Monday, May 27, 2024

From costuming to technology: Themed Entertainment Association names 2020 slate of TEA Masters

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) has announced the slate of TEA Masters honorees for 2020. The TEA Masters program celebrates masters of their craft in the global visitor attractions industry.

The 2020 TEA Masters will be officially honored and showcased in a special, free online event produced and presented by TEA on December 9, 2020 that will include an educational discussion with the TEA Masters as panelists. Registration details will be posted at

The TEA Masters program, initiated several years ago by the TEA Past Presidents Committee, helps boost awareness of the many creative specialties and disciplines that collaborate to produce excellence and breakthrough guest experiences in themed entertainment. Engaging more fully with leading practitioners in these areas benefits our TEA membership community and the industry as a whole, fostering greater appreciation and understanding of the disciplines themselves and their role and impact within a project team.

Each TEA Master has made significant contributions to the industry and helped pave the way for others,” says TEA International Board President Michael Blau of Adirondack Studios. “The TEA Masters program helps define, recognize and share those contributions in meaningful ways that support professional development and growth. TEA Masters are a TEA brain trust. Their wisdom, dedication, experience, achievement and spirit inspire and enrich us all. They’re poised and ready to give back to the industry – as speakers, mentors and thought leaders.”

“Each of the 2020 TEA Masters represents a different discipline and a significant number of years practicing their craft. Most have been significantly involved with the TEA at some point in their careers and will be fantastic ambassadors for the association, the next generation and inspirational to other professionals within Themed Entertainment,” says TEA Masters Committee Chair John Lindsay of nFusion, who is himself a TEA Master.



As early as age 10, Linda McBride had constructed a clay model of Disneyland on her bedroom floor complete with copper wires going through the Matterhorn for the Skyway cables. So it’s not surprising that when she obtained her Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering from UCLA, the place she sought employment was WED Enterprises.

She is the “McBride” of Alcorn McBride Inc., the well-known show and media control systems company, but while she lent her name, she was never a partner in the business founded by her husband, Steve Alcorn. Although, in the course of a career with Disney from graduation to retirement, she has had occasion to specify Alcorn McBride products and to give them feedback (“I was their toughest customer.”)

Twenty-two years old and fresh out of college, in 1979 Alcorn was the first woman engineer hired at WED (now Walt Disney Imagineering). She was assigned to the Show Control section of the Electronic Engineering department and began work on the EPCOT project. This young engineer, working on a seminal project that would become a defining model for much of the global themed entertainment industry, took on responsibility for numerous pavilions including World of Motion, France, Canada, China, UK, Germany, Japan, Italy, and parts of CommuniCore.

Her degree in Electronic Engineering gave her a basis in industrial control to apply to the one-off challenges of creating EPCOT. “I knew calculus when I walked in the door at WED, no training in the ‘real world’ whatsoever, had never had a job or an internship, didn’t know how to lock my desk or read a blueprint. I was just trying to get my degree as quickly as I could… I just went straight through school.” She also had pluck. “I really, really wanted to work at Disney, so when they told me they’d lost my resume, I hopped in my car, drove across town and dropped off another copy, and got my interview. She relates that she was later told, ‘the reason we hired you is because you wanted it so bad.’”

After EPCOT, she continued on for nearly four decades at Disney, including a five-month stint at Walt Disney Studios, (led by Don Iwerks) where she gained additional experience working on show control for custom projection systems. Four of the systems were bound for pavilions at Vancouver Expo 86, including three exhibits produced by Bob Rogers. One of those was the pioneering and influential Spirit Lodge show for the General Motors Pavilion; another was for the Rainbow Wars film that was nominated for an Academy Award.

She rejoined the staff at what was now Walt Disney Imagineering. Because she was on the engineering side and not the creative side, she worked largely in the background, bringing one attraction after another to life. Smart and tough, Alcorn was often the only woman in the room at hundreds of meetings. In the late 1980s she relocated to Orlando. For the next almost 30 years she had a hand in many of Disney’s Florida show control projects, new and rehab. In the early 1990s, she relocated to Paris with her infant daughter to supervise show control systems for all of Fantasyland in the new Euro Disneyland park.

Alcorn shared her unique definition of a good show control system: “Unlike most other theme park engineering disciplines (e.g. lighting, audio, projection), a show control system should never make itself apparent to the guests – it should just work flawlessly as if by magic. If I did my job right, no one was ever aware that I had been in the attraction.”

