Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NPN Exclusive: An Interview with R&R Creative's Rick Bastrup

MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park may have closed for good a decade ago, but that doesn't mean that we here at NPN can't continue our quest for more information, photos, and stories of this lost park.  While we've collected much thus far (and if you've missed that, start here) there's always more to the story to be told, right?

In that light I'm quite please to share this interview with you all.  Rick Bastrup is one of the the partners that make up R&R Creative Amusement Designs, Inc., along with Richard Ferrin.  The company has a 30 year long history of designing themed attractions, and has created so many that I'm willing to bet that most readers have experienced one without knowing it.

R&R Creative's tie to MGM Grand Adventures is strong.  The company created both the Backlot River Tour and Grand Canyon Rapids attractions, as well playing a major role in the final version of Deep Earth Exploration.  Mr. Bastrup was kind enough to answer some of my questions on the park, and share some rare photographs of the attractions.

NPN:  Can you tell me a little history of yourself and R&R Creative?

Rick:  We have been in business for over 30 years and have designed over 100 projects from dark rides to water parks to family entertainment centers.  Please look up our website at to see an extensive review of our major projects.   

Original concept art for the helicopter attack scene of the Backlot River Tour. © R&R Creative

NPN:  How did R&R Creative become involved with MGM Grand Adventures?

Rick:  We were hired by Duell Corporation who designed all the original Six Flags Parks and was the master designer firm for the park.

NPN:  Interesting, I had no idea that Duell Corp. was the master designer.  They've played quite a role in the Theme Park Industry.

Concept art for the park.
Rick:  Yes, we were fortunate to have been involved with the Duell Corporation for many years designing specialty theme attractions at several parks including projects in South Korea and China.    Even though the Duell Corporation closed shop a number of years ago, we still work on projects with one of Duell's legendary owners and designers, Mr. Ira West.  We are working on a theme park project in India with Ira now.

NPN:  As part of the MGM Grand resort’s overall Wizard of Oz theme, did R&R complete any other theming or story work for the hotel?

Rick:  We wrote all the scripts for the interior characters and worked with Sally Corp. to produce all the interior Casino characters such as the Wicked Witch.

A construction shot of the Temple of Gloom, from the Backlot River Tour. © R&R Creative

NPN:  For the projects R&R worked on, did your company propose the original themes for park attractions, or were they directed as part of the overall layout and theme of the park?

Rick:  They had a rough idea of the themes, a western river ride and a boat ride about the movies, we took it from there.

NPN:  Were there any alternative themes discussed for any of the rides?

Rick:  The boat ride was originally to be "Apocalypse Now."  We worked with Francis Ford Coppola for awhile on this but he did not come to an arrangement with the Hotel and so we made it a multiple movie theme with a helicopter battle at the end in a movie called "Jungle Storm" (made up)

The helicopter effect under construction at AVG. © R&R Creative

Here is the effect installed in the show scene. © R&R Creative
Finally, the helicopter under show settings. © R&R Creative

NPN:  Deep Earth Exploration was to some regard a ride ahead of its time.  How was R&R involved in the ride?

Rick:  It was originally designed and built by another company and MGM was unhappy with the results.  R & R came in and completely redesigned the queue line, boarding station and scenes including all the show lighting.

NPN:  I’ve read that a company named AVG designed the sets for the ride, was this before R&R became involved?

Rick:  Yes

Designers from R&R working on the sets of Deep Earth Exploration - notice how high the sets are in order to be on eye level with riders inside the simulator vehicles.  © R&R Creative

NPN:  Deep Earth Exploration is another lost ride that's hard to find a narrative of, can you tell us about it?

Loading station for Deep Earth Exploration. © R&R Creative
Rick:  Deep Earth was a moving simulator with a film inside of the ship going down into the earth. The simulator moved on a track then stopped in three scenes where the side windows opened and the scene matched what was seen on the screen.  There was the crystal cavern room, ice room and volcanic room.  The volcanic room had large tentacles of an underground creature that came up alongside the windows.

The attraction's "Ice Room." © R&R Creative
NPN:  What changes were R&R able to make to the attraction after you came on board?

Here we see the "Vocanic Scene." © R&R Creative
Rick:  The scenes were originally well lit like a stage show with many dozens of lights.  Unfortunately, when the windows opened on the darkened interior of the ship, the light was so intense it looked like a Close Encounters scene and blinded the riders.

I took the lighting down to about 10% of what it was and it worked with the attraction.  We also rebuilt all the scenes.

Finally, the "Crystal Cavern" scene with it's eerie glow. © R&R Creative

NPN: For the rides R&R created for the park, were the animatronic characters created in-house, or by another provider?

Rick's business partner Richard Ferrin and Garner Holt check out effects created for Grand Canyon Rapids.  © R&R Creative
Rick:  The "Grand Canyon Rapids" animation and effects were created by Garner Holt Productions (one of their big first jobs).  The "Backlot River Tour" animations were built by Sally Corporation with the exception of the helicopter battle which was built by AVG.  Everything from the concepts, scripts, sets, characters, audio and show were designed and art directed by R & R.

NPN:  The Backlot River Tour was a highly unique ride that explored the “magic” that goes into filming movies.  Any recollections of how R&R arrived at the separate movie sequences/themes used?

