Before we talk about the past, let us talk about the future. What is the future that Disney Imagineers have in mind ?
Well, right now things are looking better. As you know, last year was a rough one for Disney. It started with the loss of Franck Wells and I miss him a lot. He gave a lot of strength and confidence to all of us, especially Michael. I would say that loosing Jeffrey was an other shock to all of us. Then Mickey Steinberg, the man who led the construction effort on DLP, left the company as well. And now we have a new management with whom we have been brainstorming to find what it is we are going to do. The Wescot project, which was very big a year ago, has become less valid because of the economy and various other things that seem to make it not profitable.
So we have been spending the last three or four months developing new plans for Anaheim which we presented to Michael at the end of May. He was very excited about what we had. I think it will make DL kind of reinvent itself, becoming more like an "urban" centre. It will never be a resort like WDW or DLP because there is not enough land, so we are thinking about developing it to work more like a city, more like Copenhagen with Tivoli Gardens as its heart. We presented some very early ideas to Michael and he was excited about them. With a little bit of luck that will be the next project for California.
Are there any attractions in there or is it like Pleasure Island ?
Pleasure Island is an area for night-time entertainment. What I have been toying around is an integrated concept where you live there, have fun there and also have night time entertainment there. But it is all the things in one place. Up till now, all of these elements have been created to exist separately. It is not like a city, where you live in the city, work in the city and are entertained in the city, all in one place. That is what we are trying to do.
Are there other projects we can discuss ?
The status of whether we do that fourth gate or not in Florida is still a question mark. We finished the design on that and have done some preliminary work in the fields, grading the land. But I do not think Michael will make a final decision until September.
The Japanese project, Disney Seas, contains some of the elements originally designed for the Long Beach project. Also, it includes several ideas from Discovery Bay which was a project we designed for DL but never had the opportunity to build. (Discovery Bay was also the inspiration for Discoveryland here at DLP). So they are creating a park that is based on the sea, and it is progressing well. However, it still might be a year before we know whether it will happen.
Meanwhile, my efforts are focused on expanding DL, which has always been the flagship of our parks. DLP may be more beautiful, but DL is the one that Walt touched. It is so compact and charming, I have always hoped that we could develop something very exiting fot it, something unique from the other locations. Florida has grown so spectacularly that it is time DL got a real shot in the arm.
At the same time, we are working on some ideas for a new Tomorrowland at DL. I am hoping that a lot of what we have done here in Europe will come to life in California. It will be more like Discoveryland in Paris than Tomorrowland in Florida. We plan to introduce an exiting new attraction that will replace the Peoplemover - a new attraction that is not in any of our parks. Unfortunately, I cannot share the details of this adventure at this time. This new attraction will be taking place along with the Visionarium. And as in Florida, Robin Williams will be doing the voice for TimeKeeper.
And we may also have a new Star Tours. If George complete the next Star Wars films as he is currently planning, then we might be doing a Star Tours at the same time.
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience will replace Captain EO. And then, a new version of Innnoventions from Epcot is being developed for the Carrousel Theater, which will start revolving once again! We will divide Innoventions into five different areas: The Home of the Future, The Workplace of the Future, The Recreation of the Future and The Entertainment of the Future. These divisions will rotate by you and you will be able to experience what each of those areas will be like. These areas will have spaces behind them where you will see the displays and hands on demonstrations by the sponsors. Innoventions at DL might have an Imagineer's lab, but it won't be limited to the Virtual Reality Show in Epcot. We are envisioning a place where we will take many things like Engrid from the post show of Star Tours and the Morph Port, some of the Epcot Imagination pavilion's "Image Works", as well as the Epcot Wonders of Life "Fitness Fairgrounds", and we will invite you to be an Imagineer and try these hands on experiences. That's what we will be doing in the first place.
DL's Space Mountain will be getting an on-board audio system, like Space Mountain at DLP. Who knows - we may someday also get the big cannon !
Could you tell me, to begin with, how you entered Disney ?
I grew up in Orange County, near DL and used to ride my bike out to the park. I fell in love with DL at that time, somewhere around age 10. As soon as I turned 18, which was the minimum age to work at DL, I got my first job in the company, in the food division, scooping ice cream. At the same time, I was going to school and majoring in three areas: landscape architecture, architecture and fine arts.
I worked at DL during my five years of school and when I graduated I transferred to Imagineering, which was called WED at the time. WED was the design firm for DL and they were they were in the middle of building the Magic Kingdom at WDW. I came on at the right time and was assigned to go down to Florida, to help them install the dark rides and the 20.000 Leagues Under The Sea submarine attraction.
When I came back, there was a slow period, so I started working on my own project which was a western ride that turned out to be Big Thunder Mountain. The company liked it and made me an official designer. However, it was nearly six years before I was to see that ride finished at DL in 1979. We built a second Big Thunder at WDW in 1980, and we have built two more since then. Big Thunder is the only mountain I know of that exists in four locations around the world !
