Meet Rob Green, a saxophonist, audio engineer, event producer, and puppeteer who turned his Jeep Wrangler into a Hogwarts Express Magic Art Car, complete with a 40-minute immersive ride called “Escape the Forbidden Forest.”
• On his car: “I want my guests to experience an emotional roller-coaster ride of adventure that transports them out of wherever they are.”
• On himself: “I’m such a silly weirdo. If readers are wondering if I’ve lost my mind, you bet ya!”
In the middle of our third lap around the parking deck of a North Philly storage facility one night this month, as I stood with eight strangers in the back of a flatbed trailer being pulled by a Jeep Wrangler, I began to wonder “How did I get here?” and, more importantly, “How in the hell did the guy driving us get here?’”
Not only was Rob “Potter” Green, creator of the Hogwarts Express Magic Art Car, operating his 40-minute immersive Harry Potter ride called “Escape the Forbidden Forest” with lights, sound, fog, projections, and puppetry by himself, he was doing it as he drove us in circles and three-point turns around other cars in the parking deck.
Safety restraints were in place, but they were foam pool noodles and it wasn’t clear how long they’d hold.
I’d gone to the storage facility expecting just to see Green’s art car, after having to miss a ride he held earlier this month in the Pine Barrens. But instead, much to my surprise, I was treated to his full homespun amusement park ride experience with eight of his friends.
As it turns out, surprises are kind of Green’s thing.
“When you board the art car, you have no idea what’s about to hit you and that’s what I love,” he said. “People get stuck in their daily routines and I like to mix it up, ring their skulls a bit, and say ‘Look at what you can do with your imagination and a little bit of ingenuity.’”
Green, 36, of Queen Village, has been creating and perfecting his Hogwarts Express Magic Art Car for nearly a decade. Inspired by his love of Harry Potter, theme park rides, and mutant vehicles he’s seen at gatherings like Burning Man (think a giant can of motorized Spam or a moving dragon that shoots flames), Green turned his car, a 2015 Jeep Wrangler two-door sport, and an accompanying flatbed trailer, into a ride he calls “an interdisciplinary collaboration of every art form I’ve ever studied.”
A graduate of Pennsbury High School and the University of the Arts, where he majored in performance arts with minors in education and audio engineering, Green is a saxophone player by trade, who’s worked as a teacher, pit musician, and touring artist.
He’s also the curator at the Philadelphia Visionary Arts Gallery in Queen Village and does audio engineering, soundtracking, event production, video editing, and puppetry work (”There’s a full size T. rex puppet on a tension wire running across my living room,” he said).
But what really guides Green’s life are the 10 Principles of Burning Man, a nine-day gathering of artists, musicians, makers, and like-minded individuals in the Nevada desert where no money is exchanged. Among Burning Man’s principles are radical inclusion and self-expression.
“It’s the closest I have to a religion,” he said.
Green — who bears a striking resemblance to Harry Potter, if Harry Potter had dreadlocks, nipple rings, and wheelie sneakers — has been to Burning Man twice, the first time in 2012, but he attends other smaller gatherings with fellow “burners” all summer long. It was while attending these gatherings where vehicles of all shapes and sizes are modified by their owners into moving works of art, that Green was first inspired to create his Hogwarts Express Magic Art Car.
“It rolled into my head fully formed. I said ‘Oh my God, how fun would it be to have the Hogwarts Express and take witches and wizards to Hogwarts?’” he said. “I designed it to be something that I would be unable to contain myself if I saw it go by.”
Green studied Broadway theater techniques and the work of Disney’s Imagineers to create his ride, which is currently in its fourth iteration. While he has panels and a fake smoke stack he can affix to the Jeep and trailer to make it look more like a train, his art car is far more experiential than visual.
On board, he’s got a 3,000-watt generator, a subwoofer, a mixer, left and right speakers for surround sound, a fog machine, and strobe lights, which he uses to momentarily ruin riders’ night vision as he parks the car and pops out with a giant, inflatable spider or a Dementor made out of a fishing net and pieces of black cloth.
Mounted on the front of the Jeep is a projector which casts a 40-minute video Green created onto tree trunks, flat surfaces, or, in the case of my ride, the roof of a parking deck.
As the video of the train departing the station begins, Green pumps the Jeep’s gas pedal in time with the sound of the chugging locomotive, creating the feeling of being on a real train. And when a giant ogre is about to smash the train to pieces as it travels through the Forbidden Forest, he quickly accelerates the car to escape its clutches, sending riders flying unexpectedly backward.
“It’s not just driving, it’s a type of ballet, almost,” Green said. “In reality I never go above 20 miles per hour, but it feels like you’re going 100.”
The experience — which is like a haunted hayride, a theme park ride, and a theatrical performance all in one — is an exhilarating blend of humor, horror, and how-did-he-do-that wonder that transports those who dare to hop aboard out of their daily existence.
“Nothing else matters but the here and now when you’re on that ride,” Green said. “I try to deliver a full immersion experience, but the thing that holds it all together, the glue, is your imagination.”
Green has taken his ride to regional burn gatherings, music festivals, campgrounds, and even backyard parties. Those interested in contacting Green may reach him through his Hogwarts Express Magic Art Car Facebook page.
“Basically, whoever will have me, I’m there,” he said.
Green can also change up the theme of his ride. For an upcoming four-day camping and live performance event in New Jersey, he’s turning his art car into “The Kinetic Science Mobile,” a futuristic teleportation vehicle that will take riders on a journey through time, space, and the Pine Barrens, where they may just run into the New Jersey Devil.
“It’s all about the illusion of taking people out of their existence and transporting them to another world,” Green said. “That natural rush of ecstasy and adrenaline is what I live for. I’m always chasing that dragon.”
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