by Sam Gennawey
on June 30, 2010
Been awhile since I was here last and it feels good to be back. Just like walking through the front gate at one of the parks. Samland is proud to be a part of the new Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World Color Companion. Isn’t time for you to buy your second copy? Samland has been revamped so that it is easier to find the articles you are looking for. I hope you get a chance to check it out.
Future World has been compared to a World’s Fair and for good reason. The basic design principles are the same. They both feature monumental pavilions with each one focused on a single concept. The pavilions are tied together by highly detailed, well-designed public spaces. To create a memorable and meaningful experience, the public spaces integrate landscaping, water, sculpture, light, motion, and scenic vistas.
When you enter Future World you are entering a time machine. The arrival experience is designed to transport you from your car, a bus or the monorail, and drop you into the future. You and your party will share the humbling experience of passing under the iconic Spaceship Earth. The bottom of this first of its kind geodesic sphere is only 18 feet from ground and feels almost close enough to touch.
The portal under Spaceship Earth funnels you into the Millennium Plaza. The Innoventions buildings create a strong boundary and frame the plaza. At the plaza’s heart is the Fountain of Nations, which was dedicated by Walt Disney’s widow Lillian in 1982.
Go left and the east side of the park is devoted to the left side of your brain. This is the home to rational, objective thought, science and math and features the themes of energy, space exploration, and mechanical engineering. The planters and pathways are geometrically shaped, rigid with sharp angles, plantings are precise and formal, and public furniture is functional and uses technology to overcome environmental challenges.
Go right and the west side is focused on the right side of your brain. This is where holistic thinking, music, the arts, and creativity thrive. The circle of life, both on the land and the sea, is celebrated in two of the pavilions. The Land pavilion pops up out of the ground as if from a split in the earth and the Seas pavilion is shaped like a wave or a huge shell. The Imagination pavilion requires you to suspend your disbelief as you pass through a magical garden and the pyramidal structures have been described as a “symphony of volumes, forms, tonal nuances.” The pathways are gently curved; the plantings are less formal, there is lots of water, and seating areas are under shady spots covered by a canopy of mature trees.
by Sam Gennawey
on February 21, 2010
Samland’s tour of the different lands within the WDW parks continues. This week he starts a series that looks at the Animal Kingdom. Every land in this park is an example in the balance between people and nature. In the Oasis, it is certain that nature is truly in command.
Once past the gateway, you enter a land that could only exist in this particular theme park. It is called the Oasis.
The Oasis serves the same function as Main Street, Hollywood Boulevard or walking under Spaceship Earth. The job is to create a shared experience that sets up the adventures that lie ahead. For this park, the Imagineers were trying to slow you down. They described the Oasis as a “cool, green decompression zone”. People will always run toward the Safari or Everest, so this is a feat is rarely achieved on the way into the park. On the way out, it is a different story.
At every other theme park, it is the destination that matters. At Animal Kingdom the best way to enjoy the park is to let the journey become the thing. This park is designed to reward the guest who takes their time.
The pathways in the Oasis meander and cross under a land bridge just like the train tunnels at the Magic Kingdom. This obstruction acts like a curtain that sets up the big reveal; your first view of the iconic Tree of Life. The wide walkway over the main bridge is designed to accommodate the large crowds who just stand there and gawk. Many visitors will not realize that from the parking lot to this point you have walked up a 20-foot hill.
Like the other Disney park entrances, the Oasis funnels you through single entrance and a narrow portal to separate you from the real world and allow you to enter the fantasy world of the park. At the end of the pathway is a hub with the various lands radiating out like spokes on a wheel.
by Sam Gennawey
on January 11, 2010
Samland continues his tour of the public realm at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Today he visits Echo Lake and Pixar Place. This time he features a photo of the largest ever Hidden Mickey courtesy of Studios Central.
Once upon a time, the world’s largest hidden Mickey included Echo Lake (originally known as Lakeside Circle). The lake was one ear, the large circular plaza in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater was the head, and there was a matching circular plaza to the east. You can see it in old aerial photos. The addition of Sunset Boulevard and Mickey’s hat destroyed this bit of fun.
