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Engineering - Translating Imagination

Engineering - Translating Imagination

Experience Imagination | Episode 7

Show Host: Abhinav Narain – Project Coordinator

Studio Guests: Joe Schaefer - Technical Design Manager, Jen Prichard - CAD Designer, Eric Loperena - Design Manager, and Kevin White - Technical Integration Designer

Listen to Engineering - Translating Imagination on iTunes, Spotify, or GooglePlay

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.

Engineering-Translating Imagination Transcript:

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 everybody, this is Abhinav Narain, our moderator for the episode. Let's get started! Cecil, how's it going?

Cecil Magpuri: Good, how you doing?

Abhinav Narain: Doing good.

Cecil Magpuri: Awesome.

Abhinav Narain: So today's episode is called Engineering Translating Imagination. As always, we want to first start by just asking why is this topic important?

Cecil Magpuri: You know, Translating Imagination, that's an interesting title. The engineering component here is really a reality check. It's about quality control in guardianship. So, when we start to imagine these projects that we get engaged to develop, we have to build them, right? It's not just illustration and key art and meant for just content or media. That's not real brick and mortar.

Abhinav Narain: There's absolutely a finish line that you have to remember right from the beginning.

Cecil Magpuri: So there's a lot of factors involved. And so, how do you take something that's in a narrative form or in a concept art? You have to make it real. People still have to walk through the door.

Abhinav Narain: Yeah.

Cecil Magpuri: That's imagined, and so you have all these other metrics that are put in place. But, it's interesting the way our engineers have taken that is those are parameters, but the reality is they're so engaged and appreciative of being able to take that vision and make it real without losing the intent.

Abhinav Narain: Exactly.

Cecil Magpuri: So that's why it's important.

Abhinav Narain: And who's going to be joining us on our conversation today?

Cecil Magpuri: Today we'll be joined by Joe Schaefer, Jen Prichard, Eric Loperena and Kevin White.

Abhinav Narain: Well, let's dive right in.

Cecil Magpuri: Awesome.

Abhinav Narain: So Cecil introduced all of your names at the beginning of the podcast, but so that we can put voices to names, can we go around the room and just get introductions from everybody starting with Joe?

Joe Schaefer: I'm Joe Schaefer. I'm a Technical Design Manager here at Falcon's. My background's in mechanical engineering.

Abhinav Narain: Jen.

Jen Prichard: My name's Jen Prichard. I'm at CAD Designer here at Falcon's and my background's in mechanical engineering, as well and some art.

Abhinav Narain: Eric.

Eric Loperena: Hi, my name is Eric Loperena. I'm the Design Manager here at Falcon's and my background is in interior architectural design.

Abhinav Narain: Kevin.

Kevin White: Hi, my name is Kevin White. I'm a Technical Integration Designer here at Falcon's and my background is also in mechanical engineering.

Abhinav Narain: We want to talk about engineering, but let's first establish how your work designing theme parks here at Falcon's is probably a little bit more of a unique approach than what people would normally associate with engineering, right?

Kevin White: What's the thing that everyone always assumes when you tell them you designed theme parks? It's always the same thing, right?

Jen Prichard: You design roller coasters!

Kevin White: Yes, that's it. That's the exact response we always get.

Joe Schaefer: My mom still says that I design roller coasters and tells people. So, that's stress analysis and dynamic loading and static loading and friction analysis and velocity and G-force analysis. Even though we don't do the design for those things, we still have a hand in the design of those things. Because, especially HVAC and MEP, which are usually in the very top of a building, right? They're mounted to the underside of the structure, right? Where a roof is, so a that's a lot of times where that's located. You have to accommodate the designs of that system to work with the theming and the story you're trying to pull off, while not being noticeable.

Eric Loperena: Yeah, the trick is we're doing themed immersive experiences, right? I mean, that's what we want. We want the guest to go in and be immersed in a reality that doesn't exist. We're creating that reality. So, the trick is to make those kinds of things, which are a necessity in buildings and in theme parks to make those things go away. And that's where their creativity comes in. And you know, you've got the engineering background with a lot of the guys here at this table, and lady. They understand certain standards that we can rely on to master these things. Right.

Abhinav Narain: You could have all taken your technical and engineering careers in many different directions. What brought you to the entertainment industry? Jen, you want to start?

Jen Prichard: Yeah, so I've been a fan of theme parks for my entire life. Growing up in Florida and in near Orlando and I knew that I wanted to do something in that realm. And I'd always been science and math oriented. So I was like, engineering, that's the way to go. And realized that I wanted something that involved the creative process more. You know, I didn't want to work for an engineering firm that was doing aerospace or HVAC type things. And that's when I found Falcon's, I realized it was a perfect combination of the technical background that I learned in school and the creativity that I loved my entire life.

