Next time you’re standing in line at a theme park, remember Matt Kent. This 2006 Recording Arts and Entertainment Business graduate may have had a hand in developing the ride you’ve been eagerly waiting to climb into.
Since 2008 Matt has worked as a project and creative developer for two top theme park solution leaders, where he’s helped produce major installations for Universal Studios, Seaworld, and more. It’s a long way from where he began his career – as sound recordist on over 25 films at Skywalker Sound – but as Matt explained, he had an early crossover between the two worlds.
“It’s funny, we were working a lot for Pixar when I was at Skywalker ,” he says. “They came in with Ratatouille and around the same time brought in audio post for a Finding Nemo ride at Disney. I remember working on it and it didn’t make any sense to me why they’d do it at a postproduction facility, but looking back it was like a little glimmer of my future.”
Not long after, Matt and his family relocated from California to Orlando – the theme park capital of the world. Wanting to stay in the entertainment field, the most obvious connection for him were the parks, and he pursued a position as a junior project manager at Technomedia Solutions (a role he would land thanks in part to his audio contacts at Skywalker.)
Technomedia is a creative firm focusing on audiovisual design and integration for retail spaces and theme parks, and among the projects Matt was involved with included Hard Rock International, Abercrombie & Fitch, and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Islands of Adventure – one of the biggest entertainment properties to recently get the theme park treatment.
“I saw the initial storyboards for Potter, and we knew it was something special when we started working on it,” he says. “The environment really nails it – that’s what Potter did. Up until then it seemed like no company was willing to put themselves out there and really go for it at that scale, and you can see it in the details. They realized they were doing something right and everyone else has noticed and followed suit. I’m really proud to have been involved.”
Matt moved on to Oceaneering Entertainment Systems in 2012, and is now the head of creative services where he oversees their business development and marketing. The company’s theme park role is a little different, focusing on manufacturing ride systems, and has done innovative work like Transformers: The Ride 3D at Universal Studios in Singapore, Hollywood, and Orlando. Their team also developed the world’s first trackless ride system for Antarctica at SeaWorld, which won an award this year from the Themed Entertainment Association.
“The way each of these projects gets made is different, but it usually starts with a creative storyteller pinning down what guests will experience and figuring out how many attractions there will be,” he says. “Then they approach a company like ours and say that they want a ride to use one of our products, then we’ll recommend something based on their budget.”
“From there it’s about problem solving the whole way through to the end, and is a huge team effort on the part of everyone at the company. It’s very much like making music for me. There’s a part of you that never wants to stop, but at some point you have to put your pencil down and let it go and let people enjoy it.”
The enjoyment of the guests is the real payoff for Matt, and a reflection of the amount of thought that goes into creating a memorable experience for people visiting these parks from across the globe. There’s sense of immersion that you feel during a ride like Transformers or Harry Potter that comes from a complex marriage of the ride system, art design, and audio/visual effects, and he sees that continued innovation as the key to providing new thrills for people that you can’t get from other entertainment outlets, or even careers.
“This is such a cool industry – what we’re doing is making millions of people happy, and it’s nice to be able to walk through a park and know that I contributed to a certain ride,” he says. “When I was going to Full Sail nobody was talking about going off to work at theme parks, but this is such a massive world now. I just want to spread the word to people about this path. We’re growing well, and are going to keep delivering new experiences, which is really exciting to be a part of.”