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LEWISBURG, Pa. - Sometimes, when Justin Schwartz is looking for inspiration, he stands at the exit of a roller coaster ride he helped design and counts the smiles.
Other times, such as when his team of engineers at Universal Studios Creative in Orlando set out to create the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Class of 2004 alumnus has narrowed his focus, ensuring he is true to an idea.
"With the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we had one major customer: J.K. Rowling," said Schwartz, referring to the author of the wildly popular Harry Potter books. "We had to ask ourselves, are we building something that is at the same level as her vision?"
Creative minds seek and find their drive in different ways, but it all comes down to fostering a culture of freedom where no idea is too grand or narrow and failure is considered a path to genius, a panel of Bucknell alumni agreed Monday night. The alumni, who are involved in such well-known products as "World of Warcraft," Nike, CBS's "Mike and Molly" and the Harry Potter roller coaster, shared their ideas in a discussion, "Designing Success: Creativity in the Virtual, Mechanical and Real Worlds," as part of the ongoing Bucknell Forum speaker series, "Creativity: Beyond the Box."
The panelists included Schwartz, a roller coaster engineer with Universal; Matthew Hawley, a 2003 alumnus and senior game producer with Blizzard Entertainment; actor Nyambi Nyambi, a 2001 alumnus who plays Samuel on "Mike and Molly"; and Martine Worrall Stillman, a 2004 alumna and mechanical program lead who works with Nike at Synapse Product Development.
Constraints, failure and audience
Pete Mackey, vice president for communications and community relations and chair of the Bucknell Forum Task Force, moderated the discussion, asking the group to talk about how constraints, failure and audience fit into their creative processes.
Schwartz, who graduated from Bucknell with a degree in mechanical engineering, was the lead engineer for the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit rollercoaster and has worked on The Simpsons: The Ride and the redesign of Universal Singapore's Battlestar Galactica rollercoaster. Some of the new technologies he has helped to develop have led to a multitude of patents.
Although constraints always come into play, Schwartz noted it is important to keep those limitations at bay, especially at a project's inception. A creative environment is one that "fosters speaking out and no ill will," he said.
"At Universal, we don't just build rides, we build experiences," he said. "We never start with constraints ... Teams work best when everyone is working toward a goal. When you do creative brainstorming, everyone is involved."
It's no different in the virtual world, said Hawley, who has a computer science and engineering degree from Bucknell and worked as a project manager for General Electric before deciding to pursue a lifelong passion for gaming. He now is a senior game producer at Blizzard, which is known for its triple-A game franchises: World of Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo.
As a manager of creative people, it is important to "involve, not impose," Hawley said.
"People are substantially more supportive of a project if they are involved rather than pushed down and told this is how it's supposed to be," he said. "Each person brings a different perspective to the table, and I need to respect that."
'Safe to fail'
Stillman agreed, noting that at her company, it is considered "very safe to fail."
"The trick in careers where you are using creativity is to be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start again," she said.
Nyambi, the actor, encouraged the audience to "give yourself over to the idea of not caring about failing." He recalled working with Al Pacino on a Shakespeare play and realizing Pacino was improvising, which at first was intimidating.
"I was watching Al Pacino work and realized he was investigating. He was playing," Nyambi said. "You have to let your mind play."
At the same time, it is important to recognize the talents and contributions of others.
"If you celebrate the other people around you and what they do and their successes, you can't help but be successful yourself," he said.
Go with your gut
Each of the panelists encouraged the students in the audience to explore their passions.
Nyambi noted that he switched majors three times at Bucknell before settling on management. He also played basketball before stumbling upon his drive for acting during his senior year, when he embodied the role of Martin Luther King Jr. during a speech at a public event.
"Something happened when I was reciting that speech. I felt this light," Nyambi said. "Then, one of my professors approached me after and said, 'Nyambi, you're an actor.' That was the first time somebody put a name to what I'd loved to do since I was 5."
The Bucknell Forum
The "Creativity: Beyond the Box" Bucknell Forum series began in fall 2009 and continues through spring 2012. Acclaimed recording artist, performer and philanthropist John Legend, who has won nine Grammy awards, will speak and perform Tuesday, Jan. 24.
Contact: Division of Communications