Experience Imagination | Episode 8
Show Host: Abhinav Narain – Creative Content Specialist
Studio Guests: Stephen Ricker – Associate Creative Director, Jesse Allen – Editorial Director, Tyler Capó – Associate Production Manager, Jason Ambler – Executive Producer/Director of Production
Using Truth as a Design Filter
Explore the research process behind creating themed experiences that are true to their origins. Whether it’s a fictional or historical storytelling experience, extensive cultural and factual references are used to expand the experience’s universe and ensure the authenticity of every detail.
About the Show:
Experience Imagination is a themed entertainment podcast presented by Falcon’s Creative Group. Every episode covers a new topic discussion with a panel of creative professionals. Tune in and subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, or GooglePlay.
Abhinav Narain: Before we jump into today's episode, we are excited to announce that we now have an email address. You can email us with questions, comments, or thoughts on future episode topics at firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, that's email@example.com.
Cecil Magpuri: You're listening to Experience Imagination; a themed entertainment designed podcast presented by Falcon's Creative Group. Every episode, we discuss a new topic with a panel of creative professionals. Hi, I'm Cecil Magpuri. President and Chief Creative Officer of Falcon's.
Abhinav Narain: Hey guys, this is Abhinav, I am sitting down with Cecil. Hey Cecil, how are you?
Cecil Magpuri: Good, how you doing today?
Abhinav Narain: Doing good. Today's topic is authenticity. I ask this question to you at the beginning of every episode and I feel like it's gonna be a more weighted question today. Why is this topic important?
Cecil Magpuri: Authenticity. Wow, it is a heavy one, right? I think it's important because I think it's really a big part of our culture here at Falcon's. When we do design and when we execute stuff, authenticity becomes a common design filter within the process that we do. And that might not be obvious to people and so I think it's exciting to talk to.
Abhinav Narain: Who is joining us on today's panel?
Cecil Magpuri: Joining us today is Stephen Ricker, Jesse Allen, Tyler Capó, Jason Ambler.
Abhinav Narain: Awesome, and we'll circle back with you at the end for your final thoughts.
Cecil Magpuri: Excellent.
Abhinav Narain: All right, let's begin with introductions. Let's start going around the table with you, Stephen.
Stephen Ricker: Hi, I'm Stephen Ricker. I'm the Associate Creative Director.
Jesse Allen: I'm Jesse Allen, I'm the Editorial Director.
Tyler Capó: I'm Tyler Capó and I'm the Associate Production Manager.
Jason Ambler: And I'm Jason Ambler, I'm the Executive Producer and Director of Production.
Abhinav Narain: Fantastic, thanks for joining us today. We're here to talk about Authenticity. Which is a very broad topic, and it's a very important topic to Falcon's Creative Group. So important that this conversation could literally go in infinite number of directions and in order to really to hone it in, we actually had an internal focus group beforehand with everyone in this room and with a couple of other folks on our team to figure out exactly what this episode can entail. And as we did some research and internalizing of the topic of Authenticity and what it means to us, we ultimately came up with this definition, which we will use to segment our conversation.
Abhinav Narain: To be authentic is to be true to fact, true to fiction, or true to self. And we'll talk about all three of those topics. Sound good?
Jesse Allen: That sounds great.
Abhinav Narain: Cool. So let's start with True to Fact. How is factual authenticity successfully achieved in a physical space?
Stephen Ricker: Research, research, research man.
Abhinav Narain: Alright, Stephen, good answer.
Jesse Allen: The best example I think that I can come up with right now is the Heroes and Legends space project that we did for Kennedy Space Center. A lot of the task for that was, create these great stories based on actual interviews from astronauts and looking through the historical footage and documentation from NASA. In that, you find stories that you couldn't even dream up.
Abhinav Narain: Yeah.
Jesse Allen: Right? Like it's the whole "Truth is better than fiction." And as Tyler and I dug into that further and reading a lot of the biographies and autobiographies from these astronauts ... The stories that came from that were like, ”Hey, did you even know this happened?” You think you know a subject and then you do the deep dive and it just opens up, you know
Abhinav Narain: You could never have made it up.
Jesse Allen: Yeah. It's amazing.
Stephen Ricker: And then trying to understand the actual moments in history, especially with Jim Lovell, talking to him on the phone that first initial phone interview, asking him questions that he didn't typically get asked. I think he even said that. With some of these things, and got these amazing answers about him walking on the beach with Charles Lindbergh, watching the Apollo mission liftoff. Understanding these personal moments and knowing to ask those is huge.
