A spiraling roller coaster that makes people scream out of pure, heart-palpitating fear and joy. A dynamic zone for kids, with popping water jets. A sprawling retail space with animal displays.
For more than 20 years, Mark Shumate has designed themes and experiences connected to attractions, amusement parks, shows and environments such as these. He’s worked for the likes of Universal Creative, Walt Disney Imagineering, Busch Gardens and Paramount Parks. And for more than four years, he’s brought his keen knowledge to ArtCenter as an instructor teaching Viscom Fundamentals 1 and Viscom Fundamentals 2, foundation courses for Entertainment Design and Transportation Design that emphasize illustrating design concepts clearly through sketching and rendering, as well as elective class Themed Attraction and Exhibit Design.
“There’s theme design all over the place. A lot of the time people look right past it,” says Shumate, who recently transitioned from being a senior designer at Universal Creative to art director at Pasadena design firm The Hettema Group, founded by ArtCenter alum Phil Hettema.
Shumate’s work ranges from Universal Studios’ Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride, which opened in 2004, to the multi-use exotic land Jungala at Florida theme park Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Jungala, with wet and dry play elements, rides, food and retail, opened in 2008 and features a spacious maze of rope bridges and nets, and areas for endangered animals such as Bengal tigers.
“There’s a really pleasing magic to the process of designing attractions,” says Shumate. “It’s one of the best things in life to start with something that pops into your head, goes onto paper, is vetted through a process and then gets made. To be able to see that realization is all worth it. Teaching Viscom, I try to encourage students to tap into physically connecting with the surface of the paper, and go from your head to your hand to the paper. There’s a wonderful clarity in that.”
It’s one of the best things in life to start with something that pops into your head, goes onto paper, is vetted through a process and then gets made.Mark Shumate
The seeds of Shumate’s love of themed attractions were planted in childhood.
As a kid growing up in Sacramento, he went with his graphic designer and illustrator mother and technical theater college professor father to play park Fairytale Town. Around since 1959, the park incorporates nursery rhymes and fairy tales, from Mother Goose to “The Old Woman in the Shoe” (the park has a huge slide that looks like a high-heeled shoe). There, he soaked up inspiration.
After he got his bachelor’s degree in theater design from California State University, Sacramento, Shumate moved to Southern California in the ‘80s to work at scene shops, building props and models, and then went into show production, working on the 1984 Summer Olympics. He started a master’s program in theater design and technology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and at the same time took ArtCenter at Night classes. His big break came when Disney called him in 1987 to work on Disneyland Paris (then Euro Disney).
Shumate praises ArtCenter’s Entertainment Design Department—which launched in Fall 2005 and today has a Concept Design and a Character Animation track—as pulling together different disciplines into one powerhouse program. Viscom Fundamentals lays the groundwork for it all.
“Most students who come to ArtCenter have some visual skill to begin with, and have been drawing since they were little kids,” says Shumate. “Viscom 1 and Viscom 2 focus those skills. We first create a drawing with pen and paper, chalk and marker, that you can understand and has the correct perspective, that deals with where the light is coming from and where the shadow is cast. Later we cut students loose and let them do a bit of Photoshop. From these classes, they head out into specialties based on their interest and track."
Shumate also emphasizes the importance of collaboration. Teams for designing a theme park attraction can start small, with 12 to 24 people, and grow to hundreds of people by the final stages. A project can take 24 to 36 months, from the itty-bitty nub of an idea to cutting the ribbon.
“These projects don’t have a signature author on them, because there are so many people involved,” says Shumate. “Just like movies, only on a longer timeline, theme park attractions come and go. Some are evergreen.”
His work on Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride, for instance, involved designing that tension-building moment just before the roller coaster—inching along on a track—shoots off into the stratosphere.
Based on Universal’s incarnation of The Mummy film franchise, the ride draws inspiration from a scene when minions of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh drop in and attack the heroes. Roller coaster riders move past a newly discovered tomb that’s cursed, and then the pharaoh summons his warriors. Robotic figures fly down, and parts of the room come apart. It all took 30 months to create, Shumate says. Two dozen detailed storyboards went into that one moment, chock full of action.
“I try to encourage students interested in attraction and theme park design to have beautifully designed point-of-view drawings for their portfolios, and to also demonstrate technical skills, engineering skills,” adds Shumate. “That gives them a leg up. As a designer, you want to try and be as smart as you can with as many things as you can that will inform your design process.”