Gary Goddard’s brave new (themed entertainment) worlds

With Studio City casino and resort in Macau, unique pipeline projects in Asia, the world’s first Cirque du Soleil Theme Park Resort in Mexico and a reawakened Broadway 4D project, Gary Goddard and The Goddard Group are creating some of today’s most iconic themed entertainment destinations.

The company’s CEO Gary Goddard is no stranger to pushing boundaries, describing himself as “always at the cutting edge of things”. An innovative master-planner, he believes that preserving the integrity of a project is vital for its future success.

Creating Ground-Breaking Attractions

Prior to founding The Goddard Group in 2002, he was instrumental in creating ground-breaking attractions such as The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and T2/3D for Universal Studios. In recent years The Goddard Group has developed a particular expertise in Asia. The Studio City Macau resort which opened in October 2015 is one of the company’s most thematically ambitious projects with its Hollywood inspired façade and figure-of-eight Ferris wheel suspended between two towers.

Blooloop spoke to Gary Goddard about Studio City and current projects in Asia, the world’s first Cirque du Soleil theme park resort and the reawakened Broadway 4D.

Gary Goddard's Brave New Worlds

Studio City: Celebrating Cinema

Goddard says he was first contacted about the ground-breaking Studio City project via a surprisingly low-tech route:

“5 days after the Galaxy Macau opened in May 2011, my office (I wasn’t in) got a fax – not a phone call, not an email – a fax! Eric, in charge of New Business at GGE, called me and said, “We got this fax, I can’t even read it, it’s from some company like murco something. And, I said, does that say ‘Melco Crown’? And, he says, it could be yes…”

Goddard knew the company had recently assumed ownership position in an entertainment project called “Studio City” and sensed an opportunity and responded immediately. Lawrence Ho, Chairman of Melco Crown Entertainment Limited had been impressed with the Goddard Group’s work at neighbouring resort, Galaxy Macau.

“Ho wanted a new kind of casino hotel that was entertainment orientated and that would be a tribute to and a celebration of cinema, the movies.  When you say the cinema – he loves Batman – so you can definitely see traces of Gotham City in our design, but also of Metropolis, of Blade Runner – so we took those movies and some other ones as inspiration.”

Gary Goddard's Brave New Worlds

The biggest challenge of the whole project turned out to be one of Goddard’s own making – the double Ferris wheel set into the building. It was, he admits, “a huge engineering and installation endeavour”.

The Integrity of the Design

“That was very challenging – although not so much for me as for the engineers – the guys at Intamin who actually had to figure it out. It’s a tribute to them that they were able to work with the architects, Leigh & Orange, who were the Architect of Record. – a huge engineering and installation endeavour.”

Gary Goddard's Brave New WorldsNow the resort is open, what is Goddard particularly pleased with?

“I think that the building itself has turned out really well.  The idea and the architectural motif – the silver metal reflective motif.

“Also Lawrence.  At one point, his team wanted to cut the two big heroic figures left and right of the main entrance and replace them with spotlights – we argued against that as it would completely change the design intent and lessen the impact of the entire design – and Lawrence had the vision and foresight to say no I think the building needs it.”

“There are all those battles that you fight along the way to preserve the integrity of the design – some large and some small —  and I would say that working with Lawrence was great because I think he is a visionary. He appreciated those kind of nuances and he knew what was important and wasn’t talked out of them, so we had a great working relationship.”

Gary Goddard and Success in Asia

The Goddard Group is forging ahead with new projects in Asia including Polar Ocean World in Shanghai and Kingdom of Poseidon in Harbin, a city famous for its ice sculpture festivals.

“It’s very cold up there, ” says Goddard, “so a lot of it is indoor. The good thing about both of these projects is that they are existing operators, not real-estate developers who are building theme parks for the first time.  They brought us in on this one because they’re not very far from Disney and they’re in Shanghai and they want this to be incredible –  the quality of Disney.

“They brought us in to up their game.”

Gary Goddard's Brave New Worlds

What does Gary Goddard believe is the secret of his company’s success in Asia?

