Fantasy of Flight: Kermit Weeks' Vision
Experience Imagination Podcast - Fantasy of Flight: Kermit Weeks
Experience Imagination | Episode 13
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.
Show Hosts: Cecil Magpuri - President/Chief Creative Officer and Abhinav Narain – Creative Content Specialist
Studio Guests: Kermit Weeks - Founder and Owner of Fantasy of Flight, Bob Ward - legendary industry veteran, Robb Wilson - Project Manager, and Stephen Ricker - Associate Creative Director
In this segment, Falcon's Creative Group is honored to host our friend and client Kermit Weeks, the visionary founder and owner of Fantasy of Flight. We are joined by legendary industry veteran Bob Ward and Falcon's President & CCO Cecil Magpuri as we explore the creative journey and developmental challenges of a revolutionary new concept--taking an exclusive inside look at the genesis of a current park project that is sure to turn the attractions industry on its head.
Fantasy of Flight: https://www.fantasyofflight.com/collection/
Fantasy of Flight: Kermit Weeks' Vision Transcript:
Cecil: You're listening to Experience Imagination, a themed entertainment design podcast presented by Falcon's Creative Group. Every episode, we discuss a new topic with a panel of creative professionals.
Cecil: Hi, I'm Cecil Magpuri, President and Chief Creative Officer of Falcon's.
Abhinav: Hey Cecil, how are you?
Cecil: Good, how you doing Abhinav?
Abhinav: I'm doing good. So today's episode, the topic is kind of a really interesting opportunity because we get to talk about a project that is currently in progress for us.
Cecil: Yeah, I think that's a rare thing. I know even for myself and my journey, I've always been intrigued about projects that have opened and I wish that I had insight on the journey, prior to it opening. You know? And so we're excited about sharing this early on.
Abhinav: Yeah. So the project is called Fantasy of Flight and our client for this project is Kermit Weeks.
Cecil: He's such a unique person. For those listeners, you could probably Google him and find out a lot more about him, but for us, I think he's been a breath of fresh air for us, continuing to elevate our thought process in how we go through our traditional journey. He's bumped us off center in ways that are really refreshing and so, just an amazing, unique person it's hard to describe.
Abhinav: Yeah. So in order to talk about this project as we are in the midst of it, Cecil you had the opportunity to actually go down to his site in Orlampa, as it is called and speak with him, as well as Bob Ward.
Cecil: Correct, yes. Yes, one of my mentors going through the industry. Bob Ward and Kermit Weeks met me at their facility of Fantasy of Flight. It's a current location, people may know of it. It's been coined by Kermit as Orlampa and if you go to Google Earth, you can see that it's been adopted, it's a true destination and it lives literally in between Orlando and Tampa. So we went there in the afternoon to kind of do a video walkthrough of the venue and talk a little bit about the high-level vision that Kermit has for what he calls act three, which is now the re-envisioning of Fantasy of Flight as it moves forward.
Abhinav: So, the whole conversation that you had there was amazing and we've taken some of the key highlights from that video and positioned them throughout the rest of this episode. In between each highlight, we're going to get some commentary and thoughts on what was discussed from members of our own team, in-house, who are also working with you and Kermit and Bob on this incredible project.
Cecil: Correct, there's quite a few of us working on the project and we've selected a couple of key players that are on the project team to help add value to the commentary that Kermit, Bob, and I had while we were walking around the venue.
Cecil: Pretty exciting.
Abhinav: Very exciting. Let's go ahead and start with your conversation with Kermit and Bob on-site in Orlampa.
Cecil: Perfect, sounds good.
Cecil: All right, here we are. Amazing times. So one of the things that I think would be important for our listeners is to understand a little bit about the backstory of Fantasy of Flight. If you could give us some insight, that'd be great.
Kermit: Well yeah, I've always been fascinated by flight. I had a short story, I had a museum in Miami, I started there in 1985. Quickly I grew the facility and realized I needed to be where central Florida tourism was because the people were here. I got lead up here, built Fantasy of Flight, we were open for 18.5 years and kind of realized it was very limited to be the airplane museum enthusiast crowd. Over that period of time, I realized there was potential of doing something even grander and it was over that 15 year period where I understood what that was.
Kermit: So after I closed the facility, I met Bob Ward here. Bob was actually at my grand-opening party. So Bob introduced me to you and since then we've been working on this path of trying to understand what my vision is and I think everybody's come from the, not rut of the existing industry, but basically the current mindset-.
