Monday, December 03, 2007

Boy, Do We Need Them Now.


"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."

-Douglas Adams
Author

(L to R) Herb Ryman, Ken O'Connor, Collin Campbell, Marc Davis, Al Bertino, Wathel Rogers, Mary Blair, T. Hee, Blaine Gibson, X. Atencio, Claude Coats and Yale Gracey

37 comments:

monotonehell said...

Douglas Adams was an utter genius. Nice use of one of his best quotes.

Ken said...

How does this relate to the situation in a way that it does not relate to humanity as a whole? I mean, this blog treads a very thin line between a plea for improvement and downright insult, and I enjoy it greatly, but without some additional text (perhaps how this quote applies specifically to WDI), this entry is mere bile.

Justin said...

Whenever change is taking place, inevitably there are people who try to convince us to turn back or else failure. That's how I interpret this thread.

-Justin

Anonymous said...

So what? They're going to add the Mickey wand back to Epcot with 'Don't Panic!' as the words? I think that that would me more appropriate out at Busch Gardens so you can see it from Shekra as you're about to go over the edge. (Now there's an attraction worth talking about, just got to the point where I got over my fear of it and could actually enjoy it. Hmmm...amazing but it was all I could talk about at work. Funny, though, I don't remember the last time I was that excited about a Disney attraction.)

David H

Anonymous said...

What's not to understand about this entry? I LOVE Douglas Adams, but it's a sadly true statement about the Walt Disney Company. Obviously WDI has not learned from the brilliant minds of past Imagineers. Just look at the Contemporary refurbishment. If they had learned good design and color theory from Mary Blair, we would not have the postmodern nightmare that has erupted in the past few months in front of her beautiful murals. Nor would we have a circus tent in the middle of Future World, Journey into YOUR Imagination, or a tacky gigantic hat at MGM. The artists of the past might not be "hip and edgy" but anyone who understands Disney and understands design should know that GOOD design should "transcend time." Legends like John Hench understood that. Else, why would our most popular rides STILL be those that were designed in the 1960s and 1970s. Maybe there is something to learn from those who precede us...

John Roy Biger said...

To the above anonymous, thank you.

For those that 'get it' read on. For those that don't you can always return to the comfort of MiceChat.

H.P. Hovercraft said...

Is it wrong that all of a sudden I'm finding myself wishing that Imagineering would choose to spruce up Tomorrowland with a Swiss Family Treehouse-esque attraction based on Douglas' own Hitchhiker's Guide?

No, really, think about it for a second. During the making of Infocom's Hitchhiker's text adventure and the genre-revivifying Starship Titanic, Adams himself spent a very large amount of time teaching computers how to respond conversationally to human input - or at least recording so many incredibly sharp, funny stock answers that players were hard-pressed to tell the difference.

Imagine a giant walkthrough area with no conveyors, no moving seats to ride on, no plot, no cartoon characters, nothing but beautifully detailed environments full of neurotic robot doors that you could have a chat/argument with.

You guys can have that idea for free - just do good work is all I ask.

mr wiggins said...

That photo reminds me that for all the great talent today at WDI, there still is NO ONE in charge with the master vision and the corporate position to make it reality.

No one. Plenty of manys, but no ONE.

The key question is who is Disney's (not just WDI's) latter day Walt. John? Tony? Bob Iger? All the above plus a dozen more? Fifty more? A hundred more?

Ever see a movie made by a half-dozen equally creative directors, where every step in the creative processes was approved by financial department heads?

That sort of procedure might get you a film with great individual scenes. Maybe even a great act. But a great thru-line that connects the whole piece? The kind of organic uber-view that made DL a cultural icon in the first place?

Sorry, not a chance.

TL98 isn't what it is because of who made it. It is what it is because of WHAT made it. You can change out Whos until the end of creative time. Spend an infinite amount of money. Hire are all the Walts you want. But so long as you have them work in, thru and under the current system that is Disney, their work won't approach that of the team in the photograph.

Anonymous said...

...I quite agree with the comments about archeiture(sp) being timeless and transcending fads.

On the way home, I was thinking about my earlier comment about putting up the wand again, but this time with 'Don't Panic'. It occurred to me that given the general lack of quality in cast members being hired and the general ineptness of management when it comes to service, that the 'Don't Panic' would be a great way of motiving the cast and managers as they deal with problems that to them seem overwheliming due to their lack of skill, training and experience.

