Thierry Coup: Casting a Spell Over Tinseltown
When The Wizarding World of Harry Potter officially opened at Universal Studios Hollywood, Harry Potter fans and theme park lovers descended on the entertainment capital of the world to experience a land inspired by the adventures JK Rowling brought to life in her books and Warner Bros. brought to life in the films.
But without more than a decade of work from Thierry Coup and his team at Universal Creative, Universal Parks & Resorts’ research and development division, none of it would be possible. Coup, the Senior Vice President of Universal Creative, recently sat down with NBCUniversal.com to talk about his team’s work on the attraction everyone is talking about, what they learned from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando to apply to Universal Studios Hollywood, working as an experiential designer and much more.
Q: What does it feel like to see the work your team has done coming to fruition?
TC: We’re super excited. We’ve wanted to bring this spectacular experience to the west coast for a few years now. There’s no better place than taking it to the biggest film studio in the world and to one of the best theme parks in the world. LA is in for the real surprise. A lot of people have come to Orlando for this, but the west coast people who haven’t seen it are going to be completely blown away.
Q: What can guests expect at the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter?
TC: It’s really hard to put into words, you just have to be there. We totally elevated the theme park experience to a whole new level with Hogsmeade and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando a few years ago. And what we’ve been able to do in LA is to elevate that even higher, which is a challenge when you’re taking the best experience in the world and elevating it to another level. But adding to Hogsmeade Village with more shops, more experiences that guests can see; and then taking The Forbidden Journey ride to another level with more sets, more details, 3D and much more. We then put all of that into a very immersive land that people are going to talk endlessly about.
Q: This project is the culmination of more than a decade of work. What does that mean to you and to the team?
TC: We started the project in Orlando in 2005. And it’s building to that crescendo now in LA. It’s many many years of preparation, a lot of hard work for a team that has interacted quite frequently with JK Rowling, who has been to Scotland many times to meet with her, to get her input. It’s been amazing to work with her and get her feedback. We met with a lot of the people involved in the films. You name it, we covered it; all of these really important elements that are true to the original stories that create the authenticity that everyone has read about. And the depth of storytelling is incredible. This is a true three-dimensional world. You have all of these things to explore, to see, to do, to eat.
Q: Why is authenticity so integral to what you do? Can you talk a bit more about that?
TC: For what we do as experiential designers, Universal Parks & Resorts is known for taking guests into timeless stories. To make it feel authentic means to transport someone who is a fan of a movie or a book and to transport them into a place in a way they’ve only dreamed about. If nothing in that world takes them out of it, if every detail is right, we know we’ve achieved that authenticity, which was our goal. It transports you to these incredible adventures and stories and keeps you in there, makes you believe that it’s true and complete.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges in this project?
TC: We’re building an incredible, highly detailed land with highly complex technology and a village that is supposed to look one thousand years old in Los Angeles. In the end, it looks like a small village in Scotland. To me, one of the big accomplishments here is that we did all of this work and we never really closed the park down. Not only are we in the middle of LA, but we’re in the middle of one of the busiest film studios in the world, and we’re inside an operational theme park. The opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter really tops it all off; this is a new park. It’s really incredible. About 75% of the park is new within the last five years, the entire experience is different; and that’s been incredible to be a part of.
Q: What were the biggest takeaways from the work in Orlando that your team applied here in Hollywood?
TC: In Hogsmeade, we realized that the wand experience was so incredibly popular. We found a way in Los Angeles to create an experience so that all our guests can experience that. And we’ve added more actual shops to Hogsmeade Village, because we’ve found that guests love to go into those shops. A few of the shops are just facades, the others you can walk in. There are more of those points of play and use your spell experiences.
The fact that we’ve added more sets, scenery and details to The Forbidden Journey ride is really incredible too. We thought it would be an immersive experience, we took an attraction that was one of the best in the world and we saw how much people enjoyed the sets and scenery and made it better. And it’s in 3D. And the castle itself is just spectacular. There’s just so much to appreciate.
Q: What will be the "wow" moment that people can’t stop talking about?
TC: For Potter fans… the big wow is always that moment when you walk through the arch of Hogsmeade. And in Los Angeles, the perfect placement of Hogwarts Castle dominating over the village in the distance is just stunning. We’ve reoriented that slightly different in LA and it plays really well with the sun and the light and the natural real estate. It’s a perfect picture moment when you walk through the arch that everyone will be talking about. I could walk through that arch every day.
Q: Let’s talk about you for a minute, Thierry… You started your career designing sets and visual effects for films like Back to the Future, Total Recall and Dick Tracy, and have worked on some of the biggest theme park projects in the past 20 years. How did that background prepare you for this project?
TC: It’s all bled together in a unique combination, all of the learnings and the technologies used in developing immersive experiences that has really culminated for me in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The cool thing when I think about it is that there is a lot more to come. What we’ve done as a team is going to help us take our guests to a whole new level over the next few years, and that to me talks about how Universal Parks and Resorts are never sleeping and always creating experiences.
It’s been an incredible ride for me. Doing what I do, you feel lucky if you worked on one big attraction like The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man or The Simpsons Ride in your career, but I’ve worked on a half of a dozen or so, and it keeps getting better and better. I have an incredible team here at Universal Creative and it keeps getting better and better. So a lot more to come, but The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood is a great culmination of all of that experience and bringing something to the world that is the best experience imaginable.
Q: How about the legacy you and your team are leaving? You’re creating memories for millions of people around the world, for years to come. What does that mean to you?
TC: It gives me tears. It makes me emotional. I remember going to see the first Harry Potter film with my son when he was just ten, and reading the books with him, and how much we enjoyed it. And then when we heard we were going to have the opportunity to create the world that J.K. Rowling created, it was huge and it was incredible and scary. How do we make this? How do we bring this incredible story to life without the tricks of filmmaking? It was exciting and then it was very scary. And having succeeded beyond our expectations and even our fans’ expectations, it just puts a permanent smile on your face. It refuels your creativity for new projects to come. This project set the bar so much higher in the industry, and that’s incredibly exciting.
Reposted from NBCUniversal.com