Jesse Allen: Sure, and just the context of what was going on at the time those stories were happening, not knowing what was going to happen. That's the part that they convey a lot is like, “Yeah, sure you know how history is written, but when you were in the middle of that, you didn't know how it was going to end. And that gives you a more compelling story to build and to present to an audience, cause now you take them back not only to "Yeah, let's recount this cool thing that happened," but also let's recount it and show it in a way of like this is how they felt not knowing what was going to be the end result.
Abhinav Narain: Tyler.
Tyler Capó: Um, when your physical space has content that is by nature historical, or scientific, you have a different sort of obligation in what you present to your audience. In those cases, you have to be careful about not using too much creative liberty to where you get to a point of presenting false information to an audience instead of something true to what happened.
Tyler Capó: In the case of Kennedy Space Center, one of the elements of the exhibit had to do with artifacts. And we had artifacts that we were trying to pair stories with about various keywords, like curiosity, courage, and so on and so forth. So to do that, we actually... When we sat down with the astronauts, we actually had photos of those artifacts, showed them the photos, and asked them to recall back on them directly as opposed to coming up with what we-
Abhinav Narain: Asking a more broad question?
Tyler Capó: Yeah or leading them into "Oh, tell us about this story we heard about.” We showed them the actual physical thing and asked, “What does this mean to you?" And we found that we were able to get completely authentic
Abhinav Narain: Yeah.
Tyler Capó: Kind of stories from them just by asking a very broad question about it.
Abhinav Narain: It sounds like, especially with true to fact, authenticity isn't just a layer for extra immersion, it's an expectation for that venue. The guest is expecting, the client is expecting, it's almost the lifeblood of the experience.
Tyler Capó: Yes. Especially with someone like NASA, which ...
Abhinav Narain: Yes.
Tyler Capó: Has a long, long history of that.
Stephen Ricker: It has to be the foundation of everything we do.
Abhinav Narain: Jason.
Jason Ambler: I think we have a few projects that definitely we implore the idea of authenticity through facts. Certainly, Heroes and Legends at Kennedy Space Center is one of them. I think the projects we've been doing for National Geographic is certainly in that category as well.
Abhinav Narain: Right.
Jason Ambler: National Geographic, when we first started getting involved with their brand, understanding what really people recognize about National Geographic is their authenticity, is the fact that they are one of the most trusted, reliable brands out there.
Abhinav Narain: In the world.
Jason Ambler: Yeah, in a world where you don't know what's fact anymore, National Geographic has kind of always been in the sweet spot of always kind of appealing to the masses and everybody can buy it and understand. Looking at Kennedy Space Center, when you're building an attraction or an experience for the biggest space nuts in the world that are looking for the tiniest of details ... So I think we took on a great responsibility in creating this attraction, that it would be so detailed, so ingrained, so true to fact, that nobody could pick it apart.
Jesse Allen: So, just to tee off that real quick. A great example is that we were doing a large format film for Kennedy Space Center. We have this Gemini 8 story. Neil Armstrong, Dave Scott get inside Gemini capsule, things go very astray as they try to hook up to Agena and they start spinning out of control. Tyler's discovery on that was you know, they have all the control recordings from communications to and from the astronauts. So I was able to listen to the entire thing and hear the stress of the voice of the people in mission control, really not knowing what was going on and just the chaos that that situation was.
Jesse Allen: It was so compelling, that we're like you don't even really need to have an actor do that. We had actors playing Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott. We literally cut up the original recording from mission control and put that as the response to the actors communicating down to mission control. So now you have this authentic story and the authentic fear that they had, that they were going to lose their crew up there.
Abhinav Narain: It'd be great to let our listeners hear a clip of that. Let's play it now.
Speaker: That's affirmative
Speaker: Roger. What about the Agena?
Speaker: He says he has separated from the Agena and he's in a roll and he can't stop it.
Speaker: Try the re-entry control system. It might just give us the crush that we need.
Speaker: And I understand he's used all the other's fuel?
Speaker: [inaudible 00:09:28] pressure is down to zero [inaudible 00:09:29] pressure.
Speaker: Okay, let's work on one access at a time here.
*NASA Recording Ends*
Jason Ambler: That's a great example of chasing the drama. There's a few elements in-
Abhinav Narain: "Chasing the Drama." That's a really good line.