(That's not to say that they're aren't quality castmembers & managers who get it, there are - they just number in the minority.)

Yes, you can build the most wonderful theme park in the world, even screw it up and later fix it, but its the people who make it happen.

David H

kmiller15211 said...

OK, so who all is here? From left to right, ?, ?, ?, Marc Davis, ?, ?, Mary Blair, ?, Blaine Gibson, ?, Claude Coates, Yale Gracy

Kurt Miller said...

OK, so who all is here? From left to right, ?, ?, ?, Marc Davis, ?, ?, Mary Blair, ?, Blaine Gibson, ?, Claude Coates, Yale Gracy

StrangeVoices said...

Let's not give up completely on this generation of imagineers just yet. Looking back, it's easy to see everything they did as absolutely perfect and timeless. They had their share of mis steps as well.

But imagineers are only as good as they are allowed to be. I think there is still plenty of creativity left in this world, and I think today's imagineers can achieve even greater accomplishments. But they need the proper guidance, the proper resources, and most importantly, the proper support and freedom, to accomplish this. The problems Disney faces today aren't ones of a lack of ideas, but a lack of ability to run with those ideas. A slavery to budgets and bottom lines, bureaucracy, and quotas. A struggle against the tenets of merchandising and deal making. It's not the imagineers that are at fault, nor the imagineers who are the solution. It's management that needs to be fixed, and management that is needed, to bring back the magic, and the power, of Disney.

ken said...

"What's not to understand about this entry?"

Well, I'd like to know how a good quote and a picture of some WDI oldies are supposed to advance the conversation. Yes, Douglas Adams' quote fits the situation, but what's being said here that we don't already know? I bet if we looked hard enough, there'd be a number of creativity-related quotes by different people that fit the situation and frame it in a unique, insightful light. But...so what? I visit this place for specific opinions & details on specific topics, not just some Livejournal-like quote and picture link.

Look at the comments that are here already. They're longer than the actual entry and have some good points.

/bsdb said...

The key question is who is Disney's (not just WDI's) latter day Walt. John? Tony? Bob Iger? All the above plus a dozen more? Fifty more? A hundred more?

Great question. But even two years after the Pixar announcement, I suspect the answer is, "no one."

Ever see a movie made by a half-dozen equally creative directors, where every step in the creative processes was approved by financial department heads?

That sort of procedure might get you a film with great individual scenes. Maybe even a great act. But a great thru-line that connects the whole piece? The kind of organic uber-view that made DL a cultural icon in the first place?

Sorry, not a chance.


This ties in nicely with a comment made by one of Douglas Adams' contemporaries, John Cleese.

He told attendees at a recent writing symposium I attended, that the Pythons could never write with four or more in the room at the same time. Writing in pairs was preferable; three Pythons writing together usually worked as well. But once the number tipped to four, all hell broke loose. Disagreements and arguments over what was funny interfered too much with production.

Is it so difficult to imagine Imagineers in the same predicament? Not at all.

OK, so who all is here? From left to right, ?, ?, ?, Marc Davis, ?, ?, Mary Blair, ?, Blaine Gibson, ?, Claude Coates, Yale Gracy

Don't forget Herbie and X!

The problems Disney faces today aren't ones of a lack of ideas, but a lack of ability to run with those ideas. A slavery to budgets and bottom lines, bureaucracy, and quotas.

I used to believe this as well, until Nemo Subs resurfaced. Well over $100 million to rehab the sub fleet, and repurpose it into a slow-moving underwater Pixar screening room.

Was this money well spent? Depends on your grade for the final product. I would have been much happier with more science-based fiction a la Tomorrowland of Yesterland, and less character-based fiction a la PixieVille. Maybe that's just me.

WDI does indeed require a management overhaul, to be sure. And theme parks are outrageously expensive to design and build. But geez... over $100 million to rehab the subs? Which took almost three years to complete? With overtime?

Most of Glendale's best work, still, came from a leaner crew during WED's salad days. Lack of adequate funding was always a problem for Walt's original Imagineers. But just look at what they accomplished with those limited funds!!

I believe that Imagineering's arteries are still clogged from the EPCOT banquet of bloated and fatty budgets. There are still too many executive cooks in the WDI kitchen, all trying to be the Sous Chef. And just like with the Pythons, too many Imagineering execs attempting to run the show only results in a cacophony of anger and frustration and cost overruns.

