with Tony Baxter
by Didier Ghez
Disneyland Paris, May 31, 1995
Before we talk about the past, let us talk
about the future. What is the future that Disney Imagineers have in mind
Well, right now things are looking better. As you know, last year was
a rough one for Disney. It started with the loss of Franck Wells and I
miss him a lot. He gave a lot of strength and confidence to all of us,
especially Michael. I would say that loosing Jeffrey was an other shock
to all of us. Then Mickey Steinberg, the man who led the construction
effort on DLP, left the company as well. And now we have a new management
with whom we have been brainstorming to find what it is we are going to
do. The Wescot project, which was very big a year ago, has become less
valid because of the economy and various other things that seem to make
it not profitable.
So we have been spending the last three or four months developing new
plans for Anaheim which we presented to Michael at the end of May. He
was very excited about what we had. I think it will make DL kind of reinvent
itself, becoming more like an "urban" centre. It will never
be a resort like WDW or DLP because there is not enough land, so we are
thinking about developing it to work more like a city, more like Copenhagen
with Tivoli Gardens as its heart. We presented some very early ideas to
Michael and he was excited about them. With a little bit of luck that
will be the next project for California.
Are there any attractions in there or is
it like Pleasure Island ?
Pleasure Island is an area for night-time entertainment. What I have been
toying around is an integrated concept where you live there, have fun
there and also have night time entertainment there. But it is all the
things in one place. Up till now, all of these elements have been created
to exist separately. It is not like a city, where you live in the city,
work in the city and are entertained in the city, all in one place. That
is what we are trying to do.
Are there other projects we can discuss ?
The status of whether we do that fourth gate or not in Florida is still
a question mark. We finished the design on that and have done some preliminary
work in the fields, grading the land. But I do not think Michael will
make a final decision until September.
The Japanese project, Disney Seas, contains some of the elements originally
designed for the Long Beach project. Also, it includes several ideas from
Discovery Bay which was a project we designed for DL but never had the
opportunity to build. (Discovery Bay was also the inspiration for Discoveryland
here at DLP). So they are creating a park that is based on the sea, and
it is progressing well. However, it still might be a year before we know
whether it will happen.
Meanwhile, my efforts are focused on expanding DL, which has always been
the flagship of our parks. DLP may be more beautiful, but DL is the one
that Walt touched. It is so compact and charming, I have always hoped
that we could develop something very exiting fot it, something unique
from the other locations. Florida has grown so spectacularly that it is
time DL got a real shot in the arm.
At the same time, we are working on some ideas for a new Tomorrowland
at DL. I am hoping that a lot of what we have done here in Europe will
come to life in California. It will be more like Discoveryland in Paris
than Tomorrowland in Florida. We plan to introduce an exiting new attraction
that will replace the Peoplemover - a new attraction that is not in any
of our parks. Unfortunately, I cannot share the details of this adventure
at this time. This new attraction will be taking place along with the
Visionarium. And as in Florida, Robin Williams will be doing the voice
And we may also have a new Star Tours. If George complete the next Star
Wars films as he is currently planning, then we might be doing a Star
Tours at the same time.
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience will replace Captain EO. And then, a new
version of Innnoventions from Epcot is being developed for the Carrousel
Theater, which will start revolving once again! We will divide Innoventions
into five different areas: The Home of the Future, The Workplace of the
Future, The Recreation of the Future and The Entertainment of the Future.
These divisions will rotate by you and you will be able to experience
what each of those areas will be like. These areas will have spaces behind
them where you will see the displays and hands on demonstrations by the
sponsors. Innoventions at DL might have an Imagineer's lab, but it won't
be limited to the Virtual Reality Show in Epcot. We are envisioning a
place where we will take many things like Engrid from the post show of
Star Tours and the Morph Port, some of the Epcot Imagination pavilion's
"Image Works", as well as the Epcot Wonders of Life "Fitness
Fairgrounds", and we will invite you to be an Imagineer and try these
hands on experiences. That's what we will be doing in the first place.
DL's Space Mountain will be getting an on-board audio system, like Space
Mountain at DLP. Who knows - we may someday also get the big cannon !
Could you tell me, to begin with, how you
entered Disney ?
I grew up in Orange County, near DL and used to ride my bike out to the
park. I fell in love with DL at that time, somewhere around age 10. As
soon as I turned 18, which was the minimum age to work at DL, I got my
first job in the company, in the food division, scooping ice cream. At
the same time, I was going to school and majoring in three areas: landscape
architecture, architecture and fine arts.
I worked at DL during my five years of school and when I graduated I transferred
to Imagineering, which was called WED at the time. WED was the design
firm for DL and they were they were in the middle of building the Magic
Kingdom at WDW. I came on at the right time and was assigned to go down
to Florida, to help them install the dark rides and the 20.000 Leagues
Under The Sea submarine attraction.
