TEA NextGen

Checking in with the next generation in themed entertainment design

The NextGen Initiative of The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) NextGen helps students and recent graduates find their way into the themed entertainment/visitor attractions industry. The NextGen Initiative facilitates the ability of TEA member companies to recruit from this fresh talent pool.

We had a conversation with three TEA NextGen members (Marissa Blake, Andrew Hansen and Cameron Kania) working in the VOA Orlando office to learn more about their love of themed entertainment design, thoughts on TEA NextGen and experience at VOA.

Andrew Hansen, Melissa Blake and Cameron Kania

Cameron Kania, Marissa Blake and Andrew Hansen

Marissa Blake
Class of 2013
Associate, Interior Designer
Introduced to NextGen while attending the Savannah College of Art & Design, Georgia

Andrew Hansen
Class of 2014
Intern Architect
Introduced to NextGen while attending Southern Poly State University located in Marietta, Georgia

Cameron Kania
Class of 2015
Visualization Intern
Introduced to NextGen while attending the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

What drew you to designing for themed entertainment?

Marissa: I like that a properly designed themed environment or experience can take you away from daily struggles and immerse you in an alternate reality where your imagination can run wild.

Andrew:As far back as I can remember I have been enamored with themed entertainment in Florida. My family would visit a couple of times a year when I was young and I would read and re-read my grandmother’s copy of Disneyland: Inside Story by the late Imagineer Randy Bright. That started an interest in amusement rides, notably roller coasters, but I was always drawn back to the power and depth of different themed experiences. Themed entertainment is layered storytelling that can reveal itself to different people of different backgrounds and in different ways on repeated interaction.

Cameron: Designing theme entertainment experiences is an exceptionally collaborative endeavor. I love getting to work with a multidisciplinary team to create emotionally compelling experiences.

What are some of the trends you’re excited about in themed entertainment and attractions?

Marissa: I am excited about user interaction with projection mapping and experiences that incorporate the user’s phone or similar device to extend the storytelling to a personal level.

Andrew:The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmead kicked off and reinvigorated interest in more fully realized lands. World building is where themed entertainment truly excels and is able to truly flourish. People are not just experiencing a ride or store, but a place that can be explored.

Cameron: I am very excited to see how virtual and augmented reality are used in the themed entertainment design process. Admittedly, I’m a bit biased, but I think interactive visualization is really going to change the way we create experiences.


How is NextGen helping you boost your career in themed entertainment?

Marissa:  Being a NextGen member not only connects and introduces you to the wide range of companies in the industry, but also fellow NextGen members who will someday be your peers in the industry. All of these connections have fostered my career and knowledge of the industry. I got my start at VOA through the The NextGen program.

Andrew:TEA NextGen has been a way to learn about the many companies, teams and individuals who work to bring together a final product in the themed entertainment industry and meet some of the many individuals involved in the process. NextGen TEA members have the opportunity to jump right in meeting people and learning about the industry at events geared for professionals. I first learned about VOA through its involvement in the TEA.

Cameron: The NextGen initiative gave me the opportunity to obtain my dream internship. I met my mentor, Rob Terry, at the GibGab hosted by VOA and from there was able to come to Orlando and intern with the Visualization team this past summer.  It’s been a rewarding experience and I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity.

What have you been working on at VOA? What do you like best about it?

Marissa:  I have worked on hospitality, healthcare and numerous themed entertainment projects. For each project, the design style, requirements, and story has completely changed, which I find very compelling.

Andrew:Since joining VOA I have been working on our Chinese cultural entertainment projects for Legend Tourism, including a new transit hub and entertainment district at the base of the famous Badaling Great Wall outside Beijing. It has been exciting to research the history, stories and culture behind the different projects. Chinese culture is rather unique in the world due to its longevity that now spans millennia. There are long established forms and patterns that we have to learn and understand so that we can create an experience that will resonate as authentic.

Cameron: Currently, I am working on modeling and texturing assets for several themed entertainment projects including Chadao Village, Chadao Marketplace. I love the world building process. Watching the models grow, both in size and detail, is really exciting. In addition to my 3D visualization work, I’ve also been working on incorporating new tools like Unreal Engine 4. My program in college placed a heavy emphasis on game design, so it’s been great to put that skill set to use at VOA.


What is your favorite themed attraction?

Marissa:  Not so much an attraction as an experience. I love watching the crowd during a parade or fireworks show, where the mouths are all open and the eyes glazed over in delight.

Andrew:  Main Street, USA. It is not a single ride or venue, but a single environment intended to be experiences as a whole. The original at Disneyland was also at the forefront of the critique of Modernism, which had come to dominate American building and planning. Old Victorian downtowns built towards the end of the 19th century were prime targets for demolition and urban renewal during the mid-20th century. Before the real rise of the historic preservation movement that would work to save such places across the country, Main Street, USA celebrated the old downtown as our collective hometown, a place of nostalgia and warmth that could be experiences as a place and not just a fading memory. Main Street, USA is my favorite not just for the depth of its isolated experience but also because it is such a key example of the wider power of themed entertainment as a force of culture, as art.

Cameron: It’s hard to choose just one, but I am always up for a ride though the Haunted Mansion at The Magic Kingdom. I visit the 999 Happy Haunts as often as I can!

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Marissa:  Helping the industry find ways to enhance storytelling and interactive aspects of the themed environment.

Andrew:  My big goal for the next five years is to earn my license while still working on themed and cultural entertainment projects.

Cameron: In five years, hopefully I’ll have a college degree (or two), and have the opportunity to continue creating emotionally-compelling themed entertainment experiences across the globe.

Visit NextGen for more information.

1 Comment

    I loved reading this! I know 2/3 of this group personally and I can equally attest that the Next-Gen initiative is amazing. Being introduced to this industry via the TEA and welcomed with open arms has been defining in my journey to a Themed Entertainment Career.

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