When Disney MGM Studios was opened in 1989, it was a mild success. Michael Eisner’s plan of having a “Universal killer” Park was rushed into opening, so it didn’t have a lot of the essential E ticket attractions that most guests craved. So, when it came time to expand the park, a big draw was planned.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror originally started its life as an attraction being developed with the famous comedian and filmmaker, Mel Brooks. Brooks and his son, Max, were avid fans of Disneyland, so Eisner wanted to lure him into making movies with Walt Disney Studios by offering him a chance to develop a hybrid comedy and horror attraction. The original idea was called “Castle Young Frankenstein,” a spinoff of one of his most famous films. That idea eventually evolved into Mel Brooks’ Hollywood Horror Hotel. Brooks eventually left the project because of commitments to the movie “Life Stinks,” and the fact that Imagineering was starting to stray too far from his original ideas.
However, the Hollywood Hotel idea stuck, and Imagineers continued to develop on it. Since the planned expansion was going to feature a Sunset Boulevard of the 1930s, the idea evolved into a hotel stuck in that era, with a ghost story behind it. They thought a Spanish Renaissance architectural “look” would fit in nicely with the rest of the store fronts on Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards.
Without Brooks behind it now, Disney felt the attraction needed another movie or pop culture tie-in to fit with the “movie studio” theme of the Park to help draw crowds in. They eventually settled on the idea of the Twilight Zone, since they had originally wanted to do a Twilight Zone attraction for the opening of the park. For the most part, The Twilight Zone theme was a fairly easy overlay for the Disney Imagineers to do, although they did go through all 156 episodes of the show to pick out elements suitable for the attraction.
One idea was to have the attraction be a walk through AND a ride, with Guests partaking in a murder mystery to try to figure out what happened to a group of movie stars during a storm, only to find out the truth much too late when they boarded an elevator. While the idea was well liked, Eisner wanted the guests to feel more involved, and so Imagineers decided to make it so that the guest would star in their own Twilight Zone episode.
Because of the unique nature of the ride, with the elevator traveling on its own through the fifth dimension, only to free fall multiple times later on, a new ride system had to be developed. The AGVs, or Autonomous Guided Vehicle, were self-controlled, self-contained ride vehicle there were designed to move without a track. Although the 5th Dimension scene floor has guide ways for traction, the vehicle itself runs on its own wheels along the floor. A modified version of the power couplings used in EPCOT’s universe of energy were used for battery power. Onboard computers follow a pre-programmed ride path, and “talk” to the Ride Control System through RF wireless frequency. A secondary tracking system follows a wire embedded in the floor to keep track of the AGV`s location, and can easily trigger a ride shutdown if something happens.
In order to make the AGV fall faster than terminal velocity, a second ride vehicle was required. As the AGV guides itself into the ride shaft to ascend to the boiler room level, it goes into a larger ‘elevator’ – the VVC, or Vertical Vehicle Conveyance. This is an elevator car in the true sense, complete with cables and wheels. It is this vehicle that lifts the AGV up through the corridor scene, and to the 5th Dimension level. As the AGV transfers horizontally, the VVC returns to the basement level to receive the next AGV that is unloading its guests. For the drop shaft, a beefed up VVC is employed…enough to take the rigors of accelerated free fall, and with a pulley system not just on its roof to lift it like a conventional elevator, but a complete loop of cable that also pulls the entire carriage downwards as well as up – hence faster than gravity.
On July 22, 1994, the brand new attraction opened its doors to the public, and guests have been…dropping in…ever since. The attraction was so popular that versions have been created at Disney California Adventure, Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris, and in Tokyo DisneySea. Although, the Tokyo version nixed the Twilight Zone References, since the television show wasn’t well known in Japan.
Next time you’re in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, be sure to check out…or into, the Hollywood Tower Hotel.
Do you enjoy The Tower Of Terror? What’s your favorite part?
And now for something completely different . . .
Many of you know that George Taylor and I are hosting a 30th anniversary celebration for Epcot. Unfortunately tickets have completely sold out. HOWEVER, some of MiceChat’s finest have created two new events with plenty of room for everyone . . . a FREE scavenger hunt at Epcot and a Food and Wine Festival event. We’d love to see you!
Epcot 30th Anniversary FREE MiceQuest – Sept 29, 2012
Join MiceChat’s Kevin Yee and the Communicore Weekly crew for a FREE fun-filled scavenger hunt game celebrating Epcot’s 30th Anniversary. The Quest, designed by Kevin Yee, is fun for the whole family and will take place on the Mexico side of World Showcase from 3:30pm until 6:30pm on September 29th, 2012. Create a team of 1-4 people, and compete for the title of biggest Epcot geek. Fun prizes will be awarded to the winning teams.
Sip and Nibble at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival – Sept 30, 2012
Enjoy a leisurely stroll around World Showcase with your favorite MiceChatters, sampling the food and wine offerings of Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival along the way. You will be given a lanyard with a marker attached so that you can record your progress as you tour the world of food and drink! Guests who desire to partake of the adult beverages will also be given a small glass to conveniently share “sips” during our journey. Come spend some quality time with other foodies and the best online Disney community on Earth! To reserve your place at this year’s Sip & Nibble event purchase your ticket today for just $3.99. Please click through for full event details.
by Jeff Heimbuch
If you have a tip, questions, comments, or gripes, please feel free email me at [email protected] or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
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Jeff can help you plan your perfect Disney vacation with Fairy Godmother Travel! Call him at 732-278-7404 or email him at [email protected] for a free, no-obligation quote for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Aulani or Adventures By Disney.
Jeff also writes another column called From The Mouth Of The Mouse. We invite you to check it out.
Jeff co-hosts the weekly VidCast Communicore Weekly as well!