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February 1, 2015

A Swamp Buggy Tour With A Disney Twist

Gary Cruise banner

Several months ago I wrote a blog about the Disney Wilderness Preserve and I told you that I would follow up with a blog about our "Butterflies by Swamp Buggy Tour" there. Well, we had a wonderful time on the tour and here's the blog I promised!

Welcome Sign

Before I describe the tour, I'd like to give a little bit more background on the history of this amazing property, which can trace its origin back to the Clean Water Act originally passed in 1972. Section 404 of that Federal Statute deals with "compensatory mitigation". What that means in simple terms is that any activity which negatively impacts wetlands, streams or other aquatic resources must be offset by compensating mitigation activities (restoration, enhancement, establishment or preservation of resources) in another area.

In 1992 The Disney Corporation was still actively developing the vast Walt Disney World property and much of this development had exactly the sort of "negative impact" referred to above. They were draining and filling wetlands in order to build hotels, parks, shopping areas, etc. The Clean Water Act stipulated that they had to create, preserve or enhance an equal area of wetlands on another part of their property. At the same time they heard about the Walker Ranch, a nearby 8,500 acre tract which was being rezoned for urban development. This huge former wetland area at the headwaters of the Everglades had been ditched and drained many years ago. After extensive logging the property was used as a cattle ranch for several decades before the threat of development arose; the proposal was to convert this sensitive wildlife habitat to residential neighborhoods and golf courses.

Wildlife habitat

More wildlife habitat

Disney purchased the property, turned ownership over to The Nature Conservancy, then worked with the new owner to restore the wetlands. Drainage ditches were filled in, wetlands were restored and wildlife has returned. There is now 47% more water on the property than there was in 1992. The Nature Conservancy describes the Disney Wilderness Preserve as "wildly successful".

These two brochures explain it much better than I can. Click on each of the four images below to see a larger, readable version.

Nature Conservancy Brochure Page 1

Nature Conservancy Brochure Page 2

Nature Conservancy Brochure Page 1

Nature Conservancy Brochure Page 2

Disney scored a very interesting "first" with their preserve. It was the first "off-site" mitigation ever done - the restoration was on property Disney did not own. They restored a huge area of wetlands, enough to offset future development on the Walt Disney World property. Once Disney had set this precedent other companies, including Orlando International Airport and Universal Studios followed suit; they added other parcels of land to the property. The preserve is now almost 12,000 acres or 19 square miles.

OK, that's enough background, lets climb aboard our swamp buggy and I'll let the pictures tell most of the story.

Carol and I, along with our friend and fellow Fort Wilderness camper Al from Missouri, were on the road just after 8:00 a.m. We were excited to participate in this once a year event, part of NatureFest, organized by VisitCentralFlorida.org. They only accept 15 registrants due to the seating capacity of the swamp buggy. It was a glorious, sunny Thursday morning as the three of us drove in the mile-and-a-half long lane from Old Pleasant Hill Road to the Disney Wilderness Preserve's main office and Welcome Centre.

Conservation Learning Center

Conservation_Learning_Center

Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Garden

By 9:00 a.m. we were registered and had met our hosts for the day, the Preserve's Operations Manager Petra Royston and lepidopterists (butterfly experts) Tom Palmer and Sue Farnsworth.

Lepidopterist Tom Palmer

We spent a half hour in the Conservation Learning Centre where Tom gave us an audio-visual prevue of what we would be seeing during the day, then off we went to board our chariot . . . our really big chariot!

Our Swamp_Buggy

Florida Sand Cranes
A pair of Florida Sand Cranes were on hand to see us off!

Petra was our guide and driver; as she drove she gave us a history of the preserve and pointed out plants, trees and points of interest.

Backing away to start our tour

Tom stood at the front of the buggy watching out for butterflies while Sue covered the rear.

Tom watching for butterfiles

We stopped a few times, disembarked and explored the grounds, capturing pictures of the many butterfly species which call the area home. We all had spotting guides to help us identify what we were seeing, but there was no time to look at a list when we were in hot pursuit! Thankfully Sue and Tom were always close at hand to tell us what we were looking at!

Looking for butterfiles

Looking for butterfiles

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Fritillary
Fritillary

Fritillary
Fritillary

After a few miles we came to a sign directing us to Lake Russell; we walked the last few hundred yards to the scenic shoreline.

Lake Russell Sign

Walking to Lake Russell

Lake Russell is unique in several ways! There is no development on the shore of the lake. It is pristine, that's a rare thing in Florida. It is part of the headwaters of the Everglades and is fed by Reedy Creek. Yes, that's the same Reedy Creek which runs through Walt Disney World about 15 miles to the north!