The real Echo Lake is a man-made lake near downtown Los Angeles and served as the background for many early silent film comedies. Just like Hollywood Boulevard, the buildings that surround Echo Lake are historic impressions of real facades from Los Angeles. Hollywood & Vine is modeled after a cafeteria that was within walking distance of all the movie-making action. The building was converted into the Hollywood Branch Post Office and finally burnt down in 1980. The 50s Prime Time Café is influenced by residential buildings by Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Pierre Koenig. The Streamline Moderne theater and adjacent buildings that house the American Idol Experience is based on NBC Radio City (1938) and CBS Columbia Square (1938).
Los Angeles was filled with what is known interchangeably as programmatic architecture, California Crazy or a “duck.” A building of this type, as defined by architect Robert Venturi, is one whose “exterior is in the shape of the everyday object they relate to” and it is “a building in which the architecture is subordinate to the overall symbolic form.” The boat is a tribute to a 1930 film called Min and Bill that won Marie Dressler an Academy Award. The dinosaur is Gertie an animated character who toured along with Winsor McCay on the vaudeville circuit in 1914. His hand painted film was a huge influence on Walt Disney.
As you walk away from Echo Lake you also move away from the architectural history lesson of Los Angeles and move into a studio back lot. Things become less real. The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular is just a backdrop. The Star Tours façade is reproduction of the Ewok Village movie set with no pretension of being anything other than a stage set. Of course there are partying Ewoks at night. Even The Backlot Express is a prop storage area.
The idea for this park was launched in 1985 and for the first time a Disney theme park was opened merely to fit a business need. It would be a model of controlled growth in reaction to anticipated demand. At the time, this half-day park was designed to compliment a visit to Typhoon Lagoon and Pleasure Island. Just as important was dual function of being a real production studio with three sound stages, production offices, and a postproduction audio and video facility; its own wardrobe, property, camera, and lighting departments. The production facilities featured glass walls so that visitors could peek inside a working movie-making facility. Projects shot on the back lot include Honey, I Blew Up the Kids, Passenger 57 and TV shows like The Mickey Mouse Club and Wheel of Fortune.
The building facades use a cinematic trick known as forced perspective. This technique is used throughout Walt Disney world. Legendary Imagineer John Hench defines forced perspective as “a form of one-point linear perspective in which receding space is compressed by exaggerating the proximity of the implied vanishing point to the viewer.” Forced perspective is the design pattern that gives buildings the appearance of greater height and scale. It is why the castle looks so grand and Everest looks so tall. In the back lot area, it allows the designers to fit in the New York or San Francisco skylines in such a small space.
Playing with scale is also a feature of the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set. Realizing there wasn’t enough to do for small children, the Imagineers worked in record time to design and fabricate the attraction. This type of stage area is an example of another cinematic trick used in Disney films.
Welcome to the world of Pixar. Pixar animation studios are headquartered in Emeryville, California and the architecture of the studio is legendary. The Studio was designed in a very specific way to maximize the creativity and productivity of its employees.
The major design criterion was bringing a piece of California to Florida and to match the materials of the California studio. The gateway is a scale model of the one at the studio. All of the bricks were hand-kilned from the same factory to match the look, texture, and color of the ones in California. Characters from Toy Story decorate the corridor and play with your perception of scale. If you want to see how the puzzle is put together look for and check out Andy’s instruction hanging on a wall.
by Sam Gennawey
on November 9, 2009
Not long ago, I was privileged to be a guest on the world famous WDW Today Podcast. I get my WDW news fix three times a week from Matt, Mike, Mike, and Len. The show topic was the design behind the arrival experience at each of the 4 parks. Making a great first impression is one of the hallmarks of the Disney parks. So let’s try and get into the head of the Imagineers and figure out why each entrance is unique but distinctly Disney.
