A titan within the industry, Gary Goddard and his design firms have been responsible for some of Universal’s most memorable attractions. His innovative work at The Goddard Group and Landmark Entertainment Group has led audiences through the world of Jurassic Park, King Kong, Terminator and Spiderman in some of the world’s most immersive experiences.
Mr. Goddard was gracious enough to grant us an interview that chronicles his groundbreaking work and relationship with Universal Studios.
In an effort to make reading easier, we’ve split the interview into two parts. This first half depicts Mr. Goddard’s initial interactions with Universal Studios and the preliminary stages of what would become Jurassic Park: The Ride, while the latter half (presented here) details Mr. Goddard’s further involvement with Jurassic Park, Terminator 2:3D and some of his concluding thoughts on King Kong.
Scene 10 – Wrong Turn: “We have been set adrift in the backstage area of Jurassic Park Lagoon. A large and battered set of doors blocking our passage says BOAT STORAGE AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. To our right we can see the backside of fake rockwork. Our boat bumps through the doors and we engage on a noisy left station.”
Continued from part one.
Inside Universal: The dinosaurs, in the ride’s early years especially, looked amazing and moved with incredible realism. What was the basic process for getting just one of these dinosaurs created for a ride atmosphere, and what are your suggestions for maintaining them?
Well, to be honest, by the time production started on the Dinosaurs, my involvement was minimal. While we were involved in creating the soundtrack, Universal hired away a guy from me to place as their art director, and then he and a long line of changing project managers took over production. I registered my objection to the use of SARKOS as I felt they did not understand our business. But the guys at Universal were enamored of these “NASA guys” who promised them life like dinosaurs.
“You have to know in advance WHERE the character needs to be for maximum effect with his particular “gag” – and the animatronics needs to be designed to MAKE that particular gag work, and again, lighting, sound, control, setting, staging – everything must work together and in harmony.”
But SARKOS had never really done anything like this, and they didn’t create SKINS – and from my experience I know that in the AA business, how the skins attach and work with the animatronics is critical. If they didn’t work well together then you had either bad animation, or bad skins (breaking, tearing), or worse, both. I had also – in one of my last meetings with then project manager #4 I think – and the executive team – and I brought up the “skins issue” and no one there thought it was any big deal. I also, having lost an earlier attempt to include a huge “roof” over the area (to allow for shade from sunlight which would be better show, and would also protect from direct UV effects on the skin) — I did state that to the greatest degree possible, the dinosaurs should be staged under trees, or overhanging rocks – to seem more dramatic and to also spare them from the relentless sun which will quickly fade and age the skins. I think that was all lost on everyone. I believe there was a window to do something great but with AA figures = but it’s all about the staging. You have to know in advance WHERE the character needs to be for maximum effect with his particular “gag” – and the animatronics needs to be designed to MAKE that particular gag work, and again, lighting, sound, control, setting, staging – everything must work together and in harmony. Sticking figures on a rock and having him move his head and grunt – well that’s not really great show.
I wasn’t all that happy with the way the Dinosaurs turned out, nor was I happy with a lot of the final staging which ignored much of the careful design that had been done in the early stages of development and design. But in the end, I think the ride was “good enough” and that enough of the cool gags survived and enough of the show moments worked. So it’s a great ride experience for the most part, but not at all the over the top experience I would liked to have seen.
Scene 11 – Lift Into Boat Storage: “Work lights flicker overhead barely illuminating this dark chamber. Over the PA system we hear an operator’s voice saying…”Ladies and gentlemen, due to circumstances beyond our control, we will be taking your boat onto our service line where you will be evacuated.” As we crest the lift we see shadows and the sweep of a flashlight. Our boat comes to an abrupt half and we are greeted by a nervous looking Jurassic Park operator.”
Did you have any involvement in the design of the Jurassic Cafe or Jurassic Outfitters as well?
No although we did suggest – in our original bird’s eye rendering and concept – the idea of a café and a retail store – all with the idea of making it a kind of “land” instead of a stand-alone ride – which is kind of where it all began.