Lou said...

It seems to me that part of the problem isn't that people don't learn from the past mistakes (and sucesses) of others, but that many creative people these days seem to want to leave their mark.

Now, obviously, the desire to leave a legacy is just as human as the ability to learn from the past mistakes of others.

But there's also a HUGE difference between doing something to make a Disney park great and doing something to make a name for yourself.

When people speak of timeless design, for instance where it concerns architecture, I'll bet that we each think of different things. And the truth is that often the most impressive architecture isn't timeless at all...it's design that was really impressive for its day and its style, and has only become "timeless" because SO many people appreciated it that it becomes known as a genre of architecture.

And that's true whether it's Baroque or Googie.

It seems that often what happens is people are so focused on doing something great, doing something with depth and layers, that they overlook just asking the big "what if" questions.

What if money were no object and all the cool technology we're dreaming about for the future...what if all that was real, now. What would my Tomorrowland look like then?

Are flying cars less cool of an idea now than they were 40 years ago? Are spaceships traveling to other planets any less awe-inspiring? Is the idea of being teleported from one location to another almost instantly not cool anymore? Do we no longer dream of having robots walking among us in everyday life?

We still don't have these things. And they're no less interesting now than they were back then. The only difference is that what technology we do have now has given us more insight as to the reality of how these things might actually work once we get there.

That, coupled with the fact that new styles have emerged in terms of product design, architecture and just good old fashion art & design mean that areas like Tomorrowland should be even more jaw-dropping than they were in the past.

Anonymous said...

Are flying cars less cool of an idea now than they were 40 years ago? Are spaceships traveling to other planets any less awe-inspiring? Is the idea of being teleported from one location to another almost instantly not cool anymore? Do we no longer dream of having robots walking among us in everyday life?

We still don't have these things. And they're no less interesting now than they were back then. The only difference is that what technology we do have now has given us more insight as to the reality of how these things might actually work once we get there.

That, coupled with the fact that new styles have emerged in terms of product design, architecture and just good old fashion art & design mean that areas like Tomorrowland should be even more jaw-dropping than they were in the past.


Bingo.

Somebody should paste that up on a billboard where Bob Iger can drive by every day and read it.

Tongaroa said...

(L to R) Herb Ryman, Ken O'Connor, Collin Campbell, Marc Davis, Al Bertino, Wathel Rogers, Mary Blair, T. Hee, Blaine Gibson, X. Atencio, Claude Coats and Yale Gracey.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that part of the problem isn't that people don't learn from the past mistakes (and sucesses) of others, but that many creative people these days seem to want to leave their mark.

Maybe there should be a 50 year moratorium on adding names to the Main Street windows.

When ANY group of people is comprised of just one person trying to one-up the others, let alone all of the members in that mind-set, they project suffers because the goal of the project becomes career advancement as opposed to producing a great work.

They loose site of the real goal as they're focusing on 'How can I leverage this project to get the biggest career boast that i can?' as opposed to 'How can I make this a great project?'. As such it becomes all about them and not the project.

Just look at Paul Pressler cutting the DCA budget to shreads for bragging rights and oh look - we're spending how many MILLIONS of dollars to fix that ego trip. I'd be really curious to know how much money he cut from the budget versus how much is now having to be pumped into it to fix it.

Naturally, its also a statement about upper management in that they're failing to recognize or acknowledge the show boaters on a project and to deal with them either by confronting them or booting them off of it. Its amazing how booting of one showboater and casually making an seemingling unrelated comment about team work has a way of dropping the hint to the other problem children.

David H

Anonymous said...

Huh, look at the what people are saying about Spaceship Earth's soft openings. Looks like this is more and more true.

Anonymous said...

*Let's* disband the current WDI as it has no incentive to innovate and the folks left behind are dead wood.

This is the USA, after all, and market forces will deliver the best much better than Vaughn, Russell, Lasseter, Iger, et al could ever hope to.

xo
cj

Robert said...

With all the purported good things going around at WDI, how did the horrible redo of Spaceship Earth come to pass? Or is the descent portion of the ride going to be completed in the next month? Because if this is finished product, it ranks up there with DCA in terms of WDI misfires.

Digital Jedi said...

