Terri’s Dragon: La Taniere du Dragon

Written by Terri Hardin Jackson. Posted in Disneyland Paris, Terri Hardin

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Published on April 09, 2014 at 2:00 am with 15 Comments

I’d like to thank all of you wonderful readers who commented on my first article on MiceChat. You all made me feel so welcome and this touched my heart.

Thank you Bob Gurr for your kind words. Partnering up with you makes me feel like the perfect side-kick to a true superhero. It’s a real honor. Remember when you and I first met? Bob Gurr wins Terri Hardin’s Puppet “Stitch” at Charity Auction! Perhaps I’ll share that story one of these days.

There were so many wonderful suggestions and from your comments I see that many of you want to know what really ticks behind-the scenes at Imagineering as well as the real people behind the image. I’d love to share what I can of that with you.

Some of you want the dirt, the nitty-gritty side of what makes the parks tick or not. A couple of comments seemed to be dissatisfied about attractions not quite being up to par in their opinions, and I will address that as well.

Finally, I have to say how tickled I was to see that some of you wish to hear about my career outside of my Disney umbrella. Men in Black and Ghostbusters experiences for example. And Yes, I’ll speak of my running events as well . . . Dopey Challenge finisher, 5k + 10 + 1/2 + full marathon back to back.

I wish to encourage you to continue to comment and let me know what’s on your mind and what you would like me to write about in the future. The most requested subject is the topic for this week’s Article. “Dragon’s Lair,” as I like to refer to it, is one of my favorite jobs.

FIRST STEPS IN IMAGINEERING:

As many of you know, becoming a Walt Disney Imagineer usually isn’t an easy task. If this is your dream, it may not come true for you overnight. You may have to jump through a few hoops before you get considered. But good things come to those who keep on fighting for their dreams. Never give up.

I had been applying to the company for over 10 years. When I finally got through the door and was granted an interview, they became excited and asked “why has it taken you so long to come to us.” “Silly Me, I kept trying the front door, when I should have tried the back door.” Sheesh! It was a mere coincidence that made it happen.

I was assigned to work on Big Thunder Mountain for Disneyland Paris. I was excited, but I soon found the experience taxing, even for my upbeat personality. I had a really unfriendly team-mate. I thought at first it was because I was new. But I later found out this person was just terminally cranky. No one had told me this, and after four days of no fun, I went to my supervisor. I had reached my limit and I planned to quit.

“I don’t need this. Even if you ARE Walt Disney Imagineering!” I said bluntly. My supervisor’s eyes widened as he sighed, then confessed that this was the case no matter who they paired this angry guy. He added that he hoped my upbeat personality would have a positive effect. Wow, if only I had been briefed. I had been thrown into a lions den. I wasn’t happy.

“We really need you to stay.” He said. I thought it over and upon agreeing told my supervisor that I’d be happy to stay if after we finished the Big Thunder project I got to be the creator and designer of Dragon’s Lair. He agreed. “Whoo Hoo!” I thought to myself.  I really didn’t want to leave. The funny thing is that this angry guy did warm up to my positive personality and we did some terrific work together. Disneyland Paris is one of my favorite parks, and I’m honored to have done two of the Park’s most popular attractions.

DRAGON’S LAIR:

Oh how I love dragons. I had drawn them and sculpted them for years. I had to pinch myself as I began to assemble the tables that would be the foundation of the cavern under Merlin’s Magic Shop, the home of the soon to be La Taniere du Dragon model. I was the only designer and sculptor on this attraction.

I created this model from the ground up. Later it would go to Paris without me.

SCULPTING DRAGON’S LAIR AND MEETING THE KING:

Below is a picture found in Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind The Dreams Look At Making The Magic Real. This book is the very first to give credit and name the Imagineers inside, thanks to Kevin Rafferty. I’m on Page 80 and my name is spelled wrong, but it’s there baby! and that’s what counts. I was so excited I could hardly breathe when I saw it.

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The scale of this model was a weird dimension and when I first began to work on this attraction, I was told that the dragon was going to be a stagnant piece. No animation what-so-ever. More of a solid plaster carving inside the cavern.

I was in shock. “Are you kidding?” My supervisor looked at me and sighed. Are you getting the picture that I’m kind of an upstart? In this case I just couldn’t leave that one alone. NO animation! That was just ridiculous!

My supervisor held up his hands and told me I was talking to the wrong guy.

“Who do I talk to then?”
“Tony Baxter”
“Okay, who is this Tony Baxter?”

Now don’t be so shocked. I know you all know who Tony Baxter is. However one thing you need to know is that not everybody who works as an Imagineer, know what you all know. I was one of those people.

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I learned that Tony Baxter was the guy in charge of Disneyland Paris. Tony Baxter was king. Whoa! I was told I could request a meeting, but only if I could keep the presentation time to 20 minutes. For those of you who know me, you’re laughing right now because you know that I can really talk. I’ve been known to talk a long time.

However, I was determined to pitch my animation design idea to the king of Paris, Tony Baxter. That is how I imagined him. I just knew he’d understand.

I prepared and wrote out what I was going to say over and over, fine tuning it to be sure I could stay within my time allotted. The day came and I was ready.

Tony entered with a group of several people trailing behind. I knew it was Tony. I surmised, because he was the guy in front. He saw me, grabbed a chair, sat down in front and looked right at me.

“Hello.”
“Hi.”

Tony’s face was confused as he looked at me. My hair sticking straight up off my head, shifting back and forth as if waiting for a race to begin. I was poised, ready to go as soon as the imaginary gun went off.

“Are you ready,” I asked. Tony had heard me but sat saying nothing.
“Say go,” I said. Confused, Tony said “go” and off I went. In the cadence of an auctioneer I began my pitch.

“Wehavetoannimatethedragonbecausewe’reDisneyandIcandoitIimaginethedragonsleepingand… I spoke at the speed of light.

“STOP!.” Tony held his hands up. “Whoa! Can you slow down please?”
“NO! I only have 20 minutes!” I shouted. “ You’re cutting into my time!”
Tony laughed, “If I give you more time, will you slow down?”

Breathless, I nodded.

I walked him through my presentation telling him every detail and when I was done, Tony said I could create the Dragon’s lair! But only if I designed the entire attraction myself.

Yipeeeeee! I got to design the animation, the look, the feel, everything.

However, the powers that be were concerned about a woman creating the ride entirely alone (in my next article I’ll share with you the details of that part of the story and what it took to get from table top to Paris).

READER FEEDBACK:

Before I go, I’d like to address one comment I received on my last article.

The comment stated, “I have also seen the dragon under the castle in DLP and although it looked beautiful I was underwhelmed and actually disappointed.” Many of you who have been to see the dragon may have been a bit perplexed by the comment.

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I have to say that the commenter may have gone to see this attraction some years after the park opened. Unfortunately, after a park has been open for a while, the attractions can become worn. Sometimes the park personnel can fall behind in the upkeep. What with budget concerns or other situations they’re not prepared for, this sort of thing can and does happen. In which case, a complicated dragon may go to sleep and not wake up for months on end.

I’m sure many of you can think of a few attractions that are no longer what they were when they were first introduced to the parks. Still, despite a little wear here and there, the Disney Parks are the finest in the world.

Disneyland Paris, I’m sure, is doing the best they can under the circumstances. However, like our own bodies, these attractions need to be maintained regularly to stay healthy, otherwise Joints get stiff and the skin sags and although I haven’t been to Paris to see my Dragon in a few years, the ol’ girl may not always move like she used to.

COMING UP:

Terri Hardin and Tony Baxter will be signing their books at Walt’s Barn from 11am – 3pm on April 20th, Easter Sunday. Walt’s barn is located just off the 170 Freeway in Griffith Park. Hope to see you there.

