This is the first of three retrospective blogs exploring how honoring passion early in youth creates a rich, satisfying life.
I encourage young adults to read and share these blogs.
I’ve often been asked “How did you get into the entertainment design business?”
I came from a non-entertainment family. Zero connections. My dad was a probate attorney and my mom, an elementary school teacher. What I’ve come to realize across the past several decades is I’ve been progressively getting into the business throughout a lifetime. It didn’t happen one day or even across several months. And it didn’t happen at a flashy Hollywood party. The journey began in a place of passion as a young boy.
Passion grew as an exploring sprout – with green leaves of curiosity, joy, pretending, and focused interest in the dimensional world. I can say with sincerity I imagined being a designer from the very first days, then came to understand when one imagines… interesting situations materialize.
My best guess of when the career began was somewhere around five years old, as one of my dad’s new fence posts was sawed upon by yours truly. After hearing excerpts of his famously unrepeatable language, I was on the way. We all learn by doing, so from that initial dad-mimicking experience, I continued for years in my bedroom, the garage, at the kitchen counter, and strewn across the front porch – combining objects and motorized elements to make a miniature model roller coaster, a scaled down Time Tunnel (after the 1966 TV show), and a working mini ski lift with aluminum soft drink pull tabs as the gondolas.
From this point, and again stoking my father’s frustration, the journey continued into my early teens with grander back yard creations; a scaled electric monorail winding around a six-foot hand-sculpted papier mâché Matterhorn mountain. The monorail was custom made of a Lego motor chassis with cardboard and colored vinyl materializing the body. The track rail was carefully constructed of sawn and shaped wood. See the prior connection?
For several Halloweens in the early 1970s, neighbors visited our home to experience life-sized scenic reproductions of Disneyland’s brand new Haunted Mansion – complete with a floating candelabra, transparent dancing ghosts, and a pipe organ built of corrugated cardboard with rolled paper tubes for sound pipes. There was animated lightning, rain, and even a life-sized casket with two skeletal arms struggling to lift the lid as dead flowers teetered in a vase. Today’s teen fascination with Goth is nothing new – merely a reinvention of things many young people explore.
Greeting guests with his crudely animated face and body movements was mechanical, talking Alfred – made from sculpted clay, poured latex, actuators on a wood/acrylic structure, and dressed in faux Victorian finery. (See the three images above) It was all highly educational as I financed everything with paper route and neighbor yard work funds, additionally learning how to get the most from a budget. And there enters the business element.
Ignoring one’s passion is a labor of lug
Throughout these formative years I was unknowingly following an unknown inner guide – the siren song of passion. It’s just the way things happened, and it still happens today to all the “weird” kids. You know the ones — the game changers like Jeff Bezos, J.K. Rowling, Elon Musk, Madonna, and Steven Hawking.
What I can adamantly say today on looking back is children must be allowed to explore and feel their passion at a very early age. To new parents reading this: observe what your kids have a propensity for and support it. Nurturing their young passion will be the greatest gift you ever give them. Don’t short-circuit kids with over-manufactured toys and ‘no assembly required’ gifts. Let them discover the joy of imagining, inventing, and making things from scratch. Allow them the freedom to imagine what will be, as they build their lives… and all of our futures.