In the Summer of 2017, I visited Walt Disney World and experienced Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom. The Windtraders shop at the exit of the star attraction, Flight of Passage, contains a wide variety of merchandise. Curiously, an obvious item wasn't made: Disney Racers cars of a Banshee (the dragon-like star of Flight of Passage) and a Leonopteryx (the "villain"). I love Disney Racers, so I thought I'd make my own.
Make no mistake, the Banshees are the stars of Pandora.
My Banshee Disney Racer car is made out of thin foam sheets. The wheels are cut out of plastic sheets. And he's painted using Sharpie Paint Markers.
Maybe it is OK that there were no Pandora Disney Racers for me to buy. These were fun to make!
The Banshees are brave, but they are no match for their orange nemesis.
This guy is called Toruk, the Last Shadow. As in the last shadow you see. Before you die. Aaaa!
On a side note, Windtraders in Pandora sells a latex version of Toruk that reminds me of a rubber chicken. It is hilarious.
If you go to Pandora at Walt Disney World, and you can't remember the names of the Banshees or Toruk, you can call them dragons. Most everyone I heard does.
I came up with a second set of ACE Pandora Disney Racers, inspired by the Navi River Journey attraction.
With these Pandora Ace Disney Racers, I felt like I was channeling the carved wooden folk art you can find at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.
The Hexapede is a gazelle-like creature that appears in Flight of Passage and the Navi River Journey.
This creature displays moth-like appendages when threatened.
The Hexapede has been embraced by Disney for its cuteness.
The Hexapede has to be fast to outrun predators.
The panther-like Thanator is the apex land predator of Pandora.
Curiously, the Thanator does not have a role in Flight of Passage or the Navi River Journey.
I wanted the Thanator car to have a greaser/rockabilly flair.
In the Avatar movie, the Thanator put aside its predatory behavior to help the Navi.
The Navi Racer was the last one I designed, and the most fun.
The Navi Racer design was fun because it was really, really simple.
The animatronic Navi seen on the Navi River Journey attraction is eerily realistic. As far as blue alien kitties go.
The Navi Racer was heavily inspired by the Cheetah Hunt roller coaster car at Busch Gardens Tampa.
Wave 3 of the ACE Disney Racers are some big Pandora creatures.
The Hammerhead Titanothere is a dangerous, rhino-like beast. The Direhorse is a friend to the Navi.
The Direhorse reminds me of a cross between a Trojan Horse and a Zebra.
Pandora at Walt Disney World really needs a Direhorse Carousel.
In Pandora, the Direhorse is featured in both Flight of Passage and the Navi River Journey.
The Hammerhead was the last Racer I worked on.
In the movie, this creature acts like a bulldozer.
The Hammerhead Racer is kind of like a Punk Garbage Truck.
Making the Pandora ACE Disney Racers, I learned that working with Sharpie Paint Markers is fun, but messy.
As I write this, Disney Pixar's Coco hasn't been released in the United States, but it is a huge hit in Mexico. I plan on seeing the movie on Thanksgiving. Today I stopped by a Toys R Us and noticed a selection of Coco merchandise. Of particular interest to me was the blind bag Mattel "Skullectables" toys, which were actually on sale if you got more than one. While I haven't seen the film, I did spoil it by reading about the story in depth. So, based on that, I had an idea of which characters I wanted to get.
Like the blind bag LEGO mini figure toys, the Coco Skullectables are snap-together pieces. This can make finding what you want rather complicated. The easiest one to find was Pepita, the flying leopard creature (you can feel the wing piece easily, and the creature has a large body). I had to have Dante the dog, plus both versions of Miguel, and Hector the skeleton. There are two versions of Ernesto (human and skeleton) and I lucked out getting the one I wanted.
This movie is of special interest to me, because I have been drawing my own comic called Formula Juan Racer, inspired by my friend, Juan. Since Juan spent most of his life in Mexico, I was excited to ask him about Dia de los Muertos. I had been hearing about the customs of the holiday, and wanted to get his take on it. As it turns out, his family never really did much for it. Funnily enough, his kid dressed up like a skeleton for Halloween this year.
Will Coco merchandise be popular in the United States? My guess is that this will be a situation similar to Up, where the dog character is the most heavily monetized.
The mission seemed impossible. Sort of like finding a needle in a haystack. How do you find a single blind bag LEGO mini figure, when: 1) Said figure is in tiny pieces that must be assembled 2) There are 20 different figures in the set ? If you only are looking for one of the figures, you've got to feel the blind bag for a costume piece or accessory. Luckily for me, Jay from the LEGO Ninjago Movie has a scarf and a Selfie Stick. I had previously hunted for Jay at a Wal-Mart with no luck. I found success at a Toys R Us. Toys R Us had possibly hundreds of bags, and fortunately I was able to find Jay early on.
I have yet to see the LEGO Ninjago Movie (I enjoyed the first LEGO Movie and the LEGO Batman Movie). I had never even heard of LEGO Ninjago before the movie was being launched. I had to get Jay because I am a big fan of comedian Kumail Nanjiani. I first discovered him when friends introduced me to the TV series Portlandia (a sketch with Kumail selling a cell phone plan had us in stitches). I later discovered Kumail's stand up and his shows like Silicon Valley and The Indoor Kids, and movies like The Big Sick.
