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Mentor of the Day: Chris Runco

Chris Runco has worked in the theme park industry for over 35 years. He began as a portrait artist on Main Street at Disneyland, and later joined Walt Disney Imagineering as a model builder. Over the years, he has lead show design teams on a multitude of projects in the U.S. and overseas, including the Typhoon Lagoon waterpark in Florida, Grizzly River Run raft ride in California, and Monsters, Inc. Ride ‘n Seek attraction in Tokyo. He is currently a concept designer and art director for WDI. He has designed everything that goes in a theme park, from major attractions to penny-press machines.

In addition, he has created concepts for several film and television projects, museums and traveling shows.  He is also an award-winning editorial cartoonist, and enjoys plein-air watercolor painting in his spare time.

During an interview with the Laughing Place and Designing Disney, Chris talked a little about the challenges when designing the iconic Grizzly Peak at California Adventures.   He said he “wanted the mountain to clearly represent the beauty of California’s natural wilderness. Along with that, I wanted to develop an icon out of granite to reflect the Sierra Nevada mountains. The California Grizzly Bear, designated official animal of the State of California in 1953, seemed to fit the bill perfectly.”

In the past, Chris gave a talk at Picture This (the former Motivarti) about being a theme park designer.  Chris said that the heart of themed environment design is storytelling; every part of the park should support the story its telling. Chris notes that themed environment design is a fairly specialized field, and requires a lot of three-dimensional thinking, and ability to work with a broad range of practical considerations, about constructibility, durability, etc.

Now, Chris is open to sharing his years of experience and knowledge with young designers.  Chris says he’s energized by working with new designers who have passion and the basic skills to succeed.  “It is exciting to see them grow, and to find people who have the ability to create new ideas and develop them. It also stimulates new ideas in me, and gives me a broader perspective that enriches my own work.”

Similar to the class he taught this fall with Motivarti, Chris would like to take a two-pronged approach with the mentorship: first, discussing the profession and passing along information about the industry and the design process; and second, assignments to practice and improve on the necessary skills.  In addition, Chris is hoping to be broader than just theme parks and cover themed environments (i.e., zoos, museums, restaurants etc.) because there are a lot of jobs in those field. Chris is open to taking on two mentees from anywhere in the US.  So if you have any interest in creating immerse environments (not just for theme parks) consider applying to be Chris’s mentee!

You can find more examples of Chris’s artwork in the Art of Disneyland

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