Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Audio Out-Source Atronics


Just last June Disney Imagineering quietly announced what has been one of the worst kept secrets at the company; the majority of all Audio Animatronics manufacturing would be outsourced.

In a casual, plain-spoken letter to O-Meon.com, WDI Spokesperson Marilyn Waters explained:

“The new strategy for our Manufacturing and Prototype Organization is to focus on greater innovation in prototyping and developing the next generation of Audio-Animatronics figures. This will involve strengthening our competencies in the creation of unique Audio-Animatronics figures.”


In other words, WDI stands to save a considerable amount of cash by letting outside companies create the majority of Audio Animatronics figures used in their parks. Nowhere did this pay off more handsomely than in the recent creation of the more than 200 animated children in Hong Kong’s ‘It’s a Small World’ which just opened last April. Chinese vendors were not only a fast, efficient and friendly labor pool, but most importantly worked substantially cheaper than their US counterparts.

For the Disney company, outsourcing animatronics is nothing new. They’ve been using private firms for decades, Garner Holt Productions in San Bernardino probably being the most high-profile. Still, the official announcement from Bruce Vaughn, Craig Russell and Kevin Eld last June stands as a reality check in the history of this venerable art form.

As far as Walt Disney was concerned, Audio-Animatronics was nothing less than the next great leap forward in the history of animation. His giddy excitement over this new form of entertainment took palpable shape in his animatronics masterpieces Tiki Room, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Carousel of Progress and Pirates of the Caribbean. After Walt passed away audio animatronics arguably reached it’s technological zenith with Hall of Presidents, Mickey Mouse Revue and Bear Country Jamboree in 1971 and the mind-bogglingly complex 114 characters in 1974’s America Sings.

Since then Audio Animatronics showcases never quite surpassed the level of sophistication and audaciousness of those earlier halcyon days. Though Epcot saw a substantial renaissance of animatronics performers when it opened in 1982, most notably within Spaceship Earth, Journey into Imagination and American Adventure, often the figures verged from limited animation (Kitchen Kabaret, Horizons) to mere mannequins (World of Motion, El Rio de Tiempo).

But it was Epcot’s park-wide reliance on film over form that perhaps foreshadowed the years to come. Filmed entertainment at Epcot took precedence over Animatronic showcases 2-1, with even the most spectacular figures of American Adventure sharing half their stage presence with lengthly movie interstitials.

Today Audio-Animatronics never carry a show; instead single complex characters either introduce a ‘movie’ (Toy Story Mania), punctuate a movie (Tough to be a Bug, Muppets 3-D) or provide a climax to a rollercoaster (Expedition Everest). The balance of audio-animatronic characters are now relegated to dark rides and often can’t even be called truly ‘animatronic’, the animation now left to rotating turntables and opening and closing doors (Monsters Inc., Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh).

With the official word now public, the only question to be asked is what this portends for the future of the art form. Are sophisticated animatronic variety shows officially a thing of the past? Will dazzling new leaps in technology only show up as single figures sprinkled sparingly throughout the park? Has Disney copped to the cheap showmanship of everyday 2-D film and digital video over truly dimensional animated fantasy performances?

One can argue that out-sourcing animatronics makes perfectly good business sense in our complex new world market. But we can also wonder whether Disney Imagineering has inconspicuously relegated the Audio-Animatronics Extravaganza as a relic of days gone by.

Perhaps, to counter Al Jolson’s giddy proclamation in 1927, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”, we have indeed seen it and it’s time to move along.

60 comments:

Lou Zucaro said...

Now, you'll have to excuse me because I'm no expert in any of this, but what do you all think of the animatronics in Tokyo Disney Sea's Sindbad dark ride?

Visiting that park a few years back as an adult was, to be honest, my first step to becoming a Disney parks fan.

A family trip to WDW the next year cemented that fandom...I hadn't been since the year EPCOT opened.

But I was really blown away by the fluidity-of-motion and grandiosity of the Sindbad ride, and I keep wondering why that ride isn't brought to WDW.

I really thought it was amazing. It was my understanding that it was in fact a ride for which the animatronics were produced by an outside firm.

Is that right or did I get bad info on that?

In any event, I think the source isn't as important as the vision and how it's executed.

Anonymous said...

^^^^^ You are right that it isn't necessarily the source of the development of the actual animatronics, but rather the support (both financial and creative)that the company provides.

I understand that Holt Productions is based on the kind of quality and passion that Disney was established on. If they are given the needed support and not mired in the internal politics of Imagineering, they may be able to provide a valuable service to Disney.

Spokker said...

Darn you lou zucaro, I was rushing here to mention Sinbad!

Sinbad was perhaps my favorite ride at DisneySea, even more than Journey to the Center of the Earth (which does the "one big animatronic at the end" thing).