There is an illustrated version of this article at SamLand’s Disney Adventures.
To understand the Magic Kingdom arrival experience is to go back in time and visit the City of Anaheim in 1953.
After many years of thinking and dreaming, Walt finally decided to move ahead with his dream of a family entertainment facility and he called upon his good friend Harrison “Buzz” Price. Mr. Price ran the Stanford Research Institute, which later became ERA AECOM. Walt laid down some constraints such as not being near an ocean and with flat land so he could create his own mountains, valleys, and rivers. Mr. Price did some research and he found 160 acres of orange and walnut groves about an hour south of Los Angeles in the small community of Anaheim. It had a lot going for it. There was a new freeway being built that would connect Los Angeles to San Diego through the sleep agricultural communities of Orange County. He thought there might be a small city with ambitions looking for industry to help out with the tax roles. Mr. Price was a numbers guy and what he crunched told him that this area would be the center of the Southern California population within 25 years. He was off by 4 miles.
So Walt gave the go ahead to purchase as much land as he could afford (which wasn’t much) and the rest of the story is legendary. Disneyland was an instant hit as Walt predicted and the land values throughout the entire surrounding area shot up. Poor Walt. Disneyland was destined to be surrounded by motels, diners, and other assorted uses that did not meet his high standards. If you want to get a sense of what the Disneyland perimeter looked like back then I recommend visiting Anaheim Vacationland.
The arrival experience for most people consisted of driving down Harbor Boulevard, which was lined with motels, dining spots, tourist support services, and gas stations. The jumble of signs tried to compete with the iconic Disneyland gateway marquee. We Southern Californians know what I am talking about. You paid your parking fee, drove under the power lines, were guided to your spot by a friendly cast member, and walked a short distance to a tram. Whisked to the front you paid for your tickets and the experience becomes very similar in design as the Magic Kingdom from this point forward.
Walt always said that the Florida Project gave him “the blessing of size”. He went out and purchased 27,258-acres for $5 million through an amazing process of dummy corporations and secrecy. He instructed his Imagineers to put the theme park at the far north end, as far away from the main highway as the could go. This served two purposes. First, it became the “wienie” that would draw you through the property past his real dream – the City of EPCOT. He really knew how to move people about. He also wanted the arrival experience to be far different from that in Anaheim.
This time you would leave the safety of the new completed Interstate highway and drive north into a vast wilderness. According to the must have book Since the World Began, the Imagineers felt it was “critical that Cinderella Castle be seen from afar”. Remember, at the time of the park’s opening, visitors had a six-mile drive once they left the main highway. They needed reassurance that they were not just driving into a swamp in Central Florida. Another benefit of having a castle that was more than twice as tall as Disneyland’s was it could be seen by all of the resort hotels, the monorail, and the ferries.
Walt encouraged the idea of a tall iconic design element for Disneyland but the implementation is much better at the Magic Kingdom. In Michael Broggie’s Walt Disney’s Railroad Story Walt is reminded his Imagineers “This is a magical place. The important thing is the castle. Make it tall enough to be seen from all around the park. It’s got to keep people oriented”.
Like a light bulb is to moths, Cinderella Castle is to the Magic Kingdom visitor.
But you just can’t hop on the tram and glide to the front gate like you could at Disneyland. The front gate was over a mile away and guarded by the Seven Seas Lagoon. You had to earn it. You parked, hopped on a tram, bought your ticket and then the adventure would really start. To get to the front gate, the Imagineers provided two uncommon forms of transport to choose from – the sleek futuristic monorail or the traditional old-fashioned ferryboat. Today, you can also take a bus from one of the resorts that goes under a canal. Next time you are visiting the park via the bus as you approach the Contemporary Resort watch for boats passing above you. It is an unusual site.
