Storyland Studios welcomes Jason Surrell to their rapidly expanding team as Executive Creative Director. Surrell, a veteran of both Walt Disney Imagineering and Universal Creative Group, brings a wealth of experience in themed entertainment and storytelling to Storyland.
Most recently, Surrell served as Senior Creative Executive for both of Universal Studios’s upcoming parks: the $6 billion Universal Studios Beijing and Universal’s Epic Universe. Now, he is looking forward to taking on executive creative direction with Storyland.
“I had a special feeling about Storyland,” he said. “It feels very much how I imagine Walt Disney Imagineering–or WED Enterprises, as it was called at the time–must have felt like in the 50s and 60s. It’s an eclectic and diverse group of highly talented people from probably a hundred different disciplines.”
From the time he was a child, Surrell’s lifelong dream was to work in both film and television, in addition to being a Disney Imagineer. After multiple stints with both the Walt Disney Company and Universal Studios, he embarked on his next career adventure–which brought him to Storyland.
When Surrell saw the concept art for the projects he’s covering at Storyland, which include a theme park and a major film studio tour, he said they felt like “a match made in heaven.”
“Half of my career has been spent working with studio parks and ‘making of’ experiences in some of the biggest franchises in history,” he said. “It looks and feels like something Walt would have done.”
Surrell began his entertainment career as a college student. While working as an hourly performer and as Pluto at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., he and a friend pitched their first show, which went on to be approved and produced.
“I may be the youngest person to pitch, write, and direct a show for Disney. I was 21 and still in college,” Surrell says. “That showed me that, as a writer and director, I could have a future in the business.”
Surrell went on to work with Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Creative Group, where he concepted, wrote, and directed shows in the Orlando parks, in addition to Universal Studios Japan. He scripted both the Jurassic Park River Adventure ride and pre-show at Islands of Adventure.
Next, he moved on to Walt Disney Imagineering, where he worked on concepting and producing shows and media, creative direction, script and story writing, and copywriting. Surrell wrote the first treatment for the New Fantasyland in Orlando’s Magic Kingdom theme park.
“We called out a new way to meet and greet the characters, which became Enchanted Tales with Belle,” he said. “I first wrote down the concept of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The whole idea was presenting Fantasyland differently, in a more organic space with trees, mountains, boulders and water.”
Other credits with the Walt Disney Company include early creative development for Star Wars Land prior to Galaxy’s Edge, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow starring Johnny Depp, Raiders of the Lost Jedi Temple of Doom, Star Wars Weekends, The Great Movie Ride, and many more. In addition, Surrell was involved in the enhancements and updates to The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Finally, Surrell headed back to Universal Creative Group, where he took on the role of Executive Creative Director for Universal Studios Beijing and Universal’s Epic Universe. He also oversaw creative direction of Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, as well as several projects that have not yet been announced.
Surrell is the latest team member to join Storyland’s diverse, rapidly expanding team of creative professionals that includes individuals who formerly served Walt Disney Imagineering, Universal Creative Group, and Pixar Animation Studios, to name a few.
“I’m excited about Jason joining the team because it further enhances the Disney-Universal-Storyland Studios ‘triumvirate’ that we already enjoy and cherish,” said Ben Thompson, Chief Strategy Officer at Storyland Studios.
“Among our executive hires over the last year, Jason Surrell is the sixth alumni of Disney and Universal, joining Jeff Wyatt and Bruce Green, both of Universal and Disney Imagineering, together with Matt Ferguson, Ben Thompson and Josh Steadman, all of whom are Walt Disney Company and Walt Disney Imagineering veterans.”
Surrell says the move to Storyland Studios feels like a natural progression extending from his rich and varied career in themed entertainment.
“I’m excited to progress with a company that is so family-oriented and really has a lot of great projects on the docket. This is the job I would want if I were still working for Disney or Universal. It’s just that kind of company.”