After Big Thunder, I was assigned to EPCOT. I was the preliminary designer on The Living Seas and on The Land. In 1980, I was given the task of creating Journey into Imagination, so The Land and Seas pavilions were given to other designers. The Land pavilion they built for the opening of EPCOT was not the version I was involved with.
What did contain The Land pavilion you designed contain ?
The building was designed as a series of very large glass crystals that contained each of the different habitats of the earth - from the frozen environments of the high mountains to the low-lying deserts and swamps . And each one told the story of how we must decide whether to preserve or develop the various assets of the land. Two of the crystals were developed into agricultural and urban environments, and the other five were natural environments. We sort of followed the story of water which comes down from the sky to the mountains and eventually dries up in the desert.
Was it an attraction with Audio-Animatronics ?
Some of it. We had three parts. The first part was a theatre with some AA figures, and the second part was a ride on a balloon, a little Peter Pan-like ride-through of a Disney nature story. It was called The Blueprints of Nature. The blueprints unfolded in the snowflakes of winter, then the germinating seeds of springtime, the flowers of summer, and the leaves of the fall. As we observed this never-ending cycle, the balloon soared upward with the flying eagle. "For man alone can learn from nature and can soar with the birds". The ride concluded by flying through all the crystals. When you looked down, you got an overview of the area you would soon be visiting on foot, which was the third part of the show.
But that concept was designed for a lumbering company, and when Kraft Foods signed on as the sponsors, they wanted to tell the story of farming and food production, so everything changed. And the rest is history.
When Kodak came to Disney, they said they wanted to do something that could be very imaginative. So we said: "How about doing a pavilion on imagination ?!" My next task was to develop that pavilion, which became Journey into Imagination. We had to catch up with the other pavilions, because we were a full year late. The other pavilions were all being designed and this one had not even been started, so it was a real race to begin our Journey into Imagination and get it there for opening day in October 1982.
Before Imagination was complete, we had already begun to redesign all of Fantasyland in DL, so you can see it was a busy time for me. I always loved the look of the small country villages of England, France and Germany. Evidently, Walt did too. The animation and scenes in the Storybook Land ride at DL seemed to confirm this, so that's how we decided to design it.
In 1984, there was a great turmoil of takeover events, and we did not know what was going to happen to The Walt Disney Company. Actually, Roy Disney was partly responsible for getting it back on track and working to get Michael Eisner and Frank Wells to join the company. Meanwhile, I had been looking for some new heroes that would enhance the image of DL. I felt George Lucas was the man. I had been developing an attraction idea that turned out to be Star Tours. When Michael and Frank came on board, we took it to them and said: "We really need to do this because DL needs to have an attraction based on characters that children today are growing up with. We need a mythology that really touches people's heart, like Walt used to do." They said: "Fine, great, wonderful, but 3 years is too long to wait while it is being built. Can you do something faster ?" So we did Captain EO right away which opened in just over a year. Then we added Star Tours a year later.
From Star Tours it was on to Splash Mountain. I thought: now that we have done something very contemporary outside of the normal Disney, it is time we do an attraction that is very traditionally Disney. So we did Splash Mountain.
Before Splash Mountain opened, we were already at work on the grand designs for Disneyland Paris, which took 5 years, almost, to develop. The first time I came over to Paris was in 1986 to meet with the negotiators and try to explain what we wanted to do.
I was in charge of the design effort through the opening in 1992, and through the Added Capacity program in 1993 and 1994, when we added the Temple of Peril, Storybook Land, Casey Jr., The Nautilus and several other new shows. At the same time, Indiana Jones was in design development for DL. We just finished it 2 months ago. It is fabulous, all new and a really amazing ride.
With the completion of the added capacity program, highlighted by the opening of the Nautilus last year, I finished my assignments on DLP. I was involved in the beginning design of Discovery Mountain (which is now called Space Mountain) working with Michael Eisner and the engineers to develop the cannon and the sequence of loops that are on the ride. Then Tim Delaney took over and did the styling on the attraction, just as he had done so beautifully for the rest of Discoveryland.
How did Discovery Mountain evolve from the first concepts to what it is today ?
If we had opened that ride in 1992 with the rest of the park, it would have been a copy of Space Mountain at DL. Because that ride was designed in 1974, it does not benefit from the computer technology that is now used to design the track. In addition, many of the new things that happened since 1974, such as the loops and the catapult mechanism, would not have been included.
The cannon was inspired by a number of different rides that launch you out of a catapult, , such as Montezooma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm, the park closest to DL. I love those type of rides, but they all shoot you out horizontally and as a result you slam back into your seat. So I thought that if the catapult was at a 45 degree angle, you would already be leaning back in the seat, so it would be comfortable when it fires - as well as creating a much more dramatic effect.