Once you have made it to the other side of the lagoon you become part of the cinematic experience that I describe in detail here and here. As you can see, by design and at great cost, the transition from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom front gate is nothing like the Disneyland experience. Like a good movie, as you approach you are experience the same sensation that one gets from a watching the opening sequence of a good movie. The stage is set with a long shot of the train station as marquee and the top spires of Cinderella peeking out above a forest. As you move forward your view of the spires are continually deflected but come back in focus and reward you with the sensations you are getting close. The mid-view shot of the train station blocks the Castle right at the front gate. But this only heightens the joy once you have passed through the tunnels below the trains and get your first full view of the Castle with nothing blocking it. By this time the spires have become old friends but now the rest of the structure can make its emotional impact.
Even before the public arrived, Disney wanted to make sure that people knew that Walt Disney World was something much more than just another Disneyland. They were very keen on selling the entire resort experience. The promotional materials highlighted the attractions that were unique at the Magic Kingdom: Liberty Square, Country Bear Jamboree, The Hall of Presidents, Space Mountain, the Mickey Mouse Revue, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They were also heavy on the amenities such as boating, golfing, and other resort activities.
Lessons learned and lesson applied. That is the genius of the Magic Kingdom’s arrival experience.
by Sam Gennawey
on November 2, 2009
Not long ago, I was privileged to be a guest on the world famous WDW Today Podcast. I get my WDW news fix three times a week from Matt, Mike, Mike, and Len. The show topic was the design behind the arrival experience at each of the 4 parks. Making a great first impression is one of the hallmarks of the Disney parks. So let’s try and get into the head of the Imagineers and figure out why each entrance is unique but distinctly Disney. If you go to Samland you can see the fully illustrated version of this article.
Welcome to the Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS, formerly the Disney-MGM Studios), the “Hollywood that never was – and always will be” as the opening proclamation stated. Welcome to the Disney theme park version 2.0. You have entered one of the most influential parks in the entire Disney Empire.
If Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris are directly related, then the Studios set the mold for such parks as Disney’s California Adventure, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Walt Disney Studio’s in Paris. Instead of fully realized, immersive environments, with monstrous budgets, the Studios pointed toward a sort of MBA solution – a just in time theme park. Build it small and quickly add capacity as necessary. This solution has influenced the DHS arrival experience.
DHS was the first park built with a bus system in mind. At both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, the buses are tucked away at the side. At DHS, the buses are prominent at the entry plaza and the auto-parking shuttle further complicates pedestrians’ access. Toss in a boat dock and you have an orientation that is not true to north south like the other parks. The entry is at an angle which influences the way light and shadows would fall on the park’s “Main Street” wienie – currently the giant hat but formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Walking through the main gates is a combination of a Hollywood postcard comes to life and a bit of time travel through iconic Los Angeles pieces of architecture. The Imagineers would tap into the collective consciousness of moviegoers and recreate a glamorous dreamlike vision of the Hollywood. They use real Los Angeles buildings the same way the early film companies filmed throughout the southland.
It all starts with the Pan-Pacific Auditorium. This iconic building was Los Angeles primary convention center from 1935 to 1972. In 1989, just 3 weeks after DHS opened, it burnt down in a spectacular fire. This is where all of the big shows, conventions, the circus, and other exhibitions were presented. The Pan-Pacific Auditorium was a wonderful example of Streamline Moderne and originally designed by Walt’s buddy, architect Welton Beckett.
This is the only park in Florida where you can see through the gates. The train, Spaceship Earth, and the Oasis block your vision in the other parks. The one major obstruction is the tribute to the 1936 Crossroads of America building. Throughout Hollywood Boulevard (and continuing Sunset Boulevard) the Imagineers use a tool called shrink and edit to tell a story. In most cases, they take a real life building and change the scale and some of the detail. In the case of the Crossroads building, it is topped by a 5’3” Mickey with one copper ear that works as a lightning rod. The Crossroads of America complex was one of Los Angeles’s first mini-malls.
