E06.1 - How to Make Memories That Last Lifetimes

Go behind the scenes of Theme Park Design and learn how once in a lifetime experiences are made.
June 26, 2020 | 00:44:34
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Today, you'll meet Peter Marshall and go behind the scenes of Theme Park Experience Design.

Peter is an incredibly imaginative creator with over 15 years working in Architecture, Video Game Design, 3D Visualisation, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and now Entertainment Design at FORREC.

In this episode, you'll learn how Peter weaves storytelling through physical, digital, and virtual worlds and creates fully immersive, magical, once in a lifetime experiences.

While it felt like only 30 minutes, our conversation lasted over 2 hours. So, this episode will be released in 3 parts, all at once. Each part will be about 45 minutes. So, you can listen at your own pace, or all at once. You get to choose.

If you like the show, would you leave a review on Apple Podcasts? It'll take about 60 seconds, and will help me draw even more insanely interesting guests.

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Mike Rowe: Hi, my name is Mike, and this is “The Goods” version two. On this show we go inside the minds of designers, makers, and creators at work in the world today. Here is where you’ll get interviews, ideas, and insights from the world of design and creativity and invention. You’ll discover new methods and mindsets that you can use to bring your ideas to life. In today’s episode we go behind the scenes of theme park experience design with Peter Marshall, Design Director at FORREC. Peter is an incredibly imaginative creator with over 15 years working in architecture, video game design, 3D visualization, augmented reality, virtual reality, and now entertainment design.


You’ll learn how Peter weaves storytelling through physical, digital, and virtual worlds, and creates fully immersive, magical, once in a lifetime experiences for guests. If you’re a fan of theme parks, this is an episode you don’t want to miss. While it felt like only 30 minutes, our conversation lasted over two hours, so we’re going to release this episode a little bit differently. This episode will be broken down into three parts. Each part will be under 45 minutes. Part 1, 2, and 3 will all be released back-to-back so you can listen one at a time, at your own pace, or enjoy them all at once. You get to choose.


If this episode inspires you, please pass it on. If you like this show, you can get even more at thisisthegoods.com. That’s where I post show notes, transcripts, and more, and you can get it all for free. That weblink again is thisisthegoods.com. Okay, I hope you have your note-taking app ready because there’s a lot of up for grabs here so let’s get into it. Please enjoy episode six, part one, with Peter Marshall.


Mike Rowe: Hey, Peter, welcome to the show.


Peter Marshall: Hey, Mike, thanks very much.


Mike Rowe: It’s really great to have you here, man. I know we’ve actually attempted to record this one time before, but really where I want to start this second time around is being a theme park experience designer, where is your favorite theme park in the world right now?


Peter Marshall: This is a question that theme park designers don’t like to answer. 


Mike Rowe: Oh really?


Peter Marshall: No, but I got one for you, I have very clear answers for you. My favorite theme park in the world is Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. So that’s down in Orlando. There are two Universal theme parks down in Orlando that are kind of linked together. What makes it the best theme park are the attractions and the theming. We’ve got Spiderman, that was like sort of a game-changing ride from way back when. There’s The Hulk launch coaster, which is totally amazing. 


And then you have Hogwarts Castle, which is the theming is incredible, and that false perspective, and like you’re actually there. And then they got this really cool thing where there’s a train that you go on where the windows are screens and you’re going through sort of, you know, the world of Harry Potter and it links the two parks together sort of through the back lot on a train. And then it’s got the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures ride, which is probably the best rollercoaster I’ve ever been on. And then I can’t leave out—it doesn’t count cause it’s a theme park zone, it’s not an actual total theme park, but the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge with it’s the theming and the integrated experiences. It’s really, really dense and a really, really rich experience.


Mike Rowe: Is that, from your perspective as someone that designs theme park experiences, like is there something special that they’re creating down there at Universal Studios at the theme park that you really connect to? Or is it just like how they’ve structured and connected things together?


Peter Marshall: Well, the Harry Potter part of Universal Studios, the Harry Potter zone with Universal Studios kind of ramped up the theme park wars. Disney and Universal are in another stratosphere with respect to the amount of assets and money that they have to spend because they’ve got the attendance, so they can get their ticket prices, and they can afford to make these big, big moves. So it’s been really great for everyone else that they’ve been battling each other for the best experience.