When I came back, there was a slow period, so I started working on my
own project which was a western ride that turned out to be Big Thunder
Mountain. The company liked it and made me an official designer. However,
it was nearly six years before I was to see that ride finished at DL in
1979. We built a second Big Thunder at WDW in 1980, and we have built
two more since then. Big Thunder is the only mountain I know of that exists
in four locations around the world !
After Big Thunder, I was assigned to EPCOT. I was the preliminary designer
on The Living Seas and on The Land. In 1980, I was given the task of creating
Journey into Imagination, so The Land and Seas pavilions were given to
other designers. The Land pavilion they built for the opening of EPCOT
was not the version I was involved with.
What did contain The Land pavilion you designed contain ?
The building was designed as a series of very large glass crystals that
contained each of the different habitats of the earth - from the frozen
environments of the high mountains to the low-lying deserts and swamps
. And each one told the story of how we must decide whether to preserve
or develop the various assets of the land. Two of the crystals were developed
into agricultural and urban environments, and the other five were natural
environments. We sort of followed the story of water which comes down
from the sky to the mountains and eventually dries up in the desert.
Was it an attraction with Audio-Animatronics
Some of it. We had three parts. The first part was a theatre with some
AA figures, and the second part was a ride on a balloon, a little Peter
Pan-like ride-through of a Disney nature story. It was called The Blueprints
of Nature. The blueprints unfolded in the snowflakes of winter, then the
germinating seeds of springtime, the flowers of summer, and the leaves
of the fall. As we observed this never-ending cycle, the balloon soared
upward with the flying eagle. "For man alone can learn from nature
and can soar with the birds". The ride concluded by flying through
all the crystals. When you looked down, you got an overview of the area
you would soon be visiting on foot, which was the third part of the show.
But that concept was designed for a lumbering company, and when Kraft
Foods signed on as the sponsors, they wanted to tell the story of farming
and food production, so everything changed. And the rest is history.
When Kodak came to Disney, they said they wanted to do something that
could be very imaginative. So we said: "How about doing a pavilion
on imagination ?!" My next task was to develop that pavilion, which
became Journey into Imagination. We had to catch up with the other pavilions,
because we were a full year late. The other pavilions were all being designed
and this one had not even been started, so it was a real race to begin
our Journey into Imagination and get it there for opening day in October
Before Imagination was complete, we had already begun to redesign all
of Fantasyland in DL, so you can see it was a busy time for me. I always
loved the look of the small country villages of England, France and Germany.
Evidently, Walt did too. The animation and scenes in the Storybook Land
ride at DL seemed to confirm this, so that's how we decided to design
In 1984, there was a great turmoil of takeover events, and we did not
know what was going to happen to The Walt Disney Company. Actually, Roy
Disney was partly responsible for getting it back on track and working
to get Michael Eisner and Frank Wells to join the company. Meanwhile,
I had been looking for some new heroes that would enhance the image of
DL. I felt George Lucas was the man. I had been developing an attraction
idea that turned out to be Star Tours. When Michael and Frank came on
board, we took it to them and said: "We really need to do this because
DL needs to have an attraction based on characters that children today
are growing up with. We need a mythology that really touches people's
heart, like Walt used to do." They said: "Fine, great, wonderful,
but 3 years is too long to wait while it is being built. Can you do something
faster ?" So we did Captain EO right away which opened in just over
a year. Then we added Star Tours a year later.
From Star Tours it was on to Splash Mountain. I thought: now that we have
done something very contemporary outside of the normal Disney, it is time
we do an attraction that is very traditionally Disney. So we did Splash
Before Splash Mountain opened, we were already at work on the grand designs
for Disneyland Paris, which took 5 years, almost, to develop. The first
time I came over to Paris was in 1986 to meet with the negotiators and
try to explain what we wanted to do.
I was in charge of the design effort through the opening in 1992, and
through the Added Capacity program in 1993 and 1994, when we added the
Temple of Peril, Storybook Land, Casey Jr., The Nautilus and several other
new shows. At the same time, Indiana Jones was in design development for
DL. We just finished it 2 months ago. It is fabulous, all new and a really
With the completion of the added capacity program, highlighted by the
opening of the Nautilus last year, I finished my assignments on DLP. I
was involved in the beginning design of Discovery Mountain (which is now
called Space Mountain) working with Michael Eisner and the engineers to
develop the cannon and the sequence of loops that are on the ride. Then
Tim Delaney took over and did the styling on the attraction, just as he
had done so beautifully for the rest of Discoveryland.
How did Discovery Mountain evolve from the first concepts to what it is
If we had opened that ride in 1992 with the rest of the park, it would
have been a copy of Space Mountain at DL. Because that ride was designed
in 1974, it does not benefit from the computer technology that is now
used to design the track. In addition, many of the new things that happened
since 1974, such as the loops and the catapult mechanism, would not have
The cannon was inspired by a number of different rides that launch you
out of a catapult, , such as Montezooma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm,
the park closest to DL. I love those type of rides, but they all shoot
you out horizontally and as a result you slam back into your seat. So
I thought that if the catapult was at a 45 degree angle, you would already
be leaning back in the seat, so it would be comfortable when it fires
- as well as creating a much more dramatic effect.
