Saturday, July 17, 2010

Far Far Away

I couldn’t escape from Fantasyland for long. A small team of independent contractors was assembled to design Universal Studios Singapore and I was contracted to design a flying dark ride. Although I continued with design for the dark ride throughout my stay on the project, it remained unrealized.

The project had the most talented individuals that anyone could have assembled, but it was severely understaffed. I was asked to assist art director Catherynne Jean in the Far Far Away area. Catherynne was responsible for all of the Dreamworks areas that included ideas from Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and Shrek.

For Shrek it was decided that the land of Far Far Away should be recreated including King Harold’s castle. The original park design was mostly a roughed-in plan showing the location and square footage for a village and the castle. Food and retail would also be included, as was a 3-D theater for Shrek and a smaller theater for a show, starring Donkey.

As usual, I began with research. The films were filled with wonderful locations and rich detail. I decided that it was best to try, as much as possible, to match what was seen in the films. Our village area would become the Romeo (Rodeo) Drive village seen in Far Far Away. This medieval Beverly Hills provided a perfect setting for the necessary food and retail establishments of the land.

The Shrek show was to be located in the castle and I did much careful research to make certain that the castle would match that of the film. This actually became a problem for Universal management. The castle in the film is derived from actual European castle designs, but it is an intentional parody of Disney castles. As a result management feared that we would be accused of copying Disney. In fact, it was the close attention to duplicating what was seen in the film that saved us.

Believe it or not, since the Shrek films are computer-modeled in 3-D the designers actually have to know what scale everything is. Drawings from Dreamworks claim that Shrek is seven-feet-tall and doors on the castle and in Far Far Away must be scaled to accommodate him. There were drawings that showed the size of every door, window and building in the movie. Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to them while I was designing. Everything was guesswork.

But I did more than guess. Shrek is huge compared to the citizens in Far Far Away. If one compares a citizen to the buildings the doors can be eight to ten-feet tall and four feet wide. But next to Shrek, the door looks right. We didn’t have the space to make the land its true scale. Everything had to be scaled down. The best part is that by doing so the land feels friendlier, just like Main Street at Disneyland.

The same was true for the castle. It was dramatically scaled down and it's still enormous.

I designed and altered the master plan for this area to improve the guest’s flow. I figured out all of the building facades and scale along with the castle. Because the film was designed in 3-D on computers many parts are replicated over and again. It was easier to execute the final drawings with computer-aided design. Film and television set designer Daniel Saks was brought in to assist me. He did all of the computer drawing and as a result discovered endless design details that needed decisions. He is very skilled and often had the problem solved before it came to my attention.

Neither Daniel, nor I continued into the field. Catherynne and her team did a marvelous job of bringing the world of Shrek to life.

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