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This Roller Coaster Engineer Creates World Famous Amusement Park Rides

Donnelly Williams makes entertainment rides for some of the biggest theme parks around the globe, such as Universal Studios and Disney, and there’s a good chance you’ve been on them. He oversees the design and construction of world-class roller coasters.

For over 10 years, Donnelly has been part of creating these well-known rides. His interest in entertainment engineering was sparked in high school, after seeing a show called Movie Magic that featured the making of the robot seen on Terminator. It opened Donnelly’s eyes to the possibility of working in robotics and stoked a keen interest in special effects. From there, he actively pursued a path that would lead him in that direction, choosing to study mechanical engineering.

But studying in Alberta, Canada meant his courses in engineering had an oil and gas focus, whereas his passion lay in robotics and movies. As soon as he could, he moved to California with the idea that he’d be closer to film production, but there were setbacks. He ended up working in various different jobs, ranging from architecture to a valve company, before getting laid off entirely.

“I take bits and pieces out of every company that I’ve worked, and I can apply it here. I definitely would say that had I not worked as a machinist or worked at this company and got laid off … I wouldn’t be able to do the job I’m doing now as well as I have.”

Today, Donnelly is the project manager at Altec Integrated Solutions in Vancouver. An entertainment company will approach them with a concept for a ride, and Donnelly and his team will work to find a solution to make it happen.

The ride will go through multiple tests and simulations to make sure of its maximum safety. Different parts of the ride will purposely be made to fail to ensure that it is safe in whatever scenario could arise.

“To this day, I’ll be sitting on a ride, and it could be a ride that I’ve been on a thousand times, and right before it launches and shoots up a tube to run the roller coaster, I still get that butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling.”

“Even though I know what’s going on, I’d say that the only things that’s changed a bit is that I no longer feel like there’s a possibility of being hurt … Now I just know that it’s safe, so it’s just excitement.”

For Donnelly, theme parks and roller coasters haven’t lost their magic. The excitement has been shifted to the appreciation of the engineering behind the ride as opposed to just pure enjoyment.

“I love just quietly standing in the queue line waiting and listening to people get all excited about riding the ride … To hear someone say, ‘Oh I’ve been on this ride 15 times.’”

“That’s definitely a high for me.”

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