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Sep. 19th, 2012

lettuce

Phoning in my Health

I think I've become what they call an "apphole".  I'm officially addicted to my smartphone.  It's not an iPhone though, so at least I can't be pretentious about it.

That's not what I got on here to write about exactly though.  I'm finding that my ever-present smartphone (a Droid, if you care) is actually slowly improving my health.  I've tried numerous times to start an exercise routine or diet / better eating, but I always lose interest quickly and fail.  Until now...

Back in May, I started using a walking tracker on my phone called Endomondo and it has made all the difference.  I now walk 5 to 7 days a week and at least 2 miles (up to 6) each day.  It's something about the tracking that almost makes it like a game for me.  I'm "collecting" miles and the reward is 20 pounds of weight loss and feeling better than I have in years.  I actually feel a little weird when I miss days and try to make up for it later.  This is not typical behavior for me, historically.  But it has been almost 5 months and I'm not giving up yet.

The phone is now helping with more healthy living efforts as well.  I started the 100 Push-ups routine and am now in the 2nd week of that.  Yesterday, I also added a sit-up routine monitored by the phone.  And tonight, I added a calorie counter that will gently keep me on track to better eating over the next few months.  I'm actually very enthusiastic (even excited) about these things that I've always hated doing in the past.  It's weird to me, but I'm so happy it's somehow happening... even if it is because of an addiction to my phone.  Whatever works, I guess.

Time to do sit-ups.

 

Apr. 21st, 2012

caged

8 Months at the New Job

Been awhile.  Been busy.  Doing what?  For the benefit of friends, family, and some complete strangers who've asked, "what are you doing now anyway?"...  Let me explain:

As you may be aware, I am a big time theme park nerd or a "foamer" as we are called by those in the industry.  Since I was 10 years old, I've wanted nothing more than to design theme parks for a living, and last Sept, I started working at a company in Burbank, CA called Thinkwell that does just that.  Since I've started, I've said almost nothing publicly about what I actually do despite this being a HUGE deal for me.  After almost 8 months there, I think I've had enough time to fully understand what I'm doing and what I am able to talk about.

Thinkwell is a themed experience company that produces creative designs for theme parks, attractions, museums, tours, special events, corporate branding, and just about anything else that could use a unique creative eye.  We are working for several clients right now on a diverse array of projects, only a handful of which are public knowledge yet.  You can see our currently announced projects on our website here and our latest cool thing, The Making of Harry Potter Tour here.  We'll get to my project in a moment.

I am a Technical Manager by title but the work I do is better known in theatrical circles as a Tech Director.  My job is to figure out to make the creative designs work in the real world with available technology, adhering to a set budget, and functioning safely and reliably.  As part of a team, I help create the technical designs and specifications for various things including lighting, audio, video, control systems, interactives, special effects of all sorts, networking, ride systems, facilities and utilities, and even some top-secret prototypical coolness that you'll get to see in attractions that will open a couple of years from now.

The majority of my time is spent on a theme park called Monkey Kingdom, opening in China in 2014.  This park and the project as a whole is huge.  It keeps me very busy on a wide variety of disciplines.  I am what is called a "project-based" employee.  This is very typical in the industry and it basically means that my employment is attached to the Monkey Kingdom project, theoretically through the completion of the park.  The reality is that I am not entirely tied to Monkey and have helped out in various ways on a dozen other projects - sometimes for a couple of days, sometimes for about 5 minutes.  Everyone at Thinkwell has specialties that are often additions to their core job descriptions.  I usually get to help out with projects that might involve large-scale special effects and theatrical automation, puppets, and show control systems.  Every experience I've ever had in my career has been pulled out of mothballs for use in something these past 8 months.

A typical week for me is 9am to 6pm with an hour lunch, Monday through Friday.  This is the first time in my life that I've had a full-time schedule like this.  Having weekends and holidays off is crazy!  I finally get why people like it.  Right now, Monkey Kingdom is still in the design phases.  As it starts to move into actual construction over the next couple of years, there will likely be longer and stranger hours with travel.  Right now, I feel like I'm on vacation all the time.

