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How I Made It: Gary Goddard

The Goddard Group founder and chairman designs theme park attractions, hotels and resorts and produces live stage shows.

January 08, 2012|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • Gary Goddard, chairman and founder of the Goddard Group, says he tries to design theme park attractions that outshine anything Disney offers.
Gary Goddard, chairman and founder of the Goddard Group, says he tries to… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

The gig: Gary Goddard is chairman and founder of the Goddard Group, a North Hollywood company that designs theme park attractions, hotels and resorts and produces live stage shows.

Claim to fame: In the mid- and late 1990s Goddard helped design the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios Hollywood as well as the Terminator 2: 3D and the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman attractions at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. They were among the country's first theme park attractions to combine film, live action, and water and fire effects. More recently, Goddard helped design the $2-billion, 2,200-room Galaxy Mega Resort in Macau, which opened in May.

The secret to designing a theme park ride: When Goddard was in college in the 1970s, he visited Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, the design and development arm of the Disney company. Marc Davis, a top attraction designer, showed Goddard a painted model of a ride that was never built called the Western River Expedition. From that, he said, he learned that every ride must tell a story, with a beginning, middle and climatic end. "That 10- to 15-minute walk-through of his ride with him was the master's thesis in what goes into designing a ride and what you do and don't do."

His big break: While attending California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Goddard directed a college stage show about Walt Disney, which led to a job at Walt Disney World in Orlando. At the theme park, he worked on the Western-themed dinner show, the Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue. Once at Disney, his career moved to designing attractions.

Driven to out-Disney Disney: Goddard said he tries to create theme park attractions that outshine anything Disney has to offer. He said his greatest accomplishment was a 2000 review in The Times that called his Spiderman attraction in Orlando "the best theme park ride in the world, melding story and technology in a way that surpasses Disney's top efforts." "When I read that," he said, "I had this great feeling that I had made my mark."

From theme parks to resorts: Goddard's move from theme park attractions to hotels and resorts started in the mid-1980s when he was hired to add an animatronic character at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He rejected the idea of a robotic character and instead suggested improving the pathway to get people into the stores.

Biggest disappointment: In the late 1980s, Six Flags Corp. hired Goddard to help turn an Art Deco-style steamship moored on the Mississippi River in St. Louis into an entertainment center. Goddard said he suggested turning the SS Admiral into a nightclub, but Six Flags insisted on targeting kids with attractions such as a giant pit filled with plastic balls. The entertainment center was a flop, and Goddard took the heat for the idea. "It was a disaster," he said. The ship has since been scrapped for metal.

Cater resorts to women: In designing a resort, Goddard said, he tries to appeal to women, not children. "The wives make the decision on resorts, not the kids," he said. "You are playing to the adults but you need to put in things that kids would like."

A director at heart: After working for Disney and other theme parks, he got his chance in 1987 to direct a major motion picture, "Masters of the Universe," starring Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella. He also produced and created several television series, including "Skeleton Warriors" and "Captain Power: The Beginning."

Personal life: Goddard, 58, has a 20-year-old daughter and lives in Beverly Hills. He is a science fiction fan and enjoys reading books about World War II.

What's next: Goddard bought the rights to the novel "For All the Tea in China" and hopes to use it to produce a movie about the man who snagged China's closely guarded secrets of tea horticulture and manufacturing. He recently announced plans to work with a California investment group to design a 600-acre destination resort and theme park near Moscow called Magic World Russia.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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