GARY GODDARD INTERVIEW
CREATOR OF JURASSIC PARK: THE RIDE
(Includes amended inserts from later dates)
Gary Goddard and his company have created some of the most memorable theme park rides. His teams envisioned the attractions for Jurassic Park, King Kong, Terminator, Spiderman, and many more for Universal Studios and the rest of the world. Riders were always immersed, thrilled, and even sometimes astounded by the technical achievements each attraction possessed.
Today, Goddard is here to delve into the dense history of Jurassic Park: The Ride. Its story spans as far back as to the early days of the film's production itself.
Derrick Davis: 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?
Gary Goddard: [...] The development of JURASSIC PARK: THE RIDE (which actually was called THE JURASSIC PARK RIVER ADVENTURE in our initial presentations) 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.
And while we played around with that for a bit, I was concerned because I thought how is a “car ride” going to play for real? To get speed, it would have be a coaster, and that doesn’t really fit the story. Real Safari Jeeps? No. Real looking Safari Jeeps on a chain driven ride system? No way to get speed on any kind of omni-mover system or chain drive. The idea of trying to emulate the movie also just was not compelling to me.
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.
Derrick: 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?
Gary: 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.
Derrick: What was the biggest challenge of bringing the story of Jurassic Park to life in a full-fledged attraction?
Gary: 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.
Derrick: Were there concepts from the novel or film that you wanted to include that did not make the final cut?
Gary: 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.
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.
Derrick: You mention how you had "a bit better story-telling in certain areas that got lost along the way". What were some of these better elements that got lost?
Gary: I am not sure if “better” is the right word, but we had a few cool ideas that got lost along the way. In particular the Pterodactyl Aviary which would have been VERY cool. [Then there was the "drydock sequence", which] was to have a live performer who was guiding the boat into drydock to get you out of there. It wasn’t just a live performer who appeared – he was actually part of a very dramatic scene that was designed to surprise guests in a new way. Once we entered the massive building, we discover there is an emergency “red light” evacuation taking place. Having been knocked off course, our boat is suddenly lifted (conveyor ramp) to a backstage load/unload dock where a ride operator is urgently shouting at us, warning us that “we have an emergency and we must evacuate immediately!” He is waiting for our boat to dock and he is telling us that he will lead us out. As we are about ready to get out – (but the safety bar has not released yet), a dinosaur comes bursting through a chain link fence, roaring and causing our attendant to fall back, hitting the controls and plunging us into darkness AS OUR BOAT SUDDENLY RELEASES AND TAKES US BACKWARDS down the ramp. 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. We are moving backwards in darkness as the warning sirens blare, and the red warning lights flash. We then notice blood in the water, and then the carcass of a Triceratops that we see slowly revealed as we curve around him – showing that he has been terribly gored. As LN2 is released ahead of us, the boat spins from backwards to front once more as we suddenly are being lifted up the access ramp to drydock above. When the sequence got cut, [...] we redesigned the experience. [The storytelling changed:] once you enter the massive research building, the way the Spitters and raptors came at you was staged with a bit more intelligence. I am not sure who was responsible for the changes, but [you would have seen] that the creatures were prevented from reaching you as they were behind chain fences or barred doorways. They were on the verge of getting to you though as the chain links fences were beginning to give way. But there was some separation from you rather than the Raptors “sliding down a ramp” on their bellies while “clawing” in your general direction. The pay off was two Raptors directly ABOVE the boat that were on a kind of chain link gateway and as you went UNDER them, the GATEWAY broke loose and fell inward TOWARDS YOU (with the Raptors) but of course, luckily, the gate held long enough for us to continue. But the Raptors were reaching THROUGH the fence to get at you – and the fence was barely holding them back. For me things need to have a logic to them – even though of course we all know the ride is a ride and not “real”. In our scenario and original staging, you felt as if the laboratory was coming apart at the seams and that these creatures were everywhere. But you - in the boat – still had a just a touch of safety left in the chain links gates and barred doorways that were going to break loose at any moment, yet, we just make our way past.