Most of the offices, including mine, are all open and located in one large room.  In this photo, my desk is to the left of the Hello Kitty desk and you're looking at less than a third of the whole space.  The environment is really cool.  Few or no walls, open dialogue, pretty much no politics at all (seriously), very casual and easy-going.  It is not uncommon to have strange costume days, food-related events, crazy desk decorating, or a random marching band here in the offices.  There's no class system here either.  I usually have lunch at the picnic tables outside where I might be eating with any co-workers including the company Owners and VPs.

During a typical day, I'm back and forth between my desk and various meetings or presentations around our building.  I get to meet all sorts of interesting people including clients, consultants, vendors, specialists ad service providers.  I do a lot of technical writing and AutoCAD plus a little bit of Sketchup, VBA programming, and testing of all sorts of different programs.  And they've let me try my hand at some creative work as well.  So far, I've written or co-written of a couple of show treatments that are part of Monkey Kingdom.  They are very encouraging when it comes to trying new things and expanding your skills here. Awesome.

Everything else I want to tell you... I really can't yet.  :-)  I'll post news as things are announced though.  So, that's it.  That's what I've been doing lately.


Nov. 1st, 2011

scream

Halloween 2011

Halloween at Iris
It's been a long time since I've really felt like I've participated in Halloween at all.  It's pretty much been just another work day for years.  Technically, it was a work day this year too, but I really felt like I got to experience it this time.  Turns out, having weekends off really helps.

Of course, we did celebrate a bit at both of my jobs.  I was at IRIS for one night on a last minute call and it happened to be the night that the decorations went up in the Automation shop.  And, as you can see from the photo, my Stage Manager's snack of Clementines was spontaneously holiday-ified by my friend Lloyd.  Festive!

At the other job, we had a day of Pizza and Costumes.  I didn't dress up myself, but I still had a blast (and didn't get a whole lot of work done).  It was a bit like Kindergarten for Grown-ups.  and the highlight of the day was having Hamburger Helper served to me during a meeting... BY HAMBURGER FREAKIN' HELPER!!!  How weird is that?  I can get used to this.

Over the Halloween Weekend, Danny and I tagged along with some new friends and enjoyed a couple of the local "amateur" haunts in town.  Amateur is not the right word.  Insane and awesome is more accurate.  On the super fun end of the spectrum, we visited Boney Island and Bob's Silly Skeleton Party.  These are homemade Halloween displays built in ordinary front yards that defy belief.  Bob also happens to be one of my new co-workers and we attended a great backyard gathering at his house the night we went to see the display.  I really like those casual, no pressure social events.  Fun!

The next night, we went to see The House of Restless Spirits.  That is pure creepy cool art.  It is subtle and beautiful, very hard to explain and difficult to believe it is just someone's home holiday display.  It's literally an experience.  Ray, you're in good company.

I'm really liking this new lifestyle that comes with my new work schedule.  Here's hoping the rest of the holidays in 2011 are as much fun.

And now, I leave you with this lovely and chilling Halloween image.  Look closely and despair.

 

Sep. 15th, 2011

mirror

Old and New Jobs

I'm very tired.  Since my last post, I have started my new job... but the "old" one hasn't ended yet.  I'm not complaining (because this is all my own doing), but this is the reason why I've continued to be off the radar.  Currently, I'm working both jobs Tues - Fri and one or the other Sat - Mon.  My last day off was Sept 5th and my next will be Oct 8th.

Why?  Let me explain.

The jobs overlap partly because I made some errors in calculating my end and start dates.  It's contract complications but everything is cool after all.  The overlap is extending another week because of a change in the grand plan.  If all goes well, I'll be continuing with Cirque after my Sept 18th end date as an on-call employee.  Basically, I will work a weekend or late evening day every now and then to cover days off or emergencies when it doesn't conflict with my new work schedule, which is generally 9a to 6p, Mon - Fri.  This status change at Cirque is in the final paperwork phase but should be good to go shortly barring any last minute complications.  After that, I'll extend 1 more week before it becomes an infrequent thing.