Joe Schaefer: Being able to use your imagination is one of the best things you can possibly do. And being able to do that freely and working with a team that understands the end goal in mind and trying to produce something that's really phenomenal is really unique.

Abhinav Narain: Eric?

Eric Loperena: Yeah, I agree with both of them. I actually, I've had the pleasure of working at some of the top architecture firms and design firms in the area. I've always kind of liked to push the boundaries of design. I had a background in theater as well, so that kind of pushed me in a different direction. Working at those firms, there was a lot of a typical standard design that you kind of get- your on a track to do certain types of things. And here the creative outlet is something that I think anybody that has that inside, it's- you find yourself really blessed and lucky and fortunate to find a job where you're able to express that.

Abhinav Narain: Kevin.

Kevin White: One of the really kind of cool things that we do here at Falcon's is not only do we get to the technical design approach and apply our engineering principles there, but we have a say from the very beginning on how these things can come to life. It's not that we're being told what the vision is and we have to figure it out ourselves, we are directly involved with figuring out how this is going to come to life from the moment it's an idea in someone's head.

Abhinav Narain: Everyone's voice and perspective is there at the beginning.

Joe Schaefer: That's rare too. I mean, a lot of places you're told later on, "Hey, this is the idea, this is what we're doing. Try to make this work." But that's not the case here. This is more of a collaborative effort. It's a- everyone is involved the entire time, so everyone gets to see the idea of progress and gets a say in how it turns out.

Abhinav Narain: So how are engineering principles actually used in what you guys do?

Joe Schaefer: I think the biggest thing that comes to my mind is the product development. We have a number of products that we produce, the Falcon's Treehouse is behind and currently even we're working on new iterations for those designs. And we work hand in hand with the concept team and the engineering that's being done for these systems to make sure that we're providing the best system and the best experience in the end product.

Abhinav Narain: That's a really good example of using both technical and creative all at the same time.

Joe Schaefer: And being a part of that from the beginning, being able to take just an idea of "Hey, what if we could make a giant spinning theater" and taking that from there to an actual working model and actual constructed model is awesome.

Eric Loperena: Yeah. We have some incredible talent here on the other side of the office as well, that I have the ability to build these scale models that are operable and to see the technical and the engineering design realized in small scale form. That's pretty cool as well.

Kevin White: I think just being literate in what these vendors are talking about is a huge advantage. Like Joe mentioned, dealing with the engineers at explaining how they think their ride system can accomplish what we want and just being able to understand what they're talking about is an advantage of Falcon's. Not just from ride system engineering but also like projection design, sound design, lighting design, all of that.

Abhinav Narain: Jen.

Jen Prichard: We're involved in every step of the process. And so, because of that and because you've got the concept designers that understand how things will happen in reality and you've got the engineers like us, who have that creative mindset who can think outside the box. Our projects actually become reality and we have a high percentage of our projects that are actually built because we understand what things will be like in the real world, as opposed to designing something that is just not achievable.

Joe Schaefer: I think that's kind of a symbiotic entity also, because as more and more of your projects get built, you learn more and more about what to do and what not to do to make it easier to build projects that then get built, that then make it easier. It's a learning cycle. It's a cyclical thing. And the fact that that's the case, and the fact that that's kind of catalyzed this symbiotic relationship between the designers, and engineers, and everybody in the office, is one of the reasons we're successful.

Abhinav Narain: I assume that most of the time the design work that you do, you are working in spaces that have yet to be built or are, you know, you are defining how the facilities will be created from scratch for the most part? Is that- would that be correct?

Kevin White: Yes.

Abhinav Narain: Okay. What is the process like? How do you deal with designing for spaces that have already been constructed and do not want to be retrofitted or we'll give you that kind of trouble in trying to create a completely new experience in an already existing enclosed facility.

Joe Schaefer: It's hard.

Abhinav Narain: Great, next question.

Eric Loperena: I think, I think the approach in that kind of situation is to be open minded. I think it's easy to fight against it by saying, "Okay, well I can't do this. I can't do that. These are my limitations." Instead, it's always helpful to approach it in a way that- where you were you looking at the buildings, like "What are my opportunities here?"

Kevin White: Right.

Eric Loperena: You know, case in point, we just recently did a project that's opened in Times Square, Ocean Odyssey. It's a National Geographic walkthrough experience and it's composed of multiple scenes and- but it's in the cellar, the sub seller of a building over there. Actually used to be the old printing press for the New York Times. The idea was, you're going on a journey through the ocean depths and you're actually going down into the building. Which you know, you've got the deep ocean at the lowest point of the building. You're rising back up as you're going towards the coast of California and you're actually going back up again, so.