Culture and Flexibility

“I think that we’re successful in Asia because we’re sensitive to the culture, flexible in our approach and we try to work with the client and shape the objectives. But, we’re also very straightforward with them when we think they’re going off in the wrong direction. We try and get them back in the right direction in terms of creating a project that will be popular and that will work.   And by work I mean that it will be a success with the public, create repeat business, and therefore be financially successful as well

“I always tell all these clients, it’s relatively easy to get people to come to the park the first year – one time – but if you don’t build a park that makes an emotional connection with them they won’t come back. If they don’t come back, you will not have a successful business because theme parks exist on repeat business. So, you have to build a park that is beautiful and engaging – and not just a collection of rides that are not connected in any way because you won’t get the repeat visits.”

Gary Goddard's Brave New Worlds

Creating your own IP

Gary Goddard has a long history of working with existing brands and IPs. However, this has been less evident in his recent Asia projects. Is it a harder sell or are clients motivated by the prospect of owning their own brand?

“There are plusses and minuses to both ways, ” he says.  “I’ve done both over the years – Terminator and Spiderman and Jurassic Park and worked with Spielberg and Cameron and with Ivan Reitman on Ghostbusters. The great thing when you’re working with a brand and the creator of the brand is involved, you have a lot more weight in the design meetings when people want to start cutting things.”

Gary Goddard's Brave New Worlds

“When you create your own IPs you’re on your own. You’ve got to fight for them to try to convince the client that it’s worth it in the long run to spend a little more money now and have a better product than to go cheap and have to spend a lot more money later correcting things during or after construction.  

“You know that saying “There’s never enough money to do it right – but there’s always enough money to fix it”? I try and tell them that and say, let’s use the money that you would be using otherwise to fix it later – to do it right up front – and then you won’t have to fix it later at much higher costs!”

Cirque du Soleil

Gary Goddard is backing an established brand with a world first Cirque du Soleil theme park collaboration. The first iteration of this potentially global offering will be located in Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.

Gary Goddard's Brave New Worlds

“That’s very exciting for us because it’s a joint venture. We’re partners with them on the project. So it’s a big future for us as well to be owners with Cirque. It’s the next step for us as a company and it really gives us a solid asset. So you can imagine we’re very excited about it. We are very enthusiastic and we need to focus on it to make sure that it really works.”

Does that mean Goddard is investing as an operator?

“We’re side by side with Cirque and with whoever our developer partners are, ” he says.

And, will there be a live element to the experience?

“Yes, there will be a lot of live elements, I came out of live entertainment myself so it’s a natural fit.”

Gary Goddard's Brave New Worlds

Always at the Cutting Edge

Gary Goddard has been quick to see the potential of new technologies to transport guests to “other worlds”. But, breaking new ground requires a leap of faith on the part of his clients and some need more than a little coaxing.

“I find every time we do something that breaks barriers it’s always a fight. Most people, including most “experts”, think it won’t work because they’ve never seen it before. I always say that’s WHY this will be cool. Because you’ve never seen it before. But you try to convince people and it’s really difficult.”

He says the secret of creating a convincing user experience is to keep the technology secret. Too many operators, he believes, focus on the public face of an attraction. Not enough thought is put into what goes on behind the scenes:

“They don’t spend the money on the software and content, they’ll only spend the money on the hardware and equipment.  So you can bounce around on the “ride”  but you’re not really taken away someplace.  I think Spiderman and T2 do take you away.  I think the Star Trek attraction takes you away. You can’t say that for a lot of other new rides that have come along recently.”

Gary Goddard's Brave New Worlds

“So, in the Cirque projects that we’re doing, we’re taking you away to new worlds but in a different way.  There is some high tech work hidden in the trees. When you’re going through the enchanted forests and by the magical lakes all kinds of very cool places come to life around you.  It’s as if you’re the lead character in Alice in Wonderland or Midsummer Night’s Dream. The entire world you’re in is the experience.

“It’s different to a theme park. I’m calling it an experience park.”

World Creators

“We’re world creators, ” he says, “whether that’s in a single attraction or an entire theme park or a resort. We’re trying to create a world that while you’re in it – for 3-6 minutes for a ride or 30 minutes to an hour for a show, or a day or two, or a week – you’re totally immersed in this world.”

Gary Goddard's Brave New Worlds

The Goddard Group has applied this approach not just to resorts and attractions but to retail. Most notably at the award-winning Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. Created around a central Romanesque atrium, the development blends luxury shopping, dining and entertainment including 160 stores. It also boasts the Fall of Atlantis animatronic show and a 50, 000 gallon aquarium.

