Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My Top 10 Theme Park Design Books

So I have a pretty extensive theme park book collection. I am sure that many of you have some kind of collection as well since we are lucky that so many good books have been released in the last decade. Amazingly, theme park design books are actually a popular genre of large format books, with a few good new ones just about every year, covering basically everything to do with Disney parks. Imagineering as a topic, each individual resort, books by famous Imagineers, books on individual disciplines, and collections of art are all widely represented.

And I have a lot of them. Books like this are really my primary collection, which I enjoy because the books have real use and value. They are great sources of information and inspiration for how theme parks are designed.

So this week, I want to start a potential series of Top lists by sharing my favorite theme park design books with you.

These are my Top 10.





Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making Magic Real

I'm starting here with one of the first of the now popular genre of theme park design books, and possibly one of the best. This is organized along the design process, from inspiration to construction and includes literally hundreds of great photos and pieces of concept art that you may have never seen before. This is the book that starts it all and really reveals in detail how Imagineering works. Just looking at all the images in detail can take hours, plus the text is incredibly informative. 

This was the first book about Imagineering that I had and likely the first to make me aware that designing theme parks was something you could actually do. So I guess this books a little important to how you are reading this.

Definitely worth having if you want to know more about the general idea of Imagineering. There appear to be some used versions on Amazon for ok prices. A great book to start with.





Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real

And then came the equally great sequel. Since this is much more recent, it is able to expand on how Imagineering has changed over the years with new technology, new rides, and new parks. This one is instead organized into the theory of design and the tools of design, but still covers the same expanse of topics with all new photos and art. Especially great is all the art and photos of the more recent international parks, including everything before Shanghai. A lot of this stuff I had never seen before.

This is another great general overview kind of book. If you want to start a collection, these two books are where to start because of their availability and their look at the entirety of Imagineering's projects and processes.

And this one is still available on Amazon for a good price, so a perfect place to start. 







Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance

This book begins to look at the design of parks from a more theory heavy perspective, and therefore is much less of a picture book and more like a text book about theme park design. This is by far the most analytical of the books I have and takes a deep look into the architectural and planning design of the parks and the effects they have on the experience. Its thorough. But has great information if you want to have a better theoretical understanding of why the parks are designed like they are. 

This one is available used for good prices, but this wouldn't be my first suggestion for starting a collection. Pick this one up when your ready for a more involved look at the parks. And when you are ready for a long read. 




Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show

This is a smaller book but it makes the list because it was written by John Hench and shares a lot of his personal strategies about design along with a lot of his great art. Plus I am partial to all his work on Tomorrowland, and this is filled with those images. I also really appreciate that part of this comes to design from an art perspective, with chapters focusing on the art of visual storytelling and the art of color. By the portfolio of projects he left us, we know that he knew what he was talking about, so I see this as an especially valuable book. 

I believe there are two versions of this book, with varied price levels on the used market. If you can get it, its a great book, but if you can't, the more general Imagineering books are an acceptable substitute. 




Walt Disney's EPCOT: Creating the New World of Tomorrow


Moving on to the section of park specific books, this is the ultimate document of the design and construction of original EPCOT. With sections on each pavilion and country, this is filled with photos and art of how EPCOT was and should have been. There is so much stuff that I had never seen before in this book since I never saw original EPCOT.

Plus it is just incredible to see all the alternate concepts that never were. EPCOT by far had some of the best concept art used in the design of the park and a lot of it is in this book.

The only pitch this book needs is that if you love EPCOT, you need to see this book.

This book again has multiple versions. The two I have are one that is the thick complete book and one smaller condensed edition. There are used listings online for really good prices, but I don't know how to tell between the two versions because they have the same cover and title. The ISBN for the better version is 0-8109-0819-0 if that helps find it.





Disneyland Inside Story

The Disneyland specific book on my list is included for its photos of Disneyland construction and the early days of the park. It covers a good bit of Disney history, heavily focusing on the creation of the park and the years before Walt's death, ending in the mid 80's, where a chapter describes Tony Baxter as part of the new generation of Imagineers.

It's probably the best Disneyland general overview book you can get besides the famed and extremely expensive Nickle Tour book which I don't own. But that's ok, this still has an amazing collection of classic park photos.

This one you can get used for pretty good prices online and is worth it for the images and history lesson.





Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality

This is another very well known book that for a while was reaching crazy resale prices, but has returned with a second printing. This is the best book about Disneyland Paris and fantastically shows off the details and beauty of the park. There are hundreds and hundreds of photos of the Disneyland Park and the overall resort. 

The most amazing part about this book, and what makes this completely unique among the books here, is that it is a fan created and published book, not directly created by Disney like every other book here. It's an incredible feat and is worth getting if you want to see more about Disneyland Paris. 

The author and publisher put out a second printing for the 20th anniversary of the resort 5 years ago, and amazingly still has some copies for sale from his website here. Its a little expensive, but if its your kind of thing, it is worth the cost. And available in French and English editions. 





One Day at Disney

This book makes the list for me because I think it was the first time that I realized there were multiple Disney parks all around the world. This book, like the title suggests, shows the events of a single day around the world, at all 4 resorts that existed at the time. 

It is not as spectacular as some of the other books here, but I found it incredibly cool to see the parks around the world and more interestingly see a look into how they work. Since its one day around the world, it includes pictures of how the parks and cleaned and maintained over night, which I found really cool. There's some great candid photos in the book as the focus of the book is not really the image of the parks but how guests and cast members use the parks. So its a good contrast to the architecture heavy books around this. 

This book seems to be a bit more expensive online than I would say it is worth, but if you see a deal, its a pretty neat and unique book especially if you are interested in the logistics of the world wide Disney operation.




Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture

This book is here because of my specific background as an architect. There's some good information about the general design of the parks from an architectural perspective. But way more interestingly, the parks are only about 1/4 of the book, with the rest about nearly everything else Disney touches. Hotels worldwide, Disney corporate offices, the Town of Celebration, Downtown Disney, Theaters, and even the Cruise Line are covered, though the majority really is the hotels.

There's a lot of great images of all the hotels with good theory commentary about how they were designed. It definitely was written for readers who can understand and appreciate the architectural design practice of the included projects but the images are plenty if that isn't for you. 

This is yet another book with multiple versions. The one above is more recent and includes more recent projects. Between the two versions, there are a huge variety of prices online. I have to laugh that currently Amazon has listings for both at less than $30 AND over $1,000 simultaneously. If the great pictures of the hotels and resorts or the architectural theory are your interest, this book is probably worth it for the right price.




Maps of the Disney Parks
And last, the most recent of the books in my collection, and maybe the most specialized. This book has an assortment of maps, art, and concept pieces of all the parks around the world. Maps, as I am sure you can tell by reading here, are my kind of thing, so I was definitely into this book just from the name. 

The best part of this book is just the sheer amount of high res concept pieces there are on alternate versions of the Disney parks we know today. Organized by each park and including Shanghai, this gives new information about basically every park. If you like maps, this is your book. 

It's just less than a year old, so you should have no problem finding this one. 



Last, two special mentions that I did not include. The Art of Disneyland and Art of Walt Disney World books are really great collections of concept art for both resorts. They are both extensive and show a lot of stuff that is not found in any other book. They are really among my favorites, but I didn't include them because they are both out of print and therefore really expensive on the resale market, at least $200 or so. Everything else I listed above should be quite a bit cheaper than that. If you can get these and like concept art, they are worth it. 



So that's my Top 10 Theme Park books. Just a small part of my collection, but some great pieces. 

So, how many of these do you own? What are some of your favorite pieces of you collection? Let me know with a comment and we can talk books!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Islands of Adventure Park Plan v2

This month brings an updated version of the Islands of Adventure park plan that I posted just about a year ago.

This, along with the two Paris park plan revisions posted in the last few months, begins in earnest the effort to publish updated versions of many of the existing park plans from the first year of the blog. So that means that thought is starting to go into revisions to the four Walt Disney World parks and possibly minor revisions to the Disneyland parks from last summer. These are some of the most popular posts for a reason, so I want to keep them current in regards to real life developments and just changing ideas. I think I have some good ideas going, so they should be good posts.

And to start, I return to Islands of Adventure, a really fantastic park in its current state that has a lot of expansion potential.



First, a bit of theory that guided my planning. This is somewhat repeated from the original plan, but it all still holds true.

Islands of Adventure was originally designed with a really unique theme and organization of a ring of separated "islands" based on literary property genres, tied together with the conceit of an entry port where the residents of all the islands intermingle. That is a pretty well defined concept that almost technically still holds true so many years later. That's unique among theme parks, where generally the theme and organization dilutes over time. It was finally broken with Reign of Kong just last year, but I'm kind of ignoring that.

The other unique thing about this park is just how much of it can be replaced right now. Each land has at least one expansion area, and two whole lands could be entirely replaced right now for the better of the park. That's a lot to work with.

So with these possibilities, I had some personal goals. Overall, I wanted to maintain the original concept and structure because of how well it was originally defined.

First, I wanted to make sure to keep distinctly divided islands. Some of the island transitions had existing water barriers, but some did not, so I want to make it so that guests always cross water to travel between islands. Logically, that makes sense to repeat the bridge transition.