I like the idea of sticking around in some capactity for several reasons.  I really do feel like I'm leaving too early and this helps.  It lets me keep seeing the great people I feel like I'm just now getting to know.  It also lets me continue to be associated with this cool thing (and some of its benefits) that has been in my life for 4 1/2 years.  And the extra cash doesn't suck.

Meanwhile, the new job is both more complicated and more cool than I expected... and that's a good thing.  I knew going in that I was going to be essentially "Tech Directing" rides and shows in theme parks (specifically the Monkey Kingdom park opening in China in 2014).  That includes lighting, video, audio, animatronics, animated props & sets, special effects, water & flame fx, and show control.  I even expected that those duties would extend to the shops, restaurants and exterior areas in the park.  But there is so much more to it.  I'm actually involved in the rides, their systems, theory of operation, vendor bidding, etc.  And beyond that, my department helps calculate all sorts of infrastructure stuff like water, gas and power requirements for the attractions as well as space requirements like how big the buildings and rooms inside them need to be.  I've already learned a ton of new stuff in the 6 days I've been there so far.  This is right up my alley and I can't wait to get deeper into it.

I'm still nervous about all the unknowns of my future right now.  I took a few risks in making this career change.  Staying connected to Cirque is helping a bit.  But I've always sort of "felt" my way through my career.  I always feel like I know when I'm in the right place and when things need to change.  Right now, it feels like everything is going as it should be.  Despite the personal struggles involved in all the big changes this year, I really feel now like these were the right decisions.  I'm very tired right now, but I'm also very happy.

 

Aug. 20th, 2011

mirror

Big News - New Job (again)

Big changes are happening for me and it has been a long time coming.  Anyone who has known me for longer than 10 minutes knows that my lifelong goal is to help design and build theme parks for a living.  Two weeks ago, I was contacted by a company called Thinkwell that does this very thing.  They offered me a job and I offically accepted yesterday.  I start in September and the job is in Burbank (so I won't be moving again).


I will be a Technical Manager, helping take creative designs and figure out how to make them work in the real world.  My first assignment will be working on a new $1.5 billion theme park in China called Monkey Kingdom, but I may also be working on other projects at the same time.  Check out some pictures of Monkey Kingdom here.  


I'm excited and terrified.  It's a little intimidating when when your dream for the last 3 decades is suddenly real and sitting right in front of you.


It seems obvious that I would take this job without hesitation, but the reality is that this was a very difficult decision.  Even having made the decision, I'm still conflicted about this.  Although I've been with Cirque for over 4 years and 3 previous shows, I've only been at IRIS 5 months.  The timing isn't optimal.  I've also made some great friends among my co-workers and feel like I'm leaving just as I'm really getting to know them.  I like this show, the people, the company and the theater.  It's a little too soon to go but I couldn't pass up the opportunity.  In a way, it is nice to leave while liking the job instead of leaving because I'm sick of it.  


One of my regrets is going to be not getting to work the Oscars (which take place in this theater and will likely use my department next year).  On the other hand, at least I won't be getting tired of hearing the IRIS soundtrack (which I love).  I still have a few weeks left with IRIS to absorb as much of the experience as I can.  If everything goes as I hope, this will be the last live show I work as a Technician.  We'll see how that works out, I guess.


And now I have to go, so that's all for now.  It's time to run tonight's performance of IRIS.



 

Aug. 15th, 2011

shirt

Family Vacation in Orlando

Harry Potter at IOA
Danny and I have just returned from a great vacation to Orlando.  Big thanks to my parents for making the whole thing happen.  

Pictures, pictures, pictures....

This vacation was not only a trip to the WDW and IOA theme parks but also a family reunion.  We got to see my parents, Grandmother, two Aunts, Sister (with Brother-in-law and 3 Nephews), Cousin (with Cousin-in-law, 2 kids and Cousin-in-law's Sister) and a handful of good friends from our Disney days as well.  There were 19 of us though the group never got bigger than 16 at a time.  

"How many in your party?"
"A metric ****-ton.  Just give us the whole boat, please."

