06 March 2018

Expanding horizons: Anthony Esparza talks about his tenure as CCO of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Anthony Esparza spoke at the 2016 TEA Summit in his former role as CCO,
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Photo by Chris Chien for TEA; provided courtesy TEA.

"I am most proud of the establishment of SeaWorld’s creative arm, Deep Blue Creative. That brought together attractions, entertainment, media and new business development together under one umbrella and in one place. As Deep Blue Creative, they became a team. This brought a new creative spirit to the way SeaWorld functions – all the creative people aligned around the company goals, communicating and collaborating. The founding of Deep Blue Creative set a strong foundation for new ventures such as the new park in Abu Dhabi, and it revitalized programs such as Sesame Workshop."

Anthony Esparza had joined SeaWorld shortly after former CEO Joel Manby took the helm and had previously been part of Manby’s team at Herschend Entertainment. Judith Rubin interviewed Anthony on March 2, 2018, the day after SeaWorld announced his departure and less than a week after Manby stepped down.

04 January 2018

TEA President’s Forums foster business development in themed entertainment

"To get Themed Entertainment Association members in front of owners - the key people, the doorway to the projects – to find out what those potential clients are looking for and what steps they need to take to earn contracts with them – that’s the foundation of what we do, and what we want to do," says TEA past president Steve Birket of Birket Engineering.

Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative,
speaks at the 2017 TEA President's Forum. Photo for TEA by Ken Saba.
Birket continues: "The TEA President's Forums speak to the founding mission of TEA, bringing owners and vendors together to be better at this business."

The most recent TEA President's Forums, held in Orlando in November 2017, brought together suppliers with owner/operators from Universal Studios and Wanda Group. They were attended by hundreds of TEA members. Full story by Judith Rubin for TEA

07 November 2017

From amusement park cleanup to brand experience expert: Geoff Thatcher, Creative Principals

Geoff Thatcher working with producers from The Brand Experience
at StudioEIS, a sculpture studio in Brooklyn in May 2017.
Geoff launched his own company, Creative Principals, in July 2017.
Photo Credit: Elliot Schwartz.

Geoff Thatcher, grownup, brings the same enthusiasm to his work that Geoff Thatcher, teenager, brought initially, years ago, to Lagoon Amusement Park – whether it was cleanup, feeding the animals or writing titles for training slideshows.

“Geoff always had it in him, even when he was 14. We all knew, ‘this kid’s gonna do something great,’” said Lori Capener, Geoff's former supervisor at Lagoon. "He was always ready and willing to do whatever new thing came down the chute, and he was good at motivating others. He was rarin’ to go.”

Geoff's career took him from journalism to JRA, and then to creating corporate branded experiences, where he's had great success applying what he calls "The Experience Model."

As brands and IP have assumed a new prominence in entertainment attractions, Geoff has returned to the heart of the attractions industry - now, as founder and Chief Creative Officer of his own company, Creative Principals.

Read the full story by Judith Rubin for InPark Magazine issue #70, Nov 2017.

15 Candles: The Hettema Group

The driver of this company’s work is “aiming for awe” – creating projects that give guests goosebumps; borne out by some of their best-known work, such as One World Observatory, High Roller and “Beyond All Boundaries,” each of which has become an icon in its own way.

The Hettema Group got its start when Jeffrey Katzenberg, a longtime collaborator and client, recommended Phil Hettema for a project in Jordan. Katzenberg, whose current company is WndrCo, said, “I’ve known Phil for more than 30 years, having worked with him collaborating all the way back to the days at Disney. I worked with him during his time at Universal when DreamWorks had a theme park deal with Universal, and then with him directly at DreamWorks Animation.

“Phil is one of the most innovative and creative and dynamic storytellers in the world of live experiences,” said Katzenberg. “He’s done so many amazing projects over the years – everything from Seuss Landing at Universal, to One World Observatory in New York. He’s just incredibly diverse and skilled at all the many elements of three-dimensional storytelling. He is pretty unique.”

Click for full story - this was the cover feature for InPark Magazine issue #70, November 2017.

30 October 2017

Peanuts/Cedar Fair deal shows Snoopy is good for the brand, good for the park

Peanuts characters in their Halloween costumes
at Kings Island’s Great Pumpkin Fest event.
Photo courtesy Cedar Fair Entertainment Company.

Cedar Fair and Peanuts recently renewed an agreement of 30 years standing, extending the licensing agreement for their popular Camp Snoopy and Planet Snoopy themed areas as well as for the characters to serve as overall park mascots to 2025 at all 11 Cedar Fair parks.

Craig Herman,
Director, Category Management,
Peanuts Worldwide
The relationship with Cedar Fair has been extremely important to Peanuts Worldwide and their desire for consumers young and old to experience the brand in location based entertainment (LBE). Peanuts Worldwide continues to explore and discuss new opportunities with licensees around the world, and in November 2017, representatives will once again attend the IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando to meet with creatives and potential partners.

