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Joining the Team That Designs HHN

Legacy

Veteran Member
Jul 27, 2015
8,966
Was doing some research about working for Universal Creative and HHN and thought I should check here (I have been following the HHN threads since 2020). I'm a Junior majoring in mechanical engineering with an aerospace concentration and I'm going to be starting my masters next fall. My is to be a creative designer and engineer for theme parks or haunted attractions.

Reading through this thread the two main points I came across where networking and majoring in design or production. I love my major and don't want to go back to college so that is out. So harping on point one, how can I find and network with people involved with HHN? Also I noticed the term "A&D" (art and design) used a lot here, is that a specific division in Universal creative?

Any tips or advice would be really appreciated!
A&D is an “outdated” term for the team within Universal Entertainment that creates HHN, Mardi Gras, Grinchmas, parades, etc. Several years ago, the name changed to “Creative Development” but, for the fans, A&D stuck around as a short-hand.

Regarding how to network, their are three decent ways that will vary in their success:

1) Entry-level, supervisory job in Universal Entertainment. Getting a job of that type will get you infrequent opportunities to engage with the A&D team.

2) Slice Network -https://slicecreativenetwork.com/
It’s for freelancers, but it was created by people in Orlando to facilitate theme parks more than anything. This is what Universal uses to find new design freelancers for a lot of their stuff.

3) Cold introductions - Probably the least effective method, but it still has its uses. Just reach out to Universal (or an A&D member) directly, explain who you are, what you’re doing, and see what insight anyone can give you.
 

HHNFan2021

Newcomer
Jul 16, 2021
12
A&D is an “outdated” term for the team within Universal Entertainment that creates HHN, Mardi Gras, Grinchmas, parades, etc. Several years ago, the name changed to “Creative Development” but, for the fans, A&D stuck around as a short-hand.

Regarding how to network, their are three decent ways that will vary in their success:

1) Entry-level, supervisory job in Universal Entertainment. Getting a job of that type will get you infrequent opportunities to engage with the A&D team.

2) Slice Network -https://slicecreativenetwork.com/
It’s for freelancers, but it was created by people in Orlando to facilitate theme parks more than anything. This is what Universal uses to find new design freelancers for a lot of their stuff.

3) Cold introductions - Probably the least effective method, but it still has its uses. Just reach out to Universal (or an A&D member) directly, explain who you are, what you’re doing, and see what insight anyone can give you.
Thank you for your insight Legacy, it's extremely helpful. Just a few follow up questions to your recommendations:

1)Would working for Universal Creative as an engineering intern instead of a more supervisory job for Universal Entertainment also bring me into contact with the A&D?

2)Looking into Slice I came across this, "our prerequisites for anyone applying to Slice include having not just a talent in their discipline but an exceptional talent and proven experiences in our industry". What kind of experience do you think a theoretical HHN employee expect to see from an applicant like myself?

3)I'm currently in school in the north east but will be moving to Orlando after college. Would you happen to know if companies like Universal immediately disregard applicants like me because of my location? Universal Creative primarily hires from University of Central Florida which is why I asked.

Again, I really appreciate your advice.
 

Legacy

Veteran Member
Jul 27, 2015
8,966
Thank you for your insight Legacy, it's extremely helpful. Just a few follow up questions to your recommendations:

1)Would working for Universal Creative as an engineering intern instead of a more supervisory job for Universal Entertainment also bring me into contact with the A&D?

2)Looking into Slice I came across this, "our prerequisites for anyone applying to Slice include having not just a talent in their discipline but an exceptional talent and proven experiences in our industry". What kind of experience do you think a theoretical HHN employee expect to see from an applicant like myself?

3)I'm currently in school in the north east but will be moving to Orlando after college. Would you happen to know if companies like Universal immediately disregard applicants like me because of my location? Universal Creative primarily hires from University of Central Florida which is why I asked.

Again, I really appreciate your advice.
Universal Creative does work with A&D on some things, but it depends on what’s getting developed. Bourne was a joint project, for example. However, Universal Creative is generally considered the more prestigious of the two departments. Members of A&D typically move “up to” Creative. There is some back and forth but it’s typically one way.

Regarding Slice, they often want a CV of real work in your portfolio. Practical experience versus purely academic. Have you done theatre design/stage engineering? Include pictures. Are you interning somewhere? Discuss what you’re doing with them. Look at the available profiles and see what they’re displaying. Honestly, most of A&D got where they are through their practical experiences rather than classroom background.

And Universal doesn’t base hiring decisions based on “location” as long as you will live close enough to work there. They won’t relocate you. They typically hire out of UCF due to proximity (which greatly increases the ability to network!).
 