In addition to a much overdue family visit, this was our first time back in Orlando since I left Disney back in 2007.  I didn't get to see a lot of my old friends and co-workers but I did get to see some.  Good times.

I also got to see all of the new things that have been added to WDW and IOA since I left (although some of it was technically added before I left but I never had the chance to check it out).  And since I'm a hardcore theme park nerd, this is the part where I dish on those new additions.  If you aren't a theme park nerd, you may want to eject now.

HARRY POTTER
Quite possibly the most beautiful piece of bad traffic management ever conceived.  I'm consistently amazed at how gorgeous and detailed IOA is while simultaneously missing the mark on traffic flow, ride capacity and American-sized seating.  The Harry Potter land itself was eye-popping and very true to the movies visually.  And much to my surprise, I liked the butterbeer.  The ride was also very well done and had a great queue line... with one exception.  SERIOUSLY, setting the queue in a greenhouse does not help with the stifling heat on a psychological level no matter how much fake snow you put outside.  The ride was cooler than I thought it would be.  Well done.  As for the queue to for the Dragon Challenge.  How did they manage to make the coolest queue in IOA into the lamest?  

HAUNTED MANSION
I was really looking forward to this and I was not disappointed.  I believe this was done as a series of separate enhancements over a long period of time.  All of them were great without interfering in the original flavor of the attraction.  The staircase scene was my favorite and the new attic was extra creepy.  Loved this.

STAR TOURS 2
Holy ****!  I heard good things about this but still didn't know what to expect.  An amazing surprise is what I got.  This was more than an update.  It's a whole new attraction and the quality is unmatched.  I knew I was in for something cool when I saw the detailed new console graphics next to C3PO in the queue.  I thought the abandoned Rex pilots in the queue was a nice touch.  I only got to ride once (Kashyyyk and Coruscant) and was blown away.  The depth of the CGI is intense for a theme park ride.  It kind of made the prequel trilogy worth it.  I can't wait to do it again.

LMA w/ LIGHTNING MCQUEEN
The replacement of Herbie with characters from Cars was a good choice.  Making the sequence go on for what feels like 20 minutes... not so much.  Also, the assumption that everyone has seen Cars 2 was annoying.  The "story" made absolutely no sense to me, not having seen the 2nd film.

CAPTAIN EO
I don't know if it changed since re-opening or if the WDW version was done differently from Disneyland.  Either way, this was a much better experience.  Gone away was the annoying bounce through the entire "We Are Here to Change the World".  The subtler theater movement and whip warrior / rat tail programming was a nice enhancement here.  I know this attraction's rebirth may be a short one but I'm glad to see it back for now.

MONSTERS INC LAUGH FLOOR
This is just cute and I really enjoyed it.  Elements of it seem eerily similar to a proposal I made while working at WDW but that's OK.  I doubt they stole my idea but if they did, somebody owes me lunch.  As much as I miss Timekeeper, I do really like this.  Fun!

SPACE MOUNTAIN
I thought this was going to be another update like the Mansion.  Mostly, it was just a sponsor removal.  I still like the ride but the changes are very "Meh".  Why did they kill the man and dog robots in the exit scenes!?  Lame!

PIRATES
I knew these changes would be minimal.  Best I could tell, the only change was the film on the fog curtain to include the latest movie.  Since the fog curtain is the most out of place enhancement in the ride, I can't say the film change helped much.  Oh well.

FANTASMIC
Mixed feeling about my old stomping grounds here... and mostly about pyro.  Simply, the decision to cut pyro from the 1st half of the show (Sorcerer comets and flowers) was just wrong.  Shame on y'all.  The additions of pyro later in the show were cool though.  I miss the saxons on the Steamboat but the waterfalls do add some consistency.  Making all the tracer plates the same color was a little lame though.  The strobes and twinkle lights in the mountain looked better than I remembered seeing in a long time.  If they rehabbed those, good choice.  And what happened to the twinkling on the barges!?  All nit-picking aside, it was nice to see the show again where a little piece of my soul (and a lot of my programming) still lives.

