Friday, 31 January 2014

Boring Environments

I’ve recently had some design work that has thrown up a big question in my mind…

I believe that there are some narratives that would be powerful and interesting journeys to take guests on, but their associated visuals are just dull. Is that my personal taste, or is there some objective fact in this?

Instinctively, I want to tell you that theme parks, unlike film, are in danger of their stylistic qualities being misunderstood. I’ve discussed this phenomenon quite often on this blog when I talk about realism. Functional objects used as theming will be read not for their implied stylistic connotations but as functional objects, because theme parks, zoos, restaurants, museums and the like are, above all else, functional spaces.

Those environments that would have dull visuals seem to have one thing in common. They are contemporary spaces that could be anywhere the audience experiences in their daily life. A terrible rendition of ancient Egypt is always going to be more appealing than even the best office, supermarket or metro station, surely?

I guess it’s the designer’s job to portray everything about an office that is key to telling the story, whilst making it an interesting and unrealistic environment that is enjoyable to explore. This is common sense really, but I still think even the best environment of that sort won’t be as wonderful as representing somewhere more alien. But in the name of originality, and a break from monotony of cliché themes like the wild west or ancient Egypt, maybe they’re even required?

Queue through the Daily Bugle offices for 
The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

Queue for Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida

Photos by Orlando Informer

Perhaps ironically, Orlando Informer included Spiderman's queue in their "Top five attraction queues at Universal Orlando" but not that of The Mummy... Maybe I'm just flat out wrong. What do you think?


  1. super short version since I accidentally binned one reply already: Familiarity of comparatively routine/regularly encountered environments isn't necessarily uninteresting, so long as you can put together an engaging story to those entering that space. The difficulty: creating an engaging story to a potentially apathetic individual. I think of EPCOT's Future World and how it got knocked for being "boring" in its earlier iterations. If someone just wants to go on a ride and be entertained, man, Universe Of Energy (especially the original variant) must have been horrible.

    I think the limitations of theme parks (at least in the amusement sense) mean that fear has to be a primary actor for this. It is primal enough to generate a reaction in a very short period of time. More complex feelings probably aren't suitable to that sort of engagement with customers.

  2. My rule when it comes to recreating the mundane, or simply the real world, is that it works if there is a twist. The London set on Walt Disney Studios Park’s tram tour is a great example of this. Ordinarily there is no reason to recreate an environment that can be seen in everyday life a few hours away, but because there is rubble and a fire breathing dragon in the Underground station, that familiarity is turned on its head and becomes dramatic. (This is one worry I have about Ratatouille. Whilst the interior is a great twist, what I’ve seen of the facade just looks like an inherently inferior recreation of real exteriors that can be seen twenty minutes away.) This is also a problem I have with Epcot’s World Showcase pavilions. I have no desire to see a recreation of Piazza San Marco – I want to see the real thing. (Arguments that ‘it has no litter’ and the like are vastly outweighed by the fact that it has no authenticity either). And because they do nothing original with it (mirroring it does not count), I see very little value in it. What little value there is I think comes from being able to contrast it with the other Epcot pavilions (a walkable montage of world architecture), but I think there should be much, much more to it.

    Specifically with Spider-Man, I think the office works. It may be an office, but the twist here is that it’s the office of the Daily Bugle, and there’s an inherently aspirational quality to that. If I was unfamiliar with the franchise, or if it was an original attraction, I certainly don’t think it would work and it would be bad design, but happily I do know Spider-Man. If I was to step into the world of Spider-Man, I would want to visit the Daily Bugle, and the designers wonderfully predicted that.

    1. Oh man, someone else with the same worry re: Ratatouille that I have. Theming a ride to Paris when you're in the suburbs of Paris seems like such a poor idea. Like...why?