Harry Potter Theme Park Case Study

Hogwarts Express photo courtesy NBC Universal

New Harry Potter attractions inspired the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) to create a new Thea Award category: the Paragon Award, specifically for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. The award recognizes the entire land, integrated retail and food and beverage, and the Hogwarts Express, in addition to the wand technology.

Thea Awards Committee chair Patti Drum (Lexington Design + Fabrication) said, "The Committee has the ability to create a new award name when a project merits this; it is an extremely rare occasion and was deliberated on intensely. Several names were discussed and 'Paragon' was decided due to the 'game changing' and immersive nature of the experience surpassing any other experience to date. It is the best of the best."

The Paragon Award will be officially presented on March 21 at the Thea Awards Gala, and accepted by Mark Woodbury, President of Universal Creative for Universal Parks and Resorts and Thierry Coup, Senior VP Creative Studio at Universal Parks and Resorts. The annual Thea Awards Gala is an elegant, black-tie dinner affair held at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif. USA. TEA's annual Thea Awards are considered the highest honor of the themed entertainment industry, and the 16 Thea recipients for 2015 span the globe.

The Thea Awards are preceded by TEA's annual 2-day Summit, March 19-20, with March 20 dedicated to Thea Case Studies. A panel of six Universal Creative team members, moderated by Coup, will discuss the making of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley attractions, as part of the Thea Case Studies program. Speakers will include Dale Mason, Chris Oliver, Katy Pacitti, Mark Rhodes and Justin Schwartz [scroll down for speaker bios]. Thea Case Studies Day co-chairs are Roberta Perry of ETI and Pat MacKay of Ones&ZerosMedia.


Thierry Coup



Thierry Coup - Senior Vice President of Creative Studio, Universal Creative

Thierry Coup is SVP of the Creative Studio for Universal Creative and in charge of media production for Universal Parks and Resorts. He has played an integral role in shaping the blockbuster rides and attractions at Universal Orlando Resort since he joined Universal Creative in 1995. Thierry is probably best known for pushing the envelope in the creative design of world-class projects, such as the “Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man” 3D, “Sesame Street 4D movie Magic”,  “King Kong 360 3D” and as the creator of Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey within Hogwarts castle in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. 

Dale Mason

DALE MASON, Vice President & Executive Art Director, Universal Creative

Dale has been with Universal Creative for over 25 years as a key member of the design team that has created some of the industry’s most immersive, compelling and award winning entertainment experiences. Career highlights include blue sky and Project Creative Director for Islands of Adventure, blue sky development for Transformers the Ride, King Kong 360-3D, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter “Hogsmeade,” and many of the early concepts for Universal’s International theme parks.  Most recently Dale was responsible for the blue sky, design development and ultimately Creative Project Director for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley.  

Chris Oliver

Chris Oliver – Senior Director, Engineering and Safety, Universal Creative

Chris has over 20 years experience as a key member of engineering teams that have created some of the most technically advanced attractions ever developed.  Chris started his career with Disney as part of the team that produced WDW Splash Mountain, Tower of Terror, and Space Mountain for Disneyland Paris. During his tenure with Universal Creative, Chris has been a major contributor to the success of Universal’s most sophisticated ride systems including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Escape from Gringotts and Transformers. Chris is currently responsible for Ride and Show Control Systems for all of Universal’s new attractions worldwide. 

Katy Pacitti

Katy Pacitti - Producer, Universal Creative

Katy Pacitti joined Universal Creative ten years ago with an extensive background in the theme park, entertainment and technology industries. She has been a key contributor in many blue-sky projects including both Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter™, Transformers The Ride-3D, King Kong 360 3-D and numerous international projects for Universal Studios Japan and Singapore. Most recently she was Producer of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™- Diagon Alley™ and instrumental in the successful execution of London, Diagon Alley and both train stations. In addition to Katy’s many skills she is considered the resident “expert” of the JK Rowling fiction for Universal Creative. 

Mark Rhodes

Mark Rhodes – Director Creative, Executive Media Producer

Mark’s introduction to the themed entertainment industry began in 1992 when he worked with the visionary Doug Trumbull on the Luxor Las Vegas project, which ultimately led him to Universal Parks & Resorts. In Mark’s current role as Executive Media Producer for Universal Creative, he has played a key role in the development of many, if not most of Universal’s award-winning attraction films including The Adventures of Spider-Man, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Transformers the Ride, King Kong 360-3D and The Simpsons.


Justin Schwartz

Justin Schwartz – Senior Manager, Ride & Show Engineering group, Universal Creative 

Justin joined Universal Creative after graduating with a BS in Mechanical Engineer from Bucknell University. He quickly advanced through the organization due to his innovative approach and technology expertise. His experience includes development of numerous international and domestic attractions. Most recently he served as lead engineer on the Hogwarts Express attraction and played a major role in the development of the Interactive Wand Experience in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. In addition to his many achievements, Justin is a key member of the technology innovation team responsible for developing next generation entertainment experiences for Universal Parks & Resorts.


Posted by Judy Rubin

The Harry Potter book series and film franchise, worth well over $21 billion, continues to attract avid fans--even as many as nineteen years after author J.K. Rowling penned the first novel.  

On Tuesday, Universal Studios Hollywood announced that opening day tickets (Thursday, April 17) for the 'Wizarding World of Harry Potter' theme park in California had sold out. For the first time ever, the company had to halt online transactions. Premium ticket options, such as the "VIP Experience" and "Front Line" deal, also sold out for Thursday, as well as for Friday and Saturday.

"The incredible consumer demand speaks largely to the arrival of 'The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,' and the dramatic 75 percent transformation of Universal Studios Hollywood into an entirely new destination," said Larry Kurzweil, the president of Universal Studios Hollywood. 

It's worth noting that tickets sold out even as Universal Studios had introduced considerable ($20) price hikes last month (from $95 to as much as $115 for a standard ticket). It has also rolled out "surge pricing," à la Uber, which makes it more expensive to visit the park on peak days. 

The takeaway: If you build a strong, recognizable brand, and continue to launch new products periodically, you may never have to spend a dime on marketing again. 

It helps that J.K. Rowling herself is a master marketer who understands the difference between tasteful self-promotion and blatant advertising.

"The cool thing about J.K. Rowling is that she isn't advertising. She's not hitting people over the head with things they don't want to know," said Libby Turner, a director with the digital marketing agency Room 214, who has analyzed how Rowling conducts her social media accounts.

Rowling, who joined Twitter in 2009, has posted over 3,000 tweets and has amassed nearly 7 million followers--and counting. She tweets frequently about Harry Potter, in addition to news about her upcoming projects, like the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

"This is really a case study for how you can build a world, build a story, build a place where people really want to spend time and engage with you," Turner said.

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