The Simpsons Expansion – Universal Studios Florida
Having just completed design work with Twentieth Century Fox and Gracie Films on The Simpsons Games for Universal Studios Florida in 2012, I was then tasked with establishing additional presence of the The Simpsons within the park. As Production Designer during the “blue-sky” design & development phase, my tasks were to produce the themed expansion design while incorporating the intellectual property and operational requirements within the project scope. The process included routine meetings with core executives to reach the final overall project designs before transition to the project field team and contracted architectural firms. This project was a development with Universal Studios Orlando, Twentieth Century Fox and Gracie Films.
The project scope for the main dining platform included a large variety of work in developing the expansion to replace and remodel the existing “International Food & Film” dining facilities and to add new areas for an immersive area devoted to the The Simpsons property. Starting with an initial master plan, I was tasked with producing a working model to direct the team and architects where Universal wanted to go with the property. Defining standards for a new land based on an intellectual property is a series of review points to determine what solution best serves the operational needs, budget and overall theme strategy. Decisions on seating, umbrellas, dining booths, bar stools, waste receptacles, lighting, pavement, railings and landscaping all are a part of defining the overall expansion and included in the process of the model work for area development. These features are shown within the presentation designs to all parties involved in the various programming aspects of the expansion.
A large part of guiding the process in design was the programming requirements for the project. The scope was to include a larger service capacity modeled with food-court style delivery, more indoor seating options and a larger footprint for guest flow. Included in this design was a request for a new queue line and payment area. While the food service counters were planned to be dependent on the various branded marquees as depicted on the exterior, the counters also needed to be oriented where the equipment for menu-specific items needed to reside.
Using existing plans and elevations of the restaurant facility as a starting point in AutoCAD, I produced a 3D model of the structure to work out the scaled areas subject to revisions. The plan was to demolish a portion of the facility to make room for a wider guest path envisioned as a “street” to define the area as “Fast Food Blvd.” as referenced in the IP. In using this facility, the intent was to remodel the dining module and retain the existing kitchen. Using branded facades as represented in the property, the approach was to use these facades as the envelope for the new building exterior. By referencing the IP images of the various restaurant establishments included in various episodes of The Simpsons, the visual characteristics were defined through a few different passes of configurations. The intent was to focus on the most documented and iconic elements of the IP. The key elements to define the facility in the early stages were Krusty Burger, Moe’s and Kentucky Fried Panda. Combining these facades was a systematic process of orienting the boundary walls of the facility footprint in different angles that faced guests in different stages of approach within the area. At one point, I had a drive thru area for Krusty Burger with Homer and his car present in the lane.
The exterior of Krusty Burger takes shape. Since most of the architecture of the IP uses straight lines in the drawing of structures, the majority of the construction was suitable for the GC to produce within their scope without heavy reliance on additional theme and scenic contractors.
Understanding that there needed to be a cohesive theme standard to tie the existing Kwik-E-Mart retail area to the new additions, this required decisions among the team as to how the facades produced in the animated platform would be interpreted in the real world. Following the existing Kwik-E-Mart retail exterior design was the basis. Taking the painted cartoon brick features and adding a relief was the path to give the exteriors more of a 3D presence where natural shadows would accentuate the details of the theme work.
The facility design took several meetings with the executives for F&B and kitchen design consultants before the theme design could be finalized. Understanding the restaurant needs to have an effective operational function for maximizing capacity, the counter service areas are critical to provide ease of ordering and transfer of food to the guests. The beverage module was first intended to be a self-service island featuring the newly implemented Coca-Cola freestyle dispensers but then developed entirely as a behind the counter operation combined with the “Flaming Moes” service area. Moes Bar was always intended to be a separate service delivery arrangement with a functional bar but no food prep area or kitchen component. This project was an experiment in the food court approach within a large dining complex. Control points for egress at entry and exits were all a part of the design to orient guests within the newly configured facility.
The new service area now represented with The Simpsons branded features. The queue line area was configured to coil at the rear of the restaurant to allow for maximum exposure to the service area and space for additional payment terminals.
The interiors of Krusty Burger and Moes. The mural was an element developed by the Twentieth Century Fox team in the construction phase.
While the exterior theme components were selected as Krusty Burger and Moes bar, the third menu-devoted marquee was left unresolved in the development phase. Kentucky Fried Panda worked as a parody in the television series but to generate revenue on property that mimicked the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise branding was scrapped to avoid any potential conflicts. It was eventually decided by Fox to be Cletus’ Chicken Shack over Shakespeare’s Chicken. The comic shop was chosen as a storefront to conceal the restroom exterior and maintain a presence tied to The Simpsons universe. The lobby areas devoted to the entry points at each marquee were tied to the associated brands. Moe’s bar and Krusty Burger were developed as individual brand-defined dining areas as depicted in the show. This left the main dining areas to be defined. Originally the main dining area was designed and modeled as a story-driven experience, with a cohesive combination of Springfield elements giving guests a more immersive experience in the world of The Simpsons with integrated animation and more individualized dining areas. This was abandoned and left as a general seating area dependent on random Simpsons theme work.
These before and after images show the same approach point to the property. Shown far right, the facility was given the facade of the comic shop where restrooms are located from the corner of the existing structural column. The sight-lines for the approach of the new area were designed to conceal the Fear Factor Live facility and Men in Black attraction with strategically placed structures and trees.
