Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tour Walt Disney's Hideaway

The L.A. Times reported last week that Walt's apartment above the fire station on MainStreet will be open for tours starting in January. The apartment is one of many legendary historical sites at Disneyland, "Disney built the 500-square-foot apartment, outfitted with red crushed carpet and velvety Victorian decore, in 1954. It was the park's second structure after the opera house, which doubled as a saw mill."

Tours are only available to selected guests as a part of the 2008 "Disney Dreams Giveaway," (aka the "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion, that hardly anyone knows about, only by a different name for 2008.) Although some of the ideas behind both of these promotions are great, as a whole I'm not sold on their success as a marketing tool. I'm not a marketing guy, but I have a hunch that these promotions are more of a success due to a relatively stable economy at the time being. But hey, timing is everything.

The "Dreams" promotions are funny to me. Aside from the fact that not many people even know these promotions exist, (and even if they did) I don't think it has a direct influence in getting people through the turn stiles. The random chance of getting to see Walt's apartment or staying the night in Sleeping Beauty's castle isn't going to draw anyone to the park that wasn't going to go anyhow. Are people going to the parks more often to increase their chances of randomly winning something?

The "Disney Dreams Giveaway" sounds like a used car lot gimmick, and no one knows how, what, or where this giveaway works or is awarded within the parks. How can it possibly boost attendance? Disney should get some of those survey takers that hit you for your zip code as soon as you walk in to the park to ask if anyone is visiting the park in hopes of winning the days "Year of Million Dreams" prize. At least some lucky random people will get to see some of these coveted Disney sites as a by-product.

This all brings me to something I've wished Disneyland would offer for a long time, and it's something that would actually draw people in. To keep in tradition with the overly used and cliche Disney marketing words that are slowly loosing... well... their magic, I'll call it "The Disneyland Magical History Tour."

A before hours (and for you marketing guys- yes, a separate ticket required) tour of some of Disneyland's legendary landmarks like, Walt's apartment, Club 33, and the Lilly Bell train car, and various other behind the scenes spots. Disneyland has so much history being the "original," you can't tell me this wouldn't have a waiting list backed up for months.

It would make more sense to use some of the history and sites that already exist, which are of no additional expense beyond a tour guide, to entice people who are genuinely interested enough to pay to see these locales.

(Photos: Alex Gallardo/L.A. Times)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Drawings From Imagineers: Topper Helmers

In a sense, I have Topper Helmers to thank for all the "Drawing From Imagineers" posts. As you may know from previous posts these are all drawings that Imagineers have drawn in a sketchbook for me while attending the Life Drawing workshops at WDI. Topper actually gave me the idea of doing the sketchbook and it was Topper who introduced me to John Hench, who did the first page in the book. So an obvious and multitude of thanks to Topper!!

Topper worked for Imagineering from 1990-1998 and has won many awards for his work on Indiana Jones: Temple of the Forbidden Eye, Animal Kingdom, and the Animation Exhibit at California Adventure. Topper continues to do freelance for various theme park and animation companies, and more of his work can be seen at his website here.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

AlunaTime at Epcot

I saw this awhile back and thought it has an old school Disney educational feel that I think a lot of people miss about Epcot, but with a relavant and designy feel at the same time. Given Walt's "Clock of the World" timepiece that was originally in Tomorrowland, I think Walt would certainly have wanted one of these for FutureWorld in Epcot, or glowing out in the waters of the World Showcase Lagoon.

AlunaTime is a tidal powered moon clock. It's made of translucent recycled glass that has LED lights through out the entire piece. There is one being built in England and also one in Australia that mirrors the Northern Hemisphere, one moving clockwise and the other counter-clockwise. Visit the official site here.

You can tell the moons phase, position, and the tide by the way the three concentric rings are lit up at any given time. At night the rings are lit up with white lights and during the day the leading edges of the rings change to color.

The largest ring represents the Lunar Phase, or wax and wane of the moon. On a new moon the unlit ring gradually lights up over the next 29.5 days to become fully lit by the time of the full moon. It then works it way back, waning back to the next new moon.