Whew!  I've got my park and family fix for a little while now.  I'm happy and exhausted (and somehow NOT sunburned for once).  I'd been looking forward to this trip for a long time and it was exactly what I hoped for.  Thanks, Dad and Mom!  :-)

 

May. 16th, 2011

shirt

I'm Back for a Fleeting Moment

Figment Progress
I haven't been posting lately or doing much else.  Since I moved to L.A., I've been working 72 hour weeks and have been solidly busy almost every hour.  However, the show is moving into the creation phase and many of those hours are now being spent staring at the walls waiting for stuff to happen.  That's normal with these things.  What this means for me is that I can start doing stuff during those long spans of inactivity.  I started working on my Journey Into Imagination project again.  

I began work on the ride vehicle and the 3D Figment figure today.  Strangely, the vehicle is WAY harder and it's making me tear my hair out.  I'll get it though.  As I restart this hobby from a couple of months ago, I decided to give it a bit of a web presence of its own.  If this is your thing and you're a Facebooker, you can play along at the JII Recreation Fan Page.

I've also put my previously inactive Blogger account to use as an output for my pure theme park nerdity.  I'll putting most of my design stuff, theme park posts, and the JII Recreation stuff there.  I'll still put some of it here too but I thought I'd try to separate those things a bit.  Anyway, if you're into that, you can find me and my unfiltered theme park obsessions there.

If I'm not too tired or lazy on my day off tomorrow, I might finally get around to writing about my first few weeks of L.A. experiences here.  We'll see.  :-)

 

Apr. 13th, 2011

blowfish

Getting Settled in L.A.

We Unpacked the Cat
I've been in Los Angeles for 7 days now.  It feels like I've been here for months.  The journey here (which started months ago) has been scary, complicated, difficult... basically, almost entirely uphill.  But now, things are finally starting to feel a little normal.  We still have a pile of challenges to get though, but I'm doing my best to put the troubles of getting here behind me so I can look forward to the reasons for coming here in the first place.

So let's talk about the good stuff.

We moved into our new apartment, never having seen it.  It was a last minute Craigslist grab that was officially settled the day before we moved.  And we got very lucky.  We knew the neighborhood already but not the apartment itself.  The area is very nice.  The apartment is a very small building with 7 units housing a small community of artists / cat lovers.  The little walk up is a communal garden permanently decorated with Christmas lights and eclectic decorations.  Since one of the neighbors puts out birdseed everyday, there are always plenty of birds and chubby squirrels for our cats to watch.  The place is old but renovated and very charming.  It has some challenges and disappointments (only 1 parking space instead of the advertised 2, for example), but as we finish unpacking and get around these issues, it gets more home-like everyday.  I think we'll be very happy.  Sight-unseen could've gone a lot worse.

The new job has actually turned out a lot better than I expected.  The Kodak Theatre and its associated complex are HUGE and a really cool place to be.  Charging employees for parking is a bewildering to me, but I'll be avoiding that with public transportation shortly.  The IRIS show and its automation are on a much larger scale and, in some cases, more experimental than I thought they would be.  I'm using "next gen" versions of the same gear we had at LOVE and I'm getting used to the new formats pretty quickly.  I like most of the upgrades.  Of course, I can't really talk about any details of the show yet.  But, I think its going to be pretty cool.  Right now, I'm working 9 hour days (1 unpaid lunch hour), 6 days a week, and starting at 6:30am.  I'm handling the in time a lot better than those of you who know me well would expect.  Thankfully, I will be moving to a later shift in the next couple of weeks.  I'll probably write more once that happens.

Between the work schedule and unpacking, I'm a bit of a zombie, but I'm a happy zombie.  Despite the challenges, I do feel like this was the right move for now.  I think good things are coming.

And if not, at least I'm in the right city for becoming a lunatic homeless person.


PS:  I miss everyone and I'm slowly answering all the wonderful messages from y'all.  Thanks a bunch!!!  :-)

 

Apr. 4th, 2011

sun

LOVE 'em and leave 'em...

Here Comes the Sun
LAST DAY!

I have been an automation operator at LOVE for 3 years, 1 month, and just over 3 weeks.  I move to Los Angeles this Wednesday and start my new job at IRIS (Cirque's new show in Hollywood, opening this Summer) on Friday.