“It’s really immersive, ” says Gary Goddard. “We came up with the concept of this ancient roman market place. This could transform from day to night while you are in it. The local “experts” in retail and casinos said it would fail.  They said “retail does not work in Vegas” which at the time did not.  But The Forum Shops changed all that, becoming of the highest (always in the top five) grossing (sales per square foot) retail malls in the country and in the world.

Gary Goddard's Brave New Worlds

Non-Magical Mobile

What are his views around incorporating mobile technologies to augment the guest experience?

“I am not as enamoured as others are with iPhone technology, ” he says.  “To me, iPhone technology is good for what I would call the non-magical part of the experience. Great for making reservations for dinner and great for checking schedules. If you want to see where the lines … for all those kind of brain power things. Also, great as a camera to record experiences. But, working in the actual attractions to me is missing the point of being in the attraction.

“We’re actually the one place that you can come to that’s not online, on a computer, not virtual.  We can put you into an immersive world and entertain you. We do this by taking you through a story or visceral experience that none of the other things can.

“I’m a big believer in the social media aspect. However, I don’t really want you fiddling with your phone when you’re on our rides or at our shows. I want you to have an experience where you say, “Oh my god, that was unbelievable”.

Broadway 4D – A Legacy Project

So, what news of Goddard’s ‘big push’ as he calls it? This is Broadway 4D, an immersive attraction merging 3D and 4D technologies with filmed live performances. It tells the story of the Broadway musical. The project, which stalled last year owing to financial problems, is close to Goddard’s heart. He has produced several successful shows, both on and off Broadway, including the Tony Award-winning revival of Hair in 2009.

broadway 4d concept art goddard group

“I feel that the hardest journey ever has been on Broadway 4D because nobody has understood it, ” he says. “The person responsible for financing hit a hiccup right after we started. We had to shut down right after we had successfully filmed Christina Aguilera’s stellar performance as Evita. That was a monumental upset for me. To see the project frozen due to the producer’s inability to deliver as promised.”

The main reason cited in the Press was the renovation of the project’s venue, the vintage Times Square Theatre. This is reputed to have cost in the region of $30 million. According to Goddard, the project is now back on track and he expects to be shooting in 2016.

“We will finally bring it to life. I think that it will be a legacy project for me. It will go on way beyond me and my lifetime. It brings together the things I love, Broadway musical and 3D/4D attractions. A lot of people don’t realise we had all the sets built. And as I said above – we filmed Christina Aguilera as Evita – that is on 3D and ready to go.

A New Kind of Attraction

Gary Goddard is inspired by creating a new kind of attraction.

“If you talk about the wax museum across the street, it is what it is – it’s a wax museum.  This is a living experience.  This is great performances preserved forever in 3D and with 4D effects that make you feel that you’re in it. I think that is a future direction. This is something that is going to harness all the greatest things in my life.”

“It’s been a struggle. This time, I think we have partners who understand both the real estate side and the film side. All of the stars such as Hugh Jackman are like ‘you tell us when’ because they love it too. So I’m really excited about that.”

Gary Goddard's Brave New Worlds

Gary Goddard has never expected an easy ride. He accepts that fighting for what he believes in goes with the territory.

“All of the hardest things to get on their feet like the Forum Shops. The retail industry said it will never work. Since it opened, it’s been in the top 5 grossing retail malls for 26 years now, every year.  T2/3D, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – on and on – each one had its share of naysayers.  But we persevered.”

Gary Goddard, Setting the Pace

Gary Goddard has achieved so much in his career already. What is he most proud of to date, and looking ahead what excites him?

“I’m still proud of T2 3D and still proud of the Spiderman Ride and the Forum shops.”

Gary Goddard's Brave New Worlds

“With the Broadway 4D project, we own part of that so it’s like the Cirque park. We’re owners and designers and I think that is going to transform my company.

“Also, some new partnerships in China that I can’t really talk about yet. We’ve always tried to set the pace for what’s next and I think were still doing it.”

Images: Studio City ferris wheel images kind courtesy Intamin. All other images kind courtesy The Goddard Group with the exception of the Evita poster and Metropolis.

blooloopLIVE Asia

Gary Goddard will be taking part in our Designing for Asia panel session at blooloopLIVE Asia – June 13th 2016.

The Goddard Group will be exhibiting at the Asian Attractions Expo.