Let us talk a little bit about the past now. Who were your mentors when you entered WED at the time ?
Mostly Claude Coats. I appreciated Marc Davis who is a great animator, but Marc was very much in control of his designs. He knew what he wanted and he did every bit of it: himself - the color, the painting, the styling. Claude, however, was much more open to young people. He was in his '60s when I was, just out of school and he would say: "Well what do you think about this ? What do you think if we did this or did that ?" He would say: "Why don't you take that back to your desk and work on it, and then I will come and see how you are doing." He would let you do your own design and he would say: "Oh, that looks good, let's use that." I thought, "Wow ! my idea is actually going to be used ! My scene in Snow White, my spider web, my scene with the dwarf mine, or whatever it was, in a Disney attraction !"
Claude was superb at creating environments. Marc was superb with the characters. When Walt was there, he made them work together and they created Pirates of the Caribbean, which has unbelievably great characters and a fabulous environment. And then, after Walt died, everybody kind of worked on their own. So Claude did rides that were environments but without any characters and Marc did things like The Country Bear Jamboree and America Sings that had a lot of characters but a very thin environment. I found interesting to see that when Walt was alive he was able to pull everyone together and I think that was his great talent: to be able to get everyone to work together in harmony.
Do you remember any special project you worked on with Claude Coats ?
Oh yes ! The 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine ride and the Snow White ride in Florida. They just refurbished Snow White, changing it into a more sweet, happy ride. It was very scary. I remember, when the assignment came, they said they wanted one ride to be beautiful (that was Peter Pan), one to be funny and silly (that was Mr. Toad) and one ride to be scary, which was Snow White. So we made it scary. Many people said it was more frightening than the Haunted Mansion because it was witches all the time.
So when they redid it they put more Snow White and the Prince and the dwarfs and many of the things that we had added in California when we redid it. But the original one in Florida was really scary. It was my first project with Claude.
Those attractions were the ones I sunk my teeth into at the start of my career. And I went down to Florida as Claude's representative to install 20.000 Leagues Under the Sea. He would come down and inspected it. I was only 23 years old, and here were those workers that were like 40 or 50 years old. At first I was intimidated, and I thought: "they will not listen to what I have to say. They know how to sculpt, they know how to paint, they know all these skills and I am just right out of school." But I realized, once I got down with them and did the work myself that they really did not know anything about Disney magic. They knew how to build a building, and how to paint a wall, but they did not know how to make something look like Atlantis or an undersea world. So, once I started showing them how to do something, there was a respect for your talents that came out, and after a short time, they were very accepting of being given direction.
Did you work with Ken Anderson ?
Oh, yes. Ken and I worked on the new Fantasyland for DL after he had already retired. But I knew he had been so much involved in the first Fantasyland that I called and said: "It would be wonderful if you could come and give us some help on the new Fantasyland."
Ken was great because he was someone who had been there the first time, with Walt. So, all of us, "the new kids" had a father. When someone wanted it this way and others that way, Ken would be able to come and say: "No, look, look, look, this it what we need to do in here." So Ken would kind of soothe everybody's egos and do a quick little sketch of what it should look like and that would be it. So much of the architecture on Snow White and Mr. Toad is from Ken. Ken was very strong on those two designs, he had a very strong influence on the rest of us during that whole process.
I stayed very close to Ken, all the way till he passed away. My parents enjoyed him also immensely. They got to meet him and they got on very well.
As for Claude, he took me to the Academy Awards voting, the night when they go to vote to the awards. And I thought: "I can not believe this, I am a kid from Orange County and this famous person is inviting me to the Academy Awards." And he added: "You would have to drive home tonight. Why don't you just stay in our spare room ?" "Stay at you house !" This was amazing to me. I remember one night there was a party at Claude's house and David Tomlinson, the father from Mary Poppins and Irwin Kostal who did the orchestration for Mary Poppins, The Song of Music and West Side Story, they were all there at this party, and that was very exiting. As I said I was very young and Claude was like my father figure.
I would sit down and listen to him talk. He was like 70 years old and he would say: "Now the witches will come out like that and..." and I thought: "Wow !" My parents were so straight. My father in suit, tie and carried a briefcase to go to work. I never grew up around adults that would talk about witches and all of this stuff like a kid. Claude was 70 but he was like a kid.
About a year ago I went over to their home and I said to his widow Evie: "You know I never had the nerve to ask Claude for any of his works." So she gave me a beautiful piece that he had done just before he died of Pinocchio's village. It was not as finished because his eyesight got weaker before he died. But it is still a beautiful painting. I was really thrilled with it.
Did you ever had a chance to meet Walt, having entered the company in 1965 ?
