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Posts tagged ‘Themed Entertainment’

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

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…

 

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 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…

 

Saga of “Leo’s Kingdom” – Packing for China, The Journey Begins

I hope this doesn’t bore too much but I like it when I get actual info I can use from an online source, and my particular experience might come in handy for someone so…

I will be going¬†not just to explore China but also to work and will not be with Fanny in our apartment in Shenzhen. I need to bring whatever tools and equipment needed, with me as I know from experience, finding things in China is not always easy. Pretty funny when you consider that almost everything we buy is made there but its the truth nonetheless…

I know from Danilo and Jake that the client would like me to work by hand for at least a portion of this project, ” This is being requested more often¬†recently, maybe the pendulum is swinging back‚Ķ” That means I will¬†need those tools as well as my regular digital gear. ¬†I pack 2 big cases one for clothes and personal¬†and one full of art supplies and computer gear. This is ok since on international flights you have a larger weight limit but it will be a pain for maneuvering. In addition to the carry ons I have a great rolling computer bag and good backpack. I always carry my most valuable stuff in these as at least if something happens to them I will know what and why‚Ķ There are specific things you never place in checked baggage, Money ” obviously ” important documents and for me ¬†my laptop and hard drives.

I will be adding my new traveling cintiq to the mix since it is much smaller and lighter than my old full size one.

This is what we imagine it will be

12 WX

12 WX

This is the reality when it comes time to pack…

Cables Galore

Cables Galore

 

I am also taking my new macpro laptop and my basic analog drawing tools. ¬†Basic set for me is 2 boxes each Prismacolor and Verithin colored pencils in Indigo Blue, Sharpie markers in black thick and extra thin tips, electric pencil sharpener and kneaded and electric draftsman’s eraser and assorted sweeps and curves. I even¬†bring 2 pads of 18 X 24¬†Vincent Vellum to work on. For those who know this is the ” Good Stuff “they don’t even make it¬†anymore but thanks to my days of doing it all by hand I still have a stash‚Ķ

Tolls of the Trade

Tolls of the Trade

All This adds considerable weight to my packing but I am going for work and this first contract is for 3 months so its well worth the trouble…

A general note for artist going to  work in China whatever electronic gear you have except for computers and their peripherals will not work in China. Well technically they will work one time and then possibly blow up, so its worth your time to invest in a power converter before hand. The chinese use a different voltage (220V) I forgot one time and fried my brand new super fancy alarm clock so… While the computers will operate I would suggest the converter for them as well just to be safe but they do seem to handle it without much issue.

A word on luggage. It’s absolutely essential you bring good luggage, not only to protect your gear but also to make it easy to transport. I brought cheaper luggage the first trip to China one bag per flight¬†as the luggage was unusable after its journey…

If you have never been to mainland China you may not understand this fully; but trust me, you need bags that can roll over rough terrain and cushion your gear. this is just as true in a major city as it is in the countryside.

This is a bit extreme¬†but you get the idea ūüėõ

Rough Road

Rough Road

I have a good Samsonite hard case and a great bag we picked up in Taiwan. Both of these are full size with expansion space and have the 4 caster rollers. This is crucial¬†the bags that only have 2 castors will make your trip that much more difficult. Trust me its going to be challenging no matter what you do so take care of what you can control…

Good Luggage

Good Luggage

Good Luggage2

Good Luggage2

Good Luggage1

Good luggage

As I travel with a good deal of computer gear I know from experience you must prepare it to get past the security types at the airports. I try and package all of my considerable cables and peripherals into neat packages usually inside gallon size ziplock bags.

Have cables will travel...

Have cables will travel…

The security agents will still be very curious but much less likely to take you bag apart and it makes it easier to put back together when they do. If you carry external hard drives put them in your carry on, for some reason the powers that be lose their mind if you pack it in checked luggage. My project manager friend turned me onto a great little product for wrapping cords its worth it…

Bobino

Bobino

Every trip I get a little bit better at the logistics but its a process. My next luggage will probably be even more rugged as even my Taiwan bags are getting worse for wear. maybe something like these.

