Masters of Narrative Design™: June 2008 Archives
This is the first part of an ongoing NDE series featuring interviews with Masters of Narrative Design™. While a seemingly new term, the design of story experiences is as old as time itself. Storytellers have been making careers out of it since the days of Sumerian ritual. As game developers are increasingly looking to create meaningful virtual narrative experiences, looking back at the lessons learned by these masters becomes increasingly valuable. Today’s Master is Jan Sircus, place maker, storyteller, architect and designer. His almost 40 year career has had him working on everything from location-based entertainment (LBE), and theme parks for Disney, to Olympic resorts. Jan has spent a lot of time crafting interactive story in the real world, with huge teams with big dreams and big budgets. Today I’m hoping to see what virtual world creators can learn from his wealth of experience.
Stephen E. Dinehart: Jan, it’s a pleasure, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. You are currently President of the Themed Attraction Association (TAA), Canada; can you explain what you do there?
The themed attraction association really brings together people that
are involved in just about every possible aspect of creating what I
would call story places. From very simple media experiences, in museums
or exhibits, to visitor centers, science centers, entire places, expos,
attractions and pavilions, theme parks all the way up to big
international destination resorts. So it’s a very big field, it goes
from the small and particular all the way up to the big and general.
People in the association could be economists and planners or
designers, not just architecture and show designers but lighting
designers, media people, filmmakers, producers and fabricators of
various kinds; again a very broad selection of people. It’s
interesting, it’s such a complex business in many ways, and not really
fully understood; I’m always having to explain what our association is
all about. If you think about theme parks, at Walt Disney Imagineering
for example, literally under roof we had 300+ disciplines to put
together a theme park, which is pretty substantial if you think about
it. Especially when putting together something that is going to be a
complex, fully integrated, coherent and consistent, from the smallest
detail to the biggest idea, or vice versa.
It also seems to me because your creations are real world experiences
you have to address a full array of sensory possibilities?
In some situations yes, but that doesn’t always come into play. We
wouldn’t be necessarily doing that in say a museum exhibit, like you
would be more inclined to do in a theme park attraction. So it depends
on the application as to how far you go, and how many people and
disciplines need to be involved. The theme park is the most complex, in
my experience. But a lot of these general principles apply. You can do
something like an expo pavilion with a tenth of the people and
disciplines. It’s a matter of the problem type and what needs to be
brought to the solutions.It’s one of those things, how complex is a
story place? It depends on what the program is, what your audience is.
If it is a place people are for the most part visiting only once, the
way you would approach that design is very different from what you
would do in a place where you are trying to bring people back, and need
to refresh it and bring in new things to rebuild or remarket it and so
on. Again the design strategy changes for the solution.