Yes I did. But you must remember I was serving ice cream at the time and Walt Disney was Walt Disney. It was not like now, it is sad, because if I were doing what I am doing now, I would know him and work with him.
So I was working in Carnation and they said: "Walt Disney is coming through our store today, to see how the place works and observe all the employees." So they said: "No breakes, no lunches, everybody has to work constantly, because we do not want Walt to see anything wrong." I was getting more and more tired and I thought (I was in charge of the ice cream end of it) if he asks me how we are doing, I am going to say: "I just want you to know that nobody had their lunch, nobody was able to go on a break and they do not hire enough people and they try to make it look all fine, even if we do not have enough people to do this,..." And so, Walt came and said (cheerfully): "Well how are you going today ?" and I said (tensed): "Fine... Fine." I was just in awe.
My sister, who was a few years younger than I was, would come out to DL with me. I would go to work and I would get her in on my pass. One day Walt was there and she followed him to It's a Small World and she asked, "Can we go on the ride with you ?". He said, "Well, of course !" So he took my sister and her little friend in the boat and they went around and came back and then he said: "Do you want to do it again ?" and they said "Yes !" So he said: "Then you need to sing the song this time." So they did it a second time. Then he said: "Do you want to come in the back and I will show you how we do all this stuff ? " So he took them. And they were not more than 11 years old. And he took them in the back to show them how the animation and all that work. And finally he gave them books of tickets and an autograph that she has to this day. And she said: "My brother works here, and he is going to be really mad that he did not get this opportunity." So Walt said, "Oh, he does ! What's his name ?" so he signed an other one for me. And she brought that over: "You are not going to believe what this happens to be !"
Then I met him a couple of other times, but just in the employee's cafeteria, walking in and saying: "Hi, how are you ?", but that was all. Never person to person. He was like a god, you were so in awe that you could not say anything other than: "Hello Mr. Disney." I could not say Walt, that was too hard. Even if he did not like to be called Mr. Disney. He wanted to be called Walt.
How did you get the idea of Big Thunder Mountain ?
When WDW first opened, they were going to build a Marc Davis attraction called The Western River Expedition. It was like Pirates of the Caribbean, only it was about cowboys and Indians. You rode down a river and the cowboys were shooting the Indians and there was a war dance and you went down the water falls and there was a train that came into town, etc. They were going to build that in Florida, because they thought, "In Florida people are far away from the West, so it would be interesting for them to have a Western ride. In California, people are far away from New Orleans and the South, so having a Pirate ride in a New Orleans setting was exciting, there, in DL.
So they wanted to build The Western River Expedition in Florida but they didn't have the time or money to complete it for opening in 1971. Very quickly the park was swamped with too many guests. They needed more attractions immediately, so instead of taking time to develop The Western River Expedition, they had to copy Pirates of the Caribbean. So they shortened the ride and it opened in 1974, just 3 years after the park. Once Pirates opened, the whole plan of doing a Western ride, which was similar, was gone.
That land, that was on the far West-side of Frontierland was now available. So they said: "Let us see if you can come up with an idea for it." So I started to work with the Monument Valley rock work from Utah and figuring out how to build a train that would look like the train was built after the rocks. You go to the parks in Europe and it is like they put rocks around the train: the train was there first and then rocks grew around the train ! This does not make any sense. The challenge was to make it look like the rocks were there and to make it find its way through the rocks to make it look like not a roller-coaster but like a real adventure.
I guess I did a really good job out of it, because they all thought: "Wow ! have you seen that kid in the back with that runaway train model ? It is very exciting and a beautiful attraction." It was fairly cheap compared to the price of the Western River or Pirates and so they said, "Fine, we are going to do it." As luck would have it, Space Mountain came first, because of the tremendous interest in the space program and WDW's close proximity to Cape. Space Mountain opened in 1974 and Big Thunder did not come in Florida before 1980. Even though I finished it in 1974, we put it away for a while and then brought it back 6 years later.
Were there many challenges in the building of this attraction ?
Yes, because that was the very first ride that we did with the aid of computer design on the track. I would do a design and give it to the computer artist and he would tell me, "No, it won't work. The computer wants..." There is a spiral on Big Thunder, near the beginning of the ride, where it goes around and then heads back. The computer kept moving it over, because it did not want that much track there. It wanted to shorten the length of track. And I wanted it over there because it looked good as a design. I like the composition of the three summits, the pyramid composition of shapes. The computer kept moving the track which made the ride somewhat less attractive.
So 9 times I did a new design that I thought would solve the problem and the computer would say no. So we built 9 tiny models to check the look until the computer said, "OK, I will accept this. This one is OK." That was the one we ended up building. But it took 9 designs before the computer approved !
They tried to do the computer design on Space Mountain in Florida. But it was so early in the evolution of computer design that much of the track profile was later worked out by hand to improve the smoothness of the ride.
Big Thunder Mountain is the first ride where it is really fluid, very smooth and a very good ride.
After Big Thunder Mountain came Journey into Imagination. Were you the one designing Figment ?
Yes. I came up with the name and the idea. Steve Kirk, Andy Gaskill and X. Atencio gave him form. I was watching Magnum p.i. with Tom Selleck on TV. He was in the garden and the butler Higgins had all this plants and they were all uprooted. It was a mess. Magnum had been hiding a goat out there and the goat had eaten the plants. Higgins said, "Magnum ! Magnum ! Come out here ! Look at this ! Something has been eating all the plants in the garden." and Magnum says "Oh, it is just a figment of your imagination." And Higgins says: "Figments don't eat grass."
I thought, "There is this name, the word "figment" that in English means a sprightly little character. But no one has ever visualized it, no one had ever drawn what a figment is. So, here is great word that already has a great meaning to people, but no one has ever seen what one looks like." So we had a name that was just waiting for us to design the shape for it.
I came to work and said, "I have the answer for our show, it is going to be Figment." We had came out with "Dreamfinder" earlier. That was easy, he was a Santa Claus-type who is wise and older and knows all the great things, a great thinker. But we needed a child-like character that had like a one second attention span and was a little crazy.
An other strong part in that show was the presence of the Sherman Brothers. Richard and Robert, the song writing team from Mary Poppins and It's a Small World. Once again, they were like idols to me. With my role as director, I had the ability to go after top talent, so I said: "I would like to have the Sherman Brothers come in." And they said, "OK, Fine." And I thought "Wow !" because they were so important to me. They are wonderful, they are such nice guys. What I found right away is that when the Sherman Brothers believe in a show, and when they understand an idea fully, they write better music. When they do not feel that good about it, the music has an absence of wonder since they were not able to sense any magic to build the themes on.
Their best music is in the best films. Like Mary Poppins, Charlotte's Web (the cartoon for Hanna-Barbara) which I think they did a really good job on and who can forget It's a Small World - terrific ! And they did an excellent one for us on Imagination with "Magic Journeys" and "Making Memories" (which is here in Captain EO and is one of the original songs from Journey into Imagination). And then "One Little Spark" which they wrote for the Figment show.
It was a fun time, and a real challenge because we had to figure out what Imagination is. It took us 6 months to come up with a simple thing: "You gather, you store and you re-combine." Right now, Didier, you are gathering information from me and you are storing it and you are going to re-combine it with things you already know and create a new product which is what you will write. Whether you are a writer or a scientist or an artist or a teacher or someone making a cake, it is the same thing: "gather, store and re-combine". So we gave those words to the Sherman Brothers and they wrote "One Little Spark" based on that premise.
Weren't you sad that Figment, who is a such a nice character, was not used more ?
Well, you see, at the time, animation was not the keystone to The Walt Disney Company that it has become since Little Mermaid.
At the time, but maybe later.
I know. They did some educational films that have very simple TV-style animation. The shows are more for little children at school and they were not widely distributed. It was a big disappointment. Because, when EPCOT was created, they hoped to have TV shows for each of the subjects, like Walt used to do with the Disneyland show. Each week, it would be Fantasyland or Frontierland, something reflecting the park. We were hopeful that each week there would be something reflecting the different pavilions in EPCOT, but it never happened.
Management was very frightened, in those days, of their own heritage and they had trouble being cute or charming and all of that stuff. So when we proposed characters for EPCOT they were absolutely scared to death. And it was Kodak that encouraged our company to go with the characters in the Imagination show.
When EPCOT opened, the public loved Figment. It was number 3 or 4 on the sales of plush animals. In WDW, it was like: Mickey, Minnie, Donald and then Figment. The Merchandising people were very upset that they had missed other potential characters. So then they said: "Develop some more." So they came out with vegetables from Kitchen Cabaret and tried to do a character for Energy. But it didn't catch people's attention because it was not constructed into the story. You can not really put something in after the fact, it is too late. It is either built into the story and you feel it or it seems dumb.
Can you tell us about the attractions you worked on and that never were ?
There were many ! I do not know if I can think of them all.
Discovery Bay was the first really big disappointment. We had created an attraction that would be based on the motion picture Island at the Top of the World, which featured the Hyperion airship. When the movie came out, it was such a disappointing film and did so poorly that the studio did not want to hear anything about building a land based on it. This was very sad because the designs were beautiful. And even to this day, people in California ask, "When are you going to do Discovery Bay ? We want to see Discovery Bay."
Many years past and the new management had no connection with Island and we put a lot of the Discovery Bay ideas into Discoveryland, here in Europe.
We did the same thing for Robin Hood, which I call a "sticks and stones and leaves" movie, because the film did not have the rich environment of, say, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin or the older films like Snow White or Pinocchio which go to magical places. In the mid-seventies, the films were about characters and they were just standing against stone and bushes. So a ride would be uninteresting. It was just characters with no place to go. A ride like this would not work - rides are about unique environments.
