Experience Imagination | Episode 14
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: Daryl White - VP of Global Licensing and Business Development, Nicolette Korpolinski- Compositor, Kevin Idoni - Marketing Director, Benjamin Allen - Interactive Designer, Phoebe Hicks - Marketing Specialist, Bruce Sereta - Senior Concept Designer, Joel Rey - CG Asset Supervisor, Jennifer Smeresky - VP of Finance, and Saham Ali - Director of Technology
Each member of the Falcon’s team has a unique story of how they started their career in themed entertainment. This episode takes a closer look at some of those journeys through a collection of brief interviews that give insight on professional influences, turning points in careers, advice for breaking into the industry, and more.
Foot in the Door: Career Beginnings Part IITranscript:
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. Hi, I'm Cecil Magpuri, President and Chief Creative Officer of Falcon's.
Abhinav: Hey Cecil, how are you?
Cecil: I'm really good, I'm really good.
Abhinav: Yeah. Well, this is an exciting episode. We're coming back to our Foot In The Door episode. This is part two, back by popular demand. It was a popular episode.
Cecil: Yeah, it really peaked on our status bar, right?
Abhinav: Yeah, our statistics. We'll go ahead and jump into the episode. It's me interviewing people from around our office with some really brief but really, really interesting conversations about how everybody got into this industry.
Cecil: Yeah, it's pretty exciting to see that diversity of how people journey.
Abhinav: Yeah. Yeah, the different journeys, the different experiences, and it all comes into this melting pot.
Cecil: I'm excited for people to listen.
Abhinav: Let's jump into it.
Daryl: Hi, my name is Daryl White. I am the vice president of global licensing and business development for Falcon's Creative Group.
Abhinav: So Daryl, the first question I have for you that I'll be asking everybody is was entering the themed entertainment industry a surprise or was it always part of the plan?
Daryl: Actually, I can say that I started in the amusement industry back in 1985. My very first job was selling plush at Holiday Bazaar at Magic Mountain.
Daryl: So that was my very first job. So yeah, I've got a long history in the industry.
Abhinav: It's always been part of your life in some way.
Daryl: But that being said, I stepped away for about 20 years.
Abhinav: To do what?
Daryl: I ended up owning a machine shop, automotive machine shop and I built race car engines for many years, loved it.
Abhinav: That's awesome.
Daryl: And unfortunately when the great recession came around, turns out people didn't have money to build race cars anymore. I ended up taking a master's program in engineering technology, and as I was finishing up that I got a call from my father-in-law who's been in the industry for over 40 years and he said, "Hey, why don't you come with me on a trip to England?" It ended up turning into a week long job interview.
Daryl: With him and a colleague of his, and so at the end of it I was offered a position working for Dynamic Attractions at their parts and services division in Arlington, Texas.
Abhinav: And that was your foot into the door.
Daryl: That was my foot in the door.
Abhinav: So Daryl, who or what has influenced you as a creative professional?
Daryl: Really, I have to say that as a lot of my background was technical in nature, since I've been working at Falcon's, working for Cecil, he's been such an incredible creative mentor.
Daryl: I really haven't had the creative background as so many of the people here at Falcon's have had, and it's just amazing to see the way that he thinks about things creatively and how he's able to put those ideas down and generate a discussion with our team about that, so he's been very influential for me and me learning about the creative design process.
Abhinav: Awesome. What advice do you have for people who are hoping to get into this industry?
Daryl: My advice is to follow your heart and follow what it is that you love to do because nothing will get you further than your passion and when you're doing that, take advantage of all of the networking opportunities that you can. Join clubs, go on LinkedIn, join different forums and things like that. Get out there and talk to people who are doing it because that's the best way to generate these options that'll get you further in your career.
Abhinav: Thank you so much, Daryl.
Daryl: All right, thank you.
Nicolette: Hi, my name is Nicolette Korpolinski. I'm a compositor here at Falcon's Treehouse.
