New Major: Entertainment Design

Signage for Cabana Bay beach resort.
Images by Wrenhouse Design, Scott Wren alumnus ’97, and provided courtesy of ©Universal Creative, ©Loews Hotels, ©Wrenhouse Design.

Four new majors in three years. No sooner do we deliver Virtual Reality Development than the College dishes up Entertainment Design, a major that prepares students to design environments and experiences for places like theme parks and museums, retail establishments, zoos, and restaurants. If you go out in the world at all, chances are good you’ve experienced a themed environment.

A long history of interest from Admissions, coupled with heavy recruiting from nearby Walt Disney Imagineering and Universal in Orlando, command central for the entertainment industry after Los Angeles, spurred the development of Entertainment Design. These companies look for students with specific skill sets in graphic and interior design and illustration, then fill in the skill gaps with on- the-job training and experience.

“Dozens of entertainment-related companies around Orlando have been doing this,” says Jamie DeRuyter, inaugural faculty member in Entertainment Design. “We’re creating a practice-ready artist/designer to go right into these companies. We’re bridging the skillset of artist and designer, blending an illustrator with a designer and a game artist. Our goal is to let high school students know that this is an actual job. At Preview Day, students were saying, “Oh wow, this is actually a thing? I could do that? I love that!” We have to show them it’s a career path.”

Student looking over artwork.
Student at work

DeRuyter’s contacts with these companies, along with leadership from art history and design full-time faculty member Chelsea Bruner, helped fast-track development of the major when the two task force leaders, along with other faculty, held intensive meetings with company representatives to put together a curriculum and create a proposal.

“The students even organized their own Themed Entertainment Association student chapter before the major existed, so the interest is there,” Bruner notes.

Entertainment Design will have several curriculum tracks, the first one offered to be Themed Environments. Students will study lighting, 3D modeling, 3D prototyping, CAD drawing, and material properties. And that’s just for starters.

“Artists and designers are going to be conceptual and technical,” DeRuyter observes. “The industry will incorporate more high tech design tools into their creative processes, and they’ll pre-visualize design ideas. As soon as they have an idea, they’ll 3D model it then use virtual reality to ride and fly it, before they commit to real drawing and measurements. It’s basically a tidal wave of high tech study, another reason I think this major is going to be so relevant. Our curriculum will have all of that.”

Process artwork by Scott Wren, Ringling College alumnus.
Images by Wrenhouse Design, Scott Wren alumnus ’97, and provided courtesy of ©Universal Creative, ©Loews Hotels, ©Wrenhouse Design.

The emphasis will be on collaboration across majors and partnerships with industry. “We’re partnering with Entertainment Design Corporation in LA. They designed the Nicki Minaj, Cher, and Barbra Streisand world tours; they designed the Fremont Street experience in Vegas. At this point, with all the pre-visualization tools we have, plus real-world engineering skills, the imagination is let loose. Things like the opening ceremony to the Olympics will just get bigger and wilder,” DeRuyter explains, excitement jumping in his voice.

“I think Entertainment Design aligns with what we say about ourselves at Ringling: we are rethinking art and design,” Bruner adds. “We are really starting with industry partnerships and have framed the curriculum from conversations with them. We got really awesome feedback from these companies and know there is a pipeline directly from us to them because we’ll create what they would expect from a recent graduate in Entertainment Design.”

Bruner goes on to explain that people are more inclined to spend their money on experiences over products these days. “Wrapping products with experiences to sell the brand is an economy driver—big picture, this is only going to become more pervasive. So much of our shopping, dining, tourism, and buying has become all about the experience. The bar has been set and people expect it.”

There are also opportunities for Entertainment Design to solve world problems. The focus will be on the user and user-centered design, and courses such as Design Thinking I and II that address those ends through the methodology of design thinking and problem-solving.

Bruner and DeRuyter also see potential for collaboration with other majors and opportunities created through the Collaboratory. “There’s a great sense of community where everyone is interested in what everyone else is doing,” DeRuyter observes. “That leads to a lot of mutual respect and admiration.”

And that’s what makes a great entertainment designer—the ability to collaborate and create experiences informed by multiple perspectives for the thousands of users who will interact with them. This is no small task, but our students are up for the challenge.

By Nicole Caron
Nicole Caron coordinates the First-Year Writing Program at Ringling College.