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Posts from the ‘Themed Entertainment’ Category

The only thing constant is change

For four and a half years now I have been happily working full time for Universal Creative. I was hired to be part of the new Creative Core. The idea being to have an in-house design dept along the lines of Disney’s Imagineering.

Needless to say I was excited and very happy to be part of something like that. From 2016 to late in 2018 that’s exactly what it was. The studio was rapidly expanding and I got to work on tons of projects, most of which I cannot even mention here for obvious reasons.

I can say that I worked on the effort for Nintendo world producing key art, design sketches and some of the marketing art that’s been released.

I am also very proud that I did quite a lot of work for the recently released ” Hagrids Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure

Official poster for the ride, not sure who did it…

I was actually put on this when I first came aboard. I worked alone for about a month and then a small team was created. At that time the effort was to come up with options for replacing the aging ” Dueling Dragons ” coaster. This was a challenge as that coaster was incredibly popular!

Old entrance to Dragons…

This effort eventually led to the current ride But by that time I was on other projects. I still produced a lot of design work for the ride. Some of which you can see below.

Working for the Core was kind of a dream gig, we were involved with every project Universal has in development. We even got to design the bluesky pre Concept for the future “ Epic Universe “. During this period I worked literally 5 minutes from home and really felt a sense of belonging. Great co workers great projects and a great environment!

Then everything changed, in one motion the entire studio was re organized and everyone was moved out to work on individual projects. It was a massive restructuring and now the core is just a shadow of itself. Don’t get me wrong I was happy to go join a team for The new park as it’s a chance to be part of something truly amazing! I can’t say much about it but rest assured it will be phenomenal, a real game changer…

Conceptual birdseye of the new park, pretty sure this was done by Pat Vogtli

BUT THEN ANOTHER SOMETHING SOMETHING…

Along came the Covid…

We’re still here, I’m still on the project, working from home since March. And I know how blessed we are to be able to do that… but the end date is fast approaching. It is obvious Universal along with everyone else in the world has been hard hit by this pandemic. People are sick and tired of feeling isolated and many of us desperately need to work to survive. This virus is pointing out serious flaws in our system. Our current federal leaderships incompetence has done nothing to solve the problem and people are scared. Our parks have opened up here in Florida a bit pre maturely IMO . But hey it’s Florida home of alligators on meth and ” Florida Man “.

The folks down the street ” Disney ” are being more cautious. Who’s correct remains to be seen, These are really challenging times and until we get a vaccine every move is a risk. At the end of the day they must do what’s best for the company to ensure its future and for now that means letting people go…

I am truly thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the Universal family. I’ve enjoyed working alongside some of the most talented creatives in the world on projects that have and will bring joy to so many people. I am looking forward to working for them again when things are better…

Working as a designer is a great job but you must remain flexible and ready to move with the flow because trust me these things move in cycles, Even if the Covid 19 had not thrown everything off kilter we were most likely headed to a downturn… who knows maybe once we get past this virus things will come roaring back. hopefully in November, America will have a change in leadership and we can get back to producing great work around the world…

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone who’s maybe a bit scared of what’s happening right now it would be this. Fear and worry will do you no good. It’s natural to be concerned in uncertain circumstances but you must try and remain positive. Take this down time and use it to your advantage if you can. Do some new paintings or designs, work on a personal project, take online courses, learn a new software etc etc… it doesn’t really matter what you do so long as it’s productive. This will help keep you in a good place mentally and spiritually. Then, when opportunity comes ” and it will ” you’ll be ready to act.

This is the third time I’ve seen the economy tank, 2000, 2008, and now 2020, it seems to be built into the system, what goes up must come down.

For my own sanity I am going to focus on preparation now. Update the portfolio, Re-organize the workspace, prepare my studio for efficient freelance and Begin to reach out to old and potential clients. I’m learning Blender 3D and have begun to explore VR on the Occulus. We are even planting a vegetable garden ūüôā

Like I said, change is the only constant…

I hope whoever reads this is well and safe.

Talk soon

Just a quick dip

I haven’t been back here in forever. A lot has changed since my return to the US. I am not approaching my 2 year anniversary working in house for Universal Creative I am a Senior Attraction Designer working on the concept team with Universals Core. I have worked with Universal on and off over the years but never as an employee. Its been fun and I am excited to be working on some of the best Themed Entertainment projects in the world but I would be lying if I said I don’t sometimes miss my freedom :p

the nice part is I get to work with some really amazing people on stuff like this… Obviously I cant take credit for anything but this painting and even that was based on a 3D massing model but pretty exciting regardless, and people are gonna love this land which will eventually make it to Hollywood and Orlando…

done for US Japan’s Super ¬†Nintendo World…

Someday soon I will come back and finish some of my previous China post and maybe talk a bit about what I am doing now and future plans…

Thanks for lookin
D

Design Of Park One…” The week After “

Our first presentation a great success we head into the  third week in good spirits, ready to refine the design and make whatever changes are needed to satisfy our client. At this point its obvious that means satisfying Chairman li, as his opinion is the only one that counts. Having spent more time with him now, we realize that while Charles is a nice guy but has no real authority. This is a real top down organization, the chairman ruling his people like a king or dare I say emperor.

OK just kidding…

EmperorLi

Jake seems happy which means the koreans are somewhat happy, honestly they are a tough bunch to read…I have never worked with Koreans before outside of classmates and its an interesting scenario. Dr park is pretty funny, having more english then originally apparent, he likes to crack jokes and tease the Americans, especially Doug. His favorite words seem to be “big problem” said with a stern tone…The younger koreans are extremely deferential to him, I am told by Chris this is very typical in Korean society where males are dominant and age is respected…

Every day at lunch time the korean team all grab their lunch kits and head for the cafeteria for the Lian Bang meal.