Kumail Nanjiani in an Old Navy Commercial
As I have learned from his stand up, Kumail is a big fan of theme parks. Ironically, LEGO Jay's Selfie Stick would not be welcome at some amusement parks. Hopefully they are allowed at LEGOLAND.
Have you tried the new McDonald's SeaBiscuit? Made with Fish, Eggs and Bacon, it's the Catch of the Day! There's nothing quite like a fish breakfast sandwich.
Of course, this isn't real. But maybe it should be.
Thanks to Social Media, it's easier than ever to to unleash ideas to the world. Or at least to social media.
My experience with Facebook has often been "not great." However, it is a fun way to show people silly ideas that pop into my head.
On Columbus Day, I noticed that nobody really wishes anyone a Happy Columbus Day.
You never see Columbus Day Greeting Cards. I decided to change that.
When Hurricane Irma recently roared towards Florida, it was pretty scary.
I wondered how to capture the essence of a Hurricane as a cartoon. Then I found the answer watching the weather forecast. I had never paid attention to the symbol of a hurricane symbol before. I can see the eye!
As Hurricane Irma ripped through Florida and Alabama, TV stations had a field day with weather coverage.
The buzzwords made me think of Hurricane Baby Names.
Then there was an item I heard about "Soil and Water Conservation." Sounds kinda boring, right? Well, I thought about mascots for such an organization.
Then I thought of their slogan.
You don't see many plant cartoon characters. I came up with two.
These two mellow characters live in Colorado.
I recently came up with a character named Formula Juan Racer, based on a friend.
I have many more ideas for Formula Juan Racer and he is already a mascot for my blog.
For Halloween, I had to do something with Candy Corn.
It is rare for a theme park to get a new name, but it does happen. Case in point: Walt Disney World's Disney MGM Studios became Disney's Hollywood Studios.
My pitch to SeaWorld: change the name of SeaWorld to Busch Bay. I think it could solve a bunch of problems.
SeaWorld has been struggling with its image. Rumors about the future of the parks have been swirling online for years.
SeaWorld getting sold or closing down is the biggest rumor on the internet lately. While nobody should believe everything they read online, one SeaWorld park has closed in the past: SeaWorld of Ohio (1970-2000).
SeaWorld Ohio was not allowed to build rides. So it was sold off as expansion to Six Flags Ohio. Ironically, Six Flags Ohio was sold off to Cedar Fair, and the former SeaWorld site became a water park.
The addition of roller coasters to SeaWorld parks started in 1997 with The Great White inverted coaster in San Antonio.
Anheuser-Busch bought the SeaWorld parks in 1989. So SeaWorld slowly started to resemble its sister Busch Gardens parks.
SeaWorld Orlando got Kraken in 2000, giving the Orlando market a new place for big thrills. Some of the marketing and merchandising for SeaWorld's Kraken was very similar to Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Loch Ness Monster roller coaster (opened in 1978).
Kraken and the Loch Ness Monster promotional mascots: Fraternal Twins! (Recently Kraken was switched to a more traditional "release the Kraken" squid as part of the new "Kraken Unleashed" VR overlay). Eventually, the SeaWorld/Busch Gardens chain was sold off by the owners of Anheuser-Busch. This brought the new SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment chain that includes Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, Sesame Place, and several water parks. The Busch name is licensed to SeaWorld Parks.
Once Upon a Time, Shamu and his crew appeared in McDonald's Happy Meals.
These days, the cartoon Shamu is not quite as visible.
The old Shamu has a bit of an image problem today. So does this old Ronald McDonald. SeaWorld Parks have a secret weapon. And that weapon is Sesame Place.
Opened in Langhorne, Pennsylvania in 1980, Sesame Place is a small Sesame Street theme park. Sesame Place is very successful for SeaWorld. A new park is planned to open somewhere else in the United States.
Sesame Street lands exist in both Busch Gardens parks and at SeaWorld parks in California and Texas. Florida is next (could it be a mini Sesame Place?). Additions like hypercoaster Mako (added to SeaWorld Florida in 2016) further added to the idea that the park was becoming more like Busch Gardens.
The next new ride for SeaWorld Orlando is Infinity Falls, a raft ride with a vertical lift that opens in 2018.
I thought of a new marketing slogan for Busch Bay: Come Sail Away at Busch Bay. They'd have to use the Styx song "Come Sail Away" in the commercials.
I eat lunch at Subway every weekday. This week, I tried the (limited time) Autumn Carved Turkey sandwich. I really like it! It inspired me to create a new character. It inspired two, actually. I was thinking of "Rival Mascot" characters that are used for promotions, like Count Chocula, Frankenberry and Boo Berry cereals from General Mills. I want Subway to have characters, too. The first is Jive Turkey Dance Club. He is heavily influenced by Robert Crumb's Keep on Truckin'. Just imagine the Bee Gees song Jive Talkin' playing in Jive Turkey's commercial.
When I order the Autumn Carved Turkey at my Subway, I now ask for the Jive Turkey.
