Industry professionals making moves and creating waves
interviews by Martin Palicki and Judith Rubin
On track for success
Netherlands-based Romee Popelier has helped design some of Europe’s most enjoyable roller coasters through her own business, RPRides. Recently, Romee joined Replay Profs in Playgrounds to expand her design horizions. We asked her about her new job and other changes in her life.
Tell us a bit about what your business, RPRides, does.
I’ve always dreamed about working on the development of roller coasters. After finishing my internship at JN Entertainment & Leisure Consultancy, which represents German ride manufacturer Zierer, I got the chance to start my own company. My main business is designing roller coaster layouts.
What are some of the favorite rides you’ve designed?
To be honest, I love them all. Every ride that I worked on means something for me. But I think my favorite designs are the ones that have not yet been built.
You also recently started work at Replay Profs in Playgrounds. Tell us about your role there and also what the company does.
Replay Profs in Playgrounds is a company very close to my hometown, where they design, manufacture and install playgrounds for schools, municipalities, and private play areas. My main job is to make sure that every playground is certified. Just as with theme parks rides, every piece of playground equipment from small swings to big climbing devices has to be certified by an inspection body. Along with the certification part I am also doing some engineering work. When our creative team designs a new playground it’s my job to make technical drawings for the workshop.
How do you think your experience in themed entertainment and attractions is helping you in this new position?
There are many similarities to the themed entertainment industry when looking into safety standards. Some rules for attractions are almost the same as for playgrounds. For example, when designing a simple slide you have to think about the minimum clearance envelope, just as with a roller coaster.
When I design a coaster or a playground in AutoCAD or Inventor it feels all the same, and all the experience that I gained from my other work helps me at Replay.
In what ways can playgrounds learn from the world of themed entertainment?
I think current Western public playgrounds are fine. But if you look at privately owned indoor or outdoor playgrounds I definitely see some opportunity. Frequently they can use some theming to differentiate some of the standardized playground equipment.
Replay isn’t active in the themed entertainment industry at this moment. I would love to directly connect them with the themed entertainment industry and see where this can bring the company.
You’ve also been on a personal transition journey as well.
Yes, that’s true. I was born as a boy, but four years ago I realized that there was something wrong. I’ve been going through the wildest roller coaster ride of my life the past couple of years to find out who I really am. It wasn’t easy to accept that I am transgender male-to-female but since I started with the medical transition I am way happier than I ever was. Everything fell into place and challenges from my past became clear to me.
How can colleagues make this journey easier for you?
Actually, they already do! They just accept me for who I am and still see what my innate qualities are.
My biggest fear of coming out was always being afraid for the reactions from the people in the themed entertainment industry. I was already working in the roller coaster business and I thought that I could never be a woman in this “man’s world.” But since I came out to the industry last year during IAAPA Expo in Orlando, all the reactions and support I received from my industry friends, colleagues and clients were so wonderful. I could never have dreamed how supportive people have been and I am truly appreciative. • -M.P.
Diving into a new position at Carnival Cruise Line
“There’s beauty and magnificence in every aspect of the seas,” says Anthony Esparza, who recently became Chief of Guest Experiences/Vice President at Carnival Cruise Line. Anthony has focused on creating great guest experiences and using storytelling to touch hearts throughout his career. His previous roles include nearly three years as Chief Creative Officer at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and more than 11 years as SVP, Guest Experiences at Herschend Family Entertainment.
What are primary responsibilities of your new position?
Our group will be conceptualizing experiences for new ships, ports, and private island destinations. My mission is to supercharge our ability to create fun, memorable, and safe experiences for our guests. It’s all about creating the right systems and atmosphere for our talented teams, advisors, and partners to focus on the best ideas for our future.
How has your prior position with SeaWorld helped ready you for this new venture?
As part of the turn-around team at SeaWorld, I learned that there’s nuance in the language of the oceans. There’s beauty, magnificence, power, and awe in every aspect of the seas. That’s why the ocean is the number one vacation destination. It’s the source of smiles, laughter, romance, and curiosity. And it’s why I love encouraging people to see our world and to inspire them to not only enjoy it, but to care for it. There’s so much out there to explore and do together, and I think what we’re doing at Carnival is many times the starting gateway for many people to begin a lifetime exploring our world with their family and friends.
What are some other ways your career and experience have prepared you?
I’ve learned that a good leader should serve their teams – To be supportive, have their backs and help clear the path for them to excel. It’s tough enough to do our day-to-day jobs, and if we’re truly focused on creating fun, I need to help create an atmosphere that’s inspiring and “creatively safe” to pursue new and innovative ideas.
Bringing clarity is also important. The definition of “being creative” is more than having your pulse on the latest trends or having a great team. These are important, but nine times out of ten, the best way to innovate is to really understand the mission, stay focused, and describe all the DNA of an experience in advance of launching a new product.
How do you see the cruise business as a part of the themed entertainment universe?
It absolutely is. We’re in the business of creating compelling experiences for our guests, and we have many of the same challenges as operators of theme parks and attractions. We need to stay fresh and relevant, while maintaining a safe environment.