Let us talk a little bit about the past now.
Who were your mentors when you entered WED at the time ?
Mostly Claude Coats. I appreciated Marc Davis who is a great animator,
but Marc was very much in control of his designs. He knew what he wanted
and he did every bit of it: himself - the color, the painting, the styling.
Claude, however, was much more open to young people. He was in his '60s
when I was, just out of school and he would say: "Well what do you
think about this ? What do you think if we did this or did that ?"
He would say: "Why don't you take that back to your desk and work
on it, and then I will come and see how you are doing." He would
let you do your own design and he would say: "Oh, that looks good,
let's use that." I thought, "Wow ! my idea is actually going
to be used ! My scene in Snow White, my spider web, my scene with the
dwarf mine, or whatever it was, in a Disney attraction !"
Claude was superb at creating environments. Marc was superb with the characters.
When Walt was there, he made them work together and they created Pirates
of the Caribbean, which has unbelievably great characters and a fabulous
environment. And then, after Walt died, everybody kind of worked on their
own. So Claude did rides that were environments but without any characters
and Marc did things like The Country Bear Jamboree and America Sings that
had a lot of characters but a very thin environment. I found interesting
to see that when Walt was alive he was able to pull everyone together
and I think that was his great talent: to be able to get everyone to work
together in harmony.
Do you remember any special project you worked
on with Claude Coats ?
Oh yes ! The 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine ride and the Snow
White ride in Florida. They just refurbished Snow White, changing it into
a more sweet, happy ride. It was very scary. I remember, when the assignment
came, they said they wanted one ride to be beautiful (that was Peter Pan),
one to be funny and silly (that was Mr. Toad) and one ride to be scary,
which was Snow White. So we made it scary. Many people said it was more
frightening than the Haunted Mansion because it was witches all the time.
So when they redid it they put more Snow White and the Prince and the
dwarfs and many of the things that we had added in California when we
redid it. But the original one in Florida was really scary. It was my
first project with Claude.
Those attractions were the ones I sunk my teeth into at the start of my
career. And I went down to Florida as Claude's representative to install
20.000 Leagues Under the Sea. He would come down and inspected it. I was
only 23 years old, and here were those workers that were like 40 or 50
years old. At first I was intimidated, and I thought: "they will
not listen to what I have to say. They know how to sculpt, they know how
to paint, they know all these skills and I am just right out of school."
But I realized, once I got down with them and did the work myself that
they really did not know anything about Disney magic. They knew how to
build a building, and how to paint a wall, but they did not know how to
make something look like Atlantis or an undersea world. So, once I started
showing them how to do something, there was a respect for your talents
that came out, and after a short time, they were very accepting of being
Did you work with Ken Anderson ?
Oh, yes. Ken and I worked on the new Fantasyland for DL after he had already
retired. But I knew he had been so much involved in the first Fantasyland
that I called and said: "It would be wonderful if you could come
and give us some help on the new Fantasyland."
Ken was great because he was someone who had been there the first time,
with Walt. So, all of us, "the new kids" had a father. When
someone wanted it this way and others that way, Ken would be able to come
and say: "No, look, look, look, this it what we need to do in here."
So Ken would kind of soothe everybody's egos and do a quick little sketch
of what it should look like and that would be it. So much of the architecture
on Snow White and Mr. Toad is from Ken. Ken was very strong on those two
designs, he had a very strong influence on the rest of us during that
I stayed very close to Ken, all the way till he passed away. My parents
enjoyed him also immensely. They got to meet him and they got on very
As for Claude, he took me to the Academy Awards voting, the night when
they go to vote to the awards. And I thought: "I can not believe
this, I am a kid from Orange County and this famous person is inviting
me to the Academy Awards." And he added: "You would have to
drive home tonight. Why don't you just stay in our spare room ?"
"Stay at you house !" This was amazing to me. I remember one
night there was a party at Claude's house and David Tomlinson, the father
from Mary Poppins and Irwin Kostal who did the orchestration for Mary
Poppins, The Song of Music and West Side Story, they were all there at
this party, and that was very exiting. As I said I was very young and
Claude was like my father figure.
I would sit down and listen to him talk. He was like 70 years old and
he would say: "Now the witches will come out like that and..."
and I thought: "Wow !" My parents were so straight. My father
in suit, tie and carried a briefcase to go to work. I never grew up around
adults that would talk about witches and all of this stuff like a kid.
Claude was 70 but he was like a kid.
About a year ago I went over to their home and I said to his widow Evie:
"You know I never had the nerve to ask Claude for any of his works."
So she gave me a beautiful piece that he had done just before he died
of Pinocchio's village. It was not as finished because his eyesight got
weaker before he died. But it is still a beautiful painting. I was really
thrilled with it.
Did you ever had a chance to meet Walt, having
entered the company in 1965 ?