 

About Terri Hardin Jackson

Terri Hardin has designed attractions as a Disney Imagineer from 1987-1997. She's also a Jim Henson Puppeteer and has worked on over 42 film and TV projects including Ghostbusters & Captain EO. She currently creates Disney collectables and plays a Foster Farms Chicken.

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15 Comments

Comments for Terri’s Dragon: La Taniere du Dragon are now closed.

  1. Wow Terri, I thought you just designed the dragon. Sounds like you designed the whole attraction! Very cool.
    Our family has been fortunate enough to visit Disneyland Paris a few times over the years. We all love the cave and the dragon and the whole theme.
    The entrance is beautiful with all the surrounding water effects and is below the most beautiful of the Disney Castles.
    The interior entrance from the castle is very cool too. Looking down at the pond as you climb down the stairs is very exciting.
    The cave itself would be a great area to visit even if the dragon wasn’t there.
    We all love how the dragon is not easily seen at first and is a little bit hidden with the rocks and water. Very cool to see and hear the dragon breathe and then notice the tail wrapping around more rocks and hanging into the water. Great how the dragon’s fingers move causing the water ripples.
    Then the dragon wakes and the kids all step back.
    We all visit La Taniere Du Dragon every day we visit DP.
    We also love walking through the castle, the caves near Swiss Family Treehouse and the pirate caves, and walking through the Nautilus. Getting to walk through these attractions just makes you feel the park more.
    Thanks for the article and congratulations again.

  2. I must have visited after they fixed the problems with the dragon. It had full animation, even waking up, roaring with smoke, and thrusting its head side to side! this was about a year ago! Still one of my favorite places to visit in any theme park! My 5 year old son at the time was convinced it was real and wouldn’t come near it! Every Disney Magic Kingdom should have one of these! I’m so glad you fought for animating the dragon, because it just adds so much to the atmosphere. Thanks for sharing! Can’t wait to hear about Ghostbusters!

  3. Thank you, Teri!

    Yes, I too had the pleasure of visiting DLP. It was in 2008, and the Dragon worked perfectly at that point! As CaptainAction wrote, the discovery of walking into the cave, your eyes adjusting to the low lighting during the day, to slowly reveal a sleeping dragon that lumbers awake momentarily was just fantastic! It was such a thril to experience during or one and only European trip!

  4. DLP is my second favourite park after the original Disneyland, and I think actually surpasses it in many technical respects. It was so impressive, and beautiful, and charming, and wonderful, that my fiancee and I were engaged there! (The people who don’t know us well ask why we could have all of Paris at our disposal and chose to get engaged at Disneyland… The people who do know us well think it’s obvious)

    La Taniere du Dragon and the whole of Le Château de la Belle au bois dormant is one of my favourite attractions at DLP. One of things I find so charming about the park is its more genteel, relaxing atmosphere. A lot of the best attractions are walkthroughs and things like the dragon (or the Nautilus, or Adventure Isle, or Alice’s Curious Labyrinth). I think you did amazing work with it Terri, and I guess you’re a perfect example of when it pays to be brash!

  5. Your dragon is awesome. She moves with incredible ease. I was glad to see they had fixed her the last time I was in Paris she didn’t move at all. It was a treat to see her in all her glory once again. You are right Tony is the king. He created a beautiful park. Too bad the new “Disney” decided that he had outlived his usefulness. Tony know what Walt’s Disneyland’s should be.

  6. Does the dragon have a name? We know now it is a female. More, please, Terri, about everything except maybe for running. I come here with a cup of coffee early in the morning and am not really ready for running.

  7. This article was such a treat. Your dragon certainly ranks right up there in my top 5 favorite Disney parks details. I can still remember that first time I stumbled into the Dragon’s lair. We stood there for a very long time. Watching the dragon sleep and then suddenly wake. What a thrill. Such a lovely space and what a beautiful creature.

    I’ve seen some online say that it’s Merlin’s dragon and others that it is Maleficent. Is it any dragon in particular Terri?

    Thank you and we can’t wait to read more!

