ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — What do Walt Disney theme parks, New Mexico films, wine, national defense and Western art have in common?
Marshall Monroe may say it’s magic, but others would say it’s the man himself.
Either way, Monroe has shared his wide-ranging creative abilities on projects in each of these areas.
“Magic is a noun, a verb and an adjective,” he says as he gives a tour of his studio workshop on White Horse Lane in Corrales. “Magic is what you say when you have an expectation, but something happens that is mind-blowing outside of that. What we’re doing here is creating products that didn’t exist before. When magic is really good, it’s seamless. You don’t even know it’s happening.”
From Blizzard Beach back to Corrales
Monroe, 50, a former Disney Imagineer, who created Blizzard Beach, a melting snow resort water park at Disney World along with other wizardry, moved with his family back home to New Mexico from California about 15 years ago.
One of his spheres of influence has been the state’s film industry where he served as founding chairman of the New Mexico Governor’s Council on Film and Media Industries.
Ann Lerner, film liaison for the Albuquerque Film Office, who has worked with Monroe since 2003, says he brings huge talent and abilities to the state. “Marshall is an incredible asset to New Mexico. He’s an amazingly creative individual who thinks outside the box. He lets his imagination soar and then he makes his dreams come true.”
The communication technology that keeps him connected to his clients and his projects as a national and international consultant from Corrales, is one of his tools for bringing everyone along into the 21st century.
“New Mexico needs to pull some rabbits out of hats. We need to stimulate the economy here. We need to create jobs that are interesting and relevant,” he explains. “Before, I couldn’t have done this kind of world-class creative work here, but now the entire world has changed. The whole world is going mobile.”
He points to an assortment of mobile phones and tablets on the table. “The iPhones and iPads are the theme park of the future.”
From Dungeons and Dragons to the wine cave
To prove his point, Monroe and his team created an award-winning wine mobile app. “We took every thing we know about theme parks and movies and translated it to wine.com.”
Users can explore and compare wines from all over the world, learning about wine appellations by clicking on a virtual map that can transport them to the vineyard. Then they can store their favorites in a virtual cave.
Although the executives behind the website, wine.com, were skeptical at first, Monroe offered the app as a revenue-sharing venture to the company. In 10 days after its launch, the app was 15 percent of wine.com‘s business, he says. It also qualified as one of the first apps developed here for the state’s film incentive program that includes emerging media. Visit nmfilm.com/Incentives for more information.
“It wasn’t easy to make it work so well, but we wanted to bring people all the reasons they love buying wine,” Monroe says. “When you buy something on Amazon.com, how does that make you feel? It’s not very sensual. It’s a little sterile, like shopping in hospital or a pharmacy.”
To create the wine cave, Monroe drew from his high school experience at Albuquerque Academy when he worked with an early computer version of Dungeons & Dragons.
In the mid-’70s, one of his physics teachers moonlighted at Sandia National Laboratories and had acquired an early room-sized computer for his students. “A group of us started playing on it. Then, Dungeons & Dragons was a text-based game. It was just words on a screen, but it was so cool.”
A line of type would appear across the monitor letting him know he was in a deep, damp cave with bat guano under his feet. His imagination filled in the rest.
‘I wanted to do that’
It was one of his childhood memories that directed him toward a creative path. Another was Bugs Bunny. Monroe played an audio clip of the cartoon’s music on his computer just to enhance his storytelling. “I wanted to do that. On one hand, I knew it was a drawing, but on the other I believed it was real.”
Monroe, whose father was a local attorney and musician, says his mother took him around to many art teachers to find one who could teach him animation. They didn’t have any luck.
“Disney and Warner studios were pushing art forward at a fast pace. It was hand-drawn at a level you just can’t believe. But it let me know what I wanted to do. I wanted to make fun art.”
So he left Albuquerque to go to Stanford University in California where he studied mechanical engineering and fine art. “Ultimately when I got out of Stanford, I wound up at Disney. Creatively it was like I went down the rabbit hole from ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Disney took creativity and artistry to a whole other level that I didn’t even know existed. I had no idea how backwoods I was. These guys were creating monorails and a robot that talked like Mr. Lincoln. The Disney guys were way better than the Stanford guys.”
But Monroe had an ace up his sleeve because he had been working summers learning and writing software with a firm that had a contract with Sandia. “They (at Disney) were all theater people. They had storytelling and magic, but they didn’t do software.”
He thrived in that environment where magic happened. “Walt Disney didn’t have any mental blocks. If something made sense, he would just start doing it. Anyone can figure out reasons why something won’t work. If you think hard enough, you can talk yourself out of anything.”
Monroe mostly lives and works on six acres in Corrales with his wife, Patty, and their three children, Mason, 17, Graham, 16, and Hannah, 13, as well as several quarterhorses, dogs and chickens. They also have a ranch in northern New Mexico and an office in a historic adobe on Corrales Road. Clients are invited to brainstorm their projects while staying in the studio workshop that doubles as a guesthouse.
It’s an arrangement that supports his family, while offering natural inspiration, he says.
Monroe, who holds 14 patents and has written two books, says his latest software innovation is an app, Mixonium, a seven-pane “mash-up” that draws photos, audio, video, maps and text together in one place so the viewer/reader has immediate access to multimedia information.
In the past, people had their music in one place, their photos in another digital file and their videos and writing in still another, but didn’t have a way to blend all the pieces easily.
Although obvious applications are in education, clients have also used it as a multimedia résumé or audition piece that’s easily emailed. Law enforcement can use a Mixonium to gather all the information they have about a suspect in one place and share it with other agencies, he adds.
The C.M. Russell Museum of Western Art in Great Falls, Mont., will be using Mixonium to catalog its art, giving each artist a page to help visitors gain a broader appreciation of their work, says museum director Michael Duchemin. Also, Monroe collaborated with Tom Gilleon on a digital artwork, Hungry Fox Equinox, a multiplatform and transmedia storytelling piece, that changes as a winter sun creeps along a snowy landscape. Smoke rises from a tepee as native flute music plays.
Duchemin says Monroe, who has become a board member at the museum, is helping the museum change the perception of Western art. “People tend to think of Western art as static, as from the past, but the world is changing. Evolving to digital art gives us a new audience. Moving to these new platforms helps us reach younger artists. Marshall has a very interesting, inventive way of looking at the world. He’s helping us become cutting edge.”