Abhinav Narain: That's a great example of an opportunity that may have been thought of if you had a little bit more free range in the design of the space, but because you had such a constraint, that opportunity really presented itself- you know, was really, really highlighted. That's great.

Kevin White: It just forced us to really kind of sit down, look at the plan and figure out how we're going to make this work and I think that has been one of our more successful projects recently.

Eric Loperena: Yes. Less brute force and more finesse.

Kevin White: Right. Right.

Abhinav Narain: It sounds like you guys really use an entire ecosystem of tools to get the job done. What might be some of the advantages of working in three dimensional software versus two dimensional?

Kevin White: As a client, it's easier to envision what we are trying to explain as the basis or the storyline of the entire park in 3D. I think it's just easier to kind of imagine and pick up what we're saying for people that maybe aren't as in tune with the amusement industry that we are.

Abhinav Narain: It's a little more visually universal to understand.

Kevin White: Right. Yeah, it's much easier to understand. You know, we can look at just a CAD plan and basically say, "Oh, that building is most likely F&B and retail. That building is an attraction building because look, it has a- we have an allocation for a queue and back house" and all that. But it's definitely going more towards having everything, a 3D mask and to some extent, earlier on, in the design process.

Joe Schaefer: Based on what you were saying, Kevin, the general public has a better understanding of 3D objects obviously, but there's definitely a lot of information that can be easily gleaned off of a 2D drawing that is much more time intensive to figure out. Like "How high is this floor off the ground? How many stairs are there here? How long has this ramp?" It's so much easier to tell that information in 2D. But, exactly to your point, like when we work with the 3D modelers, it takes time and practice to understand 2D drawings. It's not something you can just look at and go, "I get it. This is a building and there's a queue and there's this many steps and they're going this direction." And it's- a lot of times we take that for granted because that's how we work.

Jen Prichard: Yeah, that's our language.

Eric Loperena: You know, these are what we're dealing with 3D versus 2D. I mean, these are all tools at the end of the day. You know, which is the best tool to communicate what you're trying to get across.

Kevin White: Great point.

Eric Loperena: You know, obviously in the field, construction documents, construction drawings are all in 2D, elevations are 2D, they're flat. You know, plans are 2D. But then there's also the integration of 3D modeling, which has been great. I mean, that's really huge. It's the idea of approaching things from 3D models and because technology has caught up to where we can do that, it allows us to use those models as a basis for our 2D plans. And that's where we've been able to use some of our CGI guys, some of the digital media guys and their talents. And I mean, those guys are artists in the 3D world. I mean, they put up some of the most amazing stuff for film and things like that. And we're able to say, "Let's incorporate that", you know, "This is immersive, right?" We can actually have this so harmonious, which is really- a real huge advantage that having them right here in house.

Joe Schaefer: I think one of the most powerful things I've seen in 3D is the dawn of the virtual age- the virtual reality age.

Eric Loperena: Oh my gosh, yeah.

Joe Schaefer: And the ability to mass an entire project in 3D and then ride the attraction to be able to see contacts and guest envelopes, reach envelopes. And just see how the ride feels as a whole. It lets you experience something without any investment into construction. And that's huge.

Abhinav Narain: Yeah.

Jen Prichard: It's also great- it's a great tool if some clients- to be able to present that to them. And also when we're done with our design phase, and when everything is designed, and everything is fully massed and themed, we're able to show the client, "Here, you can walk through your space and this is what it will look like."

Kevin White: Presentation

Jen Prichard: Yeah, give them a better idea of what we're designing for them.

Kevin White: Awesome.

Abhinav Narain: Great. Talking about 2D versus 3D, let's talk a little bit about some of the actual software, some of these tools that you actually use and how they work together. Eric?

Eric Loperena: We bring certain things with more of the technical side of the software. Let's say, for example that we use, and then we've got creatives that are on the side dealing more with Photoshop or InDesign. So we're in a situation where we have the opportunity to learn from each other. So, we become a proficient in some of the creative software programs, as well. So there's that- which is really nice.

Kevin White: Yeah, kind of similar to that learning process that Joe was describing, as you get more proficient in software, different from what you learned in your original background education, you can start to make each other's lives easier knowing that their software has this function. If I do that in my software and I do this, that'll be easier to just kind of smooths out the pipeline also.