Peanuts takes the LBE market seriously and has dedicated people to identify opportunities and collaborate with licensees. Two of the main point persons are Craig Herman, Director, Category Management, Peanuts Worldwide; and consultant George Wade of Bay Laurel Advisors, who will both be taking meetings at IAAPA in Orlando.

“This is a brand that appeals to men, women, and children, and is not gender specific,” said Herman. “It’s never been controversial and yet remains universally meaningful, taking on all kinds of life issues. That’s what makes it an evergreen brand that remains relevant to today’s audiences as well.”

Read the full story by Judith Rubin in issue #70 of InPark Magazine

13 September 2017

Flying Dreams attraction at Ferrari Land represents a media production breakthrough in the use of drones for large format dome cinema

“Flying Dreams” represents a breakthrough in the use of drones for specialty cinema. From the first test of equipment in the field, to the international shoot in six countries, to the last pixel in post production, the media production team led by Mousetrappe faced and overcame a series of unique challenges.
The “Flying Dreams” media production team is a who’s who of specialty cinema and special venue attractions, helmed by Mousetrappe, with Daren Ulmer (director) and David Briggs (writer), Don MacBain (producer), Sean Phillips (director of photography), Ken Saba (editor), Rick Rothschild (consultant); Jon Baker and Bruce Broughton (music and sound) and Muse VFX (visual effects).
“Flying Dreams” is a new flying theater attraction in the Ferrari Experience building at the new Ferrari Land, a third gate that opened in April 2017 at the PortAventura theme park destination resort near Barcelona. “Flying Dreams” serenely soars over world landmarks and swoops down to spotlight 11 different models of Ferrari GT™.

Spitz releases new fulldome title "Faster Than Light" for planetariums and museums

“Faster Than Light: The Dream of Interstellar Flight” offers a compelling and credible story for our time with broad audience appeal, speaking to a wide range of ages, interests and educational topics,” said Mike Bruno of Spitz Creative Media. “We think our planetarium clients will find it an enduring and versatile title for public and educational programming. We’re very proud of what the team has accomplished and pleased to add ‘Faster Than Light’ to the Spitz fulldome library.”

Robin Sip of Mirage 3D and Brad Thompson of Spitz
speak at Fulldome Festival Brno, where
"Faster Than Light" received an award in 2017.
“We chose the grand story of interstellar flight because it’s richly thematic and the human quest resonates with people,” said director Thomas Lucas. “Scientists are discovering that the galaxy is filled with planets. Telescopes are coming online that are going to be able to look at some of these worlds and determine whether there are atmospheres and possible signs of life.”

“Faster Than Light” was produced by Robin Sip (Mirage 3D), Mike Bruno (Spitz Creative Media) and Thomas Lucas (Thomas Lucas Productions). Brad Thompson (Spitz) and Leon Verschoor (Mirage3D) directed the visual production. This 25-minute documentary is available for general release in all fulldome formats. The project was supported by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Film Office.... Read full story

Video clips/more info 

14 May 2017

Media producers: Ben Stassen, Ken Saba, Luke Ployhar, Don MacBain, David Love

Media producer David Love, Hollow Studios, educated at "Disney University" - October 2016, InPark magazine
..."enamored with ride films since experiencing Star Tours in 1987, David formed a long term ambition to create them. In 2008, as Hollow Studios (first iteration, Hollow 4D Studios) he had become well versed in 3D animation as well as live action 3D, and the company rolled out an original media-based turn-key attraction at the IAAPA Attractions Expo, where the company received IAAPA’s First Place, Best Exhibit 600-1000 Sq. Ft. award. They built a library of six films over the next several years... Full story

The House that Ben Built: interview with Ben Stassen of nWave Pictures - March 2016, InPark magazine
...How did the Robinson Crusoe story wash up on nWave’s shores?
I love castaway stories – and they provide good, family-oriented subject matter with good themes. Robinson Crusoe is a classic that lives in the public consciousness – a recognizable IP. Most people know at least the basics, even if they haven’t read the book by Daniel Defoe. It was ideal for our purposes, and this was such a new and original angle – seen from the point of view of the animals on the island where the hero is shipwrecked....Full story

Ken Saba: The whats, whys and hows of media production (interview) - Feb 2017, InPark magazine
...First, tell us about Soarin’ Around the World.
There’s an ironic backstory. In 1998 at Walt Disney Imagineering, during a semester off while I was working as an assistant editor, the late Tom Wright, who was in charge of film distribution, told me about this great project coming up and encouraged me to stick around for it. However, I was partway through getting my degree at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and had to go back so as not to lose my placement. It was a tough decision. I remember telling Tom, “I’m going to kick myself for this.” The project was Soarin’ Over California. I would have been assistant editor. But there I was, 18 years later, the editor on Soarin’ Around the World. If it doesn’t happen now, it’s gonna happen later! ...Full story