Abhinav: Cool. Nicolette, was working in the themed entertainment industry a surprise or was it always part of the plan?
Nicolette: It was for sure a surprise.
Abhinav: Yeah? Okay.
Nicolette: I didn't expect it at all, but then again I went into college in the first place to become an engineer.
Abhinav: Oh, really?
Nicolette: So the entire change towards more creative artistic side was a huge surprise. Yeah, I was three years into a mathematics program when I changed my major to a new animation program that had started at my school.
Abhinav: What triggered the change?
Nicolette: I wanted to try something that I was more passionate about, I guess.
Nicolette: Because I went towards math and engineering because I was good at it, because numbers made sense in my head. Physics worked for me in my brain.
Nicolette: But I've always had a more artistic side. I've always been a hobbyist when it comes to creative things, and I was just like, it was the beginning of my third year in college and it was literally the second day after we had done registration and I'm like, "I'm not happy."
Abhinav: Oh yeah, so-
Nicolette: "I need to change something."
Abhinav: A change needed to be made.
Nicolette: And they had just started this program and I was so intrigued by it because I had always been interested in these things but I never expected it as a school or career path, and I just literally went into the registrar office on my second day of my third year...
Abhinav: And made the change.
Nicolette: ... and made the change, and I'm so happy that I did.
Abhinav: So you made the change into the creative field. You mentioned animation.
Abhinav: How did animation lead you into compositing and on a more general level, at what point did the industry of themed entertainment enter that timeline?
Nicolette: Themed entertainment entered the timeline after I graduated from the Dave School and I was working with the previous owner of the Dave School actually, who had started his own company, Jeff Scheetz, and I remember coming over here one day when we were going to sit down and talk with Cecil, and just walking in here and just being-
Abhinav: Seeing the office.
Nicolette: Seeing the office and seeing everything going on over on the design side and on media side, and just completely blown away and like, "This is a thing?" So when an opportunity came up to come work here, I was very excited to jump on that and come figure it out, and it's the same but different and it's so unique but very exciting work.
Abhinav: Totally, and that's how you got your foot in the door.
Abhinav: Thank you so much, Nicolette.
Kevin: Hi, I'm Kevin Idoni, marketing director here at Falcon's.
Abhinav: Kevin, did you always want to work in themed entertainment? Was it always part of your plan?
Kevin: It was always a part of the plan but I didn't know if it was going to happen or not because I come from the e-commerce and brand marketing realm, but I've always had the aspiration to work in the themed entertainment industry.
Abhinav: To be in this space, kind of thing.
Kevin: Yeah, and I was engaged in Disney World in December of 2017 and when my wife and I were leaving, we were just like, "Why don't we live here and really try and make a crack into the industry?"
Abhinav: Here in Orlando, yeah.
Kevin: And so went back home where I was living then and just started doing all the research possible. So I'm now into April 2018 and looking, seeing who is in the industry, what the industry's all about. I learned that a lot of the attractions at Disney World and a lot of the bigger theme parks are actually third party provided. I think a lot of people don't know that, that there's actual firms who build attractions and things.
Abhinav: Yeah, there's a whole dimension to the industry that isn't very public facing, necessarily.
Kevin: Exactly. Well and also, too, because it's not shared unless you read a press release sometimes, right?
Abhinav: Yeah, yeah.
Kevin: And so then really diving deep on what the industry's all about, I then came across the Experience Imagination podcast and I remember listening to the July 2018 episode. I forget what episode it was, but I remember it being July and I listened to every episode that was available then, and then did my research and found out that we did Dark Castle and Dark Castle was one of the rides that sparked the idea to work in the industry. Dark Castle was a big one. I remember when that opened back in '05 and going on it and remember how differing it was, so that's what sparked, "Man, imagine if you could work in this industry."
Abhinav: So just to get this straight.
Abhinav: Your foot in the door was technically this podcast.
Kevin: It absolutely 100% was.
Abhinav: That's awesome.
Kevin: Because I started listening to the podcast and then got to the Foot In The Door episode.
