Monday, December 30, 2013

Between Books - Hatch! Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer

I have read several books that attempt to give you insight into the mind of an Imagineer.  But honestly many of those books gloss over the skills of theme park design and creativity without giving the reader the tools to use those skills in their professional and non-work life.  You often think to yourself, yes I want to be creative, but how do I go beyond the nugget that has been presented to skills building.  C. McNair Wilson bucks in trend in Hatch!, a book that provides a formula for successful brainstorming and a blueprint on making this formula work!

Hatch!: Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer by C. McNair Wilson showcases Mr. Wilson's expertise in brainstorming that has proven to be successful during his time as an Imagineer, private consultant (including for Disney), and within numerous stage productions.  The book is broken into two halves.  In the first portion, Wilson presents his "7 Agreements of Brainstorming", the principles that he shares with groups when he leads a brainstorming endeavor.  The second half focuses on the nuts and bolts of brainstorming from creating your own sand box to brainstorm within, setting up brainstorming teams and the ever terrifying doodling!  The author has illustrated the volume with doodles of his own, which reinforce his lessons, and inspirational quotes.

I feel like C. McNair Wilson has freed me!  That may be overstatement, but it is a fun one.  I work within a field where I brainstorm solutions to problems all the time.  And recently I even gave a professional presentation where I used Marty Sklar's "Mickey's Ten Commandments" to urge my fellow professionals to quit seeing ourselves as bland and dull writers of vanilla passages but instead as creatives who are artists when fulfilling external regulations.  I feel like Hatch! has further provided me tools to continue screaming this fact.  So for me, when reading through the "7 Agreements of Brainstorming" it was the liberating principles that stuck out to me.  For example, "Agreement No. 6: Wild Ideas" with the mental picture of putting doughnuts on the moon really hit home with me, especially after he showed it was possible to find ways to get doughnuts on the moon!  It helped show me that in brainstorming it is not just that no idea is a bad idea, but it was the fact that a wild idea may either be a good idea or provide the seed of a great idea.  For me, the six first principles that Wilson provides are about creativity and having the freedom to be creative when brainstorming.  Though he still provides space for critical thinking.  But even in this phase of planning, Wilson's formula provides plenty of space for creative thoughts.

The second half of the book is really the nuts and bolts of how to make the "7 Agreements of Brainstorming" work.  Throughout the book it becomes clear that Wilson respects doodling as a way to both foster thought and to express ideas.  But, I raise my hand and say, what about me who has little to no drawing skills?  What can I do?  I am happy to say that Wilson addresses this issue.  He provides suggestions on tools and how to practice one's doodling skills so one can have confidence in them.  Of course he also gives us a healthy reminder that we do not have to be perfect.  Honestly, as I read through this book I thought of a recent business situation where I lead a team through the critical thinking stage of brainstorming a problem without the help of Hatch!.  At one point I started doodling on our group notes.  This included simple doodles like happy and sad faces, and a burning house.  The funny thing is it helped us make a consensus decision for a recommendation, and when we presented it to others we included graphics as part of our presentation!  Though someone did have to ask me if one face was crying or just needed a shave!  So despite the fact I have no drawing skills at all, I had already seen the power of doodles.  (Recently I was faced with a project where I had to draw, an artistic friend gave the great advice of simple geometric shapes.  If you are worried about drawing it is a good place to start).

Disney fans will be interested in this book since the cover makes note of Wilson's Imagineering past.  And the Disney stories within it are enjoyable to the Disney history fan.  He recounts the day Michael Eisner asked a team to consider options for the parking lot across from Disneyland.  And one of my favorite examples was the evolution of an idea when Wilson suggested they build a hotel in a theme park (thank you, my few days there were very enjoyable).  And there are even stories of plans that never fully developed.  So overall a Disney fan will be pleased.  But one should keep in mind that included stories go well beyond Disney, with stories from his stage productions and even his 40th birthday party.

So despite the Disney connection, this really is a book for those interested in creative thinking and effective brainstorming.  As I have thought through the book I have found more application to how I support creative thinking at work than adding to knowledge of my Disney fandom.  So, one should realize this is a brainstorming book that anyone can use, with some Disney sprinkled in.  Hatch! really is a guidebook to creative thinking in group settings, not a history of the creation of Disneyland.

When it comes to the question of where to buy Hatch! there are several options.  At the author's website you can see all of the purchasing options, including one that helps support some good causes.  He has made available a PDF excerpt from the book that you can look through.  You can also read some of McNair Wilson's thoughts about Disney and non-Disney things, including his take on Saving Mr. Banks.  But being the selfish guy I am, I suggest purchasing the signed personalized copy.  My copy has a bit of whimsy to it since the author added his own personal touch.