For the ascent to get such good reviews and the decent to be, by all description, incomplete, we really need to reserve judgement on the Spaceship Earth refurb until it's actually finished. Isn't the whole point of a soft opening to work out any bugs in the system and see the Guest's reaction to the finished aspects of the ride? I'm honestly surprised so many are jumping the gun on this.

/bsdb said...

I'm honestly surprised so many are jumping the gun on this.

I'm not. We've been conditioned for such responses for well over a decade. It's knee jerk at this point. We can't help ourselves.

And six weeks isn't a great deal of time to make wholesale changes in any event, when the soft openings end after the holidays.

The "descent into digital hell," as some have described it, is the infamous WDI budgeteers at work. Or the infamous project managers at work, who studied funding allocation and distribution under Baxter: blow the bulk of the budget in the beginning, beg for more towards the end, and blame others when it doesn't come through.

Some additional show fluff could be added around the monitors to "plus" the area. But that's basically all I'm expecting at this point. Whoop-dee-freakin-doo. Seems I won't have to ditch my traditional "SSE power nap" afterall.

Anonymous said...

To me, these guys are not Gods. I knew most of them, and worked closely with some of them. They were talented for sure, but did their best work in a benevolent dictatorship apart from the corporate culture. They did not have to fight their boss for quality, they were asked to always make something more or better. They didn't live in fear for their jobs, rather in fear of not making things good enough. Just the opposite of today's culture. To a degree, Walt insulated them from the bean counters and he got the money to make the changes. I loved those guys but I wonder how effective they would be in today's malaise? I miss their talent and in many areas the expertise has been lost. But today's Imagineers have it much tougher. It's not enough to be creative or to draw. To fund a project and protect it's attributes, you have to be part politician, part accountant, part manager, and a few other things and hopefully there is room to be part innovator or artist. The danger is becoming part Heidi Fleiss!

/bsdb said...

The danger is becoming part Heidi Fleiss!

Too late. WDI is basically a whore house now. Not until some of more infamous prima donnas are gone, will we see a return to innovation and outside-the-box creative design.

Imagine not having to fight for quality.

Dare to dream...

StrangeVoices said...

While we tend to focus primarily upon the show designers, there are a lot more people in Imagineering besides them. All the impact engineering and construction has often times gets overlooked. Projects never run perfectly smoothly, and many times a lot of the real credit has to go to innovations and ideas these normally "non-creative" people had. I think that one issue that has yet to really be discussed is how obsessive bureaucracy and policies have affected those trades, and how that has hampered real innovation for finished products.

Anonymous said...

"WDI is basically a whore house now."

Eventually those places get "raided", but it's the "chief of police" being a regular that allows them to exist. IMHO, it's the CEO level kind of directive and futuristic mission from the top that will do the "trick". They'll be anyone that managements wants them to be by the hour. But management needs to have a direction to cull them.Disney must want to "own" the future as a brand attribute as it did in the past.

/bsdb said...

Disney must want to "own" the future as a brand attribute as it did in the past.

Precisely.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying that Imagineers are "whores". This is insulting and clearly not true. The point we're crassly exaggerating here is that the atmosphere at WDI since the "old masters" has become one of a "service" business with the operators and corporate as the "client". When you have that as the structure, then creative slaves to and solves for the short term needs of a business as the client sees it. So in order for the work to improve, the "clients" need to have a sustainable vision and challenge the creative staff to "push the envelope". Or the "client" must have the courage to allow the creatives to present that vision. When profit is the vision and show is by product, then the signals get mixed and bad things sometimes get built. The "old masters" had the honor of doing their best work for someone with a vision. At least they knew why they were there.

Anonymous said...

Start with the real problem...UnImagineers taking once what was timeless in the Themeparks and turning it into dated material/attractions OR creating attractions that are based on dated stories.
Examples in California:

POTC adding a Depp figure and Barbossa.That is pirate blasphemy.

Adding Indiana Jones ride. Most kids today have no idea who Dr. Jones is. The ride itself is remarkable and a technological wonder, but would have still done well as a generic expedition, like the Haunted Mansion still remains(no stars yet).I'm still waiting for Disney to add the Animatronic Eddie Murphy inside the Haunted Mansion....Why not? Someone screwed with Pirates of the Caribbean already...

Finding Nemo...Once again taking a timeless attraction and putting an expiration date on it.