Future Gear

Future Gear

Thats enough for now more to come…

 

 

 

The Saga of Leo’s Kingdom ” or continuation of what I did last Summer “

This is going to be really difficult as so much happened. Way back in 2014; in fact its the only post of 2014, I spoke of the project I was currently on. Since that time the project has gone through 2 more complete concept designs, the beginnings of Design Development, much internal shuffling including but not limited to a change of ownership after the disappearance of our Chairman and now an indeterminent waiting period to see if it will even continue.

Needless to say I am pretty disappointed at the current status. With much; blood, sweat and tears our tiny little team has designed a really kick ass park. At 245,000 square meters¬†it is¬†one of the largest indoor Themeparks in the world. With 64 Rides and attractions and 4 distinct¬†Lands “Leo’s Kingdom” would / could be a truly world class experience. Maybe not up to Disney or Universal Studio’s level but hey, there were only a hand full of us…

For now I will simply try to put down here the experiences I had, I will not do it justice as this was one of the most intense projects I have ever worked on and there is no way to fully relate it through my words alone. Maybe Doug will write that book he keeps threatening…

 

It all starts back in 2013, around april if  I remember correctly, I was back in the states working from my home studio in Baton Rouge. One of my best friends Danilo Montejo calls me up very excited as he would soon be leaving for China to design a theme park. Danilo and I have been great friends since we met working for BRC in Burbank CA, he is an amazing illustrator and designer and a true friend. You can check out his work here.

http://www.danilostudio.com/index.html

3 or 4 years ago Fanny and I built him this site for his portfolio. I should say fanny built it I just designed it… This used to be a way for us to make extra money. We even considered a service providing custom websites for artist but with the availability of cheap templates no one seems to want it anymore. Was fun however and its nice to see it still working for him.

Danilo2

Danilo2

Danilo3

Danilo3

Danilo4

Danilo4

Danilo is also a graduate of the Art Center for Illustration. His career began in advertising back in the days before digital art was even possible. Thankfully his transition to digital hasn’t removed any of his artistic brilliance.

Primo Danilo

Primo Danilo

 

He wants to touch base and get some info from me as I have been living in China off and on since 2008. I was working on a commercial for Toyota at the time but as my career actually started in Themed Entertainment I am really curious to hear whats up. Doing set design for film and TV is very lucrative but it doesnt often feed the artist inside.

I got him the best info I had and set him up with direct contact for Fanny as she was already back in China and nothing beats a friendly voice while traveling especially for a westerner in China. I of course put it out there that I am interested if they need more people.

A few weeks later Danilo calls again while I am working on another commercial. Why is it that people always call about work while you are working?

He is now in country and really having a blast on his project in Changsha, turns out his client has multiple projects and needs someone else for another one. The client is a south Korean water park company called DPI, Danilo is very positive about it and so I tell him of course I am interested. I won’t be working directly with ” Primo ” but in another city he calls “CheechaChong”. Over the next few days I talk more with him and another american Peter Blouestein who is also working in Changsha.

Eventually I speak to Jake Park the owner of DPI that I now know is Dream Park International. Jake seems a nice enough guy with pretty good english and we begin to rough out the details of what is needed.

Over a few days Jake and I agree to terms, Pay is quite nice with half a months up front before I even leave the States. I strongly suggest anyone thinking to work on a chinese project to insist on getting money up front, its not say you cannot trust the Chinese but things just are a bit crazy over here… This is doubly true when working with new people again just words to the wise.

The timing is a bit last min for me. I like to plan my asian trips well in advance but I agree and await the contract. A few days go by, then a week I begin to wonder if this will be a no go and decide to take some more commercial work. half way through the second week I receive emails from Jake with a contract to be signed and request for info to purchase flights, I had by this time written it off as no joy but I go ahead after another lengthy talk with Danilo and sign the contract.

I will be leaving in 5 days for “Shishchatchewan”. My task is to be senior designer on an indoor theme park / waterpark. There will be a Korean team already in place which I am told has all the information I have been requesting like a project brief etc… I had hoped to have copies of this before I leave in order to wrap my head around the project but this isn’t possible for now.

