Scott Rutherford - Amusement Today

After more than a quarter century of successful operation, Six Flags Over Georgia’s enigmatic Monster Plantation float-through dark ride was showing its age. Six Flags officials knew they wanted to keep the ride and they decided on an ambitious overhaul that would use today’s technology yet still retain much of the humor and southern charm that made it so popular. The venerable ride took its last passengers at the end of the 2008 season and then went dark.

Spearheading the multimillion rehab project was Gary Goddard, worldrenowned design consuland founder of Gary Goddard Entertainment (GGE), and creator of the original Monster Plantation.

Amusement Today spoke at length with Goddard about the inspiration behind the original ride and its redevelopment into Monster Mansion. “When we first developed the concept for the Monster Plantation back in 1980, no one had tried to do a real ‘Disney quality’ dark ride outside of Disneyland. Our goal then was to create an immersive and fun ride, aimed at families and in particular kids and their parents. But we wanted teens to like it to. And ‘monsters’ were something with appeal to all ages,” said Goddard.

“When we were digging around for an idea, Al Bertino, one of the original Imagineers from Disney Imagineering that I had worked with when I was there, came up with the notion of monsters being for all ages. Phil Mendez and I had both worked as Imagineers, so we put the word out to our former co-workers and everyone got very excited about it. So in fact, the project was designed and produced by a team of Imagineers, including Jim Michaelson (logo/ poster), Dave Jacobs (architectural drawings) and Alvaro Villa (animatronics). Dave Gengenbach (MAPO) provided the design of the new boat ride system and acted as the project manager. Collin Cambell moonlighted for us and did three key production designs for the mansion exterior and interior, and Eddie Martinez came up with some great visions for the darker Marsh sequences. Joe DeMeis, a former art director from Imagineering, came on board to serve as our art director and supervised the overall model construction and styling. In addition, Larry Nicolai, who went on to become a major show designer at Walt Disney Imagineering, started out with us and sculpted virtually every one of the scale maquettes which were made from Phil’s character designs.

“So, honestly, it was a very interesting time. We created that attraction, from concept to opening day, in nine months, which really, when you think about it, was pretty amazing.

“With regard to the new Monster Mansion, we decided that we wanted to make the ride a lot more immersive this time around, in keeping with the way we’ve created really unique attractions that put audiences ‘in the middle of the action’ we wanted to do the same thing with the Monsters,” Goddard continued. “So, while we generally re-created virtually every monster and every tree and every backdrop - and while we created new soundtracks and employed new audio, lighting and show control systems - I think the most important new element was our creation of new 4-D special effects that make the guests part of the experience. There is wind, there are water sprays, there are scents, there are bubbles, mist projections, smoke and fog.

“So, we kept the best of the past, and then enhanced it with an array of really cool and fun surprises for the guests,” he concluded. “We didn’t so much change the ride, as we recreated it, and then enhanced it with some great new elements.”

The ride utilizes the original water ride system supplied by Arrow Development Company.

Commenting on the overall design effort was Edward S. Marks of Lightswitch, the company that designed the ride’s new lighting system. “We listened carefully to the concerns and needs of the Creative Director Taylor Jeffs and Art Director Bob Baranick when developing the designs and incorporated their feedback into our design solutions,” said Marks. “We also worked closely with the local systems integrator, Entertainment Design Group and sound designer Ted King. From design creation to opening day was roughly 15 weeks. Working with the Six Flags and GGE team headed by producer Barry Kemper and project manager Kirk Powell was a joy.”

The new and improved Monster Mansion family dark ride opened to rave reviews on May 16 and features more 4D effects than any other ride in the world.

“Monster Mansion is simply spectacular. Everything about the renovation is first rate – from the amazing monsters to the 4D special effects, the lights and the music… it’s a homerun.,” said Mark Shapiro, CEO, Six Flags, Inc. “The Gary Goddard team took an iconic attraction and created something truly special that will be enjoyed by generations to come.”