Storyland Studios, the three-dimensional storytelling firm, has appointed former Disney Imagineer and Universal Studios Creative Director, Jason Surrell, to the role of Executive Creative Director. He will bring a great deal of experience and knowledge to the rapidly expanding company.
Surrell’s most recent post was that of Senior Creative Director for two of Universal’s highly-anticipated new parks: the $6 billion Universal Studios Beijing as well as Epic Universe.
Themed entertainment and storytelling expertise
“I had a special feeling about Storyland,” says Surrell. “It feels very much how I imagine Walt Disney Imagineering, or WED Enterprises, as it was called at the time, must have felt like in the 50s and 60s. It’s an eclectic and diverse group of highly talented people from probably a hundred different disciplines.”
As well as having the ambition to be a Disney Imagineer as a child, he also dreamt of working in film and TV. Following multiple stints with both Universal and Disney, he now embarks on a new adventure with Storyland, which he says feels like a “match made in heaven” after seeing concept art for some of the firm’s upcoming projects:
“Half of my career has been spent working with studio parks and ‘making of’ experiences in some of the biggest franchises in history. It looks and feels like something Walt would have done.”
During his time at college, Surrell worked as an hourly performer and as Pluto at Walt Disney World. At the same time, he pitched his first show with a friend, which was approved and produced.
“I may be the youngest person to pitch, write, and direct a show for Disney. I was 21 and still in college,” Surrell says. “That showed me that, as a writer and director, I could have a future in the business.”
The Universal and Disney years
While working at Universal, Surrell wrote and directed shows in the Orlando parks as well as for Universal Studios Japan. He also scripted the Jurassic Park River Adventure ride and the pre-show at Islands of Adventure.
Surrell then worked at Walt Disney Imagineering, where he worked on conceiving and producing shows and media, creative direction, script and story writing, and copywriting. Here, he wrote the first treatment for New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom.
“We called out a new way to meet and greet the characters, which became Enchanted Tales with Belle,” he says. “I first wrote down the concept of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The whole idea was presenting Fantasyland differently, in a more organic space with trees, mountains, boulders and water.”
He was also involved in the early creative development for Star Wars Land prior to Galaxy’s Edge, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow starring Johnny Depp, Raiders of the Lost Jedi Temple of Doom, Star Wars Weekends, The Great Movie Ride, and more, as well as working on the enhancements and updates to The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.
In his most recent position, returning to Universal, Surrell was the Executive Creative Director for Universal Studios Beijing and Universal’s Epic Universe. He also oversaw the creative direction of Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and other projects.
A talented team
Surrell is in good company with the rest of the team at Storyland, which includes a range of creative professionals, many of whom are also ex-Disney, Universal and Pixar staff.
“I’m excited about Jason joining the team because it further enhances the Disney-Universal-Storyland Studios ‘triumvirate’ that we already enjoy and cherish,” says Ben Thompson, Chief Strategy Officer at Storyland Studios.
“Among our executive hires over the last year, Jason Surrell is the sixth alumni of Disney and Universal, joining Jeff Wyatt and Bruce Green, both of Universal and Disney Imagineering, together with Matt Ferguson, Ben Thompson and Josh Steadman, all of whom are Walt Disney Company and Walt Disney Imagineering veterans.”
“I’m excited to progress with a company that is so family-oriented and really has a lot of great projects on the docket,” adds Surrell. “This is the job I would want if I were still working for Disney or Universal. It’s just that kind of company.”
Recently, Thompson spoke to Blooloop about the development of Storyland Studios, along with Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Mel McGowan and Art Director Josh Steadman.