Forgot Your Password Or Login?

Having trouble logging In?
Try clearing your cookie:

Disneyland Article
Disneyland And Imagineering Part 9

Mark Twain Riverboat
October 15, 2016
October 15, 2016
Increase Font Size
The birth of space exploration in the middle of the 1950s affected both sides of the globe, but before the Space Race there was the Cold War. There was a fair share of unilateral fear from several previous wars. As a result, it pitted the United States against Russia in a "race" for strategic military superiority. Although the Cold War came first, the Space Race wasn't far behind and for a long period they ran parallel. As it was often referred to, the Space Race was just that. On October 4, 1957, Russia became the first to successfully launch a man made satellite into earth's orbit. The United States launched Explorer 1 the following year. The Explorer 1 was created by the United States Army under the direction of Wernher von Braun. I mention him in particular, because he also made significant contributions for Disney.

During this time while dealing with very real world problems, a long list of science fiction films were released that dealt with the effects of attempting to explore space, harness atomic energy and failing. If we weren't worried about our safety on the planet, we were looking to the skies for possible intrud-ers from other planets. I think it's safe to say that a lot of imagination went into the making of these films. No one was more aware of this than Disney. He too was highly interested in education and space exploration. But the one difference was that he wanted Tomorrowland to be filled with science fact, not science fiction. He was, among many things, a realist. Periodically, he would visit science labs around the country to learn of new developments, and they, in turn, were more than happy to show him.

One of the main financial components for the funding of Disneyland was Disney's agreement to produce a number of television programs for ABC in conjunction with promoting and opening the park. A number of the productions focused on two specific things: space exploration and Tomorrowland.

" and One makes Nine"

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. True, the eyes do say a lot, but there is another quote I prefer much more: "It is only with the heart, one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye." Nothing could be more true than with our next artist, Ward Kimball. When I first looked at vari-ous pictures of him, I thought, "Wow this guy looks kind of weird and kooky." With his peculiar man-ner of dress and large round jet black glasses I should have known better. Eccentric, yes, but like all good Imagineers, unique. As far as the image he projected, an act? Maybe. Or maybe, a very inten-tional way to set himself apart, and for those who assumed too much, it was their loss. After all, he was happy to work independently. In the book, The Story of Walt Disney, Disney, himself described Kimball as a genius. As I began to research his life in more depth, I noticed that he isn't necessarily referred to as an official Imagineer, often given an honorary title. But for purposes of this series I am including him; his contributions captured some of the most important concepts Walt Disney wanted to impart to his audience beyond the construction of Disneyland. He was born in March of 1914 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and in 1923 he and his family moved to Ocean Park, California.

Although he originally focused on becoming a draftsman, in the late 20s he completed a correspondence course in Cartooning from W. L. Evans before gravitating to animation. He attended the Santa Barbara School of Arts. He, like Disney, Broggie, Ollie Johnson and others, was fascinated with trains. Kimball was more of a purist than Disney. Throughout his entire life he was collecting all types and varieties of rail memorabilia. When he learned that the Nevada Central Railroad had a vintage Baldwin locomotive from the 1880s, he purchased it and, like Disney, placed it in his backyard. However, he preceded him by some 10 years. In addition, he restored the engine and an additional coach car, built a rail layout for the pair, and in 1942, the Grizzly Flats Railroad was born.

In 1934 he was hired by the studio "on or about April Fools' Day" and was the first animator to bring a traditional portfolio with him. In addition, he also wore what he described as a green eyeshade, and carried a double thermos lunchpail. Artistically, he had an innate sense for what would work story- wise, focusing on the more basic ideas. Although he would eventually become a pioneer animator, he was originally hired as an "in-betweener," or assistant to the key animators. His job was to devel-op and sketch intermediate sketches that would combine with the key frames to create the illusion of motion. In just two short years he was introduced to Mary "Betty" Elizabeth Lawyer, from the Ink and Paint Department, whom, he subsequently married and remained so for 66 years. They where mutu-ally devoted to each other; a perfect fit, and she supported him in all his endeavors. With his wry grin, he possessed more than just a touch of eccentricity. He had a kind of skewed, humorous way of looking at his work. That gave him his ability to create comic ideas that lent themselves to the films that he worked on, which included creating The Mad Hatter's character for the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. When I studied that character and compared it to dozens of photographs of Kimball, I could almost see as if it might be a kind of partial self-portrait. Not so much of the lunacy, but how he looked kind of wild and different. That was Kimball; he marched to his own beat, but Disney reasoned, and rightly so, if he could harness his talent, it was yet another plus.