Modeling the various areas of the scope in 3D allows you to envision what the guests will see from various points along their course of navigation. This method of designing an immersive area is initiated based on guest traffic flow as to what will be revealed consecutively as the immersion takes place. Successful immersive design is reliant on the bounding space to exclude views of adjacent properties unrelated to the area. This relies in many cases on the vertical conditioning to contain the area. Using landscape, billboards, fencing and set pieces all help to identify the space and block views of operational areas and other intellectual property within an existing property. Options aside, the immersive traits are subject to a series of evaluations depending on existing conditions, budget, operational needs and space available.
As the design progresses, elements are eliminated through the value-engineering phase. Usually the “show” takes the largest reduction in the project to allow for functional aspect to be priority when ROI is at stake on the square footage dedicated. Limits of the existing real estate also restrict what you can include. As always, compromises are made to develop the best format of delivery for all parties to benefit the profitability and use of the IP. Limits in budget aren’t always negative, it can also help to develop your design strategy on large areas of area development. For Springfield USA, the overarching story was developed based on the existing conditions of the property. By basing the Krustyland area and newly added carnival games as its own theme park within Springfield was a first attempt to define the area and its connection to the newly planned street. By adding a transition component by use of a thematic fence with ticket booths constructed by Krusty the clown, this created a point where “Fast Food Blvd” mated with the existing property. This strategy was to tie the entire area together. In the process to finalize the hard-scape of the simulated street and sidewalks it was determined to be a subtle transition marked by an overhead marquee to define the thresholds into the expanded area, these were also abandoned.
The final extent of my work was tied to the waterfront dining and retail component attached to the Duff brewery. The dining area was an entire remodel of an existing area with a whole new build-out tied to the architecture planned for the Springfield park and Duff area. The plan was to tie these areas together with a standard theme and color palette focused on the Duff brewery. With limitations on square footage, the retail was intended to be an open platform with rolling fixtures to expand the space while the waterfront dining was developed in a linear layout with shaded seating along the boundary wall. The design of this area allowed for guest access to be from several points of approach and to include ADA clearances and ramps to the lower elevation. Although the retail structure was devised as a solely dedicate space for merchandise and storage, the priority need was a solution to equip the bar with appropriate operational needs. The design was developed to include a freezer within the structure to house the beer kegs that were routed to the adjacent bar counter taps. This enabled the bar to remain equipped to handle peak distribution without having to relay on carted replenishment during the operational schedule.
After the design shifted to the project team for construction, the Duff bar area was modified to feature practical brickwork to enclose the framing of the original pavilion based design. The retail structure remained to represent the factory but now with the same brick treatment.
The waterfront side of the expansion was a combination of F&B, retail, attraction and photo-ops to liven up the space visible from across the lagoon. Originally the Duff brewery area was a larger component in the design that overlapped the queue area of the adjacent ride and pitched to include water features to represent leaking beer from overhead factory pipes. This approach was scrapped and then based as a pavilion similar to the existing pavilion facing the lagoon near Mel’s Diner. Eventually the Duff area then evolved to gain more of the factory presence from the IP rather than being a newly-imagined addition to the Simpsons universe. The Duff area retained its core elements of being an outside covered bar with attached retail but given a practical brick enclosure to resemble a factory building.
The Lard Lad building was a two-fold solution to provide for a guest service component and an operational enclosure for equipment dedicated to the expansion. It was planned early on to have the Police car appear to have a sudden change of course on reveal of the donut facility either placed crashed into the building or into a light pole with a “misting” radiator. It evolved into having a fire hydrant with an erupting water effect. Understanding this would cause a disturbance in the guest flow on the street, a makeshift parking lot was designed in the foreground of the Lard Lad building to allow additional space. The vehicle was then aligned for placement in the front of Springfield park photo-op feature to allow for concealed draining of the water through the artificial turf. One of the latest artificial turf products on the market that I had researched at that time had a 100% permeable surface allowing large drainage provisions to be concealed below.
The Bumble Bee food truck was also a design that went through a series of alternative considerations. With the intent to produce a F&B station that resembled a mobile food truck, a practical approach to use an actual truck as a base was eliminated. This was due to two factors. The equipment required to facilitate preparation for the menu items needed a larger footprint than a stock truck allowed, and secondly the ADA requirements for service counters posed a conflict in reach even if an actual truck was modified. The alternative was to have the main facility unit built from scratch. Notably the difference was scale of the vehicle in relation to the surroundings. By placing the unit in an isolated location forward of any adjacent surroundings was a reasonable resolve to work the scale into the environment.
Additional areas on the property also needed a makeover to alleviate guest traffic flow during construction and provide for overflow queue that was lost when The Simpsons games were installed. I recommended that the exit for the existing attraction be rerouted toward the gift shop. This was done in the early phase of construction and well executed by the construction team in a very short period of time. This adjustment now encouraged the guests to visit the Kwik-E-Mart gift shop now facing them at the end of the path.
The new exit for the attraction also allowed for a more active use of the space. You can now frequently find the The Simpsons family taking a stroll through the town and making a stop for photographs.
As usual my work didn’t stop at development. I continued to support the now in-place project team and architects to facilitate various details for AutoCAD drawings, attend construction site meetings and discussions with Twentieth Century Fox and Gracie Films mid-project. Everyone involved did a fantastic job in getting the expansion built with a rather short schedule to work with.
Park and Interior Images photographed by Bryan Ebenhoch 2012-2013. Satellite images sourced from Google.