Abhinav: Yeah. The first part, yeah.
Kevin: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and downloaded that episode into my brain on what it takes to work in this industry because that was a question, right? And the number one thing that came across from everyone was passion, and so I really took that in and applied, applied, applied and I was hoping to hear something back and I did, and ensued that passion in the interview and here I am.
Abhinav: That's awesome.
Abhinav: Thank you so much, Kevin.
Kevin: Yeah, thank you.
Benjamin: Hi, I'm Benjamin Allen. I am an interactive designer here at Falcon's.
Abhinav: Ben, was themed entertainment a surprise or was it always a part of the plan?
Benjamin: It was a complete surprise.
Benjamin: I had absolutely no expectations. I wasn't even a major theme park fan. It just kind of happened that the stuff I was interested in, which was game development and VR, had a sudden overlap with the industry.
Abhinav: The timing worked out really well.
Benjamin: Perfectly. Absolutely perfectly. I was in the right spot at the right time. That just happened to be what I was looking into.
Abhinav: You said that you were really interested in game development and virtual reality. What's interested you about that?
Benjamin: I really like the story telling capabilities that video games provide. I've also been really into movies my entire life and I think getting into gaming was a natural evolution of that. The way you can push a narrative, the way people can interact with a narrative was really what brought me into it. Just ways to play with people's expectations. There are much more opportunities to surprise people when things are interactive.
Abhinav: That's very true, yeah.
Benjamin: So that fluidity was what spoke to me, and when I think about this it gets me thinking about other things and that's what I like about that.
Abhinav: It's a nice jumping off point for the full experience.
Benjamin: Yes, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Abhinav: So once you figured out that the right way to explore these interests of yours was in the themed entertainment industry, how did you get your foot in the door? What was that process like?
Benjamin: Well to be honest, those were like one in the same. Figuring out about this was getting my foot in the door.
Abhinav: You got your foot in the door before you realized there was a door to enter?
Benjamin: Pretty much, yeah. So I had just been looking at job boards and finding listings online and I saw one that said, "Falcon's Treehouse, Interactive Designer," and I was like, "Cool, well I like designing. I like designing levels in games, so let me see what this is. What is Falcon's Treehouse?" So I went to the website and I looked and I was like, "Oh, this is really interesting stuff. Let me go ahead and apply," and that's yeah, I just happened to find it.
Abhinav: So the lesson is keep your eyes open for where your skills and interests could take you even if you don't know what it is at the moment, right?
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah. I just found any job related to design that I could and it led me here.
Abhinav: Cool. Who or what has influenced you in your career?
Benjamin: When I went to college, I started for movies. I wanted to make movies.
Benjamin: It was in the college period that I figured out, "Okay, well I like gaming more. There's more potential here to me, so let me swap to that," and part of that was Anthony Burch, who wrote Borderlands 2, hosted this crazy web show called Hey Ash, Whatcha Playing that I watched all the time, looking at what he was doing with narrative story telling in games, and following along with that kind of allowed me to get into this space and realize what I fully wanted to do and how I wanted to push narrative.
Abhinav: Cool. Thank you so much, Ben.
Benjamin: Yeah. No, thank you.
Phoebe: Hi, I'm Phoebe Hicks and I'm the marketing specialist here at Falcon's Creative Group.
Abhinav: So Phoebe, same question I ask everyone. Were you surprised to find yourself working in themed entertainment or was it always part of your plan?
Phoebe: It was actually a complete surprise for me.
Phoebe: Well, I had graduated with my bachelors in marketing and advertising in public relations, so I am doing what I-
Abhinav: You are technically doing what you graduated for.
Phoebe: Yeah, but as far as the industry, that is what is a surprise.
Phoebe: I kind of had in mind was what my dream job would be, and all of that I found at Falcons'. Not doing the same thing every day, every day's exciting, and working for a company that has exciting incredible projects going on and exciting stories to tell and help push those out.
Abhinav: So your dream job was more about the work ecosystem and the company culture than it was about specifically what industry you were in.
Phoebe: Exactly. I think I found the perfect match with this industry because it has all of that in there.
Abhinav: So how did you find Falcon's? How did you get your foot in the door in this industry?
Phoebe: I was living in Missouri at the time and I saw the post calling for a marketing intern and...
Abhinav: You answered the call.
Phoebe: I answered the call. Well, I reached out through mutual connections and was able to form that and I left a full-time job for an intern position, so it was so exciting to me. I took a big leap of faith to be here and it was a risk that ended up paying off.
Abhinav: Do you have any advice on networking for people who might be in that position right now?
Phoebe: Yeah. The more networking I've done more locally, I've learned a lot more, like the TA NextGen is a great way for students to get out there, and then all of the TA events are great things to join, and then personally just asking your own contacts who they might know. I saw that position and I reached out and saw who knew someone who worked there.
Abhinav: What did you use to figure that out, LinkedIn or...
Phoebe: Yes, LinkedIn but also Handshake.
Abhinav: I've never heard of that. What is Handshake?
Phoebe: So Handshake is a platform for college students where they can go and see a list of opportunities that are out there and Falcons job was listed because the marketing director at the time had listed it there, so I was able to reach out to people who knew him from there.
Abhinav: That's a really valuable resource for students out there, because it sounds like it's directly catering to that demographic.
Abhinav: Thank you so much, Phoebe.
Phoebe: Yeah, thank you.
Bruce: Hi, this is Bruce Sereta. I'm a senior concept designer here at Falcon's Creative Group.
Abhinav: Perfect. Bruce, was working in this industry unexpected for you or were you always planning on this?
Bruce: To be quite honest, up until about five years ago I didn't even know this industry existed.
Abhinav: I mean, that's definitely true of a lot of people so...
Bruce: My background is in advertising.
Bruce: I've worked with most of the major Fortune 500 companies and major agencies across the country. Doing this kind of work is completely out of my wheelhouse at first, doing theme parks and experiences such as that.
Abhinav: I can imagine. Yeah, it's a completely different dimension.
Abhinav: How did you get your foot in the door? What was it like to discover this industry and how did you become a part of it?
Bruce: After moving here to Orlando, I sent out samples in search of... I was working for myself at the time, so I sent out samples of my work looking for and trying to expand my client base here. I got a email from the creative director here at Falcon's Creative Group saying they were interested in talking to me. I came in, we interviewed for a while and ended up working contract.
Abhinav: So you started contract and then that eventually transitioned into a full time?
Bruce: Yeah, I was supposed to be a three month contract. After about two, three weeks, they called me in and asked if I would be interested in doing full-time.
Abhinav: Cool. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Bruce: Over the years, one of the things that I found that keeps me busy is having a wide variety of styles. I like to see evolution in the work and in my own as well.
Bruce: So just picking a style and sticking with it my entire career, I don't think I would have been as busy as I have been.
Abhinav: So always try to find the next challenge.
Bruce: Yeah, keeping your bag of tricks.
Abhinav: What about for artists who were hoping to get into the themed entertainment industry specifically?
Bruce: Again, the more you have to offer, the more you bring to the table. If you're only good at drawing watermelons, you're only going to be busy when someone needs a watermelon.
Bruce: Okay, so...
Abhinav: The amount of work you can get hired for is limited.
Bruce: Exactly, and well, a place like Falcon's, there's such a wide variety of clients that we work for and different types of venues, you need to know a little bit about everything and be able to adjust and adapt.
Abhinav: Awesome. Thank you so much, Bruce. We'll let you go back to drawing watermelons.
Bruce: Very good.
Joel: Hi, my name is Joel Rey. I'm a CG asset supervisor here at Falcon's.
Abhinav: And Joel, were you surprised to work in themed entertainment or was it always part of your plan?
Joel: No, it was a surprise.
Abhinav: Yeah? Okay.
Joel: I wanted to work locally because my family's from West Palm and most of the jobs are either Canada or California and I wanted to stay close, but since I was a kid I liked theme parks. We didn't have that many. I'm originally from Cuba, but the one that we had was an hour and half to get on the bus and get there.
Abhinav: Oh, really?
Joel: Yeah, kind of really old, some things didn't work, so for me it was exciting to, "Oh wow, I can get into that industry."
Abhinav: Yeah. So you said that you're a CG asset supervisor. How did you get into that line of work? What's your background?
Joel: Background mainly when I started was doing video games.
Abhinav: Oh, really?
Joel: Yeah, but since I went to school I knew that I wanted to be an environment modeler.
Abhinav: Okay, cool.
Joel: And contextual artist, so I started gearing my work towards that to try to get into the industry doing hard surface environment layouts and stuff, so.
Abhinav: Yeah, and how did you get your foot in the door?
Joel: Back when I finished school there was, too sad they don't do it anymore, but there was this conference called Evolve 3D.
Abhinav: Evolve 3D?
Joel: It was run by Manny. He works in Dreamworks and he wanted to do something local in Florida, and part of it were like conferences, master classes. Also there were companies there doing the hiring.
Abhinav: So it was like an organization that kind of helped with networking and education?
Joel: Yes, yes.
Joel: And then they brought companies in that they were local, so I was fortunate enough to get my foot in the door in a company down in West Palm.
Abhinav: Awesome. For people on the media end of things who might be looking to get into this industry, do you have any advice for them?
Joel: Yeah, my main advice would be find out what you love to do the most. Sometimes we get demo reels that I can't tell if you want to be an animator or a modeler. Even just a couple of pieces, sometimes the less the better.
Joel: Yeah, because sometimes we see like 10 or 12 pieces but you can tell that they were kind of rushed just to get more in there.
Abhinav: Sure, so quality over quantity?
Joel: Yes, definitely. If you want to be an environment artist, make sure you get out your comfort zone and do more organic surfaces because a lot of it is geared towards doing rocks, plants, organic stuff and that's kind of what separates you from the good demo reel.
Abhinav: Yeah. Well, thank you so much Joel.
Joel: You're welcome. Thank you.
Jennifer: Hi, I'm Jennifer Smeresky. I'm vice president of finance for Falcon's Creative Group.
Abhinav: And Jen, was working in the themed entertainment industry a surprise or was it always a part of the plan?
Jennifer: It was definitely a surprise.
Abhinav: Yeah? Okay.
Jennifer: Yes. So the cool thing about an accounting background is that it applies to all types of industries.
Abhinav: Everything, yeah.
Jennifer: So you have a wide variety of places that you can end up. My history started out in an automotive parts company.
Abhinav: Oh, really?
Jennifer: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Went to a timeshare company.
Jennifer: Also, I worked for a medical implant company that specialized in spinal fusion, so a lot of different industries but I was looking for just a better opportunity for myself.
Jennifer: So I actually stumbled across an ad in Craig's List.
Abhinav: Really? For a themed entertainment position?
Jennifer: It was not. It was just for an accountant position. The company was not listed.
Abhinav: Oh, okay.
Jennifer: So when I got a reply from our CFO, Marty, I did a little internet sleuthing and looked up the domain name and...
Abhinav: Found Falcon's.
Jennifer: ... came out with Falcons.
Jennifer: So it was a nice surprise, yeah.
Abhinav: Craig's List.
Jennifer: Craig's List.
Abhinav: That's an interesting way to get your foot in the door.
Jennifer: This was 11 years ago.
Jennifer: So it was much more acceptable to do that, looking for jobs on Craig's List.
Abhinav: How did you get your foot in the door into the accounting world in general?
Jennifer: I grew up always going to work really with my mother who was an accountant, and that was actually at the automotive parts company that I worked for. She was their controller and brought me in ever since I was a little kid, and eventually when I was old enough I got my own job there working as an accounting support role.
Jennifer: And worked there actually from high school through college.