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The T-REX at the top of the ramp works pretty well and is somewhat in keeping with our original staging. He tries to get at you but the pipes and other conduits prevent him from getting through. As staged in the final version, the T-REX spotting us and trying to get at us, causing the splitting of the steam pipe- that all works pretty well and pretty much as designed. The big moment at the end, when it works correctly (T-REX through the waterfall timed to the drop) is great. But there again, it never quite worked as I had originally envisioned it. The idea was, through the staging of the water, the position of the T-REX behind it, and the lighting, that you would not be aware of the T-REX and you would think only this: “Oh the old water fall gag – we go to the water fall and then right before we go through it splits apart” so you think you have figured it out. What you didn’t know was that not ONLY was the water fall NOT going to split, but the T-REX was going to burst THROUGH the waterfall and come at you, with water splashing off him (as it would in real life) making you shield your eyes and head a bit --- and JUST AS YOU look up and block the water spray, BOOM, you go DOWN. So, this all requires careful working with the engineers, the AA guys, the lighting guys, the ride control. And we were not there by then. Universal Studios had hired away one of my younger team members earlier in the project, and by this time he was made the overall art director I believe. But he really didn’t understand all of the staging concepts – not his fault as he’s not a director by training – and so much of the best of our planning and design were left out. A great deal of the planning – sight-lines and reveals – were lost along the way.
The way a ride works requires precision – to really work well – lighting, audio, ride, timing, control – everything has to work together to create the illusion and to make a dramatic moment work. On the other hand, we all knew the DROP itself was going to be awesome and that guests would enjoy it regardless. Still, I think it was huge mistake to take out the chain fence barriers in the ramp, and to miss the opportunity to fully maximize the staging of the T-REX finale. There are other things too, but I’m sure I’ve said enough.
Derrick: What was it like working with the amazing Richard Attenborough [as John Hammond]?
Gary: 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.
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.
Derrick: 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?
Gary: 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. 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.
Derrick: Did you have any involvement in the design of the Jurassic Cafe, Jurassic Falls, or Jurassic Outfitters as well?
Gary: 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.
Derrick: I see, since it was originally going to be built in Universal Studios Florida before being moved to Hollywood. At least with the incredible success of Jurassic Park allowed copies to be spawned at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Japan, as well as a unique river-rafting ride at Universal Studios Singapore. Did you and your team have creative input on the ride’s counterparts, and were there any constraints associated with their respective locations?
Gary: 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.
By the way, [...] the artwork from our original design of the ride is IN the movie you know. You have to kind of look fast to see them, but our original renderings and some of our plans are on the walls in one of the scenes in the original movie. That was pretty nice to see.
Derrick: There was some concept art from your company’s website for Universal Studios Singapore’s planned Jurassic Park attraction. Could you elaborate more on this concept art and your involvement with Singapore’s current river-rafting attraction?
Gary: The artwork and the designs that we created for the project were used on every one of the Jurassic Park rides. And the concept for the River-Rafting version was also mine, pitched to Universal and Genting in a meeting here in L.A. at the start of the concept development for that park. They liked the idea apparently, but elected to do it without us, which was disappointing. We had a super idea for the river raft version, one they did not use, which would have made the finale something incredible.
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 did the initial designs for the dinosaurs and the storyboard based upon the outline our show design team created. 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. Greg Pro did the five or six key color renderings that set the tone for the overall ride, and Luc Mayrand designed the boats, keying off the jeep design from the movie. 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.
Derrick: Thank you Mr. Goddard for answering these questions. We appreciate your time and especially your contributions to the theme park industry.
POST-SCRIPT (JUNE 2020)
In September 2018, Jurassic Park: The Ride closed to be transformed into Jurassic World: The Ride. It reopened in July 2019 with general praise, but also with a sense of loss for fans of the original. While several of the major elements of the ride would remain the same, the theming within and surrounding the entire area would largely be altered.
I hope this article will help instill the magic that once was, and never be forgotten by those touched by it.
Here are additional segments from the interview that continue to explore Goddard's history with theme park attractions including insights into: The Adventures Of Conan: A Sword And Sorcery Spectacular, Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time, and Kongfrontation
Derrick: What was your relationship with Universal Studios Hollywood during the 80s and 90s?
Gary: 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.
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.
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.
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.
Derrick: Another landmark attraction that had opened in 1996 was the fan favorite, Terminator 2:3D over at Universal Studios Florida. You previous 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?
Gary: 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.
Derrick: What spawned the notion to recreate the Terminator attraction in Hollywood, and were there any unique constraints associated with the Hollywood installation?
Gary: 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. 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.
Derrick: 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?
Gary: 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.
Derrick: What do you consider to be your greatest collaboration with Universal, and why?
Gary: 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.
Derrick: Finally, do you have any thoughts on the original King Kong experience on the Studio Tour, and its current reincarnation?
Gary: 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.