Mr. Alexander’s combination of aerospace engineering and Disney theme park design skills have made him one of the leading innovators in the theme park business.
After serving in Systems Engineering at Hughes Aircraft Mr. Alexander was selected to be Director of Project Management for Walt Disney’s Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland projects and developed Disney’s first 10 year master plan.
As Vice President and Executive Producer for Universal Studios he assisted in master planning Universal Studios Florida and created the breakthrough attractions King Kong, Back to the Future: The Ride, E.T. Adventure, Jaws, Earthquake and others.
Once he got Universal Studios open in 1991, he founded the Totally Fun Company, and began by creating the Nickelodeon TV Shows “Go For It” and “Guts”.
Then as Executive Producer of the Six Flags chain of theme parks, his credits included The Batman Stunt Show and another 22 well-known high-tech action-packed Stunt Shows.
In addition, his varied portfolio ranges from initial architectural design of the Build A Bear Workshop, design of eleven Family Entertainment Centers, the Master Planning and Theme Park Design of fourteen parks and the conduct of over fifty Feasibility Studies during his 30 year career.
Entertainment Designer; Posted by Sasha on Tuesday, August 16th, 2011
If you’ve ever been to Universal Studios, you’ve seen the work of our latest interviewee. While you may not know Peter Alexander or The Totally Fun Company, you are guaranteed to know the rides E.T., Back to the Future, Jaws, and Earthquake. These entertainment experiences, along with many others, highlight the work of The Totally Fun Co. which does everything from designing rides to master planning of theme parks to producing shows and building family entertainment centers. We had the privilege of spending some time with Peter Alexander, president of The Totally Fun Company, and hearing the stories of his experiences with Disney, Universal, and Steven Spielberg.
Who or what inspires you?
The people that I learned from, like all the original guys at WED enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering) who worked with Walt like Blaine Gibson, Wathel Rogers, Rolly Crump, John Hench, and Marty Sklar, inspire me. I learned a lot from those guys; they were fearless and would try anything. I was also inspired by Henry Bumstead at Universal, who taught me a lot of what I know about drawing up sets. Also, my college roommate Steven Spielberg
impressed me because he was totally driven and fanatically dedicated.
How did you come to work with Spielberg? Was it because you were roommates?
Spielberg separates his private life from his business life—he doesn’t like to recommend his friends for fear that they will embarrass him! One day I was working on King Kong in L.A., and Spielberg shows up and sees me for the first time in years. He didn’t even remember that I worked at Universal, and was really impressed with the things we were doing. About a year later, he called me up and asked me what I could do with Back to the Future. He said, “My friend Lucas is really shoving Star Tours in my face.” I called up Imagineer Tony Baxter to ride Star Tours, and I was blown away. I felt like nothing could top it. But one day I came up with the idea to put a DeLorean car inside an Omnimax dome to make it feel like you’re flying. My project manager bet me $20 it wouldn’t work. We made a mock-up of it, and as soon as it started he handed me the money without a word.
What was it like working for Walt Disney Imagineering?
I got the job at Imagineering because I was an overall kind of guy, an engineer and a writer, and they wanted a “generalist.” It was impressive to hear the original Imagineers tell stories about working with Walt, and that’s how I learned a lot. I didn’t fit in as well at WDI because there were a lot of people and everyone had their niche, yet I had a broader job.
What was it like working for Universal?
At Universal it was every man for himself, which worked better for me than WDI. Once the heads of the company found out I was roommates with Spielberg, I got to call the shots. The guys in charge at Universal weren’t willing to do the big rides that I had in mind, but I warned them that they had to out-Disney Disney, or else they would go out of business, and they listened.
What is the most fun part of your job?
Doing the work is the most fun – not just supervising, but also designing things myself and doing feasibility analysis. I also like traveling all over the world. I have a dream job. I like all phases of it.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Sizing the business right so that it stays afloat. In an environment where the market goes up and down, you either end up with too large of an office and too much staff, or too small of an office and you can’t handle the big jobs. Marketing is also a challenge.
How has your job changed in the last decade?
Everything is computerized now. I used to have a drafting board where I drew things, but now I use 3D modeling software and rendering programs. With the Internet it’s also possible to have designers working all over the country that I may never see. This also makes feasibility studies easier because we don’t always have to travel to the site.
