Eddie Sotto is a thinker, a visionary and a Disney Imagineer. As one of the world’s most respected creative consultants and theme park attraction designers, Eddie is CEO of Sotto Studios in Los Angeles. Eddie Sotto dishes on theme park design wisdom.

NN: On your company web site for Sotto Studios, you use the phrase “Fear Minus Death Equals Fun.” Explain this phrase?

Eddie Sotto: Fear minus death equals fun is a formula for experiential design in roller coasters and thrill rides. The idea is that people don’t just want to survive, they want to thrive!

Let’s take the Matterhorn Bobsled ride at Disneyland as an example. When you start out on a roller coaster going up the first hill, you may think to yourself that you’re not going to make it. You tell yourself, “Gee did I make the right decision? I’m going up this first hill and it’s going to be terrifying.” Even though you see people get off the ride safely, you subconsciously have that anxiety that we create in someone. In the end it’s very pleasurable because you survived. People reward themselves this way. Fear minus death equals fun is the rewarding experience you get when you feel like you’re pushing your own limits.

When we were doing the music for Disneyland’s Space Mountain ride, we used the Dick Dale soundtrack in order to build fear and anticipation on the first lift hill. (see example of this) It was about creating an ominous “Uh-oh, what-did-get myself into” sense. That anticipation creates anxiety which enhances the rush you get when you are actually on the ride. If there was no anticipation, I don’t think it would be nearly as exciting. We intentionally build anxiety as you go up the hill, and then we release that anxiety and emotion as you go down the hill.

[…]