There’s Gold in Marne-le-Vallee!

May 22, 2022

View of Thunder Mountain and surroundings.

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.

Sketch books pages with Thunder Mountain Mining Company notes.
Sketch books pages with Thunder Mountain Mining Company notes.

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.

A featured player would be the ‘Prospector’.

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.

Sketch of the Thunder Mountain Mining Company.

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.

Details of the Thunder Mountain Mining Company.

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.

Joyeux Anniveraire Disneyland Paris

April 11, 2022

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.

Early 1990s site image of Euro Disneyland

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 .

Image of the plantings on Adventure Isle.

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.

2022 site image of Disneyland Paris Resort.

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’!

The writer in front of his mural in Adventureland Disneyland Paris.

Day 48

March 16, 2022

How to See

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.

Sketch in black pen.

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.

Sketch in black pen.

Finally this sketch of a elderly man speaking into his mobile phone while been pushed by a determined younger man.

Sketch in black pen with warm grey wash.

There are many other examples of buildings, people and environments that I many share in the future. Until then stay safe.

Day 9 How to Spend

February 6, 2022

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.

Day One

January 29, 2022

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…

A image of one of typical office drawing area.

…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.