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How did Brian Morrow sell SeaWorld executives on building "Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin" in Orlando? It started with some cardboard & glue

How did Brian Morrow sell SeaWorld executives on building "Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin" in Orlando? It started with some cardboard & glue

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Do you remember how you used to do those projects in grade school? Where you'd sit at the kitchen table with a pair of safety scissors, a pile of cardboard, a bottle of Elmer's Glue and a shoebox? And then -- after an hour or so of cutting & gluing (and a little help from Mom) -- you'd wind up with a pretty crummy diorama of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Or a fairly lumpy relief map of South America.

Well, Brian Morrow -- the Creative Director for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment -- did something similar not all that long ago. He wanted to get the higher-ups at his company on board with the idea of building "Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin" in Orlando. But Brian felt that storyboards and/or a PowerPoint presentation just weren't going to be enough to seal the deal. Which is why Morrow decided to go old school. As in grade school.


Brian Morrow stands in front of a later, more detailed model of the "Antarctica: Empire of
the Penguin" project. Copyright SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. All rights reserved

"I mean, I could wave my hands around and show them pictures all day long. But that wasn't really going to be dramatic enough to explain the sheer size & scale of what we were going to try & to do with 'Empire of the Penguin,' Brian explained. "So we built this little model out of cardboard & hot glue the night before the presentation. And I remember that this model sat in the middle of that conference room table hidden under a hideous green table cloth. But as soon as I whipped that table cloth off of the cardboard model like some bad magician and the president of SeaWorld & our chief officers could then see all of those tiny scale people in this really big world, they immediately got how ambitious we wanted to go with 'Antarctica.' And that's when people started getting really excited about that project."

Of course, it's one thing to build a model of a proposed new "land" for a theme park out of cardboard & hot glue and quite another to then take that idea & translate it into the largest expansion project in SeaWorld Orlando's history. This 4-acre highly themed environment with an enormous penguin habitat & underwater viewing area, not to mention a family-friendly thrill ride, a 325-seat restaurant and a gift shop.


Thousands of theme park visitors pour into "Empire of the Penguin" back on the official
opening day of SeaWorld Orlando's "Antarctica" attraction. Photo by Nancy Stadler

"Look, I know that this is the biggest thing that we've ever done at SeaWorld Orlando. But if you're going to build an Antarctica-themed attraction, you just can't go small. It has to be big. Huge," Morrow enthused. "That's one of the reasons that it took us three years to first develop and then build this thing. We'd never done anything on this scale and this technologically advanced before."

And when Brian talks about advanced technology, he is -- of course -- referring to the trackless ride system that moves SeaWorld Orlando visitors through this massive show building, offering Guests the opportunity to chose between a mild or wild ride experience before they arrive at "Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin" 's frosty-freezy finale. Which is this 6,125-square-foot, 30 degree habitat that's home to 245 Gentoo, Rockhopper, Adélie and King penguins.


Just a few of the nearly 250 penguins on display inside of this elaborately
themed habitat. Photo by Nancy Stadler

"Given that we've never had an attraction that used this sort of ride system before, we wanted to be absolutely sure that these ride vehicles would actually work the way that we wanted them to. Which was -- in effect -- to dance through this attraction," Morrow said. "Which is why we spent a year in an off-site warehouse putting these vehicles through their paces. What's more, we had the choreographer on our creative team actually create a dance routine for these vehicles to do."

32 individual dance routines, to be precise. That's actually the number of variations that the "Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin" ride vehicle can perform as they follow their programming & make their way through this massive show building going through their mild or wild routines. But if the onboard computers which power these ride vehicles had their choice, there'd be many, many more variations on those routines.


Members of the SeaWorld creative development team ride the "Empire of the Penguins"
vehicle at an off-site warehouse during the test / programming phase of this new
SeaWorld Orlando attraction. Copyright SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.
All rights reserved

"The programs which drive this ride system are so intuitive & so smart that -- as we were experimenting with its choreography in that off-site warehouse -- the computer would occasionally tell us that were sixty thousand other cool things that this ride vehicle could possibly do," Brian laughed. "This is probably why I wound up riding these ride vehicles over a hundred times during our off-site rehearsal phase and then another hundred & thirty times after this ride had been installed inside the park. Just so I could experience a lot of those proposed variations for myself and then decide which ones we should fold into this attraction for SeaWorld Orlando visitors to experience."

Of course, what's great about "Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin" is that -- because each ride vehicle never really follows the exact same path twice -- there's always something new for Guests to look at as they experience this attraction. Whether it's one of those 2,500 handblown Pyrex icicles that decorate this attraction's Cavern of Light room. Or that moment when -- after you've selected the "Wild" version of this attraction -- where your ride vehicle actually waddles like a penguin as it moves through the attraction.


Copyright SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. All rights reserved

"I love the moments like that in this ride. Where we actually had to make up names for what this ride vehicle had just been programmed to do because no ride vehicle on the planet had ever moved like this before," Morrow enthused.

And all of this because -- when he was getting ready to sell SeaWorld executives on doing something bold & new -- Brian decided to go old school. Break out the cardboard and hot glue and then make -- in essence -- an Antarctica diorama.


Copyright SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. All rights reserved

So keep that in mind the next time you're trying to convince someone to do something ambitious. Sometimes the best way to sell a brand-new idea is using something familiar. Like an old shoebox and some construction paper.

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  • Jim, whatever happened to the Harrison Buzz Price papers you discussed about here: jimhillmedia.com/.../sneaking-a-peek-at-theme-parks-that-might-have-been.aspx

    It has been over 10 months since they have been released yet we have not heard anything about them.

  • I remember this project when it was happening. The fiberglass and acrylic rocks look a lot like real snow. The detail was amazing. I wonder how it is doing now. Great article too.

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