Tomorrow you will need to go to Samland and we will push through those entry gates and take a look around the entry plaza.
by Sam Gennawey
on October 19, 2009
Hello. Sam from SamLand’s Disney Adventures. For the next few weeks I will be looking at the design behind the arrival experience at the various parks. Not long ago, I was privileged to be a guest on the world famous WDW Today Podcast. I get my WDW news fix three times a week from Matt, Mike, Mike, and Len. The show topic was the design behind the arrival experience at each of the 4 parks. Making a great first impression is one of the hallmarks of the Disney parks. So let’s try and get into the head of the Imagineers and figure out why each entrance is unique but distinctly Disney.
It is a well-known fact that Walt Disney didn’t like sequels. After the huge success of Three Little Pigs, theaters were clamoring for a sequel but Walt hesitated. He even said, “You can’t top pigs, with pigs.” But he also knew he had a growing studio to support and this could be a great way to raise the money needed for Snow White. So did the sequels.
Thirty years later Walt found himself in the same place. He used the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair as a test to see if Disneyland style entertainment would work on the East Coast. The results were a box office smash. Now that Walt knew that the “sophisticated” people of the East Coast would accept his brand of entertainment. With this knowledge, he knew he had the sequel would be the money making machine that would fund what he really wanted to build – EPCOT – the city of the future.
Sadly, Walt passed away before any of his most ambitious dreams could be realize. Roy Disney, near retirement, decided to stay and to make sense of Walt’s ideas and to create something he would be proud of. He wanted the world to whose dream it was and renamed the project Walt Disney World.
In the first phase, they built the Magic Kingdom, three resorts, a multi-mode transportation network, and all of the infrastructure to turn wetlands into a small city. They applied many lessons learned in the operation of Disneyland to facilitate guest comfort and high capacity. The hotels and the monorail plus the other resort infrastructure would be just the way Walt would have wanted. Now came the real challenge. How to build EPCOT. What to do next?
The Magic Kingdom was an updated Disneyland. I will be writing about that experience on November 9. This new park had to be just that, new. It had to be different than the Magic Kingdom. That is a lot of pressure.
So the popular story is that Imagineers John Hench and Marty Sklar pushed two models of two separate projects together – Future World plus a permanent Worlds Fair called the World Showcase. They turned the two projects into one massive 260-acre park. More than twice as large as the Magic Kingdom and three times as large as Disneyland.
The gateway would perform the same function as that for the entrance at the Magic Kingdom. The portal becomes a time machine. To illustrate my point, you might recall that at the Magic Kingdom you pass below the railroad tracks and enter an idealistic American town around 1900. The tunnel is like a time machine. At Epcot, no matter how you arrived, whether it be by auto, bus, or monorail; you always entered into the future.
Everybody passes under the unifying theme element – Spaceship Earth and they share that experience as a community. People are entering a park that celebrates our interdependence between our minds, body and Earth. The front half of the figure eight shaped park would teach us about the past and anticipate the future. The back half would celebrate the cultures of the world.
The Monorail is also part of the show. As guests arrive to via the Monorail, they would get an eye in the sky preview of the park. It creates the perfect first impression of this future world. The Monorail was novelty at Disneyland but it would become truly the transportation system of the future and critical to the success of the resort. In the Imagineering Guide to Epcot the authors state that, “It’s no accident that the monorail passes right through the heart of this park. This connection not only transfers riders from the Transportation and ticket center, but also gives them an overview of the Park on their way in. And it provides additional show value and kinetics for those already there”.
At the Magic Kingdom you never get a full look at Cinderella Castle until you are well into the park. Epcot would be different. Spaceship Earth would be right at the front of the park. Like the Castle park, the geosphere would act as a beacon, become the center of attention, and a point of orientation. The familiar shape, the oscillating pattern from the texture of the tiles, and the way the structure captures the light and changes throughout the day set the tone for your adventure that lies ahead.
There is so much more and we will continue this journey tomorrow.
by Sam Gennawey
on June 21, 2009
Hello. This is continuation of my walk through the various lands in the Magic Kingdom. This week we see how Liberty Square and Frontierland share a a lot of things in common but remain distinctly different in feel.
For more of this type of stuff I invite you to visit SamLand’s Disney Adventures.
