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Mike Rowe: Hello, again. Welcome to episode six part three. If you’ve just finished part three, nice work, you’re crushing this. If you haven’t listened to part two and you want all the goods, pause here, jump back and take a listen before you start this episode, but if you’re good to go, we are too. So without further ado, please enjoy episode six part three with Peter Marshall.
Can you walk me through land assembly and why it’s so important to theme park experiences? What I’m hearing what you’re saying is that, you know, you’re designing different rides, and you’ve got your big e-ticket rides for people that are looking for those like really heightened uncertain thrill experiences. But then you’ve got different ride types that you kind of pepper around the park that allow people that are looking for different experiences to have their own unique experiences as well. So can you talk me through like how you think about the design of the land and how you assemble it all together?
Peter Marshall: Right. So the land assembly has to do with the developers and the developers are the ones who have to—are putting the investors and they’re putting the project together. And, you know, land assembly has to do with zoning, you know, what’s it zoned for? You know, what’s the government think if I put these pieces of land together, you know, I could get this much, but you know, this one costs too much so maybe I don’t want that piece of the puzzle.
And so you hire a huge firm to do a feasibility study. You know, how many people within a one and a half hour drive of this park might actually come to here? Is it the right audience? Is there another park nearby? What other entertainment options do they have? From that you get your attendance figure. So you got this many people and, you know, this much land. You know, so that’s our attendance figures. Okay, and then, you know, we have this much money that we want to spend. Okay, what’s the ride mix? How’s it gonna work?
And so, okay, we’ve got our parking lot, we’ve got our D&E, we got our back of house, we’ve got you know, an expansion area, and we start putting these big building blocks together in this kind of paradigm diagram to talk at a very high level about, you know, is this gonna work or does something have to change to get that white paper working properly?
Mike Rowe: Yeah. Fantastic. Jumping back to thinking about the context of like this big city that kind of runs this theme park and all the different kind of various components that come together. I’ve had a question from a few people that have asked me after knowing that I was going to be speaking with you, and they’re super, super curious about the tunnels that kind of connect the theme park together underground. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what it’s like to design those experiences for the people that, you know, need to get from Point A to Point B?
Peter Marshall: Yeah, it’s that whole back of house, which his just really easy to underestimate. The goal is to keep guests immersed at all times within the theming of the zone that you’ve created, you know, you’re hiding screw heads, you know what I mean? Your bottles that you serve drinks in are themed, you know, the bathroom’s themed, everyone that you see who works in the stores is, you know, pretending to be from a land and they’re in uniform, and there’s characters walking around in uniform.
And you can never… it’d be like looking into the camera when you’re making a movie, breaking the fourth wall. You never want to break that immersion. And to support that, you don’t want to have staff walking around. You know, you don’t want to have like golf buggies filled with, you know, toilet paper driving around. So every face that you see has a secret back face that allows the staff to come in and out. And, you know, sometimes through the floor because there could be a situation where an attraction is in the center of the park, and it’s an island, there’s absolutely no way to come and go from it unseen by the guests. And so you build a tunnel underneath to give access to those spaces.
Mike Rowe: That’s really cool. You also mentioned that the theming is extending to food and beverages, bathrooms. Can you tell me a little bit about how like the theming is actually extending into restaurants and the actual like, you know, every kind of facet of that guest experience. Can you talk through that in a little bit more detail?
Peter Marshall: For sure. For sure. In the past, retail was exit through the gift shop. When I first started to visit theme parks I thought that phrase was, you know, a phrase, just a catchphrase. But then I got off a ride and exited into the gift shop. I’m like, “Oh, it’s literal. Oh, okay.” And at the back end of every ride is a gift shop with standard gifts that you could get anywhere, but also ones specific to that ride. Because you’ve just made a memory, you would then want to have a memento, right, a souvenir to re-remember. It makes perfect sense.
But sometimes that can be a little bit crass and, you know what I mean? A little bit in your face to go through these stores like that’s just so consumptive and obvious. So increasingly, there’s opportunities to create F&B experiences. Sorry, F&B is food and beverage, and retail experiences that have stories and themes of their own that are immersed in the story.
So if you’re an assassin, you know, can you make this, you know, online outfit that’s, you know, Kevlar-proof, and has like holsters, and pencil cases, and stuff that’s, you know, a part of the story. And you meet someone, a tailor, who’s helping you put it on. The more obvious examples would be from the more recent Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge where, you know, instead of just going and buying a light saber, you go into a light saber boutique where, you know, you go on a tour almost, a guided experience and you… What’s the right color, you know, gemstone for you and that’s gonna make your light saber, and what’s the right hilt, and you choose from this beautiful store underneath a glass table, and someone’s taking you in. And then later you learn some light saber moves, and you know, it seems kind of stupid when you’re an adult, but the kids are just losing their minds about this.