Peter Alexander / Totally Fun Company - Reference Quotes:
• “Peter Alexander is a genius” – Steven Spielberg
• “Peter Alexander and the Totally Fun Company have captured the essence of the silver screen in a spectacular live theme park attraction” – Bob Pittman, President and CEO, Time Warner Enterprises
• “They truly captured the essence of the NBA!” – Jud Perkins, President of Events and Attractions, National Basketball Association
• “What impressed me the most about Peter and TFC was their vision and commitment to our project. They are fun to work with and they keep their commitments. Our project was on time on budget, plus Peter has great stories. Two Thumbs up….way up!” – Mark Bassinger, Director of Information Services for Mystic Lake Casino and Hotel, formerly Information Director for Treasure Island Casino.
• Peter pulled off the impossible….on time and on budget. We’re asking the Totally Fun Company for two more shows! – Larry Cochran, President and CEO at Six Flags Theme Parks
Themed Architectural Design
Themed Architectural Design is a fusion of motion picture art direction, Disney Theme Park magic and “Iconic” architecture. Traditional architects strive to design a “place” wheras TFC’s themed architects create a “show” that immerses guests in a three dimensional story.
At TFC our team has been mentored by Peter Alexander, who had the privilege of studying under multi – academy award winning are director Henry Bumstead, learning first hand from “the grand old men” who created Disneyland. He also worked directly with the world’s most distinguished architects. There is no school for Themed Architecture. So there is other design team that has had the benefit of this unique knowledge base. We combine that knowledge with unparalleled artistic talent and a thorough knowledge of construction.
Our concepts renderings are so realistic that many mistake them for photos. And some have actually formed the basis for final drawings. Our artistic director Patricia Greenway is a former professional portrait artist who also served as a commercial real estate developer. She brings that combination of talent and practical experience to bear on every project.
The TFC team can bring all that knowledge and creative ability to your project. No matter how large of small.
Key Design & Const. Projects include:
1979-82 Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disney, Disneyland as Director, Project Management
1982-91 Universal Studios, Universal Tour & City Walk Retail ,VP Planning & Development
1996 Treasure Island Casino/Hotel, Design/Build & Master Plan Hotel & Casino Re-Theme, Prairie Island - Sioux Tribe
1999 XS Orlando, Nightclub & FEC Design, NAMCO, Japan
2004 Mall of the Emirates, Entertainment Center Design, Dubai Majid Ltd., Dubai, UAE
2004 McDonald’s Re-branding, Store Design/Build, McDonald’s Corp., Miami & Tampa
2005-7 Kotor Palace Spa Hotel, Hotel Design & Master Plan, Menolly Group, Montenegro, Dublin, Ireland
2010-12 Blue Sky Resort, Feasibility, Master Plan & Hotel Design -Outdoor Recreation Resort, Blue Sky Ltd, Calgary, AB
Key Theme Parks include:
1979-82 EPCOT Center, Director of Project Management, Walt Disney
1979-82 Tokyo Disneyland, Director of Project Management, Walt Disney
1982-87 Universal Studios Hollywood, Director of Planning and Development, MCA/Universal
1988-91 Universal Studios Florida, VP & Executive Producer Core Design Team, MCA/Universal
1992-96 Six Flags Theme Parks, Executive Producer, Time-Warner
Key Feasibility Studies:
1981 Disney Ten Year Master Plan, Master Plan & Strategic Plan 30+ Feasibility Studies, Walt Disney
2000-2001 Magic World, Feasibility Analysis & Expert Witness , His Highness Court, Dubai,UAE
2007-12 Decades Music Theme Park Feasibility Study & Concept Cost Estimate Update, Salt River Tribe, Phoenix AZ
2008-9 Six Flags Inc., Asset & Restructure Analysis, Gerson Lehrman, NY, NY
2011 Budapestwood Studio Feasibility, Studio Tour & Retail ,Raleigh Studio, Budapest, HU
Selected Theme Attractions:
Creator & Exec. Producer - Universal Studios : Back to the Future: The Ride, Earthquake, E.T Adventure, Jaws: The Ride, King Kong: Kongfrontation (2), Hanna Barbera Ride/Interactive
Creator, Co-Writer & Executive Producer - Universal Studios: Hitchcock 3-D Theater/Interactive
Designer, Producer – Six Flags, Dennis the Menace Tour, Police Academy (5 venues)