Linda McBride Alcorn retired from Disney in October 2016, having made an historical contribution to the industry, as technology and creative go hand in hand in themed entertainment storytelling. Not only has Linda blazed a pioneering trail in her field, she’s been a generous and encouraging mentor. She considers as one of her greatest accomplishments what she did in her last 8-10 years at Disney, building an Engineering Services team in Florida. “We built up quite a wonderful department to carry on the show control work and maintain the systems,” she says.”I feel like I made a difference in their lives just by showing them a little bit of confidence.”

Ray Braun and Christian Aaen of ECA with colleagues in Xian, China on a Terracotta Warriors project

Raymond Braun is a founding Principal of Entertainment + Culture Advisors (ECA), specializing in entertainment development projects, recreation and tourism economics, and attraction development potential around the world. Prior to forming ECA, Braun was SVP of the Entertainment Practice at Economics Research Associates (ERA) for nearly 40 years. ERA partnered with TEA on the first three editions of the annual Theme Index (2006-2008) during which time Braun was part of the research team for this definitive industry study. He is prominently quoted in the 2006 edition: “Rule Number One in the theme park industry is ‘Thou Shalt Reinvest!’”

Braun’s modeling processes have been adopted by many industry economists as the standard of economic feasibility for entertainment projects. He contributed significantly to establish and mature the entertainment economic feasibility analysis process originated by his mentor, Harrison “Buzz” Price, who brought him into ERA. Economic feasibility analysis is a critical factor in project development; one of the ways TEA has recognized this was in naming Harrison Price the very first recipient of a TEA Thea Award, in 1994.

“You have to give Buzz credit for the original analytics,” says Braun. “Buzz did pioneering work in defining how you figure out capacity and other feasibility essentials.” Braun has built on that work in significant ways that have enriched the industry and expanded opportunities. Waterparks, nature parks, midway attractions, brand experiences, adventure parks, what he refers to as “social entertainment projects” (indoor attractions with a mix of entertainment, dining and bar options) and various forms of LBE (location-based entertainment) have all come under the umbrella. “We’ve broadened the scope of what this practice can address to take in the broader menu of attractions,” he says.

Braun’s leadership and innovation in the field have also helped evolve the broader menu of attractions itself. “We have been part of various processes to push new projects forward, which has led the way to creating new types of hybrid attractions, often related to working with an IP owner exploring LBE possibilities,” he says.

He has advised major IP companies for LBE including Warner Bros, Paramount, Sony Entertainment, BBC Worldwide, Discovery and MGM. Braun’s clients in the theme park industry include major operating companies such as the Walt Disney Company, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and Merlin Entertainments. He has helped plan major cultural attractions including the J.P. Getty Center; the Rose Center at the American Museum of Natural History; the California Academy of Sciences and The Henry Ford.

Internationally, major projects have included market planning and attendance analysis for Universal Studios, multiple locations; consulting with Merlin regarding LEGO theme park development opportunities; economic planning for recreation and commercial development in Beijing; Warner Bros. Movie World, a movie studio and related theme park in Australia; global location research for KidZania; a theme park in Southern Malaysia for Khazanah Nasional; and resort projects throughout Mexico.

“Feasibility is a word that gets used and misused a lot in the industry,” he says. “It’s a test of a concept – a defined concept, at a specific location. ‘Defined’ means that you know enough about it to be able to gauge it in terms of investment and drawing power, how it’s liable to perform. Before something can get to the feasibility stage the project is in what Braun calls “phase 1A – looking at different sites to identify a location and working to define the concept, hopefully with the services of a design firm.”

Entertainment feasibility draws on land use economics, with specialized applications for entertainment, he explains. “We figure out how many visits and how to process them through in terms of planning factors. It all comes down to projection of attendance, how similar projects perform, benchmarks and comp analysis informed by an understanding of the nuances of all the different kinds of projects. You must know one type of attraction from another; understand entertainment development as a whole but also the variety within it to find the right category that fits the market. At the top of the list is the mega theme park which represents an investment of $3B-$6B, then major parks in the $1B category, then regional theme parks, family parks and more specialized properties, down the scale to half a billlion and $250M and then waterparks and cultural attractions.”

Ray Braun has taught many along his career as a mentor and industry expert. He has worked with most all studios and major developers. He continues today as an industry leader and speaks regularly at industry conferences.

Tracy Eck photo courtesy Disney, with permission

Tracy Eck is a native of Chicago, where she started her early career in theater after receiving an MFA in Theatre Design at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Inspired by French theater and culture, she moved to Paris in the late ‘80s, where she worked as a freelance lighting designer. Eck started her career in themed entertainment in 1990, when she was hired as a show lighting designer with the team of Imagineers for the Disneyland Paris project.