Jason Ambler: And because you have to, even though these are real-life experiences, you know we are still trying to do an entertainment, trying to tell stories and make it entertaining and make it engaging for people. So that's a great example of chasing the drama.
Tyler Capó: It's there. The drama is there. I'm a crazy history buff and I like to say that sometimes facts can be stranger than fiction. History has ... They have the stories. You just have to dive in and you have to have someone who can dive in and explore that. In that regard, again to fact ... It's important to have a team that can devote time and effort into the research process from the get-go. You have to absorb everything that you can find about it and retain as much as you can.
Stephen Ricker: And from so many different sources ... From movies to reading books. You know I love going through old stacks of plans, you know, coming from a design and kinda build side. Sifting through 40, 50, 60, sometimes a lot older blueprints and plans just to understand each design detail and why that effects it and how that can be extrapolated and used in the…
Tyler Capó: Yeah I think Stephen and I are kindred spirits on opposite ends about history stuff. So you just have to have someone that's willing to dive in at either of those points, whether it's a media project or design project. You've gotta have somebody that can absorb the knowledge and then hold everyone accountable. Because you can't expect the entire team to know every single thing, every single fact. Just as long as you have someone there that can be the one
Abhinav Narain: Be the walking encyclopedia.
Tyler Capó: Yeah. And just help back the team up and you know, give information when it's necessary and keep an eye on it.
Abhinav Narain: I really am curious to see how this conversation evolves as we head into our second chapter which is talking about being true to fiction. So my first question in this category is, "How does the research and design process that we've just been talking about differ when working to be authentic to fiction?" Which real quick, I think maybe we should also define what we mean by fiction. That could be folklore, it could be mythology, it could even be a story that's technically based on history, but because it's so ancient, it's being reinterpreted or because of the nature of the venue, it allows us to take a bit more of a creative license with a historical story than we would in some of the previous venues we were talking about.
Tyler Capó: Right.
Jason Ambler: Well for me, fiction and storytelling, in general, is always, there's always some reference out there that, or influence that you're kind of pulling from. So in the case of Battle for Eire which was VR motion simulator ride we did in Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, that was in the Ireland zone of the park. And so we wanted to tell an Irish story so we did actually do a very similar process to what we would do in a fact-checking sense where we were digging into Irish mythology and storytelling and we were looking at a VR attraction we didn't really know how that would be wrapped in an Irish story until we found this whole mythology about the Irish other-world. We saw that as a perfect vessel for virtual reality in the idea of this fantasy other-world that then you can see, and so then we started pulling stories from the other world, from Irish mythology that the character names, the places that they go to are kind of iconic landmark re-imagined.
Jason Ambler: But we were able to take that influence and then pay homage to it but also then kind of break through the boundaries of having it be factual or have it be so grounded and we can really have fun with it and kind of push the limits.
Stephen Ricker: You know there's an authenticity in these mythic stories and the power of mythology that has really captured humanity’s attention for as long as we've existed.
Jason Ambler: Even in the case, Battle for Eire, the names that we chose were translated into Gaelic and kind of had influence and descriptors that applied to that character. So, for instance, one of the main characters which I remember pitching in a meeting as a badass warrior fairy. And was very well received. Her character, yeah because it's like who doesn't want that, right? Really what came out of that was hey we need a name that really is fitting so I think we went with Enat which meant fiery one. Little flame, fiery one. Being the fact that she is also a fairy size.
Jesse Allen: You know I really like Battle for Eire. My uncle was a mythology teacher for 25 years and when they said hey we're doing this project about Irish mythology I'm like, I got the resource. I remember bringing in that stack of books and was like Finn McCool and all this like Irish mythology stuff and it is so cool to see those types of characters that have historically been in that culture for a very very long time come to life. My favorite, of course, was the allfiest the dragon. Which again is kind of this enigmatic creature in Irish lore, this kind of unusual type monster. And to not only bring it to life but bring it to life in a completely new context of this guardian that also kind of partners up with you. It's just a fun adventure.
Abhinav Narain: Stephen, sorry?
Stephen Ricker: Well I think that's an interesting point to how we can play and have fun with these characters that have existed for a millennia and still being authentic to who they are. Especially with folklore and mythology, there are many different kind of tails and nuance interpretations of these characters that can let them fit into various situations. But still understanding at kind of the base archetypal level what these characters are, who they are, why they are, and understanding that to really hold up the authenticity.
