An incredible career

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There are not many people in gaming that have directed a blockbuster movie, or had a truly seismic impact on theme park rides and experiences. On top of that, Gary Goddard produces Broadway shows, and has designed two of Macau’s most extraordinary destinations in Galaxy and Studio City. We caught up with Gary to ask about his stellar career.

Casino International: Gary, your start in the world of work seems a long way from where you are today – if Wikipedia is to be believed! – how did you get from the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, to being the force behind the incredible Studio City Macau?

Gary Goddard: That’s a long story and an evolution that took place during the course of a winding career – though all of it kind of makes sense when you consider the entire movement has been in the creation of “experiences” and “immersive” worlds. I started my career with the idea of becoming a stage and film director, and I had really zeroed in on the idea of creating unique shows that would happen not only on stage – but all around them.  HOOP DEE DOO is a great example of that, and clearly was a viable concept as it’s been running three shows a night, seven days a week since summer 1974.

This idea of “environmental entertainment” – shows that put the audience in the midst of the action – was something that I felt was under-developed at the time.  So soon after working with Disney, I started working with Universal Studios – first in their Hollywood park, and then as part of the elite creative team that designed both Universal Studios Florida, and later Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

You can see this approach to entertainment in my work, from the groundbreaking THE ADVENTURES OF CONAN: A SWORD AND SORCERY SPECTACULAR, through to attractions like KONGFRONTATION, KONG ON THE LOOSE, GHOSTBUSTERS SPECTACULAR, and the MIAMI VICE STUNT SPECTACULAR, along with many others. During this era, we kept pushing for more and more immersive shows, all of which culminated in JURASSIC PARK RIVER ADVENTURE, TERMINATOR 2/3D, and THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF SPIDER-MAN, where we took the audience experience to a new level.

Honestly T2/3D and SPIDER-MAN set a new bar for the industry, and spawned a generation of 3D/4D based attractions that have been proliferating now, though none of them have yet reached the successful and seamless integration that we created with T2 and SPIDER-MAN. So, while all of this was happening, on a parallel path separate and apart from our shows and rides, we also began a 15-year journey with CAESARS PALACE in Las Vegas, where we created THE FORUM SHOPS AT CAESARS, one of the world’s first “experiential” retail malls – using theatrical scenic, lighting, and audio technologies to create a new kind of shopping experience.  This resulted in THE FORUM SHOPS becoming one of the most successful and profitable malls in the world – the site still attracts some 24 million people a year.

Creating the The Forum Shops led to our working with Caesars Palace on CAESARS MAGICAL EMPIRE, an amazing dinner experience that we created in concert with Milt Larsen and THE MAGIC CASTLE.  We followed that with the creation of the new FORUM CASINO (adjacent to the The Forum Shops), and then developing a ten-year master plan for the Las Vegas property itself, including two new towers, the parking expansion in the back, and several other major new works, all of which have since been realized.

Our work with Caesars led to us conceiving THE VENETIAN for Sheldon Adelson, and then providing the concept for ATLANTIS in the Bahamas for Sol Kerzner.  So I think you can see a pattern in our work – developing highly theatrical resort and casino projects which become their own brands due to the unique nature of their design and the attention by which they create a true destination.

The natural outgrowth of this part of our design company led to our work on both THE GALAXY and then STUDIO CITY in Macau.  It’s no coincidence that THE GALAXY has out-branded all of the other competition in Macau and that STUDIO CITY is now on track to do the same thing.  We don’t just create hotels or casinos – we create destination resorts that compel people to visit.  They become “must see/must experience” icons for the cities in which they are located.

CI: To create attractions for theme parks, did you retrain in any way? Or was it about finding the talent and creating a team to help realise your particular vision? Or a little of both?

GG: As I mentioned earlier, my entertainment industry background was in theatre and film. I was making my own little movies in high school, and also writing, directing and starring in my own musicals while also performing in a number of shows while growing up.  I earned my BFA from California Institute of the Arts, the school that Walt Disney founded prior to his death, which he envisioned as a “Community of Artists”.

My father was an architectural designer and a carpenter before that.  I think visiting construction sites with him when I was young, and watching him draft up the design of homes at night on a drawing board in his bedroom, probably had some kind of subtle effect on me.  While I never intended to be an architect, there is no question that my sense of theatre and architecture was accentuated as I later worked on projects for Universal, Caesars Palace, the MGM Grand, and so on.

Another important thing I’ve learned along the way is to surround myself with talented people, and then to apply my sense of theatre to whatever project we were doing:  Ride, Show, Resort Hotel, Water Park – the idea is always to make it theatrical and unique and original.  So the answer to your question regarding talent and creating a team is YES — it takes a creative and dedicated team to develop and produce these unique projects, and it also takes a small city of people to bring them to life.