Mike Rowe: Yeah.
Peter Marshall: And then who doesn’t want to go eat at the cantina, right? Like it’s the best.
Mike Rowe: And drink the blue milk.
Peter Marshall: And drink the blue milk.
Mike Rowe: Another topic that has come up in conversation before this episode was bathrooms. And how specifically, you know, where to place them, how many to place, and how you think about designing around cues.
Peter Marshall: Right. So there’s a term called “peak in park.” Peak in park is based on your tenants’ figures. And peak in park is… March break, the Friday of March break, or Thanksgiving long weekend, right, where everyone in the universe is going to the theme park. Like July 5th or something, I don’t know, like some major holiday. And there are gonna be line ups because you can’t design the park to hold all those people and then be three times too big on every other day of the year.
And so you kind of find a middle ground, and it’s all based on, you know, literal distances to the bathroom, and finding ways… you’ll find often that in between two lands there’ll be kind of like a chunk of buildings, you know, that maybe are restaurants that have different facades on either side with a service corridor down the middle. And then there will be bathrooms in there that serve both sides of the zone. So if you went in to the bathroom from one zone and then kept walking instead of going back the way you came, you would have entered the other zone not in the right place, kind of out of sequence. It’s a way to serve the maximum number of people.
So all that to say that if you go to a theme park on a busy day, you will be in a line up no matter what. But the fact that women’s washrooms have longer line ups just because their facilities take up more real estate than men’s is outrageous and totally unacceptable. And moving toward gender neutral facilities with family washrooms as well is a way toward helping to solve that problem.
Mike Rowe: Oh, that’s great. I wanted to shift gears a little bit and talk a little bit more in detail about adaptations, sorry, and you mentioned before film property, and I’m curious about how you might take a film or book and adapt it into a theme park experience. Like is there something that you think about in the very early stages to get those, that vision, and that story, and that concept kind of coming together?
Peter Marshall: Yeah. There’s specific challenges depending on the IP. For example—sorry, IP is intellectual property. The brand owns the brand and is being licensed by the client for use in the park. So the brand has say in how its intellectual property is being used. So if you’ve got a cartoon character, that’s great, cause the brand owns the cartoon character, and you can use it however you want.
But if the brand owns a film property, they don’t own the characters, you would have to pay extra to use the character from the film’s face, the actor from the film’s face in the ride. So now immediately you’re looking for sets, and iconography, and scenarios, and mood, and theme, and character typologies, and outfits to bring the theme to life and the story to life without using a specific actor’s face.
Mike Rowe: Mm, I can imagine that presents its own set of unique challenges. And can you tell me a little bit more about what that’s like given that you can’t perhaps work with an actor’s face, it’s part of this film property, and you’re working to identify iconography throughout the film, or set pieces, or things like that. How do you like know what to anchor onto to work with?
Peter Marshall: Well sometimes it’s pretty obvious. Sometimes there’s a strong iconography and story arc within the film that—and that’s great, that makes it a little bit simpler. You know, there’s this specific building, and stuff happens in this specific building. Okay, well, let’s emulate that building, and then we’re gonna go into it, and then okay, what kind of stuff can happen to us? What can we do in the pre-show to help people understand, you know, what their role is in this. Because the other part of it is you can’t be the lead character. Not everyone can be the lead, so are you a supporting character? And in some scenarios, the ride might have two separate lines.
Okay, so how are these two characters different? Is one the good guy and one the bad guy? You know, and which team are you on? And how is that experience gonna be borne out on the ride itself? And then what happens when you get off the ride? So, and you know, what are the key moments in the film and the beats, what are the beats that we can play off to really, you know, help the guest understand where they are? And you can’t be too nuanced, it’s gotta be deep, and it’s gotta be real, and it’s gotta be authentic, but do not ask too much of someone who just wants to go on a rollercoaster.
Mike Rowe: Yeah. I can imagine if like you’re giving them a deep set of character instructions and they’re just here to experience the ride it’s gotta be a bit of a jarring experience for them.
Peter Marshall: You want to be able to dig deeper if you want to, but you don’t have to.
Mike Rowe: That’s like you as the guest get to decide how deep you go.