But the best experiences are not only those that market well, but that can also hit an emotional chord with our guests in some way. That’s the power of storytelling. We can’t just provide nicely designed environments, but must create settings to have fun, touch your heart, be charming, silly, or filled with awe. It’s very competitive and we know we need to innovate appealing experiences non-stop. So we’re constantly seeking new ideas and partners that can help us do this.
What kinds of opportunities exist within the cruise business for creatives and suppliers?
The cruise business offers a myriad of opportunities. A cruise ship is a blend of a theme park and a resort destination in one. Sometimes the experiences we create are understated and meant to bring serenity or frame a destination, and at other times, they are the center of attention. But in all cases, they require the same business strategy, master planning, conceptual development, design, production, and operational skills of individuals and companies that are able to align with our company mission and brand. Carnival Corporation is the world’s largest leisure travel company with a portfolio of global cruise lines including Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, and several others. There’s 102 ships visiting more than 700 ports around the world. So you can imagine, we need just about every kind of talent there is.
Tell us about the culture of the company you have joined and the people you are working closely with.
Thinking about how to enable a guest to have fun is the chief business of Carnival. We live it and breathe it as much as or more than any other entertainment operator on the planet. The heritage of focusing on fun has been strong here for decades. It’s deeply rooted. We’re the Fun Ships and we Choose Fun every day. That alignment behind our mission and vision will serve us well into the future. We have many groups here that focus on all the dimensions of how a guest can have fun. I work with Entertainment, Culinary, Retail, Shore Excursion, Operations, and Maritime experts every day. And yes, we have meetings on the ships and in exotic locations. It’s tough work. I mean…fun! • -J.R.
The new DE-ŹYN Studios
Throughout his career, John Miceli has worked in feature film, special venue, music production, visual arts, technology development and IP development. He founded and ran two highly successful businesses that sold to public companies. He recently founded a new company, DE-ŹYN Studios, after departing Technomedia. We asked him about his transition and plans for the future.
You were a part of Technomedia for over 17 years. Why did you decide to move on now?
Early on in life I realized I had a creative side and an entrepreneurial mind. That inspired me to launch Technomedia and co-found Soundelux before that. I’ve worked with the world’s best clients for three decades while leading these two successful companies. Through it all nothing beats the joy you feel being part of a great team that truly shares the same vision. Both companies were acquired by public corporations and six years after Technomedia was acquired by Mood Media, the time came for me to step down and hand the reins over to the very competent team we had assembled there. Mood was a great parent company and supported my launching DE-ŹYN Studios to continue on my journey. I’m doing the things I really want to do… there’s a sort of freedom that comes at a certain point in your career, I’m lucky to be enjoying all of that now.
Are you still connected with Technomedia?
I come from a traditional Italian family from Brooklyn, NY and for us, family is precious. In business, I’ve always felt the same way and my bond with the people at Technomedia will never be compromised. I believe I will always have a collaborative relationship with Technomedia. Much like family, your decisions are always made for the best interest of all involved – clients, company and employees. The relentless drive and dedication to clients and their projects, a true sense of urgency, transparency and honesty and most of all respecting family were the foundation for our company culture. I’m proud of Technomedia and confident the company will continue forward, holding true to the vision that led us through 17 successful years.
What is your work philosophy?
In 1989 when it was not popular to deliver both media and technology under one roof we built our existence on that foundation. I’ve had the good fortune to develop projects like Carnival Dreamscape, Primark Madrid, On Air at NBC, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, many Universal Studios attractions, The Museum of the Bible, San Manuel Casino, Planet Hollywood at Disney Springs, Hard Rock Cafe (Atlantic City being the latest) and of course St. Louis Union Station’s The Grand Hall Experience, among others. These projects all share the same idea that “art and experience… immersive physical experience” drive our very best work.
I always want to keep learning and challenging myself to become better at creating and delivering unique experiences for clients and their guests. If you go in with the goal of loving what you do and continually learning and growing, you’re living the perfect career.
Tell us more about DE-ŹYN’s capabilities and scope of business.
The DE-ŹYN Studios team embraces a strong vision and a relentless desire to evolve, grow, change the way things are done and bust through limits. For our clients, we continue to be the innovation lab they depend on for delivering way out of the box ideas. You will see our work in casinos, theme parks, entertainment precincts, immersive/interactives, AR/VR, visitor centers/tours, museums, retail and sculptural art.
Are you working on any projects you can mention now?
We are currently working with Lodging Hospitality Management and PGAV Destinations creating two attractions for the new St. Louis Aquarium project at Union Station. We are also project managing the media and technology scopes of the other attractions in development there. We have teamed up with longtime partner Falcon’s Creative on several large scale immersive projects in Saudi Arabia. We are developing the immersive AV/ media experiences for a theme park in South America. We are very excited to announce some very innovative developments and we are thrilled to be launching our website soon.
Are you hiring? If so, how can people find out more information?
We are always looking for the best talent to be a part of the DEŹYN companies. Our website (currently in production) will be the best place to stay up to date on what we are up to. And please feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or at [email protected] • • • -M.P.