I know I had a much better picture of these things somewhere, they were actually very cool and we all had one given to us,of course the Americans promptly forgot which ones were which and eventually we just stopped using them anyway…

Lunchpail

We started calling Lunch break, Salt Time as the food was extremely seasoned no low sodium here! The whole company would sit in a communal break room and eat from the kitchen…After eating ¬†lunch, Dr park just gets up and leaves his dishes and utensils to be gathered and cleaned by Kathreen, the only girl, I guess women’s lib didn’t make it to korea yet…

Just Kidding :P

Just Kidding

Ok just Kidding and those gals are Japanese anyway ūüėõ

The very real danger at lunch time was the possibility of running into the chairman who will insist on drinking Baijui with his American team… after the second incident I began to skip lunch. After the meal Lian Bang and the Korean team ¬†all shut down and nap for about an hour Dr¬†Park snoozing from his giant lazy boy chair at the rear of the room.

I didn’t take this pic but its too perfect not to share…

NapTime

Brian is a good sport although its apparent to me he is miss-placed in his role as project manager, the guy is a good designer and comes up with great solutions for design problems, but for some reason Jake insist he try to manage the project. His English is much better then any of the other DPI team so his contribution is extremely important. Chris continues to be helpful but its also apparent he has no real authority within the DPI organization. All decisions end up going to Jake which causes some stress as he is rarely there, and not really aware of the realities we are facing…

Thankfully Doug seems to relish the increased scope of his role and pretty much has assumed the overall leadership. I guess thats kind of his ” Thang ”

Doug in Charge

Doug in Charge

Oh Yeah!

Very Exciting...

Very Exciting…

Purty!

Mini MOOSE

Mini MOOSE

More and more I am being brought in to help him as a pseudo art director as well as guy doing the art… over the period of this project I will learn more about contracts and the managerial side of the business then ever before… Working on projects in Asia is a real lesson in cultural differences for a westerner, not only do you have to solve the issues of the project but you are constantly checking to ensure that what you are saying is actually what is being heard. It gets even deeper when you consider that even with perfect translation there are certain base understandings of reality that differ between English and Chinese. I assume this goes for all languages groups. Its becoming very obvious that we will need a dedicated translator for the project to move forward. The koreans are really not up to it, and the best we have ‘Sarah” works¬†directly for our¬†client…This difficulty is felt by everyone on the team¬†and our particular scenario is 3 pronged, Chinese Korean and American, fun for all…

Chairman Li holding court…

Kinginhiscastle

hand waving and big gestures gallore…

MeetingOFtheMinds
James (Eskelletons man‚ĄĘ) seems to be causing more issues; but as he has no english skills, its not really affecting us directly. The koreans are not so lucky. It turns out there is a lot of animosity between ¬†Jake and James, James having somehow edged his way into this position right after Jake fired¬†him. In fact the two of them had been working to land this project for DPI, but Jake felt James was miss-representing what DPI¬†could do and being dishonest. To make it even better, we find out much later that James actually wrote a great deal of the contract, which at this point we still have not seen…

This guy was funny, in a not so funny way…

Lookin at You Buddy

Lookin at You Buddy

According to Sarah who works directly for him he is aggressive and bad tempered much like what Brian told us from the beginning. Apparently he is trying to make up for a complete lack of experience with bravado and bullying tactics… Thankfully for me, I get to focus more on the artwork then the project politics, only running in to it now and then or when pulled into a strategy meet with Chris and Doug.

Due to the workload we have agreed on a complex strategy to get the large amount of design artwork produced in time for our final client review in late Aug, only 1 ¬†month away. We are bringing in another designer Paitoon Ratanasirintrawoot, an ex Disney animator who was recommended by one of Dougs many contacts, he will work with us in country for the month. At the same time Cindy White and Rhonda Counts two other ex Disneyphiles will assist from the USA. Also to round out the effort is Ronnie Rodriguez ¬†;whose company does live show production and designs costumes for Disney, will be providing us with some designs for the parade characters… My lovely wife who by nature of her education and life in the USA¬†is well suited to come and assist with Doug¬†as our dedicated translator.

Fanny in the Garden

Fanny in the Garden

Over There see?

Over There see?

Fanny has already been here to visit me and meet the team but as an added bonus it turns out a substantial chunk of her dad’s family is actually living in Shijiazhuang. Her Aunt actually lives just a few blocks from the work site…She hasn’t met them but I know we will. You couldn’t make that up if you tried…

Me and Leo Gann Fanny’s Cousin…

Me & GunnGunn

Me & GunnGunn

Next up the real work begins…

 

First Review

It’s kind of funny but here I sit on a Fri morning, in Shenzhen trying to figure out how to finish this story. Its taking too long, but as I write I realize its actually very¬†important for me to get¬†this down. The last two years on this project have been some of the most intense experiences of my career. I have met amazing people, seen and been involved in things I never would have expected, and genuinely enjoyed myself ” most of the time anyway “. ¬†Honestly, I have not worked harder on anything since my days at Art Center.

To date we have completely Conceptualized¬†a “gianourmous” park 4 times with 3 unique themes . The team doing this at no time exceeded 8 people, most of the time being¬†closer to 4. In case you don’t know this is completely ridiculous… The conditions were hard, the client somewhat crazy and always unpredictable.

In spite of our best efforts I can not say what the future holds for¬†this project, we have a great design and a great core team but there is still a huge amount of work to be done…

To make it even more fun, I leave tomorrow for Beijing and a possible reboot of the project‚Ķ again‚Ķ. ¬†I think this makes the 5th reboot but I am getting ahead of myself…

 

OKIE…

Our last entry had us completing the first real day on the project, meeting the team and going on site to see the construction.

At this stage we have a pretty open concept based on our clients wishes, the site and what the DPI¬†team has produced so far. My first impression was correct, there has been no real development for the theme park. ¬†They have done some prelim work on the water park portion and ¬†since that’s right around half the current scope I feel better about our partnership. It’s also interesting to note that Dr park has actually done quite a bit of engineering for us based on his previous experience with Lote world in Korea. This is good as it never hurts to have an engineers viewpoint on design, to make sure things will fit and¬†actually work. The one drawback to Dr parks efforts are his idiosyncratic work style which does not include the use of a computer. The man doesn’t even have one, this should be interesting down the road…

Our first step was to identify potential story lines and build an overall theme for the park. Its obvious the Koreans are much more comfortable in the world of water parks where theme is secondary to the attractions… In a theme park you are creating a unique world that exist within its own reality. The idea is to make the guest feel that they have not only come to a place but to whole new world. To do this we will have to create back story which provides a framework for the park and everything in it. All the elements must work together to support and reinforce this story from the look of the architecture to the costumes and mannerisms of the park staff. The best examples I can think of right now would be all the Disney parks and the Harry Potter experience from Universal Studios. Everyone else is doing what they can to reach that level.

Our first real goal is to produce a presentation for the chairman of Lian Bang in 2 weeks time, Based on how our first pass is received we can refine that design to its completion. In this we are extremely lucky to have Doug May on board, Doug was an executive producer for Disney for over 20 years, he’s a ” story ” man and this will be a key element in our development here. ¬†Chris it turns out will be a great help as well with his long career of water and amusement park operations experience. He was even chief of operations for the six flags in CA at some point.

Just some examples of things Doug has done over the years.¬†Some of these might be familiar…

This park in France…

Disney Paris

Disney Paris

This other one in Japan

Disney Tokyo

Disney Tokyo

Some show about a fish girl…

Little Mermaid

Little Mermaid

And of course some crazy thing that happened in Orlando…

25th Anniversary  DisneyWorld

25th Anniversary Disney World

Point is Doug knows a few things about Theme Parks ūüôā

Our initial thoughts are for 4 zones. An enchanted garden, a space themed area, a young adult oriented cyber land and the valley of dragons. All these zones will have themed rides and shows but for the time constraints of first review we must pick just a few to develop.

With Danilo and I producing artwork, Doug writing¬† and making overall plans it will be up to the Koreans to finalize a rough visual master plan and put together a powerpoint presentation which will be shown¬†in 2 weeks time…

At Lian Bang we settle in and begin the process with a charrette style meeting to come up with a general concept and plan of action. This gives me and Danilo an idea of what we need to produce.

You have to start somewhere…

Humble Beginnings

Humble Beginnings

At the end of our first design day we head back to the Ambassador Hotel for dinner and some rest. It is Sat but we agree to meet in the morning at the hotels executive level for a final design meeting to solidify our concept and plan. Just the first of many 7 day work weeks. The hours on this project are pretty crazy, we are signed up for 6 days a week by contract and as all designers know you often end up working more to meet the deadline.

This 6 day work week is actually pretty common in China, they make up for it by not actually working as intensely, and having a whole slew of mandatory vacation days. Sorry, but that’s my first hand observation. The idea of quality over quantity has not taken a firm seat here. Its much more important to the mainland Chinese¬†that an employee shows up on time and is present then whether or not they actually accomplish anything‚Ķ This attitude is slightly alleviated within Lian Bang as it’s a privately owned company. I have no doubt as China becomes more competitive on the world stage this attitude will change…

Jet lag has been particularly hard on me this time around and once again I barely remember the dinner or even falling asleep. Doug claims he had to pound on the door a few mornings to wake me up that first week, but I am not sure I believe him :P…

Shijiazhuang is not the prettiest city in China, little did we know this was the nicest part of the year‚Ķ This is the view from my room, we never did check out the Babi Club ūüė¶

Ambassador Room

Ambassador Room

 

On Sunday we have a  surprisingly good breakfast and head to the executive lounge. Over the next few hours Doug Danilo Chris and I agree on the designs we will produce and present. We found that during our time at the Ambassador the staff were very attentive and would help us in just about anyway they could.

It’s actually a great brainstorm meeting I am firmly convinced of Doug’s imagination, Danilo is a pro of course and Chris surprises again¬†with his unique view and insight. In some ways I still feel this original¬†design concept, one of the three we will ¬†develop over the project’s duration¬† is the strongest…

We break the work down as follows, Danilo will develop the main icon for the park ¬†the “castle” as you will, and a birdseye illustration, I will take on the povs for the enchanted garden, space zone and dragon land… as mentioned before this work will be produced by hand and only rendered in photoshop something I have not done for many years but like riding a bike you never really forget…

Theme-Cave-Designer

Over the next 2 weeks we draw and begin to assemble the pieces for presentation. Scanning our hand sketches and painting them up much like we all did years ago. Overall the team was having a good time together. Doug and Chris entertaining us with impromptu musical numbers. Thankfully they both have good voices. Once; when Jake was back in town the guy travels a lot, He came to me and Danilo at our desks and asked to be told¬†what about our current design for the enchanted castle was unique and special…

The two of us being somewhat old hands at this ” read jaded ” were taken somewhat by surprise. ¬†In truth¬† a lot of these concepts are derivatives of other things and sometimes not really all that original. This is especially true for a Themed space as everything in it must meet the requirements of guest experience. You can’t go so wild with the design that it will¬†cause issues for safety or be so extreme that some people will find it upsetting.

That being said our design for the icon was very unique, being a naturally grown structure created from the pure magic of the enchanted realm, grown out of the forest itself.

