example of a ride attraction. The image diagrams a new ride whose foundational development depends upon all the three circles. This example requires that the new ride is in a custom facility, has large immersive show environments and frequently showcases a new unique first-generation ride system. Ratatouille at Disney Studios Paris is an excellent example of such a ride.
Including each of the three circles is equivalent to winning a triple Yahtzee in theme park world and delivers a ride intended to ensure a guest intent to visit response.
Image of Ratatouille at Disney Studios Paris.
Due to their cost and complexity Disney parks don’t have nor to they need large numbers of this third tier of rides. They are always a challenge to create due to the project demands, however every ride, show or attraction carries their own set of challenges and opportunities.