And what have they got going on? It’s just a change from a themed ride within a sort of, sort of themed zone to a themed world that you walk into. And it’s just everywhere you look you’re just completely surrounded by the actual place.


Mike Rowe: And is that something, like that rivalry perhaps between the two bigger companies, is that what’s maybe driving the experience and the quality forwards in your words?


Peter Marshall: Absolutely. Absolutely. Disney was doing some great stuff, but then when Harry Potter came out, they were forced to up their game with first Avatar, and then another Harry Potter land, and then now back with—Universal did another Harry Potter land, and then Disney had to respond with Star Wars. So it’s to everyone’s benefit that they’re having to up their game.


Mike Rowe: And might be a bit of an interesting question. Can you describe the first ever theme park experience you had?


Peter Marshall: Well, when I first started working at FORREC I hadn’t been to really any theme parks, which was crazy. And the first one I went to was Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. And I was toured around it by this guy, Johnny, at my office who’s just… he’s a genius, he’s amazing. He’s a master planner for parks all around the world and he designed that park because our company did that park way back when. And he took me all around it, and showed me all the secrets, and little details that he designed. And took me on the ride that he designed, and the rain, and we just had a great time together.


And so I couldn’t believe that that was my first theme park experience was the designer of the park taking me around a park that our company had design. And well, I mean, it’s the number one park in the world right now, so it’s not just me saying it cause it’s ours.


Mike Rowe: And can you describe what was like going through your mind as you were touring around with the designer who designed the experience that you were now going through? What was that like?


Peter Marshall: Well, when you’re in one of these places, they kind of feel pseudo-real. And in real life, things kind of happen, and an environment or a city builds up over time. And decisions are made along the way by countless generations of people as they build up this space. But this space happened all at once, and so he can walk around and go, “Oh, that paving pattern, and that railing detail, and that’s supposed to invoke 1950s Americana. And, oh, I remember we picked out that Mustang. And, oh, this signage over here, and oh, you can see the transition as we move from one zone to the next you can tell the sidewalk detailing changes, and the material of the, you know, pathways, and the walls.” I just kind of underestimated the amount of work that had to go into designing every single thing. It was crazy.


Mike Rowe: Yeah, I get a sense that you’re like, you’re just seeing the level of thought and detail in every little thing that this person has actually thought through along the way. They’ve designed and taken everything into consideration in that scenario, I imagine.


Peter Marshall: Yeah, and of course, it’s an enormous team—thousands of people. But at the same time, everyone you know, everything’s gotta be designed, and you know, so you take ownership over, you know, little pieces along the way.


Mike Rowe: What was probably the most memorable little detail that he stepped you through when you were going through this theme park experience together? 


Peter Marshall: We went on to the Kong ride, which is King Kong, and it’s this really cool motion simulator. Well, you get on a bus, and then the bus—it’s like a safari bus—and it drives up through these crazy gates, and it’s like lost civilization jungle world, and the bus drives up onto this motion platform, and then the platform that the bus is standing on starts moving around in sequence with the film components that are surrounding you, along with live sets. And so there’s this big battle between a couple of T-rexes and King Kong all around you, and smashing on top of the bus.


He was telling me all about the façade that he had taken an early part in designing way back in concept. Some other team members carried it forward, but he had showed me a picture on his desk of this façade component with like this kind of mask, this you know, gorilla face in abstract on this huge, huge façade. You know, five, six, seven, eight stories up and I was just amazing to see it in real life with him in the rain.


Mike Rowe: Wow. that sounds quite remarkable. It sounds like an experience that when you’re walked through by the person that really designed the experience you experience it in a whole other way than just someone that comes in, you know, with pure imagination of what this is gonna be like as an experience.


Peter Marshall: Yeah, you kind of have to go on the ride two or three times to really be able to take enough of a step back to analyze what’s gone into it. Because the first couple of times you’re just completely engrossed in the ride itself and the experience rather than being able to analyze it.


Mike Rowe: I imagine it’s similar to how film enthusiasts watch films a number of times to just subtly see the differences and the details that they might not have known when they went through it the first time. I can imagine there’s something similar there for you.


Peter Marshall: Absolutely. Absolutely. You, you know, you take off your 3D goggles and you lean out the side of the ride vehicle and you look behind you instead of in front. You try and, you know, you’re looking up at the ceiling instead of right at the heart of the action to try and pick up the details of how they pulled the thing off.


