has X-ray vision. Matthew L. McCoy has artists vision. Ever since
he showed up dressed in his U.S. Marine Corps uniform with his hat under
one arm and his portfolio under the other, the faculty in the Department
of Visual Arts has known he was going to make a real impact in the world.
After serving five years as an illustrator and designer in the Marine
Corps, McCoy was ready to learn all he could learn.
A native of Cobb County, he came to Kennesaw State University to check
out the visual arts department. It wasnt his only choice.
He also considered Georgia State University and Savannah College of Art
and Design, but he quickly determined that the faculty at KSU had the
energy and, more importantly, the skills to teach him what he wanted to
was one of the better students Ive ever taught, Assistant
Professor of Art Ayokunle Odeleye said of the 1993 graduate. He
was particularly interested in knowing what I knewin drawing out
everything his professors could teach him.
McCoys drive and professionalism helped him stand out amongst a
crowd of really excellent artists in his classes, Odeleye remembers. Most
of the students at that time were really high achievers and hard workers,
but Matt was a heavy hitter.
Art has always been important to McCoy and his family. He is proud to
note his artist grandfather knew Walt Disney before Mickey Mouse became
an international superstar. In many ways, McCoy feels hes carrying
on a family tradition with his work as a theme designer. He is often joined
by his brother, August, who also attended Kennesaw State.
Theme design is not a field you often hear about but its effects can be
found almost anywhere you gotrade show booths, retail spaces, church
interiors, malls, museum exhibitions, colossal amusement parks, anywhere
that design can be used to tell a story.
McCoy has worked in all of these areas in the last few years. His work
incorporates commercial design, set design, architecture, fabrication,
lighting design, audio and visual production and anything else it takes
to tell a story within a space.
McCoy began working as a theme designer even before he joined the Marines.
Just out of high school, he created designs for arcades. When he was still
a student at KSU, he landed a job with Mountasia/Malibu Grand Prix creating
facades, murals and rock waterfalls for 15 locations around the country.
He spent his weekends and spring breaks working on these projects, flying
home just in time for classes.
My professors never let me slack off, no matter how tired I was,
McCoy recalls. In fact, they pushed me and inspired me to work even
McCoy helped design the Superman area at Six Flags Over Georgia.
credits his professors for setting a good example as professional artists
themselves. The faculty are all working professional artists as
well as terrific teachers. Ayokunle Odeleye, for instance, not only teaches
countless hours, he also creates wonderful public sculptures.
McCoy also is grateful to Professor Roberta Griffin and Assistant Professor
Joe Remillard for helping him find his style as an artist. Matt
already had the discipline required of a professional artist and he had
tremendous talent, Griffin says. But he was very tight, at
His initial blockage led to one of those classic breakthrough moments,
which he recounted when he accepted one of the 2002 KSU Alumni Achievement
Awards. Roberta Griffin tied my right hand behind my back,
he said, and forced me to paint with my left.
Although Griffin doesnt literally tie up her students, she says
making someone paint with the opposite hand often helps release ingrained
inhibitions and frees creativity. Not only did the technique have this
affect on McCoy, it helped him discover that he had been trained out of
his natural left-handedness. He is now ambidextrous, using both hands
to create themed empires out of the fertile soil of his creative mind.
In the last six years, much of that work has been on display at Six Flags
Over Georgia. As a contractor, McCoy has been able to work closely with
the park while maintaining his independence as a businessman. He and his
colleagues are responsible for the entry plaza of the park, from the cobblestone
walkways and arcaded store fronts to the Looney Toons interior of the
gift shop. He also designed and co-managed park-wide expansion projects
in the production of the Batman and Superman areas and shows. While he
cant claim responsibility for the parks groundbreaking roller
coasters, almost anything else you see (street lamps, signage, benches,
vending stands and building exteriors) probably came from him. McCoy knew
there were a lot of bases to cover going into this business. Thats
why he also studied theater design with Ming Chen, associate professor
of theater, at KSU. And, although he stresses the importance of a college
education, he has learned a lot on the job.
the job calls for, I want to know how to do, he says. So, while
he often hires experts to complete the work for plastering, molding or
lighting, he also learns the craft himself. Im your typical
jack-of-all-trades and master of none.
He is a master, however. McCoy takes his work and his career very seriously.
He is active in his professional organizations and he frequently visits
KSU classrooms to share his insights with current students. Recently,
his team was awarded a Red, Hot & Gold Award from the International
Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, a kind of Oscar of the
theme design world. McCoy participates in conferences and communicates
frequently with colleagues about the future of theme design. He is always
on the lookout for the next big trend.
McCoy is also always ready for a challenge. When he proposed to create
Native American exhibitions for the Funk Heritage and Bennett History
Museum, the curators were a little concerned that most of his design work
had involved various Looney Toon characters and comic book superheroes.
They werent sure he could handle exhibitions with thousands of years
of history. Undaunted, McCoy, in his unique fashion, let them know that
he was an historian, too. He recited for them the entire history of Superman
and Metropolis, starting with the fact that Metropolis was proposed as
a real city near Niagara Falls almost 100 years ago.
McCoy got the job and quickly learned as much about Native American history
as he already knew about the Superfriends, Melvin the Martian and Bugs
Bunny. Thats just his style. If he can imagine it, he can do it.