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Got any questions for the creative director of Men in Black: Alien Attack?

By Robert Niles
Published: April 13, 2009 at 3:25 PM
Universal Studios Florida's shoot 'em up Men in Black: Alien Attack pulled off one of the big upsets in this year's Best Ride in America tournament (before the whole thing became a battle of various theme parks' Facebook groups). The discussion thread about MIB revealed that many Theme Park Insiders have a lot of love for this video game-inspired dark ride. (And you can count me among them.)

One thing led to another, and that discussion put me in touch with Dave Cobb, the ride's creative director. Dave now graciously has agreed to answer questions from Theme Park Insider readers about the ride, so here is your chance.

Dave got his start working in the parks, specifically, at Universal Studios Hollywood. He worked his way up through Universal Creative, where he became the Creative Director for Men in Black: Alien Attack, taking the project from design to completion in just 27 months.

Since then, he's worked as the Senior Creative Director for Paramount Parks and today he holds the same title at Thinkwell Design & Production, a Burbank, California firm that's created everything from theme park attractions to museum presentations to Super Bowl pre-game shows.

We'll visit with Thinkwell in a future piece. For now, though, I want to talk with Dave about Men in Black: about the creative process, his inspiration, some background about the ride, its legacy within the industry, you name it. And, oh yeah, his insider's tips for higher scores, too. ;-)

So, please submit any questions you have for Dave about the attraction, using the comments below. I'll pick the best ones (and add some if there's something I want to ask that you didn't cover) and take them to Dave. Then I'll post his responses in a Q&A here on Theme Park Insider.

Update (Apr. 22): Thanks for your questions. Here is the interview, with Dave's answers.

Readers' Opinions

From Tom Faraci on April 13, 2009 at 3:59 PM
I'm curious to know the thought process behind the creation of the ride. Was it always meant to be a shooter, or were other options considered, such as maybe a roller coaster or some sort of 3D attraction?

And were there any ideas for the ride that had to be scrapped due to budget or time constraints that he would have liked to have seen included?

From 69.42.1.43 on April 13, 2009 at 4:10 PM
What was the budget for MIB?
From TH Creative on April 13, 2009 at 4:27 PM
Too often armchair creative directors discuss the "cost" of developing a ride in terms of its design and construction. Another type of cost associated with an attraction is its operation and (especially) its maintenance.

I'm hoping that DC will comment on whether or not new ride systems and special effect technology are addressing these cost considerations.

In other words: are new ride systems and special effects not only becoming "cooler" but are their warranties stronger, are they becoming more durable -- and thus -- are they more cost effective over the long term than they have been in the past?

From 68.205.98.145 on April 13, 2009 at 4:43 PM
I want to know his top score...
From 71.203.172.200 on April 13, 2009 at 6:03 PM
How come the two dueling cars don't always line up? This happens quite often. Other times the fog near the end isn't turned on for some reason.

There also seems to be a lack of targets leading up to the big 100,000 point monster at the end. You're stuck shooting backwards at the baby alien in the stroller. (Only on the Express Pass line)

Still, it's an awesome ride!

<--- high score is ~630,000

From 205.214.236.34 on April 14, 2009 at 8:00 AM
I want to know what was planned for the ride that never actually made it into the final design. Cool things we wish we could've seen.
From Don Neal on April 14, 2009 at 8:04 AM
Awesome! Looking forward to reading those.

Adding on to the other question about was it always meant to be a shooter...how about was it always going to be MIB? Did they start with that brand to begin with?

I think most everyone else covered the other things I was intrested in. Thanks!

From Eric Malone on April 14, 2009 at 10:22 AM
Is there anything in particular that you enjoyed creating about the ride? Anything(s) specific that stand out in your mind?
From dylan k on April 15, 2009 at 4:30 AM
I have a question about the ride vehicles, are they able to be reprogramed (such as 360 degree movement) easily and or quickly? What did you use to program them? Also, are some sets in the ride controlled by the vehicle or do they rely on timing? What type of programs did you use to design the ride vehicles and sets? The ride is completely amazing and one of my all time favorites, thanks!
From Russell Meyer on April 14, 2009 at 4:33 PM
Why have no other companies come close to matching the detail and interactivity of MIB? Many shooting gallery dark rides have opened since MIB debuted (Turkey Whirl at Holiday World, Ghostwood Estate at Kennywood, Reese's Challenge at Hersheypark, numerous incarnations of Scooby Doo across the country, and Toy Story Mania). How much of MIB is Sally, and how much additional money did it take from Universal to take the attraction from a "stock" ride to one of the most amazing and unique dark rides in the world? Will another theme park ever consider investing the amount of money necessary to modify a "stock" ride to take it to the level of MIB?
From Mark Sajowitz on April 14, 2009 at 4:52 PM
My Questions:

What is the design process like for creating a theme park ride? How much time is spent on just drawing up the idea? How many people are working throughout the project (design phase thru completion). Are you given strict guidelines (besides money and space) as to how and what the ride will be?

From Joshua Counsil on April 14, 2009 at 5:38 PM
I'd like to know what, if any, engineering innovations were implemented for the ride. What were their inspirations?
From 65.113.188.98 on April 15, 2009 at 7:28 AM
Was your role more hands-on creative design or mostly managing and overseeing the work getting done by staff and vendors?

What is the major skill you need to possess to do this kind of work?
illustration & graphics, theatrical design, architectural engineering, script writing?

Since the parks are cutting creative jobs now, when things do turn around will they look to rehire the same people or bring in new creative talent?

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