4th annual Entertainment Designer Forum to feature Q&A with theme park experts from Universal, Disney, SeaWorld and more

in Disney, Entertainment, Theme Parks

Calling theme park junkies: The ultimate in intimate evenings to converse with top themed entertainment designers is returning for the fourth time. It’s the Entertainment Designer Forum, to be held at the Orange County Regional History Center on March 8 with two panel discussion and Q&A sessions at 6:30p and 9:00p. Not only is it a chance for fans to interact with some of the most talented folks in the theme park industry, but all proceeds are also donated to benefit the American Cancer Society, including those raised in an auction of special memorabilia.

This year’s lineup of speakers is impressive, with show directors, designers, writers, Imagineers, and actors who have worked on recent projects like the Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Halloween Horror Nights, SeaWorld’s Manta and upcoming Antarctica, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort and Star Wars Weekends, plus much more.

The first panel will feature Mike Aiello, Summer Aiello, Rick Spencer, and Rich West of Universal Orlando, Matt Usi of Walt Disney Imagineering, and Cecil D. Magpuri of Falcon’s Treehouse. The second panel will feature Patrick Braillard of Universal Orlando, Brian Morrow of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, Michael Roddy of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, Lon Smart of Walt Disney Imagineering, and Alan Gilmore, Supervising Art Director who worked on the “Harry Potter” films and theme park attractions.

The event has been a big success over its four years, raising just over $23,000 for the American Cancer Society so far. Universal Orlando’s Kim Grommell helped first organize the event. “The Forum was begun 4 years ago to support my friend and colleague, Stephanie Girard, who was battling colon cancer at the time,” said Grommell. “Steph passed away later that year but I told her that I would continue to support ACS. She was a good friend and I miss her. Many of my co-workers in Universal Studios Art & Design department have lost loved ones just this past year to cancer. They are a tremendous help in putting together and running the Forum.”

Though the panel won’t discuss future projects, topics of interest always include questions on how to become theme park designers, with extensive advice offered. Panelists often share their own stories of how they got to where they are and a few amusing moments throughout their careers. (Click here for a recap of the advice given at the first Entertainment Designer Forum in 2010.)

Past events featured entirely different panels from this year’s, with 7 panelists speaking next month that have never appeared there before, including the event’s first panelist from Imagineering in California, Matt Usi. Grommell appreciates fans returning year after year. “They like the informal, fun quality of the Forum,” he explained. “They like the stories and the anecdotes. And they like the auction.”

The auction is certainly an attention-grabber for anyone who collects theme park items. Up for auction during the event each year is an array of rare and unique offerings including original Halloween Horror Nights props and costumes, behind-the-scenes experiences, past media gifts, artwork, and much more, with all proceeds going directly to the American Cancer Society.

Among the most expensive items sold during past auctions were a signed, framed poster from the stars of the “Harry Potter” movies, behind the scenes lights-on tours of the Halloween Horror Nights houses, Universal artist Ray Keim’s paper models, and 4 hand-drawn elevations of the 2008 Skoolhouse by Stephanie Girard, which sold for around $400, according to Grommell.

A handful of items that will be available for next month’s event should fetch some high prices, including a prop from Penn & Teller’s haunted house queue video for last year’s Halloween Horror Nights maze signed by the duo:

There’s also an unopened Halloween Horror Nights 22 media gift, which we examined back in September:

Also available will be a game kiosk cover from Horror Unearthed, as seen during Halloween Horror Nights 22:

And a bottle of wine will be auctioned, given as a media gift at the grand opening of The Simpsons Ride:

These are just a few of the many unique items that will entice theme park collectors to the event.

Tickets are available now by phone at 407-836-7010 (and soon at thehistorycenter.org) at a price of $25 for one session or a discounted price of $40 to attend both sessions. The ongoing History Center exhibit on Universal Orlando will also be available for attendees’ enjoyment.

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