Mike Rowe: And as someone that designs these experiences now, like do you… there’s that moment of magic where you might go through it for the first time, but do you find yourself looking for the details and being like, “How did they do that?” Like what did they—how did they actually achieve this and is there some kind of curiosity there that’s there for you?


Peter Marshall: Oh, yeah. I mean that’s the best. That’s what you want. You want to be able to not understand what’s going on so that you can be freed from your analysis of that and just be immersed in it. But then as a designer, you’re desperate to try and figure out what’s going on. 


Mike Rowe: Why do you think people love theme parks so much?


Peter Marshall: Catharsis. Catharsis.


Mike Rowe: Got it.


Peter Marshall: The opportunity to leave reality and then have a unique physical and emotional experience. It’s just you get to leave your daily life behind and then really shake yourself up and have a… It’s kind of a chance for a little rebirth in the middle of that experience.


Mike Rowe: Almost like escape and transformation in some way.


Peter Marshall: Yeah. It’s a big reset button.


Mike Rowe: And what are the things that every great theme park has in common that you’ve noticed? 


Peter Marshall: The ability to make memories for people.


Mike Rowe: Interesting.


Peter Marshall: That you would, in that experience that’s so unique that’s taking your imagination and your actual physical body to places that it just can’t go anywhere else, and like these unique experiences that you share with other people. And together you get to make these unique memories because your neurons are firing and wiring together in this moment because it’s so different, and so extreme, and your brain is just paying very close attention to these very particular, you know, emotional and physical experiences that these heightened experiences that you’re going through.


And then that actually gets wedged into your head forever. So to think that we would have the opportunity to make memories in people’s minds is like an incredible exciting responsibility and very fulfilling.


Mike Rowe: Yeah. Wow. I haven’t ever like met a designer that talks about design like designing memories. And I’m really curious about how you think about designing memories then or designing for those memories. Is that something you hold in context when you’re actually, you know, piecing things together in your mind of how a park may look? Are you really like trying to imagine what memories you may be creating for people in the future?


Peter Marshall: Yes. Yes. Everything is through the eyes of the guest. And everything is working toward triggering a specific emotion as a part of a larger narrative. And in an ideal world, you don’t have a singular experience, and it’s not even a singular memory. You have a series of memories that work together to create a journey for the guest in the park. But specifically what memory? Yeah, you’re building up, you know. What’s happening in the queue as you wait? What did it look like from the outside? Are you excited? Is there anticipation for what’s going to happen?


And increasingly, you know, how can you open that experience up to be evermore engaging and evermore immersive? And there’s lots of discussions about how that might work, how it might not just be so linear. How could it be more of a sandbox for the guest?


Mike Rowe: Can you describe that a little bit more like the difference between it being linear, and being a sandbox, and what that looks like?


Peter Marshall: Sure. A carousel is a unimodal experience. You go on it, and it’s the same thing every time, you go round and round, and you get off. And, you know, if that’s what you wanted to do then great, you’re super satisfied. But it’s the same thing every time. A multimodal experience allows for different outcomes. Perhaps they’re a random different outcome for the ride. Like you don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s going to turn left or it’s going to turn right. And there are also scenarios now within sort of the cutting edge of ride technology where a guest would be involved in the decision-making process and could affect their outcome.


And so if we look back to the, you know, the genesis of video games, Grand Theft Auto—which most people have heard of—the first one that came out, what made it so special was that it was a sandbox game. If you think about some video game experiences they’re very linear and you follow the path of the narrative that they’ve set up for you and the scenes are all scripted.


And then there are other video games where you can walk around and do whatever you want. Like Zelda, for example, and you know you can explore. And those are typically in just dramatically more immersive, dramatically more engaging, and allow guests to dig in and come back again and build on their experience and get sort of increasingly engaged in creating their own narrative.


Mike Rowe: And how does that translate into theme experiences? Like what does that actually look like in practice? Cause I can’t imagine, you know, you described the carousel. You walk in, you go on the carousel, the carousel’s completed, you had that contained experience. But in the greater context of a theme park, you’ve got like many different ride types, you’ve got you know, many different kind of themed areas and attractions. And how does that actually look to construct like an open world for people to like play in?


Peter Marshall: Well, speaking specifically of an attraction, we could imagine a dark ride. And they now have trackless dark ride vehicles. So in the past you’d get on a little platform that would take you into a dark room. The reason they call it a dark ride is cause it’s usually indoors and it allows the themed components—animatronics, or you know, little stage sets—to be framed in a really dramatic way that hides all of the surrounding area and keeps your focus on the little stage sets.