Yes I did. But you must remember I was serving ice cream at the time and
Walt Disney was Walt Disney. It was not like now, it is sad, because if
I were doing what I am doing now, I would know him and work with him.
So I was working in Carnation and they said: "Walt Disney is coming
through our store today, to see how the place works and observe all the
employees." So they said: "No breakes, no lunches, everybody
has to work constantly, because we do not want Walt to see anything wrong."
I was getting more and more tired and I thought (I was in charge of the
ice cream end of it) if he asks me how we are doing, I am going to say:
"I just want you to know that nobody had their lunch, nobody was
able to go on a break and they do not hire enough people and they try
to make it look all fine, even if we do not have enough people to do this,..."
And so, Walt came and said (cheerfully): "Well how are you going
today ?" and I said (tensed): "Fine... Fine." I was just
My sister, who was a few years younger than I was, would come out to DL
with me. I would go to work and I would get her in on my pass. One day
Walt was there and she followed him to It's a Small World and she asked,
"Can we go on the ride with you ?". He said, "Well, of
course !" So he took my sister and her little friend in the boat
and they went around and came back and then he said: "Do you want
to do it again ?" and they said "Yes !" So he said: "Then
you need to sing the song this time." So they did it a second time.
Then he said: "Do you want to come in the back and I will show you
how we do all this stuff ? " So he took them. And they were not more
than 11 years old. And he took them in the back to show them how the animation
and all that work. And finally he gave them books of tickets and an autograph
that she has to this day. And she said: "My brother works here, and
he is going to be really mad that he did not get this opportunity."
So Walt said, "Oh, he does ! What's his name ?" so he signed
an other one for me. And she brought that over: "You are not going
to believe what this happens to be !"
Then I met him a couple of other times, but just in the employee's cafeteria,
walking in and saying: "Hi, how are you ?", but that was all.
Never person to person. He was like a god, you were so in awe that you
could not say anything other than: "Hello Mr. Disney." I could
not say Walt, that was too hard. Even if he did not like to be called
Mr. Disney. He wanted to be called Walt.
How did you get the idea of Big Thunder Mountain ?
When WDW first opened, they were going to build a Marc Davis attraction
called The Western River Expedition. It was like Pirates of the Caribbean,
only it was about cowboys and Indians. You rode down a river and the cowboys
were shooting the Indians and there was a war dance and you went down
the water falls and there was a train that came into town, etc. They were
going to build that in Florida, because they thought, "In Florida
people are far away from the West, so it would be interesting for them
to have a Western ride. In California, people are far away from New Orleans
and the South, so having a Pirate ride in a New Orleans setting was exciting,
there, in DL.
So they wanted to build The Western River Expedition in Florida but they
didn't have the time or money to complete it for opening in 1971. Very
quickly the park was swamped with too many guests. They needed more attractions
immediately, so instead of taking time to develop The Western River Expedition,
they had to copy Pirates of the Caribbean. So they shortened the ride
and it opened in 1974, just 3 years after the park. Once Pirates opened,
the whole plan of doing a Western ride, which was similar, was gone.
That land, that was on the far West-side of Frontierland was now available.
So they said: "Let us see if you can come up with an idea for it."
So I started to work with the Monument Valley rock work from Utah and
figuring out how to build a train that would look like the train was built
after the rocks. You go to the parks in Europe and it is like they put
rocks around the train: the train was there first and then rocks grew
around the train ! This does not make any sense. The challenge was to
make it look like the rocks were there and to make it find its way through
the rocks to make it look like not a roller-coaster but like a real adventure.
I guess I did a really good job out of it, because they all thought: "Wow
! have you seen that kid in the back with that runaway train model ? It
is very exciting and a beautiful attraction." It was fairly cheap
compared to the price of the Western River or Pirates and so they said,
"Fine, we are going to do it." As luck would have it, Space
Mountain came first, because of the tremendous interest in the space program
and WDW's close proximity to Cape. Space Mountain opened in 1974 and Big
Thunder did not come in Florida before 1980. Even though I finished it
in 1974, we put it away for a while and then brought it back 6 years later.
Were there many challenges in the building of this attraction ?
Yes, because that was the very first ride that we did with the aid of
computer design on the track. I would do a design and give it to the computer
artist and he would tell me, "No, it won't work. The computer wants..."
There is a spiral on Big Thunder, near the beginning of the ride, where
it goes around and then heads back. The computer kept moving it over,
because it did not want that much track there. It wanted to shorten the
length of track. And I wanted it over there because it looked good as
a design. I like the composition of the three summits, the pyramid composition
of shapes. The computer kept moving the track which made the ride somewhat
So 9 times I did a new design that I thought would solve the problem and
the computer would say no. So we built 9 tiny models to check the look
until the computer said, "OK, I will accept this. This one is OK."
That was the one we ended up building. But it took 9 designs before the
computer approved !
They tried to do the computer design on Space Mountain in Florida. But
it was so early in the evolution of computer design that much of the track
profile was later worked out by hand to improve the smoothness of the
Big Thunder Mountain is the first ride where it is really fluid, very
smooth and a very good ride.