Hatch!: Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer by C. McNair Wilson is a liberating book.  It allows the rational being to release themselves into a creative one by providing a simple set of seven agreements.  By following these steps one can make a good thing great, much like Imagineering does!  But even if you are not a Disney parks fan, you can still gain much by sharpening your brainstorming skills while having some fun. 

Review Copy Provided for Purposes of Review

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mousey Moview Review - Frozen

As I sit here at the computer, it is snowing. And I mean it is cats and dogs snowing. So it makes it a perfect time to reflect on the story of Elsa and Anna in Frozen, because it really looks like the landscape outside could have been crafted by Elsa herself.

In Frozen, Elsa and Anna are two close sisters who love to play together. But in an accident in their youth, Elsa withdraws from her sister. You see Elsa has the ability to make ice and snow and her (cough cough) mutant ability harms Anna. So she hides and seeks to control her power with the help of her parents the King and Queen of Arendelle. After their parents die, Elsa is crowned Queen of the kingdom when she comes of age. But her coronation goes poorly and her ability is exposed and she goes on the run. Anna, leaves her fiancé Prince Hans, to run the kingdom as she seeks out Anna. Along her journey she meets ice salesman Kristoff, reindeer Sven and snowman Olaf. Can Anna save her family and her kingdom in this Mousey Movie:

  • Wide Eyes: What struck me most about the character models in Frozen? Why it was traditional large eyes of course! Disney has a tradition of models with eyes out of proportion to real people and this film follows that tradition. And it works, those eyes are super emotional and help convey the feeling of the story. Ariel would be proud!

  • Fantasyland: Oh Arendelle, can I visit you? Wait maybe I have and your alias is Fantasyland! Arendelle (okay the whole movie) is gorgeous. And I really feel that the castle and the village made me feel like I was in a Fantasyland like setting. Yes, Fantasy Like. It is not a clone of the in park experience but I did feel like if they ever wanted to build a Frozen attraction themed to the movie it could easily fit in. Additionally, the Between Wife and I agreed, a lot of the big landscapes are majestic and would look really good in World of Color.

  • Throw Out the Rulebook: Everyone knows the rules of the princess movie; good behavior and true love. Well, I will say that the behavior of Elsa and Anna are far from proper in every way. As children they actually were, well kids. In fact if anything is really causing Elsa internal struggle it is the need to be perfect in her behavior to avoid showing who she is (in today’s Marvel Universe she would be sent to the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning to learn about her power and controlling it not hiding it). And as adults Anna is silly, and honestly childish. But they still hold true to essentially having a heart for others, even a broken heart, and taking risks for those they care about. My favorite rule changer is True Love. Frozen openly mocks the idea of love at first site. And the eventual act of love needed to be seen on the screen is far from what Snow White, Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella experienced.

  • King Candy: So is Alan Tudyk on studio contract now? Tudyk voices the Duke of Weselton, it is not pronounced the way you think! The Duke is creepy and definitely setup for comedy relief in the story, in the same sort of way that King Candy is in Wreck-It-Ralph. I hope like Ed Wynn, who Tudyk channeled in Wreck-It-Ralph, we continue to see Tudyk in Disney productions.

  • Nick Fury: Marvel Cinematic Universe fans rejoice! Frozen has an end credit scene. Sure, it does not feature Nick Fury moving a franchise big agenda. But it is worth sitting through the credits to see it. And watch the credits carefully in the last minute or so of them running. There is a disclaimer that corrects a controversial generalization that the movie makes! Honestly as Disney has made clear this movie is full of Easter Eggs, from the cast of Tangled to the head cheese himself (maybe).

I really liked Frozen and I look forward to seeing it again. I honestly still liked Tangled a little better, but this film was still a hit with me. The fact that I liked it so much surprised me since I was not thrilled with the trailers at all, mostly because they first trailer really did not show me what the movie was really about. And it is a hit with the Between Kids. The oldest is pleased that we now have the Frozen Disney Infinity set, with Anna as the go to character. And the youngest has been running around telling us about the joy of warm hugs.

Yep, it is cold out here in Betweenland. The best way to deal with the chill is to get in the spirit and take in a showing of Frozen.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Between Books - More Cute Stories, Volume 2: Animators and Imagineers

Over the last few years, Rolly Crump has allowed Disney fans to look at him as an open book.  First, he collaborated on an excellent memoir of his life working for Walt Disney and the years beyond in the themed entertainment business.  Then he released a CD of oral history that includes some of his "cute stories".  Now with his second volume of audio stories, Crump introduces us to familiar and not so familiar names and provides some frank cute stories of working for WED Enterprises and the Walt Disney Studio as an animator.