Peter Marshall: Absolutely.
Mike Rowe: And I guess that maybe speaks to your level of immersion as a guest.
Peter Marshall: Yeah, absolutely, for sure. You know, you want the people to understand who they are, what they’re doing, and you know, where they are. But there’s always opportunities to, on the best rides, to dig a little deeper and you know, ideally, have a different experience each time you go on it.
Mike Rowe: And what does the testing experience kind of look like? I’d imagine there would be participants that you’d be recruiting, you mentioned doing it in-house, is there some kind of scaled back way that you test the experience before it’s actually built so that you’ve kind of offset your risk down the line?
Peter Marshall: Yeah. As the sort of advent of modeling became a tool for our team and architecture, it equally became a tool for our team in the creative department. Because we could use it as a real-life scale test that could work in conjunction with the architecture team, and also as a base for our illustrations, cause you know, sometimes the client gets a little nervous if you’re pitching them some concept that is, you know, way out there they just don’t believe you. But if you can tell them that you’re working at scale, you can get a bit more buy-in.
And then internally, we’re able to use VR and animations to really explore those spaces ourselves, and you know, see if it’s working. Not at a hyper-realistic scale, although we actually have done that recently. Recently we did a go kart track in an undisclosed location. It’s one of the biggest in the world and we modeled the whole thing up using Unreal Engine, which is a video game engine—going full circle—a real-time video engine that allows us to create animations and stills, but also to literally drive around the go kart track, and race each other, and test out the track with the… You know, we got a professional go karting, you know, champion as our consultant.
Mike Rowe: That’s fantastic. Is that like can you talk through like the VR experience? Is it essentially like your… it sounds like you’re creating like a mini video game just as a method of testing these ideas, but I’m wondering like how you immerse yourselves in it as the people designing that experience for people. Like is it VR goggles, is it like you know, you got huge screens, like what does that actually look like?
Peter Marshall: Currently we’re using just VR goggles. And we’re moving up to room scale VR so that you can walk around instead of just sort of standing in one place cause you really need to make a big room for people. And I know there’s talk from our media and attraction studios, which is based in L.A.
We also have another office down in Orlando recently give us, you know, an architect down there feet on the ground to work with those teams. Where we do want to make basically the Holodeck, which is a you know, a technology which is now available where it’s kind of a hybrid experience, but really immersive and crucially shared. Cause putting on the VR headset kind of is a solo experience. So we’re looking for ways to create shared experiences. AR is almost there, but these Holodeck with the 3D goggles, they’re really working well.
Mike Rowe: And is that like just thinking through how it looks in my head, I imagine it like a large warehouse, like a design studio, that might be empty that you got this like space that you can kind of construct the virtual world inside of as a projection. You wear the goggles and you can actually physically walk around, and tilt your head, and look up and see the sky, look down see the ground. Is that like how it actually looks as you’re exploring these spaces together in the creation of them?
Peter Marshall: So for VR you’re just… I don’t know if you’ve worn VR goggles before, but it’s basically like it’s crazy. If it’s a really well-realized world, and you put the goggles on, you’re basically, “Oh, this is my new home. I live here now. This is where I live now.” And then you get used to it and you’re like, “Oh yeah,” and then you take them off, and you’re like, “Whoa,” and it’s kind of really, really, really jarring. It is shocking how quickly your eyes, you know, will adjust and tell your brain that you’re actually here.
So that’s how the kind of goggles work. The room space—well, room space VR is just that you can walk around a bit more with the goggles on and the wires suspended from the ceiling so that you kind of have less of a tether. In the future there’ll be untethered goggles. But the Holodeck version is it’s actually just a white room—it doesn’t have to be that big, maybe you know, 15 feet by 15 feet—with a whole bunch of projectors in the ceiling in the center that work in unison to project an environment onto the blank canvas of the walls and floor and ceiling around you. And you know, it can move in conjunction with you, and you can move through spaces, and it’s kind of starts to feel like an infinite space.
Mike Rowe: That’s remarkable. Is that some of the new technology that you’re kind of working with that’s coming together to create the future possibilities of theme parks?
Peter Marshall: So we talked about how we could potentially use it as a design tool. In terms of a guest experience, projection mapping and… Here’s one example how projection mapping and animatronics can work together. In the past, an animatronic—which is a moving, you know, robot character just you know, that’s like a bear, let’s say, or you know, a character from a film—and it’s kind of pretty static, but t’s got this amazingly complex system, robotic system of motion control underneath it that’s incredibly realistic.