In terms of training, when I went to work at W.E.D. Imagineering, I was the youngest show designer ever brought on board (23 at the time), and the only one (at the time) to have skipped working my way up through the model shop or through another entry level approach.  I came on, largely due to my work on HOOP DEE DOO, coupled with my role as a Show Designer from day one thanks to my mentor, Marc Davis. I learned the art to theme park design from the guys that invented it – Marc Davis, Herb Ryman, Collin Campbell, Claude Coates, X. Atencio, Bill Justice, John Hench – I didn’t realize it then, but I was at Disney Imagineering at just the right time – when the first generation of  Disney Imagineers was beginning to give way to the second generation.

That second generation included Tony Baxter, Phil Mendez, Rick Harper, Bob Rogers and myself.  So honestly, no “retraining” was required. However, learning the essential planning requirements for a major casino resort hotel – what they call “the program” – WAS required but that was relatively easy to understand.  I’m a fast study when it comes to those kinds of things, and the way a director thinks is: “What are you trying to say? what is the best way to express it? and what are the givens (logistics, budget, essential requirements?” From that point, you can then build your creative vision upon this foundation.

What I found while at Imagineering was that the tools of theatre and film direction work well for parks – production design, lighting design, a soundtrack, costume design, and so on.  But the medium is closer to theatre as it’s “real” and you are in it – as opposed to a film where you are sitting down watching it.  I think I’m the only designer of resorts and parks today that has also been a film director, stage director, animation director and a creator of “worlds” in almost every medium there is.  So clearly our approach to creating a resort or hotel, as with anything else we’ve created along the way, is quite different from those created by architects.

On the other hand, we certainly understand architectural design also, though we always place “the experience” first, and work the architecture into the total space as one part of the overall attraction.

CI: While doing some reading on you, it seems you may have directed a little 80s classic movie by the name of Masters of the Universe – your work spans so many disciplines, this is actually not as surprising as it could be. Is it fair to say that your business has always been entertainment – in all its forms?

GG: A big YES to that. In addition to MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, which seems to be enjoying a popular resurgence lately, I also created the world’s first live-action interactive TV series – CAPTAIN POWER – which was quite a sensation back in 1988/1989 and continues to have a strong international fan base today.

I have also kept my hand in theatre as well, having produced some major shows on Broadway including the Tony-Award winning production of HAIR that we produced in 2009.

More recently, we created the amazing 25th Anniversary Spectacular for LOTTEWORLD in South Korea, which resulted in increasing park attendance by 35% and was the first major live stage show to incorporate programmed color changing illuminated drones as part of the overall production.

We’re currently working on a new project for the GALAXY – something quite fantastic but we’re not ready to announce that yet.

Coming to design as a successful creator, writer, director and producer in the worlds of film, stage, theme parks and media, has given me a unique approach that is unlike any other designer out there.  My company and I come from entertainment and from content.  We approach every project in a way that puts the entertainment first – we look for that approach which meets the needs of the client but which is interpreted in a way to engage the visitors and guests in an emotional way. Good examples are THE GALAXY, STUDIO CITY, and the FORUM SHOPS AT CAESARS, or at the HERSHEY CHOCOLATE WORLD attraction in New York’s Times Square, or THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF SPIDER-MAN. If you take a look at our work across all genres, you will see that each project is very different, yet each one acts as a magnet, drawing people to them. DESTINATION ATTRACTIONS that compel people to come inside – and to return again – is clearly our forte.

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CI: Where did the vision for Studio City come from? What inspired you – and what has inspired you throughout your career?

GG: The vision for STUDIO CITY came initially from its Chairman, Lawrence Ho.  He is a big fan of movies, and loves the “Batman” movies very much in particular.  He wanted a Gotham City-type resort which led us in a direction that would merge Art Deco with the epic feeling of major motion pictures like “Batman,” “Metropolis,” and others within that genre.

With the idea for STUDIO CITY to give the feeling of a “motion picture world targeted at the larger mass audience,” we went to work creating a “must see/must experience” destination. Art Deco was the ideal thematic design approach for STUDIO CITY, as it offers a connection to classic Hollywood movies, but it also has a connection to China as well.  We also wanted to be sure it would completely different than THE GALAXY, a resort that is equally compelling in terms of its appeal.

We drew our inspiration for STUDIO CITY from major motion pictures, as well as from unique art deco buildings found in New York and Shanghai.  STUDIO CITY also features the world’s first double Ferris Wheel – this idea came about because Lawrence Ho suggested at one point that perhaps a METEOR had blown through the façade of the structure, creating a hole through the building.  Building on his idea, we first designed a large hole, and then a Ferris Wheel IN the hole. This ultimately became a DOUBLE Ferris Wheel, providing a figure “8” to the building façade —- and giving it an iconic presence on the Cotai Strip. The mere sight of the building from afar provides visitors with a sense that the giant moving “8” Ferris Wheel, embedded into the building itself, symbolizes good fortune for all who enter.

CI: Is there anything, now that the project is complete, that you would do differently? Or anything you wish you had done? Or is there anything you just think works particularly well?

GG: For those of us who work in the creative industries, there are always things you want to change or revise or approve. Our concept for the retail section of STUDIO CITY was to create something every bit as compelling as THE FORUM SHOPS – the concept being to create “movie studio level” theatrical creations of both a New York street and a Hollywood street.

