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Disneyland Article
Disneyland And Imagineering Part 14
There's Got to be a Morning After

When we last left off, Walt Disney had made it through Opening Day. It wasn't all that he had hoped it would be, but he made it. "Black Sunday" was supposed to be a relatively tame press preview. Instead it resembled more of an all out free-for-all -- the park being besieged by triple attendance that was more than expected. From a certain point of view, this was actually a good omen. With guests literally climbing over the top of each other to get in, as crowded as it was, it was a comment about how the general public felt about being there. Nothing was going to keep them out. Despite the negative press, Disney was getting ready to do it all over again for the official Opening Day on Monday for the general public. The curiosity and demand hadn't really decreased. Monday morning, the gates were packed with thousands more, ready to enter the Magic Kingdom. Walt would repeat Opening Day ceremonies from the day prior for the general public. Just as the press was gearing up near "Sleeping Beauty's Castle" to film the first children entering into "Fantasyland," once again there was a report of another gas leak. This time it was in the Castle Courtyard very close to where the reporters were located. Just what Disney needed, more bad press. But that was the least of his worries. The gas leak was serious enough that the ground had been ignited when a worker had most likely dropped a lit cigarette. Flames were floating along the top of the newly poured asphalt. With press and patrons just a few feet away, management had to act quickly. A serious safety issue, a publicity nightmare, and a possible closure, all rolled into one. Several high level managers including C.V. Wood and Joe Fowler, as well as staff, began to break through the area that was affected. A leak was discovered that appeared to be isolated. It was quickly repaired and covered unbeknownst to only a few. Still, many staff were actually lighting matches close to the ground to detect any more potential leaks. Fortunately, no further damage was reported. With the camera crews absent, equipment removed, and a quick regrouping for the public opening, the day was slightly less chaotic with just over 25,000 guests. The attendance during the week was fairly consistent with attendance dropping another 10,000 on Saturday, which was a bit surprising. But looking at the week's activities and the hype, it's easy to misread this first drop in attendance. It was by no means to panic, but Disney was not out of the woods yet. He was about to face an unexpected blow that would haunt both himself and the park for the rest of it's history.

Nickel and Diming It

100 people were surveyed and asked, "What is your biggest complaint about Disneyland?"

What was their answer?

No, it's not a game show question and unfortunately the answer is fairly uniform -- the expense. This was another of the press' complaints as far back as Opening Day and Disneyland for the most part has had to bear that Scarlet "A" to this day. In the mid 60s through the 70s, when the park was introducing its' most creative attractions with continual openings, the public for a while seem placated. But now it's a common complaint. Still, the park never seems to be hurting for guests. When the park opened, some of the press focused on the cost for an average family to spend a day in the park, and it wasn't meant as a compliment. This was the age of fifty cent movies, gasoline cost 29 cents a gallon, bread, eighteen cents, and a Mickey Mouse lunchbox cost eighty-eight cents. When the park opened, it cost one dollar for adults and fifty cents for children to enter the park. The rides averaged around twenty-five to thirty-five cents each, so for a family of four it theoretically could cost around thirty dollars for the day according to the press. The operative word here was could, and that's if everyone in the household rode every ride and saw every attraction. This was considered an astronomical expense for a day of fun and reading this in the newspaper could potentially have had an extremely negative, far reaching effect. It was clearly a malicious swipe at Disney, personally. In his defense, no one could possibly believe that Disney didn't do his own accounting before the park opened. What they calculated was that the average cost for a family of four was around ten to eleven dollars, which is still expensive, but that's a full day of fun and food. Secondly, no one had to pay for anything on Press Preview Day, including the press. Everything was free. When the article was published and referred specifically to cost, it did not account for the fact that there were wait times for both the rides and refreshments. It did not account for how long a family would spend eating a meal. The way the article was skewed was that if someone entered the park, they would be on a mad sprint to ride every ride and eat several meals to meet their overestimated amount. It's no secret that a day in Disneyland isn't exactly cheap, but that was the most important question on Opening Day. Would a family searching for entertainment value be willing to spend on average anywhere from five to fifteen dollars to spend a Day in Disneyland? To answer that question, it's a little more complicated. This isn't like going to a two or three hour movie and it isn't like spending an afternoon in the park. It wasn't even like going to a carnival, which to Disney was almost a dirty word, literally. Disneyland was designed to be much more than any of the above activities. Guest relations were also tantamount to the park's success as well as daily fireworks and a variety of quality music and parades. It was obvious that it was by no means ready to receive guests when it opened, but to anyone entering even in the very beginnings, it was clear nothing like this had ever been built anywhere -- ever. The press can be vicious, but people in general, are much more forgiving. They will read, but with critical press, after a while if it appears there is an ulterior motive for the excessive complaints, it produces an opposite effect. It makes people more curious and more than willing to find out for themselves, which as far as Disneyland was concerned, they did.

