Miziker Entertainment celebrates 35 years of showmanship
By Freddy Martin
ABOVE: Hula dancers perform every night at Chimelong’s Ocean Kingdom in illuminated costumes designed by Miziker Entertainment as part of their Journey of Lights nighttime parade
Themed entertainment design and production firm Miziker Entertainment is celebrating 35 years in business, producing a vast body of memorable guest experiences for theme parks worldwide. Based in Los Angeles and with a global clientele, the company was founded in 1984 by Ron Miziker, co-creator of Disneyland’s fabled Main Street Electrical Parade, after a 16-year tenure at Disney (see sidebar). Ron “retired” in 2015 and today, the group continues to lead industry innovation in live shows, spectaculars, parades and mediabased attractions under the leadership of Ryan Miziker (CEO & Creative Director) and Charlotte Huggins (President and Producer).
In the three years since Ryan and Charlotte stepped into their leadership roles, the company has produced several high-impact shows and attractions, including the Journey of Lights Parade at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom (Zhuhai, China), “House of Magic” at Studio City Macau, the “Rhythms of Rio Parade” for Genting Malaysia and Fox, and “Chimelong Scare-adise” at Chimelong Paradise and Chimelong Waterpark (Guangzhou, China). The Miziker team also produced the 24th Annual TEA Thea Awards gala in Anaheim (2018), where their project, Journey of Lights was one of the award recipients. In addition to these projects, Miziker’s innovative design team has been called on to help create parkwide entertainment and recommend the necessary infrastructure to support the spectaculars and parades for which the company is renowned.
In short, the company is moving forward in ways that continue the Miziker legacy while setting new directions that reflect the strengths of its leadership and the evolution of the industry. “It’s an honor for Charlotte and me to continue Ron’s legacy of showmanship and innovation in live entertainment, parades and spectaculars and carry it into the future,” said Ryan. Ryan believes the success of Miziker Entertainment is built upon an unrelenting commitment to the creation of special, memorable moments. “That’s the value theme parks and special venues around the world recognized in Ron when he started this company,” said Ryan. “And that’s the starting point for what Miziker does today. We’re here to create those transcendent, magical moments that people can only experience in a location based entertainment setting.”
Echoing the sentiment, Charlotte said, “We create stories. We create emotion. More than lights, music, media and technology, we create opportunities for memories that people cherish for a lifetime.”
Then there’s the vital ingredient of showmanship. “The thing that sets us apart is the long tradition of showmanship that began with Ron. We bring showmanship to every one of our projects every day,” Ryan stated. “That’s the goal.”
During the last 35 busy years, Miziker Entertainment has produced more than 500 projects for more than 200 clients in television, theater, live productions, parades, and theme park attractions in 25 countries around the world, garnering multiple Thea Awards among other honors.
A number of Miziker milestones used technology, design and effects in ways that are industry-standard today. The company’s pioneering achievements include “Lights of Liberty” (2000) in Philadelphia, PA, said to be the first
ever permanent architectural projection mapping show in the U.S.; a mascot character head with facial movements in “An American Tale Live” (1990) at Universal Studios Hollywood; skydivers forming Olympic rings in the sky at the Summer Olympics in Seoul (1988); and a live, twoway satellite television transmission between the U.S. and then-U.S.S.R. at the Us Festival (1982). Many Super Bowl Half-Time Spectaculars produced by Miziker incorporated innovations that are now familiar, including stadium-wide audience card stunts, lighting effects in totally blacked-out stadiums, and animation alongside live-action performers.
More recently, the Miziker team devised, designed and completed what they describe as the first-ever “Nighttime Parade Wide Event” in which every one of the 1-millionplus, color-changing LED lights on every float, cart, kinetic figure, and costume in the Journey of Lights Parade at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom sparkles in sync to the lively parade-wide sound track, creating the kind of magical moment that is a company signature.
Theme park kid becomes industry leader
Due to Ron’s position at Disney, Ryan Miziker grew up a “theme park kid,” spending much of his childhood backstage at Disneyland witnessing theme park operations at work, attraction design and development, and costumed characters relaxing on break.