After Big Thunder Mountain came Journey into
Imagination. Were you the one designing Figment ?
Yes. I came up with the name and the idea. Steve Kirk, Andy Gaskill and
X. Atencio gave him form. I was watching Magnum p.i. with Tom Selleck
on TV. He was in the garden and the butler Higgins had all this plants
and they were all uprooted. It was a mess. Magnum had been hiding a goat
out there and the goat had eaten the plants. Higgins said, "Magnum
! Magnum ! Come out here ! Look at this ! Something has been eating all
the plants in the garden." and Magnum says "Oh, it is just a
figment of your imagination." And Higgins says: "Figments don't
I thought, "There is this name, the word "figment" that
in English means a sprightly little character. But no one has ever visualized
it, no one had ever drawn what a figment is. So, here is great word that
already has a great meaning to people, but no one has ever seen what one
looks like." So we had a name that was just waiting for us to design
the shape for it.
I came to work and said, "I have the answer for our show, it is going
to be Figment." We had came out with "Dreamfinder" earlier.
That was easy, he was a Santa Claus-type who is wise and older and knows
all the great things, a great thinker. But we needed a child-like character
that had like a one second attention span and was a little crazy.
An other strong part in that show was the presence of the Sherman Brothers.
Richard and Robert, the song writing team from Mary Poppins and It's a
Small World. Once again, they were like idols to me. With my role as director,
I had the ability to go after top talent, so I said: "I would like
to have the Sherman Brothers come in." And they said, "OK, Fine."
And I thought "Wow !" because they were so important to me.
They are wonderful, they are such nice guys. What I found right away is
that when the Sherman Brothers believe in a show, and when they understand
an idea fully, they write better music. When they do not feel that good
about it, the music has an absence of wonder since they were not able
to sense any magic to build the themes on.
Their best music is in the best films. Like Mary Poppins, Charlotte's
Web (the cartoon for Hanna-Barbara) which I think they did a really good
job on and who can forget It's a Small World - terrific ! And they did
an excellent one for us on Imagination with "Magic Journeys"
and "Making Memories" (which is here in Captain EO and is one
of the original songs from Journey into Imagination). And then "One
Little Spark" which they wrote for the Figment show.
It was a fun time, and a real challenge because we had to figure out what
Imagination is. It took us 6 months to come up with a simple thing: "You
gather, you store and you re-combine." Right now, Didier, you are
gathering information from me and you are storing it and you are going
to re-combine it with things you already know and create a new product
which is what you will write. Whether you are a writer or a scientist
or an artist or a teacher or someone making a cake, it is the same thing:
"gather, store and re-combine". So we gave those words to the
Sherman Brothers and they wrote "One Little Spark" based on
Weren't you sad that Figment, who is a such a nice character, was not
used more ?
Well, you see, at the time, animation was not the keystone to The Walt
Disney Company that it has become since Little Mermaid.
At the time, but maybe later.
I know. They did some educational films that have very simple TV-style
animation. The shows are more for little children at school and they were
not widely distributed. It was a big disappointment. Because, when EPCOT
was created, they hoped to have TV shows for each of the subjects, like
Walt used to do with the Disneyland show. Each week, it would be Fantasyland
or Frontierland, something reflecting the park. We were hopeful that each
week there would be something reflecting the different pavilions in EPCOT,
but it never happened.
Management was very frightened, in those days, of their own heritage and
they had trouble being cute or charming and all of that stuff. So when
we proposed characters for EPCOT they were absolutely scared to death.
And it was Kodak that encouraged our company to go with the characters
in the Imagination show.
When EPCOT opened, the public loved Figment. It was number 3 or 4 on the
sales of plush animals. In WDW, it was like: Mickey, Minnie, Donald and
then Figment. The Merchandising people were very upset that they had missed
other potential characters. So then they said: "Develop some more."
So they came out with vegetables from Kitchen Cabaret and tried to do
a character for Energy. But it didn't catch people's attention because
it was not constructed into the story. You can not really put something
in after the fact, it is too late. It is either built into the story and
you feel it or it seems dumb.
Can you tell us about the attractions you worked on and that never were
There were many ! I do not know if I can think of them all.
Discovery Bay was the first really big disappointment. We had created
an attraction that would be based on the motion picture Island at the
Top of the World, which featured the Hyperion airship. When the movie
came out, it was such a disappointing film and did so poorly that the
studio did not want to hear anything about building a land based on it.
This was very sad because the designs were beautiful. And even to this
day, people in California ask, "When are you going to do Discovery
Bay ? We want to see Discovery Bay."
Many years past and the new management had no connection with Island and
we put a lot of the Discovery Bay ideas into Discoveryland, here in Europe.
We did the same thing for Robin Hood, which I call a "sticks and
stones and leaves" movie, because the film did not have the rich
environment of, say, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin
or the older films like Snow White or Pinocchio which go to magical places.
In the mid-seventies, the films were about characters and they were just
standing against stone and bushes. So a ride would be uninteresting. It
was just characters with no place to go. A ride like this would not work
- rides are about unique environments.
And we did a Tron ride. That movie came out and it did not do that well.
We did put in a little short Ride through the World of Tron on the PeopleMover.
It is also used in the General Motors pavilion in EPCOT. That's all that
became of it.
Likewise, for Wescot and for Disney Sea in Long Beach, we created a whole
lot of attractions. But you know it is funny. We put a lot of these things
away and then you come back to them. You keep them in the back of your
head and all of a sudden it is the right time for it to come to life.
From all the attractions you built, what is your favorite ?
Right now it is The Indiana Jones Adventure at DL in California. I love
the Indy movies, I can not tell you how much I love those films, and what
intrigued me about them is that they are so fast paced and surprises are
everywhere. Rides are very controlled, and I wondered if we could create
one where every time you ride it, it is different and you do not know
what to expect... you think you will get rolled over by a giant rock and
something happens to stop that and then you are going into a different
door than the last time you rode. It was probably the most challenging
attraction and it came out really very well. Most of the things we experimented
with came out as well as we had hoped.
Big Thunder was exciting because it was my first. I could not believe
that they were building it and each day you would sit there and stare
at the construction, watching it get bigger and then watching the color
applied and finally the moving trains. That was a wonderful time, but
that is past. Then Journey into Imagination was exciting because it was
a different kind of format. We were trying to tell people something and
still make it entertaining. It was a challenge, because unlike, say, Energy
and Transportation which can be explored in books , with Imagination,
there is no book, it is whatever you want it to be. So we made up a whole
world. It became the Fantasyland of EPCOT.
Star Tours was also very exciting, because no one had ever done simulators
before. Ron Miller was still President of Walt Disney Productions. We
went over to Ron and talked to him about it. He was uncomfortable partnering
with someone from the outside, George Lucas, but he finally decided, "You
are right, we need to have the best at DL." So he took his plane
up his vineyard in Napa Valley in Northern California. He flew Marty Sklar,
one other designer and me. George Lucas drove to Ron's house in his car.
And Diane Disney Miller was serving the lunch !
And I am sitting there thinking, "This is Walt's daughter, and this
the head of the company, and this is George Lucas, who might be considered
a modern-day Disney. If the plane crashes on my way back, it does not
matter, this is the best day in my life." Diane said: "Do you
want some more salad ?" I had never met her personally until then.
It was like being in a family... George Lucas was in jeans and I thought
this is amazing, this guy has done Star Wars and Indiana Jones and I am
here talking with him about a ride.
How was the work on Splash Mountain ? Was
it interesting to work from a classical Disney movie ?
Yes, it was. The idea for Splash Mountain popped into my head as I was
driving to work. Dick Nunis who is the Chairman of DL and WDW had always
nagging me, saying: "Why don't we do a water ride ? All the other
parks have one." I said: "That is why we are not doing one...
Because all the other parks have one, it would seem as if Disney were
copying." So that was in the back of my mind. Then, we had an other
problem, the area of the park known as Bear Country was not very well
attended because it only had the Country Bear Jamboree show. If you took
an aerial picture of DL back at the time, only 2% of the people would
be in Bear Country, 30% in Tomorrowland, 30% in Fantasyland and 12% in
Adventureland. The park did not like that. They said: "We need a
big attraction out there." The final element was the impending closure
of America Sings. They were going to throw away all those characters that
Marc Davis had developed.
So I am driving my car and the idea sparked (just like in Journey into
Imagination) and I thought: "I know, we are going to do a water ride
to please Dick, using the characters from America Sings. So we save them,
and we will do it out in Bear Country so we solve the problem of little
attendance in that part of the Park !"
When I arrived at work, I said, "Here is the idea, how do we make
it fit in Bear Country ?" We were tossing it around and someone said,
"Song of the South looks a lot like America Sings." So we got
out some of the original model sheets from Song of the South and I found
some characters that were not used in the movie, that I would swear were
done by Marc Davis, because they just look like the possums and all the
characters that were in America Sings. We knew we only had to add Brer
Rabbit, Brer Bear and Brer Fox to make it work. So we added 10 new figures
to the 75 existing figures from America Sings. We had a show of 85 figures
for the cost of ten.
Splash Mountain was one of the first projects that Michael Eisner approved,
and it opened in 1989. It took a while to build, because it is a fairly
complicated show. It was good to try something that again was traditional,
more traditional than George Lucas.
Today, we have got so many animated films that would make great rides.
We had a Little Mermaid ride designed for DLP that goes on the hill right
across from the Bella Note Restaurant, and it is spectacular. I remember
that Jeffrey Katzenberg came over and was amazed by the mock-up we had
for it. You stand above water and you see Eric's ship, then your vehicle
dives down into the water and the effect makes you think: "I see
the water but I cannot feel it." Then the ship dives into Ariel's
kingdom and you can look from Ariel's kingdom up to Eric's world and when
you are in Eric's world, you can look down in Ariel's world.
We really loved the Mermaid ride, but the park was so busy that we had
to go with the "added capacity program" which put in 10 new
rides and shows in 2 years, and gave us 13,000 additional seats per hour
in this Park. They could not put all the money into just one ride. They
needed to spread it out across the whole park. So we created Temple of
Peril, Storybook Land and Casey Jr., the Castle walk through, The Old
Mill, the walk through in the Fort, the Nautilus, Aladdin, a new train
and the train station in Discoveryland. So with all that added quickly
in order to get needed capacity for guests, unfortunately, we did not
get to do Little Mermaid.
We were also not able to do Little Mermaid's companion attraction, Beauty
and the Beast which was a theatre show like The Tiki Room. You went to
the Beast's castle, where you found Lumiere and Cogsworth, who were both
Audio-Animatronics figures. The whole castle came to life with "Be
Our Guest", and everything would be talking and singing. Then with
a big crash of thunder and lighting, all the good characters went away,
the Gargoyles came down the columns and sang a version of "Kill the
Beast", which we changed "Beware of the Beast" in order
to tell our story. Then the Beast suddenly appears and roars, "You
have all come to stare at theBeast !" He was also an AA figure. Then
Belle (who would be a live character) comes running out of the audience
saying: "No they have not. They are your friends, they are here because
they like you." And Beast says: "Prove it !" So she gives
the rose to one child in the audience who takes it up to the AA Beast.
The Beast takes the rose and transforms back into the Prince (our second
live character). He and Belle run up the stairway and form a couple in
silhouette and the show goes into the song "Beauty and the Beast".
It was really a nice little show, and fit on the hill between Fantasia
Gelati and the Cinderella complex. Maybe someday we will add them both
Did you work with the animators on Splash
Yes we worked with Michael Cedino, and the animation of the Brer Fox silhouette
was done by Joe Lanzisero, who later led the design effort on Toontown.
I was not that involved in Toontown. I worked on the Toontown Trolley,
and I did the Roger Rabbit ride vehicle for Car Toon Spin. We were visiting
Tivoli Gardens and there was that ride that spun around. I kept it in
the back of my mind and that became the basis for Roger Rabbit ride. We
actually put a teacup on a Pinocchio car and rode it through the Pinocchio
attraction at DL to see what it would be like to spin along the track
in the dark. That is how we developed the Roger Rabbit car.
Of course, when we worked on The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast
attractions, we had the animation directors working with us, to make sure
that color and everything was right. Peter Schneider and Jeffrey Katzenberg
would also come by.
Michael Cedino worked on the animation of the Figment that is in the microscope
window in the Science section of Journey into Imagination. Ken O'Brien
did the Genie and the fairies that are in an earlier part of the ride.
We are at DLP but we almost have not talked
yet about this park. Can you tell us which were the best and worst challenges
of the project ?
Basically, I was the lead designer on the DLP park portion of the project.
Long ago, I approached Marty Sklar, the President of Imagineering, and
said, "If we ever do something in Europe, I would really like to
do it. I have lots of ideas about what could be improved from Tokyo DL
and what is great about DL in California. I would really like to have
a chance to try for a perfect version of Disneyland." So he said:
"OK, fine, I will keep that in mind." Then the first thing I
knew we were asked to come over here to meet with the negotiators in 1986.
Before long they started finalizing the deal and we began to do preliminary
work on it.
We put together a team of five lead designers. Tim Delaney was on Discoveryland,
Tom Morris was on Fantasyland, Eddie Sotto was on Main Street, Chris Tietz
was on Adventureland and Jeff Burke was on Frontierland.
We had a big brainstorming session where everyone in the company was asked
the question: "If you could do DL all over again, what things would
you do and what not ?". At the end of the session, we had over 200
ideas of things that people would do. I saved all those, I have them in
a file. Out of those, about 100 of the ideas were actually incorporated
into the park. In one of them Chris Tietz had presented the idea of doing
Adventure Island instead of doing Tom Sawyer Island. His reason was that
Tom Sawyer Island is a sleepy kind of place along the Mississippi river,
which was romantic in Anaheim, where it is all "city, city, city",
so a quiet river is nice. But here in Europe, we wanted Frontierland more
exciting with a big bustling Western river. Consequently, we put Big Thunder
in the middle of the river, which brought the whole land to life. Chris'
idea for Adventure Isle was so good we made him the key designer for Adventureland.
Then Bob Fitzpatrick was hired as President of Euro Disney, and we began
working on the issues of how many hotels. One of the biggest challenges
to me was that we wanted very much to do the Magic Kingdom Hotel (which
became the DL Hotel), which was our idea, Eddie Sotto and I. But Michael
Eisner said, "You cannot afford it, unless it is a real hotel."
Our design was just a facade where you wait in line under cover to get
in. I thought, "If it is pouring rain and the entrance looks like
DL or WDW, it is going to feel miserable, you need to have an inviting
symbol of home and hospitality."
So, when Michael suggested making it a real hotel, I went to see the hotel
people and their eyes went up like this, because anything that we got
would be taken away from their portfolio of things. It was a struggle
all the way, because it had to work economically in the hotel business.
The hotel finishes cost a lot less than the interior in the park, but
it was very important that it would be elegant and nice. I'm sure I was
nothing but trouble because we were constantly pushing to make the scale
different and the interiors richer. But it turns out that this is one
of the two most popular hotels here, that and the Cheyenne.
Now, Tokyo DL wants one, so who knows what will happen.
Were you a little bit inspired by The Grand
Floridian Hotel ?
Yes, there is also a hotel in Southern California that is a bit like that
too, called Del Coronado. But the DL Hotel is a little bit more formal.
The Grand Floridian kind of rambles like Del Coronado. The DL Hotel is
almost castle-like. It reminds me of the Hotel de Ville in Paris, of course
the architecture differs, but the shape is similar. And finally, we wanted
to have just a little bit of fun by putting the clock up there with the
Mickey to remind you that this is not a puffy, estate, it's a fun place.
The castle was a challenge, because Florida's castle is made up of pieces
of the Loire Valley castles which are just down the road from here. We
did a board that Tom Morris put together, showing where each piece of
the castle was taken. We said, "We cannot go to Europe and bring
over a pastiche of castles that are 200 miles away." We said: "It
needs to be out of a fairy tale. So Bob Fitzpatrick brought in the Duc
de Berry's Book of the Hours and showed us pictures in there and we brought
him many of the background paintings from Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella
and we agreed we should stylize everything in the Castle so it looks like
it's out of a fairy tale, rather than gothic columns, Romanesque arches.
We wanted to have trees than hold up the ceiling and stain glass that
tells the story of Sleeping Beauty and stain glass that changes. So every
way you look, even though you have seen magnificent real structures throughout
France, this one will stand out as being decidedly different. And I think
The artist who did the glass was 85 years old and he said: "All my
life I have been overwhelming people with my work, because it has primarily
been used in churches, with the saints looking down and all of this. I
came out of retirement for this project because it would give me the chance
to make people feel happy with my art. I would like to make them smile."
Tell me about the trees in front of the Castle.
Did Eyvind Earle see your concepts for those square trees ?
He did not see them, but Frank Armitage, who was one of the background
painters who worked under Eyvind on Sleeping Beauty and still works with
us, did a painting of the Castle done in the style of the movie. In Florida
we have the Palm Tree, in California we have the Orange Tree but there
is not really a recognizable tree of France that I can think of. So I
said, "All right, we will have the square tree." So we created
living trees that appear throughout time in the ancient tapestries, you
see some of them in the tapestries of the Cluny Museum. But no one ever
saw one in real life. It gives it a very distinctive but familiar look.
This park has a lot more meaning to it than even DL where some things
might be referred to as Fantasyland 1, Fantasyland 2, and hot dog stands
are just hot dog stands, not like Casey's Corner as it is at DLP. For
example we created the gardens in front of the hotel because we felt we
have to give people something before they give back to us. So that you
are convinced that what you are about to get into has value. When you
step off the RER and travel down into that garden, it is a valuable, very
beautifully done space. We give some of it to you first. In California,
where everybody is used to paying and getting in line, it is just a row
of ticket booths and fences - no one expects anything more. It is not
like going to Versailles or the Tuileries or any public space in France
where there is a presentation and the staging of the arrival sequence
It was difficult to get some of our management to accept this. They were
wondering, "Well, we have never done that before, why are you doing
this ? It is not that important." And I said: "Well it is, if
we want to respect their tradition. It does not need to look like a French
garden , it may look like an American garden, but it needs to be there,
because the French people are used to a sense of arrival, a sense of place
rather than just a traditional road-side attraction."
There was a lot of work that went into the background on all of this.
Each building and space has a story behind it, even the arcades. They
are not just not arcades. There is the Discovery Arcade with the world
as it may look to the Victorians 100 years in the future. The other, the
Liberty Arcade is themed to the Franco-American creation of the Statue
of Liberty. Each space has a story. If you had the whole night, I could
tell you all of them.
What was your best experience during the building
of this park ?
I really wanted something as a souvenir, because I have a collection too.
And I had decided that the tapestries in the castle were so beautiful
that I really wanted to have the one with the dragon fight. So I asked
Tom Morris: "How much do you think it would cost to have one of those
made extra ?" and he said "Oh, you could not afford it, do not
even think of it." So I put it out of my mind. Meanwhile Bob Fitzpatrick
had made a mental note of that, and he had them make a separate one. So
at a big party for the team, he said: "We have a little something
here" and they unrolled the tapestry. I could not believe it. I framed
it all beautifully and built a part of my house around it. It is very
strange for me to see it up there in the Castle, as it is part of my home.
That was the most rewarding moment.