The center ring is the moons direct position in relation to the earth based on a lunar day of 24 hours and 50 minutes. If the moon is below the horizon the ring is visible below your feet.

The inner most ring displays the tidal cycle. It is likened to the "heartbeat" of the piece, ebbing and flowing with the tide cycle every 12 hours and 25 minutes.

Monday, October 22, 2007

RymanArts: Affair Of The Art 2007

Earlier this month the RymanArts Program held their annual art sale fundraiser entitled "Affair of the Arts." So, I thought would mention the program, the event, a bit about Herbert Rymans' legacy with Disney, and share some images of his personal work that was featured this year.

The program was set up upon the passing of Herbert Ryman, who had a long and rich career with Disney both in animation and at Imagineering. The program is based in Los Angles and is aimed at inspiring and helping promising young artist see the arts as a viable path. I'll let the RymanArts site speak for itself... "It was agreed by family and friends that the most positive way to commemorate the life of Herbert D. Ryman was to carry on his philosophy and commitment to teach and encourage young artists to reach their full potential."

The program continues to be heavily sponsored by Imagineering thanks in large part to the dedication Marty Sklar, Vice Chairman and Principal Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering. For years the event was actually held inside the Imagineering building in Glendale. This years Patron event featured a talk with Imagineering Chief Designer Tony Baxter and Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton discussing their involvement with the Submarine Voyage makeover.

RymanArts has also put together the best book on a single Disney artist entitled "A Brush with Disney." It is... "the story, in 252 pages of color illustrations, of artist Herbert Ryman's personal journeys around the world and through the "world of Walt."

And if you buy the book from the RymanArts site here, all proceeds will go to the program.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Disneyland FastPass Tip

Not sure why exactly, but the FastPass system for Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin at Disneyland will allow you to get a FastPass even if you have one out for another ride. I'm told the FastPass system that it runs on is seperated from all the others. Not sure how true it is but it does work. And if this isn't the nerdiest post to date, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An American in Paris... Disneyland

Sorry for the long delay, much going on and lots of pictures to sift through. Here are some random thoughts and pictures from Disneyland Paris. Disneyland Paris is a beautiful park, if you are ever in Paris go see it. It's a 45 minute ride from the heart of Paris and the metro literally drops you off on the doorstep of the parks.

Main Street is much larger in scale here and leads to the best castle of any park hands down. Discovery Arcade and Liberty Arcade flank each side Main Street. I'm sure their main purpose is to provide cover/access down Main Street during heavy rain but they are wonderful exhibitions of the Golden Age of Invention and the Statue of Liberty. And they also help tremendously with crowd flow during parades. If there was a way to work this idea into Disneyland Ca, it would be a huge help for this reason alone. Above is Dapper Dan's on Main Street... and yes you can actually get a shave and haircut there.

They also have an old fashioned Paddy Wagon that guests can get locked up in and go for a cruise down MainStreet (forgot to get a picture of that but it was a great idea.)

Frontierland is very spread out and it seems they have left a lot of room there for additions. The entrance to the land is a Pioneer Fort that is themed to the hilt. It was nice to see the Fort since the one in California has since been closed from Tom Sawyers Island - sniff sniff. Phantom Manor is very cool, I really like that it wasn't just a stamped out version of the Haunted Manison. It was done with a great western style but with some of the traditional touches that make the Haunted Mansion so unique.

The Castle! The landscaping is an Eyvind Earle painting come to life... I'll just let some of the pictures do the talking...

I was a little disappointed with Discoveryland to be honest. I really like the Retro Sci-Fi theme, and props for not calling it Tomorrowland. But the layout and feel of the land is really weird. Space Mountain, which is huge, is plopped right in the middle of the land. You have to walk around it to get to any ride. To me it really killed the flow and impact of the style.