From LIBERTY SQUARE to FRONTIERLAND – Part 1
There is just no way around it. I can’t talk about what is going on with Liberty Square without talking about Frontierland. Both lands share the same organizing principle, as this series will highlight. Both lands are adjacent to the Rivers of America and use that asset to enhance the story. These land combine to become the Magic Kingdom’s time machine.
This is one of my favorite things about the Magic Kingdom – how Liberty Square and Frontierland work together to project upon the environment the history of the American western migration. Pretty deep, eh? Let’s step into that time machine and see how the designers pulled off this clever bit of urban design.
It might help for you to get into the right frame of mind for this article. If you are like me when you visit the Magic Kingdom, you like to imagine that you are walking onto a three-dimensional movie set that is the stage for your own personal film. Each land is designed to inspire you by contributing the key movie theme that can be the foundation for your experience.
In the Magic Kingdom you have the choice to enter a world of fantasy and childhood delights or go on an exotic foreign adventure. You can blast into a sci-fi future or visit the unreal world of the toons. But this journey will be a time travel story and we are about to take a step back in time.
When planning an urban environment you have to start with something. You need to pay attention to the centers that already exist. By this I mean that special quality that sometimes is hard to name but you know in your heart and head exists. The best urban environments have this quality and a theme park is certainly an urban environment.
For Frontierland and Liberty Square that center was purposefully created and is the Rivers of America and Tom Sawyer Island. This band of green space defines the edges for both lands in subtly different ways. The river also becomes the connection between the different lands and provides the necessary continuity. But I am getting ahead of myself.
We are going to start this journey from the Hub. As you know, adjacent to the Hub is Liberty Square, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Adventureland. Liberty Square, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland feature similar arrival elements consisting of a strong gateway and a feature that is moving off in the distance. That moving feature is the proverbial “wienie” and is meant to draw you into the land.
Frontierland is not adjacent to the Hub like it is at Disneyland and Adventureland doesn’t have the “wienie” feature. Why? It wouldn’t be an adventure if you knew what was beyond the gates, right?
Imagine you are standing next to the Partners statue and facing due west. We are going to walk that direction. You will see how the time machine effect starts even before your feet touch the wooden bridge. In the movies the editor will use a technique called a cross-dissolve to transition from one scene to another. There are physical versions of cross-dissolves throughout the Magic Kingdom and this is how you can spot them.
The designers have used paving materials as one way to create that smooth transition. As you walk from the Hub to Liberty Square, notice how the smooth pavement turns to brick and then wood as you cross over the bridge. This subtle transformation helps to plant the seed that you are entering a different time and place. Going from Main Street USA to Liberty Square means you have to turn back the clock 150 years from small town America during the early 1900s to the east coast at the time of the founding of the nation.
As with everything you are about to see, even this bridge is loaded with meaning. Nothing is there by accident. The bridge was meant to be a copy of the Concord Bridge AKA the Old North Bridge where the Colonials faced off with the British in 1775. The moment when our nation change is the start of our journey through America’s past.
Once through the brick gates the main element is the public square. The Square is framed by the iconic buildings, the boathouse, and the splash of green just off into the distance from Tom Sawyer Island. That public square is the center and focus of the entire land just like how the space would have functioned in Colonial days. The Liberty Tree balances the large Hall of President’s building and softens the space. That tree is one of the largest trees ever transplanted at Walt Disney World.
To embellish and enhance that special place, additional little areas are carved out behind the main buildings. No other land at the Magic Kingdom provides these types of discoverable spaces. These new centers in turn make each other special and that creates an urban landscape that is rewarding, functional, and memorable. It is one of the reasons New Orleans Square in Disneyland is so well loved.
The river is more than just a backdrop that frames one side of the outdoor room known as the public square. Its real magic is how it is used as the thread that moves the back-story along. And that back-story is nothing less than the quintessential time trip from colonial days through the American western migration.
Next week we will cross that bridge and explore what is on the other side.