At Lake Russell

Lake Russell

Lake Russell

After spending a few minutes enjoying the natural beauty of the lake we returned to the swamp buggy and continued our journey, stopping often to walk around and snap more pictures.

Petra and Tom watching

Stopped along the Highway

Stopped along the Highway

Ceraunus Blue
A Ceraunus Blue - this butterfly is the size of the fingernail on your pinkie finger.

Soldier
A Soldier

As we made our way south toward Lake Hatchineha our guide Petra explained how the drainage ditches were quickly filled in to restore the wetlands. She described how controlled fire is used in a three-year cycle to stimulate the growth of the longleaf pine forest. This variety of pine remains very small for about 6 years, resembling a tuft of grass while it develops a deep taproot. During this phase its tender bud is protected from the typically low and fast-moving fire by its long needles. Once the taproot is established the tree shoots up 6 feet or more in just a couple of years and is beyond the harmful reach of those fires.

Young longleaf pines

Our adventure took us almost seven miles south to a guest cabin near the shore of Lake Hatchineha where we stopped for lunch. Carol had packed a few sandwiches for us and we enjoyed them on the veranda of the cabin which normally houses visiting scientists and students.

The Guest Cabin

A big Spider
This big guy watched from a nearby tree while we ate lunch!

Spanish Moss

We passed several scientific monitoring stations during our travels.

University of Central Florida research station
A University of Central Florida research station.

NEON research station
This is a National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) station.

According to the NEON web site it is "measuring the physical and chemical properties of atmosphere-related processes, such as humidity, wind, ozone and reactive nitrogen. They also measure net ecosystem exchange or the amount of gas that is exchanged between the atmosphere and the ecosystem".

It's quite an achievement; property that was perilously close to becoming another vast tract of urban sprawl is now a centre for ecological research and training. The Disney Wilderness Preserve is a living laboratory for conservation science!

Our return trip took us past some "snag oaks" - dead oak trees.

Snag oaks

Oaks do not normally grow in wetlands, but once this property was drained they flourished in some areas. These dead oaks are a very clear sign that the wetland restoration efforts are a complete success.

Wetlands

Wetlands

The Disney Wilderness Preserve is home to 26 species of plants and 19 animals that are either rare, threatened or endangered. Petra explained the elaborate efforts that were required when they transported red-cockaded woodpeckers from north Florida and Georgia to the site. The species is on the brink of extinction and the Nature Conservancy is working hard to establish a thriving community at the preserve. Read about their efforts HERE.

We saw two red-cockaded woodpeckers off in the distance, too far away to get any pictures. Fortunately, we did get a closer look at another endangered species on our way back to our starting point. Just before our tour ended we spotted a few Florida Scrub Jays. This bird lives only in Florida and nests in scrub brush, usually only 3 to 6 feet above the ground. Extensive development in the central Florida area had reduced the bird's natural habitat to the point where the population was depleted and the species was at significant risk. Since the Disney Wilderness Preserve was established and the wetlands were restored, the scrub oak has returned and the Florida Scrub Jay is making a resurgence.

Florida Scrub Jay

Florida Scrub Jay

Seeing these beautiful birds was a wonderful way to end our day at the Disney Wilderness Preserve!

The Walt Disney Company continues to fund a number of projects and activities at the Disney Wilderness Preserve. They are committed to conservation! As I said in my last blog, it makes me proud to be a Disney fan!

If you are looking for a very different sort of "Disney experience" why not plan a trip to the Disney Wilderness Preserve. While the swamp buggy tour only happens once a year, there are hiking trails and picnic areas you can enjoy anytime.

Trail Guide

Click on the images above and below to see larger versions.

Trail Guide Map

Here's how to get there: From I-4 take Exit 58 onto Osceola-Polk County Line Road, Route 532 Eastbound. Turn left onto South Orange Blossom Trail (Hwy17-92), toward Poinciana/Kissimmee. Turn right on Poinciana Boulevard and continue approximately 13 miles. Turn right onto Pleasant Hill Road. Turn left onto Old Pleasant Hill Road, Drive approximately ½ mile and turn left onto the Preserve's Scrub Jay Trail.

Carol and I hope you take the time to visit the Disney Wilderness Preserve and that you enjoy it as much as we did!

February 15, 2015

It All Started With . . . Storyboards

Gary Cruise banner

Recently, while I was reading The Revised Vault of Walt written by noted Disney historian (and AllEars.net Feature Writer) Jim Korkis, I ran across an interesting quote. Walt Disney was writing of memories from his school days and commented, "It was always my inclination to think in pictures rather than words." My mind started to play with the concept of thinking in pictures; it was intriguing.