Cecil: The current groove that's been defined.
Kermit: Yeah and this is really way outside that and I think everybody has embraced the concept, it's new, it's fresh. And I think it's got purpose and meaning, which is really pretty cool. A lot of the existing industry is about making change, I'm rubbing my fingers together for viewers, but Fantasy of Flight is about making change within.
Kermit: One of the things that happened was, prior to opening here, I always knew for about five years there was something I was supposed to say on the wall. Intuitively sensitive, but I couldn't figure it out, I tried a couple of times to do the creative process and it's like the energy wasn't there or the door was closed. Not that I gave up and I didn't forget about it, but three months, literally we were getting ready to open, three months before we opened Fantasy of Flight, this was downloaded to me in a dream.
Kermit: I woke up, middle of the night, three o'clock in the morning, wrote it down, sent it down to Pat and the guys in Miami. They said "Yeah, yeah, we'll put it on the wall out there," and sure enough it went there and I didn't realize until much later that what was embedded in that, in the long run, was our mission statement, which is to light that spark within. It took me a while to understand exactly what that was, there's a whole woo-woo metaphysical side to me. People know me for airplanes, but I think that's the least they're going to remember me for.
Kermit: What I finally understood was, what's been shown to me is everything at it's core level is basically infinite potential. When infinite potential enters this reality, which is created with light, that's in effect the metaphor of what you truly are bringing infinite potential, coming into this world of light and you expressing into this world in your own unique way. That's what Fantasy of Flight is about, I want people to come here through a theme-park concept and an environment where they literally self-discover and self-transform themselves for themselves.
Kermit: One of the difficult things is, but I think in the long run it's going to play in our benefit, is that it's hard to describe exactly what it is and I think our marketing plan in the future is going to be you're not going to know what it is until you go there. When you go there, you're going to go "Oh my god, this is such a cool thing," and then you can't explain it to somebody and you're going to say "You've got to go there to understand what it is."
Cecil: I feel like once it opens, it's going to be "Oh my gosh, of course!"
Kermit: Yeah, I agree.
Cecil: It's like breathing, this should have been here all this time, you know? It's something that's hard to describe now because it hasn't been done yet, but once it's done, it's going to be "Of course, this has to happen, this is how it should be," right?
Kermit: Yeah. It's going to be really neat. We're starting off small, we're only looking for less than 300,000 people a year to come through is what we're designing for and it's really to take, you know the museum I had in Miami we call act one, all great stories come in three acts, okay? So basically act one was the Weeks Center Museum, we opened in 1985, it closed with Hurricane Andrew. It rolled through Miami and devastated my place. I moved up to central Florida, that was the beginning of act two, we opened in 1995 and we closed the doors, I think, in 2012 to focus on what I'm saying, "Go get a hot dog and a Coke, act three is about to begin," and that's where you guys came in. I appreciate your help.
Abhinav: We're joined now by Stephen Ricker, Associate Creative Director at Falcon's. Stephen, what do you want to add to that?
Stephen: Everyone who has worked on the project goes on what we call a vision tour with Kermit and it's usually a full day of walking around the site-.
Abhinav: Touring the space, yeah.
Stephen: Going through his office, talking about his goals, his past, where he wants to go.
Abhinav: His vision.
Stephen: Yeah, exactly. He's taking us on a tour of his vision. There's a great story from a few years ago, Kermit was at a themed entertainment conference and there was a round table discussion of what's next in the themed entertainment industry and he famously stood up and said "Well, what's the next industry? How are we going to take this themed entertainment industry that tells these rich, compelling stories, and build off of that? How do we make it universally accessible to the human experience?"
Abhinav: Yeah, exactly. It's more than just an evolution in technology and it's more than just an evolution of storytelling, it's a complete revolution in why the story is being told. The purpose has evolved.
Kermit: Walt stood on the shoulders of the previous industry, which was amusement parks.
Kermit: The amusement park industry was a fixed space standing on the shoulders of the previous industry, which was the traveling circus. The traveling gypsy bands got Ringling and Barnum together to create something and make it more exciting and bigger and grander. So it's like, who can come along and what concept can come along that stands on Walt's shoulders, the existing industries shoulders?
Kermit: We're going to make a little stab at it and see what we can do and it uses a lot of the existing industry with the theming, the characters-.
Cecil: Immersion, yeah right.
