A Look Behind the Project: Family Guy Mini Golf

October 19, 2023
Featuring Sean Healy

At Figure Plant, we get a lot of unique project requests, but a Family Guy-themed miniature golf course design and build was definitely a new one for the team! It was coming in hot with a short timeline and just some rough napkin sketches, so we needed to get right to work. With the opportunity to partner with our long-time collaborator and valued client, Iron Bloom Creative Production, there was no question we were ready to work together to capture and create the vision for this epic opportunity.

So, where to start? Armed with countless questions and endless curiosity, the Figure Plant team took the next three months to take this project from rough conceptual sketches and descriptions to fully interactive, highly accurate, sculptural artworks that successfully transformed this beloved tv show into a vibrant 3D experience in the heart of LA's arts district.

How did we get there? Owner/Founder David Fredrickson sat down with Project Manager, Sean Healy to get the full scoop on how it worked coordinating across the entire team to accomplish this hole-in-one.

So Sean, where should we start? There were a lot of stakeholders involved in this very fast-moving project all with different needs, hopes and desires. We had Disney, who owns the IP including the original animators of the show; Bucket Listers, the originators of the concept of a bar with a Family Guy mini golf course; Superfly Presents, the producing partner; and Iron Bloom, the team charged with the creative translation of the idea. Can you tell us your strategy in how you approached this project

Well, when you took a step back and looked at the scope and timeline, we essentially needed to produce eight holes in three months. Which is roughly three holes a month or a hole every week and a half, more or less.

Iron Bloom was our direct client, so we really focused on their feedback and direction, as they were integral to the entire vision. They came to us with very rough sketches at the beginning for nine holes, and when I say rough, I mean the kind of rough sketch on a cocktail napkin. Visualize 9 holes as 9 scenes, with main title curtains, evil monkey in a closet kinda thing, you know? Then we took those initial concepts and collaborated with Will and Aaron and the whole team to really flesh them out to begin to visualize and create a navigable, playable course.

Once we had a plan, we truly utilized the Figure Plant facilities and capabilities to the fullest extent. We had complex mechanisms, CNC routed parts, large-format 3D-printed components, custom cabinetry, steel work, epic scenic painting, model making, sculpted elements, automation, electronics, and lighting. Pretty much everything that we do here was incorporated into this project in some capacity, if you think about it. We ended up using every part of the shop. There was nothing that we do here that we didn't use.

That's so cool. It really did fill up the lungs of Figure Plant – from design through fabrication and installation. It’s also a great case of the fourth element on the Figure Plant Framework: Evolve. We’ve been working with Iron Bloom for about a decade and the trust and understanding our teams share pave a smooth road for big results, efficiently realized. What were some of the unique obstacles that came about when designing a mini golf course that the team didn't expect?

In hindsight it seems obvious, but the design parameter of ‘miniature golf course playability.’ Creating puttable, playable scenes from the show that are human-sized (adult scale), challenging to play for an adult, but not so challenging that they're going to get frustrated or bored. So we had some holes that were more difficult than others. That's one of those unique challenges to this project.

They're kind of sculptures that people are gonna be standing around and walking and sitting on and using, and so we had to think of the scale of the player as we were designing these things, while also being sensitive to the fact that we had a limited amount of space in general for them to fit within.

Also, the popularity of the show and the fidelity that we knew we were gonna be held to. I mean having the original animators and illustrators of the show involved was amazing and a little daunting too.

So we talked about timeline and and the unforeseen design parameter of playability: What else proved to be particularly challenging?

Creating these 3-dimensional sculptures that are based on well-known, even beloved IP that doesn't exist in 3D was certainly challenging. Starting with widely known 2D flat assets, creating 3D objects, maintaining an appropriate level of fidelity, and getting it right. Because it's very, very important to get it right. People really are fans of this show, so it has to be right.

Take the Petercopter for example; First, we had to translate it from 2D to 3D; then we added mechanics inside to make the rotor turn as a putting obstacle; then we placed it in a 3D environment. That's challenging.

It requires a good amount of engineering and thinking around it, and that takes time. Recreating 2D characters (that never had a third dimension) into three dimensions. So we're making that up. We're creating how far the ears stick out from the side of the head and where they are in space. And we’re going by 2D drawings, which are not real or complete.

Yeah, it's super interesting and you’re totally right. That was a major consideration of a project like this – in going from 2D IP to 3D, we were missing an entire dimension! We had to create that third D. The animators of the show spent however many countless hours, months, even years creating the two-dimensional assets. We just made the third dimension of Family Guy in three months!

Yeah! More like three weeks!

Did the team do any mini golf scouting for inspiration/logistics? Any experts called in, or Family Guy watching marathons?