But the facial expressions have always been a real challenge and how to get that right, and the amount of time and effort required to get that right, and working on a kind of scale of expression that can be understood form people from a distance. And so increasingly, they’re projecting onto the face exclusively. So the rest of the character doesn’t have any projection mapping on it. And a projection mapping is where you take a projector and the projector understands exactly what surface it’s projecting onto and adjusts what it’s projecting as that surface moves to only project onto that moving surface using the correct perspective required for that view angle and they move together in conjunction. So you can they now use facial expressions for projection mapping on moving animatronic characters.
Mike Rowe: Wow, that’s remarkable. And how do you keep your team and your clients aligned throughout this kind of process? You’re working with all this new technology, is it easier or is it sometimes harder to visualize how things are all gonna come together? What’s different to how you maybe worked in the past?
Peter Marshall: Constantly looking for ways to enrich the design experience and bring teams together sooner and in newer and more compelling ways. So where in the past we would have used a 3D model, we use a sketch, and then the sketch would be you know, handed off to a 3D modeler who would model it up, who would hand it off to an illustrator who would paint it.
But now there’s an opportunity for a huge amount of back and forth. The illustrator knows how to use 3D, and can set up a camera, and choose the view angle that they like. And they can draw on top of that sketch so the modeler can, you know, add more detail that’s required because, you know, it’s much easier just to you know put some railings and a chandelier, say, in the middle of the space. And to try and draw that in perspective is a nightmare.
But so many other things are very easy for the illustrator to do. And so as the team works together more and more with these different technologies, they understand what strength they should be focusing on, and what you know, what they should keep and what they should ask for. There’s a wonderful back and forth as these new pipelines develop with these new technologies, so we’re always looking to support that. For me, for every project that we have, I want to make sure that we’re finding a way to push something forward in the middle of that project. Try something out, give something a little bit more time to see how we can integrate it into our pipeline.
Mike Rowe: And what do you think are the parts of the process that just won’t change that are just always going to be there because they’re fundamentally still as useful today as they were yesterday?
Peter Marshall: Writing. We’ll never be able to take away writing. And sketching, sketching can take a lot of different forms. You can sketch in a 3D model, you can sketch with a pen, you can you know, sketch with a tablet. But that you sketch on a marker board, right, like that moment when you take the pressure off the expression of what you’re trying to say and you’re not really thinking about scale, and you’re not really thinking about, you’re just digging right into an emotion. You never want to lose that.
Mike Rowe: Digging into an emotion is a really nice way to frame this. I want to talk about a project that you worked on. Many people might not know that you’ve actually designed a waterfall in the past. And I was hoping you might be so good to describe what that was like for you to take that experience or that emotion and translate that into something that you yourself created.
Peter Marshall: I would always stress that I’m working on a team. I never want to forget that cause, you know, I used to think that design work was a, you know, solitary art, but in this scenario, it is most definitely not. But that aside, I was brought on as a new creative director on a project where the original creative director from our team had to leave the project for some reason or another, and it was right at its onset.
And the client was not happy about this, and so I got on a conference call, and they’re like, “So, you know, tell us about yourself.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay. You know, this modeling 3D background,” and you know, it’s kind of soon after I’d started. And they’re like, “Okay, well, how are you gonna help this project out?” And I’m like, “Well, I can imagine that we could, you know, work on…” Cause they’d kind of masked up what they thought the waterfall would be. And I’m like, “Oh, I could imagine we might be able to make it better by, you know, could it be multi-level, or could you get in behind it, and you know, can we use false perspective? And maybe we could, you know, test it out in 3D and use VR to make sure that it’s a compelling experience.”
And they were like, “Great. Show it to us on Monday.” And I’m like… And this is Friday afternoon. So I’m just like, “Okay, here we go.” So, yeah, what’s it like to design a waterfall? Well, you know, I found out that weekend. So you know, there was sketching, there was a lot of research, there was modeling with my team, and you know, reference imagery, and again, like review, test VR, review, test VR, repeat, scale. You know, where is it gonna sit on the site?
It was a waterfall that already existed and in their other park, but they were moving parks, and now they wanted a new, bigger, better waterfall. And it was in an aviary so it was with zoologists, and you know, serious research people. So this was a specific, it had to be a specific waterfall from a specific place in South America.
Mike Rowe: And what were the reference kind of elements you were working with? Like you had the existing waterfall, you perhaps had maybe in the outline of a design kind of already kind of concepted by the creative director previously. How did you like take it to that whole other level to increase the experience or increase the immersion? Like what was the details that you chose to include that made the difference?
