Sharp eyed readers will note that the name of this blog has changed. No, the purpose of the blog didn’t change, just the name, because I have embraced the spirit of adaptive reuse. I have resurrected the name used decades ago for one of my fanzines. And, for those of you who don’t know or recall fanzines they were a form of communication among fans (thus the name) in the age before the internet.
Mimeo, ditto or hectograph these self made and self distributed publications connected people before social media. And some of the people connected went on to careers in the industry that they wrote about. The image here is by Tim Kirk, a person who enjoyed an important and productive career at Walt Disney Imagineering. Tim’s art work is the cover to an even earlier fanzine of mine entitled “Esoteric”, and makes word play on my name.
Imagine that you’ve nearly completed building a brand-new house which will you shortly move into. You’ve saved to design your new house and to build your new house, and although you aren’t finished with construction, you are close. Only the finishing touches for your new house are left to complete and you can then move in. But just as you complete all those finishing touches, you begin to remodel.
That’s what occurred when the Disney MGM Studios Theme Park opened in the Spring of 1989 at Walt Disney World, because due to guest demand the park was crowded. Very crowded. So, in response a number of new attractions were quickly ordered. The list of new things for guests to experience included new dining, new restrooms, new walkways, new shows, new shops, and a new play area.
Building on and inspired by the success of the Disney film, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, work began on the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure”, which opened to guests on December 17, 1990. Located on the ‘New York Streets’ section of the Studio Backlot, the new play adventure was located on what was empty land.
The concept was to recreate a version of the back yard of the house seen in the film. This would allow guests to explore the yard under the shade of 30-foot-tall blades of grass. And, set among the grass were giant ants, a huge dog nose (which sprayed wet dog sneeze, so yuck!), and an empty Kodak film canister with a film roll that was actually a slide. In addition, guests walking across a soft dark ‘dirt’ surface could discover a leaf that was used as water wall, a maze made up of plant roots, and a leaking water hose which was helpful to combat the Florida heat.
The ground was made a soft surface, or ‘safe deck’, which allowed guests to fall without injury. This material would later be installed in a number of Disney projects featuring playgrounds before falling out of favor and being removed over the course of time.
Normal play structures were not to be found in this playground. Open roots covered the slides as one example of cladding normal play equipment. Similar unclad slides can be experienced today in other Disney theme parks.
Another activity was a set of climbing nets that were disguised as spider webs and hung in an arrangement that allowed guests to climb up to the top for an uninspired view of what was a rather basis industrial area. The view was a rare look into a Disney back of house that was normally off limits to guests, so it was unique if only for that experience.
The set pieces were built in a variety of ways, with some of the methods being pure trial and error. In the example of the giant cereal round an open cell foam (sometimes called ‘bead foam’) was employed. The foam would be roughly cut with various sizes of saw blades by workers operating under a tent for shade from the Florida sun.
In this close up of the image worker is captured as he holds a large black marker in one hand which he used to circle an area of foam to remove. The reason for the removal was to create the divots common to pieces of cereal. The worker would remove the area using an electrically heated wire that was hot enough that it would melt the foam prior to cutting away the unneeded portions. Thereafter clean up and minor revisions to the work would occur and the process would continue until a single piece of cereal was produced.
Elsewhere in the production yard a combination of foam and plaster were used to create the several Fiddle Ferns that would be ‘planted’ in the play area.
Finally like all workers they need to be fed, and one of the advantages of a production yard was the ready availability of cooking gas and an iron skillet. Oh, and meat. Lots and lots of meat.
The “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure” entertained guests of all ages for many years and survived several changes to the park, but it couldn’t survive the biggest one. The last day of operation for the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure” was April 2, 2016. It was replaced by “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge”, a land that lacks giant fiddle ferns.
The topic of rock work for theme park construction has been covered before and likely better than I’m about to do. So, if you desire a technical document, your search will deliver better results. What this article is going to deal with is one specific example of rock work desire and production, and the object of my attention is ‘Big Grizzly Mountain’. BGM is a roller coaster themed as a gold mine that a family of grizzly bears have picked to live. The ride is considered as Hong Kong Disneyland’s version of Thunder Mountain, one that is found in many of the other Disney parks.