“Early on I got to see and hear what went on behind the scenes, all the components of attraction creation and production. I really had an appreciation for the work that went into it and how important the guest experience was to every aspect of the process. To me that was just as interesting as seeing the final result,” said Ryan.
He studied geography at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to his love for maps and topography, Ryan was fascinated by “cultural geography” – the festivals, food, art, environment, and products that make places unique. “Although it’s not an obvious course of study for a career in the arts and entertainment,” said Ryan, “geography is important to me and informs the work I do here in Los Angeles and around the world.”
After some time working in what he called “the normal world,” Ryan’s love of the creative process eventually drew him to the family business where he felt he had always belonged. “The big draw of creating shows and entertainment for theme parks was always part of me,” he said. “The fact that our industry has become even more global and inclusive of stories and visuals from cultures around the world makes it even more exciting for me.”
Ryan Miziker and Charlotte Huggins first met while working together on “Power of Nature,” a ride film project for Wanda Wuhan Movie Theme Park. Charlotte’s experience as a feature film and special format producer spans multiple formats, from television, documentary, animation, commercials, IMAX and feature films. Her features work includes the blockbuster, “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” starring Brendan Fraser and Josh Hutcherson, and its sequel, “Journey to the Mysterious Island,” starring Hutcherson and Dwayne Johnson, for New Line/ Warner Bros.
Charlotte’s specialty cinema experience includes producing giant screen and attraction films with such companies as Boss Film Studios, Sony Pictures Imageworks, nWave Pictures, and Rhythm and Hues. Charlotte was a pioneer in stereoscopic 3D media for specialty formats, including the 4D attraction “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” (Disney parks) and the giant screen films “Metallica Through the Never” (Picturehouse, 2013) and “Wings of Courage” (1995, Sony Pictures Classics). The latter is considered the first feature-style, dramatic motion picture with Hollywood production values, filmed in IMAX 3D.
During the Wanda project, Ryan and Charlotte recognized that their combined expertise enhanced their ability to create quality themed entertainment. Ryan’s experience and understanding of full attraction integration of media, ride systems, and theming paired well with Charlotte’s talent for film and multi-media production. They shared the belief that story and characters were paramount to creating emotional connection with the audience. When the Wanda project came to an end, they decided to continue to exploit their great professional chemistry and keep working together.
“It was a time of transition,” Charlotte said. “The Wanda project was ending. Ron had been chosen to receive TEA’s Buzz Price Thea Award for lifetime achievement, and he was retiring. The three of us agreed that we’d work together to reinvent Miziker Entertainment – a sort of Miziker 2.0.’”
Culture of respect
From this new beginning, Ryan and Charlotte wanted Miziker’s corporate culture to be unique and dynamic. “Early on, Ryan and I talked about the fact that Miziker is a company of artists. We decided that our best chance to flourish would be to make respect the fundamental characteristic for our company,” Charlotte said. “Respect for one another, respect for our clients, respect for the projects, stories and characters, and respect for the guests.”
They believe it is vitally important for companies like Miziker to build unity and trust within the industry, especially as it continues to expand around the world and into other cultures. “Clients are under a certain amount of pressure just as we are. Everyone is,” Charlotte said. “So we make it a serious principle in our company to always respect our clients. That’s a super important value for us.”
Miziker is a boutique firm that expands from 10 to 50 or more staff as projects demand. The artists they employ are diverse in their disciplines, talents, and backgrounds. However, Ryan and Charlotte recognize this as an opportunity to help their creative team members achieve their very best and flourish in their chosen fields – character design, cosume design, scenic design, writing, performance, choreography, music composition and recording, technology integration and programming, and more.
“Our job is to provide the best environment for artists to do their best work,” said Charlotte. “That doesn’t mean complete freedom to do whatever they want. Like every business, our industry has all sorts of constraints. But as they say, ‘creativity loves constraints.’ So when you give clear constraints to your artists they often rise to the challenge and achieve the highest level of success.”
Journey of showmanship
Miziker Entertainment sees their acclaimed project, the Journey of Lights Parade for Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, as a major milestone – recipient of the prestigious Thea Award and a significant step in Miziker’s journey toward future success due to its technical and storytelling innovations.