A Main Stay Saves the Day

For all the headaches Disney had to endure on Opening Day, there was a group of attractions that escaped relatively unscathed. The Stagecoach, Conestoga Wagons, and the Mule Pack attractions gave riders a rustic, rough-'n'-roll ride that held a significance that most overlook. I refer to these attractions collectively, because they were all physically intertwined and the paths they travelled intersected at various points. Viewing their locations from the air, they were up against the East side of the "Rivers of America." They were in an area that roughly resembled a Valentine's Day heart. These rides were, in a sense, "thrill rides" in their own right. From someone born in the Twenty-first century, that might be hard to fathom. But in the context of the mid-1950s, for kids from the city, this was their Big Thunder Mountain. Since the opening there has been a significant shift in cultural appreciation. With the advent of the computer age, along with increasingly advanced video games, kids have been drawn away from the "go out and play outside" era. Nowadays, you'll find that mostly in smaller towns away from the city. It's interesting to look back in retrospect and ask which is better for kids, to let them use their own imagination to create adventures or have everything programmed for them? That's what really sold Disneyland -- using imagination to create it and providing guests with a place to experience it. These series of rides provided such an adventure. They were not padded by today's standards, nor were there fancy sets and effects. The paths were definitely rough and rocky. Not so much because they were intended to be, but like everything else, there was no time to lay out a more creative path. With the wagons and stagecoaches, it was cramped, a little disorienting and hard to see, sensations that are mandatory on a dark ride. Although very simplified versions, these rustic adventures would be able to claim the title "thrill ride" before being taken over by an ever evolving technology and a more demanding public. What resulted was a thunderous mountain appearing decades later. But the first few years, these rides were so popular that they evolved over the next decade. With continuing upgrades involving more elaborate scenery and effects, they kept the attractions fresh. But, in the end, they were phased out, with remnants of one still remaining as part of a newer, more advanced attraction: "Big Thunder Mountain."

Motion Magic

It's funny, it must be part of human nature. People seem to be infatuated with concepts of reality in various forms of entertainment. As an American culture, we've just about peaked when it comes to reality television. Many decades before the wonderful programming we have now, people possessed a similar curiosity. Only it involved the search for reality when visiting a theme park. Making the unreal seem real was, and still is, in very high demand. The continuing advancements in technology can attest to that.

Less than 40 miles away, at Universal Studios, there is a good example of just how far technology has advanced. Various effects and ride systems that are currently considered groundbreaking were actually influenced by the Imagineers in Disneyland. Using the "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" attraction as an example, several techniques are utilized representing both theme park thrills and state of the art technology that is often used in manufacturing. Forced perspective is incorporated, not just into the ride, but the entire "Hogsmeade Village" and surrounding area. The ride system itself is a blend of effects and cutting edge technology. To move through the ride, the two basic components are a KUKA arm and a busbar track. The large robotic arm originates from a company of the same name that is Chinese owned and German manufactured. The company has been in existence since just before the twentieth century. A busbar track is a metallic strip, or bar, carrying high voltage that can be configured in various ways. It is primarily used in factories and in transportation systems, the latter being how it is used for the attraction. A bench for riders is attached to the end of the KUKA arm. Each bench can hold three to four guests. The arm is integrated with the busbar track that travels around a rectangular perimeter. The largest portions of the effects are located inside the perimeter. The effects for the ride are a blend of forced perspective, smoke, sound, lighting effects, "Pepper's Ghost" illusion, and large parabolic screens mounted on rotating turntables. Also incorporated are practical effects, including a large articulated dragon, spitting spiders, and an extremely creepy "Dementor." All components are integrated seamlessly, preventing even the most curious from seeing "backstage." That was one of the prime motivators conceptualizing this attraction. Knowing that there will always be riders trying to pick apart how a ride works, the designers raised the level of concealment. This ties into deceiving the rider by making something that is acknowledged as unreal so convincing, that it heightens the level of excitement and immersion. The majority of these elements evolved from concepts that the Imagineers used to create Disneyland. Creating new and innovative ride systems from conception to completion in the park evolved over a considerable period of time. But as much as it was a creative endeavor, it was also done methodically, mathematically, and was extremely tedious. Disney and his Imagineers travelled the country, visiting amusement parks of all types and sizes. He made sure they made good use of their time. Every aspect of park operations was observed and noted. Aside from studying park layouts and traffic patterns, the types of attractions and their elements were scrutinized. This would be the primary focus of the Imagineers' work and the most defining difference between what existed and what was to come. Returning to the studio with the information from their travels, they sat down with their boss to listen to what he wanted for his theme park. The first residents were based on what Disney was most familiar with, nature. One of the basic components in creating this environment of reality was motion. It was already evident in many of the main set-pieces in Disneyland. More basic examples in the form of transportation are the "Disneyland Railroad," "Mark Twain," "Autopia," and even the wagon and mule rides in "Frontierland." Since, in design, both "Adventureland" and "Frontierland" required that, the next step was to decide how to represent life through motion. For the first generation, the characters were divided into three categories. The first was static or non-moving, the second was stationary with simple limited movement, and third, hero or "showcase" characters, much more articulated with multiple movements. In discussing the various settings with his artists, he used subtlety in his favor in the first generations based on cost. It was never his intention to have every single character possessing movement. It would create sensory overload. For example: as the "Mark Twain" traveled around the "Rivers of America," various animals could be seen on the river bank. Some were stationary and there would be those from the second category that would wiggle their ears or wag their tails. Sound effects helped enhance the scenes with a great degree of effectiveness. On the "Jungle River" was the most ambitious collection of motion effects employed. Not only were there animals on the river banks, but crocodiles and hippos on complex rigs submerged in the river itself. In addition to these showcase animals, second category effects were integrated together. A good example of this would be the hippos. The effect would initiate by utilizing a rig that raised them up out of the water. Their ears would wiggle, sound effects would simulate appropriate animal sounds, they would shoot water out of their snouts, and then re-submerge and reset for the next group. So, by combining a number of second category effects within one character and adding additional atmosphere, it created a truly astonishing effect for an audience in 1955. The Fantasyland dark rides did incorporate many of the same effects. But the fact that the Jungle River was composed of a large number of characters performing in broad daylight, showed just how ambitious the Imagineers were.