And second, in my choice of additions, I stuck to the literary source theme and actually began to set up a structure of literary relationships between islands. This is something that isn’t supposed to really be evident, but helps me, the planner, understand how the park is structured.

The situation of the park presented me with two major holes on opposite sides of the park, surrounded by established lands. In general terms, the left is action/sci-fi comic books, a void, and then sci-fi/thriller fiction. The right is whimsical fantasy children’s fiction, another void, and then contemporary high fantasy fiction. The left is adventure, the right is fantasy. I attempted to keep these trends with my selections. Additionally, I knew realistically that nothing would be added to this park if it was also not based on a film property, so that further limited my possibilities.

But still, these goals are a great place to start and I think my plan successfully expands the park with the original intent intact.



And now, walk through the park starting at the entrance.



No changes to Port of Entry, besides adding prop and text references to the characters of the new lands. This is already a great entry land, so no need to try to improve it.

However, there is an ideological expansion to the land across the lagoon. I always found it odd and unfilfilling that the Jurassic Park Discovery Center acted as the practical weenie for the main entrance corridor. It felt off to me to base it on a single land and it wasnt as grand or impressive as it could be. So, just like in my last version of this plan, I decided to include a new individual island across the lagoon to provide for the view terminus of Port of Entry. Aligning with the literary theme, the island holds The Library, a large structure with an impressive facade that is a cross between the eclectic Mediterranean style of Port of Entry and a more traditional Beaux-Arts Library, like the New York Public Library. It is meant to fit in with the style and view of this entry land, but also be able to be its own thing. The idea is that The Library has always been there, and that over time, the beloved stories that emerged from it populated the Islands of the park to create what we have today.

The interior therefore includes a grand entry hall with references to the books that created the park, a large retail space that is designed as the book stacks, a counter service resturant with outdoor patio on the right side, and a second level table service restaurant that looks back out over the lagoon. The book stacks retail would be dressed as if the elements of each story began to grow out of the bookcases, and now the themed merchandise specific to each land has filled in the space.

This concept of adding this neutral land may be a bit impractical, but I like the idea with respect to the thematic concept and the balance of the park. It would create some nice symmetry and finally give the park an in-park icon to pair with the lighthouse.


Back to the front of the park, the land next to Port of Entry, Marvel Super Hero Island, gets just a few alterations and is the same concept from my original Islands plan, because I still think it is the best concept for the plan.

The architectural style of the land is updated to reflect a more realistic city, so the oversized comic book characters are removed and some actual materials replace cartoon materials. It is still clearly a comic book land, but just with a higher level of detail to help match the quality of the hyper realistic areas of the rest of the park. This is a move throughout the park. The Wizarding World lands have set a new benchmark for thematic detail in this park and resort. If possible, I think the rest of the land should attempt to follow suit to a lesser degree to make a more cohesive park.

The Hulk is slightly modified. The rear area of the attraction behind the land is rethemed and the track is partially enclosed. Trees and fa├žade flats surround the track area to reshape it into a city park that the Hulk speeds through. Then, after the brake run, the track dives into an enclosed building where the Hulk barrels through destroyed office and lab interiors in the dark. The final brake runs and track back to the station are enclosed and themed as the lab where the experiment went wrong. Again, this is a move to up the immersive quality of this area.

Replacing Storm Force and Fear Fall is a new large dark ride based on the X-Men family. The entrance is to the left of the dining location, which is also rethemed to the X-Men, and exits to the alley between attractions where there is also a permanent meet and greet building with Marvel heroes and villains, supplementing those that meet on the streets.


Next is the land replacing Toon Lagoon, which needed to be based on adventure literature, and also needed to be able to transition from city to jungle. After looking at a lot of possibilities, I decided on a land based on horror literature, because it can tie into the Universal Monsters Universe that is being created. I see this as the perfect fit for this park. Unfortunately, it is hard to design a land based on films that are years away from reality. I have no idea what the time period or visual style of the movies will be. All I know is that the lineup will include the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Van Helsing, which are the properties I ultimately selected because I could realistically see them being set in similar environments. That is why I declined to choose the new Mummy movie, because desert just would not be as successful a transition between lands.

Guests cross a new water way separating the two lands and enter a forested modern Eastern European village area. I'm just assuming they will keep the traditional Eastern European setting for these kinds of monster movies, but alternately, this area could be any kind of village. Three of the retail and dining buildings from Toon Lagoon are salvaged and redressed as the village with expansive changes to the facades and interiors. To the left, on a rocky plinth, is a stone castle that sits overlooking the village. Inside is the main Dracula vs Van Helsing attraction, a trackless Haunted Mansion style attraction that is heavy on animatronics and special effects. The main village is made of retail and dining facades as well as a small attraction for the Invisible Man. An interactive special effects walk through show lets us meet the Invisible Man in person as the props of the room come to life. This would take advantage of Musion effects, live actors, and a lot of automated effects.