She quickly became an essential part of that park and was one of a small group of Imagineers to join the Design and Show Quality team after opening, to continue to train the maintenance staff in the upkeep of the park and to design new projects.

Eck shifted back as a lead lighting designer for the development and installation of the Paris second gate, the Walt Disney Studios Park; and when that project was complete, she returned to her role with Design and Show Quality where she continued to work on numerous refurbishments as well as new projects.

She continued to learn and grow as a designer and earned a promotion to lead Art Direction for the Disneyland Paris portfolio. After 29 years in the themed entertainment world, Tracy is at the top of her craft in art direction. She has managed many complex projects from concept through completion. She remains an essential part of the DLP team where she has mentored many young designers over many years.

Eck excels in art direction and as lighting designer, and has been a key player on many themed entertainment projects, including rides, restaurants, retail spaces, area development, and major icons. She sets the highest standards for herself to accomplish a quality product that will delight Disney guests; and she inspires other members of the team by her example. Tracy is an excellent team player and brings her highly developed training in storytelling and the theatrical collaborative arts to every project. She has a skilled designer’s eye and a healthy imagination that adds value to every project she touches and is a true inspiration to the young designers placed under her wing.

She has taken on major refurbishment plans at iconic attractions such as “it’s a small world” at Disneyland Paris. Over many years, she has encouraged and inspired new products working with many European and US manufacturers. Tracy Eck is a star of our industry in Europe. She is a driving force behind the excellence of Disneyland Paris… and she’s a role model of a successful individual in our industry living their true dream.

Roberta Perry and co-chair Pat MacKay helming TEA Thea Awards Case Studies Day in 2018

Roberta Perry is one of the most familiar, dedicated and energetic members of the themed entertainment community. She is a consummate connector: connecting people to people, people to projects and people to companies. She opens doors for successful business to occur by making visible great work by outstanding people and companies.

Roberta has made positive connections for the companies she has been affiliated with, helping them to do better business. She’s quick to recommend others, even when there is no direct benefit to her, or the company she represents. For Roberta, it’s about getting the right people in the room to do the best job possible.

Perry clarifies that business development is not ‘sales’ but rather the creation of community that enables business to be done. “My job is to open doors and to build relationships with companies and people around the planet. First you build the community, then you engage with the community – and only after you do that can you actually market to the community. That’s the art.”

Her definition of public relations is similar: “building community, engaging with it, getting your name out there. First comes PR, then marketing, advertising and sales. That’s how you grow a product line.”

Part of that process is helping the community to see itself as a community. “I’ve always been able to do that. It’s all about connection. You go out and you link people,” she says. “I have done that in multiple markets. Perry’s great contribution to our themed entertainment industry is that she applied those abilities to help TEA and its community recognize itself as such, back in the days of its founding.

She has been part of the bedrock of TEA and the industry ever since. Perry has supported the association as a member, International Board President, an active member of numerous committees, and consistent “cheerleader” for nearly 30 years. Throughout, she has been the embodiment of professionalism, limitless upbeat energy and a willingness to mentor others. She greets the world with a smile; and behind that smile is a wealth of wisdom, born from decades of experience. Through her leadership, organization and support of women in the TEA, launching and co-hosting the TEA Summit and helping guide the TEA through the early and turbulent years including a term as International Board President, Perry stands above many and encourages all to be the best they can be.

The community of women is particularly important to her. “It is important to build a community of like-minded women who want to help each other. Women need opportunities to network with one another, to discuss the unique challenges they face in the working world, to build trust and self-confidence and help one another grow in their businesses and personal lives. It’s empowering – and you can go back out there into that co-ed environment and be more effective. It’s second nature to me.”

Giving back in the form of servant leadership is key. “Ask yourself, ‘what can I do for the community? Never ask what it can do for you!” she says. “Don’t go in expecting stuff. If you build it with the right culture and attitude, if you are truly there to help each other, what you do for the community will come back to you a thousandfold. That’s the spirit to bring. When you’ve dedicated yourself to servant leadership, you freely offer to take part in an enterprise. The phrase ‘freely offer’ is central to the concept of being a servant leader or volunteer.” (According to the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, “The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible”; institutions as well as individuals can be servant leaders.)

Perry has made tremendous contributions and practiced these philosophies in other industries as well as the TEA community. She was a founding member of the Nightclub & Bar Association; served on the Board of Directors for the National Restaurant Association Marketing Executives Group; was recognized by Toastmasters International with an international citation for service; was a member of the ULI Entertainment Development Council and served three years on the City of Seattle Fair Campaign Practices and Ethics Committee. She was also awarded point of purchase volunteer of the year Andrea Martin volunteer of the year award for the Point of Purchase Association.