Kermit: The immersive environments, the ride technology. So when people literally come to Fantasy of Flight, we don't tell them anything. Everything we focus on is common to the human experience, there's no value system attached to it. They basically, the way we deliver the entertainment, they can't not reflect on where they've come from, where they're at, and where they're going. So it's their internal process that is their own self-discovery and potentially self-transforming process. That's kind of what I want to do.
Abhinav: I'm joined now by Rob Wilson, Project Manager for Falcon's Creative Group.
Robb: Hi Abhinav, it's great to be here.
Abhinav: So as a member of the team who is deeply involved in this project, what is the orientation process like to even begin-.
Robb: How do you even set off on a journey like this? That's maybe the way to put it for Kermit is, it's going to be like a journey. There's no easy start and stopping point like there would be in other well-defined scopes that you have where you know you're starting on this date and you have to finish by this date and you have to realize this thing in this way. Because Kermit has a passion in his mind for what he wants to bring to people. If that were delivered through a completely different technology even than parks, if we were to discover some new avenue, we would want to pursue that, he would want to pursue that.
Robb: That's probably why I mentioned that even as audience, it's going to be helpful for the audience to know some about Kermit's history, where he came from to today, because even as a designer, the most critical thing was just learning what Kermit's feelings and thoughts are on the world, what he's done with his industry, what he's done with his accomplishments with his collection, with what he wants to bring to the world, that's the first step. You have to get inside of Kermit's mind, which is a wildly imaginative and experienced place. The man has seen things that other people never get to see, he's experienced things that other people never get to experience.
Bob: Kermit also has this great saying too that expresses that in a nutshell, which is it's really about that which draws us beyond what we think we are.
Cecil: Yes, right!
Bob: To be more of who we really are.
Kermit: Truly are, yeah.
Cecil: Yeah, truly.
Bob: That's very inspirational and is aspirational and Cecil, I have to say that you and Falcon's represent that. We were fortunate to work together at Universal, but you're very much a renaissance man as Kermit and I am and I believe to look at some reference point, the renaissance is a time where you were multi-talented, multi-crafted, thought in many different ways all toward a big idea. That's what we're about too, we're not just doing the next big thing of what already exists.
Cecil: Exists, exactly.
Bob: That's not it. We're doing what doesn't exist.
Cecil: It's creating something that's never been done before.
Bob: And it's hard to find really, and there's a lot of talent, but it's hard for them to make the leap outside the box, you know? And you embrace that and even more so, you have personally put together a team at Falcon's that share that same insightfulness and vision and passion and it was easy. Now that we've been together for several years exploring ideas, it's really exciting where it's about to go.
Kermit: Yeah, there was no idea in my mind after meeting you guys a couple of times that you guys were the right choice. Not only led by Cecil, but everybody I've had out here. The vision tour and everybody, from my understanding, wants to be on the project, are excited about it.
Cecil: It's unbelievable. If everyone could participate, they would. Everyone is so inspired by this project and they want to be a participant and help it get realized. There is true passion in the firm, it's unbelievable.
Abhinav: Why do you think that passion is there, what is it that's really captivated everyone's attention here and is so inspiring?
Stephen: Wow, where to begin on that one? So much of what we do is entertainment for entertainment's sake, which is fun and entertaining obviously, it can be exciting, but this is using entertainment to really capitalize on the potential of everybody.
Abhinav: Yeah, to go deeper, to give you something more-.
Abhinav: Right, right.
Robb: If there was a moment where the right combination of words being said to a person is the most impactful thing, Kermit would rather be nothing but those words said to them on a speaker. There's a moment where somebody needs to completely decompress from such an emotionally intense experience and have time to reflect on that, Kermit would rather focus on that reflection space and that time and space than throwing more entertainment value at them. Not only is it not a value system, one of the things that's really special about it is that it's so philosophical and it's so common to the shared human experience that there is no dogma. It's purely a philosophy of thought, it has nothing to do with and would never infringe upon or override anyone's personal beliefs or dogma, it would only utilize those personal beliefs as a way to look deeper within themselves.
Kermit: I think it's important too at this point to defined what Fantasy of Flight is and how the name came about. A lot of designers are going to be listening to this, when you go through the creative process, we use the phrase throwing spaghetti on the wall. Like if you go to write a book, you start throwing spaghetti on the wall and stand back and look at it and go "Well this needs to be in the beginning, this needs to be at the end," and if you follow the energies of that, it creates itself okay? And I think that's-.
Cecil: It unfolds. I remember when we first met, we talked about that and I used the analogy of Michelangelo finding a stone and, as he chipped away at it, it's already there. In his mind, it's some parts are softer and some parts are harder and I would just chip away and it would then naturally come out, right? It wasn't like he was sculpting it, he was revealing it, right?