Sinbad truly harkens back to a time when animatronics carried a show, as the Re-Imagineering post explains. Even if you don't understand the lyrics to the song that plays during your journey, the expressive and fluid figures more than make up for the lack of (understandable) dialogue.

Here's a better-than-YouTube- quality video of Sinbad that I took on my trip to DisneySea that I've hosted on my web space:

http://spokkerjones.com/TDS/Sinbad.wmv

While a video isn't quite the same as being there, it sort of gives you an idea of what a modern animatronic laden attraction looks like.

I don't think that the Re-Imagineering article explicitly states that outsourcing animatronics is a horrible thing, but that animatronics have taken a backseat to 3D projections, coasters, and queues.

I would definitely agree and it's a shame.

I wonder how heavy the Little Mermaid ride will be loaded with animatronics, or if that attraction too will be hijacked by CGI fish.

Anonymous said...

Don't they think Pirates of the Carribean was a succesful ride? Why are they so uninterested in following up? By now we should have the Western River expidition and three other rides built at least. Instead we tear down World of motion to put in a thrill ride. There was no good reason for that, I thought they were in Florida with plenty of room. They could have built that car ride NEXT to the World of motion, not on top of it. How about updating the robotics in the Tiki room instead of the plot? By now those birds should fly around the room and land on your shoulder.

Anonymous said...

I remember the days when I was thrilled to hear about Imagineering's many technical advances, but it must have cost a fortune (hey, we've gotta be realistic here). I suppose that if other companies can produce good results for less, than it is a win/win for everybody. (Everybody except the Imagineers who were laid off, of course).

I do find that the use of films (like in Epcot's "El Rio de Tiempo") feels cheap.

Audio Animatronics are not an end in themselves, and having lots of mechanical performers doesn't mean that an attraction will be good. It's like any medium (from traditional animation to CG to puppetry), it's what somebody DOES with it that makes the difference. "Pirates" endures because it captures the imagination and immerses the viewer like few other attractions.

Will Robison said...

Better not let the kiddies chew on the Its A Small World dolls in Hong Kong - they'll get lead poisoning!

If you're talking about the everyday care and maintenance of audio-animatronics, even the nuts and bolts building of them, then I don't see any problem with having an outside source get the contract. That's just good business sense and it provides others with a more specific focus, leaving the imagineers to imagine the next level of audio-animatronics without worrying about the current AA's daily problems.

Of course, by sharing the wealth in terms of engineering schematics and knowledge, you are also inviting competition. However, considering the fact that I don't see anyone else building the next POTC in the near future, I think Disney's unique brand of entertainment is safe for a while.

Buy American by Americans said...

And you all wonder why the Country is in a defecit! Outsourcing is the number one offender of creating an unstable economy. It doesn't take an Imagineer to figure that one out. Sending jobs overseas, and then sending USD to pay the overseas workers. Disney has been at the forefront of this
abuse of NAFTA.
I feel that if you form a company and incorporate it here in the Good Ol U.S.of A, then all jobs pertaining to that corporation stay in this country. Otherwise, go and Incorporate in China!
Americans are turning into Americants....It's a sad time indeed.

Wait until Disney pulls the layoff cards.......

Anonymous said...

For the Florida property, Penelore.com should be considered. They area a small shop filled with talented "old school" Disney fans.

Anonymous said...

Truly disgraceful. Disney should be ashamed.

dan_steinberg said...

Wow - so you're arguing that Disney no longer manufacturing their AA figures equals the end of AA-based attractions as we know it? Sorry, I don't see that one. That's like saying that since Disneyland outsourced the Cast cafeterias, that's the end of all restaurants in the park.

On the contrary, I actually see outsourcing the manufacturing of AA figures giving rise to more AA-based attractions. The reason we don't see more Pirates- or America Sings-type attractions is that they're very expensive - and risky because once you've built the sets and put in the AA's it gets even more expensive to change things if the ride or show isn't a big hit. So if Disney can get the AA costs down to a reasonable level, we might (should!) see more AA-based rides!

Personally, I've always thought it was Epcot's lackluster original AA rides like Spaceship Earth, World of Motion, and Horizons that killed big AA extravaganzas. Don't get me wrong - these were still pretty good attractions. But they were all very expensive to build and none were blockbuster hits like Pirates or Haunted Mansion.

On the other hand, Disney needs to be very, very careful when they outsource - just look at the troubles they've had with the new monorail trains...

Spokker said...

"The reason we don't see more Pirates- or America Sings-type attractions is that they're very expensive - and risky because once you've built the sets and put in the AA's it gets even more expensive to change things if the ride or show isn't a big hit."

But... weren't they always expensive and risky? Isn't that what Disney was once known for, taking on expensive and risky projects?

Disneyland itself was an expensive risk, and yet 53 years later they're playing it safe, when it was those risky and expensive projects that made Disney what it is today.