Because he was hired early on and possessed a distinct vision, he would ultimately become one of Disney's "nine old men," who were his core animators in the very beginnings of the animation studio. One of his first projects were the Silly Symphonies. He graduated and went on to work as a key animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Other key projects with his signature humor included Dumbo and The Three Caballeros. Oftentimes when developing characters, he would contort his face into many expressions, and then sketch the characters that would end up in his work. With his development of the comic style for the Mad Hatter, he went on to become Animating Supervisor and created one of the studio's most beloved and significant characters, Jiminy Cricket. He had truly earned his place as one of the very best. Although he was not really one to explore the inner mind of his characters, he gave many of his characters depth with simplicity. To illustrate, look at the story of Pinocchio. Basic emotions, but so important; love, faith, conscience. He truly had a depth and a love of life, and he shared it both in his work and with those around him.

For a very long time, Kimball was held in high esteem with Disney. In fact, so much so, that, at times, it made other employees nervous. However, Kimball was no threat to anybody, except maybe himself. Because of his driven ideas and foresight like many Imagineers, and his steadfastness at one point, it put him in the doghouse with his boss. But that came years after our story.

Tomorrowland Television

So, having among other character traits, a distinct sense of humor, which he combined with his ani-mation sketches, Disney pegged him to produce and direct a very important series of episodes that were part of the negotiation package with ABC. This particular series revolved around familiarizing his audience with Tomorrowland and his interest in science and space exploration. Disney saw that Kimball had talent as yet untapped and would have to research a subject he was previously not familiar with. Doing so would give the series a more personal feel, more relatable to an audience new to the subject as well. With Disney spending all his time overseeing the park, he gave Kimball the much needed autonomy to write, produce, and direct the series of programs that dealt with both science and space. Originally, because of the expense, there was only going to be one program produced, most likely to broadcast before the opening of the park. Once Kimball set to work, he and his research team had accumulated enough material to produce three programs, only one to be released before the opening of Disneyland. Most important were the science notables who joined the Man in Space series that gave it its most important component, credibility. The group included Wernher von Braun, Heinz Haber, and Willy Ley. Disney called the series of programs, "Science-Factuals". With such respected scientists from all over the world guiding the series, the result was so comprehensive and ultimately very accurate in its speculation of what the future of space exploration would be like, it drew the attention of both the military and then President Eisenhower, who requested a copy. To a degree, Disney and the military had a facultative symbiotic relationship; President Eisenhower was grateful for the information Disney was willing to share. In just a decade the military would in turn help make it possible for Disney to make the most technological advancements that would usher in a Renaissance in Disneyland.

