Howdy! To everyone who was in the audience for the “This Animatronic Life” panel at MiceChat’s 10th Anniversary Weekend, thank you! The response we got—my creative director, Bill Butler, project management lead Tracy Cathey, technical director Vic Martin, and animation programmer Davy Feiten, and myself—was very enthusiastic. We had a lot of fun sharing stories from our careers, the history of animatronics in the parks, and lots of laughs. I love having the opportunity to share stories about the things we as fans all love. It’s wonderful to know that there are so many people as enthusiastic about Garner Holt Productions, Inc. (GHP) as I am!
As I mentioned during our panel a couple weekends ago, This Animatronic Life (our column on MiceChat) enjoys a sporadic publication schedule. We have stories for hundreds of columns yet to come, it’s just tough to find the time to put them down on paper! Today, I wanted to let readers know about an event GHP is hosting for The Walt Disney Birthplace project. On Saturday, February 28 (that’s coming up real quick!), GHP will play host to 50 guests for a “behind the scenes” look at what we do here, and some of our latest projects. Starting at 2pm, guests will be invited in for a tour of our design and production facility in San Bernardino, CA. There, we’ll walk through our entire creative process—from “spark to spectacular” as we say around here—art, sculpture, engineering, animation, rapid prototyping, “skingineering,” costuming, media production, programming, and more.
The process of creating the world’s greatest animatronics is a complex one, with lots of steps along the way. I think guests that are part of this special event will be blown away by the amount of work it takes to create even the simplest figures, let alone hugely detailed things like giant fire-breathing dragons or compliant human figures! Everything we make is unique, a prototype in many ways, no matter how many thousands of animatronic figures we’ve created over the years. It will give our guests a whole new perspective on animation in the parks, and deeper appreciation of the artistry that goes into making dimensional figures move in themed environments.
After our tour, we’ll gather in GHP’s creative design studio’s education center, where we’ll give a multimedia presentation about the history of animatronics from the earliest automatons to today’s most sophisticated figures. Then we’ll walk through the process of how GHP works with our clients from around the world to create successful integration of animatronics into different attractions—I think guests will find this particularly interesting and hope it will answer some questions about why theme park attractions take so long to design and build. We’ll also share some our favorite bits of Disney animatronic history with images from the GHP archives and some cool artifacts from our collection of historic animatronics.
I make no promises, but we might even get a visit from Floyd, our studio kitty.
The coolest part of this special event to raise funds for the preservation and restoration of the house Walt Disney was born in will be a unique VIP opportunity preceding the GHP tour. At 9am, Knott’s Berry Farm will usher 15 guests through the backstage gate and to the newly-refurbished Calico Mine Ride. There, in the hour before the park opens, Bill Butler and I will lead guests on a tour of the inner workings of Bud Hurlbut’s masterpiece. We’ll walk through backstage areas of the ride to see what it takes to transport guests back to a working gold mine in the 1870s. If you aren’t already, seeing the Mine Ride from this perspective will make you a big Bud Hurlbut fan—the ride’s layout, operational workings, and thematic achievement are simply incredible. Plus, we’ll share with you all the challenges we faced in bringing a ride that hadn’t changed much from its 1960 opening into a modern attraction filled with sophisticated animatronics, special effects and lighting, and an amazing audio system.
Then, we’ll board a train for a lights on trip through the mine, where we’ll point out all the wonderful detail to be found in the attraction, and where we added new magic to Bud’s original work. Lastly, we’ll flip the switch to “show conditions” for a final ride through as guests experience the attraction every day. After the Mine Ride tour, we’ll head over to Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant for breakfast before heading back to GHP for the afternoon events. While at Mrs. Knott’s, we’ll present our VIP guests with a special memento from the event: a real piece of the Calico Mine Ride created by GHP for the attraction. Knott’s has VERY generously allowed us access to the attraction for this exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime event. I’ve said it before: Knott’s is the most generous, supportive, and friendly park I’ve worked with, and we are grateful to them for allowing us to share the secrets of the Mine Ride with you.
In all, it’s going to be a full day of fun, behind the scenes magic, and, I hope, lots of learning about what it takes to make theme park attractions work creatively and operationally. Best of all, 100% of the proceeds from tickets to this event will go to The Walt Disney Birthplace restoration project. Like all of you, I feel a personal connection with Walt, not only as a fan, but as someone who built a career and a business based on my admiration for the man and his work. Truly, without the inspiration I got from Walt’s creations, GHP would not exist. The Birthplace Project is a way for us all to be part of Walt’s legacy by preserving the home that his father, Elias, hand-built and where the greatest creative genius in history was brought into the world.
I hope to see you at GHP on February 28th—it’s not just a wonderful event, it’s all for a very worthy cause that we can all support!