Rick:  We worked on making up movies which would have different types of settings and adventures.

NPN:  Do you recall what company provided the hardware (boats, ride system) for the attraction?

Backlot River boats. © R&R Creative
Rick:  It was Intamin from Switzerland.  Those boats were actually bought from Universal Studios in Florida where they were originally used in the Jaws Ride.  We had originally written the scripts and designed the music for the Jaws ride years before!

NPN:  I did not know that R&R was involved in the original version of the Jaws attraction!  That news is especially relevant with the recently announced retirement of Jaws.

Some of the special effects used in the River Tour were pretty elaborate, were there any challenges you recall in getting things up and running from a design standpoint?

Daytime helicopter attack! © R&R Creative
Rick:  The helicopter was one of the largest props ever used in a theme park.  It was built from a real UH1 Bell Huey helicopter, 43 feet long and it came up on a hydraulic ram which raised it 19 feet from the bottom of the pit.

NPN:  The helicopter was indeed an impressive effect.  The Temple of Gloom portion of the ride is pretty tough to document, many people have wondered: What took place in there?

Rick:  There was a volcanic eruption with exploding volcanic geysers and moving columns.

NPN:  Was the River Tour always designed to be a boat ride?  Were any alternative modes of transportation considered?

Rick:  Always a boat ride.

A peek inside the Temple of Gloom. © R&R Creative

NPN:  The design process of an attraction like this always interests our readers.  Is it difficult to take a ride like this from ‘blue sky’ to opening day?

Rick:  It is extremely complicated to design of all the sets, characters, effects, audio and lighting all having to work together.  We have maybe a hundred sheets of plans for each ride.

NPN:  I'd love to dig through those plans!  Moving on to R&R's other large ride at MGM Grand Adventures, Grand Canyon Rapids.  It had great theming, including a flooded town, canyons, lost cavern, and the blasting tunnel.  Can you walk readers through the ride’s themed sections?

Here we see Rick inspecting the 'blast' of a finale that the ride has.  © R&R Creative

Rick:  It has many times been called the greatest themed river ride of all times.  It began through a wilderness area with animated wolves and bears then went into a flooded Western town with effects and animated characters in the windows.

Entering the bank. © R&R Creative
The rafts then went into a bank where a bank robbery was in progress with the marshal shooting it out with 2 bandits (the marshal was a 7' character sculpted to look like me).  The rapids then flowed past a large waterbarrel with water pouring into the river which turned off as the raft approached.

The boats then floated through the 20 foot walls of the Grand Canyon and into a huge cave with waterfalls, colored lighting and stalagtites.

Rick or the Marshall? © R&R Creative
Coming out of the cave, a miner with a plunger box yelled at riders to turn back as the rapids entered a long mine.  Hearing "Fire in the Hole!" the riders saw large piles of dynamite which had burning fuses.  The dynamite blew up with a large explosion which blew the boat out the back of the mine and past the pumping machinery of the waterworks.   

NPN:  The simulated explosion that ended the attraction was a blast - literally.  How did R&R come up with that finale?

Rick:  A combination of audio, fiber optic fuses, strobe lights, fog blasts and a major league sound system were used to simulate the blast.

The final blasting scene ended the ride with a bang.  © R&R Creative

NPN:  Would you describe the theme of the ride as a cohesive story, or rather a collection of independent scenes?

The pumping station seen from the midway. © R&R Creative
Rick:  I wrote it as various scenes showing adventures in the Old West, not really a story.  The queue line wove through the waterworks and had 73 speakers playing movie music like "The Magnificent Seven" and "Big Jake," one of the best parts of the ride.  I am a Western buff so this ride was especially fun to create.

NPN:  As time passed the Backlot River Tour was lost, but Grand Canyon Rapids survived at the park.  Was R&R called back for any repair/updating work, or for any other reason?

Rick:  There was some talk of adding to the rides, but unfortunately it never came to pass.

NPN:  As we well know MGM Grand Adventures met an unfortunate fate, do you think the park could have survived long-term? 

Rick:  There was always a conflict with the owners about supporting the park once it was open.  Had they made it easier to get to, added attractions and promoted it, I think it would have been a great attraction for Las Vegas and still thriving today.

Rend a room at the Flash Flood Gulch Hotel! © R&R Creative
NPN:  To your knowledge was any of the theming/props/characters from either rides salvaged before their removal?

Rick:  I heard that my Marshal character was on ebay somewhere, but didn't find it.  I think the boats are still for sale somewhere and maybe we can design them into a third attraction!

NPN:  I'd love to see that happen!  Thanks so much for taking the time to fill us in on some of the finer details of the attractions at MGM Grand Adventures.  Fans of the park will love everything you've shared!

As Rick mentioned, you can see just some of the exhaustive list of rides and attractions, lands, and even parks that R&R Creative has designed at their website.  Another special thank you to Mr. Bastrup for sharing with NPN!

Please note that all images used in this story are copyright R&R Creative Amusement Designs, Inc. and may not be reproduced without their permission.


rihard2000 said...

What an awesome interview. The accompanying photo's a a treat too. As a former JAWS skipper, I recognized those boats immediately. Does anybody know if those boats from the original Amity Boat Tours version had motion movement like the current JAWS boats? If so was that motion utilized on river adventure?