But I was in no condition mentally or physically to say that to Jake. Danilo was no better off and we both looked at him with the expression of dogs being shown a card trick. Out of left field Doug swoops in and begins to explain in vivid detail how this icon was not only unique in its design style but totally unique in the theme park world as it was not only a visual center of the park but a multi function attraction onto itself. even its theme was clearly different from any other park in the world!..” cue the music ” as he talked I became emotionally invested in the concept again and from the look on Jake’s face I know I wasn’t alone…

That’s¬†the beauty of a truly creative pitch man, he can transfer his own enthusiasm through his words and actions¬†making everyone feel that not only is this thing good but that it is real and tangible… This is one of the main reasons I love working on themed entertainment projects, you really start to feel an emotional bond to the concepts… that is true of almost any creative endeavor but I¬†find its particularly strong with something¬† people will interact with in such a complete way, not only seeing it as on a screen but existing in it, engaging all the senses…

By the time we are ready for presentation I have developed a number of drawings and povs, they are somewhat looser then I am used too but overall I am happy with the results. Danilo has created a Great birdseye of the park incorporating much of my designs along with a high angle pov and elevation of the castle. The korean team has produced a few povs of their water park and a really nice master plan illustration and powerpoint presentation…

On the day of, we gather all together in Lian Bangs main presentation room. Kathreen will direct the powerpoint with Brian¬†helping to time the transitions to Doug’s verbal presentation. Jake and Chris are both present the only missing team member¬†being Danilo who has already headed back to Changsha and his own project… The room holds a huge long table with around 20 seats. We run through the presentation twice while preparing a good hour before showtime. As the time approaches Lian Bang executives begin to filter in but so far no chairman li. We have only met¬†the man behind our client company a few times in meetings but from all we have heard ¬†the man is quite a character… I have even been told he is a retired general from the Chinese army which might explain all the pseudo military trappings on Lian¬†Bang’s security force. There are a lot of them wearing fatigues marching around the site every day.

Chairman Li makes his entrance around 10 minutes late, he is a decent looking older man tallish for a chinese ¬†at right around my height. I am pretty ¬†skeptical of his supposed military rank due to his youthful appearance and prima donna style, the guy can’t seem to pass a reflective surface without checking his hair…

Barely into the introductions there is a loud disturbance in the hallways outside. It starts with a few shouts¬†but quickly grows in volume to the angry rumbling of a mob. We are told to stay put and the chairman exits with his security staff to deal with it. Over the next few minutes the noise becomes quite alarming even including the sound of a¬†women¬†screaming and I am told laying on the ground crying…

we later see the chairman walk by the glass walls amidst a large group of yelling people. He is surrounded but seems well in control. In the next room he stands in the center of the¬†crowd and listens to whatever it is they are upset with. Eventually the crowd disperses and he returns to us unscathed.¬† We are later told by Sarah these are the local village folk whose homes were taken to build this project. I guess they were unhappy with the settlement received…

The show must go on and so with little time lost Doug heads right into the presentation. It seems to be going over quite well with the chairman only interrupting ¬†once (Something of a miracle we later find out). At the end there is a lively question and answer period followed by a “loooooooonnnnnng” speech from Chairman Li hurriedly translated by Sarah. In essence ¬†Li loves what we have done and with some changes looks forward to our finalized development presentation…

This first presentation over we now begin the development process where we can take these rough ideas to a more complete stage. The goal being a completed concept package ready to head into design development, schematic phase…

The work

I wish I had kept the order of things clear in my head at this firsts stage but I am pretty sure these are the designs presented to the Chairman…

At this stage we have no real understanding of the space so these sketches are just rough ideas of things that can be further developed down the road…

A rough POV of the Enchanted Castle by Danilo, the idea is that the structure is grown from natural materials by pure magic…

Castle POV - DM

Castle POV – DM

Dragon Zone – Various designs for themed rides within the zone

Dragons Flight - Flume Ride - DG

Dragons Flight – Flume Ride – DG

Dragon Mountain - DG

Dragon Mountain – DG

Baby Dragon Bumper cars - DG

Baby Dragon Bumper cars – DG

Dragon Zone Kiosk - DG

Dragon Zone Kiosk – DG

Space Zone – There were more of these but I cannot locate them now…

Space Zone POV - DG

Space Zone POV – DG

The Chairman really loved this ride Sky Venture, it’s basically an indoor wind tunnel that you sky dive inside of…

Sky Venture - DG

Sky Venture – DG

Cyber Land Р young adult and teen themed area, much of this zone will actually be user the 5m height ceiling which brings its own unique challenges.

Cyber Land - DG

Cyber Land – DG

Water Park – At tho stage of the project fully half of the available space is occupied by a water park. We are not asked to contribute anything towards it as the DPI team have a lot of experience here. I don’t know who produced this work but I have a strong feeling it was not necessarily for this project…

Water Park - DPI

Water Park – DPI

Water Park 2 - DPI

Water Park 2 – DPI

Birdseye Illustration by Danilo

Birdseye View - DM

Birdseye View – DM

Enchanted Garden Family Roller Coaster

Enchanted Garden, oller Coaster - DG

Enchanted Garden, Roller Coaster – DG

17 m Pillar Design – Later on we will joke that the real title of this park should be the “Happy Pillar Park” ‚ĄĘ as they are quite literally everywhere‚Ķ I must have produced well over a hundred designs for these things.

17m Pillar design - DG

17m Pillar design – DG

 

The team felt very strongly that we must deal with them in a creative and effective way or else they will dominate every aspect of the park. We did so many designs because we could never get our concepts past the Chairman, my guess is he knew deep down inside he could not afford to do much with them. I would also think that might have been something to address while designing the actual building, but we can only deal with what we have, not what we would like to have.

