Garner Holt Productions Celebrates 35th Anniversary – From Garage to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom

Written by George Taylor. Posted in Disney History, Disney News, Features, Imaginerding

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Published on July 16, 2012 at 12:38 am with 22 Comments

Garner Holt Productions, a very special company that manufactures magical devices for your favorite theme parks, turns 35 today. But who is Garner Holt? Let’s turn the clock back to 1976 . . .

Imagine a Disney Imagineer showing up at your parent’s house to check out the animatronic Uncle Sam that you had built.

And you’re barely 16 years old.

Garner Holt had constructed a fairly remarkable Uncle Sam animatronic figure for the Bicentennial Celebration of 1976. Word of Garner’s accomplishment made its way to WED and to the attention of Disney Imagineer Wathel Rogers. A year later, Garner formed Garner Holt Productions while still in high school.

Most of the early work that Garner Holt Productions focused on were some low-budget haunted houses and some retail environments. Garner developed an animatronic parrot that was a second generation, so to speak, of the Tiki Room birds. Sequoia Creative got wind of the bird and asked Garner Holt Productions to help out. This led to Garner meeting Bob Gurr and eventually getting contract work with Disney. Eventually, the Company would be the first outside agency to create a fully-compliant animatronic for Disney with the Jack Skellington figure for the Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland.

After the success of Jack Skellington, the Company would go on to create over 400 figures for Disney theme parks worldwide and 500 animatronic shows for Chuck E. Cheese restaurants. Over the past 35 years, they’ve created over 3,500 animatronic figures in over 30 countries on five continents (whew!).

Garner explains the growth of Garner Holt Productions:

Since I founded the company, we’ve built almost 3,500 animatronic figures. I started out building simple little skulls that talked. We’re building a velociraptor right now with almost a hundred functions. What we do every day here now would have been unimaginable when I started out.

Over the years, Garner Holt Productions has expanded into more than animatronic figures for theme parks and restaurants. Their litany of services also includes parade floats, show action equipment, props, sets, scenery, puppets, video/media and costumes. They have worked on everything from small exhibits to entire theme parks

Most recently, the Company has been directly involved with projects for Cars Land at Disney California Adventure and an attraction for Hong Kong Disneyland. Chances are, if you’ve visited a Disney park (or theme park in any one of 30 other countries around the globe), then you’ve likely experienced a Garner Holt production.

I had the opportunity to ask Disney Legend and Imagineer, Bob Gurr, about his thoughts on Garner and his relationship with the Company. He also adds some insight into Garner Holt Productions’ new partnership with Disney.

In May 1995, Garner Holt asked me to help with a new project he had for a theme park in Korea. He was operating out of a very small industrial area shop, building mostly human and small animal sized animations. But his new project was to be 40 feet tall and weigh several tons.

We joked that there’s a giant difference between a critter that would fall off a work bench and an outdoor tower than could fall in a 100 MPH wind. The first incident might whack your foot, but the second instance would surely kill you. Thus a need for actual engineering.

Neither Garner nor I ever had any engineering training, but we’d find a way to safely design and build this giant tower – giant for him anyway. So I did the main structure, Garner’s fabricators did the rest. This required stress analysis and some civil engineering calculations, which I could easily do, but not officially sign off on the documents. But somehow, building and installing the whole thing turned out to be the more important requirement. The tower still stands today.

Over a three year period I helped Garner with four interesting projects leading ultimately to a very productive relationship with Disneyland as well as other Disney theme parks world wide. Garner and Disney have recently completed an agreement whereby Garner inherits all of Imagineering’s historic animation and show production designs and tooling, and will furnish much of Disney’s future show production requirements.

On a recent Friday the thirteenth I was a VIP guest at a BBQ ceremony honoring this historic Disney to Garner Holt transition. I was the only person in attendance that has lived the entire saga from Walt’s tiny Studio Machine Shop in late 1954 thru larger shops, eventually the vast MAPO animation and fabrication, then on to the Disney Show Design and Production, and Finally Garner Holt Productions.

Just in time for Garner Holt Productions’ 35th anniversary, they have taken on the great responsibility of the legendary MAPO division of Walt Disney Imagineering. I think you’d all agree that Garner’s 35 year journey has been nothing short of extraordinary. We can’t wait to see what the next 35 years brings!


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ImagiNERDing is written and edited by George Taylor

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About George Taylor

George has been obsessed with Disney theme parks since the first time he saw a photo of the Haunted Mansion in the early 70s. He started writing about Disney in 2007 and has amassed one of the world's largest Disney-related libraries.

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22 Comments

Comments for Garner Holt Productions Celebrates 35th Anniversary – From Garage to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom are now closed.

