Updated! Theme park design tools for new designers
In 2012 and again in 2017 themedattraction.com wrote about design tools for theme park and other built environment designers. As with any technology, those tools have seen rapid advances. Much of what Nate Naversen wrote then remains true today. If you’re dreaming of theme park design and want to know what tools you will need to conquer, this article will give you a taste of the low hanging fruit.
Hand sketching is still a valued tool for quickly relaying ideas and concepts (so keep practicing with your pens, markers, and watercolors). Keep a small sketch pad and a few waterproof pens handy. Try capturing moments on the street, in the subway, or in the coffee shop. Don’t worry about details, this isn’t for documentation. Just capture the story and feeling of the frame. Practice with high quality art markers and watercolors right there on the street – in the moment. It will feel awkward, uncomfortable and completely normal for the artist to not like their drawing. This skill is crucial to the themed designer. It get’s the creative juices flowing and teaches you to develop and refine ideas on the fly. You’ll need this skill in the blue sky and beyond.
As those ideas are formalized, digital imaging and graphic design applications like Photoshop, Maya, and many others are used. Apps like Trace and Concepts (found on the apple store) are a bridge from hand sketching to the digital space while Photoshop, Maya, Sketchup, 3DS Max and other tools are used to bring realism and create portfolio quality images and presentations.
There is fine line between “blue sky” concepting tools and those used for technical planning and construction documentation. It is true that they often overlap and integrate but they serve different purposes. Selecting the right tool depends on the objective.
Technical design and construction documentation have seen a trend towards 3D modeling systems known as B.I.M., an acronym for “Building Information Modeling”. There are many 3D modeling tools (Sketchup, ArchiCad,and others.). AutoDesk’s Revit has emerged as an industry standard for buildings and structure with its sister tools Navisworks, and Revit versions for civil design (horizontal earthworks), and mechanical, plumbing, fire suppression systems and electrical.
If you’re just starting out and funds are low, start with Sketchup. It’s free and very intuitive. If you’re enrolled in courses at the university or community college, student versions (free or reduced cost) of all top of the line industry standard software are available from AutoDesk. https://www.autodesk.com/education/free-software/featured AutoCad drafting is still a valid tool. In 2012, Nate Naversen detailed AutoCad in his article on themedattraction.com and much of it remains true. One of the down sides to 3D modeling lies in it’s detailing, this is where AutoCad picks up the pieces.
When the project transitions from design to construction there are a bunch of other tools, techniques, and software to know for project management, cost estimating, time scheduling, and construction administration. But, don’t worry about those just yet. Crack open the sketchbook and draw! Develop and refine your ideas in sketchup and create portfolio quality images with digital and BIM tools. We hope to see the next big idea come from a themedattraction.com reader!