Abhinav Narain: Jason?
Jason Ambler: Yeah you know I think authenticity to fiction in my mind is also involved a lot more working with big brands that have these great narrative properties, IP's that we've been able to have the privilege to work with whether it's Cartoon Network properties, Marvel properties, Lionsgate and the Hunger Games. Then there's quite a bit out there that we've now been able to help realize with the help of IP partners and the brands and the creators of these stories themselves and that's really a big part of our process I think in these other attractions as well is we like to go to the show creators and understand the essence of what the shows about, the mission statement. What is really there driving them in their storytelling, and then in their effort because then we can help to apply that as a filter in how we're designing and building.
Abhinav Narain: Jesse
Jesse Allen: Yeah you know the thing I always like about how we go about this is it's very similar to the approach that we had with some of the historical stuff is that you're taking stories that aren't just like a recap of what happened but expanding on that universe. So when people go through those experiences they feel like it's a missing chapter in a bigger story. And that's where you really pull in the fans as they're like hey, there's this little element that I didn't know about. Or they picked up on something that the film just glossed over or the story just glossed over, and they've expanded on that and kind of gave us a little more insight.
Jason Ambler: Yeah I think that's a great point. I think in any attraction that we do we want people to feel like they got a little something out of it. A little something new or that they didn't know before and not rehash, right?
Abhinav Narain: Let's talk about what the process is like when you are trying to be true to a fiction that you are creating.
Jason Ambler: So there's a few I think projects that we've done, and I think Stephen can jump in here that we've done in the past that definitely fit that mold. I think we, Ba Na Hills in Vietnam is a great example of something where we birthed the storyline so to speak.
Abhinav Narain: It's a custom IP.
Jason Ambler: Yeah exactly it's something that we created from the ground up, but in that process, we created certain kind of guidelines and design filters. I think that becomes our way to stay authentic. There's also dragons treasure and Macaw was another one where we applied story, and then I think another one, a great example is Atlanta Sanya. I'll kind of hand it off to Stephen.
Stephen Ricker: Right, I mean these stories become what we harken back to at every step of the way. You know Atlantis, this was Atlantian kingdom built for an Earthly person to experience the princess Daria, this was a kingdom built for her so that she could experience the underwater world while in her land-bound form. So a lot of those details really translate into the actual design. You enter and you stand face to face with the guards of the kingdom, a very harsh, very militaristic representation of a tank that houses these crustaceans, these lobsters, and with very harsh angles that they need to grasp onto but serve as the gate. And then you move into the court of the jester with the beluga whales.
Stephen Ricker: So this kingdom actually has a linear journey to it that reflects the playfulness or the seriousness and this is also a story that no one will ever really read. The guests aren't really briefed on this is the story, these are the characters, this is what they did, they lived happily ever after. It's something though that really defines each step we take on the creative process of why we're making these decisions and together they make up this collective, this holistic story that feels more complete.
Jesse Allen: You know basically spectacle without story is just shallow. Right? The audience will pick up on it. So really all you have to do as a designer, as a creative visionary on that is to sell them on the plausibility of that story. And if they buy into that, then you've succeeded. They just go hey, it might not totally make sense to me but it feels right. In the case of Dragon's Treasure, it feels like it's part of our culture. It feels like this is something that could have been derived from our mythology.
Abhinav Narain: I don't need to believe that the world could exist in my world, I just need to believe that the world has its own internal logic.
Jesse Allen: Absolutely.
Abhinav Narain: Great well, let's move onto our last chapter in this conversation, authenticity to self, being true to self. My first question is sort of simple, sort of maybe opening Pandora's box. What does it mean to you, to be true to self in this industry?
Jason Ambler: Well I think to me it's about being, obviously professional but honest with the people that you work with and not being afraid really. I mean a lot of it comes with experience in getting comfortable, but to me, in order to be truly authentic you really have to be able to open yourself up to and be vulnerable. So you need to be putting yourself out there and comfortable, in a comfortable environment to do that right? Because there's a lot of places out there where people don't want to step up or speak up. I think one of the things that Falcon's says really well is that we listen to kind of everybody and we really don't close any doors for people. So with that, you're allowed to be vulnerable, you're allowed to kind of expose your feelings or your thoughts or your suggestions, and we take ideas from anywhere and we're proud of that. And so I think that's for me, part of being authentic.
