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Disneyland Article
How Disneyland Brought Indiana Jones To Life In Its Iconic Ride
Sabina Graves
Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure ride gets its moment in the spotlight as part of documentary series Behind the Attraction season two, now streaming on Disney+.

io9 had a fun Disney Adult chat with Behind the Attraction creator and producer Brian Volk-Weiss and immediately landed on a mutual love for Indiana Jones Adventure. We had to know why it didn’t make season one and Volk-Weiss jumped right into it: “A lot of people ask, how did you pick [the topics for] season two? And I’m like, ‘For the most part it’s what we didn’t get in season one.’ It was heaven.” As you can tell, he has an infectious enthusiasm for theme park fandom. “During the third shift tour when we did the Indiana Jones Attraction, we had the ride ops there, we had the cast members there, but we also had Lucasfilm people there, and [Walt Disney Imagineering legend] Tony Baxter was with us.” (“Third shift,” for the non-Disney Adults out there, refers to the overnight hours at Disneyland, when the park gets refreshed from its operating day and rehearsals take place for holiday parades and overlays.)

It’s important to note here that Indiana Jones Adventure is Volk-Weiss’ favorite ride at Disneyland. “This is an attraction—I remember when I did it the first time, I know who I was with, and it was the first time in my life, and I would say only two times since has it happened again, where I felt like I was literally in the movie,” he shared; we agreed, having recently revisited the ride with its newly refurbished lighting effects.

In the Behind the Attraction episode, it’s revealed that Baxter—who was a lead designer on the Indiana Jones ride—wanted to create an illusion of rocks crumbling to evoke the dangers of the Indiana Jones movies, only in this case it involved brown tea-colored ice and lots of melting water. Volk-Weiss laughed when we asked him if he knew this fact before working on the episode. “It’s as though I bribed you to ask me that question. I cannot believe you asked me that question,” he laughed. “It is my favorite attraction ... [but] hell no. I didn’t know!”

He continued, “And the problem is, for me, this is one of the occupational hazards of making shows like this. I can’t do that attraction anymore without thinking about [what I’ve learned while working on them]. I was there probably about a month ago, and I’m literally picturing Tony Baxter with the brown-food-coloring water, and it becomes the ice that simulates the rocks—it was supposed to represent falling rocks,” he said, describing one of the attraction’s key opening scenes, which is now done with projections. “Do you ever learn something where you’re like, ‘Oh, I hope over time I forget?’ And by the way, that refrigerator [for the ice] is still on the roof.”

Volk-Weiss continued: “It’s one of these things where you’re sitting there with Tony Baxter being like, ‘You see that hole up there? [It] was going to be this.’ Or he’ll be like, ‘Oh, you see those skeletons? Those are what I wanted them to be. But we didn’t have the technology 30 years ago.’ And by the way, you’re literally walking through the attractions with all the lights on. You’re seeing this stuff without all the smoke and without all the effects and the shadows.”

He explained another layer of artistry he wanted to honor. “I always want to be careful that I don’t say something that comes out wrong. So let me preface it by saying this: I’m not trying to imply when all the special effects are going, you can’t see the artistry. Of course you can see the artistry. But when the lights are on, you can see the details of the artistry, and what to me in my mind makes Disney—there’s so much detail you can’t even see when you have all the smoke and the lights and the shadows. But Disney does it anyway. And why do they do it? In Indiana Jones, you’re on the track, and there is a huge gap between where the car is and when you’re looking over, and you see all those plants and skulls and stuff from the floor. I mean, that’s at least 30 feet. And I remember we were walking at the base of that where all the plants are 30 feet down. I’m there with Tony and I’m seeing all the backs of those rock things, plants. And I’m like, ‘Tony, I’m just curious, why do you put so much time and money into painting the backs?’ And he responded, ‘Because when the car, nine and a half seconds earlier, is on the other side coming down, people might be able to see the backs.’ That’s Disney. That’s the parks. That’s Imagineering in one microcosm of a story.”

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