And we did a Tron ride. That movie came out and it did not do that well. We did put in a little short Ride through the World of Tron on the PeopleMover. It is also used in the General Motors pavilion in EPCOT. That's all that became of it.
Likewise, for Wescot and for Disney Sea in Long Beach, we created a whole lot of attractions. But you know it is funny. We put a lot of these things away and then you come back to them. You keep them in the back of your head and all of a sudden it is the right time for it to come to life.
From all the attractions you built, what is your favorite ?
Right now it is The Indiana Jones Adventure at DL in California. I love the Indy movies, I can not tell you how much I love those films, and what intrigued me about them is that they are so fast paced and surprises are everywhere. Rides are very controlled, and I wondered if we could create one where every time you ride it, it is different and you do not know what to expect... you think you will get rolled over by a giant rock and something happens to stop that and then you are going into a different door than the last time you rode. It was probably the most challenging attraction and it came out really very well. Most of the things we experimented with came out as well as we had hoped.
Big Thunder was exciting because it was my first. I could not believe that they were building it and each day you would sit there and stare at the construction, watching it get bigger and then watching the color applied and finally the moving trains. That was a wonderful time, but that is past. Then Journey into Imagination was exciting because it was a different kind of format. We were trying to tell people something and still make it entertaining. It was a challenge, because unlike, say, Energy and Transportation which can be explored in books , with Imagination, there is no book, it is whatever you want it to be. So we made up a whole world. It became the Fantasyland of EPCOT.
Star Tours was also very exciting, because no one had ever done simulators before. Ron Miller was still President of Walt Disney Productions. We went over to Ron and talked to him about it. He was uncomfortable partnering with someone from the outside, George Lucas, but he finally decided, "You are right, we need to have the best at DL." So he took his plane up his vineyard in Napa Valley in Northern California. He flew Marty Sklar, one other designer and me. George Lucas drove to Ron's house in his car. And Diane Disney Miller was serving the lunch !
And I am sitting there thinking, "This is Walt's daughter, and this the head of the company, and this is George Lucas, who might be considered a modern-day Disney. If the plane crashes on my way back, it does not matter, this is the best day in my life." Diane said: "Do you want some more salad ?" I had never met her personally until then. It was like being in a family... George Lucas was in jeans and I thought this is amazing, this guy has done Star Wars and Indiana Jones and I am here talking with him about a ride.
How was the work on Splash Mountain ? Was it interesting to work from a classical Disney movie ?
Yes, it was. The idea for Splash Mountain popped into my head as I was driving to work. Dick Nunis who is the Chairman of DL and WDW had always nagging me, saying: "Why don't we do a water ride ? All the other parks have one." I said: "That is why we are not doing one... Because all the other parks have one, it would seem as if Disney were copying." So that was in the back of my mind. Then, we had an other problem, the area of the park known as Bear Country was not very well attended because it only had the Country Bear Jamboree show. If you took an aerial picture of DL back at the time, only 2% of the people would be in Bear Country, 30% in Tomorrowland, 30% in Fantasyland and 12% in Adventureland. The park did not like that. They said: "We need a big attraction out there." The final element was the impending closure of America Sings. They were going to throw away all those characters that Marc Davis had developed.
So I am driving my car and the idea sparked (just like in Journey into Imagination) and I thought: "I know, we are going to do a water ride to please Dick, using the characters from America Sings. So we save them, and we will do it out in Bear Country so we solve the problem of little attendance in that part of the Park !"
When I arrived at work, I said, "Here is the idea, how do we make it fit in Bear Country ?" We were tossing it around and someone said, "Song of the South looks a lot like America Sings." So we got out some of the original model sheets from Song of the South and I found some characters that were not used in the movie, that I would swear were done by Marc Davis, because they just look like the possums and all the characters that were in America Sings. We knew we only had to add Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear and Brer Fox to make it work. So we added 10 new figures to the 75 existing figures from America Sings. We had a show of 85 figures for the cost of ten.
Splash Mountain was one of the first projects that Michael Eisner approved, and it opened in 1989. It took a while to build, because it is a fairly complicated show. It was good to try something that again was traditional, more traditional than George Lucas.
Today, we have got so many animated films that would make great rides. We had a Little Mermaid ride designed for DLP that goes on the hill right across from the Bella Note Restaurant, and it is spectacular. I remember that Jeffrey Katzenberg came over and was amazed by the mock-up we had for it. You stand above water and you see Eric's ship, then your vehicle dives down into the water and the effect makes you think: "I see the water but I cannot feel it." Then the ship dives into Ariel's kingdom and you can look from Ariel's kingdom up to Eric's world and when you are in Eric's world, you can look down in Ariel's world.