The format of this collection, More Cute Stores, Volume 2: Animators and Imagineers,  is pretty simple.  There is a brief introduction where the name of the discussed animator or imagineer is spoken.  Then Crump captures a story or two about the Disney contributor in his own words.  The stories vary in length from around two minutes to four minutes, one track is less than a minute.  The figures covered include a who's who of familiar Disney names including Yale Gracey, Harriet Burns, Bill Justice, Ward Kimball and Blaine Gibson.  But there is among the Disney giants names like Art Stevens, Bob Smith and Jack Miller who Disney fans are likely not as familiar with.

If I could describe the tone, it would be frank and honest.  Crump makes mention of teaching and learning to smoke cigarettes.  And since he preferred special food to go with his smokes and had a dealer to help supply his stash, well I'm guessing it was not tobacco that he was rolling.  And he calls it as he saw it, including mentioning a time where Marc Davis in his mind committed a shameful act.  If anything stands out it is the absence of Alice and Marc Davis with whom he collaborated on it's a small world with.  But then perhaps that says something about Crump's feelings (or it could mean nothing at all).   Ward Kimball does stand out as someone that Crump respected and appreciated for bringing him to Imagineering.  Another thing that stands out is the working conditions at Disney in animation, and it makes sense as you hear Crump talk why animators were at times laid off. 

I am a big podcast consumer, so I often compare pay audio content to free podcasts.  I have not heard Crump tell the majority of these stories elsewhere.  Most podcasts want to hear about Yale Gracey, not Keith Elder!  If I had not received a review copy, I would have likely bought myself a physical copy for this nearly an hour of stories.  But for those who do not wish to pay the full price, there is a download option available for half the price.  Honestly, it is fresh and more frank than one would typically find in a podcast interview.

More Cute Stores, Volume 2: Animators and Imagineers continues to build the Crump legend.  You hear the tales from Crump himself, the man many likely wish they had for a grandfather as he shares credit for many of the Disney successes.  And the frankness provides a honesty that makes you understand how he may have grated against others at WED for being such an individual while endearing himself to others. 

Review Copy Provided by Bamboo Forest Publishing

Monday, December 9, 2013

Between Books - The Book of Mouse

As we have heard it said many times, "It all started with a mouse!"  And Jim Korkis in his newest book looks to tell the history of Mickey Mouse, set some myths straight and provide reference material about the world's most famous mouse.

Korkis in The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse collects 300 pages of history and reference materials related to Disney's most famous animated creation.  The book is written in an essay format.  The first section captures stories of Mickey Mouse's birth and early years.  This is followed by looks into Mickey Mouse's big screen history including a annotated filmography.  Korkis follows this with a discussion of Mickey Mouse in the parks.  And he closes with a some words about the relationship between Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney.

The book reads to me like a collection of essays and supportive materials.  This makes sense, as Korkis has published a number of blog and magazine articles over the years on pretty much everything Disney.  In fact, I would guess that some of these essays began as essays published in other locations.  So I would say, anyone who enjoys Korkis' writing is going to enjoy this offering since his tone and presentation is consistent with his overall body of writings.  The fact that this is a book of essays also means some articles are short and others are longer due to the amount of information that has been uncovered on the topic.  And though the essays are collected under the same theme they do not always flow with transitions from chapter to chapter, and some essays repeat information, though not an overwhelming amount.  The lack of transition and repeated information for some readers will be an advantage, since the book can be used for just in time information where you do not have to read the chapters before to get an understanding of the topic you want to explore.  

Korkis does a good job of uncovering myths and providing new information.  For example I did not realize that Plane Crazy, Mickey's first produced short, featured another innovation with camera movement in animation.  Additionally Korkis shatters the myth that Steamboat Willie was the first synchronized sound cartoon!  And the book made it abundantly clear to me that Mickey Mouse is not a character, but is in fact an actor.  And as an actor, Mickey can be flexible and be dropped into a number of situations just like any other actor.  I wonder if Mickey should take over as Iron Man!  Other new information that I really enjoyed was the chapter on Paul Castle, who helped Mickey Mouse for several decades.  The chapter is fantastic and for me brought a lot of new information about the behind the scenes preparation to bring Mickey Mouse onto stage. 

The reference materials are also somewhat useful.  While I do not enjoy the chapters consisting of miscellaneous quotes and facts on Mickey, other reference materials were a huge success for me.  I have already made notes from the Annotated Filmography for future posts.  And looking through it shows the impact that World War II had on the studio and the production of Mickey Mouse cartoons in a visual way.  

Jim Korkis' The Book of Mouse helps illuminate and expand Disney fans' understanding of Mickey Mouse and his history and relationship with Walt Disney.  Fans of Jim Korkis are sure to enjoy this Mickey Mouse offering.  And every reader will surely have a better understanding of Mickey Mouse and his importance in Disney history. 

Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Monday, December 2, 2013

Between Books - Hollow World

Honestly Detective Charlie Walker may be having the worst Walt Disney World vacation ever!  Sure his entire family loves the resort, but when your family is kidnapped from the Magic Kingdom Park as they sit right next to you, well it is sure to kick off a bummer of a trip!  Will Charlie be able to save his family and his love of Disney Parks?

Hollow World by Nick Pobursky offers the fictional story of Detroit Detective Charlie Walker.  Walker is an intelligent and hard-working officer who  made a local splash a few years earlier when he caught a local serial killer.  Walker who has Sherlock Holmes like deduction skills does have one retreat from the stress of his detective work, regularly visiting the Walt Disney World Resort with his wife and two daughters.  While on his latest trip things go painfully wrong as Walker's family is kidnapped within the confines of Tomorrowland!  The kidnapper is a genius, organized mad man who has established an elaborate challenge for Charlie, with the prize being his own family.   Charlie must defeat the villain's puzzle set up within Walt Disney World.  And the consequences of failure may be beyond the lives of Charlie's family.

I usually do not read this type of book, mystery thriller.  So I was a little wary that this book would fall flat with me.  However, Pobursky provided two hooks that pulled me into the story.  First, and most obvious, is the setting of the Walt Disney World Resort which drew me in as a Disney Parks fan.  Second, though I am not a first-class detective, Charlie is a family man who loves Walt Disney World.  So I can relate to him.  And his problem of saving his family is one that does provide plenty of tension for me.  Though I will admit compared to Charlie I would be completely useless.  So knowing that I would be lost in this scenario and completely overwhelmed, the story effectively had weight for me.  Luckily for the story, Charlie Walker is a smarter man than I (or at least more logical).

Along with Charlie there are a number of interesting characters that help the story move along.  The villain, Spencer Holloway, is precise, intelligent, creepy and immoral.  The lives of others mean nothing to him and you really believe he will kill the entire Walker family from the youngest daughter to Charlie himself.  Henchman Jeremy is a complicated story of compliance and naughtiness.  And Team X-Ray whose interference in the Walker's life changes Holloway's game, is full of interesting characters who I can see carrying a story of their own.  So again, despite not typically reading this type of book, I found it very interesting and enjoyable.

Pobursky succeeds at bringing realism to the story.  For Disney fans stuck in their hotel rooms, Stacy makes the story.  And of course that simple fact provides authenticity to the story since you can see the television loop in your head.  And for the action, I spent a good thirty minutes Googling the very real Microtech knives.  And the security situation at the gates of Disney's Hollywood Studio will ring true and a little scary.  The book jacket states that the book is R-Rated Fiction, and I can see how this statement could scare away some readers.  But again, I would say do not let this pull you away from the story.  The R-Rated situations are similar to those found in thrillers and action-adventures.  And they strike realistic to the story.  And unlike other Disney based fiction stories, Pobursky does not provide a fictitious history of the parks to support his stories.  Instead the resort serves as a real place with a real history in which the story is occurring.

So, do I recommend this book?  Yes, this is such a no-brainer for me.  I read the print book and believe it is a great vacation read.  It was bigger than a paperback novel, but still fit nicely in my book bag.  I read it over my Thanksgiving break, which could explain why I pictured Holloway as the Duke of Weselton from Frozen.   I had received a review copy, but if I had not I would have instantly purchased the Kindle version for myself, because its only $3.99.  I so often see books that publishers offer in both a print and electronic format where the electronic format is only a few dollars less than the print edition.  But here Bamboo Forest Publishing proves yet again they are concerned with getting their author's work into the hands of the Disney fan instead of gouging pocketbooks.  Seriously at that price, even if you are just meh on this read, you have lost virtually nothing.   

Hollow World by Nick Pobursky is an action story that draws the reader into the story set within Walt Disney World.  The reader is tense as one wonders if Walker or his family survives, since it is clear that not everyone will make it through Pobursky's tale unharmed.  Hollow World is a fun read that will likely appeal to action-adventure fans (even those with limited knowledge of the Walt Disney World Resort) and Disney fans alike.  Honestly, I would really enjoy a sequel involving these characters, even if it was set outside my favorite parks.  I wonder if the Walker's have never gone to Universal, I mean I have not but maybe the Walkers could! 

Post-Credit Scene:  As a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) I am always looking for Easter Eggs and Post-Credit scenes.  I chuckled as Pobursky gives his reader a post-credit scene, okay its "Acknowledgement", that tips a figurative hat to the MCU.  And you have to read the "About the Author" section which has a trademarked chuckle or two, and a promise familiar to James Bond and MCU fans. 

Review Copy Provided by Publisher