Bringing The Gruffalo to life with ride designer Andy Porter

March 30, 2017

We caught up with Chessington World of Adventures Resort to find out what it was like for ride designer Andy Porter to create The Gruffalo River Ride Adventure, and bring Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s renowned children’s book to life…

Andy Porter, roller coaster designer with Gruffalo model

You wouldn’t think that a theme park ride designer’s first experience on a rollercoaster would be abject terror, but that is exactly what Andy Porter felt when, age 14, a group of friends dragged him onto Nemesis at Alton Towers. “I remember thinking ‘how can I do this?’ I joined the queue line planning on all the excuses I could come up with to get out of it!” However, the moment his friends forced him into a seat was the moment his life changed.

“The ride reached the top and slowly went over the crest and thundered into the first turn. Instantly I was hooked and inspired, not only from the rollercoaster gracefully gliding around a cold steel track like a well-rehearsed ballet but the atmosphere, design and emotions; watching families and friends for one day leave their normal lives behind and fly through the highest clouds, dive to the darkest depths of the deepest oceans or fight the spookiest of skeletons in a haunted graveyard.”

Andy knew that designing rides and bringing magical worlds to life was the career for him. After training across various industries and working across a number of popular attractions, Andy became a creative lead for theme parks for Merlin Entertainments Limited.

“I am still as excited, inspired and amazed when I ride rollercoasters and rides,” says Andy, on his role, “but designing them is a whole new dimension of excitement. You have a blank piece of paper and start to think of stories to imagine the unimaginable, to think what if we could fly, how would that feel? How could we make that happen? Then after the idea is created you look at the area, queue lines, station, ride theming, you look at the whole atmosphere from lighting, music, landscaping: what are people looking at? What are they feeling at this point?”.

Andy’s favourite part of his job is seeing how people react to his rides: “It’s rewarding as a designer to interact with people who have now sampled a bit of your world and the memories that are created that will stay with them forever. Will there be one 14 year old who gets inspired wanting to do what I do? What experiences will they bring to the world?”.


The Gruffalo River Ride Adventure at Chessington World of Adventures Resort is Andy’s most recent project. The premise was to create an indoor water ride based around the famous story of The Gruffalo, where Mouse ventures through the deep dark wood and meets various creatures along the way, ultimately meeting the fantastical Gruffalo.  Guests splash down the lazy river as they follow Mouse through magical woodland scenes, entering the Fox’s underground lair, flying to the Owl’s treetop nest and swimming through Snake’s misty swamp.

The ride employs brand new technologies including smells in different scenes, so you can smell the freshness of the top of the forest as you fly with Owl or the damp soil in Fox’s house. Projection mapping in the ride means guests float through waterfalls and see animated scenes come to life, in the final scene guests are even taken through a mist of Gruffalo Crumble.

“The Gruffalo it is a beautiful story that has been read to countless children who can now experience this world in real life!” says Andy on the project, “you jump on a boat in the deep dark wood and go on the journey with Mouse where you will meet Fox, Owl and Snake and of course a real Gruffalo… He is HUGE!”.

Bringing to life a well-known and much-loved story brought with it a range of challenges. “I had to engage with an audience and work out how to take a popular book and make it in reality. So many choices and decisions have to be made to entertain an audience while still keeping the story flowing so all ages can understand. It was very challenging and we were all very excited to see not only our guest’s reactions on opening day but the reactions of Julia and Axel.”

The Gruffalo River Ride Adventure is NOW open at Chessington World of Adventures Resort!

Explore Learning and Chessington World of Adventures Resort have joined forces to bring an exciting competition to our members in celebration of Chessington’s new Gruffalo River Ride Adventure – a world first! We’re looking for budding young designers to create a brand new theme park ride. Ask at your centre for more details!

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