The first episode entitled "Man In Space," premiered on March 9th, 1955. The episode covered the history of the rocket. With the initial narration by Kimball and a combination of photographs, newsreel footage, and animation, it served as a primer for the television audience to familiarize them with the subject. A large portion of the program dealt with space medicine and how scientists studied the effects of space on the human body. The animation sequences were humorous and had Kimball's stamp on them. The second installment, first titled Man in the Moon, and later to link in more closely to the park, retitled Tomorrow the Moon was first shown on December 28, 1955. It dealt with our fascination and scientists' speculation about the Moon. The first part of the program dealt with the myths regarding the moon. Kimball takes a look at our history and the way cultures established beliefs incorporating phases of the moon as well as history recordings, poems and songs, filled with a lot of pretty wild Kimballesque animation. The second portion focused on a more real and technical look at a voyage to the moon. Werner von Braun makes an appearance and goes through a step by step guide for our approaching the moon, by first building and establishing a space station outside of the earth's atmosphere. Next, he previews a prototype spacesuit complete with an external apparatus for working in space. Live action footage was used incorporating actors filmed on sets simulating weightlessness while assembling parts of a space vessel, as well as blending miniature models to complete the scenes. The final segment is a trip around the moon, firing flares to photograph the moon's surface and returning to the newly built station. It really is amazing to listen to von Braun's narration about working in space and comparing it to the evolution of space exploration and how accurate it was, some 60 years ago. The third installment, Mars and Beyond initially debuted on December 4, 1957, and was the most fantasy-driven episode. In the introduction Disney introduces us to Garco the robot. What's interesting, is Garco is overbuilt with metal sheeting, but similar in structure to the engineering of the Audio-Animatronics skeletal structure, which wouldn't debut for almost a decade. The episode dealt with the evolution of man on earth as well as speculation about life and living on the Red Planet. It is loaded with a wide spectrum of animation depicting different events. It contains some very funny segments directed by Kimball. Overall, the entire episode is visually stunning, not all humorous, with some "less Kimball," more with an eye toward realism based on science speculation. It contains narration by Paul Frees, who is also the voice of the "Ghost Host" in the Haunted Mansion. This was the final segment in the Man In Space series. But, in addition, there were two more: Eyes in Outer Space, which debuted in theaters in June of 1959, and Our Friend the Atom.

Eyes in Outer Space, co-written, produced and directed by Kimball, dealt with the weather using the same presentation format as the Man In Space series. It was also narrated by Paul Frees. Our Friend the Atom debuted on January 23, 1957. Dr. Heinz Haber narrated this episode, which covers the his-tory of science and discovery of atomic energy. It was interesting to see Disney take on a subject so out-of-the-realm of most Disney projects. But, he was more than just a park developer and artist; he was most interested in education, science and community, and how to make them all work together in harmony. Nowadays, atomic or nuclear energy and living harmoniously could hardly be imagined in the same sentence. But, Disney was from a different time and the eternal optimist, looking beyond our fallibilities, knowing what we were capable of, but would ultimately choose the wiser path.

The Science-Factual and accompanying programs dealing with science-generated publicity for the opening and beyond and proved very successful on many levels. But, in a broader sense, they helped educate a mainstream audience on the future of space, science and weather. Walt Disney described himself as an "idea man" selecting the right artists to visualize and create them. With Kimball, Walt definitely had the right idea. Kimball left us with a very important series of television productions that are still as valid today as when they were created, and proved to be accurate in their predictions. Ward Kimball helped a generation understand very complex subjects by doing it simply, step-by-step, and with humor, but never taking his audience for granted. He was a very skilled, intelligent artist and man. In one sense he was an everyman; this was something Disney recognized in him, and he had picked the right man to teach us. Kimball definitely paved the way, while our next artist conceptualized some of his teachings, making it real, and created an attraction for the park, taking us on a journey into space long before we were actually able to do so. I can't leave this artist without, at the very least, mentioning his love for music, the trombone, and The Firehouse Five+2 Dixieland Jazz Band. He would perform with them for Disney functions and independently from his Disney duties. They released, in total, 13 albums. He would go on to work for Disney for many more years. In the early 70s he created a kids show called The Mouse Factory, which I remember very well. It was silly and goofy and totally enjoyable. As far as Ward Kimball goes, with his "eccentric sensibilities, " his life was rich, as much a character as the ones he created.

Disney's Best Henchman

I have always felt that the 1960s were the Renaissance period for Disneyland, a time of great growth and technological achievement. But that is a period of time. Most Disney artists and historians agree, as far as a Renaissance Man for Disneyland, it is John Hench. In 1990, after more than 65 years of talent devoted to the park, he was given the Disney Legend Award, Disney's highest honor.

