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 (presented here) 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 will detail Mr. Goddard’s further involvement with Jurassic Park, Terminator 2:3D and some of his concluding thoughts on King Kong.

Jurassic Park

One of the many early storyboards from Jurassic Park: The Ride, this scene depicts the ride’s original loading dock.

 

Inside Universal: Jurassic Park: The Ride is still seen by many fans as Universal Studios Hollywood’s flagship attraction after almost 17 years. How did the concept for Jurassic Park originally get started, and what was your perception of Universal Studios Hollywood like in the early 90s?

My relationship with Universal started in the early 80’s. Jay Stein had created a live stage show based upon DRACULA (and incorporating other Universal Monsters) and it was – well let’s just say it was not well received. Jay had hoped for something really fantastic, and the set certainly was. But the writing, direction, and overall show was a miss. He was very disappointed and was trying to figure out how to salvage it.

About that time, he hired Peter Alexander who had been at W.E.D. (Disney Imagineering’s REAL name) to head up “Shows & Attractions” for the Universal Studios Tour. Peter actually worked in the financial division at Imagineering under Carl Bonjiorno but had done some creative writing and he really wanted to be on the creative side of the industry. Jay Stein brought him on board to help shape the new attractions, and I believe, to help “fix” the Dracula show.

Conan

Caption: “The dragon from the CONAN SHOW breathing real fire with the actor holding a (literally) fire-proof shield just moments before “the kill” of the dragon.” © 1996 MCA, Inc.

 

At that time they had the Western Stunt Show, Prop Plaza, Kit the Car (the car would “talk” to guests,) and the big draw was the Tram Tour that featured the JAWS “rubber shark”, the parting of the red sea, the old Psycho House and so on. The new “DRACULA” show was supposed to usher in a new era of high quality attractions, however, the show was a major misfire.

Peter felt the Dracula Show just wasn’t going to work and he pushed Jay to do a NEW show – one based on the movie CONAN THE BARBARIAN. Peter promised to get a top notch creative team and called ROLLY CRUMP (one of the original “Imagineers”) to see if he would work on it. After hearing about it, Rolly told Peter that he was not a “live entertainment guy” but he recommended this “kid who just left Imagineering who’s really good with live shows” and that “kid” was me. I know this because when Peter called me he said that Rolly Crump had recommended me for the project which made me feel pretty good. (So thanks to Rolly for recommending me because it was the start of a long and very rewarding relationship with Universal.)

So I met with Peter – and this was around 1981 I believe – and was soon engaged to create a concept and script for what ultimately became THE ADVENTURES OF CONAN: A SWORD & SORCERY SPECTACULAR. I was definitely the right guy for the job, not only because of my background in live stage productions, but I had read all of the Robert E. Howard novels in high school so I knew the material well. And I was a major fan of Sword & Sorcery and Fantasy Adventure, so I saw this as a great opportunity.

Jay Stein was very impressed with our initial concept for the CONAN SHOW, which was designed to fit within his Dracula stage. After the presentation, he called me for a private meeting and said “is there any way to make the Dracula stage show work? I would be willing to pay a lot of money to someone if they could fix it.” He had invested so much personal energy in that show that he really wanted to make it work. I told him that I thought the problem was that he had tried to recreate moments from movies – but that you really can’t do that effectively on stage. That conceptually they needed to have created a show that would feature the Universal monsters – but that it needed to be created as a live show with moments that would recall the movies, but not try to recreate them. I explained that it’s very difficult – if not impossible – to achieve what movies do (through special effects and through close ups and camera work) on a stage.

King Kong

Caption: “A press shot from KONG ON THE LOOSE.” © 1996 MCA, Inc.

 

I said that I thought we had a great show in the CONAN property and that it would be a better bet to create something new. I also said wouldn’t it be better to market an all new show (for the park) rather than simply enhancing an existing one. Wouldn’t it be better to market an entirely new show? This made sense to him.

So I took my own advice and did not try to emulate the movie CONAN, but rather created a story that was based upon the world and mythology of the CONAN stories, but was designed to be a 16 minute experience, replete with swords and sorcery, with dragons and fire — something quite fantastic but created to work in this specific medium. And this approach worked very well and became the model for all or our future Universal attractions.

My perception of Universal at that time was – “wow – they really need someone like us to help up their game” – I felt that we (me and my team at Gary Goddard Productions) would be able to bring a level of quality to the their attractions that would put them on a more even footing with Disney. I felt that it was a great merging of talents and with that in mind we put everything we could into the CONAN attraction. To that end, I brought a lot of Disney and ex-Disney talent to the team. James Michaelson, Joe DeMeis, Claudio Mazzoli, Dave Jacobs, Daniel Flannery, and of course Bob Gurr was involved in making that Dragon come to life. There were many others that contributed to the final result as well.

“And we learned on that show – through the use of real water, real fire, real pyrotechnics – that we could push the edge of things more than Disney could or would.”