Kermit: Exactly! Exactly.
Cecil: You're creative journey as you talk about writing a book, spaghetti on the wall, you're following those energies as if it was kind of there written, but you are now just going through the journey of letting it unveil itself.
Kermit: Exactly. I think at some level it already exists in another reality, it's just our job to bring it into this five sense one that we experience. Basically I think at this point it would be good to explain Fantasy of Flight and when we were coming up with the name, we threw spaghetti on the wall and basically were throwing words like museum, aircraft, collection, greatest, worlds, flight, all that kind of stuff. There was a book on the shelf called Flight Fantastic and somebody at the time actually coined Fantasy of Flight and it's like when you resonate with something, it's almost like my focus went right there and I knew exactly that was the name.
Kermit: I chose it and what I discovered was this concept of flight because I have a fascination with not only physical flight, but inner flight as well as the whole woo-woo side of me.
Cecil: And there's a reason why. Right.
Kermit: What I realized was, if I had to find a more profound metaphor than flight for pushing our boundaries, reaching beyond ourselves, and freedom you can't. In the physical worlds, everyone can relate to reaching for the sky, reaching for the stars.
Kermit: Within us, we soar on our imagine and we fly on our dreams, which has nothing to do with airplanes. It's the metaphor of flight of the human spirit, it's what Fantasy of Flight is about. What Bob said with one of the definitions of Fantasy of Flight, Fantasy of Flight is that which leads us beyond what we think we are to become more what we truly are. What we truly are is infinite potential. We all have potential to go beyond ourselves. The human experience is basically four elements: body, mind, heart, and spirit.
Kermit: It's interesting too, I knew a long time ago before I even hooked up with you guys, that everything the big boys around me do, create characters, park icon characters and stuff like that, specifically Walt, I knew I needed to create my own Mickey Mouse kind of character. So I've written a couple of children's books, my fourth one is at the printer now, I've created my park icon character, which is Austin the ostrich, okay? The metaphor being we see reality from a limited perspective, so we all at some level have our heads in the ground. Each of us, we look at our wings and go "Hey, I'm a bird, I have the potential to fly," and so there's that dichotomy of seeing reality from a limited perspective, but at the same time we have the potential to go beyond what we perceive ourselves.
Cecil: And happens to be my four-year-old daughter's favorite book.
Kermit: Oh yeah, no way!
Cecil: Yeah, yeah.
Abhinav: There's a mass relevance to this project and there will be, could be a mass appeal to this project, but there's a whole dimension of the crowd-size and getting the numbers and meeting that quota.
Robb: Metrics, it is interesting.
Abhinav: That's not relevant to the nature and purpose of this project.
Robb: Not even slightly.
Abhinav: So it completely changes the design process.
Robb: There may be entire other firms and studios who just couldn't work on this project. They wouldn't understand what Kermit wants, it would seem like it's going in circles because he's reevaluating the true meaning of the purpose of a message and you think you're going back to the drawing board on schematics or technologies, it's just the evolution. It's the natural evolution of trying to realize such a profound ethereal concept and realize it physically, realize it auditorially, realize it viscerally. I think a lot of other firms, a lot of other studios, and even sometimes some of the people in our studio, have to take a step back and let those of us who know that we can feel Kermit's message, let it matriculate and evolve from there. Then you have to get back into the feeling. You can't do this from an analytical perspective. You have to feel Kermit's philosophy.
Kermit: Right now we're basically at the point where we've done the 30,000 foot view, we've pretty much got a pretty good footprint of what we're going to actually build probably. I think there's going to be a little bit of tweaking there. We've got our list of attraction elements that we're going to deliver and we've got them all listed and we're diving in a little deeper with space requirements and where you put the bathrooms and maintenance closets, and back of house.
Cecil: Yeah, all the logistical sides are coming into play. Design is an important part of success, right? You have to take a vision and go through the process to make it real. Traditional construction and architecture have nomenclatures and language so people understand of all those who are going to be involved in realizing it, have to have a common language. We're using that common language for something that is not part of the common product. We're coming up with new parallel types of description that still can be communicative for those who are in a traditional building process, right?
Cecil: So that's the challenge. We are decipherers of language, so we're coming up with our own Kermit language that allows us to communicate how to build it so everyone still understands what this means is similar to this. It's been fun actually.