Stephen Ricker: I always like to describe our culture here at Falcon's as a high functioning laid back. We do a lot of work, and we are always pushing the boundaries, not only just kind of industry-wide but for ourselves too to become better and better, but there are no egos here which is something I find really special. It's all about how can we create something bigger than ourselves, greater than the sum of our parts, and I think that's in a really critical and really amazing thing to have.
Jesse Allen: I think really it's just about fostering the passion with creative people. When you kind of get into that collective of passion of people and they start coming out with all these ideas and you're like that's fantastic well that's even bigger and more dramatic than I expected and you contribute your ideas and it just kind of snowballs into this incredible thing. And then that's the thing that you present back to your client and they're like is that possible. And we're all like yeah.
Stephen Ricker: Give us a few days
Jason Ambler: Typically whatever we present we've already thought through it like 10 times and like tried to break it and know that it's gonna be rock solid. But I mean, we like to think of ourselves as authentic not only internally as a company culture, but also in how we deal with clients and vendors and people outside of our company. I think that's something we really pride ourselves on and are known for in the industry as someone that cares about whatever project or whatever creative thing we're working on. Someone that's not gonna give up, someone that's gonna go the extra mile and over deliver when needed and take ownership of whatever we're designing or building or whatever because it's our name on it too, it’s our reputation on the line, but we also just we truly care. We don't really work on anything that we're not passionate about.
Tyler Capó: If you are authentic to yourself as a company, you're going to instill that confidence to the client that you will be authentic to the facts and the fiction.
Abhinav Narain: This was a really interesting conversation just because of again, how many different ways authenticity could go. And it's a really really fascinating conversation and I'm really glad that you guys could join us to talk about it, thank you.
Stephen Ricker: Yeah thanks Abhinav.
Abhinav Narain: We want to thank our panelists again for a really incredible discussion on a topic that is just so meaningful and important to us and to our industry. Cecil, any final thoughts right now?
Cecil Magpuri: I got emotional.
Abhinav Narain: Yeah, yeah no especially with some of the brands and the IP's that we've dealt with in the past. And even just our own personal brand.
Cecil Magpuri: I'm constantly amazed at when we talk about our process and our journey. We just go through it naturally but to focus on it, it's refreshing. I think it's kind of enlightening almost. One of the things that really got me excited was what Stephen said. Falcon's is high functional laid back.
Abhinav Narain: Yep.
Cecil Magpuri: I never heard that described before, but I understand it immediately.
Abhinav Narain: It's accurate.
Cecil Magpuri: I live it and breathe it. I come to work and I see it and that's cool to hear it being described that way. It's exciting to share that. There is no ego here.
Abhinav Narain: One of the things that I took away was the phrase, I think it was Jason who said it. "We chase the drama." And I think that was when we were talking about true to fact. I think that's such a great way of describing it. Because as opposed to creating the drama from scratch, you're using real life which is chock full of drama.
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah. That word of chasing drama, it's not being untrue to the facts.
Abhinav Narain: Right.
Cecil Magpuri: It's being focused on what you want to elevate and how you want to create the cadence of your storytelling with the medium. It's a quality control that is powerful and I think often times we do post-mortems on our projects and realize that it's because of our tenacity and due diligence of being authentic to our stories that have circled back to saying that's why it's successful.
Abhinav Narain: Cool, well we announced at the beginning of this episode that we now have an e-mail address. Podcast@Falconscreativegroup.com.
Cecil Magpuri: And we definitely urge you to reach out and communicate your thoughts.
Abhinav Narain: Please, please do. Questions about anything that we've talked about in an episode, ideas for future topics that you'd love to hear. We may even do episodes in the future where we do almost a mailbag sort of episode.
Cecil Magpuri: We may select ideas from yourselves and circle around and talk to that. So very exciting.
Abhinav Narain: Well, Cecil I want to thank you for joining me on this really awesome discussion.
Cecil Magpuri: My pleasure, my pleasure. Very exciting topic.
Abhinav Narain: Yeah, well that's the last episode of 2018. And the end of our first year doing this podcast. Thank you so much for listening. Again please reach out with any questions or comments and happy holidays.
Cecil Magpuri: This has been Experience Imagination. For more information about this episode's discussion, be sure to visit our blog at Falconscreativegroup.com. And don't forget to follow Falcon's Creative Group on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.