Space Mountain Mission 2.0 itself is another story. Mission 2.0 is better compared to Rockin' Roller Coaster than Space Mountain of California or Florida. It is the best version of Space Mountain and all others should immediately be blown up and replaced with this one.

I wish I had time to share every picture and talk about all the little details, but there are just too many. All in all the park is amazing, make sure to see it if you find yourself in Paris. It's mind blowing to see what Imagineering can do with a little cash and a lot of space. My hats off to everyone who was a part of making it come to life.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bonjour From Paris

I'm on vacation that's why there hasn't been much to see here lately. Got a chance to see Disneyland Paris. Enjoy, more later!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Drawings From Imagineers: Marcelo Vignali

This time we'll have to call it "Drawings from Former Imagineers." Marcelo did this drawing in my book when he had just left Imagineering for Feature Animation to do visual development on Mulan... but I first met Marcelo at the WDI figure drawing workshop. His figure drawings never fail to amaze me.

He is an extremely gifted artist and one of the nicest people you'll ever meet! I was a lowly Junior in High School at the time, and a rather... shall we say "under-developed talent" in comparison, yet Marcelo was always so kind as to go over my drawings and give me pointers.

I'm sure a lot of Disney fans will recognize Marcelo's designs for ToonTown and Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin, which are in most of the Imagineering related books. Marcelo also had a hand in such projects as: Blizzard Beach, Tokyo Disney's Winnie the Pooh ride, and the never realized "Disney's America" historical park. He also has a long list of credits with Disney Animation on films like Mulan, Lilo & Stich, Atlantis, and Brother Bear. Marcelo is currently an Art Director at Sony Pictures Animation. Check out his blog for more amazing images here. Thanks Marcelo!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Steampunk Sampler Platter

In the "Steampunk: Nemo's Nautilus" post I mentioned that Disney has more opportunities than it may realize with the Steampunk style/genre in the parks. I'm sure when I use the term Steampunk it doesn't immediately bring to mind a specific visual reference the way mentioning Art Nouveau or Film Noir would. So this post is just a random sampling of Steampunk goodness to get the feel, more specific ideas relating to Disney next time.

-Weta Rayguns, Weta is the infamous Visual FX house based in New Zealand that is responsible for Lord of the Rings and King Kong. Greg Broadmore at the Weta Workshop has come up with this line of Rayguns, or as they have been branded "Dr. Grordbort's Infallible Aether Oscillators.

The Raygun website (linked above, make sure you check it out) is an amazing assortment of spoof advertising that is very creative and very Disney-like. They have created enough back story in selling these Rayguns for it's own film. Check out the "spoof-o'-mercial" they made below.

-The Sculptures of Stephane Halleux . I love these designs, they almost read as props right off the set of a stop-motion animation film. The vehicles and characters would easily lend themselves to be interpreted into a Steampunk like ride. There are a lot more amazing designs on the website, make sure to check out the link above.

Random "Objects de' Steampunk:" If it has lots of bolts, gears, gadgets, metal, is steam powered, or requires the use of cool looking goggles to operate- it's Steampunk! (Laptop image courtesy of MonkeyFarm.)

Top Steampunk-esque films... These would be near the top of the list: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Wild Wild West, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, City of Lost Children, Back to Future 3, and certain aspects of Tim Burton's Sleepy Hallow.

- The Edison restaurant and bar in Los Angeles (website worth checking out if you can't get to the real thing.) Self described as "a lounge alive with artifacts from it's history as Downtown LA's first private power plant; a celebration of an era of invention and imagination- the blending of science, art, and industry."

There are a many angles that Disney could pursue with the Steampunk genre. There is enough latitude within the style to go in many directions, be it very dark and edgy, or whimsical and very family friendly. I think it's even rich and broad enough to have it's own land.

But, assuming a "Discovery Bay" actually does end up in the Frontierland land area, I hope Disney would at least sprinkle in some elements of Steampunk, if not actually going all out and really sink their teeth into some of the antiquated future themes.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Tomorrowland Part 4: Virgin Galactic

Space travel and exploration always comes to mind when you think about the future. When Disneyland opened in the mid 50's the world was mesmerized with the notion of going to space. And this wouldn't be left out of Disneyland. In the 70's the Flight to the Moon/Mission to Mars attraction was added. Over fifty years later the attraction is long gone, as well as the awe and excitement of man's initial efforts into space exploration.