The dramatic success of Jurassic Park spawned copies at both Universal Studios Japan and Universal’s Islands of Adventure as well as a unique river-rafting ride at Universal Studios Singapore. Did you and your design group have creative input on the ride’s counterparts in Florida and Japan, and were there any constraints associated with their respective locations?
Sadly we were only involved in the original. And mainly through concept, master planning, show design, and final design development. We also wound up doing the soundtrack later in the schedule. In the script, and then during production, I pushed for, and we got, RICHARD KILEY to do the opening narration. This was great because that is who Michael Crichton named as the narrator in his book. So once again, we went to the original source material and Steven loved that little touch as well. Not everyone, in fact probably very few people, realize the voice at the start of the ride is the very actor named in Michael Crichton’s original book. But for those that do, it’s a nice detail that really adds to the experience.
In the Florida version, for some reason, they returned to our original name THE JURASSIC PARK RIVER ADVENTURE which I was pleased to see.
In terms of having involvement beyond the first one, the answer is not really. We set the first one and Universal then takes it from there on future units. And usually the future units cut and crimp costs here and there, devaluing the ride. In the case of JURASSIC PARK RIVER ADVENTURE I think they actually improved it from the original in several areas.
But the overall involvement of the original attraction creator once a show is open, is a larger issue with theme parks when it comes to the long life of these attractions. Quite simply, while a movie requires the director’s approval to do most anything to it, and in the the theatre world, the director is brought back in every 6 months to see the show, give notes, sometimes to brush things up or get the staging back to its original intent, it’s just not that way in Theme Parks.
In theme parks, once a show creator completes the project, the owner/operator rarely – if ever – brings back the creator for notes, thoughts, comments or anything at all. It’s frustrating. They are quite happy hiring an assistant director that worked with me, or a new show director, or appointing someone from the production or project management team, to handle the casting of new actors, and to oversee the general aesthetic standards. And of course, each of these new people wants to add things and change things. By and large, they are not interested in maintaining the original integrity of the attraction. By and large I think that it would be great for the original creator/director of a show or ride be brought back from time to time to give input. But as I said, in the theme park industry, this tradition does not exist.
Theme park attraction projects have a long development and production period – usually a number of years. And every great show, every great ride, needs a champion. If there is no “champion” standing up for the show – then as you might imagine — the end result is usually disappointing. The greatest rides and shows you can think of – the ones you all love at Disney, Universal, or at any park anywhere – had someone who fought for everything you love about it.
Scene 12 – Evacuation Attempt: “The operator partially out of breath says…”OK folks…we are going to take this boat off the system and get you out in the storage room. Breaking the silence, the operators two way radio sounds…’Jurassic 6 are you set for immediate evac?'”
The idea [for the "drydock sequence"] was to have a live performer who was guiding the boat into drydock to get you out of there. As he gets the boat in the drydock and is about to unload, it appears the dinosaurs are attacking.
He essentially runs out of there, leaving you stranded in the boat as it slips back backwards. And we thought the cool thing was that now you’re going to HEAR the dinosaurs behind you before you could see them, in the darkness. We thought that would be very scary.
When the sequence got cut, that was when we redesigned the experience; and where we came up with the chain-link fences and gateways that were protecting you. And the raptors were charging those fences and pounding away at the gates.
But there was more realism to it because you know you had a barrier between you and them.
Another landmark attraction that had opened in 1996 was the fan favorite Terminator 2:3D over at Universal Studios Florida. You previously spoke of meeting Jay Stein – then Chairman and CEO for Universal’s theme park division – about creating a new experience for Universal Studios Hollywood. How did the idea shift from being a Hollywood-based attraction to one located in Florida?