Once that concept was done, the retail architects took it over and turned it into an “expression” of those streets, but getting rid of everything that would have elicited an emotional connection for the visitors.  At the FORUM SHOPS, the architects had to listen to us, but at STUDIO CITY, the architects won out. I have no idea how the mall there is doing, but I do know that had our original vision been implemented, the retail mall there would be seeing at least double its current numbers, possibly higher.

I’m not saying the Mall is not impressive – I’m just saying that our concept was to create something completely different from any other mall in Macau or Hong Kong. In so doing, I am confident that STUDIO CITY’s retail section would have been not just a mall, but an attraction unto itself.  And once a retail site becomes its own attraction, people flock to it – this was evidenced by THE FORUM SHOPS. It’s been proven that people spend more money in a uniquely designed shopping “world.” So I would definitely have created a different version of the retail streets at STUDIO CITY, and I had hoped to have a nightclub located at the very top of the two highest towers there also. Ultimately that idea proved too expensive and became a real disappointment.

But overall, I think STUDIO CITY MACAU is one of the great resort “wonders of the world” – one that will stand the test of time. It’s an amazing place and highly photogenic, as evidenced by the millions of photos of the site which have been posted on social media sites around the globe.

CI: I would argue that Studio City may have the greatest ‘wow!’ factor of any of the Macau casinos; was the external aspect of the property foremost in your mind when it came to design? Several properties in Macau are quite innocuous from the outside, while they are very nice inside; you’ve got the ‘wow’ inside and outside.

GG: Well I hate to give away secrets of our trade, but one of them is obvious:  Every hotel in Macau other than THE GALAXY and STUDIO CITY have flat roofs – rectangles or squared off – but flat, uninteresting rooftops which make for uninteresting buildings. Our buildings project an interesting silhouette from blocks and miles away. The silhouettes of our buildings announce a story of some kind – they act as “the long shot” in a movie – establishing something different and unique.  In addition to that, as you get closer to the sites themselves, the design elements take form and again convey to the visitor a story.

Our resorts in Macau bid people to enter – they act in ways that are magnetic.  We approach design much like a movie – the long shot, the medium shot (approaching the gateways/entrances), and the close up (entering into the main lobby) – each one designed to bring you to our site, and to bring you further and further into the “world” we’ve created. All the while, these visitors are blissfully unaware of the “science” of the design that has brought them there. They are captivated and drawn to these resorts through the unique and compelling design elements.

Finding the right expression for each project is always the key to what we do. This requires imagination and creativity, of course, but also requires that the designer does his homework and studies what other attractions are located near your site? What is the competition doing (or not)? A good designer needs to understand the market in terms of what their targeted audiences find attractive and irresistible.

I think we do this better than anyone else – whether you are speaking about Las Vegas, Macau, Japan, or virtually any other country in the world.  While other designers stamp out slightly revised versions of a Six Flags park, or of a Las Vegas Hotel, or of some ride or show they saw at Disneyland or Universal, we make it a point to create ORIGINAL and ICONIC places.  In fact, how many designers can say their resort creations have actually BECOME brands?  In our case, the GALAXY, STUDIO CITY, THE VENETIAN and ATLANTIS have firmly established this world class resorts as their own brands.

Not too many other designers in the world can make that claim.

CI: It’s interesting that you have been involved in so many major theme parks, and when Macau properties aim for a mass-market appeal, they have called on you. What gives you that magic touch, in knowing what people want to see and do?

GG: I think it’s instinctual to some degree.  Honestly every designer, every writer, every painter, every filmmaker has his or her unique “voice” when it comes to creating. I think my voice is one that becomes clear when you look at the range of our work. We create truly immersive worlds that have a strong creative foundation. Our ideas are so strong that upon opening our projects immediately attract a strong awareness within their local market, regardless of how competitive that market is.

Our ability to create content, our understanding of media and attractions, and our knowledge and experience in the creation of so many different venues, attractions, resorts, and shows across the globe has cemented for us an approach to design that is uniquely our own.

When people compare our work to that of other major themed-entertainment designers, it is to Universal and Disney. I take that as a compliment of the highest level.  We are not compared to other theme park or resort architects – our work is compared to the industry standard bearers. That’s high praise.

The other thing is, our magic touch if you want to call it that, we don’t really care about awards or recognition by our peers.  Too many architects are motivated by this I think. Their goal is to win awards – they are always working with that in mind – designing projects to please their peers. We are motivated by just one thing: we want to create the world’s greatest attractions, period.

So whether we are focusing on a new mega casino resort, ride, show, or retail experience we want each of them to be extremely successful.  Success to us means that we’ve created and produced an attraction that connects and engages with guests on an emotional level.

Not to brag, but I believe with regard to this design concept, we are the best there is. My “voice” as a creator of immersive worlds has always been to create special places that completely engage each visitor. Our projects are exciting, fun, emotional, surprising, and of course, entertaining.

Our ability to embrace both content and experience, and to convey these critical attributes through design and architecture, is the key to our success.

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