Although the novelty has worn off, there are things to be as excited about, if not more so, than our first steps into space. The means of going into space are quickly changing hands from superpower nations to the private sector, opening the next chapter, not only of space exploration, but also of consumer space travel. With hopes of Tomorrowland returning to its original focus it's time to once again have a ride that captures the imagination and wonder of space travel at Disneyland- Virgin Galactic.

In the not too distant future anyone with enough money will be able to board Virgin Galactic and take a trip literally out of this world. Richard Branson's Virgin Group Ltd is well on its way to making this happen. Commercial space travel is on it's way. Creating an attraction based on this inevitability is a natural fit for a revitalized Tomorrowland. As a woman in the intro video below says "I had two dreams growing up, to go to Disneyland and to go into Space."

If you combined being in a ship, like you are in Star Tours, but put that in a huge encompassing screen, as in Soaring Over California, you could create the most realistic simulation possible- without leaving the ground. Soaring Over California so captures the feeling of flight with it's large scale image, imagine an adaptation of that where you sit vertically in Spaceship One and can look back out of a window at the curvature of the earth.

The ride could be treated literally as Virgin Galactic, assuming a partnership between Disney and Virgin. The whole experience would be that the guest is a consumer space traveler. Maybe even hand out boarding passes and go through and fake x-ray scan while you wait in a line that is a fancy space travel terminal, "Domestic, International, and Orbital flights now boarding!"

Virgin Galactic created this video below to capture just this feeling it's offering future guests. Here it doubles as a perfect pitch for a ride, minus the zero-gravity bit. (Lenthgy video but worth the watch!)

Virgin Galactic really struck me as having the wonder and entrepreneurial spirit that Walt had. I think it would be a welcome addition to a new Tomorrowland. Virgin Galactic represents a bold, aspiring, and uniquely entrepreneurial look at what is possible in the future. Hopefully a ride counterpart would bring back that ideal for Tomorrowland as well.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Cafe DuMonde In New Orleans Square

If you've ever been to the French Quarter in New Orleans, chances are you've been to Cafe DuMonde. It's a small cafe just off of Jackson Square, right on the bank of the Mississippi. It's one of many icons in the city, having been established in 1862. They are open 24 hours a day 364 days a year. They only close for Christmas Day or for a passing hurricane.

Cafe DuMonde serves mostly coffee, assorted beverages, and beignets- which are french style donuts covered with powdered sugar. Its just a quaint little place to hang out any time of the day, especially when its raining.

When I was in New Orleans a while back, I partook of Cafe DuMonde daily. It baffled me that Cafe DuMonde was not included when New Orleans Square was added to Disneyland in 1966. It would be as odd as the Italy Pavilion in Epcot having a restaurant that didn't serve pasta. New Orleans Square needs a Cafe DuMonde.

When Downtown Disney was added, Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen was one of many restaurants added as well. At the little Jazz Kitchen Express counter next door you can actually get beignets. They even sell Cafe DuMonde brand boxed beignet mix. Its nice to be able to get beignets somewhere at the park, but it would be more fitting to have an actual Cafe DuMonde inside the park at New Orleans Square.

Not all the ideas on this blog are huge blockbuster E-ticket rides. I'm actually more intrigued by the small things that can be added or changed. Its the little nuances and authenticities that are more or less exclusive to Disneyland, that contribute as much value and charm as the big attractions.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Steampunk: Nemo's Nautilus

In previous posts I've mentioned that I like the Jules Verne antiquated future style that is permeating Tomorrowland. But not as "Tomorrowland."