Abhinav: Do you have any advice for people who are looking to get into this industry?
Jennifer: The people that succeed in this industry are always looking to expand their array of capabilities.
Jennifer: So not just focus on one specific area, but to be able to provide support in all aspects of either the design or the media production roles that are here. It's very helpful to always keep learning.
Abhinav: We definitely talk a lot about versatility.
Abhinav: The term renaissance person is thrown around a lot, and I think that's very relevant, so that's great advice.
Abhinav: Thank you, Jen.
Jennifer: No problem.
Saham: My name is Saham Ali. I am the director of technology for Falcon's Creative Group.
Abhinav: So Saham, did you always see yourself working in the themed entertainment industry or was it a surprise?
Saham: Total surprise.
Saham: Yeah, my background was really in IT and then I kind of went down the route of computer graphics and career wise ended up finding the niche of being kind of IT for studios that do computer graphics, and then through the evolution I touched a little bit of everything. Anything that required tech, really, and then had the calling one day of coming here, and I took it.
Abhinav: So you were approached or you saw a position that was posted?
Saham: It was interesting. I actually got called here as a consultant to kind of like, "Hey, we're having these issues network wise," and I kind of came in and did a whole audit effectively, told them what needed to be fixed, and at that point I didn't hear from anybody for what was to be probably about a year or two, and then the next thing you know I got a call two years later saying, "Hey, you know that thing you did a couple years ago? We'd like you to just kind of do it here." I'm like, "Yeah, let's do it."
Abhinav: That's awesome. The technology space in this industry I think is always evolving at a tremendous rate and it feels like there's always new opportunities, and maybe even new positions and avenues from a professional standpoint. Do you have any advice for people who are in that kind of space who might be interested in getting in this industry?
Saham: Don't be so quick to judge a lot of the emerging tech. I end up going to SIGGRAPHs and these conferences where a lot of R&D science experiments, just weird stuff that has no business application necessarily and a lot of them, 90%, will just go and die on the grape vine. But then it takes somebody that has the vision that can take a little bit of this, something I saw here and, "Ooh, wouldn't it be good if we connected these two things," and then voila, you have this thing that has never been doing before. And that's kind of what I really like to do is finding abstract technologies, techniques, whatever they may be, and seeing how we can either fix a problem or create a solution to a question that somebody hasn't asked yet.
Abhinav: Yeah, exactly. Cool. Thank you so much, Saham.
Saham: My pleasure.
Abhinav: I want to thank everybody from around the office who participated in this episode. As always, it is so incredibly fascinating for me to hear everybody's stories.
Cecil: Yeah, I'm excited. My son [Kaino 00:25:07] is 17 now and he's looking at what colleges to go to, and I've asked him to listen to our podcast and of course, it's Foot In The Door was the one that he can gravitate to. It's insight to people's journeys into careers and so it's really insightful even from a high school level, not even college students or interns or even those who have been in the industry to get more insight. It's been very refreshing seeing that through his eyes.
Abhinav: I think it's fantastic that this has become such an educational and valuable resource for our listeners, but I also just wanted to say how educational it is for me.
Cecil: For us.
Abhinav: Yeah, yeah. Even just learning about the people that I'm working with.
Abhinav: Like Daryl used to build race car engines in his garage.
Cecil: He still does, 2000 horse power.
Abhinav: Oh my God.
Cecil: It's crazy.
Abhinav: That's crazy. You interact with these people every day. You laugh and joke and work with them all the time, but then you find out all of these different chapters about their stories and I think it's been just as awesome for us as it has been for the listeners.
Cecil: Definitely enriching, for sure.
Abhinav: Absolutely. Well, thank you, Cecil.
Cecil: You bet. Thanks, Abhinav.
Abhinav: As always, you can email us with any questions or comments at [email protected] Again, that is [email protected] We love hearing from you, we love hearing your ideas about what we can cover in the future, and we love responding to your questions so please keep them coming. We'll see you all in the next episode.
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 Falcons Creative Group on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.