Painting Tomorrowland all drab gold, since only 2 attractions functioned in that "Toghettoland" waste that has been under developed for years. Maybe someone thought they could hide the deterioration by adding some "bling" to the area. I know that the area has started to appear cleaner since the space mountain refurb and the reinstatement of the subs, but come on, who's responsible for these things happening in the first place?
Tomorrowland used to be a wealth of information of what is to come in the future say 50 years out or so. Why isn't Tomorrowland promoting "Go Green" attractions and rides? The exploration of bio fuels as a possibility or water filtration systems could be interesting and fun if done right. Afterall teaching while entertaining was once what Tomorrowland was all about.

I also have some heartache over the closing of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, even though it wasn't pulling alot of fanfare. It's Main Street USA, and god forbid someone should learn something about the founding fathers of this Country...It pays great homage to a great President of the United States, and it explains the trials and tribulations in which molded this Country into what it is today(for better or for worse).
That is a staple that should remain unscathed during the parks butcherings of other attractions.

I won't touch too much on the wasted space in DCA, but I can guarantee Walt is rolling over in his grave over that mess! Level the whole thing and cut your losses. Start fresh and EXTEND Disneyland by adding a couple new themed lands in the examples of New Orleans Square or toontown...With all of that wasted water space in DCA lagoon, you could have made Nemo meets Little Mermaid land...Where kids could learn about sealife, fiction and nonfiction...

In Florida:

The removal of a flagship ride, Mr. Toads Wild Ride. That was a downright shame to remove a ride that helped build the foundation of Disney Parks.
The Enchanted Tiki Room. Gilbert Gotfried and the Miami Sound Machine!? Are you nucking futs? What a travesty that happened there...

I know there are some good hearted Imagineers "trapped" in the web of red tape at Disney, that have the talent to turn the parks back in the right direction. I've seen some of the changes starting at the merchandising level with Kevin, Jody, Robert, and Dave for examples...Some of the smallest things in the park make the biggest impressions, and I think thats where the magic still lies.
The park needs Frontierland to have cowboys, in order for it to be a frontierland, the park needs a tribute to the founding fathers of this Country to help understand Main Street USA,
The Park needs hope for the future in Tomorrowland,
And children still need their fantasies nurtured in Fantasyland.

-a Concerned patron of Disneyland Recession

Anonymous said...

(to be read in COP Rex Allen dialect)

"Blogging is here and no doubt it will improve but there'll always be the good guys shootin'it out with the bad guys.

Well we've come along way since the turn of the century 8 years ago.. and it looks like we've regressed about as far as we can.. or does that sound like and echo from the past? When I read about the things those research people at the Studio are workin' on..I can be sure of one thing...

(sing) "There's a Great Big merchandised tomorrow.. with gift shops at the end of every ride..

There's a Great Big merchandised tomorrow, seems there's nowhere for a classic show to hide!

A Movie gets made, and thats the start, to ex-ploit the Ride that had a heart, and when it becomes a reality, its been retrofit with synergy!"

So there's a Great, Big Merchandised tomorrow, converting rides to movies every day! There's a Great, Big, Merchandised tomorrow, just.. a... Depp .a-way.

figment456 said...

There is one person not in the photo, that is needed more than anyone else today, Walt. Imagineering and the Disney company as a whole need that visionary leadership that was Walt Disney.

theatreman said...

The two preceding posts have put it beautifully: park attractions should not be subjugated into promoting films and second-rate characters like "Stitch."

Attractions should be creative, unique, stand on their own and be sacrosanct, not shilling for films, and not all preambles to unavoidable souvenir-and-ride-photo shops.

In response to Justin, I don't think retaining a classical and successful ride without "modernizing," "character-re-vamping" or "synergyzing" it is "turning back." I think it is recognizing the integrity of a work which has proven its appeal, and refusing to cheapen and compromise it. Revering the untouched attractions like The Haunted Man is not turning back and creating new stand-alone attractions which do not reference films and existing characters is moving forward, not retreating.

Anonymous said...

Where are you guys? Did everything at Disney get worked out so things are now humming along like in the days of old? It has been over a month!

mr wiggins said...

>Did everything at Disney get worked out so things are now humming along like in the days of old?<

No fear of that...

www.miceage.com/allutz/al011508a.htm

Anonymous said...

I believe that the second person from the left is Ken O'Brien, not Ken O'Connor.

Anonymous said...

Just came across this blog. They are sorely missed. There is no comparison, unfortunately.