The rafts attraction remains, but is rethemed. The reason I did not remove it like the other attractions of the land is because I think it is too highly integrated into the waters edge. Also, I think it could be reworked into an attraction for the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The village transitions to a jungle expedition camp, so the vegetation of the area around the rafts is built up. The existing queue buildings and infrastructure are maintained and rethemed. The actual track is the same but more of it is enclosed in rockwork caves so that there can be more indoor show scenes for encounters with the Creature. The ship playground is removed as well. The final lift building is reworked as a cave and a new indoor section after the splashdown features the final scare from the Creature before unload.

The third and final area replaces Ripsaw Falls. The heavily wooded area is the home of the Wolfman and a wooden coaster. The queues travel through a gypsy camp in the woods. The coaster is mostly indoors, where is speedily weaves through the forest, avoiding the attack of the Wolfman, and ending with an outdoor loop by the main path.

These predictions and design may prove to be completely inaccurate to the character of the final films, but these are my best guess for an area that would work in Islands of Adventure.


Jurassic Park is next. This version is completely different that the first Islands plan, just because I decided that the popularity of the Jurassic franchise warrants something big and better. Therefore, this plan proposes the removal of Jurassic River Adventure, Camp Jurassic, the Discovery Center, and most of the intermediate buildings. Basically, just Thunder Falls Terrace remains intact. I removed all this because I decided that I could get more attractions and therefore more capacity and more impactful experiences in the same amount of land. The River Adventure too up a huge amount of land, and you will see that I subbed that out for two attractions, so I am happy with the decision.

Side note about Kong: it's incompatibility with the franchise and the literary model put me in a difficult place to decide what to do about it. At one point, I considered not including it as a hypothetical situation, or maybe retheming it to Jurassic Park, but I decided to most realistically let it be, but separate it from the main land and let it kind of just be its own thing on its own island. So Skull Island exists as an unofficial island, with a water transition to both other lands. Best I could do.

The land of Camp Jurassic is basically replaced by a shifted path and Jurassic Park gate, so that Kong can be isolated. This leads right to the clearing ahead of Thunder Falls Terrace, just as now, and past that is a similar body of water with a boat flume runout. Right is the path through the jungle, but a new Discovery Center is visible straight ahead. Also visible is three different transportation system attractions, all winding their way through the land.

On the right side is a new suspended family coaster, replacing Pteranodon Flyers, but using basically the same queue and load building, because it is well ingrained into some nice rockwork. This would be not just a kids ride, but a longer and higher capacity family friendly coaster that windows over the right side of the land. It's still short, but with larger vehicles, it would at least have a reasonable capacity.

Also on this right side, in order left to right, is a mini Camp Jurassic, a Raptor meet and greet like they have now, and a Dino Encounter pavilion, where you can seen an animatronic dinosaur up close.

The left side is the main attraction, a very large boat ride. I had a unique idea to split the ride into two buildings, with an outdoor segment in the middle. The dinosaur scenes are always going to look better inside because the figures can be better maintained, but I definitely wanted to keep an outdoor element. It loads outside in a similar building to the existing, and into similar boats to the existing. But then the interior showscenes are simulated jungle, not industrial space like the current ride. There, we have better encounters with dinosaur figures and the expanse of the park is increased with projected vistas over the valley. The transition outdoor segment leads us into the second half, where things eventually get darker. A more prolonged and intense encounter with a T Rex (or similar large terrifying dino) leads us over a waterfall. I think the value of the T Rex encounter isnt in passing it quickly, but in staring it down eye to eye, so I would like this to be a longer moment. The waterfall leads to a splashdown in the outdoor lagoon, though it is a more reasonable and minimal fall, like those in Pirates of the Carribean, not the huge fall there now.

The Discovery Center straight ahead is the load for the last attraction, an overhead peoplemover style ride that uses Gyrosphere bubbles to ride along the track. It loads on the upper floor of the Center, above the great hall, and then takes a loop first through the area of the coaster, passing the raptors, then crosses the path and goes over the river ride, and finally into the same two showbuildings. The idea is to get a second view into those scenes as well as some individual scenes for this attraction. The Discovery Center also has a small counter service location, with patio seating under large canopies.

The path then leads under a second Jurassic Gate and to the rear courtyard of The Library.