The current, half Jules Verne half Futurism, mix in Tomorrowland leaves it feeling more like "Dichotomy-land." Having covered the idea of making Tomorrowland truly futuristic, the topic of the Jules Verne-esque theme remains. This retro-future idea has been more appropriately and successfully implemented as its own land in other Disney Parks i.e. Mysterious Island-Tokyo and Discoveryland-Paris.

There was a proposal by WED in the 70's called "Discovery Bay," it was to be added to the The Rivers of America and Frontierland area. Part of that proposal included an area entitled "Island at the Top of the World." It was a grandiose fictitious future with airships and whimsical inventions. I think this was the genesis of what we have seen shoehorned into Tomorrowland of late. But WED had it right the first time, it is a better fit in Frontierland.

There is some prime real estate back where the Big Thunder Ranch and Frontierland Stage are, hopefully a "Discovery Bay" type land or annex will be added to Frontierland. Creating a new, more fitting home for this style.

Disney may have been too far ahead of itself in realizing the potential of this new 1890's alternate future theme back in the 70's. But today, Disneyland ironically finds itself not only confused as to the location of such a theme, but also behind the curve of its emerging popularity. Disney, unknowingly I think, has hit the tip of an ice berg with this theme. Today there is a popular surge in what has been dubbed the Steampunk "pop-genre."

Wikipedia defines Steampunk as: a subgenre of fantasy and speculative fiction.... which denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used...usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian England...but with prominent elements of fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date.

The Steampunk genre is gaining popularity. There are several upcoming films utilizing this style, most notably "The Golden Compass," and to some extent "Stardust." I've also heard rumors of Disney doing a remake of 20,000 Leagues. There is a large online community of artists, model makers, comic books, and even fashion designers that are pushing this style in some interesting and more edgy directions.

I think there is great potential for this edgy/urban side of Steampunk to be included with the established elements and style of a "Discovery Bay" type addition. Although I think it begs its own high budget ride (more of my own ideas for that, as well as Steampunk in general, to be covered later) assuming this type of land or annex is ever realized in Frontierland. For now, small steps can be taken to slowly usher in this new land:

Imagine if every half hour or so, in the lagoon across from Thunder Mountain, huge bubbles started boiling to the surface! Loud bursts of steam started shooting out of the water, scaring the quack out of the ducks. Whistles and cranks clatter noisily as the Nautilus ominously emerges from under the surface, drawing the attention of everyone walking by.

Capt. Nemo's Nautilus has become sort of an icon for this misplaced futuristic style around the Disney parks. But 20,000 Thousand Leagues was set in the late 1800's. If you remember the films opening it looked a lot like Frontierland! In an effort to get this alternate-future theme underway, and out of Tomorrowland, I say we start by bringing Captain Nemo's Nautilus back to it's original home- Disneyland.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Drawings From Imagineers: John Hench

Most of the images I put up are just reference or supporting images. So, I thought I'd sprinkle in something original - I'll be putting up a "Drawings from Imagineers" post from time to time.

I have a sketchbook with drawings from other artists that I have either met or had the chance to work with over the years. While attending the life drawing workshops at Imagineering, I was lucky enough to meet John Hench. He was kind enough to contribute this to my book. He was very keen on doing Mickey in different styles and mediums... this one showing the gesture and flow of the character design... Enjoy!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

iTunes + Disneyland

The music of Disneyland, and all the Disney parks for that matter, available on iTunes! Disneyland has a musical catalog that is recognized globally. There is a huge market for this, from the vacationer who wants to pick up the "Small World Theme," that is still stuck in his head a week later, to the die hard Disney fan that just wants those hard to find tracks to complete their collection.

The company has been really good about promoting the park music, the 6 disc "Musical History of Disneyland" in particular. Also itunes featured some previously unreleased albums from Walt Disney Records for their 50th Anniversary. Definitely steps in the right direction.