Well I mentioned at the outset that the TERMINATOR concept was originally to be for the Hollywood facility and it began with Jay calling me up and saying “I want something for the old CONAN Theatre and I am thinking of doing a stunt show based upon the TERMINATOR 2 movie.” So, Jay engaged me to create a concept, and I slaved over the idea of a ‘stunt show’ but it was a difficult challenge. A “stunt show” suggested to me –something tacky — a look-alike “Arnold” in sunglasses battling a stunt man in an aluminum costume of some kind – and I just thought “this will be awful.” But after a few weeks, and having reviewed the laser disc of Terminator 2 many times, I got this image of the liquid metal T-1000 emerging from the screen in 3D, which then led to the concept for something more than a stunt show. But that’s a story for another time. But yes, the assignment started with creating something to go into the Conan stage.
What spawned the notion to recreate the Terminator attraction in Hollywood, and were there any unique constraints associated with the Hollywood installation?
I was involved in creating, directing, designing and producing the first version in Orlando. For the 2nd version they used others, so I can’t comment. I can say that it was mistake to reduce the in-theatre “early model” Terminators from six to four, and I think for what limited savings they got, they really cheapened the total environmental effect.
“The reason the attraction [Terminator 2:3D] was placed into both Hollywood and Japan is because it was one hellava great attraction and people love it.”
But having said that, overall they did a pretty good job of cloning the first one, though I think it lacked the energy of the first. But I guess maybe that’s natural given how “new” the first one was perceived when it hit the scene. It really blew people away which was what we wanted to do. Jim and I would say “this has to be SENSE-SHATTERING!” The reason the attraction was placed into both Hollywood and Japan is because it was one hellava great attraction and people love it. Even today it’s still a major hit in Orlando, though sadly, it’s being replaced by a “minions” attraction here in Hollywood. I was very sorry to see them take the show out of Hollywood but I take solace in the fact it’s still quite popular in Florida and Japan.
Universal Studios Hollywood’s installation of Terminator 2:3D received some minor modifications after its debut in 1999 – most notably VIC (the Visual Intelligent Computer, model number T-900), a scripted LED ticker that interacted with guests before the start of each preshow. How much creative control do you retain once an attraction is considered finished, and what are your thoughts on the now-infamous scrolling ticker?
Honestly I don’t like that addition much. Gimmicky and not in keeping with the spirit of the mythology or storyline. What I call “cheap laughs” which theme parks seem to feel they must go for without regard to the effect on the actual attraction and overall experience. With attractions like T2/3D and STAR TREK: THE EXPERIENCE, and THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF SPIDER-MAN – you are always fighting certain executives who think audiences are dumb. They don’t think audiences can handle a “storyline” with plot points, or anything that requires a bit of focus.
T2/3D was a war most of the time – with Jim (Cameron) and me battling for a show that would be true to the spirit of the movies, and that would engage the audience in the storyline as well as the action and effects.
Attempts were made continuously to “dumb it down” but — we were able to maintain our approach. This was due mainly to the fact that Jim was there to back me up. So in the end, we were able to present a show that was really engaging, fun, told a story, and really upped the ante for theme park attractions. And we achieved this because we respected the audience. Up to opening day — certain management types at Universal thought the show would fail, and that people would not “understand it”. (Behind the scenes at Universal they were calling it “Gary Goddard’s TITANIC” – because at the time Jim was way over budget and the word in the press was TITANIC was going to be a failure and take both Jim and Fox down.
The Universal execs were wrong on BOTH counts.) So, with T2/3D, in the first four previews, and then the first week or two of the show, the attraction consistently rated higher than any ride or show EVER in this history of Universal’s parks. So much so, that Ron Bension had the market test people change their scoring system because he thought it must be faulty somehow. NO ATTRACTION IN THE HISTORY OF UNIVERSAL had tested so high. But even after the change in the post-show survey – the ratings continued to break all records. A testament to respecting the audience and not dumbing it down to the level of – sadly – many of the theme park attractions you see today.
Back to your original question – and I am sure I am going to inadvertently insult someone — but that LED ticker idea is the same lame kind of thing you find in most any theme park attractions and I hate it. It’s the dumbing down idea – the idea that theme park rides and shows cannot exist without playing to lowest common denominator. And I don’t accept that and never have. Just because it gets a laugh or other reaction from the audience doesn’t mean its GOOD for the show.
If we may broaden our questions a bit, what do you consider to be your greatest collaboration with Universal, and why?
