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Rick Rothschild on Creating Great Storytelling Experiences and SATE 2012


The SATE 2012 conference is the annual Experience Design conference of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA).  This year’s conference takes place on 19-21 September at Disneyland Paris with a theme of "Cultural diversity in Themed Entertainment: Obstacle or Opportunity?"

Rick Rothschild is President of the TEA’s International Board of Directors and has a career in the world of theatre, Disney theme parks, media and museums spanning 40 years.  Rick has been responsible for creatively directing and producing over 25 separate Disney attractions during a 30 year tenure as a creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering.  Blooloop caught up with Rick to find out more about his career and what he’s looking forward to at SATE 2012.Rick Rothschild TEA President

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Please share with us how you first got started working in the amusement industry.

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres - Rick Rothschild's first jobI had my first job working as the Technical Director for the Chanhassen Dinner Theater complex outside of Minneapolis, MN in 1970.  I dropped out of my junior year at college to take the job.  It was the right thing to do, as it set the course for the rest of my professional life.  I did eventually return to graduate from college, with honors, invigorated with the knowledge that I liked working in this profession and that I could find work in it.

What were some of the biggest changes you saw in your 30 years at Disney?

Within Disney, the greatest corporate changes came with the arrival of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells, in 1985.  A sleeping giant was awakened by their partnership and leadership.  The company as it exists today owes much to what happened within their first 10 years.  Expansion of the theme parks and resorts, as well as building the foundation of the substantial worldwide media collective the company is today.  The advancement of technology across all fields has certainly provided a massive number of new tools to be used (and abused) in the pursuit of creating new ways to immerse our audiences in great storytelling experiences.

The American Adventure,  EpcotWhat have been some of the most rewarding projects that you have worked on and why?

Most every project I've worked on has brought unique opportunity to learn something new while working with an extraordinary collection of multi-talented individuals.  As much as the reward is the smile of satisfaction on the face of a guest having enjoyed an experience I've helped create, it's also what comes with the continued opportunity to collaborate with amazing people in creating the many unique projects I've had the fortune to be involved with.  Certainly, having as my first project with Disney the creative responsibility to direct the American Adventure at EPCOT is high on my list, as was the fun we all had making Pleasure Island and Soarin' over California.

What about some of the most challenging ones?

An interesting question, as there isn't a project of the over 40 I've been involved with over the years that hasn't had a challenge or two.  Whether the challenge came from how to accomplish something technically or discovering the best way to tell a certain story or build the right emotional arch to a story, I view the challenges as the opportunity that comes with the creative process of discovery that is part of every great project.  As I think about it, it's the challenges that every project brings with it that is what makes the process so much fun!

Can you tell us about your current projects?

My current projects are two at the moment.  Flyover Canada and StarTours at Tokyo Disneyland.  Flyover Canada is a privately funded stand alone project being built within Canada Place in Vancouver.  An attraction very similar in experience to Soarin' over California, but with a newer more sophisticated ride technology and using all digital media capture and projection technology.  It will open in late Spring 2013.  I had the opportunity to work with the team that Star Tours Disneyproduced the two new domestic Disney StarTours attractions (Disney Hollywood Studios in Florida and Disneyland in California) that opened in 2011.  I'm now working with WDI to help bring this all new and fuly refreshed attraction to Tokyo, also opening in Spring 2013.

What does the TEA bring to the industry and what are you hoping you’ve achieved with your presidency?  Growing the TEA in Asia for instance?

The TEA is an association built on the idea that within the ever expanding world-wide industry of themed entertainment, it is important to promote networking between the suppliers/vendors/creative design and development community and the owner/operator community.  Beyond just networking, promoting and expanding the collective knowledge base of all involved in our industry with regards to technique, technology, safety and all other things "themed" is a focus of our association.  Part of this expansion is to engage the new emerging members of our community, within the academic world and as they begin their careers in our industry.  Certainly, Asia is a targeted growth initiative for us.  As for my presidency, it's almost over after two truly enjoyable years.  My goals for the last two years have been to help our association increase our capacity to share knowledge within our industry, engage the next generation in a meaningful way and expand our presence across the world.  I look forward to supporting our incoming President, Christine Kerr, with her initiatives as she takes on the leadership of our association in November of this year.

What is special about SATE and why should industry professionals attend?

As I noted in my last answer, expanding the collective knowledge base of our themed entertainment community is a priority for the TEA.  Currently SATE is one of our primary annual ways to provide a focus on this initiative.  If you are a serious professional in our industry, this conference is for you… and you shouldn't miss it!Carousel of Progress Disney Tomorrowland 1964 Worlds Fair

The topics at SATE this year focus on reaching out geographically, culturally and even into other industries.  How does this reflect your view of the way in which the industry will develop?

The obstacles and the opportunity that results from the diversity that natural exists in our expanding world of themed entertainment was something that Joe Rohde and Yves Pepin, our co-chairs, and I focused on in our initial planning discussions for this year's SATE conference.  It was clear to all of us, both in our own work as well as being a part of the world wide themed entertainment community, that diversity is a part of everything we do given the ever expanding global reach our industry has.

What’s your all-time favourite museum or theme park attraction?

Tough, tough question.  Like favorite books, movies, authors, artists or any other creative expression, I have many, principally because when something experientially connects emotionally with me, it becomes a favorite and I've certain found that there are truly extraordinary examples of really great collaborative creative expression in all corners of the world… both large and small.  Provincial Museum in Victoria, BC, the Smithsonian and the Musee D'orsay are a couple of museums I love.  As for a theme park attraction, Peter Pan probably left it's mark on me (as it was certainly part of why I loved creating Soarin'… who doesn't love to FLY!) and Mr. Lincoln at the Illinois Pavilion, along with the Carousel of Progress at the 1964 NY World's Fair were the inspiration that lead me to want to work at Disney.


Images of American Adventure, Soarin' over California and Star Tours: © Disney

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