Peter Marshall: Well, I think we were in Colombia. We had the choice of being in Colombia or Venezuela was where it was sited. Because it was in a bird park, so there are migratory species. So we could be in one of those two places, but it had to be from there. So, you know, this happens to us quite frequently at the office on every project where we’re suddenly researching something like in great detail on the internet just pouring ourselves into it. And you look over someone’s shoulder and what are you researching?
So like, you know, penguins, lost civilizations, cars, rock types, ancient warriors, and I learned all about different types of primitive construction huts or a project, and it’s amazing. So you end up learning a lot of different stuff, and so you’re looking for ways to enrich the story. In this case, this was in an area that had birds, it had flamingos, and this other type of bird that were red, and they were calling it, you know, the tropical red zone or something was their theme. And I’m like, “Okay,” well, I found a red waterfall, which I couldn’t believe. It had this really interesting algae that would bloom at certain times of the year and turn red. And the research team from the zoology department is helping me, and our team’s working together.
And again, yeah, like I said they had kind of had just this big rock. And it, you know, a waterfall can’t look like it’s coming off the top of a mountain, it needs to look like it’s a river that, you know, then there’s been a shift in the land and it’s carved away and kind of made a recess in a cliff over the years, and that’s what a waterfall looks like. So how do you simulate that, you know, using rock work? So this is what we kind of dug into.
Mike Rowe: It sounds like it’s really quite nuanced comparatively to the original mock up or the original waterfall. Like you’ve added this incredible level of detail, and story, and history to the one that you’ve now created. And what was it like for you to visit that for the first time, this waterfall that you’d actually created in this park? Like can you describe the feeling that it gave you?
Peter Marshall: Well it’s not done yet. They’re still building it. Currently what phase it’s at is there’s this competition that they had where they tender out the contract to design the rockwork. And here we go back to this rockwork thing, you know? So we had to go on a research trip to visit the real waterfall. And so we went to South America and the guys at work were like, “Dude, this is never gonna happen again. Like have fun on your crazy research trip to go visit waterfalls in South America.”
It was like this junket, you know, and so we’re on like a DC3, it’s all like riveted together, and like we’re sitting on folding beach chairs in this thing, and it’s like all rickety, and there’s this big turbo prop engine. And we’re like puddle-jumping through South America, and going all these different places, and arriving at hotels at night, and bungling out in the morning onto a bus to go in the middle of nowhere.
So we start hiking up to find this waterfall that we’ve chosen as our research example. And of course, we’re talking these huge cliffs in Colombia. So the waterfall, I’m like this looks like the wrong waterfall when we went to visit. This isn’t right. We had to keep hiking, you know, up another 100 meters, another 150 meters. It turns like this waterfall is like five waterfalls, but we finally came round the corner, and there it was. It was amazing!
And all the subtleties of what you learn when you’re actually there that above a certain height the water kind of vaporizes in the air cause it goes so fast and it turns into this mist and everything gets soaked. And it’s crazy loud, and it splashes a lot, and there’s this dugout pool at the bottom, and vegetation grows in certain ways. And right underneath the waterfall there’s no vegetation, and there’s moss, and so you learn about the different plant densities.
And of course the further down the rock wall you get the smoother the rock is because it’s been worn away. And you get these really interesting striations where the different densities of stone have worn away at different rates. So you get this layered look, and then there’s these pockmarks in the stone at your feet. There’s just been little pools of water that have been, you know, worn out over centuries. So of course we all just take off our clothes and jump into the waterfall pool.
Mike Rowe: Of course. Yeah. First thing. It really sounds like though that research trip that you’ve done gave you a whole other level of appreciation and vivid detail that you can then work with. And something I notice in my design practice is that the more you can kind of immerse yourself in that experience that you’re ultimately trying to design for others the better that you can create that experience. And the more nuance that you can understand and then therefore design for.
Peter Marshall: Absolutely.
Mike Rowe: I’m curious like over that whole trip, like you’ve mentioned like this almost like adventure that you’ve gone on to then just see the waterfall, is there anything about that experience that you’ve taken from just getting there that you included in the design detail?
Peter Marshall: Yeah. That whole coming around the corner, you know, where you’re climbing, you’re climbing, you think you’ve seen it, you think you’ve seen it. And then, you know, the different types of experiences that are available when you get there. So you don’t want to reveal everything at first. You know, you want to sort of can you pick up a side view of it? And then can you make the pathway, you know, and build up some vegetation in one area? Or is there a pavilion of some kind that you even have to go around or under something and then, you know, all is revealed in this spectacular moment.