Anyway, this isn’t about CONAN – but this was the attraction that served as the foundation for a long and mutually respectful relationship between Jay Stein and myself. And we learned on that show – through the use of real water, real fire, real pyrotechnics – that we could push the edge of things more than Disney could or would. I decided we would try to put people “in the middle” of the action whenever we could. Whereas at Disney (then) you would passively see things – very cool things (“Haunted Mansion”, “Pirates of the Caribbean” and so on), we determined that we would try to create an attraction where you felt you were in the MIDST of it. So you see a pattern in the attractions that followed CONAN; in KONGFRONTATION, EARTHQUAKE and so on – culminating in TERMINATOR 2/3D, THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF SPIDER-MAN, and — JURASSIC PARK: THE RIDE (which actually was called THE JURASSIC PARK RIVER ADVENTURE in our initial presentations).

There — I finally brought it back to JURASSIC PARK. But I think it’s important to show the way in which we were designing attractions that would deliberately put people “INTO THE ACTION” and – as much as possible – make them more than passive observers.

Gary Goddard and Steven Spielberg

Caption: “Gary Goddard with Steven Spielberg and Sid Sheinberg at the Landmark Model Shop for a presentation of the staging model for THE JURASSIC PARK project during its design phase.”

 

The development of JURASSIC PARK: THE RIDE started very early, before the movie was even in production. I had already read the book prior to being asked to develop the concept, but as we got started, I was allowed to read the script to the Steven Spielberg movie, however, I had to read it at Amblin (Steven’s studio complex on the Universal lot), as no scripts were allowed out of studio. So I read it, along with a few key members of my staff, and it certainly triggered a number of ideas. We were VERY excited to start work on this.

Now at this point Universal assumed we would do the JEEP RIDE, just as it was in the book and in the movie script. The JEEP RIDE was the center of the film and SEEMED the obvious choice.

I remembered a chapter in the book – a chapter where the kids escape the dinosaurs by going through a boat ride that had not yet opened. I thought this was the way in for something exciting and different, something that would work in a theme park, while also being something we would pull right for the book – the original source material. In addition to all of that, I argued that Universal really didn’t have a true “ride” experience – and that a boat ride would be a plus for the park in Orlando.

Everyone was saying “well what will Steven say?” and I said “I think he’ll really like it – the fact we are taking it from the book is something I think he’ll like.” So it was left to me to pitch it to Steven, who was actually (by this time) making the movie. I told him that, having read his script, there was no way we could do a jeep ride that would ever have the emotional punch of what he was shooting. I noted that our T-Rex was not going to be able to chase the jeep or tear through trees and jungles. He agreed. I then pitched the boat ride – picking up on the original chapter in the novel, and noting that with a boat ride we could create our “own” story that would be in the tone and character of his movie but would add it’s own surprises. I also said “I don’t think we should try and re-create the movie because it will NEVER be as good as what you will have on film.” He agreed. Finally, I mentioned that it would also give the Orlando park a great boat ride with a huge splash zone that would make it highly popular with families, teens – with everyone really. I had a few sketches to help sell the idea as well.

As I predicted, Steven thought the idea was brilliant, and once he said that, we had the green light for the boat ride.

Jurassic Park

What were some of Steven’s gags or input that you can recall that either did or didn’t end up getting used in the ride?

Steven’s input was more in an overview role, reacting to the various story, staging and development ideas. For instance, at the very start of the project, when Universal was planning a jeep ride and I suggested picking up on the “boat ride” mentioned in the novel instead, he immediately “got it” and agreed. Trying to duplicate the dynamic T-Rex and Dino chase would not have worked well for so many reasons. Steven liked the idea of a boat ride as it was inspired by a chapter in the book and would cover ground not seen in the movie, while remaining true to the spirit and mythology. Because Steven liked it, the Jeep Ride became a Boat Ride instead. Steven was great to work with and he loved the eye-level model we created at our model shop – something I learned from my years at Imagineering.

Essentially the idea is to create a physical model that is staged on tables that allow the “rider” to walk through the entire ride with the eyes at the same level they would be if sitting in the boat. (So basically your head is the “boat” as you walk through and view the entire ride at boats POV level.) I took him, Sid Sheinberg (then President and CEO of Universal Pictures), and Barry Upson (Sr. V.P Design and Planning at Universal) through the entire experience. Steven loved it and mentioned he had never seen a model done like that before. It allowed him to “see” the ride in a very compelling way. Beyond that, during regular story meetings, Steven would provide directional ideas having to do with everything from staging to “gags” (moments) that he liked or didn’t like. I found the collaboration very productive and having his thoughts and involvement really helped to keep the integrity of the project intact throughout a very long development process.

Jurassic Park

Scene 9: Brush with Danger: “As it rises, the Parasaurolophus completely blocks our path to the ravine. We’re still pitching and rocking from all the water displaced by the big beast, and we bump off course, to the left.”