The eight-unit, half-mile long parade playfully highlights each of Ocean Kingdom’s themed lands, presenting a 35-minute musical illuminated show for viewers no matter where they stand. The show was hailed for its innovative technological achievement as the first all-programmable RGB LED light parade. With precise synchronization and control over all one-million-plus lights, the parade can change colors at the same moment allowing storytelling flexibility across the entire parade route. They are also proud of the audience-pleasing, creative use of the musical score that changes tone and style with each individualized, story-driven unit.
Ryan forecasts a promising time of discovery and invention for the company. “We’re looking forward to solving problems that lead to creative and technical innovation for the whole industry,” he said. “There are several innovations I’m very excited about because they’re developing on completely different ends of the technological spectrum.”
One of these innovations involves large, human-powered kinetic sculptures developed through a new division of the company called “Mas Fiesta!”
“We use performers inside intricately engineered, oversized, and elaborately-costumed puppets for parades and spectaculars,” said Ryan. “We use current technology such as carbon fiber to keep the kinetics light and maneuverable, and innovative hardware and custom rigging systems, but they’re basically low tech. We’re really having fun and loving the design challenges, performance opportunities and audience reactions.”
Miziker Entertainment is currently completing a series of kinetics for Princess Cruises. “The interdisciplinary talents of design, engineering, sculpting, painting, costume design, and fabrication all have played a part in creating these kinetics for use on the Princess Cruises ships,” Ryan explains. “It’s really a dream project for us.”
Looking forward to the next 35 years, both Ryan and Charlotte express confidence in their team, the newer members as well as those of long standing – and the importance of upholding the standard of showmanship set by Ron. Charlotte mentioned project director Sean Chung, who has been on board for five years now and played an essential role on Journey of Lights. “Working closely with Sean, and with the other incredibly talented and dedicated members of our team has been extremely rewarding,” she said. “And getting to know Ron and being part of that legacy is exciting. This really is show business!”
“When faced with a new challenge, I always have to step back and look at it through the lens of showmanship,” Ryan said. “I ask myself, ‘What are people going to respond to?’ and ‘How do we create those emotional touchpoints that resonate deeply with guests?’ And I’m convinced that Miziker does that better than anyone.”
Miziker Entertainment will be at the IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando in November 2018. To set up a business meeting or media interview contact Kenny Zhou, [email protected] • • •
Ron Miziker’s legacy
Ron began his career in television, producing commercials, variety shows and live, televised events. He was hired in 1969 by then Disney president Card Walker, and soon joined Disney creative director Robert Jani’s team to produce televised spectaculars, including the opening of Walt Disney World in October 1971. Perhaps his most beloved achievement was co-creating Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade, the nighttime spectacular that brightened hearts for generations of guests worldwide.
Ron’s experience made him a sought-after producer of live and televised entertainment events, leading him to form Miziker Entertainment in 1984 to meet the growing demand. His company produced hundreds of acclaimed themed entertainment projects, parades, and shows for audiences worldwide. He is the recipient of multiple industry awards including the TEA’s Buzz Price Thea Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements (2015) as well as five Thea-honored projects. Ron authored “Miziker’s Complete Event Planner’s Handbook,” (2015) a compendium of resources for special events large and small, putting his lifetime of production experience into the hands of event planners everywhere.
Ron draws great contentment from creating happy memories for guests. “It’s fun to watch the family interactions,” said Ron. “You see the parents and the kids, and they’ve all got on a hat of some sort and an ice cream or popcorn–and smiles! It’s very satisfying to work in an industry where that’s the desired result. Smiles! That’s the product. That’s what we’re working for.”
Although he has stepped away from day-to-day studio operations, Ron is still excited to take part in the development of certain projects and works closely with Ryan and Charlotte as needed. “I hope I’m remembered as a showman,” said Ron. “We’ve said in some of our marketing that we’re in the business of fun. And the more fun I can create for you, the more fun I have for myself, and the more successful our company becomes.” •
Freddy Martin ([email protected] themedattraction.com) is a writer, storyteller, and independent consultant. He began his theme park voyage as a skipper on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. Freddy co-hosts the Themed Attraction Podcast with Mel McGowan of Storyland Studios, is a contributing editor for ThemedAttraction.com and also blogs at FreddyMartin.net.
FROM INPARK MAGAZINE ISSUE #73, 2018: