We were VERY lucky to have made it into one of D23’s added tours of the Walt Disney Studios on Aug. 15. In fact, I am expecting it to be the only D23 event we ever get into, since every other event I’ve tried to get into has filled up before my browser even brought up the link to click on. On this occasion they accidentally posted the link 3 minutes early and I saw it in time to make it onto a waiting list. When they decided to add more tours each day, we got in!
Ooooh! Parking lot! Behind it is the building where all the animation takes place today – we didn’t go there
We arrived at the studio at 11:30am for our 12pm tour. They had us park and walk over to what is sort of the “show” front part of the studio, near the gym, the commissary, the conference rooms and the company store.
(If the photo is bad, you’ll know it came from my iPhone)
They’d set up a check-in point where we showed our ID and D23 card to get a wristband, a D23 Expo pin, and a color sticker indicating our tour group.
The family of four ahead of us was trying to get the son and dad into the tour even though only the mom had registered for the event (and her daughter got to be her one guest), but Disney stuck to the rules and told them they couldn’t come. DH told me if he’d been the dad, he woulda made it up to the son by taking him over to Griffith Park to see the carousel and Walt’s Barn, and then visit Travel Town. I think they went to Starbucks instead.
As we waited for the tour to begin, some of the blue-shirted D23 staffers took groups to the bathrooms at the commissary. It was fun to chat with them and find out what their jobs were, because they were real-live D23 employees who work on the magazine.
Oooh! Vintage phone booth!
The only other time I visited the Studios, I got to eat at the commissary – the food was really good, unlike the food at the faux commissary in DHS...
D23 had put out big photos at some of the tour stops. This one at the beginning of the tour shows the studio in the ‘60s.
“What? You gonna let some dorky little sign tell you what to do? C’mon – gimme that burger!
When the tour started, we were split into two groups. Ours went on the studio tour first, while the other went to see the Archives first. Our tour guide was so funny – she told us we could take as many pix of her as we wanted as long as she wasn’t talking, because the day after the last round of tours, she’d found unflattering mid-sentence pix of herself all over the Internet!
The first area we saw was the last remnant of the permanent sets on the lot, a single row of storefronts. They used to have a Wild West town, a small Mexican village (for Zorro), and someplace that I can’t remember what it was but they used it for “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.” (Soon to be screened at the D23 Expo – get yer tickets NOW!!!)
Across the way was the back of the Ink & Paint building, which our guide painted as kind of a women’s ghetto, since it was the only department they were allowed to work in and their amenities consisted of a break room and, uh, a place to drink tea (wait til you hear what the men got in their building…).
We continued down this sort of back street behind the soundstages and stopped at the one where WED Enterprises built lots of the vehicles for Disneyland, including the train, the monorail and I think she said this is where the Mark Twain was built.
...Perhaps the hippos were built here too?
As we walked down the bland back street past empty soundstages and anonymous warehouses, it struck me what a terrible idea this would be for a theme park!
Our next stop was Soundstage 3, which is not quite as famous as Soundstage 2, where Mary Poppins was filmed and which has been dedicated to Julie Andrews. That stage was being used for some TV show that I can’t remember what it is. Soundstage 3 was built to shoot the classic squid attack scene in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – they actually dug out the floor and filled it with water.
If you can see the blue tape lines on the floor – that’s where the tank was for 20,000 Leagues
Next we headed back the way we’d come and turned down a side street near the old film vaults.
Now that the animators and, well, everybody, it seems, has moved over to new buildings across the street and around Burbank, all of the buildings are used for something different than what they were built for. These film vaults were built like bunkers because the old kind of film stock, nitrate, was highly combustible. I don’t remember what these fireproof vaults are used for now – maybe they keep Zac Efron here...
This is the only building where they still do what the sign says, except that in the year 2009 those crazy kids do a different kind of “cutting” here...
Our tour guide was good about stopping us in shady places. We paused on the steps of the next building because it was the best place to get pictures of the water tower. She told us that it was built with six legs instead of four in order to withstand earthquakes (the hope was that it would collapse straight down instead of tipping over). It used to hold the water needed to heat and cool the entire studio, and at one point Walt wanted to see if it could be turned into an employee pool! No dice...
I forget what the first building we went in was for originally – maybe Camera? Now its sole purpose is to house the stuffed carcass of Gus, The Football-Playing Mule.
The next place we went was the Animation Building. It was built in a sort of E shape so that every office had a window, enabling the animators to draw with natural light.
All the windows except those facing north, which naturally get the best light, had louvered shades that lighting could be adjusted.
Here our guide also told us all about the good-life enjoyed by the male employees of the studio. Although the building was 3 floors around the perimeter, the center had a fourth floor that housed a private club for men only. There was a restaurant, a sauna and I think an exercise room where the animators could go unwind. (I should prolly be verifying all of this online, but let’s just assume the guide knew what she was talking about!). I dunno if it’s all still up there – I would have loved to see it!
Instead, I give you a picture of a hall:
We walked down the center of the building and were allowed to take pictures of the concept art lining the walls, including...
Backgrounds from one of my childhood favorites, “The Cold-Blooded Penguin,” about a penguin who dreams of moving to a warmer climate.
... and concept art for The Princess & the Frog
Someone’s going to have to help me out with this one – is it from Bambi?
At this point our guide stopped us and said “Walt Disney World likes to brag about its Utilidors, but *we* were the first to have them!” She told us about the tunnel from Animation to Ink & Paint that kept cells from getting wet in the copious amounts of rain Burbank gets. And then she took us down into it!!!
Before we went into the tunnel, she said that poor Jennifer Garner must’ve run up and down these halls hundreds of times for Alias.
The glow of the Coke machine cleverly distracts the bad guys chasing Jennifer Garner...
When we emerged in the Ink & Paint building, we got to look into the main paint-mixing room and saw some of the original bottles of the stuff! Apparently it lasts forever.
On the way out, they had a photo of the original Hyperion studios for us. Some of the buildings were moved to the Burbank lot, but the rest were demolished, and today the site holds a Gelson’s supermarket.
Back outside, our guide pointed out Walt Disney’s office for us. They also had a picture of the interior. Today it’s being used by Shaun Cassidy. Apparently he’s one of the more reverent tenants the space has had, but it amazes me that they don’t hold Walt’s office out of the pool of rentable space and do something special with it.
At some point we saw the big fancy building Michael Eisner had built. Maybe on the way back into the Animation building to walk down more halls?
I’ve always loved the backgrounds in Lady & the Tramp
The “Hall of Kings” where Frank, Ollie, and many of the other most famous Disney animators had their offices.
LOVE the 101 Dalmatians concepts!
Next we briefly backtracked toward the front of the studio to talk about the Hyperion Bungalow, which is from the original lot (I’ve heard it’s the oldest building at the studio) and is now a conference room.
And the Mickey topiary. There was a funny story about how Disney World sent this topiary to the studios as a gift, and there were originally to be a bunch of them, but this one is having so many problems staying alive that they had to scrap the plan.
You’ve prolly seen the corner of Dopey Drive and Mickey Avenue a lot. The sign was created for the “documentary” The Reluctant Dragon and it’s still here!
Pluto’s paw prints are in the asphalt here...