My regular sandwich at Subway is the Rotisserie-Style Chicken.
So of course, the rival sandwich of the Jive Turkey Dance Club is the Funky Fresh Chicken Dance Club.
Funky Fresh Chicken Dance Club is clearly inspired by Saturday Night Fever.
Run Forrest Ham is based on Subway's Black Forest Ham Sub and the 1994 Tom Hanks movie, Forrest Gump.
Attention, Jive Turkey! You just got served! On fresh-baked six inch Italian bread, with chips and a drink.
Sometimes ideas just write themselves. Such is the case with Formula Juan Racer.
I have a friend named Juan. English is his second language, and he is one of the funniest people I know. He grew up in Mexico and I feel like we bonded through my attempts to speak Spanish with my limited High School Spanish class knowledge from long ago.
Oh, and he knows how to dance like Johnny Bravo (the Cartoon Network character). Seriously, he did that with no prompting from me. So I know that Johnny Bravo is well known in Mexico.
For his birthday, I got him a joke car trophy engraved with "Formula Juan" (I thought it was clever). Shortly after that, I became "Social Media Friends" with Juan. He saw some of the photos I'd posted of puppets and sculptures I've made.
One day, he approached me and asked, "Are you a witch doctor? I saw the VooDoo doll you made."
This was one of the funniest things I've ever heard. And a giant leap of logic. I've never made a VooDoo doll. Not on purpose, anyway. Those were just puppets I'd made.
Juan said "I'd better be careful, or I might see myself."
So, of course, right away, I made a "VooDoo doll" of him out of paper, and sent him a picture on his social media.
I started thinking---"Formula Juan Racer" is a really good idea for a cartoon.
The "VooDoo doll" that I had made out of paper was a good starting point, but the Juan Racer design got a significant upgrade. Originally, his outfit was going to be green, but he looked too much like Fidel Castro with a green hat.
The car was the tricky thing. What should it look like? I knew it would be red, but it couldn't look like Lightning McQueen from Pixar's Cars. I wanted it to look special, and not necessarily exactly like a Formula 1 car.
In the end, inspiration for "El Coche" the car came from several different places: Disney's Alice in Wonderland (the Playing Cards and the Cheshire Cat), plus the animated titles for the 1989 film Loverboy, plus Mexican Wrestling, and by a happy total coincidence, the Mexican Flag.
In October 2017, I drew my very first Formula Juan Racer comic.
While Formula Juan Racer is a car driver, he is also a Jack of All Trades.
I recently came up with a concept for a restaurant called Bayou Burger. I actually pitched it (in passing, not at a formal meeting) to one of the owners of a restaurant called Baha Burger. The owner of Baha Burger liked my idea of a swamp themed establishment that sells alligator tail and frog legs, but he ultimately passed on my idea. He did come up with an idea for "Friday Frog Legs" for Bayou Burger.
So Bayou Burger lives in the world of Formula Juan Racer. As a total coincidence, I came up with a sewer joke a few days before the actual Juan was talking to me about the movie It.
If you ever go to a restaurant and order a cold cut sandwich, be sure to ask, "Just how cold are the cold cuts?"
The goofy guy with the stocking cap is loosely inspired by a Disney duck character named "Copete". I first discovered Copete in a "Pato Donald" (Donald Duck) comic book on a childhood trip to Mexico.
Formula Juan's best friend is El Coche, the car.
I feel like it is very easy to come up things for a cartoon character to say or do when it is based on a person that you know.
Formula Juan and El Coche are also different aspects of myself. I feel like they are my own version of art therapy.
El Coche the car takes a lot of inspiration from Benny the Cab in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Something that fascinates me about my interactions with the real Juan is that some aspects of our conversations may get lost in translation, but more often they don't.
A conversation we had about me accidentally eating a chapped lip flake translated well. But a conversation about "Chicken of the Sea" brand Tuna did not. That was a Jessica Simpson moment, but Juan had a good excuse, because he'd never heard of the product, and the name of the item doesn't make much sense in English.
Formula Juan and El Coche have some character flaws.
The world of racing is full of pressure and scandal.
Pulling a prank on someone who uses a CPAP machine is very easy.
For years, I wondered what a CPAP machine was. And now I use one. I now sleep soundly and I have vivid dreams. Sometimes the dreams are so vivid, they are exhausting.
Go Greyhound, and leave the driving to us.
Formula Juan's crazy racing opponents take inspiration from Nintendo's Mario and old Hanna Barbera animated shows like Wacky Races.
Spitfire Dragster the dragon is Formula Juan's main opponent.
Luckily, Formula Juan can fight fire with a psychological burn.
For Juan's birthday, I wanted to get him a good "Feliz Cumpleanos" Birthday Card, but instead of searching for one, I decided it would be easier to make one. In the shape of a Fiesta hat!
Feliz Cumpleanos Formula Juan Racer Card
I feel like this is the first Formula Juan Racer merchandise.
For his birthday present, I got Juan a small keychain flask with his name engraved on one side and an image of Johnny Bravo dancing on the other side.
One day I hope to make Formula Juan Racer into a movie or a cartoon. Juan could even do the voice!