Another area of particular challenge would be the surrounding walls of the 17 m spaces. Our concept called for them to be fully themed to the zones the encircled. This is an early sketch done by an unknown DPI artist back in Korea, not bad actually…

17m Facades - DPI

17m Facades – DPI

I hope you enjoyed this account of our experience. Next up the final presentation of this first concept and our first taste of Crazy Chairman…

Cast of characters so far

*Doug mays ¬†– Executive Producer / Creative Director / Ring Leader, Harry Ziegler from Moulin Rouge…
*Chris Stuart РVP of DPI, Operations specialist, Singer of songs, patriarch of gigantic family and all around good guy !
*Jake Park ¬† ¬†– ¬†Owner of DPI, consummate salesman, means well, reason we are all here…
*Danilo Montejo  РEl Primo, Senior Designer / Master Illustrator / reason I am here…
*Brian Ong ¬† ¬†– ¬†Good Designer / English Translator AKA ” The Great Communicator ” Korean team manager
*Dr park ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†– Not really a DR. Old School Engineer / Slide Rule Operator / Favor expression ” Big Problems ” / Independent contractor
*Kathreen      РDPI Chinese Korean English Translator / Scan Master / apparently writes DPI contracts…
*Sarah Shang ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†– Lian Bang’s English translator / Chairman Li’s assistant / AKA ” Mary Poppins ”
*James “Eskelletons‚ĄĘ” man ¬†– ¬†Lian Bang’s Themepark? Manager / Jake’s ex employee / used car salesman‚Ķ
*Smiling korean man  Р Jet lag stole his name from me / only guy at Lian Bang with Theme Park experience…
*Mr Yang ¬†– ¬†Lian Bang manager of construction / Monk on vacation / you couldn’t pay me enough to take his job…
*Mr Liu ¬† – ¬†Chairman Li’s second in command / aka “Charles not in charge” / nice guy in impossible position

*Chairman Li – ¬†Owner of Lian Bang / Typical old school Chinese business tycoon / definitely connected ¬†both above and below / Charismatic ” Alpha Dog ” possible Sociopath…

*Me – Senior Designer / Davido / Writer of this blog

Leo’s Kingdom 6 End of Day One…

After our trip to the site its ¬†time we head out, it’s been a really long day and my jet lag is fast approaching. We have not stopped since the morning and for some reason this trip’s allotment¬†of jet lag is quite strong. Our hotel has been arranged by James AKA ” Eskellettons‚ĄĘ ”¬†and is only about 10 min from the site. Upon arival we are checked in by Sarah, the hotel is pretty low rent but I have seen worse and in my current state doesnt really make an impression.

After dumping our bags its off to the obligatory client dinner. We are taken to the Ambassador Hotel which from the look of things is quite a bit nicer then the Motel 7  where we left our things. We are led up marble stairs to a large private dining room by attractive girls in those great traditional Chinese dresses with the slit up the leg…

Chinese Dress

Chinese Dress

Having worked on a few Chinese projects by now, I have gotten used to these events, but for the un initiated they can be a bit daunting. Typically a large group of people representing the client will attend and all will sit around a huge round table.

RoundTable

Typical Round Table

The highest ranking members will sit at one point with lower ranks fanning out to either side. I don’t know the whole system but there is one for sure. The Chinese are much more concerned with formal hierarchy then those of us from the west. Everything from where you sit, who speaks first, when you drink, all has a place in an elaborate custom. Thankfully as Lao Wai or Guai Lo, non Chinese are forgiven for not understanding and most Chinese it seems are quite happy to instruct and help us over the rough spots. For this meeting we have Eskellettons‚ĄĘ¬†and the man I cannot remember as¬†our ¬†host¬†along with Sarah and a number of other Lian Bang employees. Also in attendance is the head of Lian Bang construction, an interesting character who’s tan skin and completely bald head makes me think of a monk on summer vacation‚Ķ Doug is seated first as our ” leader ” and the rest of us find places.

Danilo and I are sitting next to Brian which is good as with his english he can help us with the proceedings. As the food starts to arrive and drinks begin to be poured its time to start the speech making. James goes first of course telling us all how happy he is to have us here and how much he hopes we can all work together to make this the greatest ¬†project in the history of all greatest projects. Its become obvious over¬†the last few hours that the DPI team ” my clients ” have serious issue with James. For myself I don’t have much of an opinion as yet but I do get the impression of someone with an over inflated ego‚Ķ

3 Things to keep in mind at these dinners.

1. The food

If you; like me, really enjoy Chinese food you will have a blast. If you are in any way squeamish about non western food you’re going to be challenged. Because of the formal nature of these dinners ” trying to make good impressions, display of wealth and generosity etc ” the food is not simple fare. This is what some might call the weird stuff. Expensive and exotic dishes with interesting ingredients and unique flavors abound. Don’t get me wrong the food is good, its simply that for some people it can be a bit off putting. Also this is real Chinese food so don’t expect sweet sauces, or egg rolls. An interesting aside there is a new restaurant in Shanghai which is doing extremely well serving ¬†” American ” Chinese food‚Ķ of course its called The Fortune Cookie¬†, Go figure.

Some things you might find here…

Octopus squid or cuttlefish actually quite good…

Octopus

Octopus

Beijing Duck, oily¬†but Yum…

Beijing Duck

Beijing Duck

Sea Cucumber and or Slug depending on your mood. Supposed to be really good for you. It must be because it taste just like it looks here :). For some reason Chairman Li decided this was Doug’s favorite dish‚Ķ I think he saw Doug looking at it and mistook the slight horror on his face for interest.

Sea Cucumber

Sea Cucumber

Angry Squirrel Fish, looks terrible but not bad at all…

Angry Squirrel Fish

Angry Squirrel Fish

And of course Angry Squirrel

Angry Squirrel

Angry Squirrel

Just kidding pretty sure I have not eaten any rodents in China yet…

2. Drinking

The Chinese love to drink; obviously not everyone, but for the most part drinking is an integral part of these client dinners especially in the North which is where we are… You will be asked if you would like wine or beer. If you have not tried Chinese wine my suggestion for¬†you at first would be go for the beer. Chinese wine is rice based like japanese Sake but thats where the similarity ends. For one thing its much stronger our knick name for it being ¬†JetFuel‚Ķ Unlike Sake its pretty much always served room temperature and when you drink it there is a strong burn in the throat and a kind of peppery taste. For those who have had the experience of drinking moonshine its quite similar‚Ķ at between 40 and 70% alcohol it might be better suited as industrial solvent‚Ķ Going by the name of Bai Jiu it is brought out as soon as the festivities begin. This evening’s Bai Jiu I find out later was donated by Charles the Lian Bang Chairman’s Right hand man. Its called 9 Dragons and comes in a really cool old style clay pot container. After one particular fun filled evening he gifted me with a bottle, but thats for later…

9 Dragons

9 Dragons

For Bai¬†Jiu its actually quite smooth‚Ķ The wait staff is quick to refill your small toasting glass which is basically a shot glass so be careful how quickly you empty it. As the dinner goes on people will make speeches to the table and toast to individuals which is again all part of this Chinese ritual of organizing and respecting hierarchy. At some point someone is bound to utter the infamous words “Ganbei” with their toast which is the signal for all involved to empty their glasses. Beware!