Last edited:

HHNFan2021

Newcomer
Jul 16, 2021
12
Universal Creative does work with A&D on some things, but it depends on what’s getting developed. Bourne was a joint project, for example. However, Universal Creative is generally considered the more prestigious of the two departments. Members of A&D typically move “up to” Creative. There is some back and forth but it’s typically one way.

Regarding Slice, they often want a CV of real work in your portfolio. Practical experience versus purely academic. Have you done theatre design/stage engineering? Include pictures. Are you interning somewhere? Discuss what you’re doing with them. Look at the available profiles and see what they’re displaying. Honestly, most of A&D got where they are through their practical experiences rather than classroom background.

And Universal doesn’t base hiring decisions based on “location” as long as you will live close enough to work there. They won’t relocate you. They typically hire out of UCF due to proximity (which greatly increases the ability to network!).
Firstly again, I really appreciate your time and useful advice. It's great to have access to this outlet, it makes my research a lot easier.

Fascinating how the hierarchy at Universal works. Also quite frustrating how Universal creative is more prestigious and has open applications yet A&D is less prestigious but has no open applications.

Your second point is crucial. I'm academically in great standing but I don't have much experience. I will do some digging around and see how I can get involved or what projects I should work on.

Finally, I was theorizing the point you made. While Universal doesn't hire based off "location", they will slightly favor their pool of in state applicants. I'm also going to consider going for my masters at UCF both for the hiring and networking component.
 

Legacy

Veteran Member
Jul 27, 2015
8,966
Firstly again, I really appreciate your time and useful advice. It's great to have access to this outlet, it makes my research a lot easier.

Fascinating how the hierarchy at Universal works. Also quite frustrating how Universal creative is more prestigious and has open applications yet A&D is less prestigious but has no open applications.

Your second point is crucial. I'm academically in great standing but I don't have much experience. I will do some digging around and see how I can get involved or what projects I should work on.

Finally, I was theorizing the point you made. While Universal doesn't hire based off "location", they will slightly favor their pool of in state applicants. I'm also going to consider going for my masters at UCF both for the hiring and networking component.
It’s important to remember that A&D (Creative Development) is tiny. Less than twenty people are “full time” in the department, and most of them are show “directors.” It is very theatre-focused. There are a couple of designer-focused roles, but a lot of the art is freelanced. Creative is much larger and more varied.

The difference in prestige is related to longevity and budget. Creative builds rides, stores, hotels… things that will last for a decade or more and is critical to the park’s total success. A&D is focused on short-term events and script-development. For example, Creative created Diagon Alley. A&D developed the Deathly Hallows puppets and the Celeste show.
 

HHNFan2021

Newcomer
Jul 16, 2021
12
It’s important to remember that A&D (Creative Development) is tiny. Less than twenty people are “full time” in the department, and most of them are show “directors.” It is very theatre-focused. There are a couple of designer-focused roles, but a lot of the art is freelanced. Creative is much larger and more varied.

The difference in prestige is related to longevity and budget. Creative builds rides, stores, hotels… things that will last for a decade or more and is critical to the park’s total success. A&D is focused on short-term events and script-development. For example, Creative created Diagon Alley. A&D developed the Deathly Hallows puppets and the Celeste show.
Less than twenty people are "full time"? I didn't realize the division was so small, gaining a position at A&D will definitely be challenging. Also interesting how both divisions operate, your definitions for both of them make sense.

Would you happen to know any engineering aspects to HHN houses? I would imagine there must be some degree of structural engineering especially when it comes to facades. I'm also assuming that A&D has nothing to do with the actual science behind constructing these houses, they simply design them. Is that a correct assumption?
 

Legacy

Veteran Member
Jul 27, 2015
8,966
Less than twenty people are "full time"? I didn't realize the division was so small, gaining a position at A&D will definitely be challenging. Also interesting how both divisions operate, your definitions for both of them make sense.

Would you happen to know any engineering aspects to HHN houses? I would imagine there must be some degree of structural engineering especially when it comes to facades. I'm also assuming that A&D has nothing to do with the actual science behind constructing these houses, they simply design them. Is that a correct assumption?
That’s a touch ambiguous. Everything is given to the build contractors so they can just work. House plans are are combination of creative and scientific products. Most of a house plan, to include the face, is information about how it is “structurally engineered—“ strut/stud spacing, facing materials, etc. The creative parts are the line drawn “treatments” that show what the house is supposed to look like.

Typically, that is all done by one person—and that person is frequently a freelancer but there are a couple of internal folks who do it as well.
 