And in the past those vehicles were on tracks. Now they’re trackless ride vehicles, which means they can go anywhere. So they can very easily turn left or right instead of having to go and stay on their track. Because then, you know, a switching track that’s difficult to orchestrate, so they could effectively go anywhere. And there’s all kinds of new input devices available upon those ride platforms and so it would be up to the designer to determine systems which would allow the guest to choose their own adventure as they moved through this dark ride experience. So that’s an example of what it might look like.


Mike Rowe: Fantastic. Out of curiosity, being someone that designs theme park experiences, what’s something that only insiders know that the general public would not be aware of?


Peter Marshall: I was asking my friend Nathan about this cause he’s a theme park nut. We sit next to each other and he’s amazing. And he’s like, “Well,” he’s telling me all about these Easter eggs, and you know, the wall that you have to get your picture in front of. And he told me about at Space Mountain there’s this secret entrance that nobody knows about, and it’s like one of the most popular rides, but if you just go around past the one entrance and there’s a second entrance that’s always empty. Beyond that, it’s you know, the back of house—so front of house and back of house—front of house is where a guest would be and back of house is the area that services the front of house.


The back of house for theme parks is as big, if not bigger, than the front of house. I don’t think many people know that. There’s like a whole city back there with like places for people to live, and places for people to like staff can eat, and live, and you know, make all the food that needs to be shipped in, and it’s just a whole world of industry back there.


Another one would be rock work, which was a big surprise for me. As you walk around and you see these natural environments, you don’t really you know, didn’t really sink in to me that all that rock is fake. Cause I was like, “Well, why would you have fake rock?” And it has to do with the weight of the rock and how difficult it is to install. And the art of creating fake rock is an industry unto its own with, you know, special artists, and a hierarchy, and a career, and like calling in the specialists, and prototyping, and like it’s unbelievable, I had no idea.


Mike Rowe: Wow. So there’s like an entire industry about making fake rocks.


Peter Marshall: A huge, multi—probably a billion dollar industry of fake rock.


Mike Rowe: Wow. Wow. And just jumping back to the behind the scenes kind of the city that you described before, is that something that you as a designer have to consider when you are creating maybe the land assembly of how the park’s gonna come together? Like do you actually have to think through like where the kitchen’s gonna be, where’s the staff housing gonna be? Is that something you have to design as well?


Peter Marshall: Yes. Very much so.


Mike Rowe: Wow.


Peter Marshall: It’s all a part of the master plan. I think for a lot of people you think about designing a theme park. There’s kind of the master plan at the front. You know, the front of house master plan, and then there’s the attractions that work with the rides. I think most people know that we don’t do the rides themselves, we coordinate with the ride engineers cause it’s so intense. We do, do the attractions and work with them, but then the master plan is a very, very complex matrix of decision-making processes that very much includes the back of house.


Mike Rowe: And is there like a master planner that plans out the overall architecture of how the park is going to be laid out that you collaborate with or is that something that you do as well?


Peter Marshall: FORREC started originally as a landscape design firm way back when; a serious landscape design firm. And through circumstance and opportunity became the company that we are. And one of our main strengths and attributes—amongst others, and I can get into that more later, but master planning is like right in our wheelhouse. If you wanted to master plan your theme park, you would come to us.


Mike Rowe: Fantastic. And we’ll dig into that in a bit. What I wanted to do is maybe shift gears and hope that you can maybe take me back to starting your career. Cause you’ve had a really interesting journey so far and I’m really curious where it all began for you.


Peter Marshall: I was thinking about that—where did it all begin? I’d say architecture school at the University of Waterloo. It was a co-op program with incredible classmates and teachers. It was co-op, which was great, cause then you get job experience. And it was quite a journey for me. In third year I discovered 3D modeling, which was a crucial, crucial moment for me because I was really struggling to get the ideas that I had in my head out in a way that other people could understand it. So I’d say that’s where it started.


Mike Rowe: Like you were trying to unlock a communication barrier that you were having.


Peter Marshall: Well, I mean, I… I failed second year because I drew the plans and elevations of three floors and two facades on one drawing all on top of one another. So if you can imagine a 3D model that had collapsed on top of itself, that’s what I had presented. And it was great design, but nobody could understand it. So when I went back to the…


Mike Rowe: Yeah, almost like a pancake. 