GOING TO SHIJIAZHUANG

Where is Shijiazhuang

Where is Shijiazhuang

 

WTF is¬†a Shijiazhuang. ¬†OK the Chinese language is extremely challenging for the western mind especially one like me not inclined to language. But this name is special even for China. I turn to Fanny my source for all knowledge of China, first off she knows exactly where I am going and by the way has relatives living there‚Ķ more on that later…

Shijiazhuang is the capital of Hebei Province, of which Beijing is a part, Yes it gets complicated. Beijing is the capital of the country and the seat of power for the central government but it somehow is not the capital of the province.

Provinces of China

Provinces of China

Hebei map

Hebei map

 

I had this explained to me many times over the last 2 years and I am still unsure what this really means, in my experience of it Beijing pretty much rules the place but whatever makes ya happy…

Here is what Wiki has to say

Shijiazhuang is a modernizing and ever growing city. It experienced dramatic growth after the founding of the¬†People’s Republic of China¬†in 1949. The population of the metropolitan area has more than quadrupled in only 30 years as a result of fast industrialization and major infrastructural developments.

Here are some pics I found online before going.

Beautiful Shizz2

Beautiful Shizz2

Beautiful Shizz

Beautiful Shizz

street scene 2

street scene 2

street scene

street scene

Mountain Temple

Mountain Temple

Spynx2

Spynx2

Those pics I am sorry to say are a bit misleading. Shijiazhuang suffers from extreme pollution, pretty much the worst in China so it actually looks a lot more like this.

More like it

More like it

Shijiazhuang or the ” Shizz ” as we came to know her is a 2nd tier¬†city rapidly being developed into a 1st tier. This has more to do with population ¬†then anything else as I understand it but it means its going to be an interesting mix of the old and the new. Its also a center for industry which means its environment is under stress. Being second tier doesnt make it small either, the Shizz boast a population of right around 5¬†million people and growing, so its freakin huge by western standards.

It is also has the honor of being where Mao led¬†the communist during their ” Long¬†march ” of the Chinese Civil War and served as the headquarters of the PLA. It also; from its name, was at some point the ” Stone Family Village ” as thats what the name means in Chinese…

Next post The Journey Begins…

 

DuHaira Souk and Old Riyadh City Museum

Back in Feb I was asked to produce a series of illustrations for a master planing project in Saudi Arabia. The project was through a company I have worked with for many years BRC Imagination Arts in Burbank CA. BRC produces a wide range of Themed Entertainment designs and attractions and is highly regarded in their Industry. For this project I was to provide design and illustration on 7 to 8 key areas for a Master Plan project. Christian Lachel acted as art director and co conspirator throughout the process. Christian himself being an old classmate of mine at the Art Center and an accomplished Illustrator was extremely helpful in achieving what I think is some really fine work.

To begin the process we had a few phone conversations where ” C ” laid out the particulars of the project some background on the clients and of course the all important deadline and scope. As usual we never get the time we would like to have to work on things.

Thankfully this project was not as deadline crazy as my commercial work always is.  We planned to produce the required 7 illustrations with a possible 8th in just over 3 weeks. The work had to be done to strict guidelines both in content and style and at high res for large format printing. The end results were to be be displayed along with all of the master plan designs at a huge presentation to members of the Saudi Royal family.

Christian provided me with a great deal of ¬†reference for style and location, architecture etc along with copies of what BRC had already provided the client. Having gone to S.A. to meet with the clients before ” C ” was able to give me quiet a lot of ¬†reference photos of the actual site we were dealing with. The client had produced a large but extremely base model for us to start from but it was up to us to design the specific spaces for these illustrations.

Below is the master plan layout, the area is huge and is a revitalization of a long existing ” ancient ” city in Saudi Arabia Our area will be the central strip.

Master Plan Area

Master Plan Area

Some pictures from the area showing the current state. The project is hoping to preserve the authenticity of the area while creating an attraction for tourism. A mix of the old and new…

Here are some pics of the site as it was along with some historical photos we will use to guide our visuals. The idea is to keep our designs within the stylistic language of the region. Much easier said then done especially considering the timeframe we had to work with.

