First of all, I want to thank all of you who came out to Walt Disney’s Barn on Easter to share your day with Tony Baxter and I. It was truly magical as many came to the barn for the first time. Carolwood Foundation Volunteers happily guided many through Walt’s Barn and Museum answering questions and encouraging them to ride the trains, pick up a book and chat with the authors there. (AKA us).
Today we’ll explore part two of the Disneyland Paris dragon saga. If you are catching this story in the middle, please take a few moments to read part one HERE.
Dragon’s Lair Part 2
When last we left our story about Dragon’s Lair, I had mentioned that some of powers that be were worried about having just one designer on a project. Point well taken.
Should the designer leave the company for any reason, Disney would lose time having to assign a new designer. Time is also lost bringing that designer up to speed. Having more then one designer per project eliminates this problem.
Paris was also a new stepping point for Walt Disney Imagineering. Time was extremely tight on this project as opposed to others. Disney needed to move at break neck speed. They had to find an edge. Imagineering turned to the film industry to find the people they needed. It’s common knowledge that artists who make their living in this industry are always under extremely tight deadlines.
This is how they found me. In many cases there weren’t enough artists to put more then one per project. They had to choose their battles. They would often give the film industry artist a project to work on alone because of their speed. I was fast, really fast. Plus, I had gone out on a limb and pitched to Tony Baxter. Tony wanted to see what I came up with.
My bosses were also concerned about me being a woman as women were rarely sent on location to work in the construction sites. Many women went over to France but they worked in other fields not that one.
Before you go all Meryl Streep on me (and for the record what she said about women and Disney is completely false), I was never treated with anything but the utmost respect at Walt Disney Imagineering. Walt Disney Imagineering is a direct reflection of Walt. Here’s why.
When Disney Imagineering ventured beyond the USA creating new parks, many things had to be considered. The #1 concern is that you must take into account the culture of the country you plan to do business in.
For example, in many cultures women aren’t thought of as equals. Think of a country where this is true. China, Japan or many third world countries are often in the news on this subject.
As a result, my bosses insisted I work with a partner and they chose Brian Jowers. The next day I was introduced to a small, well- dressed man about 5’2”. I’d never met him until this day and I knew nothing about him. His artwork was so incredible. I could actually tell the time of day his painting was painted. They were just amazing. I’d never seen anything like them.
“Did you paint this one around 4pm?”
“mmm-humm” he nodded.
They were also whimsical. The Painting Dragon’s Lair in my last article is a Brian Jowers. He is so talented and quite humble about it. I was eager to get started.
Brian and I huddled together and began to Brainstorm. Soon we had a terrific idea, we were so excited.
We decided it would be excellent to create a dragon skeleton embedded in the rock wall of the cave starting at the entrance. The rib cage could be what separated guests from Merlin’s Dragon. Brian sketched frantically as the ideas flew. The guests could notice it upon entering and follow the tail pausing at the rib cage to see Merlin’s Dragon awaken then continue on following the skeleton til they discovered a sword that stuck out of the chest.
We knew that most of you would guess that it was the skeleton of the Maleficent dragon and for those who did, would delight in the knowledge of this little secret. What could be better than this for treat under Sleeping Beauty’s Castle?!
We had to consider the purpose of Dragon’s Lair was to act as the hub like the one at Disneyland. So there were more then one entrance.
If guests should enter from the other direction, they would see the skull with those magnificent Maleficent horns and the sword and perhaps run the rest of the way to be sure of what they saw. Either way we thought this would be fantastic.
But when we presented to the powers that be:
Blank faces stared back at us. You could’ve heard a pin drop. Finally they spoke.
“We don’t get it?” “What’s the point of the rib cage?”
“What?” “Are you kidding?!”
Our smiles faded. No matter how many times we tried to explain, it was no use. They just didn’t understand. They didn’t see it.
“Have you seen Sleeping Beauty?” They both gave me a look. Tony Baxter was in Paris, and I wished he’d been there that day.
After that meeting Brian was sent back to his art table and I went back to my original design. They decided it was better for me to work alone. My heart fell. However, Dragon’s Lair is amazing. In this industry designers have to pick their battles.
So I got back to work. I’m sure you can imagine what it felt like to be asked to create this project from the ground up. The entire project left to me. I designed the cavern, the effects the lighting and the animation. I had to pinch myself often to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.
The cavern was carved out of gold foam, a material much like the foam you stick flowers in but a higher grade. I was given a miniature model of the dragon to work with and I had to retro-fit her into this new location. This meant cutting the model in places then re-sculpting the revised areas to complete her new look.
This dragon was originally designed for Tokyo Disneyland, but the place where she resided was too cramped and the Imagineering designers of that park were not satisfied with the end result. They hoped for another venue to show the dragon off in a better way. Enter Euro-Disneyland.
Back when this dragon was originally created I was an intern assigned to this sculpting project for a couple of weeks.
(This is how in some circles she become known as Terri’s dragon) I helped sculpt her then reworked her into a new pose. Giving her a new life, and a new home when I returned as an official Walt Disney Imagineer. My destiny if you will.) Peter Commode was lead sculptor of the original dragon.
I sculpted the rock outcrop she rests her head upon to sleep to be a bit lower than ground level to force guests to look down at her. I liked making the outcrop just large enough to hold her head. Once I finished the cavern, I sketched out the animation. I worked in steps. First I needed to illustrate her sleeping. Her tummy needed to move in and out with every breath and her eyes needed to flutter as if dreaming. One of her paws dangled in the water and it was to twitch intermittently like a dog’s paw does when he’s dream chasing. The tail I curled around a stalagmite with the tip in a pool of water. The tail would swish back and forth gently similar to a cats tail, the barometer of her mood.
As I met with my teams, animation, effects and lighting, I described a loud rumbling breathing sound that would be heard the minute you entered Dragon’s Lair. Effects suggested smoke to escape the mouth while she slept, like smoldering embers since she is a fire breather. Perfect!
The lighting would be low with colored lights highlighting here and there. There are rules about lighting that have to be taken into consideration for safety reasons. We took this into consideration. The cave was to feel cool upon entering as that was the thing I noticed when visiting a few caverns on my own. Effects brought me a little mechanism that vibrates breaking up the water molecules creating a fog layer when placed in the caverns pond. This created a foggy mist over the water perfectly.
When she awakes her eyes flutter. This along with a guttural chuffing sound and smoke escaping from her mouth signals her sleep was at an end. I explained that impact was key. Once her eyes opened there’s a slight pause and then she rises to her full height as quick as possible ending above the guests. Now she was looking down at them.
When this happened it causes guests to whip back in order to see her looking down at them making her imposing and a little scary. When I finally did get to France to see this, it was amazing.
All of this had to meet with the approval of my bosses and Tony Baxter. You know the end of the story.
Before I close, I hope this addresses the “Why Terri’s Dragon? Posted to my last article. I wish to encourage you to post any question that comes to mind. I look forward to answering you.
As far as her name is concerned, and even the gender for that matter, I left that to you. A she dragon is the result of how most of you described the dragon in discussion. Remember, you are the beating heart of all of these parks. It’s my belief that without you there Disney would fall. I hope they’ll turn to you and ask what you’d like to see. It’s how a company stays strong in business.
I ask you, what shall you hear next time?
COMING UP – May 1 – 6 Terri will be doing a book signing and appearing in Ohio and Indiana.