Today’s theme parks are unique blend of high-tech thrills, immersive environments and emotional theater. The design skills of hundreds of people are needed to create rides that let visitors experience a magical wizard’s castle, encounter fierce pirates or brave the terrors of a creepy haunted house – all without leaving the theme park. Here is a sampling of some of the many theme park design jobs, with the qualifications needed to establish a career in each.
Engineers work behind the scenes, doing the math or computer programming that allow the underlying mechanics of rides to work – calculating roller coaster shear or programming an animatronic robot, for instance. A bachelor’s degree in engineering is required to become a theme park design engineer, with mechanical, electrical and structural engineering and computer science being the most common majors.
Film people are critical members of a modern theme park design team, using breakthrough techniques to immerse visitors in filmed action scenes that move with guests as they travel through the ride. Film specialists also create video preattraction shows and commercial advertising. A degree from an accredited art or design school with specialization in film is good preparation for this work.
Architects use their technical skills to create theme park buildings and spaces, solving “big picture” layout problems and to ensure compliance with detailed building and structural codes. Architects hold a specialized degree obtained either in a five-year combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program, or a three-year master’s degree program that complements a standard undergraduate degree.
Set Designers/Interior Designers
These designers ensure that theme park attractions look entertaining, exciting and emotionally engaging. Their work can encompass everything from choosing lighting, paint colors and props, to designing the physical layout of interior spaces. A degree from a design or theater school, complemented with illustration, space planning, material selection and computer skills are needed for this career.
Writers are an important part of the design process, because each new theme park attraction is designed around a story. A degree in creative writing or English is useful, but not necessary for this work, but the ability to engage people is essential. Often, show writers get a foot in the door by submitting sample scripts for theme park shows to the producer.
Landing a theme park design job takes dedication and perseverance, according to Ray Keim, member of the Universal Studios Art & Design team. In addition to an education in a specialized area of interest, becoming a theme park designer requires extensive networking with established professionals in the field, a knowledge and love of theme parks, and a willingness to start at the bottom.
Janet Burt has written professionally for more than 20 years, specializing in business, careers, healthcare and the arts. Her work has appeared in “Self,” “Focus,” and “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” among other places. Also a professional artist, Burt has a degree in English and German from Colgate University.