Luke Ployhar and "Space Next" - March 2016, InPark magazine
...Luke Ployhar began working on the new space documentary, SPACE NEXT, as a “passion project” to develop internally at his company, Afterglow Studios while continuing to contribute to other giant screen productions such as Space Junk 3D, Electropolis and Antarctica 3D: On the Edge. He founded Afterglow in 2006 after relocating from Los Angeles to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area. With such films as Minority Report, Inspector Gadget, Planet of the Apes and Austin Powers under his belt, Ployhar found that his mainstream movie making skills in production, visual effects, 3D and animation transferred effectively to the alternate universe of special venue cinema... Full story

A well-oiled process: Media producer Don MacBain fosters collaboration - November 2015, InPark magazine
...At pretty much any point in his career, Don MacBain could be found working on or near the forefront of special venue cinema, whether analog or digital, flatscreen or dome, big screen or small, entertainment or education or corporate, 2D or 3D or even 4D. At this writing MacBain was just wrapping up a 15-month project with Jack Rouse Associates (JRA), which contracted him to oversee media production for the extensive re-imagining of the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum (Midland, Texas USA), which opened in the first quarter of 2016... Full story

Social media, blogging and content marketing: keeping a balance and perspective

Judith Rubin
This is based on questions I often field from clients, to help everyone stay out of the weeds when it comes to the effective use of social media and content marketing. 

Clarify your business marketing goals
First of all, we are discussing social media as an online publishing and editorial tool applied to marketing and public relations goals in business. Social media has broadened the ways information can be expressed and distributed to serve the core mission and convey the message. It's easy to confuse social with business - we are not going for flavor of the month so much as an effective approach that serves the client goals. Identify the goals, identify the best channels, and formulate a strategy.

What are the advantages of blogging?
Blogs can be standalone, or integrated into a website. They can be an effective way to create an online information clearinghouse that could be quickly updated, create a body of information focused on a particular topic, be time sensitive, professional looking, and not require the services of a webmaster. Blogs help build the overall internet footprint, boost search marketing, create incoming links. They also allow for a little experimentation in what drives traffic and gets pageviews. And they can be made press-friendly. Blogs can be designed to serve up a body of reliable official information and resources. Interface with other social media formats facilitates sharing the information easily by anyone who visits the site. Blogs can also outlive their usefulness - with the number of possible directions online marketing can take, be aware when something falls by the wayside and make a decision either to bring it up to date, position it as an archive, or eliminate it.

How are we measuring our results? How do we know if our numbers are high or low?
The measure is always tied to whether you are getting what you were aiming for. What were your goals? Registration for an event? Press coverage? Increased awareness? Education? Post-event reporting? Numbers can look high or low depending what you compare them to. Find realistic comparisons based on your industry, your competitors and your own past performance.

What is the right balance of quality and quantity?
One thing to be concerned about is over-proliferation. Resist the pressure to be everywhere all the time - it's not possible, but the attempt will compromise quality. Always be looking to see what a particular channel gains you in terms of exposure and to what audience. 

Should we have individual blogs or social media accounts for departments, divisions, offices or individuals within our organization? 
This is an umbrella question. The answer may be yes or it may be no - the issues to discuss first pertain to proliferation, consistency, editorial quality, ability to update and maintaining your contacts list - all crucial factors. 

Each separate channel - whether it is a Facebook page, Twitter account, Vimeo channel, WeChat account, blog or other forum - engenders a separate database in terms of members or followers. Each channel needs a stream of content. Who will be responsible for these things? How will you keep everything under the umbrella in terms of branding and message, and access to the contacts list that is a very valuable asset? Will you find yourself competing with members of the press who have been supporting you? How will you deal with admin changes? Online forums can be damaging to a business, when in unprofessional or unethical hands, or when someone is driven by a personal agenda. 

How do we select our editorial topics?
Do what an editor does: work to stay in touch with the community and identify what's important and possibly under-reported. Chat with leaders and people in the know about direction. Look for trends, significant projects, markets and so forth, and narrow it down. Cultivate awareness of your audience, what are you trying to convey and what you hope to accomplish. Be objective.

How much time is required?
More than you think.

How should we focus our efforts abroad?
Determine the appropriate channels and how best to use them depending on the region. There can be a lot of variation. 

Must this be done in-house? 
You can use an agency or freelance specialist or media outlet that provides such services, and make them your marketing partner. It can be an advantage to do so, in that these tasks are a part of their core business. Any good provider in this field is always working to stay up to date, to understand branding and editorial quality, and to build online followings. You are more likely to get bigger results faster, and clear explanations of what those results indicate.