"I always knew from an early age that I wanted to be involved in the auto industry in some way," says Scot Drake, who spent his formative years in the pits at midget and sprint car races near his home town of Santa Clarita, CA. While his mother restricted his access to the cockpit of the cars, Drake was taken in by the race day speed and thrills, all of which influenced the drawings that filled his sketch pad: "I was always drawing cars."
Fresh faced and eager to turn his talent into a career, Drake enrolled in the transportation design program at Art Center in Pasadena, penning race cars and bicycles: "I had always seen concept cars at auto shows, but I did not know there was an actual career that supported this whole industry and it opened my eyes to where I wanted to be." Even though he had gasoline in his veins, Drake spent a fair amount of time enjoying the thrill rides at Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park, which was just a stone's throw from his backyard. When he came to realization that Art Center offered a program in Entertainment Design, he quickly realized it was the thrill not the power that drew him into design.
Meeting the Mouse
Shortly after switching from transportation to entertainment curricula, Drake was offered an internship at Disney, where he spent nine months designing Star Cruiser vehicles for the "Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster" ride and life-sized joysticks for a Mighty Ducks attraction: "Once I got the exposure to how everything worked, I got hooked on entertainment design," he says. Once his internship wrapped up, Drake moved over to Universal Studios before rejoining Disney as a consultant. He then transferred to his current role as a Principle Concept Designer in the BlueSky department in Imagineering. "A lot of what I do is exploration and inspiration through designing new environments and storytelling methods through visualization by leading a team through the visualization process. A huge amount of what I do doesn't get built, but it does lend itself towards the bigger picture," Drake explains.
Designing the future for an iconic family travel destination like Disney parks requires a lot of out-of-the-box thinking. Drake says he gets influence from robotics, space travel and movies. He's especially influenced by visual futurist Syd Mead, who spent some time at Ford's advanced styling center from 1959-1961 before designing a number of vehicles for motion pictures, including Star Trek, Blade Runner, 2010, Aliens and Mission: Impossible III. "I was inspired by the optimistic look at the future and what design could add to it. He's the one who got me hooked on design."
Challenges and Rewards
Drake's most recent project was designing the Mark VII monorail for the Disneyland theme park (see sidebar), which took more than three years to complete. Like most of his design counterparts in other industries, Drake admits there were some challenges he had to overcome: "I had to work through some engineering issues on the project, but the challenge was to assure that we were not compromising design along the way." He explains, for example, that the engineers had to understand that there needs to be a consistency for the riders of the monorail as regards all aspects, so any engineering changes would have to be made taking that into account.
At the end of the day, Drake hopes his designs will convey a sense of "exploration" while telling a cohesive story for each attraction or function. "There's not going to be a common design thread through everything that I do, but I hope I will be able to find the right answer for the task at hand," he says.