Next is the Wizarding World, where there are two big additions. First, to the left of the castle and Forbidden Journey is a Great Hall dining experience. The path along the greenhouses lead to a cave entrance that is themed to be the side entrance to the kitchens. Inside, by magic, we are transported to the entrance hall of the castle, and then into one of two Great Hall dining rooms. I included two so as to allow for good capacity and a high amounts of theme. The dining rooms are on the second floor, above the kitchens. Magical effects above entertain during the family style meal.

The other significant change to the land is the complete removal of Dueling Dragons. Even if it is a good coaster, it does not match the high realism of the land, and there are better uses of the land. This area becomes an expansion of Hogsmeade and the Forbidden Forest. A second backstreet of Hogsmeade has more retail and relieves congestion on the main street. It is on this side street that the first of the new attractions is located.

I originally decided that I wanted to add in a dark ride through the environment of the castle, since Forbidden Journey is so quick and expansive. But then I had to do some logical planning with the rules of Harry Potter to understand how I could explain a ride through the castle. Luckily, it worked out perfectly by taking advantage of the secret tunnels out of the castle. There are multiple that we don't know where they end, but the Weasley twins know each and every one. The conceit of this attraction is that the twins are operating an unofficial tour of the castle, sneaking guests in through a secret tunnel from a shop in Hogsmead, and then guiding us through many of the more interesting spaces of the castle. This would be a true dark ride with all physical sets and a lot of effects.

Back by Hagrid's Cottage is the entrance and queue for the new Forbidden Forest attraction. This area is the stables for the variety of animals he cares for. The queues wind through the roughly constructed paths and stables to the load building, which is the Thestral stable. This is nearly perfect, because it means that the ride can use autonomous vehicles but still be in theme. The ride is a carriage ride through the magical and terrifying forest, beginning with an outdoor section and then inside the show building. The scenes inside are heavily based on animatronics and environmental special effects. This is a much more family friendly attraction than Forbidden Journey.

Near the village is a new larger permanent arena venue for the Triwizard Rally. Also, in the next land, the theater is removed, so the forest surrounding the train station is grown so that the land is better isolated.


The next land is the second void. I like Lost Continent, but as it has been shrunk, its lost effectiveness and the remaining attractions are lower quality. This new land needed to align with the fantasy literature theme of this side. I decided to look through future film releases by the studios that Universal often work with. After some searching, I found the perfect option. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword will be released by Warner Brothers this summer, and is meant to be the start of a franchise. This fantasy history property fits perfectly. Now there is a good chance this will flop and the franchise hopes will die. But I'll reconsider the land once that happens, though I don't see as obvious of a future film for this area. Oh well.

I removed all the attractions and buildings of this land except for Mythos. The land is small, so I decided on one main attraction. Looking at the attraction types at the resort, I saw that a large scale boat ride was missing (except for the Jurassic Park boat ride I added, but that is a bit different). Set behind a castle facade across an elevated bridge, the boat ride explores the action filled world of the Knights of the Round Table.

The main area of the land is set up as a Medieval village with small retail and dining around main town square. On the other side of the elevated bridge, there is a small area and stage for periodic knight shows, which would feature swordfighting and other showmanship skills.

Mythos is reworked into the location where Arthur found Excalibur, or some other location from the films. Again, this is all a guess based on my assumptions for the style and locations from the film, but from the trailer, I have a pretty good idea.


Last, Suess Landing only has minor changes. The One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish spinner is moved to where the play area is now. The expansion plot becomes Whoville with small retail buildings and an indoor family coaster/dark ride through the story of the Grinch. The mountain sits high above the land.


The park day culminates in a new fireworks and media show on the lagoon. I believe that the park was designed for this all along because each land features existing viewing areas on the water edge. Like other 360 degree shows, it would feature mainly low level pyro launched from a barge at the center of the lagoon as well as fountain effects. I drew in a 360 degree fountain screen, which could be used to cool effect.



That completes this updated version of this park. Overall, it adds or changes 11 attractions and expands every land substantially. And from the last version of this plan, one entire land is a different concept, and the execution of the concepts for three other lands moderately changed. I think it is a much better overall vision and I am happy with the result. 

Let me know what you like or don't like about it. And suggest an alternate to the King Arthur land in case that soon proves unrealistic. I would love to hear your ideas about a different direction for this land. 



Next month is what I meant to have this month, a detailed plan for my new Tomorrowland at Disneyland. I put a lot of work into it, but needed more time, so I moved this up instead. Tomorrowland is going to be a really good one, with a lot of design for the overall land plus one new attraction design. 

Check back soon and follow on Twitter to keep up. Thanks for reading!