Aldersyde man brings magic to the skies

Business: WestJet employee contributes to design behind magic plane

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 08, 2014 08:33 am

Curtis Rowland shows a print of the design he helped create for WestJet and Disney’s Magic Plane at his home east of Okotoks on Sunday afternoon.
Curtis Rowland shows a print of the design he helped create for WestJet and Disney’s Magic Plane at his home east of Okotoks on Sunday afternoon.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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An Aldersyde man never expected his school art classes would lead to a top-secret project that would turn heads on North American runways.

Curtis Rowland’s art skills were put to the test when he was commissioned to design a Disney image on the exterior of a Boeing Next-Generation 737 in a partnership between WestJet and Walt Disney Parks & Resorts last year.

Rowland works in WestJet’s creative services department in Calgary and was assigned to design the Magic Plane last year, but the design was to remain hush hush until the unveiling last month.

“It was pretty top secret,” he said. “There was a lot of effort into keeping it a secret.”

Rowland said his love for drawing began in art class at Okotoks Junior High School and continued in his visual communications class at Foothills Composite High School. Following high school he enrolled in a fine arts class at the University of Lethbridge and a graphic and web design class at SAIT.

WestJet then hired Rowland as a graphic designer.

“I was always in the art classes and never thought it would end up as a career,” he said. “It’s neat to take something that started as a hobby and actually ended up in some kind of career type format.”

Rowland and a coworker were flown to Disney World in Orlando to study images throughout the park to gather the ideas for the drawing.

The project was in addition to his existing work, therefore, Rowland worked on the Disney design on evenings and weekends and had just two weeks to come up with a final product.

“I sat down with a flat outline of the plane and sketched a bunch of different options,” he said. “I started with five and narrowed it down to three. When you go in with several concepts you always have one that you have an idea that they would like, one that’s a little bit out there and one that’s in the middle.”

Rowland’s drawings went back and forth between the WestJet executives and Disney team before they agreed on a final image.

“It definitely changed based on feedback,” he said. “The one they chose was quite iconic of Disney. They really wanted Mickey to be front and centre.”

Rowland chose the tail of the plane, the largest flat surface area, to locate the image of Mickey Mouse, with magical stars shooting from the mouse’s hand across the body of the plane.

“Having the magic curling itself around the plane was something we really wanted to get in there,” he said.

The custom-paint job was completed near Seattle and WestJet staff got together for the unveiling at the WestJet hangar in Calgary on Dec. 2.

“Everyone knew there was a plane being worked on,” he said. “We really tried to keep what the design was a secret. When they had the big unveiling ceremony it was a pretty good feeling to see everyone so excited. Just to see something you worked on that scale is neat.”

Rowland said the project took dozens of people and he feels lucky to be a part of it.

“It is neat to see something that you helped with flying around out there,” he said. “It’s neat to see the reaction of kids and adults. We knew that kids would get pretty excited about it but we were surprised at how many adult Disney enthusiasts there are. People tend to get excited about air flight in general and even more when Disney is involved.”

Although the plane does represent Disney, Rowland said its flight path isn’t just from Calgary to Orlando. It will be part of the WestJet circuit.

“It’s just like any other plane,” he said. “It’s all over the network.”


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