I feel like I've been here for much longer and much shorter than 3 years.  The first half of my time here was rough.  I had some problems that kept me from being at my best.  Then I solved those issues, and almost overnight, things got a lot better for me.  This last year especially, I've really felt like I got my operator groove back.  I'm very happy to be leaving here with everything feeling positive.  I feel accomplished and like I'm not leaving anything unfinished or unexplored.  This is a good ending.

I've become friends with a lot of great people in my time here in Vegas and at Cirque.  I'm glad social networking will allow me to keep in touch with them (since I suck at the more traditional methods of doing so).  I'll miss y'all!  :-)

Check out some pictures from the last 4 years with Cirque in Vegas HERE.

As if it were a going away present, I have (almost certainly by coincidence) been given an extremely light rehearsal day.  IE: I ain't doin' nuthin'.  Then we do our last 2 performances before the show goes into its dark week and I leave town.  I believe it is tradition to have me watch one of them, but I'm hoping to actually run my last show.  

No going out after shift to celebrate for me.  The extraordinarily tight schedule that I have for prep and moving means that I will go straight home tonight and finish quite a bit of last minute packing.  The movers arrive in the morning.

The logistics of making this job change / move happen have bordered on nightmarish these last few weeks.  I won't rehash that here, but I do want to say that I'm finally feeling better about all of this.  Enough of the drama has gone away that I'm actually starting to get legitimately excited about this change.  I wish that had been the case all along but that's life.  Besides, if the old saying "bad dress rehearsal, good show" applies to this situation, the rest of 2011 should be awesome.

This Friday, I jump feet first into the halfway point of the already-in-progress IRIS show installation.  I'm starting with minimum 6-day work weeks and long days.  I'm going to be very tired (already am, really) and I won't have much time to get settled in my new home, but I'm still excited to get started.  Six months from now, when I get my first break, I'll let you know how it went.

That's it.  Thanks for everything LOVE!

 

Mar. 18th, 2011

gangster

Journey Into Imagination Recreation Progress

Journey Into Imagination 3-18-2011
A little over a week ago, I started a new project to occupy my spare time.  I've been recreating the original Journey Into Imagination pavilion from WDW's EPCOT in Google Sketchup.  It's been a lot of fun and I've had some research help from some great people.

I'm posting a little bit about where I'm at with this because I'm going to be taking a break from it for a couple of weeks.  I'm about to move very shortly and start a new job so I won't have much spare time.  For those that don't know what I'm talking about, I'll explain shortly in another post.

My eventual goal is to recreate the entire attraction including the ride and theater inside.  This model already contains most of the major internal walls but the level of complexity means I'm going to have to build this in several parts.  This first model is focused on the exteriors and the rooms you can see through the windows (ride lobby, Captain EO entrance and exit, Kodak store).  I think I'm pretty close to finished outside.  I just have a few finishing touches like benches, trash cans, and remaining landscaping.

I have tried my best to recreate the original color schemes but that is proving difficult with the poor documentation available.  I'm also kind of guessing at a lot of the details.  I noticed that the plants and even some planters change, move and disappear throughout the years.  There are a lot of anachronisms here that I hope to straighten out eventually.  I'm trying to target the look of the original JII / original EO era (my personal favorite).  And for those of you that are really detail-oriented, I know there is quite a bit of scale-fudging (Captain EO lobby in particular).  I only have ground plans so EVERYTHING vertical has been eyeballed from photos and videos.  I think I'm close enough for nostalgia though.  I must admit, the exterior seemed so much simpler than it really is when I took this on.  All of the crazy triangular faces and sloping curved walkways challenged me but I'm learning a lot from it.  Since this isn't my design, cheating is harder to get away with.

Anyway, that's where I am right now.  I hope to resume in a couple of week and start hitting the insides.
 
Here are the latest new shots:
Journey Into Imagination 3-18-2011  Journey Into Imagination 3-18-2011  Journey Into Imagination 3-18-2011  Journey Into Imagination 3-18-2011

 

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