Theme-Park Superstar Jerry Rees Leads Creative Team for The Marvel Experience

by TMX Team in Q&A, Show Updates

Award-winning director, producer and writer guides this immersive adventure through the world of Marvel.

A lot goes into creating a traveling themed attraction as technologically advanced as The Marvel Experience. Between the original animations and the interactive multimedia landscape within and surrounding our massive domed complex, we felt the need to create a dream team to produce the media content for this next-gen attraction.

While assembling the team was challenging, finding its leader was even more so. And so we’re excited to announce that animation and theme-park attraction Hall-of-Famer, Jerry Rees has agreed to helm the creative team.

Rees has directed a record-setting 16 Disney theme-park attractions around the world, from California to Hong Kong, and from Florida to Paris, including winning THEA Awards for “Cinemagique” (Best Attraction), as well as “Animation Magic,” Disney’s new cruise-ship attraction that won the award for “most innovative use of technology.”

We cornered Jerry in the office and chatted about what it’s like working on such an exciting and ground-breaking project.

The Marvel Experience: You were one of the first students accepted into the legendary CalArts Character Animation Program. You’ve worked with the likes of Eric Larson, Jack Hannah, John Lasseter and Tim Burton to name drop a few. What was it like learning and working with these legendary artists?

Jerry Rees: I had the good fortune of mentoring at Disney Feature Animation as a teen, several years prior to the start of the CalArts program. Four of Disney’s “Nine Old Men” were still at their desks animating. It was extraordinary to watch them at work. They shared passionate opinions that I’ve always remembered. Among them: “Create projects that you truly love. If you don’t love your own films, how do you know that anyone else will?” They emphasized the importance of bringing your own life experience into the process rather than copying other artists and storytellers. And they bluntly stated that they never made projects for kids, rather making projects that appealed to their own inner-youth. John, Tim and I definitely took this advice to heart as we started our adventures in the industry. We’ve had so much fun together—from the days when Tim and I were co-directing silly home movies to recent mega projects at Imagineering where John is now Principal Creative Advisor.

TME: You were the Director of Media on “Mystic Manor” (Disneyland Hong Kong), which was also nominated for the Visual Effects Society Awards in the category of Outstanding Visual Effects. The ride looks pretty amazing! What role did new technologies play in the development of the attraction?

JR: One of the thrills of Mystic Manor was the sophisticated blend of traditional and wildly new techniques. Just to cite one example, there’s a climactic scene where an entire room begins in pristine form but is ripped to shreds by a magical storm. Projection mapping was heavily involved, but not simply in the way you might see it at a deadmau5 concert—we projection mapped onto architecture that can move in perfect sync with the media. When a hole blasts through a wall, it isn’t simply a trick of projection—the wall really does break. Your eyes focus on deeper projections beyond the hole, giving you 3-D perception without glasses. And all of this is while ride vehicles are spinning and a massive jade Monkey King is slinging spells.

TME: How has your past experience with creating themed attractions helped you in your vision for The Marvel Experience and what past experience have you drawn from the most in directing TME?

JR: Over the course of directing many first-of-their-kind attractions, I’ve grown accustomed to leading teams into uncharted territory without fear. With high adrenaline pumping and laser-tight strategy of course! But with confidence from all departments as we chart the new course. And I’ve also grown accustomed to accommodating tasks that no normal movie director has to face, like filming actors in a remote desert location while taking into account the exact size and placement of the movie theater screen surface—since the actors will be stepping out of the movie screen into the physical theater for every show. Or planning scenes so that they will be ready to accommodate characters that don’t exist yet, since they will be drawn moments before the show starts—freehand—by 700 audience members. All of these adventures have kept me craving the next, newest experience to share with audiences.

TME: What makes The Marvel Experience unique compared to your previous projects?

JR: The Marvel Experience is a fantastic step forward, combining the immediacy, intimacy and interactivity of new media with the overwhelming spectacle of themed attractions. Audiences will be among the characters, immersed in the story, interacting with the adventure. Plus, rather than being bolted to the ground in one theme park for 15 years, The Marvel Experience will come to your city! This whole mobile extravaganza experiment—especially since it folds in reality, virtual reality, augmented reality, huge dome media, 3-D and 4-D elements, animatronics, motion ride and RFID tracking—is poised to set the new trend in themed entertainment. It’s like a shining beacon on the next horizon of new media, and our whole team is thrilled to be setting it alight!

TME: Tell us about this 360-degree stereoscopic 3-D theater, the motion ride, and what it’s like working within a domed environment.

JR: Planning for a 360-degree stereoscopic 3-D dome theater is wild. There are no standard shots or cuts. The entire world exists at all times completely around the audience and over their heads. Characters can approach from anywhere and take action everywhere. The audience members decide where to look. You can imagine how mind-boggling this was to pre-visualize on a computer screen. It’s a bit like sending your friend an Instagram pic of the Grand Canyon, then trying to explain how it is WAY, WAY, WAY bigger that it looks through that little window. The team at The Third Floor pre-viz facility built us a room where you could look all around you with a virtual camera while the scene played, which helped a great deal. But ultimately, in the dome, where the media is meant to play, the experience goes beyond Oculus Rift, since each person is not isolated in the virtual world—you and your friends will see each other, while sharing the 360-degree adventure all around you.

Our motion ride had similar challenges. Since it depicts riding in a S.H.I.E.L.D. transport, it displays a continuous view through the canopy, with no standard movie cuts. And there is no “offscreen” above you, since the entire sky always exists. Characters can be directly beside you to the right or left, even if you are in the back row! And we are using narrative storytelling all the while, weaving our favorite heroes throughout the hair-raising battle action. It’s all done in one wild, all-encompassing, shot.

TME: What are some of the challenges in creating an immersive experience featuring so many Marvel characters?

JR: So, a bunch of animators ask, “Which shots are my characters in?” And I answer, “There is only one shot—the whole movie is one shot. With a constantly moving camera. All of your characters are in that same shot.” They look at each other and take a deep breath. You get the idea.

TME: And finally, who is your favorite Marvel Super Hero, and why?

JR: Are you kidding?! You’re asking for my favorite among that astoundingly deep archive of Marvel characters? Hard to do, man. Well, with the caveat that I love so many, and love to see ensemble stories among them, I guess I’ll have to go with Iron Man. Since I was a kid I looked up science and sci-fi info on mechanical exoskeletons. Tony Stark has the ultimately sleek and ultimately outfitted suit and it can FLY. Plus he’s a bit of an outsider, which I relate to having been the indie “gypsy” for many years in my career. And I admire his quest for ingenious invention and for justice. My message to Tony: Can’t wait to turn you loose at The Marvel Experience!

Read the Jerry Rees press release here. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, as we’ll soon be channeling more insider news from Jerry to our fans.