Hong Kong Disneyland when it opened featured a collection of known rides, land, and environments common to other Disney parks, and that was a problem, but also an opportunity for the designers at WDI to create a modern version of a mine type coaster located in the ‘Old West’.
Image of Vasquez Rocks located in Aqua Dulce, California.
Big Grizzly Mountain took its inspiration from Vasquez Rocks, which is a natural out cropping located in the town that is today named Aqua Dulce, or ‘sweet water’ in Spanish. Vasquez Rocks have zero connection with gold mining however they do have their own story of wealth because in 1874, Tiburcio Vasquez, who was one of California’s most notorious Mexican bandidos, used the rocks as a hide out to elude capture by law enforcement. The Vasquez formation is a collection of alluvial sediments and reside in a sharply-folder syncline in unique set of forms, and so it was perfect as the choice for Big Grizzly Mountain.
The design process was to study and document the rock formation and with that knowledge merge the roller coaster track design with rock formation elements that would best support the story of the ride.
Image of rock work sample typical of the process.
Rock work models were followed by rock work samples, produced to ensure that form, color and design intent could be successfully achieved by workers during the construction phase.
Final stage of construction as the mine trains are operational.
Moving onto the next phase the mountain was built and color was applied.
The town of Grizzly Gulch was built in a new old west style. Not as old looking as Thunder Mesa looks but more of a movie set appearance which I believe the local guest would have found more acceptable.
Finally, after much effort and work Big Grizzly Mountain was finished and ready for its first riders. The ride is one of a kind and likely never to be copied in another Disney park.
My first notice of involvement with Avengers Campus Europe was in the form of a telephone call. Since I was the Executive Creative Director for Toy Story Land and Toy Story Hotel, I was spending a lot of my time living in Shanghai. Once out of curiosity I added up the number of days spent in the People’s Republic of China and discovered that the total was over 250 days during a single calendar year. Not that it mattered because when my mobile phone rang the voice on the other end asked me to take on the role as Executive Creative Director and start design work for Avengers Campus that was to be built at the Disney Studios Paris Theme Park. So, for a some months I woke early several times weekly to join video conferences that began at 4am Shanghai time. I plugged time into my Shanghai project schedule and started to focus on Avengers Campus Paris while balancing my project load for Toy Story Land.
Since I knew Rock n Roller Coaster from WDW, and DSP and I knew Marvel, I leverage both as I started on the project. I also owned thousands of Marvel Comics and they proved as useful the films in the creation and design process.
I started with what I knew about RnRC while thinking about what was broken in the area as it currently existed, and that proved remarkable simple. The existing land was barren, lacking greenery and filled with hard and uninteresting surfaces. The design manifest was to duplicate the Spider-man ride, reimagine Rock n Roller Coaster and fix the land giving it a story and supporting background. Prior to confirming Spider-man, there was a development to repurpose the Armageddon attraction as well as duplicating and importing another ride that had premiered elsewhere. Due to NDA just like Bruno we don’t talk about those ideas.
The concept that quickly emerged was this area was developed and owned by Howard Stark and was the hidden nondisclosed European headquarters of SHEILD. As Ms. Peggy Carter was British it made it logical in the story for her to have an office in the factory and thus SHIELD would be represented. The fun map shows Avengers Campus as it is today and shows the old airfield dating to the post war era. The airfield doesn’t exist in reality, but it was present in my mind whenever I thought about the foundations of the designs.
This image is a throw-everything-at-the-wall image that would serve as inspiration for the new version of Rock n Roller Coaster. Obviously, the arc reactor seen in the film Iron Man didn’t make it to the final cut, however the image proved useful to explain the scope of the project to other stakeholders. The interior queue did grow as this version took over the space used for the Aerosmith scene, so win, win.
The attraction poster was a personal project inspired by the classic Disneyland attraction posters but as with the fun map it explains the concept for the new land. My digital work was mouse only which in hindsight is possible the slowest way for me to have created this artwork. Live and learn.
