Being the design lead on VOLKANU – Quest for the Golden Idol was a dream come true for me! And why not? I had the wonderful opportunity to collaborate with our client and our Sally Dark Rides team in the story development, and then follow through with all concerned in the design, art direction and realization of the attraction.  And the word team cannot be underestimated in the assessment of this project. Everyone – the management of Lost Island Themepark, our many subcontractors and the entire Sally crew -- gave it their all to create an entertaining, exciting and original dark ride attraction.

But it was a long time coming.  Sally presented the first version of a volcano-related concept about twelve years ago.  Forbidden Island was a far simpler version than the ride now presented at Lost Island Themepark.  Over the years the story, ride layout, scenes, show elements and more all morphed many times. It was eventually renamed VOLCANIKUS, and that is the basic version which the client fell in love with.  

Volcanikus original concept art, circa 2015

Happily, our client had developed their own mythos and characters which enhanced what we already had, so we joined creative forces, changed the title to VOLKANU and forged the ride into an even more interesting and captivating experience.

Original artwork by Drew Edward Hunter

In addition to working with such creative colleagues, part of my enjoyment as designer of VOLKANU was the realization of how my past has inspired me and prepared me for this challenge. And it all has to do with volcanos. For example:

The first movie I ever saw was Walt Disney’s 1940 masterpiece of music and animation, Fantasia. I will never forget my amazement as I watched the earth forming with erupting volcanos, bubbling lava and blasts of fire in the Rite of Spring Segment. I even asked my mother to buy me the music. So she went to a local record store and bought the LP for me which I listened to countless times as I drew pictures of my own volcanos erupting.

Fantasia ignited my love of classical music.  There was another classical LP I had as a kid which made me think of Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius. I drew about ten pencil illustrations of what I imagined happening when I heard the music.  When my friends and guests of my parents would visit, I’d put the record on the player and, sheet by sheet, reveal the imagery while the music played and I told the story.

My dad was a superb storyteller. As a child one of the stories I demanded he tell me before I went to bed was about the Mexican farmer who had a cinder cone form in his cornfield. While he told the tale, he drew little cartoons – a spontaneous storyboard, if you will -- illustrating the story of the growth of Paricutin.  This was definitely a building block to motivate me to do what I do today.

In the summer of 1958 my parents and I traveled from Louisiana to Los Angeles to visit my dad’s parents. While there I experienced two attractions which would cement my desire to not only grow up to design dark rides, but to someday help create one with a volcano theme.  

In the late ‘50s Knott’s Berry Farm wasn’t the giant amusement park it is now. It was a quaint old west town with a train ride, a stagecoach ride, a great restaurant and lots of old buildings & shops. And -- a volcano! Yes, tucked amongst stores and walkways was a perhaps 15’ high cinder cone. Every so often a deep rumbling came from deep in the volcano. At night the smoking crater would glow red.  But what was truly cool was that to the side there was a large glass case which contained a small, carved wooden articulated red devil. The little demon turned a crank. The crank would release a hammer which would hit a large section of stretched screen wire. A hidden microphone picked up the sound of the hammer hitting the screen and amplified the booming via a speaker beneath the volcano.  As a youngster I found this thoroughly fascinating. And looking back now – perhaps -- the little red devil was an early inspiration for the character of Volkanu…?

That California vacation proved to be very important regarding my love of dark rides. My parents took me to Disneyland – only three years after it had opened – and I got to experience the three original Disney dark rides. But the attraction I really talked about to my friends when I returned home to Louisiana was at a brand new park on a pier which had just opened in Santa Monica that summer of ’58 – Pacific Ocean Park. It was the reimagined and newly themed old Ocean Park Pier and, to my 8 year old eyes, it was as magical as Disneyland.  There were several fun dark rides, but the best – and still remembered fondly by POP aficionados today – was Mystery Island. It couldn’t be missed as you viewed the park from a distance. The entire end of the pier had been transformed into a living jungle and a tall volcano. Guests boarded a banana train and rode up the side of the volcano and into its depths. Inside were bubbling pools of lava, an earthquake vertigo tunnel, a tropical rainstorm, all culminating with an exterior trip through the volcano’s crater.  I thought it was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen. And even at that young age I knew that – someday – somehow – I wanted to create my own ride-through volcanic adventure.

My impression of Pacific Ocean Park – including the Mystery Island volcano at the end of the pier -- which I drew when I was 8 years old after returning home from our family vacation in 1958.

So all of that brings us back to VOLKANU – Quest for the Golden Idol. I  am so honored to have worked with so many incredibly talented people on its development, production and installation. I hope that many generations of guests who will visit Lost Island Themepark over the next few decades will enjoy the adventure we have wrought. My dream of such a ride finally erupted into reality and has come true at last!