John Hench was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1908 and grew up in Southern California. He attended a number of design and art institutes, among them being an alumnus of the Otis College of Art and Design, and like many other Imagineers, the Chouinard Art Institute. Although he worked in many areas and projects, his main focus was color. He developed an early passion for the importance of color in any medium. To really understand how he felt about color we have to go back many years when he was working for Disney. He was experiencing a great deal of frustration trying to explain the importance of color on a particular project to an executive. When the executive responded to "just paint it white," Hench replied, "Well I have 34 shades of white, which one would you like?" This basic element was all important to Disney as well. When it came to the design of Disneyland, color was a factor in every aspect of every inch of the park and became even more so as it developed over the years. John Hench saw to that. Interestingly, aside from their similar beliefs, there's a funny antidote, told more than once by Hench himself. There were somewhat striking physical similarities in both Hench and Disney. More than once when walking the grounds, he would be stopped by a guest thinking it was Disney. Always very well dressed, one might mistake him for a 1930s Douglas Fairbanks type. He was always the professional and although when hired, he was skeptical if the company could survive. He understood how Disney thought and felt about his guests in the park and felt as passionately as he did. Both had a sincere concern that the guests experience be enjoyable. It was critical to the park's success. Color played a big factor in that. Kate Cressida, the most current incarnation of the bride in the Haunted Mansion, recently related on a walking tour video cast with Fresh Baked Disney, that colors do, in fact, play a very important part. She explained while walking down Main Street, that from the very beginning, colors were carefully chosen, using warmer colors and avoiding those that were harsh or too bright. Again, it went back to Disney's dislike for the bright obtrusive colors of the carnival. She went on to explain that when colors were selected for the Main Street buildings, they were numbered and categorized for future refurbishing. The actual colors selected and their composites are also kept confidential -- only known to a small select group.

So, from the inception, Disneyland was a carefully selected palette of colors. Hench, didn't come on board specifically for the park. He had been originally been hired by Disney to work in the animation department back in the late 1930s. One of his first projects was as a sketch artist for Fantasia, focus-ing on both the Arabian Dance and Nutcracker Suite sequences. He went on, like Kimball, to work on Dumbo and The Three Caballeros. Other important films Hench collaborated on were Peter Pan, So Dear to My Heart, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. On 20,000 Leagues, Hench was the Lead Designer for the hydraulic squid, which proved to be laborious. With all the usual pressures that go along with tent pole productions, the key effects sequence had to be rewritten and reshot to conceal the complex cabling requiring hundreds of technicians to make the squid perform on cue. Still, the overall production was a success with Hench walking away with an Oscar for Best Special Effects. The storm sequence on the Nautilus with Ned Land fighting the squid is regarded by science fiction fans as one of the best live action/effects scenes of all time.

Not long after, Hench was "requested" to move over to the Disneyland project, which of course he did. This is about where the work that Ward Kimball was producing with the Man in Space series intersected with John Hench signing on to oversee the key attraction in Tomorrowland.