Site Photo

Site Photo

Site Photo

Site Photo

Site Photo

Site Photo

Historical reference photos, I have never been to this part of the world but I would love to see it someday. Aside from the lack of cars and electrical wires doesn’t seem that much has changed…

Old Ryadh Cultural Reference Photos

Old Ryadh Cultural Reference Photos

Culturalref2

My process for these pieces was somewhat complicated by the fact that I had to make use of the Architects model. you might think that makes it easier but not so here. The model they provided was gigantic and at the same time completely devoid of any of the details needed for our shots.

It actually took me almost a full day to just open their model and clean it up enough that I could actually use it. In most of my other work we actually produce all of the assets so this is not such an issue.

The Architects Model

The Architects Model

The first area to illustrate was a courtyard  fronting on a high end hotel, a cafe with open air Souk market stalls and a central water feature.

The client at this point had not really designed anything specific so it was up to us to simply take a stab and go from there. This turned out to be true of all the areas but for this first one I don’t even have the clients model to base it on.

I did however have a really cool concept sketch that ” C ” had used to sell the idea to the client….

Christian's Concept Sketch

Christian’s Concept Sketch

I set out to reproduce the sketch in 3D which later would be used as an underlay for the finished illustration. Working in 3D allows for a lot of flexibility. Knowing that in the end I will be digitally painting over this makes it that much more fun.

Below is my first pass at the plaza with a grand hotel entrance and the central water fountain. Since this was the first illustration the piece took much longer to develop then the later ones will as you are figuring out the details and visual language.

Plaza Model first pass

Plaza Model first pass

Here is a test painting we did to send off to Saudi and await feedback. Its not a finished piece but has all the elements. The idea is to get something in front of the client thats good quality all the while knowing you will be making changes.

First Pass

First Pass

The clients responds with some major changes but they are overall encouraged by the progress.

As you can see I am using a good deal of photo bashing at this point to get the idea across we plan to take things further in the final. The people are basically ethnically correct however later will have to be gone over once again to ensure that not only are they Arabic but Saudi.

Changes will be the re design of the water feature and hotel architecture. Replacement of the market stalls and addition of an elevated tower walkway system.

Finalized Plaza Design

Finalized Plaza Design

The new design with tower walkways. The grand idea is that visitors can travel throughout the spaces either at ground level or on these walkways which will have their own resting areas, interactive information kiosk and an integrated cooling mist function for comfort.

The really nice thing about using a 3D for this type of design is the ability to generate multiple possibilities for your final shots.

Alternative View

Alternative View

The final Painting. 1 week is gone but it will be worth it as we now have established a look the client is excited about and have a better handle on how to design the spaces with the correct details, materials, colors etc…

Plaza Final illustration

Plaza Final Illustration

From now on I have the architects model to use as a base for my work which will be helpful and of course increase the accuracy. I pair the monster down to manageable chunks which can later be recombined if needed.

Simplified

Simplified

The next few areas will be interior shots. A family friendly shopping and cinema center and a ” Fun Zone ” for young males. The important thing here is that we are designing this for Saudi Arabia where they observe different cultural norms. Women and children have more personal freedom then they did in the past but they still go out only with related males and wear the traditional Burka Clothing which must be reflected in our illustrations.

Christian again has a quick sketch to use for direction on this image.

Christians Sketch

Christians Sketch

After recreating the sketch in 3D and picking a view we find out the client no longer wants to show any reference to specific movies at the complex so we have to shift gears and just produce a good looking multi use space a bit disappointing as I feel it lacks a true focus but still feel good about the final effort…

Final Cinema Complex

Final Cinema Complex

The next area was a bit more fun. We designed an exciting space containing a 2 level indoor go cart racing track with assorted video game stations and motion base simulator rides.

