On Friday, March 20, 2015 the Orlando Repertory Theater hosted the sixth annual Entertainment Designer Forum. The event consisted of two panels featuring prominent members of the theme-park and entertainment design industry. Admission was $25 for one session and $45 for both. Either ticket option provided access to the event’s silent auction, which included a wide array of items from Universal, Disney and SeaWorld/Busch Gardens. The one-of-a-kind pieces up for bid ranged from autographed artwork to collectibles and even props straight from the parks and special events like Halloween Horror Nights.

The Forum was originally started by designers Kim Gromoll and Stephanie Girard in 2010 to raise funds for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. At the time, Girard was suffering from colon cancer. She sadly passed away at the end of that year, but Gromoll promised her that he would continue holding the event for years to come. Today, five years later, Kim Gromoll keeps the Forum and Stephanie’s memory alive with the help of several volunteers, including the panelists themselves. Actually, as Gromoll put it, the panelists have to pay to participate instead of being paid to appear. All proceeds from the Forum continue to benefit the American Cancer Society, in honor of Stephanie Girard. This year they raised over $12,000 for the charity.

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(Image courtesy of the Entertainment Designer Forum Facebook page.)

Doors opened at 6 p.m. and attendees were encouraged to browse through the silent auction items at this time. The first session began at 6:30 p.m. and the second took place at 9:00 p.m. Banks Lee from Orlando Attractions Magazine – The Show moderated both panels. Each one consisted of discussions with the panelists, as they shared their past and current projects. There was also plenty of time allotted for questions from the audience.

The panelists for the 6:30 p.m. session included:

David Hughes – Designer at Universal Creative (Halloween Horror Nights, Diagon Alley and many other attractions).
Kim Gromoll – Art Director at Walt Disney World.
Melody Matheny – Freelance Designer and owner of SLICE Creative Network.
Bobby Bascombe – Lighting Designer/Director.
Greg Senner – Technical Manager at Universal Creative.
Katy Thomas – Senior Mechanical Engineer at Walt Disney World.

(Mike Aiello, Director of Entertainment and Creative Development at Universal Orlando, was originally scheduled to appear during this session. Sadly for us attendees, he had to drop out in order to attend the THEA Awards, which were honoring Diagon Alley. Everyone was a bit bummed, but at the same time very excited for Mike and the team. Congrats on the awards!)

The panelists for the 9 p.m. session included:

Jon Binkowski – CEO/Creative Director at Renaissance Entertainment.
Ray Keim – Freelance Designer.
Chris Ort – Senior Technical Director at Disney.
Jeff Hornick – Director of Design & Engineering for SeaWorld & Busch Gardens.
Josh Siniscalco – Actor at Universal Studios.
Melissa Braillard – Director of Marketing at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater.

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(Image courtesy of the Entertainment Designer Forum Facebook page.)

During intermission, bidding continued for the silent auction up until the start of the second panel. The intermission period also provided a great opportunity for fans to mingle with the panelists and other people in the industry. We got to meet and chat with several of them, including Nick Collins and Nate Mitchell, designers from Universal Creative who had donated signed Halloween Horror Nights illustrations for the silent auction. The atmosphere during the entire event was very warm and relaxed. Everyone was extremely friendly and excited to be there.

The Entertainment Designer Forum is a lot of fun and proceeds go to a worthy cause. Everyone participating is very passionate about the field, while also being incredibly approachable and welcoming. Whether you’re a casual fan, or you’re seriously considering a career in design, there’s something for everyone at this event. During the panels it was even mentioned how careers had started from the connections made at past Forums. We cannot wait for the next one and definitely recommend everyone to check it out! We will make sure to post the details for the 2016 event as soon as they become available.

Here are our pictures of the 2015 Entertainment Designer Forum: