I am a big fan of the Imagineers! I am constantly awed and impressed by the way they design and build all of those components that make up the Disney Parks and Disney Cruise Line ships.
Of course, Walt Disney was the first Imagineer . . . even before he invented that job title. Walt was an artist and animator - he honed his skills in the days before 3D, computer generated graphics and digital images. He created hours and hours of engaging entertainment using nothing more than a pencil, paper and his amazing imagination.
In the earliest days of his career Walt devised some unique drawing and photographic techniques and used them in his animations in such a subtle way that viewers were unaware that their eyes were playing tricks on their minds. When Disney Studios began producing live-action movies they acquired another set of skills - creating backdrops and background scenery, using creative camera angles to control what the viewer sees.
I guess it was only natural that when Walt set out, over 60 years ago, to create a theme park he would employ all those skills and techniques he had perfected over the years. He surrounded himself with creative people, who he dubbed Imagineers, and motivated them to follow a consistent approach to their work.
Walt's approach was quite simple . . . just like his animated cartoons or live-action movies; everything began with a story board. Every building, every thrill ride, every attraction began with a highly detailed story board. First and foremost there had to be a "back-story" and then every detail of the building, ride or attraction had to be consistent with that back-story.
This has resulted in an amazingly immersive experience. Disney parks are like no other parks I have ever seen. They are designed to totally engage you in the time or place which surrounds you. Tomorrowland feels like the future . . . Frontierland puts you in the Wild West . . . Main Street USA takes you back over 100 years to the early 1900's.
When I first visited the Magic Kingdom 36 years ago I was instantly impressed by the consistent attention to detail and quality throughout the parks. Since that time I have traveled to some of the places that are recreated on Disney property and those travels have done nothing but heighten my respect for the Imagineers and the way they replicate these worlds for our enjoyment.
Let me give you a few examples.
Our favourite Moderate Resort is Port Orleans French Quarter and we had stayed there several times before we visited New Orleans. When we arrived in the original French Quarter my eyes just popped . . . Wow! The Imagineers did a terrific job recreating the building style - but they somehow cloned the exciting atmosphere of the French Quarter as well.
The French Quarter in New Orleans
Then just a few years later we made our first trek west to Disneyland. Once again my eyes popped as we strolled through New Orleans Square. Awesome - a jazz band was playing and it felt just like being in New Orleans at Jackson Square. The galleries draped with beads . . . perfect!
Disneyland's New Orleans Square
During one of our California trips we headed to San Diego and stopped at the beachfront Del Coronado Hotel. The Grand Floridian Hotel was modeled after the Del Coronado. How do you think the Imagineers did with the project?
Hotel Del Coronado
Grand Floridian Hotel
Last summer Carol and I took our motor home and toured the Jersey Shore. Miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches and all those boardwalks. Of course we were drawn to compare the Atlantic City Boardwalk with the Disney version - another great replication.
Atlantic City Boardwalk
Since I'm Canadian I naturally have to look for some Canadian icons to compare. Let's focus for a minute on the Canadian Pavilion at EPCOT. The pavilion itself is modeled after the Chateau Laurier Hotel, on the banks of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, our national capital.
EPCOT's Canada Pavilion
Chateau Laurier Hotel
The gardens at the Canada Pavilion are meant to duplicate the magnificent Butchart Gardens in Victoria British Columbia. What do you think of the copy?
Gardens at the Canada Pavilion
The Imagineers do so many creative things to engage, amuse and even educate us. Think of the time you spend waiting in line at Toy Story Midway Mania, Expedition Everest or Kali River Rapids. If you are like me, you are seldom bored waiting in line. Those queues are filled with artefacts, memorabilia and oddities, many of them gathered by Imagineers as they travelled the world researching the Himalayas or some other exotic locale to develop their back-story. There's always something interesting that catches my attention. If you have ever been in a queue and a fat old man with a white moustache waved you past while he looked at some little trinket - that was probably me!
Do you always see what the Imagineers do? No, of course not, and neither do I. But once in a while we all need to stop rushing from one thrill ride to the next and take a minute to just look around and savour our surroundings. Look for the little things; try to focus on the things the Imagineers didn't really have to do - but they did them anyway!
Try this: Next time you are leaving Splash Mountain, stop for a few minutes in the Briar Patch, the little shop on the right as you climb the steps. There are rocking chairs in the shop - sit down in one, stretch out and relax, then look up at the ceiling. What do you see? Briars and roots - you really are in the bottom of the briar patch! That's what I mean - they didn't have to do that but what a great idea!
Do you have a favourite Imagineering idea? Something the Imagineers created that really adds to your Disney experience?
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The next post in this blog is Jim’s Attic: The Mickey Mouse Glasshouse Balloon.