She has earned a raft of professional awards, and gives presentations on topics of communication, leadership and effective business development to countless organizations both inside and outside our industry.

JIm Scheidel gives a presentation in Guangzhou

Jim Scheidel’s experience in themed entertainment began with the Back to the Future – The Ride attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood, helping to create a “never been done before” experience. Since then he has managed, designed, planned or participated in more than 50 parks, attractions, gaming centers and other entertainment projects, amassing an impressive and unique body of work and influencing the way project teams are created.

Scheidel’s work has taken him all over the world, designing and managing projects for most of the major theme park operators including Disney, Universal, Warner Bros., Lotte, Six Flags, Knott’s and others. In 2014 Walt Disney Imagineering presented Jim with their Strategic Partner Award.

At least 11 projects in which Jim played major roles have been honored with Thea awards. A key quality Jim established at his firm, Cuningham Group, is to form master-like multidisciplinary design teams for his projects. Over the past years, Jim’s primary focus has been in developing Cuningham Group’s business interest in China that led to the formation and registration of Cuningham Group’s Beijing office in 2013.

Themed entertainment architecture differs from the traditional practice of the discipline. “In themed environments, architecture done well is not just applied, but part of the experience, coordinated into one comprehensive package,” says Scheidel. “Creating a themed entertainment experience involves many more specialists, roles and personalities that traditional architecture does not touch. In some cases, there isn’t a building but there is façade work, thematic work. We deal with theaters, life safety, foundations, construction, we draw the set elevations along with the set designers. We deal with sound and earthquake considerations. We work with local building officials, because the code may not deal with some of the situations we’re putting people in. As an example, consider power failures and safe evacuation. In a typical, everyday building, when you have a power failure there’s nobody on a ride.”

In addition to the quality of the work itself and the integration of architecture into the team dynamic, Scheidel and his firm helped establish a model for an architect to provide service as part of an external team – functioning as an external partner to the operator or client. “We were part of taking theme park development to the next level,” he says. “We help take the load off the operator’s in-house creative team. We strive hard to understand the nature of storytelling so that our contribution helps it be more comprehensive and engaging.”

Scheidel recognizes and acknowledges the growth and development needed for emerging young professionals, and works to provide opportunities to learn and grow. He is always ready to share his knowledge with those around him.

His personal commitment to a sustainable future led to the creation of the TESS (Themed Entertainment Sustainability Summit), an open forum where industry leaders meet to share their experiences and strategies for creating and operating sustainable immersive environments. Jim Scheidel is a constant promoter of the value that the themed entertainment industry provides – not just to people’s lives and livelihoods, but also to the creation of better environments for people to experience worldwide. He believes themed entertainment parks connect people together regardless of geographic location, theme or culture.

“People in my group love what they do,” he says. “They love the challenge, they love dealing with very creative people. I fell in love with it when I got into it 32 years ago. It’s a life sentence.”

This photo with the completed Yukon Cornelius character costume helped Sinclair convey the scale of the character to the client.

One of Bonnie Sinclair’s signature lines is, “No kid goes home after a visit to a theme park and wants to dress up like a castle!”

Sinclair has a Masters degree in Technical Theater, Costume History and Costume Design. Costuming for themed entertainment has unique challenges and requirements, however, that are different from those in theater. “The themed entertainment industry has its own terminology and its own ways of structuring production,” says Sinclair, founder and co-owner of The Costume Connection. “I have geared my costume development process to mirror what the industry does.”

Sinclair has designed parade costumes, operational wardrobe and character costumes for leading clients in the attractions industry and has special expertise in costume and character design for intellectual properties. Through decades of experience working on projects and project teams around the world, she has learned to place costuming in the context of the overall project vision and process, and to advocate for proper accommodation of costuming within the project and the venue.

Her accomplishments have advanced the art and craft of costuming for themed entertainment. Her cutting-edge work creating character costumes has set a new standard. “The secret is in knowing how to build them to camouflage the human shape so that kids think they are really looking at a character,” she said. She has also done exemplary work with licensed characters – her background includes 12 years as Creative Director of licensing for Maurice Sendak. “Creating branded character costumes calls for sensitivity to maintain creative integration of the IP, which extends to every detail including fabric choices and facial expressions.”

Sinclair has helped colleagues and clients learn to think about costuming in context of a project, with design and operations in mind, to understand the practicalities of costuming and how to budget and plan for it. There are considerations for production and materials – but also for day-to-day usage, cleaning, storage and maintenance, utilizing modern methods and having the right, dedicated staff.

