Meet The Man Who Cares About Scares

Roller-coaster designers know how to get a scream out of us, so we strapped in with premium scaremonger Professor Brendan Walker, aka “The Thrill Engineer.”

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What is it about roller coasters that get us so buzzed?
We have an innate desire for excitement. Some chimpanzees, for example, will shake rotting trees and then climb to the top and ride them as they’re falling down, just for pleasure.
We visit theme parks to feel a sense of huge risk in a place that’s actually incredibly safe.

Where do you start when designing a rollercoaster?
There’s plenty of places: You can look at the G-forces involved in the track and the changes in G-forces—that’s quite an art. For me though, it’s all about anticipation. I’ve done lots of studies on people’s relationships with rollercoasters and no matter what ride you’re on, nothing ever tops the thrill of actually being locked into it. It’s the not knowing what’s about to happen that people love.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a virtual reality ride. It doesn’t look innovative—in fact, it looks like a children’s playground swing. But once you put on the headset it makes you feel like you’re flying through the air performing some of the wildest, most incredible acrobatics: It makes people scream and howl with laughter and fear. I love that!

New rides are always trying to outdo each other, so how do you stay ahead of thrill curve?
Some rides from the past had actors on them, and I think we can now start to revisit that.
It would be like live theatre and open a whole new realm of possibilities. You never really know what someone else is going to do, do you? That’s the greatest fear of them all.