There were many, many steps in the process before I completed design and handed off the creative part of the project to the Euro Disneyland Imagineering team. I next turned my attention to yet another new project however soon after that project started Covid began and soon afterward I decided after more than three decades to retire from Walt Disney Imagineering.
There is more to the story but for now I will stop to congratulate Disneyland Paris as they open Avengers Campus Europe to the guests visiting Disneyland Paris. My hope is that guests enjoy visiting this new land will have as much fun as I did in its creation.
It’s conceivable that a family traveling from home to Walt Disney World will have several things on their minds during their vacation visit. For example, they are in a strange new place, the weather is hot and likely humid, they may be dehydrated, and they are excited. These are but a few of the considerations for ride, show and attraction designers when they sit down at the table facing a blank sheet and begin design work.
Now nobody gets everything correct but there are a few rules to follow to deliver a successful design, because it’s miserable for everyone when the design fails. The guest isn’t happy because the ride has made them sick, the operator isn’t happy because the sick guest complains, and the cast member isn’t happy because they are spending time cleaning up sick during their shift. There is an inherent conflict because the park operator which in this example in Cosmic Rewind at Epcot wants to market a ride compelling enough to push guests to travel to Disney World, but the ride operator wants to inform guests as to the nature of the ride which if the guests were informed might not travel to Disney World. Trying to serve the two masters results in a bad experience for both.
It is proven that people will self-select to opt out of an experience when informed about the experience. In designing Rock n Roller Coaster that opened at the Disney MGM Studios the queue forces waiting guests to view at least two launches of the coaster train. The correct assumption was that guests who would ride after viewing the launches would be able to accept the three inversions. In the example of Space Mountain when it opened at Disneyland Paris guests would queue through a path in the mountain where would see coaster trains speeding in the dark and catch a glimpse of a trains going through an inversion.
In the case of Crush’s Coaster, the project could not afford such a view of the dark coaster area, so my design incorporated an outside track portion to allow guests to at least see that the attraction was a ride and that the ride was a coaster. Inside the building the queue traveled up and over the track to allow guests to see the vehicle they would soon enter. But that wasn’t enough to serve to inform guests and so shortly after opening a new graphic was added of a dimensional vehicle with guests spinning. And that’s still not enough because guests don’t read the warnings required by the legal group.
And sometimes the queue is hidden on a ride where there isn’t an issue of guest barfing but for design aesthetics. When faced with designing the Aladdin ride for the Disney Studios Paris it was going to be placed at the end of an open courtyard in an empty and barren park. I selected to not place a queue of waiting guests in front of the ride but instead place them behind a circular mural. The mural served to block views of Frontierland which was a good thing, however it meant that guests would only discover their true wait time after they were behind the mural. Guests also don’t read or believe the time wait sign graphics.
As I wrote earlier there is no perfect solution however if designers think like the guest there are likely going to be fewer guests reaching for the barf bag at the end of the ride.
It’s part of my work habit routine to carry a sketch book whenever I’m working. And I carry the sketchbook to use in my home studio, the company work office or on the project site. There is always something to see, something to catch my interest, and someone who has a design question to answer. Over decades I purchased many sketch books that I’d fill and store, and this week I opened a storage box which contained a set of sketch books dating back to the early 1990s. One of the books which caught my interest documented my idea to add a gold mining company in Frontierland close to Thunder Mountain at Disneyland Paris.
I confess my idea has its roots in the classic pan for gold attraction at Knott’s Berry Farm. Several times in the Ghost Town I swirled my flat pan looking for gold which I took home and quickly lost. But the concept of gold panning had merit and that’s what I wanted to create in Marne-le-Vallee. A gold mining camp that would pay off the gold mine located within Thunder Mountain.
The location I selected was near the station for Thunder Mountain and the attraction was made up of several play activities. These sketch pages shown some of my thinking as I explored what I thought the area should contain.
All these elements would have been in a mining camp near the river and in this sketch shows an overview of the camp.
