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.
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.
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?”
“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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.