Peter Marshall: It was just like what? It was all there for me, but impossible for anyone else. I was kind of a crazy person back in university, so I had some maturing to do, and you know, modeling was the key for me.


Mike Rowe: Yeah, and throughout your university experience do you pick up things that maybe led you to like a particular starting point in your career journey? Like say if you finish university, like where did you go next? Like how did you make that transition from student to early stage career opportunity? Like where did you go from there?


Peter Marshall: Right. Well, that was a big part of the co-op program. So I was in architecture—I’m not sure if I mentioned that—but you know, I graduated, and was in school during the recession of the ‘90s in North America. So I was, you know, I was working landscape, I was working construction, I was digging holes, I was sweeping concrete. And through time, you know, different job opportunities became available and the work that I had done for my thesis project on rendering, which is you know, architectural visualization where you use a 3D model to create a photograph of your project. My skills in that translated into a job in the world of architecture.


Mike Rowe: Oh. Fantastic. And do you think that experience that you gathered in the world of architecture has really influenced the work that you’re doing today in theme park experience design?


Peter Marshall: Absolutely. The school that I attended, the university that I attended, it was an amazing education, really well-rounded, and I truly believe that once you learned to design you can design anything once you dig in and understand the variables and constraints of that new topic.


Mike Rowe: You mentioned just now that you can design anything, and I know that you didn’t stick around in architecture, and you actually like made a career change. Can you tell me about like where you went after architecture?


Peter Marshall: Yeah, I had a great job. It was called Kia Architects, it was inset into Rice Brydone, I was working with my boss Karen, and an old friend of mine was working at a video game company, Rebecca. And they had found that architects made for good employees because of that ability to apply design skills to a multitude of scenarios. Also the lighting software that I was using in my own work was the lighting software that they wanted to work with. So I ended up managing to get a job working for Rockstar Games starting off as a lighting designer for that team, and then moving into helping with art direction as well.


Mike Rowe: And what was it like translating your skills in architecture to designing lighting scenarios as a lighting artist?


Peter Marshall: Well, because I had spent so much time, you know, using 3D modeling and lighting and rendering as a tool to visualize my own projects, there was a very clear translation to visualizing the game. It was a game that you had to, you know, sneak around in so the lighting was important so you could feel in shadow when you were hiding and then out in the open and the light is very moody and dramatic.


Mike Rowe: And what was it that drew you into video games? What really interested you about creating those kind of experiences and scenarios?


Peter Marshall: I loved playing video games—I still do. I was playing—what am I playing?—FIFA with my son and I’m playing, well, a couple other video games right now. It’s I love playing video games—I love playing in general. And the thought that I might be able to do that as my job and have that sort of passion come alive, I had been imagining what it might be like to work in video games, and you know, working on video game design with my friends. And of course that was all very naïve. When you actually go and work for a video game design company you don’t get to design video games. That’s for the people who have a lot of experience and understand the complexities involved in it. And when you first start up, you’re a cog in the wheel, you’re a cog in the machine.


Mike Rowe: Like you’re doing one particular kind of slice of the work I imagine.


Peter Marshall: Yeah. I was with the modeling team, and you know, the environment-building team. That’s where I lived in working with the 3D modelers, and the textures, and the lighting team building the actual world.


Mike Rowe: And what did you learn about design and design in particular about designing virtual worlds that you think is translated across into your work today?


Peter Marshall: The really cool thing about video games is you get down into the world. And, you know, either it’s a third-person or it’s a first-person perspective. As an architect, sometimes you’re you know, you’re way out at 30,000 feet looking down at your project. And, you know, maybe you set up some cameras and fly in, but in a video game you’re immersed, you’re immersed in a world, and you’re looking for visual cues to help you understand where you are. You’re looking for, you know, a way forward, and understanding your path, and your role. It’s that whole—who am I? Where am I? And then what am I doing? And how do you communicate that as quickly as possible. And so those apply directly to what I’m doing now.


Mike Rowe: Given that you’d spend some time in video games, why did you actually decide to leave that? Was there something there that you weren’t quite getting fulfillment from that had you look for something new and exciting? Like what was that actually like?


Peter Marshall: The video game industry was still in its infancy back then, I’d say. It’s maturing a bit now, but back then—what are we talking about? Early 2000s, 20 years ago, you know, 15 years ago—basically overtime and life-work balance. In five years there I worked three years overtime.