There’s also this thing in design sort of tool in theming worlds where you do a false perspective so that as you look up toward the top of the waterfall, you have a recognizable plant species. And there’s a big one near you, and then you replicate that same plant species at the very top, but you make it like one-eighth of the size. So you’re like, “Oh, that plant is so far away that it must be eight times taller than I think.” And you do that with all of the different components to make people, you know, think it’s bigger than it is.
Mike Rowe: Oh, wow, so it’s like a false perspective in a sense.
Peter Marshall: Absolutely. Yeah.
Mike Rowe: Where that gives them the illusion that it’s grander than it really is.
Peter Marshall: Yeah. And that happens all the time.
Mike Rowe: I never really thought about that.
Peter Marshall: When you walk around and look at all the castles and the big icons in the big theme parks, that’s if you think about it, you’ll see it all the time now.
Mike Rowe: Aw, that’s fantastic. I’m kind of sad that I now know that that’s what it’s like, but it’s amazing that that’s the level of depth and insight that you can take into something. Because I imagine it’s really challenging to design those landmarks that you want to create a sense of awe for people. And those are just like little tools in your toolkit that you know to deploy that you can engineer that moment where they have that feeling where their mind’s blown by it.
Peter Marshall: Exactly. Yeah.
Mike Rowe: Yeah. Looking to the future, what do you see as the future of theme park experiences?
Peter Marshall: Well, we talked about memory making. So that’s a key component for all theme parks. I would say sustainability is something that our office is thinking about a lot. We’ve got a sustainability taskforce where that’s not something that is an option anymore. And it’s something that’s built in to all of the projects. You know, can you have a carbon neutral theme park?
You know, there are theme parks, you know they’re putting solar panels on top of the enormous parking lots that go for miles, and are able to generate enough power to the whole theme park. So that’s a key component across the board that’s gonna be rolled out for all theme parks.
There’s also the ubiquitous theme park app that you book your trip, and then you adjust your trip, and you can see wait times. And now you use the camera on your smartphone to scan themed components while you’re in line to unlock different characters, and in different experiences, that increasingly are going to… Like we talked about, as rides become less unimodal and more multimodal, and there are additional opportunities to interact with the ride, that that phone, and that app, and that RFID bracelet, they’re all gonna be key components.
And then so we talked about pre and post ride, and then the pre and post park experience. Where you’re, you know, can you play a game that, you know, can you keep playing when you get home so that you build up your character and unlock something when you go back. And so this big, you know, multi touch point ecosystem starts to form.
Mike Rowe: It really sounds like you’re looking for new and interesting opportunities to extend the themed experience outside of the traditional kind of big building blocks. Like you’re looking to develop a sense of nuance to those themed experiences right down into the details of how they book in to a ride or how they enter the park and how they scan their tickets. So that every opportunity becomes a moment for delight almost.
Peter Marshall: That’s a great way of describing it.
Mike Rowe: Why do you think adults should experience theme parks?
Peter Marshall: So when I first started going to theme parks, I hadn’t been to any theme parks. I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but in the past two and a half years I’ve been to 30 theme parks, and I hadn’t been to any. So I’ve been to like a crash course on theme parks these past little while. I didn’t really get it. Why would you go to a theme park? Well, to start with, they’re for kids. So, you know, but why should adults go to a theme park? Because, well, they’re not just for kids.
So here’s an example, I want on Everest at Disney with my boss the C.E.O. Kale. And my previous experience in going on a scary rollercoaster-- which is what this is-- would be to like, you know, grab onto the bar and press myself down into the seat as hard as I could, and then use like controlled breathing techniques… to not like, I don’t know, throw up and die? I don’t know, I was scared out of my mind.
And he just told me to scream. He was like, he just started whooping, and hooting, and hollering. And then when we got going, he would like let loose. So when he taught me how to scream, and now I’m the guy who screams his brains out on the rides. And I think I’d mentioned catharsis before, but you know, you’ve heard the phrase “shake it off.” Well, if you actually get up and shake your body around and actually move your body around and shake out your limbs, you will have shaken off something. Like you’ve changed who you were from before you shook it off. It’s an actual physiological experience.
And so surviving what my body thinks is “I’m going to die,” and you survive it, there’s a euphoria, and an excitement, and you get to share that with people, and you really get to let loose. You just get to open yourself up. I love it now.