One Big Wienie

Tomorrowland was in trouble. It was a big part of Disney's master plan, and it was almost shut down temporarily, ending up with a collection of lukewarm sponsored attractions. True, Gurr had Autopia up and running, but that was not what Tomorrowland needed. It needed something that said, "Tomorrow!" When it came to the psychology of attracting guests to different lands, the analogy Disney used from early on and imparted to his artists was that of the hot dog, or "wienie." When studying how to pique guests' desire, Disney reasoned that at ballgames and yes, carnivals, the aroma of the hot dog entices guests, and they are drawn to it. So taking that philosophy and replacing aroma with a visual, much like Sleeping Beauty's Castle and how it draws people to Fantasyland, the Mark Twain to Frontierland, and in a few short years, the Matterhorn. These were large wienies, a visual draw that entices guests through the gateway to each land. In the case of the Matterhorn and, more recently, Space Mountain, they have become wienies for the entire park since they can be seen from a distance outside the property. This concept was usually a formula for the gateways to the lands, but it became apparent as in the case of the two above mentioned Disney Mountains, there were exceptions to that rule. Such is the case of Tomorrowland's Rocket to the Moon attraction. Originally, it was sponsored by Trans World Airlines, until 1962 when McDonnell Douglas assumed sponsorship. The flight simulation attraction was conceived and designed by John Hench. It was positioned opposite the World Clock at the end of the Tomorrowland corridor. The World Clock was supposed to be a wienie for the gateway to Tomorrowland, but it ended up being a series of compromises when the artists couldn't deliver exactly what Disney wanted. For the Rocket to the Moon attraction area, outside the showbuilding, Hench designed a rocket ship dubbed Moonliner that was just under 80 feet high, roughly 1/3 of what it would be; another example of forced perspective. As the body was constructed upward the upper sections were scaled accordingly to give the rocket a larger appearance. He was advised on the design by both Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley. The body of the rocket was made of 15,000 square feet of aluminum. Walter H. Preston, an independent civil engineer who had connections with Kaiser Aluminum, was hired to work on the project, specifically the rocket. His job was to ensure that the rocket structure would be built correctly from an engineering standpoint. Directly behind the rocket was an arched front structure that housed the queue and displays that dealt with space exploration. Behind the front structure were two identical observatory-type amphitheaters, adjacent to each other, which served as two circular rocket chambers to double capacity. The audience would enter the space port which led to a Briefing Room to await boarding. During the pre-board, a short film covering a brief history of space exploration was projected on a large screen above the guests. The film was intentionally timed to coincide with the first group of guests exiting the attraction, in time for the next group to enter. Guests would walk down a narrow corridor that curved around, went up a small rise, finally leading to the space chamber. In the background in the queue area and approaching the chamber, sounds of men working and machinery could be heard. The chamber was multi-tiered and lined with rows of seats following around the room. Guests would descend to the lower rows first, filling the room from the bottom up. There were all sorts of controls and lights on the surrounding walls. In the center of the chamber on the floor was a projection screen or scanner as well as a second screen above the first, close to the ceiling. The idea was to give the guests both a fore and aft view. Additional chatter could be heard from the Command Center. Commander Collins, our captain for this flight, can be heard over the intercom. There's quite a bit of dialogue prior to take-off, filled with appropriate technical data readouts and status reports. As the Moonliner, dubbed the Star of Polaris, lifts off the launch pad the surrounding area can be seen on the lower scanner, with the atmosphere visible in the upper scanner. The films are back projected onto the two scanners with images from the projectors that were located outside the amphitheater reflected off of mirrors concealed around the amphitheater. Additional film is inserted for the space sequences. Rumbling and vibration can be heard and felt all around the chamber with the rocket at full power. As we leave earth's atmosphere, our attention is drawn to either scanner at different times, depending on the action. During the flight to the moon, being that it is 1986 Tomorrowland, we get to see Halley's Comet, we view the space station that was used in the Man in Space series, and experience a "shower of meteoroids." During our flight we also see our sister ship, the Star of Antares returning from a trip around the moon. We circle the moon, visiting the dark side before our return trip to the Disneyland spaceport.

As with the science programs, the narrative for the attraction was handled seriously. Disney wanted guests to be able to experience a fact based trip to the moon. And they did. We'll check back and see how the Moonliner fared when the park opened.

I want to mention that I only briefly touched on John Hench's career because it was an opportune time to introduce him because he was the project supervisor for the Rocket to the Moon attraction. He truly was a Master Planner and, as we shall see, he will be popping up here again shortly.

In the final issue before Opening Day, we'll venture over to Frontierland and see what was being planned for the most rustic of the Disney lands. So, tune-in for that, the Mystery of Disney, and the Case of the Disappearing River. See you there.
Attractions Referenced

Clock Of The World

Haunted Mansion

Mark Twain Riverboat

Matterhorn Bobsleds


Rocket To The Moon

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Space Mountain

Tomorrowland Autopia

Lands Referenced



Main Street U.S.A.


Top Of Page
Solution  Graphics Western Union Money Gram   Contact Us   Privacy   Payment Options   Disclaimer   Email Policy   Site Map   Clear Cookie  

Copyright: (c) 1997-2019 by ThrillMountain Software is not associated in any official way with the Walt Disney Company,
its subsidiaries, or its affiliates. The official Disney site is available at
Troubleshooting Info:

BrowserBrand: IE
LocalHost: NO
BrowserAgent:CCBot/2.0 (
BrowserCurrentPage: /disneyland-article.aspx
Login: 0
FilterBy: 0
SortBy: 0