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HHNFan2021

Newcomer
Jul 16, 2021
12
That’s a touch ambiguous. Everything is given to the build contractors so they can just work. House plans are are combination of creative and scientific products. Most of a house plan, to include the face, is information about how it is “structurally engineered—“ strut/stud spacing, facing materials, etc. The creative parts are the line drawn “treatments” that show what the house is supposed to look like.

Typically, that is all done by one person—and that person is frequently a freelancer but there are a couple of internal folks who do it as well.
Thank you for the information. Just to clarify the process here, A&D creates and designs a house and then a freelancer (with possibly some internal folks) adapt that design in to a more scientific/realistic translation? I'm just trying to understand what creative input the freelancer house in this. Also, is there a specific freelancer that Universal uses?
 

Legacy

Veteran Member
Jul 27, 2015
8,966
Thank you for the information. Just to clarify the process here, A&D creates and designs a house and then a freelancer (with possibly some internal folks) adapt that design in to a more scientific/realistic translation? I'm just trying to understand what creative input the freelancer house in this. Also, is there a specific freelancer that Universal uses?
Typically, A&D’s “design” of the house is mostly the treatment. They’ll have reference photos and likely some concept sketches to help fill in the questions. But the actual scenic design used for construction (what actually gets built) is freelanced. Prints, images, decor, etc are predominantly developed internally.
 
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PenguinCowboy

Rookie
May 14, 2018
194
Your second point is crucial. I'm academically in great standing but I don't have much experience. I will do some digging around and see how I can get involved or what projects I should work on.

Finally, I was theorizing the point you made. While Universal doesn't hire based off "location", they will slightly favor their pool of in state applicants. I'm also going to consider going for my masters at UCF both for the hiring and networking component.
Hi there! I know Legacy is the wealth of info on the insider track here, but figured I would throw my two cents in here as well, mainly because we have eerily similar backgrounds, haha. I also was a mechanical/aerospace engineering major in the north east with dreams of the themed entertainment industry (graduated in 2015, decided not to stay for my MEng), and I can say without a doubt while an engineering degree on paper is impressive, it is entirely on your own shoulders to really spruce up and develop your portfolio when it comes to more design related things. If your curriculum is anything like mine was, you sure as hell aren't going to find too much portfolio fodder just in class alone, haha.

I ended up doing a minor in theater production while I was there, so there were a lot of design classes that came packaged into that that are very key to attraction design (lighting, set design, even costume design). I was fortunate to be able to use these as required credits for a couple of the liberal arts credits we were required to take, but if your school offers any theatrical design classes, definitely see if there is a way to weasel them into your existing schedule. If they aren't going to overload you, take them anyway. Outside of class I helped start what would eventually become a TPEG chapter on campus (Theme Park Engineering Group), but sadly I really only played an advisor role, because it only finally got off the ground my senior year. There are a number of armchair imagineering contests that pop up through the year, so getting a small group together to collab and enter a couple would definitely help start you down the path to developing a good backlog of design work.

Since graduation I have worked a more traditional engineering day job, having moved to New England (we actually do a lot of custom signage for the parks though, weirdly enough), but still have continued in the theater and haunt world outside of work hours. I have found a lot of opportunities to flex my set and lighting design muscles in the community theater scene locally, and do commission work for cosplay and theatrical costumes. My friends and I have also run a small haunt in Brooklyn together for a couple years now, and have really used this as a space to explore and develop our collective skills when it comes to shop drawings, draw-downs, build schedules, story treatments, the list goes on and on.

Depending on what aspects you find yourself most drawn to about the industry, definitely take a look around to find official documents (they are out there... trust me, haha) and try and pick them apart. Understand why they look the way they do, what information they have on them and why, and then apply those same principles to a personal project. Building a small coffee table for Uncle Stan? Make a set of shops for the build, including callouts, elevations. Doing a small background flat for a community theater production of Annie? Make a reference drawing, do some sketches, and take pictures to document your process. The more you can practice doing things in the manner design documents are actually made, the better prepared you will be/the more valuable you will be, if not solely from simple familiarity with the design flavor.

The biggest thing I can say is, while HHN is an amazing event, and obviously I myself would jump immediately if any opportunity arose to be a part of it, I think it helps to realize that there are so many opportunities to do this kind of work out there that aren't directly for Universal too. Realizing how small the team truly is can be a shocking and somewhat disheartening thing to hear for the first time, but it can also be seen as a good thing too. The sheer number of collaborators that work with the team to bring the event to life (freelancers, contracted build teams, etc) mean there are that many more paths to explore, if your goal is truly HHN or bust. If you have a passion for this kind of work though, plain and simple, there are so many different outlets to explore outside of the event. Working with my friends to bring our little haunt into a more commercial space has been incredibly exciting, and while it may not be HHN, we do it for the same reasons and with the goals in mind: making people scream, smile, and maybe inspire them in turn.
 