Mike Rowe: Has screaming really made a difference to how you experience rollercoasters?
Peter Marshall: 1,000%. It’s a totally different experience.
Mike Rowe: Can you tell me a little bit about like how like it differs from like the clenching? Like you spoke through the shaking it off, but how has your experience of experienced rollercoasters changed since you’ve taken on that new way to experience them?
Peter Marshall: Well, you it’s kind of like you’ve gotten over the fear a little bit and you’re kind of you know that there’s an opportunity here if you let yourself go and you really embrace the moment and dive into it that there’s an opportunity for an experience that could open your mind up in a way, and you know, fire different neurons, and have a kind of a different experience that can really shake you up and just be cathartic.
And instead of like fearing it, and hiding from it, and enduring it, if you like throw yourself. Just like, oh, I’m just sitting there talking when I shouldn’t have come on. I’ve made a terrible mistake. Like I’m talking the whole time, “This was a bad idea. This looks way… Oh no! Oh no!” And then “Ah!” And it just changes your whole body just responds totally differently to it.
Mike Rowe: It sounds like you give yourself permission to not endure the experience, but perhaps really, truly, authentically experience it.
Peter Marshall: Yeah. To live it. It’s true, yeah, you let go.
Mike Rowe: That’s fantastic. That sounds like great advice for any adult inside of a theme park is to let go and just truly experience it. That leads me to like well my next question is like maybe letting go, being an adult, how do you keep your inner child alive and design for that childlike sense of wonder?
Peter Marshall: How do I keep my inner child alive? I have a youthful exuberance and a naive optimism that comes to me kind of naturally. I think it comes from support. I’ve received a lot of support growing up from my parents. Kind of an unconditional type support. And as I get older, I see that I need to support other people and be supported in order to retain that optimism. Just kind of born on trust. Just kind of an attachment theory idea. Dr. Gordon Neufeld would be someone that I would suggest people look up to understand attachment theory and how important that is to feel secure. And secure enough to, you know, love yourself so that you can love other people.
In a really practical way, it comes down to getting enough sleep. You know, I find if I don’t get enough sleep I lose that sense of optimism. And, you know, building routines that are based on a mindfulness about what your body and brain respond positively to. Like be very, very mindful about what you like and what you don’t like so you can work to strengths. And that would include food, that would include exercise, that would include the tasks that make up your day.
And if you can keep your passion alive, then that’s kind of, you know, learn and grow, learn and grow, learn and grow. And, you know, go to the park with a ball, lie down on the grass, and look up at the leaves in the trees and, you know, open your mind.
Mike Rowe: And what have you opened your mind to when it comes to design since changing careers and moving into creating themed experiences for people?
Peter Marshall: I had mentioned previously that I used to think that design was a solitary act, and of course, it’s not. And then when I came to FORREC, another kind of pivot was required. When I arrived I was kind of using my team to complete my projects. And that wasn’t really going great cause I was bringing kind of an intensity to the desire to complete a project at the highest level. That was kind of the team was a tool for that. And so FORREC kind of supported me in some executive training, which was amazing, because you know, I fully support therapy of all kinds. It’s why wouldn’t you want a coach for your brain? What are you crazy? You know, it’s like a brain coach.
So this woman, Kathleen, who’s super smart and super awesome, kind of did a 360 and help me sort of dig down into some different emotions. And now where before I had used the team to complete the project, now I use the project to build the team. And that was kind of a profound and honest conclusion that I came to myself.
And then when you think about building your team, which is made of people who want to learn and grow just like you, if you think about the project being a tool for their growth, you basically have opened up a pathway to unlimited fulfillment. Because the opportunity for growth in people is basically infinite, and there’s lots of people, and you get to grow when you’re doing it. And it’s this incredible, reciprocal process that’s just been really an transformative experience for me.
Mike Rowe: What I’m really hearing is that your relationship to what the tool was completely and dramatically shifted. The tool originally was the team, now the tool is the project, and really what you’re trying to create is teamwork, collaboration, coming together, opportunity and a lot of possibility for people.
Peter Marshall: Exactly.
Mike Rowe: That’s quite remarkable. Knowing everything that you know how, everything that we’ve kind of discussed, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Peter Marshall: To sort of build routines. That routines can help. That whole mindfulness and paying a close attention to your passions. For me, I’ve had a lot of different hobbies over the years, and I’ve changed jobs over the years, but there’s been a common thread throughout that’s taken me a lot of different places. And sort of being able to dig into that has been great, but I don’t know that it was clear that that was the common thread. You know, I was easily distracted.
