ABOVE: John Miceli and DE-ŹYN Studios’ projection mapped animation at the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station.

What follows is an exploration of themed entertainment design from a unique, unconventional approach. It stems from my personal observations and opinions and nobody – employer, client, colleague, friend, family member, or clergy – contributed (intentionally) to or reviewed this material. I expect there will be many who don’t agree with my conclusions.

And that’s OK, because there are many approaches to themed entertainment design.

There are academic courses on the topic. Companies and individuals have established themed entertainment design guidelines. And every fan (this one included) wants the world to know that he or she is an expert on what will work best at a park or attraction. These same fans are also experts on why the work of professional designers are destined to fail, usually when they (the fans) learn of such projects while they are still in the conceptual stage.

For the purposes of this piece, I will consider theme to be a guide – the who, what, when, why, where, and how of belief, action, and reaction. Everything in the world has a theme. The oceans have a theme – natural in occurrence, yet defined by humanity – that is different than the mountains. High school has a theme, with its classrooms, gym, cafeteria, assemblies, cliques, and curriculum. Walmart and Target have themes, based upon color scheme, store layout, signage, graphics, and corporate culture.

Themed entertainment design, although in many ways around for decades, if not longer, was revolutionized and became a mainstream discipline with the creation of WED Enterprises, now Walt Disney Imagineering, in the 1950s. Its roots are based in the cinematic arts, which are themselves based in live theater. As with a film or a live performance, themed entertainment is comprised of various thematic elements – lighting, sound, media, technology, live performance, scenic design and fabrication, costuming, writing – the list goes on and on. Therefore, for the purposes of this piece, themed entertainment will be defined as:

A muli-disciplinary artistic approach to guiding an audience through an entertainment, educational, and/or recreational experience not generally available in the home.

Throughout this piece, we will visit the mythological figure many historians consider the father of the modern amusement park and his legendary rubber suit; we’ll see the history of global colonization laid out before us at Epcot Center; we’ll examine an attempt for SeaWorld to reinvent its theme – not now, but in the 1980s; and we’ll encounter the artists of New Mexico, from Godfrey Reggio to Meow Wolf, learning how they use themed entertainment design to guide us in unexpected ways on spiritual journeys.

It’s my hope that through this piece, you’ll see the themed entertainment world in a unique and different way.

Come on board, make sure the lapbar is loose, and feel free to stretch your arms and legs outside the vehicle at any time and explore the world around you. Our ride begins on an 80 degree day in Anaheim, California, in July 1955.

Click here to begin the journey

Joseph L. Kleiman

visit for more content