We really loved the Mermaid ride, but the park was so busy that we had to go with the "added capacity program" which put in 10 new rides and shows in 2 years, and gave us 13,000 additional seats per hour in this Park. They could not put all the money into just one ride. They needed to spread it out across the whole park. So we created Temple of Peril, Storybook Land and Casey Jr., the Castle walk through, The Old Mill, the walk through in the Fort, the Nautilus, Aladdin, a new train and the train station in Discoveryland. So with all that added quickly in order to get needed capacity for guests, unfortunately, we did not get to do Little Mermaid.
We were also not able to do Little Mermaid's companion attraction, Beauty and the Beast which was a theatre show like The Tiki Room. You went to the Beast's castle, where you found Lumiere and Cogsworth, who were both Audio-Animatronics figures. The whole castle came to life with "Be Our Guest", and everything would be talking and singing. Then with a big crash of thunder and lighting, all the good characters went away, the Gargoyles came down the columns and sang a version of "Kill the Beast", which we changed "Beware of the Beast" in order to tell our story. Then the Beast suddenly appears and roars, "You have all come to stare at the Beast !" He was also an AA figure. Then Belle (who would be a live character) comes running out of the audience saying: "No they have not. They are your friends, they are here because they like you." And Beast says: "Prove it !" So she gives the rose to one child in the audience who takes it up to the AA Beast. The Beast takes the rose and transforms back into the Prince (our second live character). He and Belle run up the stairway and form a couple in silhouette and the show goes into the song "Beauty and the Beast". It was really a nice little show, and fit on the hill between Fantasia Gelati and the Cinderella complex. Maybe someday we will add them both !
Did you work with the animators on Splash Mountain ?
Yes we worked with Michael Cedino, and the animation of the Brer Fox silhouette was done by Joe Lanzisero, who later led the design effort on Toontown. I was not that involved in Toontown. I worked on the Toontown Trolley, and I did the Roger Rabbit ride vehicle for Car Toon Spin. We were visiting Tivoli Gardens and there was that ride that spun around. I kept it in the back of my mind and that became the basis for Roger Rabbit ride. We actually put a teacup on a Pinocchio car and rode it through the Pinocchio attraction at DL to see what it would be like to spin along the track in the dark. That is how we developed the Roger Rabbit car.
Of course, when we worked on The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast attractions, we had the animation directors working with us, to make sure that color and everything was right. Peter Schneider and Jeffrey Katzenberg would also come by.
Michael Cedino worked on the animation of the Figment that is in the microscope window in the Science section of Journey into Imagination. Ken O'Brien did the Genie and the fairies that are in an earlier part of the ride.
We are at DLP but we almost have not talked yet about this park. Can you tell us which were the best and worst challenges of the project ?
You should refer to the special issue of the magazine Connaissance des Arts for that. There is an English version of it. I did a very in depth interview about the subject in there.
But basically, I was the lead designer on the DL park portion of the project. Long ago, I approached Marty Sklar, the President of Imagineering, and said, "If we ever do something in Europe, I would really like to do it. I have lots of ideas about what could be improved from Tokyo DL and what is great about DL in California. I would really like to have a chance to try for a perfect version of Disneyland." So he said: "OK, fine, I will keep that in mind." Then the first thing I knew we were asked to come over here to meet with the negotiators in 1986. Before long they started finalizing the deal and we began to do preliminary work on it.
We put together a team of five lead designers. Tim Delaney was on Discoveryland, Tom Morris was on Fantasyland, Eddie Sotto was on Main Street, Chris Tietz was on Adventureland and Jeff Burke was on Frontierland.
We had a big brainstorming session where everyone in the company was asked the question: "If you could do DL all over again, what things would you do and what not ?". At the end of the session, we had over 200 ideas of things that people would do. I saved all those, I have them in a file. Out of those, about 100 of the ideas were actually incorporated into the park. In one of them Chris Tietz had presented the idea of doing Adventure Island instead of doing Tom Sawyer Island. His reason was that Tom Sawyer Island is a sleepy kind of place along the Mississippi river, which was romantic in Anaheim, where it is all "city, city, city", so a quiet river is nice. But here in Europe, we wanted Frontierland more exciting with a big bustling Western river. Consequently, we put Big Thunder in the middle of the river, which brought the whole land to life. Chris' idea for Adventure Isle was so good we made him the key designer for Adventureland.
Then Bob Fitzpatrick was hired as President of Euro Disney, and we began working on the issues of how many hotels. One of the biggest challenges to me was that we wanted very much to do the Magic Kingdom Hotel (which became the DL Hotel), which was our idea, Eddie Sotto and I. But Michael Eisner said, "You cannot afford it, unless it is a real hotel." Our design was just a facade where you wait in line under cover to get in. I thought, "If it is pouring rain and the entrance looks like DL or WDW, it is going to feel miserable, you need to have an inviting symbol of home and hospitality."