  8. The Dragon at Disneyland Paris was originally sculpted years before for the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour at Tokyo Disneyland, if I’m not mistaken. So how is it “Terri’s Dragon”?

  9. I’ve only seen photos and video of the dragon in Paris, but it is one of the top Disney things I want to see for myself one day.

  10. Thank you for sharing your stories with us, it’s wonderful to hear the behind the scenes stuff!!

  11. You need to add a link to a video of you speaking to fully show MiceChatters how passionate you are, not just with design, but words. Yeah…the green flag drops and you’re flyin’. Now I have to wait two weeks for more.

  12. I was able to visit DLP last February, making it the 4th ‘Disneyland’ I’ve visited, and I have to tell you that the Dragon is my single favorite place not just in Disney but in all of Theme Parks, and easily one of my top favorite places on the entire planet! I only had two days at DLP resort but I easily spent a full two hours, at least, in the cave just soaking in the ambiance and that glorious Dragon. It is absolutely the single most effective Animatronic and I am utterly floored by the brilliance of the animation, how so much character, nuance, and realism is gotten from relatively so few articulated points. I simply can NOT wait to read more about the creation of the attraction!!! Thank you so much for sharing this story with us, Teri!

  13. Terri, I am so happy that I caught this article!

    I visited Disneyland Paris a few years ago while visiting family nearby. I had been to Paris before but hadn’t had the chance to visit the parks, and it was my one major request. Having been a member of MiceChat for quite some time, I knew that the parks wouldn’t exactly be looking as spotless as the original Disneyland that I frequently visit, but I was still very excited to see the parks, as I had read a bit on the background for the creation of Europe’s Disneyland.

    I have to admit, the visit left me with mixed feelings. The chicken sandwich that I had for lunch was terrible, the parks had the stench of the French sewage system (and the Skull Rock area was completely drained, which made it even worse), Space Mountain and Indy were painful to ride, and the upkeep wasn’t the best.

    But there were plenty of good things about the trip too, and without a doubt the BEST thing about Disneyland Paris (IMHO) is the dragon’s lair. Terri, I have never been so astounded by an audio-animatronic in my entire life. I stared at that dragon for at LEAST half an hour, and the only reason I left was because my family was prodding me to move along to the next attraction! The dragon is so life-like, the design of the cave so cool, and I love how you have to give yourself a moment to adjust your eyes to realize that there is a breathing dragon laying among the rocks, smoke billowing out of her lovely nostrils. She is simply perfection.

    I am so happy you are writing for MiceChat and that I can read articles like this one and be able to say thank you. For half an hour of my life, I sincerely felt like I was in the presence of a fire-breathing dragon. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  14. Oh Terri, Thanks so much for sharing this tale of how your stunning and brilliant La Taniere du Dragon came to be! And to think there was almost no animation – the nerve!! I am glad you stood your ground, and I am sure that they are too now, as it is truly an incredible and unique attraction.

    The Dragon was working perfectly last February 2013, and again perfectly on our second staycation in February 2014. I LOVED returning to see the beast below. The different entrances into the cave each give such a different perspective. The layered viewing, the depth, the detail – it is truly a work of art. You should be proud, and I hope it remains for all time. Thankyou for working so hard on it, know that people to this day and beyond find something in that cavern, something that touches each of our imaginations. I’ve been telling my little 3yr old nephew about it (we are in Australia), and he was fascinated. And whenever I sent him a postcard from DLP, I always make sure it’s one featuring the dragon.

    Thanks again, looking forward to many more of your stories you choose to share with us. Perhaps if the Captain EO stories are of a happy note, they may be good for either June to brighten our days when Michael Jackson fans mourn his passing, or August when we celebrate his Birth?
    Kindest regards and thanks, -Q.

  15. It’s really great reading your posts Terri. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you at a Disney event and look forward to hearing more from you in the future via this forum.

    Please write about all of the sculpting that you have done in a future article. I really love my Chernaobg statue and my relief map of Disneyland. Those are two of my most treasured pieces in my collection.