I think it’d be cool if I sort of started up some side hustles and, you know, worked on sort of building my brand outside of work. I think that would have been pretty cool would be to find ways to share the passion of the various, you know… I spend a lot of time rebuilding guitars and building, you know, guitar pedals and stuff. And, well, that’s cool and is there a way to share that with people? And is there a way to align the passions with the work that you do?
I wish I’d known about attachment theory sooner. I wish I’d known to pay attention to nutrition sooner. I didn’t know anything about that. I’m lactose intolerant. I’ve probably been lactose intolerant my whole life.
Mike Rowe: Wow.
Peter Marshall: I had no idea. And, you know, I was kind of suffering as a result, but I didn’t know why. I don’t know. Looking back on this sort of conversation, and you know, I’ve talked a lot about my friends and the support structure that they’ve given me. And I would say that that’s one of the most important parts that, you know, as you move forward in life your parents play less and less a role, typically. And but you still need that support from your family and your friends, and to really work on that.
Mike Rowe: It sounds like really stepping back from like an individual perspective and really thinking a bit more holistically about not so much about team, but support, and togetherness perhaps.
Peter Marshall: Yeah. Yeah. It’s been crucial throughout for me.
Mike Rowe: Finally, wrapping up, I know this has been a long, detailed, and really like delicious conversation. Where can people learn more about you, your work, and where can people learn more about FORREC and the projects that you work on?
Peter Marshall: I’m @peterabmarshall on Instagram. I’m Peter Marshall at FORREC, F-O-R-R-E-C on LinkedIn. You could also visit our website at forrec.com. You can email me. Sure, give me an email. Peterabmarshall@gmail.com. And my daughter told me this morning that she wants to be my marketing manager and then I can be internet famous on TikTok.
Mike Rowe: That’d be fantastic.
Peter Marshall: Keep your eyes open for that. I have a little side note. Prior to thanking you, one of the questions that we talked about before was what was my favorite project that I designed. And I think it’d be important for me to say that my favorite project that I’ve designed is my life. And that’s something I would have told my younger self. There’s a book by Burnett and Evans, they’re from Apple, and they were teaching a course, an elective in a university. And the book is called “Designing Your Life.”
And two of my closet friends, Jeremy and Mike-- you know Mike-- we started up this kind of like little self-help group. I call it the board of directors cause it sounds better. And in terms of support, it’s been amazing. You know, Samantha and I have been together-- my wife Samantha-- since 1992. And she’s been crucial for me in designing our lives together. We live in a little house in downtown Toronto, and we can walk to work together. On the way, the kids go to school on the TTC, my daughter comes home for lunch everyday.
And, you know, this modest little house near the terrible mall and beside the awesome park, just it’s been the focus of my life to try and find out what are the priorities in my life that give me the most amount of fulfillment. And just be careful what you’re chasing. Cause it might be that you just need to be able to walk to work.
And I, you know, that would be my closing thing that I wanted to say, and I also just really want to thank you. I know that this has been a really involved process to try and, you know, dig in deep on the questions with a really kind of crazy profession and a long journey. And I just really, really appreciate the time you’ve put in. It’s been incredibly beneficial for me to work with you on this and get to know you a little better. You’re a great guy.
Mike Rowe: Aw, thank you, man. Like t’s been really the pleasure is mine. Like it’s been fascinating learning about you, your work, this whole industry that like I had not really known about, and like we’d had a number of conversations where I just totally realized how out of my element I am in this conversation. But it’s been this incredible discovery of just how deep the work you do is. So thank you for your contribution to this episode, to myself, and my understanding because it’s been quite a remarkable journey. So thank you.
Peter Marshall: Awesome. Awesome. And I would encourage people to send me the email if you want to, you know, have any questions or want to chat about anything that’d be delightful.
Mike Rowe: Great. Well, Peter, thank you so much for your time yet again. This has been such a great episode. I’ve loved being able to understand your work in a whole other level of detail. I’ve loved like even understanding like what goes on behind the scenes, like how involved all these different components of the studio are to come together. And ultimately what I think I’m left with that kind of moved me deeply was how you’re designing new memories for people and that’s really the outcome or the output of your work. It’s not these like big parks, it’s really what’s left in people’s minds, and I think that’s what’s hit me the most. it’s been quite fascinating to get that so thank you.
Peter Marshall: Absolutely. Thanks very much.
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 of.