Kermit: Yeah and it's still kind of an evolving process. I came up with a design mission and I-.
Cecil: And it's always in front of every deliverable we've done.
Kermit: It has to go through that.
Cecil: We read it again every time we ideate.
Kermit: I was at one of the local 800 pound gorilla parks here, eating lunch with the guy that was running the design aspect and they didn't have a design mission. I was very surprised.
Kermit: So anyway, I told everybody, our purpose here is to create an opportunity, we're not here to change and save the world, but through what I think we're going to create, we're going to deliver the tools with which the world can change and save itself.
Abhinav: Stephen, they talked about the actual process of having to almost throw the traditional book out the window and come up with new language, the Kermit language, can you tell us a little bit about what that process is like? What are you changing? What's different?
Stephen: We have a language that we speak, a short-hand of "Oh yeah, this is the queue pre-show, yada yada," that sort of thing.
Abhinav: In traditional-.
Stephen: In traditional themed entertainment.
Abhinav: It might not be applicable any more, in this new type of experience.
Stephen: Exactly, we're not looking at queues, we're not looking at pre-shows because it's not all about that main show experience. We've come up with terms like the immersive threshold and core experience, reflection spaces, to better articulate these actual activities that they're doing in this actual physical spaces.
Abhinav: What are your thoughts on this part of the conversation?
Robb: When we describe how it's hard to say what this is, it's hard to give you a one-liner on what this is, I think it's not as hard if you look at it somewhat of an even higher altitude, which is crazy to say. Instead of getting more detail, get a little bit higher up, which is that Orlampa itself, Kermit sees as a center point around the world of self-improvement. A focal point for people to come from. The park being the genesis of that, but then into these greater concepts that we'll reveal over time of what he wants to build the city into. Kermit really sees this as a focal point epicenter, the way you would look at blue zones as epicenters of human health and improvement, the way you look at different areas that people go on retreats and conferences too, some of these areas in the world that are known for their different specialty niche fields, Orlampa he wants to be that world epicenter for self-improvement.
Abhinav: Was there anything that you wanted to add to this?
Stephen: They touched on the design mission and how we create these experiences.
Robb: It's there at the beginning of every deliverable that we present.
Stephen: Absolutely and it's something that we utilize all the time.
Robb: It's our guide.
Stephen: Yeah, it's our guide we harken back to it a lot. Off the top of my head it's still, "to design in a manner that is thought-provoking, emotionally engaging, that bumps people off center, and potentially lights that spark within, in a way everyone can relate to."
Abhinav: We want to thank Rob Wilson and Stephen Ricker for joining us on this episode. Cecil, I think that was the perfect note to end on, don't you?
Cecil: Incredible, yeah, I got goosebumps. We're living and breathing that design filter, but for him to put that in closure was spot-on.
Cecil: I know we, as designers, often have that in the back of our heads, not always literally put into the package, but I found that at first, I was resisting being so literal and constantly being reminded of those design filters because I felt like, "Hey, we do this, we understand it," but what it's taught me is that when we do put it there, it's reminding everyone to get on the same page as we continue to dive in, to ideate.
Cecil: But it's all the way down to the details, questioning if that still helps build the goal.
Abhinav: Yeah, it acts as both a guiding compass on a macro-level and also a tool for decision making when you're down there in the weeds.
Abhinav: And have to make cuts or changes and really have to hone in on what is the most successful iteration of the project.
Cecil: And I think for those who are listening that are designers and create vision, obviously you could start to get heavy with too many design filters at every stage and question it, it's like music. There's complementary chords and there's majors and there's melody, so when we do think about the details, it's not saying literally "Is this answering that vision? Does it add value in it's profound nature?"
Abhinav: Contribute to-.
Cecil: And contribute in maybe a complementary tune or melody versus always the main melody. So it gets pretty profound when you start thinking about it, but ultimately what it does is help you refine and be clear about what the goals are at every altitude of your design process.
Abhinav: Well, it is of course a challenge to condense such a profound idea into a single podcast episode for us, luckily there will also be the video that Kermit will be uploading on his own social media and we will provide the link to that video in the description of this episode. I want to thank you, Cecil, for having that conversation and also just joining us for today's episode.
Cecil: You bet, I'm glad to be here.
Abhinav: Just as a reminder, if you have any questions or comments or ideas for future episode topics, you can email us at email@example.com. Again, that is firstname.lastname@example.org. All right, we'll see you in the next episode.
Cecil: Sounds good. Thank you so much.
Cecil: 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.