 

What was the biggest challenge of bringing the story of Jurassic Park to life in a full-fledged attraction? Were there concepts from the novel or film that you wanted to include that did not make the final cut? And what was it like working with the amazing Richard Attenborough?

There were a number of challenges at each stage of the project, but the concept and show design (the first part of the creative path) was probably the least problematic. Once we got going, everyone loved the concept. Jay Stein and Ron Bension were both involved and having the guys at the top intimately involved, while sometimes frustrating, overall is a good thing because decisions get made quickly and definitively. And of course, Steven was the two thousand pound gorilla and we would go to him for key creative approvals along the way. Steven loved what he saw and would “plus” things as we went along. His ideas were always good and always added something interesting to the look, or the gag, or the overall staging.

In terms of the creative, as I’ve already noted, we took the entire concept from a part of the book that referenced the un-opened boat ride. We also included the Pterodactyl Dome in the ride which was going to be quite cool. Ultimately that was cut for budget reasons, but that’s a part of the process of any major attraction – you never get 100% of what you want. Not at Disney, not at Universal – it’s just part of the reality. But these challenges sometime lead to even better ideas.

We also had a bit better story-telling in certain areas that got lost along the way – but that was more because of the 10 or 12 different project managers that Universal would assign to the project throughout its history. There is a lot to be said about keeping a team together from start to finish on a project – otherwise each “new” project manager (or art director, or producer) has to try and change or revise SOMETHING. They do this in order to feel they are making improvements. Usually these “improvements” do not improve anything and instead simply muddy things up.

“you never get 100% of what you want. Not at Disney, not at Universal – it’s just part of the reality. But these challenges sometime lead to even better ideas.”

So the challenge on this attraction, as with most any attraction, is to try and keep the vision intact, to make sure that changes required due to budget or quality become enhancements rather than arbitrary reduction in the guest experience, and to strive to keep the project “whole” as many different people are handling many different aspects.

Regarding Richard Attenborough’s participation I have nothing but praise for him – he’s a great guy filled with enthusiasm.

The pre-show/queue video came about when we got word that Universal was going to take down the standing sets from the movie. On one of their soundstages they had the massive stairway and entrance to the main building from the movie. On another sound stage was the “laboratory” where the eggs were hatched and cared for.

At this point, the movie was completed and I think was already in the theatres — and was a big success. But we were still in design for the project and nowhere near production. I went to Jay Stein and said “what if we write the queue and pre-show video now and we incorporate the standing sets before they tear them down?” I thought we could get an “authentic” look to the video and have John Hammond himself welcome guests to the “new” Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park

Storyboards from the ride. Panel 21 details the original electric fence scene, while Panel 22 shows an early rendering of the infamous falling jeep.

 

By this time we had evolved the concept to be one that follows the movie story – picking up where the movie left off. Essentially Universal Studios invited Hammond to build a new laboratory on the property of the Tour – in exchange for allowing people a glimpse into the world via “a safe, secure and controlled” boat ride. A ride where “nothing can go wrong as it did before in Costa Rica.” So having John Hammond himself explain all this would be a cool way to connect the movie to the ride and would also give us our “set up” for the adventure ahead.

Jay loved the idea, but he had to move mountains quickly to get the studio involved. Sheinberg (and Steven) had to approve the use of the sets, and we had to shoot within about two weeks before the sets were destroyed. So we organized it, scripted it, cast it, and produced it. I also directed it. Jay found a way to finance it even though were a year or two out from production and construction. So within a matter of weeks we were on the stages shooting.

On the day of the shoot with Mr. Attenborough, as I am setting up the crane shot that will feature him saying “WELCOME – TO JURASSIC PARK” as we pull out and high in the air, I feel a presence behind me as I am watching the video feed from the camera. As I turn around, it’s Steven – who heard about the shoot and dropped by to see what we were up to, and to say hello to Richard. I looked up and said “oh — anything you think we should change?” He said “no, no – it’s looking great.” He was really great on the set and everyone was amazed to see him there. Richard and he had a great time reminiscing about the shoot, and then I finally said “well – we do need to get this shot….” Steven laughed and said “Yes of course…..”

I don’t know if you are aware of it, but I asked Steven if he would do a cameo and he said — yes! So at the very end of the video – as the Camera pulls out, following John Hammond’s welcome line, if you look carefully, wearing his trademark director’s baseball cap, Steven does a cross behind Richard Attenborough who reacts with a kind of “Was that —- ?” It was a very cool moment. I am not sure the studio even realizes that Steven is in there, as I think they pulled it from the queue video long ago.

Jurassic Park

This concludes part one. We will have part two of our interview with Garry Goddard in the coming days, but for now, we would like to thank The Goddard Group for the use of their images and Derrick Davis and his efforts in arranging this interview.

Edit: Part two can be found at this link.

 

 

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