Game of BaiJiu

Game of BaiJiu

3. Smoking.

China is not on the no smoking kick yet, there are indications of it but for now its still pretty much accepted that people will smoke everywhere.

Things Have Really Changed...

Things Have Really Changed…

Having smoked for years in bars I am used to it but I can’t really say its enjoyable in a resteraunt. There seem to be hundreds of Chinese cigarette brands ranging from dirt cheap to very expensive.

Chinese Ciggs

Chinese Ciggs

As the dinner moves on people approach with offers of cigarettes and wanting to drink with the foreigners. Danilo and I are having a great time catching up and observing the group.

Chris; being a Morman, is unable to join in with the drinking or smoking but is a great sport and a deft hand at turning the subject without insulting our host. Jake had to leave earlier in the day for another meeting in another city, one thing is obvious about Jake Park and that is he works the sales part of his business very hard. Aside from the Shijiazhuang project, DPI has another design ¬†theme park project in Changsha ” where Danilo has been for the last few months ” and 2 other water parks in China. There was also a mention of 2 projects in the US and and a wrap up in South Korea. According to Brian, DPI has around 40 full-time employees and although they this is their first attempt at a Theme Park they have a lot of experience with Water Parks…

Brian has turned out to be a good dinner companion. His English is a bit halting but overall pretty easy to understand. Having¬†been onsite for 3 months now has a lot to share about the reality on the ground. It turns out that the reason there is such tension between the DPI team and James ” Escelettons man ” is that they have worked together in the past. In fact James was a sales rep for DPI in China because he can speak Chinese. Of course that was¬†before¬†Jake fired him for being abusive with his co workers. According to Brian he has zero experience in design and none in Theme Parks, this should be¬†interesting…

After much food and drink is consumed its time to head out, tomorrow begins the real adventure.

Love U Man

Love U Man

 

OH Yeah‚Ķ Here is the final piece of fun.¬†As we mill around in the lobby awaiting our ride, Danilo and I notice Doug seems a bit out of sorts. We go over to the chair where he sits to see whats up and find that things are far from OK. Doug has decided on reflection that he would much rather stay in the hotel we are in now the Ambassador then the one that James has arranged. As our team assembles around Doug; to discuss this, it turns out he is not alone in his position. While I agree that the Ambassador is a hell of a lot nicer, I am not sure exactly what the issue is but it turns out I am alone in that opinion. According to Chris when he was in the¬†room he saw mold growing up the wall of the shower stall. Danilo had noticed there was no place to put any of his luggage away and no safe. Douglas had the best story however, apparently his room wasn’t quite ready for him when we¬†got there. ¬†As he entered the room, the hotel staff were hurriedly trying to remove the display of sex toys arrayed on his dresser. Knowing Douglas May as I do now, that is quite funny :)…

Long story short the team decides we will purchase our own rooms and stay at the Ambassador. Needless to say our host are upset by this idea and after much hand waving and loud cell phone conversation, Sarah told us that Charles said  that we will be moved here for the duration of our stay in Shijiazhuang.

Okie well that wraps up day one of the saga, I assure you next installments will not be so lengthy as at this rate¬†it will take me another 3 years to tell this story…

Next installment First client review and or how to design a them park¬†over the weekend…

Leo’s Kingdom 5 First Time On Site

Off for¬†our first site visit…

Donning hard hats we pile into trucks to be driven across the street to the site. James our Themepark Operations manager accompanies us decked out in some kind of webbing vest thing, adorned with many pockets and a military grade laser pointer. We later find out these are a favorite of Chairman Li,  often we can figure out where he is by the little green dots flying around.

Doggie

Doggie

Immediately onsite I am reminded of how differently things are done here then in the states. Everywhere you look materials and tools are piled and or dumped. The ground is a literal mine field of wood, steel and concrete pieces. Jagged edges, holes in the floor and exposed piping make this a place you best watch your footing else an unscheduled trip to the hospital… Its a massive concrete structure soaring off in all directions with cranes and work vehicles buzzing around. The workers are a miss mash of types many wearing military style garb and others in suits. I always get a kick out of a guy in a suit laying bricks.

For now it is almost impossible for me to reconcile this site with the plans we were shown just a half hour ago, about the only thing that makes perfect sense is the the two central dome areas which are even now in the process of being covered with their steel and glass roofs…

Domes In Process

Domes In Process

Top Side3

Top Side3

Doug On deck

Doug On deck

Doug in the Lake

Doug in the Lake

Primo On Deck

Primo On Deck

Our first stop is on the ground level of the structure where there will eventually be a giant lake as illustrated here in the model…

Thas A Big Model 6

Thas A Big Model 6

We are told its depth will  be between 14 cm and 3 M.

Seems to me that would be something we should already know for certain as whatever water is placed here will be on the roof of our theme park. I am sure the ” architect ” has already considered this…

Top Side1

Top Side1

Top Side2

Top Side2

From up here you can actually see just how far down the structure has been dug out. Ground level of our park will actually be around 5 stories below this point sure hope they thought of drainage.