We had the luxury of having fans of the show here in the shop who could help steer us–to recreate the characters down to even the paint color of walls, furniture, accessories, like every little thing. Isaac was the main driver. I mean, we knew he was a fan because he’d casually walk by, notice a tiny detail and be like, “That's wrong.” Like on the Evil Monkey. He's the one that finally did nail it.

We have hugely talented scenic artists who were not as familiar with the show. Unbelievably talented, but struggling a bit trying to create something, like I said, in three dimensions from inherently 2D assets yet still maintain a flattened 2D feel. Isaac picked up the paintbrush and within 15 minutes, it was like, “Oh yeah, that’s it.”

Also on Evil Monkey, there's a frog that the ball comes out of, and that frog had to be right. It’s on the show for maybe five seconds. We had to study that frog and paint it to be exactly like the frog on the show because we knew if we didn’t, someone was gonna say “That isn't the frog,” and we have people here who could do just that.

We’ve got a special team out there for sure. It made this job super fun. This team can realize a vision like that and I just have to provide support, just go out and ask what I can do. That's really all: ”How can I help?” And then they’d tell me and I’d go do it, and that would just keep them rolling.

That's a cool advantage that we have.

Right? I mean, kudos to the scenic team, they were critical. That was one of my personal favorite parts of this project: watching the holes kind of come to life with the scenic detailed artistic treatments by the talented folks that we have here like Jalin, Tony, Isaac, Anna, and Bmo.

Some of the little tricks that they did to make a window look like a screen or to give texture to grass or all these little things that they’ve learned throughout the years that they applied to this project was really fascinating to see. It's like watching anybody who's really good at their craft perform.  It's actually kind of calming, you know?

Yeah, I get that. It is performance. I remember you saying what a pleasant experience it was watching the shop do what they were doing and having such a good time doing it.  The conditions could have dictated otherwise. Why didn’t they?

The crew was professional. Deven was an amazing shop lead on this and it just went very, very smoothly. Particularly the attitude and outlook from the shop and design team. You know, issues arise on these complicated projects, and they were always dealt with in an even-keeled way and not reactively–just problem-solving for solutions.

I mean, I think also partly the way that it was managed. It was a loose directive with loosely defined parameters. So it was up to me as the Project Manager to help tighten everything down so that we could all start going in the same direction. And then once we had agreed what that direction was, the shop and design teams had more leeway in the project to make decisions after a simple discussion.

It allowed a lot of their creativity to come through. It was less prescribed, and there was more reliance on the skills and talents of the folks that are working here. More of a collaborative sort of feeling to it where as the manager–and I put that in quotes–as the guy who's running the project, who's talking to the client about the project, I would go out there and say “here's the general idea, here are the plans, here's what we're making, here's the general feel, here are the inspiration images, you know, let's go.” And they would take that information and run with it. It was the only way we could have done it in three months.

I think that made it a very enjoyable project for everyone.

Which is so great to hear and to recognize. We’ve worked for years (decades really) in this company on culture–consulted with colleagues and consultants, workshopped with the team, and we’ve faltered at times. Good culture comes and goes. We're all a bunch of humans trying to work together to accomplish a goal, which can be messy. But hearing that our company culture here really lent itself to a successful process is satisfying.

Definitely. Any disconnect between any of the collaborators–Technical Design, Project Management, communication in the shop, admin, etc,. could've torpedoed this project. There were just so many moving parts, so many unknowns. A lot of decisions had to be made very quickly. They were made with discussion, with input from the shop.  Not only what would look best, but what was the best practice and what is really possible within the timeframe that we had. Trying to be fast and considerate at the same time.

Credits: Instagram @FamilyGuyExperience

Are there any particular moments of brilliance that the team exhibited in terms of creative solutions?

Yeah, so many. But one that jumps out was the solution to the Multiverse hole–a potentially less interesting, flat hole. The way we solved that backdrop was by extending the side walls out and creating everything on this funky angle, adding wood cutouts, and then layering those cutouts together to create this slightly dimensional, but still flat, backdrop that kind of fools the eye. It's one of my favorites, honestly. That was one instance where I was personally like, “Whoa, that's really well done!”

Also, the care we took down the tiniest detail like painting the lettering on the blocks for the living room that are in the show. Jalin did a little research and then recreated them exactly. Those small-level details, especially for people who are fans of the show, really matter. Visitors to the experience are gonna see that.

Putting, cocktail in hand, and they're gonna be like, “Oh my God, look, the letters are even right!”  I love bringing that level of authenticity to an experience like this. You know, when you're bringing it to the experts–fans of the show, the original animators, the owners of the IP– how exciting for them to look at the blocks and be like, “Oh my gosh, they got the lettering right!” You know, it must be really fun for them to see this thing in real 3-dimensional life.

It was, all in all, just a really cool, fun project. Let’s do it again!

For new or existing business, or just to say hello, we’d love to hear from you.

Get in touch

Reach Out Here