Eric Loperena: It also helps in ways that we kind of come up with new ways to solve problems, which is really nice. I mean, there's the integration of some of the stuff that we've used with the CGI guys, for example, and I don't want to go back to that, but there's things that- we've created pipelines that didn't necessarily exist between some of these things. I think that that's hugely important when you're dealing with such creative, sometimes overwhelmingly dramatic design, sometimes you're constrained by more technical programs. When you're able to integrate those with more creative programs and you're able to idealize these things.

Kevin White: Yeah, that's a good point.

Joe Schaefer: When I first started here, I knew nothing about art. I didn't know anything about it. I knew I thought "This looked good", I thought "This is great." But I think that one of the things that happens here is that, because everything is so open, information is so free flowing. I've learned what's possible, and what's obtainable, and what makes sense, and how to compose things in art that I would never have learned otherwise. And I think that also flows the other way. I mean, we work based on logic and reason, and how things go together, and mathematics, and making sure things fit and everything works together, and I think that also carries over to the other side. So it's this learning curve that goes back and forth between kind of this left brain, right brain kind of thing.

Kevin White: Yeah, and I think that's really cool, because actually when you're involved so deeply in that process and you see things from the other side, from the artist side, from the conceptual designer side. When you get into project management, you're much more invested in it, and you want to realize that the way it should have been done from concepts. So, that is one of the reasons why, as well, if you look at some of our concepts stuff, concept to reality, they're very, very accurate. I mean it's like, you could almost take some of these renderings that we conceptualize sometimes and overlay it on the end product and it's so close to match.

Joe Schaefer: To match

Kevin White: Yeah, it's such a match, because we have that organic flow of information and we understand and appreciate each other's trades because we're invested in it.

Abhinav Narain: I've often wondered about people in your line of work who are dealing with all the behind the scenes, sometimes literally working with the actual nuts and bolts of an attraction experience. I wonder what it's like for you to then turn around and try and experience something from a guest's perspective. Has that changed how you approach those things?

Joe Schaefer: Someone was telling me that, if you start working in parks, it all- take them- like the magic out of attractions and I couldn't disagree with that more. I find that when I ride an attraction that I usually have to ride a new ride twice. The first time I go on something I always, always look at it purely from a guest point of view. I ride it as a guest. I don't worry about "Where are the projectors?", I don't worry about "HOw big are the screens?", I don't worry about- I don't worry about any of that. I go on it and I treat it as if I'm a visitor.

Jen Prichard: You just enjoy the ride for the ride.

Joe Schaefer: Right, then I do it again. And the second time I look like a maniac because I'm looking behind me, I'm looking around. People are looking at me because I'm not looking forward.

Kevin White: They think that we know like some secret thing to look at when we're just looking at projectors.

Joe Schaefer: It's like, "Oh, Optimist Prime is like, 'Oh, you've done well.'" and I'm like looking behind, there's nothing back there. There's just projectors up there. I'm trying to see how- what the configuration is.

Eric Loperena: It's that innate curiosity is like, "How did they do that?"

Kevin White: Right? "How did they accomplish it?"

Eric Loperena: Yeah, "How is that accomplished?"

Joe Schaefer: And we've done that multiple times. I know Kevin and I have stared at a number of videos in the past just like- sometimes up to like half an hour trying to figure out like, "Okay, how did they pull this off? How did this affect happen?" But I think it's important in our industry to not forget that we're designing things for people's entertainment and you should let yourself be entertained by something that's fun or interesting. There's no way I was going to finish this podcast without bringing this up, but when I was in Disneyland in California for the first time in 15, 18 years or so, I'm a huge Indiana Jones nut.

Kevin White: I knew that was coming

Joe Schaefer: And I rode Temple of the Forbidden Eye, and I told myself "The first time I ride this, I have to just let myself enjoy it." And I got halfway through the ride and my mouth was open because I was smiling so big that it was- I had to shut it because it dried out from the wind on the ride. Ariel was like, "You look ridiculous." But...

Abhinav Narain: Your wife?

Joe Schaefer: Yeah. My wife was like, "You look absolutely insane." But, it was just- when you find something like that, that really inspires you and it's energizing, it's exciting and invigorating.

Eric Loperena: It doesn't matter that you know how it was built or that you know behind the scenes.

Kevin White: If the execution is there, it doesn't matter.

Joe Schaefer: For those five minutes, I forgot everything. Right.

Kevin White: That's what it's about. You've got to be able to detach, maintain your suspension of disbelief.

Joe Schaefer: I don't think we lose that.

Eric Loperena: I think, in fact, I agree with you. It's 100 percent like we're more engaged.

