Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Andrew O’Rourke: Google THIS

CMU grad talks about Google’s role in shaping the future of location based entertainment

Interview by Martin Palicki

A recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and Duke University alum, Andrew has provided internship and freelance work for Disney, The Bezark Company and the Computer History Museum. In late 2018, Andrew became an employee of Adecco working on assignment at Google. He is also on the TEA International Board of Directors as an Associate Member.

What is your title at Google and what are you responsible for?

My new role as a Jr. Experience Design Lead, contracting with Google, encompasses both experience design and production of the worldwide portfolio of Google Experience Centers.

Lately I’ve been focused on opening the newest center, The Grove, based in Redwood City, CA. I’ve found myself doing everything from projection mapping on moss, to coordinating facility installation, to helping work out how the Google Assistant might play with a grove of trees. It’s all in service of  inspiring and enlightening guests about the amazing potential of Google’s technologies.

What led you to your current role with Google?

Years of preparation got me ready for this, but getting the position was all about timing and maintaining connections. I had met one of my current colleagues through school and we stayed in touch through various TEA events. A few months after discussing the position with this colleague during a chat over lunch, I moved to Google.

How does this job fit in with your education/career progression?

My career path thus far has been pretty wide-ranging – and I wouldn’t have it any other way – but the common thread that’s driven me all along is a passion to foster a better understanding of humanity and our world through experiencing our collective stories. I honed my storytelling skills as a documentary filmmaker and through my time in LA working in media production at

Di Bonaventura Pictures and Disney. I learned how to harness the power of technology and interactive techniques at Carnegie Mellon, and have had a chance to apply them to physical spaces through my time at Walt Disney Imagineering and the Computer History Museum. My new role presents a unique chance to develop technology-powered experiences that combine entertainment and education, so it’s a great mix presenting some really interesting design opportunities.

People may not necessarily think of Google when they think of themed entertainment. Why should they?

As we all know, themed entertainment is a lot more than theme parks, and Google’s Experience Centers represent a blend of theatrical and exhibit elements that bring our stories to life in a uniquely Googley way. Though Google may be a tech company, the team are no strangers to the industry, with many hailing from theme park, museum, or architecture backgrounds, so we hold a deep understanding of the power of storytelling in physical space.

What was up with that dark ride Google built for the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show and were you involved with it?

My group had nothing to do with Google’s CES dark ride, as we generally focus on facilities with more permanence, but didn’t our colleagues do an amazing job?!

What role do you think technology and data have in designing visitor attractions of the future?

We are seeing an industry-changing expansion of the definition of what an attraction is, where it is, and how it begins and ends. The idea of pushing people through a show box or exhibit every few minutes will be supplemented by – and perhaps one day far in the future even supplanted by – longer- form narratives that bridge attractions and themed areas. Of course, these types of attractions already exist across our industry, but the format is in its infancy. I liken it to computer games in the 1980s; we’re starting with a lot of adventure games and collecting achievements in different forms, but that will evolve as the artform matures.

Much as in gaming, that evolution and growth are where technology comes in. Databases are a great start for tracking guest interactions, but I think Artificial Intelligence-driven game masters and characters will be the things to watch, as they will allow new genres, types of participation, and guest roles to scale in personalized ways that are operationally unfeasible today. Across the industry’s entertainment and educational spaces, these longer- form, bigger-footprint experiences will hold a lot of power to immerse and connect guests as never before, and potentially have quite an impact on their lives.

And now, a red-carpet question for the Associate Director of the TEA International Board: Will you be attending the 2019 Thea Awards Gala in Anaheim on April 13, and if so, who will you be wearing?

I will be there, and I will likely be sporting my pink-patterned Polynesian bowtie supported by a cast of the latest 2015 fashions from Nordstrom Rack. • • •

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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