Entertainment Zone Model Shots

Entertainment Zone Model Shots

Entertainment Zone Model Shots

Entertainment Zone Model Shots

One of the more enjoyable parts of this design was that I needed a cool racing go cart. I first tried using an existing design I ¬†found online but we decided it would be more fun to produce our own. It bears mentioning that these are conceptual pieces so I am not sure if what I have shown here is even possible much less safe but it would be fun to try…

Sorry Honey these aren't for you...

Sorry Honey these aren’t for you…

The final Illustration. Its a segregated space so there are only males present, not what I would look for in a fun zone but again you must design for the client not yourself…

Fun Zone Final Illustration

Fun Zone Final Illustration

This next area is a informational area speaking to the unique history of Old Ryadh and future developments in and around Saudi Arabia. The focus being a huge observation window overlooking the restored old city portion of the project. This first image is just to show a bit of the process I used. The first image you see is the interior of our space followed by the render of what is outside the window. For this project I am using a new rendering plugin called ¬†Renderin. Its kind of buggy and doesn’t have nearly the fine control of my usual renderer Modo.¬†It does make really nice exterior shots and since I am going to be doing extensive painting on these it will be just fine.

Observation Window Interior

Observation Window Interior

The view outside towards the old Ryadh.

Outside

Outside

The final piece showing people enjoying the view with interactive touch screen kiosk and smart glass displays.

Observation Window Final

Observation Window Final

The next area to illustrate was an exterior view showing the Cultural Park with water features and various entertainment venues. Below are some model shots showing the overall scope and vast scale.

Hero View Exterior

Hero View Exterior

Model Shot Exterior

Model Shot Exterior

Final Exterior Illustration showing an animated space alive with people and activity.

Final Icon Park View

Final Icon Park View

Closeup view showing detail. These paintings were produced to be printed at very large scale. I believe the final prints were either 36″ or 48″ in width

Closeup View

Closeup View

A view from the upper walkways looking back towards the new cultural center and cinema complex. At this stage the walkways are supposed to be a translucent plex but as can be imagined this design feature will not last.

Old City Overview Walkway

Old City Overview Walkway

An example of the back and forth notes I get from BRC. Its pretty rare to get such nice clear direction and on this project with its scope and tight timeline I am glad of it…

Notes

Notes

The final Ryadh Old city overview illustration. This view is showing the activity on the elevated tower walkways with out door ¬†cafe and informational Kiosk. This view also reflects the clients direction to scale back the ” modern ” style of architectural detail we had included in earlier revisions. This is part of the effort to retain the traditional feel of the area.

Old Ryadh Overlook

Old Ryadh Overlook

A closeup of the painting reveals me having a bit of fun. The two gentlemen down there on ground level ” brown robe ” are whats called Mutaween or religious police. In the course of searching for ref on this project I ran across many discussions of this phenomenon and thought it would be fun to include them in the painting. One account I read was about how a western man and his wife were accosted by them almost resulting in bad things because the wife was wearing a t shirt. Not sure how I would react myself but I think if you can’t accept a societies rules then maybe you shouldn’t go there…

Religious Police

Religious Police

An exterior night time shot. The main focus of course being the large ” Crystal ” tower surrounded by modern residential development… Forgive my Flare but the client seemed to like it.

Tower Exterior Nightime

Tower Exterior Night time

The final piece was to be of souk market space which we didn’t receive input for until the 11th hour. Christian again came through with a quick design direction sketch which I used to produce the final you see here. Unlike the other images we had no time to build this ourselves in 3D. Instead we took the clients model shot and reference and produced our painting somewhat freeform. I think overall it is an acceptable addition to the series.

Inspirational Reference

Inspirational Reference

The final piece.

Souk Market Scene

Souk Market Scene

At this point we received final instruction to go through each piece and make sure every person was wearing appropriate ” Saudi ” head dress. This is part of what makes my job so interesting, it can be a bit frustrating at times but the devil is in the details as they say…

In conclusion this project was both challenging and extremely rewarding. It was difficult at times to manage the large work load and the many specific needs of the client but at the end of the day I am happy to have done it.¬†From what I know they were extremely pleased and thats always a nice feeling… I hope you enjoyed this description of my work and I look forward to sharing more with you later…

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