I soon concluded that it was quite natural that Walt began by thinking in pictures when he was working on a project. You see, Walt started out as an animator, an artist. That's probably how he always thought of himself, not as an innovator, not as a businessman, but as a cartoonist.

Walt was involved, in a very hands-on way, in every project undertaken during his lifetime and he always followed the same process; he started with storyboards.

Here's how Disney Archive Director Dave Smith replied to a question about storyboards in the Summer 2001 edition of Disney Magazine.

Disney Magazine Summer 2001

There you have it, confirmed by Disney Historian and Archivist Dave Smith, the storyboard process was first developed at Walt Disney Studios in the early 1930's.

An early Storyboard

When Walt and his animators were working on a project, the first step was to outline the story, the plot. They made sketches of the various scenes in the story and hung them, in order, around the walls. A storyboard began to take shape! Those sketches became the storyboard!

Walt and a Storyboard

Soon each scene would be "fleshed out" - every scene would have a storyboard of its own. Only after the storyboard was complete in every way and the animators all understood the project very clearly, did they begin drawing the artwork which would be used in the animation.

Walt and a Storyboard

Lady and the Tramp Storyboard

Even today, in the age of Computer Generated Animation, the story is fully developed using storyboards before anything goes into production.

Disney Magazine Fall 2002 pg 49

Disney Magazine Fall 2002 pg 51

In the early 1950's Walt Disney began a daring project which changed the entertainment and vacation world forever. He designed and built Disneyland - and he thought in pictures while he did it!

Disneyland Concept Art

Walt and Disneyland Map

Here's how the Imagineers describe it in The Imagineering Guide to the Magic Kingdom:
"Walt was our first Imagineer, but as soon as he began developing the early ideas for Disneyland, he started recruiting others to help him realize his dream. He snapped up several of his most trusted and versatile animators and art directors to apply the skills of filmmaking to the three-dimensional world. They approached this task much the same as they would a film project. They wrote stories, drew storyboards, created inspirational art, assigned the production tasks to the various film-based disciplines, and built the whole thing from scratch. Disneyland is essentially a movie that allows you to walk right in and join in the fun. As Imagineer par excellence John Hench was fond of saying in response to recent trends, "Virtual reality is nothing new... we've been doing that for more than fifty years!"

Walt and Disneyland Model

1953 Disneyland Map

Disneyland Sketch


Disneyland was the first of its kind! It was an overnight success - and now, 60 years later it still sets the standard other theme park operators aspire to achieve.

Of course there are now many more Disney theme parks around the world, and there are even some pretty good imitators! But we all know that Disney parks are special. They are in a class by themselves!

EPCOT Storyboard 1964

If you ask what makes Disney parks different you will get scores of responses like, cleanliness, quality, themeing, attention to detail, consistency, family focus, etc., etc.

I think that the process Disney Imagineers use to design the parks plays a huge role in making their theme parks both unique and superior. I think that the quality, consistency, attention to detail and all those other unique attributes can be tied back to the use of storyboards.

WED Enterprises 1964

First the Imagineers designed the story; then they designed the park!

Let's all close our eyes and imagine we are standing in the background at that first meeting in the early 1950's. Walt called his most imaginative people, his Imagineers, together and outlined his ideas for a place where parents and children could have fun together. Walt had plenty of ideas but the Imagineers soon added their own creative touches and before you could say "Rivers of America" there were sketches on the walls, Sleeping Beauty Castle, Main Street USA, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Frontierland and Adventureland. The storyboard was taking shape!

Another Storyboard

One of the Imagineers, maybe it was Walt, suggested a train station, "Let's have the entry, the main gate, pass through the train station. Guests will not see Main Street until they come out of the station and have left the real world behind."

Disneyland Train Station

Disneyland Entry Sign

Wouldn't it have been fun to be a spectator at that first meeting, over 60 years ago?

Soon the storyboards for each of the original "lands" were created, followed by a sketch for each individual building.

Let's pause and look at how these storyboards helped create the themeing, consistency and quality Disney is famous for. Let's jump ahead in time and look at Liberty Square in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Liberty Square was designed to reflect Colonial America at the time of the Revolutionary War. The construction style displayed in the building façades is exactly what you would have seen in that era - for example, look closely at the shutters on the windows, they have sagged. Iron was hard to find and very expensive in Colonial times so window shutters were supported by leather hinges which stretched over time. A very realistic touch!

Crooked shutters

The subtle music which you hear in the background at Liberty Square is appropriate to the late 1700's and is played using instruments which would have been common at the time. No synthesizers and no electrical amplification were used in the production of that sound track!