Part of the reason I explored this idea was to escape being type cast within WDI. After working on Mickey’s Toontown I was the go-to-guy for projects involving the Disney characters, and after working on Rock n’ Roller Coaster, I was the one to ask to create edgy music-based projects. I saw type casting happen to other designers and I didn’t want that for me because it would limit my opportunities.
Thunder Mine Company wasn’t asked for, no one wanted to see it and no one would be interested in supporting the idea as a project. So, the idea sat in my sketch book until now when I’m sharing it with you. The lesson is to be prepared to fail while pursuing passions of interest. Being ready to fail results in a life that is never boring.
It all started with a mouse, or at least that’s how my involvement with Euro Disneyland occurred.
The mouse was Mickey Mouse and my involvement with him was on the Mickey’s Toontown project which was then in construction and set to open at Disneyland in Anaheim. Toontown was the first land where I was involved designing and my area of design responsibility was for parts of Mickey’s Neighborhood and Gadget’s Go Coaster. This coaster was classified as a junior roller coaster and Vekoma was under contract to manufacture and deliver the ride and so to the vendor I would travel. Vekoma was in the town of Vlodrop which is close to the German border, and I used to drive pass the border check point house from the Dusseldorf airport to Vlodrop.
Business travel has changed in the decades and back when I started traveling to Vekoma. I would pick up my travel documents from the person on the first floor at 1401 Flower and fly to Europe to stay for several weeks. Before mobile phones and personal computers traveling was a total commitment and once at my destination, I became an available design resource that could be deployed to help in any way the company chose to complete Euro Disneyland. I traveled for the Mickey’s Toontown, but I stayed in Marne-la-Vallee for Euro Disneyland.
My assignments were different day to day during my extended stay in Europe. One day I would be checking that the plant material being installed around the treehouse on Adventure Isle followed the plan drawings and on a different day I would paint the exterior queue walls at the Pirates of the Caribbean. In all the hands-on deck situation prior to opening, I was happy to be of any assistance I could offer. When Euro Disneyland opened (or done and dusted), I believed I was done on EDL, but the week after Mickey’s Toontown was completed I was asked to start design work adding ride capacity to the EDL .
The following years put me back in Europe living near United Kingdom based show vendors, traveling to Vekoma, Zierer and Mack rides, all while living near the site to design and deliver the Old Mill Ferris Wheel, Aladdin walk through, Casey Junior, Storybook Land Canal Boats and Bonjour Mickey. Finally, the day arrived when my work again was completed and I returned to California where a few short years I was again pulled back to Disneyland Paris to create new rides and a land for the second park, the Walt Disney Studios Paris.
After several seemingly near-death experiences, a name change, and a delay in opening the second theme park, the question remains ‘was Euro Disneyland a success’? Depending on the lens a person looks regarding the question, the answer is yes, maybe, and no, however what can be stated is that the creation of Disneyland Paris is most certainly an achievement. So, I say ‘Joyeux Anniveraire Disneyland Paris’!
This blog is going about as well as I thought. By deciding to limit myself to longer form pieces the result is fewer pieces which don’t appear to be getting any longer. For readers wanting something more timely I refer you to my Twitter or Facebook accounts. For the non Westerns I refer you to WeChat.
Whenever I travel packed in my traveling bag is a sketchbook and some drawing pens of various types, because although I trust my camera to capture an image, I trust my eye more to see the image when I draw. Around a 100 years school students were taught to draw, not because their teachers thought they were training a future Picasso or Van Gogh, but learning to draw was a needed trade skill for work. In that spirit my sketch book travels with me in order for me to see and learn about the locations where I travel. The first sketch is Des Halles which was the Metro station nearest to my apartment in the early 1990s. Lots of glass and metal work which replaced a far better design for the buildings which were once at this site.
On every occasion I would try to draw elevations of buildings such as this example of a building at rue du Etinne Marcel located in the first arrondissements. This building combined classic form with a contemporary street lamp. The lamp served its function but it is horribly out of place.