Long Way Down

Long Way Down

Gurlz Work Too

Gurlz Work Too

For the first part of our walkthrough we are treated to a constant barrage of loud proclamations¬†from James, translated of course. He is¬†very proud of what he keeps referring to as the Esskelletons we later realize he means escalators. Apparently there will be a lot of them and James wants us to know where each one is‚Ķ My impression so far is this may be¬†the only thing he knows…

After about 20 mins of this we are treated to what will later be known as a ” WTF ‚ĄĘ ” moment when Doug politely but firmly ask Sarah to tell James he doesn’t care where the F*%(*&ing Eskelletons are, can we please see the Themepark! I know for a fact now we are going to have fun here!

We head down into the structure. As you can see from the pics this place is only partially complete, a lot of work to be done…

Debris For All

Debris For All

Obviously no real lighting as yet so it feels quite cave like. From the temporary structures we see, I assume whole groups of workers must be living down here while the build…

Dark Down Here

Dark Down Here

We enter through the 5M area walking towards the central space where the Theme Park will live. I am glad to know we will not be doing much with this area as its pretty claustrophobic. At 5M height it is much better suited to a retail environment then a Theme Park.

Nice Perspective

Nice Perspective

Coming out from the 5M space the scale of things starts to become more apparent.

Dark Down Here

Dark Down Here

Dark Down Here

Dark Down Here

There is no floor as yet, and as you can see the ceiling is a bare concrete structure as well, going to be challenge to make that work.

Watch Your Step

Watch Your Step

As you can see the space is truly massive, but even as large as it is, all these columns are going to be an issue.

Under the Domes4

Under the Domes4

We dub this view Main Street as it seems to be a natural flow point. Later we will realize its not going to be that simple. This structure is odd, there are almost no natural design flow / force lines. Major structures don’t line up and even things like the domes are not equidistant or symetrical. Would really like to talk to that Architect.

Main Street

Main Street

Watch Your Step2

Watch Your Step2

This picture is funny to me as it turns out the Asian¬†man, smiling in the white shirt there ” cannot remember his name ” is the only one on Lian Bang’s team that actually had experience in the Theme Park industry. He will of course disappear shortly after this site visit, I believe he made the mistake of telling the Chairman he couldn’t do something…

from left to right, Doug, Chris, Danilo, Brian, ?, and James. I of course am behind the camera.

Where are we again?

Where are we again?

There really is a lot of debris down here.

Watch Your Step4

Watch Your Step4

from below you can see how complex these roof structures are, periodically the workers above will demonstrate why we wear hard hats by dropping things…

Roof Structure

Roof Structure

Seems Complicated

Seems Complicated

More views from below the Domes, these areas will be the most important in my mind as only here will we be able to build anything with significant height.

Under the Domes1

Under the Domes1

Under the Domes2

Under the Domes2

Under the Domes3

Under the Domes3

The site tour winds down as we begin to fall out from Jet Lag. Its off to our hotel to drop off luggage and move on to the next event of this first day in Shijiazhuang, the infamous ” Client¬†Dinner “.

More to follow…

Leo’s Kingdom 4 An Introduction to the Scene…

I realize in looking at my earlier post about the project in Shijiazhuang, its obvious I am not really sure how to organize this. No¬†mystery as to why, these event occurred over a period of 2 years and to say that a lot went on is a gross understatement. I will do my best to help it make sense, I can’t put exact dates as honestly I would be lying to claim I knew them :P, ¬†just not how my mind works‚Ķ My aim is to tell this¬†story as best I can. Who knows maybe some of the others will chime in and help as I am sure to miss things along the way.

I am thinking to add a cast of characters at the end of each post to help keep it organized, feel free to check it out if you like..

Back To It…

Train Station

Train Station

Upon arrival in Shijiazhuang we are met at the train station by 2¬†member’s of Jake’s staff, Brian Ong and Cathrene. Both are Korean but have some english. Brian is the Korean team’s manager and lead designer, Cathrene¬†is their translator for Chinese and English as she is actually ethnic Korean from the north-east¬†area of China. They both seem very nice and help us get our luggage into taxis.

The first impression you get of Shijiazhuang is that its loud, densely populated and extremely dusty. We arrived in June so the air quality was actually quite good for this city, actual blue skies and clouds.¬†Shijiazhuang is a second tier city, this has many meanings but one of the more noticeable to foreigners is that we are truly alien here. It’s very common in China to be stared at by the locals but outside the big cities¬†its much more pronounced. It’s quite possible for a person to be looking at you with wide eyes and mouth slightly ajar¬†because they have in fact never seen ¬†” anyone ” like you in person in their lives. I have yet to spend much time in the rural areas of China where I assume the ” Polar Bear effect ” will be even more pronounced…

Streets of Shijiazhuang

Streets of Shijiazhuang

Streets of Shijiazhuang

Streets of Shijiazhuang

Like many places in China almost everywhere you look there are buildings either being put¬†up or torn down. Even the roads are under heavy construction as they are in the process of installing a Metro system. The drivers and pedestrians here are some of the¬†craziest I have yet to experience in China. I have it on authority that it’s nothing compared to India but I have yet to go there‚Ķ The taxi is an old VW ” Bora , Magotan, Sagitar ¬†also known as a Jetta… ” and quite dirty. Unlike in the first tier cities the driver is separated from the passengers by a full bar cage¬†assembly, I assume to keep us¬†from throttling him…

For the car people out there here is very interesting read on the way  VW names its cars in China.

The driver is quite aggressive and¬†drives with fast seemingly random lane changes and ¬†liberal use of the horn, rules of the road and traffic signals are obviously more a suggestion than anything else. There are people everywhere, walking running, riding bikes, electric scooters and “Moa Di” 3 wheeled carts, many of which seem to be carrying the type of load we at home would put in a Uhaul truck. Busses and larger trucks drive with jungle rules, meaning they go where they want, when they want and you had best get out of the way. The overall effect is an amazing assault on the senses, unfortunately its something you have to experience to really understand, the pictures never quite get it. Amazing to think that I used to consider Shenzhen drivers bad, I suppose everything is relative.