She shared a few examples: “If you’re doing costumes for a dark ride using black light, you must select colors that won’t look muddy under the black light. For a boat ride, you must make sure that the ride operators costumes can get splashed and wet. Sizes and body types vary from one geographic region to another. Dressing and storage area locations have to take into account the type and size of the costume – for example, a person in a large dinosaur costume can’t go up and down a narrow flight of stairs.”

Sinclair works actively to bring the wisdom into emerging markets and the classroom, “getting the lightbulb turned on teaching the industry how to think about costumes.” She keeps her own knowledge current with regular benchmarking in the field. Preserving design integrity throughout a project process must extend to costuming, with a dedicated costume director on the team, she points out.

Her education, knowledge and experience are broad and diverse, including art history, costume history, design, fabrication, work in museums, retail, theater, film, and TV in addition to theme parks and licensing. She has managed very large complex projects and very large diverse crews. She has mounted huge complex shows such as the Radio City Productions ‘Christmas Spectacular.’ She has also contributed her talents to the design of iconic character costumes for Herschend Family Entertainment; Dollywood and Stone Mountain Georgia. Most recently working with The Hettema Group, she has designed costumes for a parade in China and the uniforms for the ‘High Roller’ in Las Vegas. Her company recently designed costumes for parades and stage shows for The Producers Group and wardrobe for a new park for a major theme park company in Orlando.

Bonnie Sinclair devotes her time and expertise “where my contribution can make a difference and help others,” which has extended to addressing industry and student groups as well as bringing her skills directly to serve the TEA creative community with hair and makeup services at the TEA Thea Awards Gala.

Lanny Smoot photo courtesy Disney, with permission

From Madame Leota’s levitating crystal ball… to special effects for Kim Possible’s park-wide scavenger hunts… to Luke Skywalker’s glowing lightsaber… Lanny Smoot has created some of the most magical special effects and technical achievements for Disney’s theme parks and resorts worldwide.

Smoot has over 42 years of experience as a theatrical technology creator, inventor, electrical engineer, scientist, and researcher; 22 years of which have been as a leader at the Walt Disney Company.

Smoot is a graduate of Columbia University and started his early career in  leadership positions at Telcordia and Bell Labs, where he worked on some of the very first fiberoptic telephone systems. His early work earned him the Most Promising Black Engineer award from the USBE magazine in 1987, an R&D 100 award from R&D magazine, a Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award from the R&D council of New Jersey, multiple “Best of What’s New” awards from Popular Science and many more. He also became a Telcordia Fellow.

His knowledge of early VR technology led him to the top position at Walt Disney Imagineering R&D in East Hampton, NY and subsequently to join Disney Research (the most forward-looking portion of Research at Imagineering). He was made a Disney Research Fellow in 2014.

Lanny Smoot has:
• Invented and been issued 95 patents, 68 while at Imagineering with 12 patents pending, almost all related to themed entertainment.
• Managed many collaborative efforts which have led to a myriad of new ideas for entertainment in Disney parks, cruise ships and entertainment.
• Presented his work at world-class technical forums such as SIGGRAPH and the International Conference on Robots and Automation, and at San Francisco’s Exploratorium.
• Often spoken at schools and other venues to encourage young people, especially people of color, to consider careers in the technologies and themed entertainment.

Additionally, two of his projects have been recognized with Thea Awards:
• 2008 Thea Award: Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (Disneyland, Anaheim) – Recognized for technical direction and innovative special effects on this reimagined attraction.
• 2017 Thea Award: Ghost Post – Recognized for effects consulting for this “beyond the berm” experience inspired by the Haunted Mansion attraction.

Beyond his own achievements, Smoot feels a responsibility to help others recognize and magnify their own talent and creativity. He has mentored dozens of young people over the years, almost all of whom have gone on to successful careers at The Walt Disney Company and elsewhere.

How TEA Masters are nominated and selected

TEA sends an official call for nominations to its worldwide membership and to the themed entertainment industry at large. The TEA Masters Committee reviews the submissions and recommends the slate of honorees for final approval from the TEA International Board of Directors.

To qualify for TEA Masters consideration, nominees must have a substantial number of years as a professional in a discipline associated with the themed entertainment industry; have made significant contributions in that regard; and be currently practicing. Nominees must not be currently serving on the TEA International Board, or the TEA Masters Committee.

Additional details will be shared and announced in coming months when the TEA Masters re-opens for 2021 nominations.

Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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