Seeming like I'm just coming out of nowhere here on MiceChat and to better justify how I happened to run into what I think was a rare oppurtunity, I think I should bring up my background. Well right now I'm a current community college Architecture student in Southern California that was a former DLR cast member. Last week, our department was invited to take part on a architectural lecture about Walt Disney Imagineering.
I may not be exactly up-to-date with the latest version of the DCA Project Tracker here on MiceChat, but I would hope at least, something in my post catches your eye as interesting. I appologize in advance for the format of what seems to be my random collection of thoughts....I didn't take notes. Also if you want to skim, take a look at the bold points to get to the more interesting parts.
Upon arriving at the lecture, I later found out that the speaker was an Imagineering producer who was "in-the know" about many of the current and upcoming projects at Disney's California Adventure.
He started off introducing himself and said what he did. Then, for those who weren't exactly Disney fans, he went over a short history lesson about the Walt Disney Company and what WDI did. Mostly, there was focus on how WDI runs like a movie production company from addressing people as "Producers" and "Graphic Artists" to the way the concept of storytelling being what makes them different from any other theme-park company. He then told us what affects how things are designed and what is considered Disney Park-worthy. He also pointed out that Imagineers may have went to school with a certain major, but they must also be flexible to truly succeed in imagineering.
A slightly random fact that I noticed, Walt Disney's actual signature looks nothing like the way it's portrayed in the company's logo.
The Archictectural Stuff
The actual Architectural aspect was somewhat familiar, yet amazing for me personally. The Imagineer told us of how forced perspective is used. My classmates were amazed at how Main Street at Disneyland is put together (Full scale first floors, 5/8 scale second floors, and if there is one; a 1/2 scale 3rd floors). We then got detailed close-ups that showed us how color and the style of architecture told a story. He mentioned the subtle neopolitan pattern of "bricks" at the Gibson Girl Ice Cream parlor to the amount of work put into finding the right kind of shades for the castle at Disneyland Paris.
He then went on to show the way that in what seems relatively close to urban planning, how each Disney Park from Disneyland to Hong Kong Disneyland is layed out. Many people are mostly aware of the hub and spokes design, but I was amazed at how the Imagineers have managed to put an "anchor" (not neccesarily the well-known "weinie"), to pull the attention to guests, at literally around every corner. Every pathway apparently is treated a "sequence" that allows you to see only certain things at a certain perspective. But as the anchors draw you in, more is revealed and details become more visible. Once a sequence ends and a guest changes direction, there seems to be a new sequence started and another anchor can be seen in the distance that draws you in more. He gave us an example of anchors on a route from Main Street to Critter Country; Sleeping Beauty Castle, The Mark Twain, Golden Horseshoe, Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, and finally the railroad track bridge coming out of Splash Mountain.
DCA and Its "Changes" - The Interesting Stuff
Since DCA's upgrades and changes were his current project, it would only make sense for him to bring it all up. But first, he asked the entire classroom a question as if we were a focus group; "What ideas come to mind when you think of "Disney's California Adventure?" Hands were raised and the comments flew in. "Boring." "Not kid-oriented." "Expensive." "Big." "Empty." "Un-appealing." "Lacks theming." I'm sure there was one nice comment complimenting the park somewhere in the mayhem, but the negative stuff overshadowed that one person. The Imagineer continued saying: "Wow, I like how you're all honest. And well, you're all correct." He continued on saying how there were so many flaws in the planning and one of the design considerations, "cost" (big surprise!), was the main reason DCA came out the way it did. I thought it was amazing how honest this imagineer was, and how he didn't sugar-coat the mishaps like Disney Marketing seems to do. And then he got to the good stuff...inside stuff.
He added that originally there were to be no Disney characters and that DCA was to be mostly adult oriented. But with costs being a factor, there was a lack of attractions (not just "rides").
He started off by showing us "The Drillbit Sun", a.k.a. the Sunshine Plaza centerpiece portraying the sun. He showed us original concept art that almost came to be, and was actually realistic, but costs became the ultimate factor.
He went on with Buena Vista Street and showed us renderings and a sketchup model fly-through that I haven't seen anywhere on the internet among the millions of Disney sites. He went over the actual inspiration for the portrayal of the Carthay Circle Theater and how it was a miracle that they even found enough information to make their own version of it. Most of the inspiration "photos" were actually photos taken for insurance purposes. He also told us how close the proximity was between the front door to the Carthaytheater to the It's Tough to be a Bug theater.
THe Imagineer also brought up the Red Car Trolleys and showed us some details on them. He told us that the people above him came up with a 100+ item list of everything that could go wrong with having a cable above the trains. But with convincing, they kept the cables, that won't be used for function, because it created the story they were trying to portray on Buena Vista Street more realistic in the details.
Finally, he brought up drawings of concepts they have for the new "Partners-like statue" they have planned for Buena Vista Street. Most of them have Mickey and Walt in a more active, "working together" kind of position either in-front of a camera or the expression they would have had on their amazed faces upon getting off their red car trolley and entering Hollywood for the first time.
We got a short overlook of the changes going on in Hollywoodland, but nothing significant that we don't already know.
Paradise Pier was interesting. We got to see footage of the nozzles and lights being tested for the World of Color as well as some of the footage that will be projected on the mist screens. I also got to hear some of the sountrack, that I didn't personally like because of the high pitched singing, but I guess it'll work out when the entire show is put together.
He also went into a discussion, almost laughing at himself, as to how many construction walls they have up along the parade route. He said at it's narrowest point, there's only a 10 feet horizontal clearance.
There was then a segway into the Little Mermaid attraction. We had the chance to see "hot off the press" elevations and renderings of the exterior of the structure housing the attraction which looks massive, but amazing nonetheless. We also got to see some of the carvings they're going to make the dozens of animatronics out of. We were told that their biggest issue with the attraction is getting Ariel's hair down animatronically. They want to make it so that the idea of Ariel being underwater could be portrayed in a way that was most realistic as possible.
Something that I haven't read anywhere, that I'd like to consider an "exclusive" is the theming of the parade route between what will be Buena Vista Street and the Golden State/Paradise Pier Junction. Referring back to the concept of anchors, there aren't many along the parade route. This leads to guests feeling tired on their walk down the parade route, and sometimes even them forcing them to give up before reaching Paradise Pier. By treating it as the El Camino Real, this gives guests the oppurtunity to look forward to stops along the ways as "exits" like on the many freeways found throughout California. The introduction of more anchors will create an illusion of a much shorter walk. Oh, I also forgot to metion that there may be vehicles related to the Buena Vista Street's era, much like the ones on Main Street, that could be used to transport guests up and down the parade route.
Finally, there is Cars Land. We got to see some footage of imagineers experimenting with ride technologies and vehicle designs for the attractions. I thought it was amazing that they're bringing the flying saucer technology from the tomorrowland of yesterland and have fixed the kinks for Luigi's Roamin' Tires, what was almost as fun was watching the footage of Imagineers testing the technologies in Glendale with serious looks on their faces. The Radiator Spring Racers vehicles looked like a sleeker version of the Test Track vehicles in Epcot having a Lightning McQueen overlay. Tow Mater's Junkyard Jamboree had an interesting story as to how they tried to test the concept. Like the Luigi's Roamin' Tires, it had to be tested by imagineers in a parking lot. It literally had Imagineers riding in a little carriage being towed my a tractor doing doughnuts in a parking lot.
The Imagineer ended the DCA portion of the lecture with the logo of the park. There were literally dozens of ideas that we got to see, but the one that's in the lead involves the letter "O" being able to be replaced with the face/image of a Disney Character. We then looked at merchandising tests and it seemed to work well.
The Imagineer ended the entire lecture with a short pep talk about how we can be where he is, and he motivated us to strive to be somewhere that makes us happy like his job does for him. He then took four or five questions from my peers and then it was over.
My Review of The Lecture
Obviously, being the Disney-geek that I am, I was overwhelmed with joy to find out that there was going to be a lecture on Imagineering at my campus. I was even more amazed to find out how much architecture was taken seriously by WDI in the desginig of it's parks. The Imagineering producer was very well spoken and made even the non-Disney enthusiasts feel comfortable by explaining how things were done. It was pretty "neat", forgive the fancy architectural term, to see the inside workings, behind the scenes footage and drawings that make the work WDI does seem familiar yet a class of it's own.
There was so much information discussed during the lecture, and I'm sure I overlooked something and forgot to mention it. But I hope you enjoyed my jumbled recollection of thoughts.
That lecture was not only inspiring, but it was also nothing short of simply being "magical".