Shortly we come upon a large 4 lane roundabout. It’s under a freeway which is notable as here the traffic intensifies even more¬†despite the efforts of several¬†cute female traffic cops standing on small pedestals in the road.¬†Having already spent years in China and traveled around a bit ¬†I actually kind of enjoy this type of thing. I am a bit crazy after all. Doug is less appreciative and I can hear him mumbling instructions to the driver or possibly prayers for deliverence‚Ķ

On the other side of the freeway up ahead lies our destination at the end of the road. Lian Bang’s project is massive even for China, there are the standard giant residential towers stretching¬†far¬†into the air, large tower buildings in various stages of construction and a huge half built ¬†“coliseum ” looking thing¬†in front. Later we will find that this¬†is where our Theme park will live. The whole place is covered in dust, workers and vehicles going every conceivable direction. We pull into a gated parking lot across from the Coliseum and are greeted by young men in what appear to be army uniforms. They wave us through when they see it’s the Koreans.

We are met at the door by some Lian Bang employee’s, I can’t actually remember who all it was now other than Sarah Shang who will be serving as translator and special assistant to Chairman Li the owner of Lian Bang and our client. Sarah strikes me as interesting right away as she has excellent english skills and a charming English accent to go with it. As we enter the building one of the first things you see is a giant cylindrical fish tank which occupies the center of the huge reception area.

Small Fish Big Tank

Small Fish Big Tank

It has a lot of colorful fish and what appears to be real coral growing inside it. In the picture you can just see the fish tank cleaning guy, he was there every day taking care of Chairman Li’s Fish. There are dozens of young men and women running around wearing what seems to be the uniform for their profession here in China, Black dress pants and white ¬†button down shirts. Up ahead is a giant scale model lit up like a christmas tree ” also a standard for the real estate game in China ” and a giant LED screen up above. ¬†I will let the pics tell this part.

Big Model

Big Model

Thas A Big Model 1

Thas A Big Model 1

Thas A Big Model 2

Thas A Big Model 2

Thas A Big Model 3

Thas A Big Model 3

Thas A Big Model 4

Thas A Big Model 4

Thas A Big Model 5

Thas A Big Model 5

Thas A Big Model 6

Thas A Big Model 6

This model reminds me of my very first freelance job while still in school. I and 4 other guys built a scale model of Manhattan¬†Island for the observation deck of the World Trade Center, Twin Towers in New York. I never got to see it in place and it obviously no longer exist…

Godzilla Me

Godzilla Me

These pics are probably all thats left of that piece…

All Thats Left...

All Thats Left…

Upstairs we are brought to an office to wait for the remaining member of our little team. Danilo is¬†coming¬†in¬†from his project in Changsha by train to help us get a kick start. It turns out that we are actually already behind schedule as the client wants to see our first pass in two weeks. I am glad to hear that El Primo is coming as I know together we can accomplish something good. As for the rest of the group here not so sure, there are 4 or 5 Koreans here, only one of which; Brian, is a designer. 2 girls Cathrene¬†being the only one I can remember at this time and an older man introduced as¬†Dr Park. They have been on site for 3 months now and from what I can see there has been very little done… ¬†I suppose this kind of thing really shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but I am always amazed at how little seems to be accomplished¬†by employees versus consultants. Maybe that is a topic for another time‚Ķ

Once Danilo arrives we are met by another Lian Bang employee, James. He is in the position of Themepark Operations ” or so we are told ” and will take us on a tour of the site after a brief discussion of the project needs and a quick look at that big ass model in the lobby. James is actually Korean and speaks almost no English so Sarah translates for him as he discusses the current scope and their¬†progress. The site is 245,000 square meters, all indoor with the ground level actually dug down about a story. The central area is enclosed ¬†in a roof which rest at 17 meters, with¬†2 huge domes which have a maximum height of 25 meters. These domes will be the only source of sunlight for our park. All around this 17 meter area is a huge swath of area which only ¬†has 5 meters of clearance. This area will hold¬†a Venetian style canal that circles around the site and ¬†be made up of shops, restaurants and other assorted venues. Our focus for now is¬†the central 17 M Zone and the 5 M area up to the canal. We are told by Jake and Chris that this is a sticking point with the client as there is some disagreement as to who is responsible for what‚Ķ

Master Plan

Master Plan

We are all shown a pretty typical video¬†presentation extolling the wonders of the project. In true Chinese fashion is it full of ripped off design content from just about every major western studio and lots of smiling Chinese shoppers and children doing ” Stuff “. Interestingly there also seems to be a lot of images of some other attempts at designing this space. It turns out that we are the 3rd group brought in to design the Park, following The Goddard Group and some Canadian company I cannot recall the name of. In truth I am getting a bit nervous as I can see that not only is the scope of this thing about twice¬†what was described but our team is really too small for the task.

Park overview is pretty impressive, as I told you before the size is gigantic. This will be¬†the largest indoor Themed Entertainment venue in the world. with over 300 shops and restaurants in the surrounding buildings and what is proudly proclaimed as the largest parking garage in China. As per the current design the idea of the park is to be split into 2 separate experiences a Water Park and a Theme Park. This seems a good idea as DPI ”¬†our employers ”¬†are specialist in Water Parks, something Doug, Danilo and I have no experience with at all. After the question and answer period which held such highlights as…

Q. Can we see the Feasibility Study?

A. Whats a Feasibility Study?

Q. Can we see the as built CAD drawings or 3D model of the construction?

A. No because they don’t exist…

With all those questions resolved its time to go check out the model and then off to the site. Not much to be said about this except its big and illustrates another interesting challenge to our project. The entire roof of the building will be comprised of a lake. What could possibly go wrong…

To be continued…

 

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