Mike Rowe: Wow.


Peter Marshall: I was there, I had like 110-hour weeks, 120-hour weeks. And my daughter was born, my daughter Hannah was born, and you know my friends were a little worried about me. You know, I had the sunken eyes of a video game developer and, yeah, Hannah made that decision really easy. It was time to go home and find work-balance with my family.


Mike Rowe: Given your daughter being born was a defining moment for you to reconsider things. How did you decide what to pursue next given your experience working these 110-hour weeks? I’d imagine given you having a newborn you’d be very conscious not to put yourself in a situation where you’re there again working so many hours. So how did you actually decide what you could pursue next given your new life circumstances?


Peter Marshall: Well, there’s a job in between video games, and my other job as well. So I went to work with Designstor, which is an architectural visualization firm. I was there for 12 years. You know, my wife’s an architect still, and she finds a lot of fulfillment from it, but it was never really for me necessarily. But I did love architectural visualization, so I, you know, I took a break after leaving video games and hung out with my friends, you know, polished up my resume and kind of got back into architecture, leaned on that, but not in the same way. 


I started jumping into working on architectural rendering in earnest for a firm that exclusively did that. So I was with—for 12 years—I was with Nick Moshenko, his office with Henry and the whole gang there, they were amazing. That allowed me to have a great life-work balance. But eventually I hit a bit of a ceiling there and needed to move on from that job as well.


Mike Rowe: And identifying that you hit that ceiling, how did you then come into contact with FORREC and what was that like for you?


Peter Marshall: That was really, really interesting. Because I had been with them for quite a long time, and it took… I really had to give it some time to get into understanding what I would need to do next. I wanted to be really mindful of what job I was looking for next. I knew I wasn’t being fulfilled in that job anymore, and you know, I had a therapist, she was amazing—my therapist, Diana. And we dug into that, and you know, she got me away from just thinking about the job, and she got into helping me to identify what would give me fulfillment, what would I want to do?


And so what that turned into was that I no longer wanted… I needed to get back into design. With architectural visualization I was interpreting someone else’s design, often those moments where you’re bringing someone else’s project to life. They come at the end of the project design cycle. It’s been designed and now it’s just some details along the way that need to be refined. And so I discover that I needed to be closer to the front end of the design, closer to where, you know, the genesis of design exists. 


So started looking in online postings, which are useful to understand role descriptions. You know, like okay, that looks like something I would like to do. And that looks like something I might like to do. That’s design in it. And you could also find out what job titles, what are companies calling these different jobs that you think might suit you because I had no idea that was supposed to be what I was going to be called or what it was going to be in. And then the mind map. You and I sort of briefly touched on that last time we talked. Basically a flowchart, a flowchart to map out, you know, where I might go next.


Mike Rowe: And how did that mind map actually look? Was it scenarios? Was it people? Like what were you… what were the kind of building blocks of that map?


Peter Marshall: Yeah, I was just using an online software where, you know, you kind of put yourself in the middle and then you know, branching out from that are the things that you know how to do in a way that, you know, you might be able to monetize them. You know, like I know how to 3D model, I know how to, you know, dig a hole.


Mike Rowe: like all your various skills.


Peter Marshall: Yeah. And then what do I not know how to do and what do I… you know, what do I want to find out how to do? And then you put names on it. Oh, I know this person who knows how to do this. And I know this person who knows how to do this. I don’t know anyone who knows how to do this. And then at that point, you know, my friend Paul said, “Why not schedule interviews to go and meet people and talk to them about what they find fulfilling in their job?”


Mike Rowe: Wow.


Peter Marshall: It’s not an interview. You’re not looking to try and get a job with them. You’re finding out what gets them exciting and see if you might get excited about that too. And in an ideal world, maybe they can tell you to go talk to somebody else as well.


Mike Rowe: So you’re really coming from a place of curiosity and exploration instead of like trying to get an outcome, or get a job, or something specific from that.


Peter Marshall: Yeah. You’re really trying to understand what it is that is going to give you fulfillment within your job and what skills you can bring to bear within that. And then understanding, you know, what you might need to learn in order to meet that goal. So I worked with another friend of mine on a next step of what that might be, which is prototyping. So you don’t exactly know if you’re really gonna be good at that or if that’s going to be something that… You know, cause to be good at something you really have to commit yourself to being an expert. And to commit yourself to being an expert of something you have to be incredibly passionate about it. And, you know, you can find out pretty quickly how passionate you are about something by trying it out.


