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 February 8, 2010
Samland continues on his visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This time he looks at Sunset Boulevard and the Animation Courtyard. If you like this sort of design stuff come visit Samland’s Disney Adventures.
Sunset Boulevard is based on the same design principles as Hollywood Boulevard and Echo Lake. It has restricted itself (with one exception) to facades of historic buildings from Los Angeles built before 1945. The most notable building would be the Carthay Circle Theater (1926) where Snow White and Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937. Down the block, the spiral marquee belongs to the Academy Theater (1938) in Inglewood. There are two building from Pasadena, the Winter Garden (1940) and a bar called the 35r. Sunset Ranch Market is based on Los Angeles’s famous Farmers Market (1941).
You will notice that there are two styles of architecture, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne, which dominate the Studios. Art Deco uses geometric designs, bold colors and modern materials and combines them to be elegant and make an optimistic statement. Streamline Moderne is a style that celebrates the machine age and is influenced by modern aerodynamic designs. Sweeping curves, symmetry, and repetition are part of the design language.
Imagineer John Hench said the use of these distinctive and familiar architectural styles gives the park “archetypal truths.” The stylized buildings are out of context and the scale is different but you accept that you could be in Hollywood set in the 1930s because all of the visual clues add up and create the underlying emotional appeal of a “glamorous, dreamlike Hollywood of the collective consciousness.”
What is the tallest attraction at Walt Disney World? The answer is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. It tops out at 199 feet. Why 199 feet for a 13 story building? If it were any taller it would require a warning beacon on the roof and that would not confirm with the theme.
You will notice trolley tracks left half uncovered below your feet. These were laid in anticipation of a major Roger Rabbit themed expansion that would have included the Toontown Trolley Ride, Herman’s Runaway Buggy Ride, and the Benny the Cab attraction that ended up at Disneyland.
In 1989, the Studios were more than just a theme park. Disney created a real working studio with live production facilities and an animation studio. Films such as Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, Brother Bear, and Home on the Range were produced in Florida. You used to be able to take a tour and watch animators working at their desks plus there was an informative film featuring Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite that made every adult male in the audience sob uncontrollably. The architecture for this area is based on the work of Kem Weber who designed Walt Disney’s Burbank Studio (1939).
The courtyard is surrounded by Playhouse Disney-Live on Stage!, which used to be a restaurant where you could dine on a soundstage amidst props from Disney feature films. The Walt Disney Theater used to be a preview house for upcoming films and was converted to a live action theater featuring the Muppets. It now home to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show. The Magic of Disney Animation is a shell of its former self. This area has seen significant change.
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 and 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, a postproduction audio and video facility; it’s own wardrobe, property, camera, and lighting departments. The 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 Kid, Passenger 57 and TV shows like The Mickey Mouse Club and Wheel of Fortune.
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 December 28, 2009
Samland is back with another quick look at a land within the parks. This week I feature Hollywood Boulevard at the Studios. An illustrated version of this story is available on Samland’s Disney Adventures.
In 1989, Michael Eisner proclaimed that Walt Disney World’s third gate would be dedicated to Hollywood “not a place on a map, but a state of mind” and “a Hollywood that never was – and always will be”. This would be a much smaller park then the Magic Kingdom or Epcot and the Imagineers wanted to capture Disneyland’s “human scale, warmth, and feeling”. The hub-and-spoke layout is like Disneyland and instead of a Castle at the end of the street; you get a full-size reproduction of Grauman’s Chinese Theater (1927) that’s blocked by giant hat.
Inspired by the early filmmakers who used Los Angeles as the background for their movies, the Imagineers use real building facades and billboards to tell the story of the mythical Hollywood of our collective consciousness. For the architecture, the Imagineers apply a design trick called “shrink and edit” that takes a real building for inspiration and then they can change the scale, color or detail to support the story. Hollywood Boulevard is filled with such examples.
Your adventure starts as you pass through a reproduction of the Streamline Moderne Pan-Pacific Auditorium, Hollywood’s primary convention center from 1935 to 1972. The entry plaza is at the intersection of Hollywood and Prospect Avenue. The central building is the Crossroad building (1936), which is a tribute to an early LA mini-mall. It is topped by a 5’3” Mickey whose ear is a lightning rod.
Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind shop is an example of the California Bungalow and it is inspired by the true story of the Janes House in which a homeowner on Hollywood Boulevard held out and a mall developer just built around him. Other buildings include an electric substation (1907) from Culver City that is now a performance space, the Blaine Building (1926), a J.J. Newberry (1928), a bank on Wilshire Boulevard (1929), the Chapman Market (1929), Max Factor Building (1931), Owl Drug Store (1933), the Darkroom (1938), and many, many others. A highlight is The Hollywood Brown Derby (1929), which is a treasure inside and out.
The two billboards at the entrance establish the architectural timeframe for Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards as well as Echo Lake (1923-1945). The Hollywoodland billboard refers to a subdivision that opened in 1923, the same the year Walt Disney moved to Hollywood. Adjacent is a billboard for the 1945 Hollywood Canteen, a Hollywood oasis for soldiers fighting in World War II.