So, when Michael suggested making it a real hotel, I went to see the hotel people and their eyes went up like this, because anything that we got would be taken away from their portfolio of things. It was a struggle all the way, because it had to work economically in the hotel business. The hotel finishes cost a lot less than the interior in the park, but it was very important that it would be elegant and nice. I'm sure I was nothing but trouble because we were constantly pushing to make the scale different and the interiors richer. But it turns out that this is one of the two most popular hotels here, that and the Cheyenne.
Now, Tokyo DL wants one, so who knows what will happen.
Were you a little bit inspired by The Grand Floridian Hotel ?
Yes, there is also a hotel in Southern California that is a bit like that too, called Del Coronado. But the DL Hotel is a little bit more formal. The Grand Floridian kind of rambles like Del Coronado. The DL Hotel is almost castle-like. It reminds me of the Hotel de Ville in Paris, of course the architecture differs, but the shape is similar. And finally, we wanted to have just a little bit of fun by putting the clock up there with the Mickey to remind you that this is not a puffy, estate, it's a fun place.
The castle was a challenge, because Florida's castle is made up of pieces of the Loire Valley castles which are just down the road from here. We did a board that Tom Morris put together, showing where each piece of the castle was taken. We said, "We cannot go to Europe and bring over a pastiche of castles that are 200 miles away." We said: "It needs to be out of a fairy tale. So Bob Fitzpatrick brought in the Duc de Berry's Book of the Hours and showed us pictures in there and we brought him many of the background paintings from Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella and we agreed we should stylize everything in the Castle so it looks like it's out of a fairy tale, rather than gothic columns, Romanesque arches. We wanted to have trees than hold up the ceiling and stain glass that tells the story of Sleeping Beauty and stain glass that changes. So every way you look, even though you have seen magnificent real structures throughout France, this one will stand out as being decidedly different. And I think it does.
The artist who did the glass was 85 years old and he said: "All my life I have been overwhelming people with my work, because it has primarily been used in churches, with the saints looking down and all of this. I came out of retirement for this project because it would give me the chance to make people feel happy with my art. I would like to make them smile."
Tell me about the trees in front of the Castle. Did Eyvind Earle see your concepts for those square trees ?
He did not see them, but Frank Armitage, who was one of the background painters who worked under Eyvind on Sleeping Beauty and still works with us, did a painting of the Castle done in the style of the movie. In Florida we have the Palm Tree, in California we have the Orange Tree but there is not really a recognizable tree of France that I can think of. So I said, "All right, we will have the square tree." So we created living trees that appear throughout time in the ancient tapestries, you see some of them in the tapestries of the Cluny Museum. But no one ever saw one in real life. It gives it a very distinctive but familiar look.
This park has a lot more meaning to it than even DL where some things might be referred to as Fantasyland 1, Fantasyland 2, and hot dog stands are just hot dog stands, not like Casey's Corner as it is at DLP. For example we created the gardens in front of the hotel because we felt we have to give people something before they give back to us. So that you are convinced that what you are about to get into has value. When you step off the RER and travel down into that garden, it is a valuable, very beautifully done space. We give some of it to you first. In California, where everybody is used to paying and getting in line, it is just a row of ticket booths and fences - no one expects anything more. It is not like going to Versailles or the Tuileries or any public space in France where there is a presentation and the staging of the arrival sequence is important.
It was difficult to get some of our management to accept this. They were wondering, "Well, we have never done that before, why are you doing this ? It is not that important." And I said: "Well it is, if we want to respect their tradition. It does not need to look like a French garden , it may look like an American garden, but it needs to be there, because the French people are used to a sense of arrival, a sense of place rather than just a traditional road-side attraction."
There was a lot of work that went into the background on all of this. Each building and space has a story behind it, even the arcades. They are not just not arcades. There is the Discovery Arcade with the world as it may look to the Victorians 100 years in the future. The other, the Liberty Arcade is themed to the Franco-American creation of the Statue of Liberty. Each space has a story. If you had the whole night, I could tell you all of them.
What was your best experience during the building of this park ?
I really wanted something as a souvenir, because I have a collection too. And I had decided that the tapestries in the castle were so beautiful that I really wanted to have the one with the dragon fight. So I asked Tom Morris: "How much do you think it would cost to have one of those made extra ?" and he said "Oh, you could not afford it, do not even think of it." So I put it out of my mind. Meanwhile Bob Fitzpatrick had made a mental note of that, and he had them make a separate one. So at a big party for the team, he said: "We have a little something here" and they unrolled the tapestry. I could not believe it. I framed it all beautifully and built a part of my house around it. It is very strange for me to see it up there in the Castle, as it is part of my home.
That was the most rewarding moment.
Thank you, Tony.
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