  1. I’m really impressed by the scope of their work, and I’m excited to know that they will be the ones producing the audio animatronics for Disney from now on!

    • I read another comment from another former Disney Imagineer that Garner runs his shop like Walt Disney ran the Studios and WED. It is part of the reason the GHP has been able to innovate so quickly.

  2. Good luck to Garner Holt for expanding the way they have done but I still can’t agree with Disney for making this move, most probably to save money.

    • It will be interesting to watch GHP going forward.

      The quote from Bob Gurr is really interesting:
      “…Garner inherits all of Imagineering’s historic animation and show production designs and tooling…”

      GHP certainly seems to be in a great spot.

  3. Congratulations on 35 years Garner! Sounds like the next 35 are shaping up to be really exciting!

  4. FYI: The link to this article from miceage.micechat.com is wrong, and points to the Dateline Disneyland column instead.

    • We’re aware. Unfortunately Al’s asleep. So, hopefully he’ll answer our texts and fix it soon.

  5. Thanks
    So MOPA is now replaced with GHP???

    • Imagineering has been outsourcing much of their work for a very long time. On Friday, they finally closed down the legendary MAPO facility that Bob Gurr and so many other Disney Legends worked in. I understand that they will have a new, much smaller, facility. However, folks like Garner Holt will carry on the bulk of the fabrications.

      Disney has outsourced much of their work from the earliest days, now they outsource nearly all the figures as well. But it doesn’t really change anything. Figures still get produced exactly as Disney wants them to look. And much of this work is being done by ex-imagineers and folks like Garner.

  6. I’m glad to see somebody with a vision running the show, and not some overpaid executive who’s going to jump ship when a bigger money offer comes along. Notice how Bob Gurr said “Neither Garner nor I ever had any engineering training.” They got where they were by talent and hard work–not by memorizing books, having a perfect SAT, and going to Harvard or Yale–or being well-connected. If Walt Disney were alive today, Disney might give him a job selling Churros. And as far as outsourcing goes: two of the best things to come out of Disneyland in recent years, The Haunted Mansion and Small World Holiday’s at Christmas time, I believe, were both outsourced.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      It does look like Garner is a great person to take the mantle of this job. He truly seems to love what he does and wants to make the best product possible.

  7. I don’t know Garner Holt personally, but I wish everyone could have been at Bob Gurr’s book signing event just to get a sense of the mutual respect between Bob and Garner.

    At garnerholt.com there is a short film about Garner and his company. Personally, it warms my heart knowing that this man and his company are carrying on with audio-animatronics. That means a lot to me as I think the animated figures in the attractions are at the very center of what makes Disney parks special. It’s nice to know we’ll see more work in the future from an fine artist who really “gets it.”

    • Thanks for leaving a comment.

      I agree with you. It looks like his heart (and brain) are in the right place when it comes to his company and what he is doing for Disney.

      I hope we have 35 more years of Garner Holt Productions (if not more).

  8. Very nice article, I hope for more their work to appear soon, and Knott’s, if your’re reading this, commission GHP for a dark ride!

    Timekeeper

    • Maybe they are reading!

      That is a great idea, Timekeeper. :)

    • I absolutely agree. Knott’s could use some family type dark rides.

    • I’m right there with you Timekeeper. I hope Knott’s is listening. And not just for a new dark ride. How about some fancy (but not too fancy) new animatronics for the Mine and Log rides!

  9. So this is how MAPO dies. With thunderous applause.

    • Sadly, MAPO has been dead for quite some time. And, while I morn the passing of MAPO, I also couldn’t be happier for Garner Holt. If Disney’s going to outsource this stuff, they couldn’t have chosen a more genuine and talented group of folks. It is very much a bitter sweet sort of thing. Sad to see another part of Disney history fade away, but so thankful that the crew at Garner are picking up the banner.

  10. While it is sad that MAPO no longer exists, let’s remember that it was no longer the creative playground that Walt established. The creatives have long been replaced by the CEOs and accountants. I think that Garner Holt will be able to bring some creative imagination back into play because like the old guard imagineers he “gets it”. If the torch needed to be passed, I believe passing it to Garner was the right choice.

  11. HMF — thank you for saying it, that was sad for me as well.

    But since Disney decided to outsource in this manner, I’m still glad it’s going to Garner Holt and not, say, some company that mainly does stockholder presentations or pharmaceutical manufacturing or something — it’s a magical animation kind of company, this is not just a sideline for them.

  12. Great article! I first heard about Garner Holt while researching for my thesis on theme park design. And I always thought it was a company. I did not know it was a real person. And while it is a company, it gives perspective to have a story behind the image – like Walt himself. So thank you for exposing the life behind the name. (impressive – he was 16-years-old!!)