Recently, I got a chance to interview Don Carson, an illustrator and artists for theme parks. He has worked on several projects ranging from Disney classics such as Splash Mountain, to Universal’s Island’s of Adventure’s latest addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Don has been the industry for more than 20 years, and is an expert at what he does. It was very fascinating getting an inside look at the design process for such lavishly detailed attractions. He also has a fantastic blog that showcases much of his work. All artwork shown in this interview can be viewed on his blog by going here: Theme Park & Virtual World Design
I had a fantastic time interviewing Don and I hope you enjoy it too.
Me: Hi Don! It is a pleasure to meet you. For those who don’t know, Don is a spectacular illustrator that does concept artwork for theme parks. He has also worked for some big names like Universal and Disney. So Don, how did you get into this field of work?
Don: Well, I started as an Illustration major who also had a love for Disneyland. My childhood was spent making bi-yearly trips to southern California and the highlight was always visiting the Disney park. Leaving college I arrived into an industry that was on the way out, as traditional editorial and advertising illustration was being replaced with more photography. I took my newly acquired skills as an illustrator and began to apply them to the design of themed environments. One of my very first jobs was as the Design Director for the Renaissance Pleasure Faires in California. This gave me a quick education in building large scale themed spaces with very little money. We used to say that we deliver “Elizabethan England using plywood and hay bales”. These early years gave me an important perspective on just how much story can be told with very little investment. Later at Disney, despite the much larger budgets, I always made sure to design smart, and see what could be achieved with less.
Me: You have a fantastic blog (Theme Park & Virtual World Design
) that shows lots of your early work. What was your first theme park related project?
Don:I was hired as a Show Designer for Walt Disney Imagineering in 1989, and on my first day I was handed the designer role for the Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom version of the Splash Mountain attraction. I was initially only supposed to be on the project for two weeks, but changes to the width of the ride flume had so altered the layout of the attraction show scenes that my involvement stretched over two years and included my re-designing every aspect of the ride. It was a fabulous experience, and I was mentored by a talented and infinitely patient Show Producer, Kathy Mangum. It was only later that I realised that getting to experience your attraction from concept to opening was rare indeed, and mine was filled with good memories.