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 26, 2009
Not long ago, SamLand 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. For the fully illustrated version of this article go to Samland’s Disney Adventures.
As you know, first impressions matter. For themed environmental design, a proper introduction can create a level of comfort that allows the visitor to let go and enter the story. This idea came from Disney animated films. The reason that the backgrounds have such a high level of detail is to create a sense that the setting is real and anything that happens in the foreground is believable. Walt Disney called this the Plausible Impossible. This formula has been applied to the Disney’s Animal Kingdom arrival experience.
The Imagineers want you to leave the land of theme parks and enter a mythical tropical forest. They want you to slow down and let the environment grow on you. Create a park where the shortest path is neither the straightest line nor the best way to get from here to there.
The Imagineers’ trick is the use of contrast. They take you from a barren plain into a lush tropical forest. You go from a lifeless environment to a place filled with life. The Imagineers are trying to slow you down so you can absorb your surroundings and feel a part of the natural environment. Does it work?
Built into this park are two deep-seated design patterns. The first is the well-known fact that this park is designed to reward the visitor who takes their time. The second pattern is how the Imagineers use contrast at the entrance to hammer home the main theme of conservation.
What do I mean about contrast? As you pull up to the park notice that this parking lot is one hard, giant, treeless, hot place. Not a very inviting first impression. This is by design. You are getting your first lesion in the park’s guiding principles that illustrate the Circle of Life concept. You experience first hand what could easily be described as a lifeless place – the parking stalls. Off in the distance, beyond the edge of the parking lot is a lush forest. The Imagineers will exploit this use contrast to enhance the story and message.
As you disembark from the parking lot tram or walk over from the bus stop you will notice that unlike the other parks, you cannot see any buildings sticking up above the trees. I understand that some may argue that Expedition Everest and the thin tall cell tower that is camouflaged like a tree might be exceptions. Over time the cell tower will be somewhat hidden within the parks tree canopy. In fact, the park’s design guidelines and building code took into account the natural changes to the landscape from the start.
The design objective was to have the tree canopy rise entirely over the roofs of the buildings. The buildings would become secondary to nature. One result is that over time the iconic Tree of Life would be better integrated and apart of the landscape as it remains the same size while everything grows around it. Since the park opened in 1998, the plant material has really matured and the desired effect is taking place.
As you walk toward the front gate take some time to look down at the ground because the materials on the ground add to the story. The parking lot paving materials appear to be washed out and already cracking especially at the edges. It is as if the parking lot wants to return to nature. As you move toward the front gate you notice how the hard asphalt turn to friendlier materials. If you look closely you will see how the colors of the pavement consist of long, wavy red and green patterns. From a bird’s eye view this puzzle would reveal that you are seeing a giant mural of the Tree of Life.
In all things concerning life, there must be a balance. This is a central message throughout Animal Kingdom. And balance is best achieved when the edges are blurred and the environment is a gradient. In the field of ecology, naturalist use transects to describe the characteristics of an ecosystem and describe the changes in ecosystems over a gradient. When the Transect is severely disrupted, significant environmental impacts can be felt. Virtually every attraction deals with a disruption in the natural transect when you really think about it.
The ticket booth and gateway architecture is based on the American Arts and Crafts tradition as a demonstration on how man-made structures can seem compatible with the natural environment. Within this design tradition, the blending of indoor and outdoor space is blurred, natural materials are featured, and the machine age is shunned for hand-made.
This is not the first time Disney has used this architectural style for inspiration. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is also based on this style. The difference is the Anaheim resort takes the style and blows up the scale beyond any real building in that style. The gateway and ticket booths in Florida are at an appropriate scale and blend into the environment.
Once upon a time, Animal Kingdom was supposed to have three realms – animals of the past, animals of the present, and animals that only lived within our imaginations. This concept was reinforced throughout the entrance. Along with lions, elephants, and dinosaurs is the image of a dragon. The dragon would represent Beastly Kingdom, a land of unicorns and other mystical beasts. The dragon makes another appearance above the far left ticket booth.
Once past the gateway you enter a land unique to this theme park. It is called the Oasis. Functionally, the Oasis serves the same purpose as Main Street, Hollywood Boulevard or walking under Spaceship Earth; to create a shared experience that sets up the adventures that lie ahead. For this park, the Imagineers were trying to slow you down and they described the Oasis as a “cool, green decompression zone”. As people run toward the safari or Everest, this is a feat that is rarely achieved on the way in but with some success on the way out.
The pathways meander and cross under a land bridge (reminiscent of the tunnels under the train at the Magic Kingdom?) acting like a curtain until the big reveal – your first view of the Tree of Life. The wide walkway is designed to accommodate the large crowds who just stand there. From the parking lot to this point you have walked up a 20-foot hill.
Like the other Disney park entries, the Oasis funnels you through single entrance and a narrow portal to separate the real world from the fantasy world. At the end is a hub with the various lands radiating out like spokes on a wheel.
Animal Kingdom is unique. By using contrast, not only is the environmental design experience different so is the way to tour the park successfully. At every other theme park, it is the destination that matters. At Animal Kingdom the best way is to let the journey become the thing. The arrival experience supports that change and hopes you accept the challenge.
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.