Model Citizen

Giving an inanimate object life through motion was only part of the illusion. Any character or animal was defined by it's outward appearance. That was the skill that our next Imagineer contributed to the art of Disneyland. Sculptor Chris Mueller came from generations of family artists that spanned over 500 years. The Mueller family specialized in architectural sculpturing following European style from an even longer line of tradition derived from the "old masters." He began his career in the 1920s, apprenticing with some of the most respected artists of the time. Possessing a natural ability for his craft, he submitted designs for the historic Fox Theater located in San Francisco. As he continued, he would hone his work, while employed by Universal Studios, thus contributing to a variety of genre classics such as "Frankenstein" and "This Island Earth." More significantly, he created the head model sculpting that would become "The Creature from the Black Lagoon." So, by the time he headed off to the Disney Studios in 1952, he had over 30 years of experience. It's no surprise that with all his experience, he was immediately assigned to the high profile film, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." He set about transforming design sketches into clay sculptures and castings to create the infamous squid for the fight scene on the deck of the storm ridden Nautilus. Although Mueller came from a long line of architectural artists, he also studied anatomy, botany and zoology. Adding these tools to his palate, upon conclusion of production, he went on to sculpt the animals that would populate the Jungle River attraction and much more. It is amazing the volume of work that he contributed to the opening that are easily recognized and remembered. For the "Jungle River" ride, he sculpted clay models of everything from crocodiles, hippopotamuses, tigers, rhinoceroses, and a very well known African bull elephant that has been a part of the attraction since the beginning. It took two tons of clay to sculpt that animal, alone. After sculpting a clay model from artistic sketches, he and his crew of artists would cast latex skins that would be fitted over the mechanical armatures. He literally contributed some form of model work to every area of the park. In Fantasyland, he created the figurehead and fantail for the "Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship," models of the "Dumbo" elephants and "Peter Pan" boats. Over in Tomorrowland, he fleshed out the prototype for the "Phantom Boats." He would continue on as the park expanded, for many years after the opening. He moved over to Walt Disney World to create architectural ornamentation for "Cinderella's Castle" and the "Haunted Mansion." To no one's surprise he continued, working on the Disney film, "The Island at the Top of the World." He also contributed to other theme parks and more contemporary films such as "Damnation Alley," "Camelot," and "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T" until his passing in 1988. His contributions are almost immeasurable and represent some of the most iconic images in Disneyland, both past and present.

As the series continues, the Imagineers repair and complete unfinished attractions and, with 1956 just around the corner, plans are already underway to expand. As the series continues, we'll see just what these advancements were. The first enhancements in Frontierland were less than a year away, with a major renovation before the end of the decade. Disney, not being a victim of temerity, and despite setbacks, he would press on with his plans, but tourism is like the ocean. It ebbs and flows. That issue would also become something with which to contend.

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