The ultimate still remains the "music on demand" feature that was in the park awhile ago where you could compile your own CD from a really wide selection of audio from the park. The great thing about it was that it ranged from the obvious songs to the most obscure background music or ride spiel. A deal with iTunes could top it all!
Why stop at music? I also think there is a market for Park related video. There is a ton of attraction related media that is no longer a part of the parks that is literally sitting on a shelf. Why not make some money off it and make your fans very happy in the process. I'm sure the Disney fans would pay $2.99 to get "Captian Eo" or the "America the Beautiful" circle vision film onto their iPod.

Ah... if only Disney had an "in" with Apple!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Galley Restaurant: Tom Sawyer's Island

The new "Pirates Lair" is open on Tom Sawyer's Island. I know there is/was a heated debate about the addition and I can see both sides. However, that isn't the issue today. The issue is that Tom and his Pirate friends need some sustenance over on the island!

There used to be food service at the Old Fort on the Island. That has long been closed and there is currently no where to get any kind of food or drink, save for a drinking fountain. The updating of the island is obviously aimed to boost attendance. Why not throw in a place to eat?

Ideally it would be nice to a see a full service restaurant. There aren't enough full service restaurants in the park and this is one of the rare places where there is room for one. Many people without reservations at the Blue Bayou are turned away daily. A nice restaurant, if done well, has the potential to draw people to the island in and of itself. Maybe something in-between the Blue Bayou and Aunt Pauly's from the Magic Kingdom. If that isn't possible, for whatever reason, any kind of food vending will do for now.

It seems "Phase 2" of Pirates Liar is in progress, I don't now if any kind of food service is part of that plan, but I hope it is.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Tomorrowland Part 3: "Haute Car-ture"

Cars!!!! But not the movie this time...real cars from the future.

A future minded Tomorrowland would not be complete without vehicles! When Tomorrowland was redone a few years back the most futuristic thing that went in was a few employees on Segway scooters roaming about. I don't mean to be negative but...come on! Transportation is, and will always be, a major part of our lives, so lets get on board!

I'll start with some small ideas first and work my way up:

1. Literal Transportation. Ways to transport guests throughout the new Tomorrowland area, the way the fire engine, omnibus, and trolly are for Mainstreet USA. How great would it be to see and ride a variety of these going down the street in Tomorrowland- maybe with some animatronic drivers?

2. Innoventions. An exhibit of actual concept cars by manufacturers. A permanent but continually updated Auto Show in other words. I would also include exhibits on new fuel technologies. Also the "Driving Experience of the Future," exploring how we will drive in the future, from driving with real time Google Maps projected into the windshield to automated freeways.

3. The People Mover. Ah yeah bringing it back!! The original People Mover was great aside from looking outdated. With all the new proposals for Tomorrowland from previous posts the People Mover would be a great way to explore all the new additions. I would also add some futuristic dioramas in some of the new buildings and more integration into some of the rides it would pass through.

4. An E-Ticket car ride...but not TestTrack!! (haven't thought of a cool name yet!) TestTrack is fun but face it most people only wait in line to hit those big fast G-Pulling turns outside the building. This ride would be thrills from start to finish. There would be five to six different models that run the track- no cookie cutters here, this ride is about the car. Each would be very futuristic inside and out.

For the take off a catapult like acceleration that shoots you down an underground glass tube straight through the new center of Tomorrowland with guests looking down from above (all beautifully lit up at night of course!) Then you pop above ground and take a sweeping left turn and race right through the middle of the line to the new Star Tours. Continuing on you race in and out of the new revamped buildings at break neck speeds, do a loop banked completely sideways around the exterior of SpaceMountain, dip underwater in a glass tube through the new Submarine Voyage and finally skid to a stop back at the start. Could be fun??

Of course this sounds expensive but what would the future be without a corporate tie-in? It's perfect. Walt was all about the corporate tie-in. I can't think of a major car company that wouldn't be interested. GM has already sponsored TestTrack so it shouldn't be hard and Honda seems a likely candidate given the existing tie-in of ASIMO the robot in Innoventions.

"Haute Car-ture" in Tomorrowland, if a Tomorrowland based on the future ends up on the boards, lets hope some great cars and vehicles are a vital part of it.