So my friend David and I, we… you know, he was working with a friend with Greg and the three of us. You know, they thought, “Oh, maybe Peter can help us out with our business. A fledgling architecture firm that was also doing some really cool VR projects.” So I just, you know, muscled up, figured out VR, you know, got it going on my PC, tried to jump into that. You know, we did a project that had a VR component that was in a library, it was totally awesome.


And then, you know, eventually I kind of realized that I didn’t have enough to bring to their office to make a full-time job with them. And so that was a prototyping experiment that I took on, on my own time, and my own cost, and you know, to see if it was right for me.


Mike Rowe: That’s quite interesting the way that you’ve just like described things. It’s like you’ve done this design discovery work and then moved into a prototype to validate if this career possibility was a good fit for you. So you’ve run this like very meta, interesting design discovery process, but just on yourself and the work that you’re actually doing. I’m finding that really quite fascinating in what you’re describing.


Peter Marshall: Yeah, you know, it’s the first time when I went to work for Designstor, you know, you got the young kid looking for something that I can control. And the now the kids are a little older and I’ve got a bit more time and a little different opportunity to jump into something with both feet. It doesn’t need to be in my wheelhouse. I can really reach out and go for something. So I was a lot more mindful the second time around.


Mike Rowe: Fantastic. You mentioned before you were perusing job descriptions and reading the role descriptions. I’m really super curious about how someone frames the job description for a theme park experience designer. Like is it, “Person required to design amazing memory experiences for children.” Like what does that actually… when did you come across it and what did it say that spoke to you?


Peter Marshall: Well, interestingly, I did not come across a job posting for FORREC. The first time around they actually did reach out to me a while back to be a 3D modeler on their team. And I didn’t quite understand what FORREC was about. It was pretty complicated office for an outsider because there are six studios within it that do a huge variety of work—not just theme parks. It’s just the kind of theme park that gets everyone’s attention.


Eventually, you know, I’ve got my resume, my portfolio’s up, my mind is open, I’m working on my mind map, I’m meeting people. I’m ready to hear anything and I meet a guy after playing squash. You know, it’s an unlikely scenario, but the point was that I was ready to analyze opportunities to see if they fit what I had identified as what would be fulfilling for me. And the tasks that I had identified could take place in a whole bunch of different fields. It could be anything. I didn’t know where I was going to find this position. I just knew parts about it that were important for me.


So in the end we kind of end up… I go for an interview at FORREC, and you know, we’re interviewing each other. We’re seeing if there’s a fit there. You know, because I’m being proactive and not reactive. And you know, it was a very, very funny meeting to sort of be introduced to this world. As you say, like what does a job posting look like for a theme park designer? And what does an interview look at a place like that? Well, it looks like what you might expect. It’s just like what? Oh my gosh! Like just it’s mind-blowing.


Mike Rowe: And how did they describe the role to you when you were going through that interview process?


Peter Marshall: Well, because we’re up here in Toronto, you know, down in Orlando and in California there’s an industry. You know, in the same way that we’re kind of like you can imagine Hollywood or Hollywood North. In that studio environment staff moves around, and teams are assembled to work on jobs, and there’s a huge talent pool that you choose from, and everybody’s moving around in between studios.


That’s not the case up here. Really we’re the only theme park designer in Toronto. And, I mean again, we do other things. I’ll tell you about it later. But we’re the only office of this type in the area so it’s just us. We have a lot of homegrown talent so they’re looking to identify people whom they think could grow into the role, who have skills that can be translated, and could work in parallel with their needs. As opposed to bringing someone with a lot of industry experience.


So that, you know, when I arrived for the interview I was completely blown away by the unbridled creativity on display. And just how it just, you know, as Tim—you know, the lead architect at the time, head of the architecture studio—said to me, “Well, you know, do you like making stuff up?” And I’m like, “Yeah. I love making stuff up!” He’s like, “Great!” So you know, what that turned into, “Do you like making stuff up? Do you like writing about it? Do you like illustrating it? Do you like, you know, finding ways to communicate it to other people?” And that’s what the job turned into.


Mike Rowe: Well this has been huge, but everything good must come to an end. If you liked this episode and want to hear more, you can get “The Goods” on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast network or listening app. Thank you for listening. Until next time, this is Mike signing off.

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