TERMINATOR 2/3D and THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF SPIDER-MAN are probably the top two. They represent the culmination of a twenty year relationship with Universal where, together, we pushed the envelope of theme park attractions. And of course, these projects took the most work and the most convincing of management because they were very ground-breaking. Every step of the way, the Universal Studios internal design team fought both projects. They never believed in either one of them, though today you would never know that because those that fought both projects and predicted failure, now take credit for them.
Henry Gluck, the former Chairman of Caesars Palace told me something after the opening of The Forum Shops at Caesars (another “attraction” I designed that was predicted to fail before it opened by all of the retail “experts”, but which of course, has proven to be one of the most successful retail malls in the world for over 20 years now). When it opened, and when it was a resounding international success (20,000,000 people a year and huge per square foot sales), everyone took credit for it, including all the people who had predicted it would be “Henry’s Tomb” – And Henry gave me a good bit of perspective at that point. Henry said “remember Gary, success has many fathers; failure is an orphan.” True.
But having said that, I am glad all those Universal management team members take credit now – because without Universal Studios – and Jay Stein and Ron Bension in particular– there would have been no T2/3D, no JURASSIC PARK RIVER ADVENTURE, no AMAZING ADVENTURES OF SPIDER-MAN, and for that matter, no KONG ON THE LOOSE or CONAN – or and on and on. I would say that my entire 20 year run with Universal was a wonderful time and that we managed – by working together — to create a lot of really cool, really great, really ground-breaking attractions.
Finally, do you have any thoughts on the original King Kong experience on the Studio Tour, and its current reincarnation?
Well of course I prefer the original one, not only because I did it, but because it was REAL. And you’re talking to the guy that brought 3D attractions to Universal for the first time (when one of the creative internal guys at Universal was actually saying “3D doesn’t belong in theme parks” believe it or not). But I have to say that overall I liked the real KONG and the real fire and real explosions – there was something very, very cool about that and I think it also was a big idea.
Having said that, I certainly think Peter Jackson is a cinematic genius, and what they did there was pretty damn good. But I just think the Tram Tour was better served with the “real” Kong in terms of being experiential. Photographable too. It’s something you can’t see anywhere else, and KONG being life-sized was just a very cool thing. But time marches on, and I do think the current Kong 3D version is still great bang for the buck. And if you never saw the original show, you don’t know the difference. So I think its great – certainly well done within the confines of the sightline challenges and such.
Before I go I think I should mention some of the team members that were a big part of the JURASSIC PARK attraction design and development:
As you know I did this project through the first company I founded, Landmark Entertainment Group. I developed the concept with a show design team that consisted of myself along with Landmark staff members Robert DeLapp, Ty Granaroli, and Adam Bezark. Landmark’s Chuck Canciller was the production designer and Greg Damron provided the overall planning. The Chiodo Brothers created the staging drawings for the dinosaurs (establishing key poses and showing the desired animation moves), while Greg Pro did the fantastic storyboards. Greg also provided 5 or 6 key color renderings to set the overall tone and atmosphere, including the iconic T-REX blasting through the Waterfall in the climactic sequence. I think that art was used for marketing, for merchandise, for just about everything. David Thornton headed up the technical design team, and Ted King and James Fielding created and produced the incredible soundtrack. Neil Engle was brought on originally to assist in the ride track layout as he had a good technical knowledge for ride system requirements, but once the design was completed Universal hired him away to be their overall project manager. Luc Mayrand designed the boats, keying off the jeep design from the movie, while the Landmark Model Shop, under the direction of Roy Stevens, created a massive walk-through model that allowed Steven and the other Universal execs to see the entire ride with their eyes at “boat level” to fully understand the design intent and overall staging.
I am sure I have probably left out a few people, but as you can see, Landmark played a critical role for about four years prior to construction, creating, designing, supervising, and generally working very hard to create something that would stand the test of time. It seems, in combination with Universal’s production team, we achieved that.
Special thanks to The Goddard Group for the use of their images and Derrick Davis and his efforts in arranging this interview.