Legacy

Veteran Member
Jul 27, 2015
8,966
So does he get this question every day? Yikes
They get it a lot.

Hollywood is an even worse example though, as they don’t work in a “team” structure like Orlando does. It’s very much Murdy’s fiefdom over there.
 
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HHNFan2021

Newcomer
Jul 16, 2021
12
Hi there! I know Legacy is the wealth of info on the insider track here, but figured I would throw my two cents in here as well, mainly because we have eerily similar backgrounds, haha. I also was a mechanical/aerospace engineering major in the north east with dreams of the themed entertainment industry (graduated in 2015, decided not to stay for my MEng), and I can say without a doubt while an engineering degree on paper is impressive, it is entirely on your own shoulders to really spruce up and develop your portfolio when it comes to more design related things. If your curriculum is anything like mine was, you sure as hell aren't going to find too much portfolio fodder just in class alone, haha.

I ended up doing a minor in theater production while I was there, so there were a lot of design classes that came packaged into that that are very key to attraction design (lighting, set design, even costume design). I was fortunate to be able to use these as required credits for a couple of the liberal arts credits we were required to take, but if your school offers any theatrical design classes, definitely see if there is a way to weasel them into your existing schedule. If they aren't going to overload you, take them anyway. Outside of class I helped start what would eventually become a TPEG chapter on campus (Theme Park Engineering Group), but sadly I really only played an advisor role, because it only finally got off the ground my senior year. There are a number of armchair imagineering contests that pop up through the year, so getting a small group together to collab and enter a couple would definitely help start you down the path to developing a good backlog of design work.

Since graduation I have worked a more traditional engineering day job, having moved to New England (we actually do a lot of custom signage for the parks though, weirdly enough), but still have continued in the theater and haunt world outside of work hours. I have found a lot of opportunities to flex my set and lighting design muscles in the community theater scene locally, and do commission work for cosplay and theatrical costumes. My friends and I have also run a small haunt in Brooklyn together for a couple years now, and have really used this as a space to explore and develop our collective skills when it comes to shop drawings, draw-downs, build schedules, story treatments, the list goes on and on.

Depending on what aspects you find yourself most drawn to about the industry, definitely take a look around to find official documents (they are out there... trust me, haha) and try and pick them apart. Understand why they look the way they do, what information they have on them and why, and then apply those same principles to a personal project. Building a small coffee table for Uncle Stan? Make a set of shops for the build, including callouts, elevations. Doing a small background flat for a community theater production of Annie? Make a reference drawing, do some sketches, and take pictures to document your process. The more you can practice doing things in the manner design documents are actually made, the better prepared you will be/the more valuable you will be, if not solely from simple familiarity with the design flavor.

The biggest thing I can say is, while HHN is an amazing event, and obviously I myself would jump immediately if any opportunity arose to be a part of it, I think it helps to realize that there are so many opportunities to do this kind of work out there that aren't directly for Universal too. Realizing how small the team truly is can be a shocking and somewhat disheartening thing to hear for the first time, but it can also be seen as a good thing too. The sheer number of collaborators that work with the team to bring the event to life (freelancers, contracted build teams, etc) mean there are that many more paths to explore, if your goal is truly HHN or bust. If you have a passion for this kind of work though, plain and simple, there are so many different outlets to explore outside of the event. Working with my friends to bring our little haunt into a more commercial space has been incredibly exciting, and while it may not be HHN, we do it for the same reasons and with the goals in mind: making people scream, smile, and maybe inspire them in turn.
Thank you so much for your in-depth response. It's nice to come across someone who was in an almost identical situation as I am and so your comment was really valuable to me. Once Legacy mentioned how small the division that works on HHN was, I sorta realized it's a dream job. But having read your comment, it's nice to know the field is quite large.
 
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Ringwraith

Rookie
Mar 28, 2020
356
A&D is an “outdated” term for the team within Universal Entertainment that creates HHN, Mardi Gras, Grinchmas, parades, etc. Several years ago, the name changed to “Creative Development” but, for the fans, A&D stuck around as a short-hand.
This is a recent job posting, so they're either still using it or they divided "A&D" and Creative Development turned more into Entertainment Projects.

"JOB SUMMARY:
Provides support to the Art & Design Department by coordinating all operational design efforts both with outside vendors and contractors as well as internal departments within Universal Orlando."