The Liberty Bell on display was cast from the same mold used to create the original bell in Philadelphia, and the circle of thirteen flags surrounding the bell represents the original thirteen colonies.

All of these touches were defined in the storyboard.

Part of the Disney storyboard process requires that each building or attraction must also have a "back-story" or history. Every aspect of the interior and exterior of the attraction has to be consistent with this fabricated history. Naturally, in Liberty Square this means it must be true to the Colonial era. A prime example of this is Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe.

Christmas Shop

If you look closely at the exterior of the Christmas Store you can see aspects of the "back-story". It appears to have originally been three separate colonial style buildings or storefronts, a perfume shop, a silversmith and an antique shop. Over the years the original shops changed hands and later housed a music teacher's shop, a wood carver's shop and the third became the home of a German family, the Kepples (named for Walt's grandfather Kepple Disney). Next time you visit Liberty Square take a few minutes to wander through Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe. Look for the musical instruments, tools and wooden toys left by those former occupants! All of this richly detailed themeing sprang from the Imagineers and those original storyboards.

Christmas Shop Tools

The same level of detail applies to Main Street USA. The Emporium is one huge store comprising almost the entire two blocks on the west side of the street, yet from the exterior it looks like a number of different storefronts. Have you noticed that the inside of the building changes the same way the outside does?

Here's an experiment you can try. Next time you visit the Magic Kingdom walk along the sidewalk on the west side of Main Street. When you come to a door into The Emporium pause for a moment and look at the exterior façade of the building. Now step inside and examine the décor. See how it matches the storefront? Walk a bit further down the sidewalk and that exterior façade will change. Look in the next door; the décor inside has changed to match the new storefront outside.

Do you realize what just happened as you walked down Main Street? That's right; you just walked through a storyboard.

Let's hop over to another park, Disney's Hollywood Studios, for another example. This one is a little more obvious because the storyboards are still on the walls at this one. I'm talking about "One Man's Dream" which follows the story of Walt's remarkable life.

One Man's Dream

Take your time as you read all the fascinating information the exhibit contains. Those thrill rides will still be there when you finish; there's no need to rush through this gripping story of Walt Disney and his dream!

When you get to the end of the exhibits, before you enter the theatre, pause for a few seconds and look back down the hall . . . yes, it's true - you just walked through another storyboard.

Next time you visit a Disney park, do yourself a favor. Slow down! Take time to look at your surroundings from a different perspective.

When my inner-child looks around at a Disney park he sees mystery, excitement, magic and adventure. When I pause to let my inner-adult have a look, he notices something totally different. My adult eyes take in the many little details which create that immersive experience Disney is famous for.

Let your inner-adult look around now and then, you will see storyboards, and their influence, everywhere you look!

February 16, 2015

Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler - February 2015

Riddle

THE MOUSY MINDBOGGLER

If you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, you'll know that we run a little game called the Mousy Mindboggler. Sometimes it's a word game, sometimes it's a riddle, sometimes it's some other brain-teasing challenge -- but it's always fun!

Once each month, in the AllEars® Bits and Bites issue, our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Around the middle of each month, James Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle here in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog. The subject of the puzzle will vary, and James will award the winner of the challenge a collectible Disney pin!

This month, James writes:

Here's the answer key to the January Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler:

http://allears.net/ae/mb011615-key.pdf

I was pleasantly surprised to receive almost 200 correct responses to last month's puzzle about Walt Disney quotes!

The bonus answer I was looking for was "The Disneyland Story." Another possible answer was "What is Disneyland?", but that was not the answer you got if you solved the puzzle to reveal the answer by noting the circled letters.

I was also impressed by the number of people that figured out the significance of the date (Oct. 27, 1954) of the first Disneyland television broadcast! My birthdate was indeed Oct. 28, 1954, but since it was one minute after midnight, I considered it occurring in the same evening. Maybe that's where my strange obsession of Disney comes from?

The winner of a Lion King pin was Cristina S. of Sunnyvale, CA. Thanks to everyone for playing!

This month we are going to go back to a word search puzzle, but this will be the first in a series of puzzles examining extinct attractions at the various Disney Parks. The first park we will take a look at will be the Magic Kingdom.

Here's the link to the new puzzle:

http://allears.net/ae/mb021615.pdf

The object is, as always, to have fun, but if you'd like a chance to win a Disney collectible pin, here's what you should do: There's no need to send me the completed puzzle; just list the first 10 unused letters, starting with the first row, IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com.

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on March 13, 2015. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog, along with a new puzzle, in mid-March.

As always, any feedback on the puzzle format or topics would be appreciated! Drop me a line at dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com.

Thanks for playing!

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About February 2015

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in February 2015. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2015 is the previous archive.

March 2015 is the next archive.

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