Wednesday, December 4, 2013

John Ramirez on Animation, Parades and Theme Park Design

John Ramirez has forged an exceptionally successful career not just as an animation artist but as a designer of parades and theme parks. His designs are clear, accessible and appealing, and for decades he has done design work for leading parks all over the world, especially in Asia. FLIP asked him to reveal the secret of his success.

FLIP: How did you get started doing design work for theme parks and parades?

John: I have always liked animation and theme park design so when I started my first job as a theme park designer I happened to be the only cartoonist in an office of architects. So...I got to design the fun bits! I was 20 years old at the time and given some great advice: "use the opportunity to fill your portfolio with fun stuff."

I was young and not being paid great but I listened, and I decided to just go all out and present every crazy idea I had. It was great advice because much of what I designed was built and enjoyed by thousands of people. I used my portfolio later to get all kinds of design jobs.

FLIP: What project are you most proud of and why?

John: I am most proud of my association with Lotte World in South Korea. I designed the characters, the parades and many of the stage shows. I also designed bits of the dark rides, architectural details and souvenirs.

For a young designer, it was an extraordinary opportunity. I have had people who grew up visiting Lotte World saying how they fell in love, got married and had kids because they enjoyed their first dates at Lotte World. Young designers were inspired by my work there. I once stayed at a friend's home in Brazil, in a guest room/ playroom. I woke up one morning to discover my character plush toys from Lotte World staring me in the face! It was a gift to the child of my friends from her grandmother who had visited Lotte World. It put a smile on my face.

FLIP. What are some of the biggest challenges?

John: Some of the biggest challenges are clients that don't know what they want until I show them. Then I go through designs as they decide what they want. I might say small budgets as well. That can be a challenge when clients expect Disneyland on a "road-side carnival" budget.

FLIP: Do your clients define the project or is it the other way around?

John: Usually the client defines the project because they have a set theme for a theme park or parade. It is exciting because once I'm given the theme then an explosion of ideas come forth, I rough them out and keep track of them as I excitedly stay up hours to complete them. I end up listening to music to inspire me and really enjoy that I am able to have such great opportunities to design fun stuff!

FLIP: Does this kind of work compete with your animation work or are they complementary?

John: I think designing for theme parks and working in animation are complimentary. I know many designers who go back and forth doing work for both mediums.

FLIP: What advice would you give to a student who wanted to break into this kind of work? 

John: The best advice I was given was to just go for it. I know my boss at the time made a lot of money from my work so I took advantage of the opportunity as well and filled my portfolio with every bit of work I did. A new designer needs to be active and stubborn to get internships or entry level work and fill that portfolio.

(Editor's note: for more of John's excellent design work, visit the Lotte World home page, and check out his professional website)

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