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Walt and the Promise of Progress City: Spatial Manipulation

EDITOR'S NOTE: Over the next few months, AllEars.Net will be highlighting exclusive excerpts from Sam Gennawey's book, Walt and the Promise of Progress City. The book explores the process through which meaningful and functional spaces were created by Walt Disney and his artists, as well as how guests understand and experience those spaces. It also takes a look at how Walt wanted to change the public's expectations about city life in the same way his earlier work had redefined what it meant to watch an animated film or visit an amusement park. In this month's excerpt, we learn about the way the Imagineers play with your expectations about what you are seeing as you wander through the parks.

Spatial Manipulation
by Sam Gennawey

In many respects, Disneyland is the world's largest toy train set. Of the locomotives that circle the park to the buildings along Main Street, Walt said, "It's not apparent at a casual glance that this street is only a scale model." He added, "This cost more, but made the street a toy and the imagination can play more freely with a toy."

To achieve this effect, the Imagineers adapted a film technique called forced perspective and applied it to three-dimensional design. John Hench defined 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." In film, the process adds depth to the image. In three-dimensional design, the illusion adds height. The perspective is "forced" because the first floor of a building is full scale, the second floor is smaller in scale, and the third level is even smaller. As the structure continues to rise, the materials continue to get smaller in scale.

Forced perspective is used to adjust the scale of the architecture to meet the storytelling need. These are not full-scale reproductions of historic structures. The size of the buildings has been manipulated, and the unfolding of the spaces is purposefully staged to reinforce the overall narrative. Forced perspective also provided the Imagineers maximum flexibility in the design process. Forced perspective is the quality that makes buildings feel taller than they really are while making the environment more comfortable and intimate. The physical space that the guest passes through is compressed, which aids in the storytelling process. This is why Disneyland seems cozy and friendly, particularly to children.

In Magic Lands, John Findlay says, "The overall effect of the built environment was impressive but not intimidating." Hench noted, "It's one of the special charms of Disneyland that not only is the architecture related, but the ideas are related. You get the impression of ambience." Architect John Kaliski observed, "The qualities that most impress me are intricacy, detail, and the ability to be constantly lost in the details, which are tactile and human scale." He feels that "the New Orleans street as well as some of the cul-de-sacs are places of imploded time that in effect are almost authentic. Understanding how to craft this and create this is part of the work of urban design and architecture and it is done to an exemplary state in portions of Disneyland."

He did have some concerns. "The part for me [that] is claustrophobic is the relentless fantasy and lack of cultural complexity combined with the manipulation of too many experiences." Karal Ann Marling saw it differently. "In the movies, the experience is continuous and unbroken, but in Disneyland, it is discontinuous and episodic, like watching television in the privacy of one's home, each ride a four- or five-minute segment, slotted in among snacks, trips to the rest room, and 'commercials' in the form of souvenir emporia. And it is always possible to change the channel."

Forced perspective plays tricks with the guest's perception of space and time. Walt knew that at the end of a long day, people did not want to feel like the exit was so far away. To slow people down, the first floor of the Main Street train depot was built at full scale, and the structure looks much larger than the buildings in the foreground. The scale of the depot contrasts with the rest of the Main Street facades, with the result that the street appears to be very short. The guests are now convinced that the exit is not far away, and they feel they can slow down and savor their last few moments in the park. They might even do a little bit of shopping along the way. To make the facades more personal, the storefront windows are lower than usual so that children have better access to view the displays.

Interested in Walt and the Promise of Progress City? Order it through the AllEars.Net Amazon store HERE!

The previous post in this blog was Magical makeovers at Disney World's Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique create princesses.

The next post in this blog is Cap'n Jack's Restaurant: Downtown Disney's Overlooked Dining Location.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 27, 2012 5:00 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Magical makeovers at Disney World's Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique create princesses.

The next post in this blog is Cap'n Jack's Restaurant: Downtown Disney's Overlooked Dining Location.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.