Abhinav Narain: Jen, you had an interesting experience with a recent project that was not related to engineering at all. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Jen Prichard: Yeah, so one of our most recent projects that opened up at Busch Garden Williamsburg, Battle for Eire, I was able to record some of the early on temporary voice tracks for Addie, the ferry guardian of Ireland. And that was just a completely different role of anything I've done and it was so much fun to step into the sound booth and do some of that recording and do something completely different in the office. So when that attraction opened and came to life and I saw the digital media side complete the ride footage and everything for that, and animation, it was so exciting just to see this character that I was the voice of at one point in time early on.

Abhinav Narain: Yeah, you were part of their initial come into being.

Jen Prichard: Yes. The creation of Addie was- it was really, really exciting.

Abhinav Narain: So, you just did the temp tracks, but I have heard that your voice is actually still somewhere at the end of the attraction.

Jen Prichard: Yeah. At the very, very end of the ride, Addie says, "See you later!" as you're landing back on the castle and stepping off of the dragon and everything and that's- if you listen carefully, that's my voice at the end there. So, I have yet to ride the ride, but I cannot wait to listen for that. And, yeah.

Abhinav Narain: Awesome. Guys, this has been a really cool conversation, especially for me. I come from background very different from engineering, so it's been really interesting to hear your thoughts on all of these things. I really appreciate it. Thanks for coming out.

Eric Loperena: Yeah, it's been great.

Joe Schaefer: Thank you for having us.

Abhinav Narain: Well, we want to thank our panelists, once again, for joining us for this conversation. Cecil, what are your closing thoughts?

Cecil Magpuri: That was an amazing conversation. I really resonated with a lot of the dialogue that was being discussed.

Abhinav Narain: Being able to have these conversations with all of these people who come from such different backgrounds and to see how they all fit together in this interesting, almost three dimensional jigsaw puzzle, it's really fascinating.

Cecil Magpuri: It is intriguing and you know, we do it every day and so having to focus on the journey- totally laser focused on a certain point of view of how they add value, is really interesting for me. We know, because we're organically going through the process and it's just almost by nature now, but as we dissect it and talk a little bit further, we're seeing a lot of things that are unique from different points of view, but also what's, what's also the same. I mean, one of the things that I think Joe brought up was, and I think Kevin and maybe even Jen, their parents think they design roller coasters, right? My Dad still doesn't know what I do. Even to this day, with all the exposure and news press and what have you, still, it's hard to decipher what we do.

Abhinav Narain: It's really hard to define it, yeah.

Cecil Magpuri: It's really special and unique. in unique. Right?

Abhinav Narain: Yeah. My favorite part of the conversation is hearing from them that their background in engineering and knowing all of the working pieces, not only has it not hindered their enjoyment of themed experiences, it's actually allowed them to...

Cecil Magpuri: Enhance almost, right?

Abhinav Narain: Yeah. It's enhanced their own guest experience, so now they can get even more immersed, and even having that background knowledge of how it was built just adds value to the whole experience. I thought that that was a really incredible thing, because I could easily imagine it going the other way.

Cecil Magpuri: Yeah. What I really liked hearing was how innovative the team has been on the process of methodology to get it more efficient. Leveraging the content side with the 3D modeling, starting to develop designs and concepts in 3D immediately, it's mitigating so much risk by massing right away. The customer understands it faster, so there's less risk there. So, and the demand for building is faster now than it was in the past. You know, you could probably consider realizing an attraction- 24 to 36 months was kind of the standard. People are demanding nine to 18 months to attraction to open an attraction.

Abhinav Narain: It's accelerated.

Cecil Magpuri: It's accelerated. So that means the burden on us to come up with an amazing concept that meets the metrics of the business model and get it through the pipeline without losing quality means we have to be efficient. And so all of a sudden, you hear the team talking about concept designers learning how to do the engineering aspect for efficiency, but how the engineers are learning softwares like Photoshop and Illustrator...

Abhinav Narain: InDesign, yeah.

Cecil Magpuri: To help understand what the concept side needs to do to do it efficiency, so when it's handed over, it's effective.

Abhinav Narain: Yeah.

Cecil Magpuri: Again, I know, I've seen it firsthand of how we manipulated and created custom code in Photoshop to take on assets in the 3D models to make it look like it's conceptual. So, it's really a really intriguing process that we've honed here at Falcon, so really exciting.

Abhinav Narain: Absolutely. Anything else that we want to cover?

Cecil Magpuri: I'm really excited for people to listen, because I think if I was a student trying to get into this industry, wow, what insight.

Abhinav Narain: Yeah, totally different perspective than what people might initially think of.

Cecil Magpuri: Yeah. Exciting.

Abhinav Narain: Very exciting. All right, well thank you, Cecil. We'll see you in the next episode.

Cecil Magpuri: Perfect. 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.

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