Finally this sketch of a elderly man speaking into his mobile phone while been pushed by a determined younger man.
There are many other examples of buildings, people and environments that I many share in the future. Until then stay safe.
While working for over three decades at Walt Disney Imagineering I enjoyed a deep and long connection to Euro Disneyland. I began working in the Chastain building in Glendale, which was where the EDL team was housed in what had been an industrial warehouse. I recall the building having no system air conditioning, spotty heat and bugs blowing out of the vents when the blowers were started.
After Euro Disneyland opened, I next assigned as the Show Designer (which then was the same as a Creative Director today) for five new projects that were part of the planned additional capacity program. These were the Old Mill Ferris Wheel, Bonjour Mickey, Casey Junior, Storybook Canal Boats, and the Aladdin walk through. Later, for the Walt Disney Studios Paris, I designed fully or completed concept design and led the creative teams for Toon Studios, Crush’s Coaster, Cars Road Rally, Toy Story Playland, Ratatouille and Avengers Campus Europe. During the development and delivery of each project I was fortunate to work alongside talented people who in their roles as project team members created and delivered the rides, shows and attraction to the guests.
Each project began in the same way and followed along the same arc. What I discovered is that attractions are comprised of three equal parts. Each of the circles is of equal value and each of the three need to be balanced against the other. Drawn as a simple diagram the project appears as shown here.
This diagram shows each of the three circles required for a theme park ride.
Two of life’s certainties which I acknowledge are time and money. When translated into the language of theme park design, they can be called capital investment and project schedule. When starting the design work on any Disney project, I needed to understand the project creative goals, project capital investment and time allocated to complete the project work. After competing my first Disney project I reviewed the process I had experienced and after thinking about the experience decided to structure a hierarchy of process to apply to future projects. This developed into a diagram that I followed for each project throughout my career at WDI.
Each circle in the hierarchy diagram contains the division of labor and investment associated with a project. The circles are co-equal in importance but not co-equal in weight. For example, a flat spinning ‘c’ ticket ride has a ride component combined with a small facility investment. Often such rides are in an open-air environment such as the CARS ride found in the Disney Studios Paris theme park.
Image of the Cars Quatre Roues Rallye, or Cars Road Rally at Disney Studios Paris.
The second diagram illustrates a ride design that requires an increased level of investment due to the addition of both a show component with a ride component. Such rides may have a facility component however the facility will trend to be standard in both design and construction. Rock n Roller Coaster is an example of a ride that matches this criterion, but Crush’s Coaster also is an example. Crush has a simple facility building, some show environments and a standard ride system. Note that these last two categories enhance and improve the guest experience overall, however their addition will not result in guests impelled or motivated to visit the theme park solely for the new ride.
Image of Crush’s Coaster at Disney Studios Paris.
Staying in Disney Studios Paris is the third example of a ride attraction. The image diagrams a new ride whose foundational development depends upon all the three circles. This example requires that the new ride is in a custom facility, has large immersive show environments and frequently showcases a new unique first-generation ride system. Ratatouille at Disney Studios Paris is an excellent example of such a ride.
Including each of the three circles is equivalent to winning a triple Yahtzee in theme park world and delivers a ride intended to ensure a guest intent to visit response.
Image of Ratatouille at Disney Studios Paris.
Due to their cost and complexity Disney parks don’t have nor to they need large numbers of this third tier of rides. They are always a challenge to create due to the project demands, however every ride, show or attraction carries their own set of challenges and opportunities.
This is Day One musing in my new blog. I’ve thought for a while about starting a blog as a place for longer form comments, observations and critiques extending topics I write about on my Twitter account.
The story behind every idea starts somewhere…
…and I was lucky to be a participant or be a witness during a period of over three decades when The Walt Disney Company extended their theme park resort locations from four to twelve standing on the sites during construction of Euro Disneyland through Shanghai Disneyland Resort. In my career I’ve been a theme park designer, animation story director, a syndicated comic strip writer, and other ‘stuff’.
This is my place to delve deeper into the stories of projects and my experiences being part of bringing them to life. We’ll begin shortly.