Seattlenerd said...

I do wonder what this might mean to advances in the actual technology of Audioanimatronics.

Back in the late 1980s at the opening of Star Tours, I interviewed Dave Feiten with WDI. He mentioned that there was a technology transfer agreement between Disney and the University of Utah Medical Center. Essentially, the University traded tips on how to make prosthetics move naturally for Disney's expertise in how to make artificial skin and hair coverings look realistic.

I would hope that, if such agreements still exist, that outsourcing won't kill the motivation for such mutually advantageous exchanges that also improve the general human condition beyond the theme park.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the monorails was not the outsourcing, but WDI management not letting the outsource company do their job.
WDI was full of people who thought they were experts at everything. Now at least some common sense prevails.
Let them outsource. Lincoln was good in its time, but until they closed it, few people went in it. I was at WDW last year and the Hall of Presidents was just as empty. In American Adventure a very moving show. The best part was the Golden Dream film.
So it is time to move on.

Anonymous said...

buy american by americans said...

“And you all wonder why the Country is in a defecit! Outsourcing is the number one offender of creating an unstable economy. It doesn't take an Imagineer to figure that one out. Sending jobs overseas, and then sending USD to pay the overseas workers. Disney has been at the forefront of this 
abuse of NAFTA.


I feel that if you form a company and incorporate it here in the Good Ol U.S.of A, then all jobs pertaining to that corporation stay in this country. Otherwise, go and Incorporate in China!
Americans are turning into Americants....It's a sad time indeed.

Wait until Disney pulls the layoff cards.......”


Well, first of all, while I pretty much agree about the overall negative effect that outsourcing to other countries causes, the company Disney is outsourcing their AA to is based in California. The only real issue is whether Disney’s management will allow Holt’s company to produce AA’s at the creative level that Imagineering will want (costly).

As Holt’s company is capable everything from top Disney level animatronics down to Chucky Cheese, it will be pretty much up to Disney as to what they will let him produce.

Anonymous said...

"On the other hand, Disney needs to be very, very careful when they outsource - just look at the troubles they've had with the new monorail trains..."

The new monorails were designed in-house and full of design gaffs.

Anonymous said...

Outsourcing makes great sense. WDI was so expensive you not afford to have them in the shows so they never got built. At least now they have a chance of being in the project.

M.Sedlar said...

What about the Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios? I love all the AA figures in there. It's one of my favorite Florida attractions.

teevtee said...

As just a general observation here... Disney has ALWAYS outsourced a great majority of what they have built... I mean this is absolutely nothing new in any way shape or form. Additionally WDI is a group of designers and engineers, they are NOT a manufacturing company. WDI has always found and hired the best outside companies to contract with and complete a great variety of projects. Simply put this is a non story.

Anonymous said...

"Personally, I've always thought it was Epcot's lackluster original AA rides like Spaceship Earth, World of Motion, and Horizons that killed big AA extravaganzas. Don't get me wrong - these were still pretty good attractions".

Which EPCOT did you visit?

dan_steinberg said...

Anonymous said...

The new monorails were designed in-house and full of design gaffs.


After I posted "Disney needs to be very, very careful when they outsource", I realized I really should have been more specific. And since I was an engineer and project manager back in my pre-MBA days (scary combination, huh?) I can say from experience:

Outsourcing the manufacturing only works well when you have a complete production-ready design. Outsourcers will generally do exactly what your blueprints / documents tell them to do. So if you give them a poor design or something hasn't been completely tested and debugged, you'll get crappy products back. Outsourcers aren't paid to fix your design problems, they just make what you tell them. (Note that there are design companies that *will* fix or completely design your product for you. But they are usually very expensive.)

This is why Small World dolls worked being outsourced, and monorail trains didn't. One was a well-proved, 30-year-old design - and the other was essentially a prototype.

My point: Outsourcing is a tool for a specific purpose. Don't try to use it for everything.

Matt Ross said...

I agree that in early days, in-house Imagineering for projects such as these was needed - the Imagineers were creating a lot of these things from scratch. Today, with whole companies dedicated to specific things like Monorails or AAs, its obviously better to leave them to the professionals.

I don't think this will leave Disney parks in a downslide, seeing that the Co as a whole (including parks) is global. Nevertheless, there is something to be said for maintaining manufacturing and ingenuity within the US... its called pride.

dan_steinberg said...

Anonymous asked:

Which EPCOT did you visit?


Umm, the one in Florida in 1983 and 1984?

Seriously, I can' tell if you're saying I'm wrong about the original EPCOT AA attractions being "pretty good" because you think they were great, or that I'm wrong because you think they were terrible.

I've always thought they were good (especially technically!), but they were just missing a little something that would have made them great. They all seemed just a little bland, a little too much designed-by-committee. I felt they needed a little more heart or personality, which is one of the reasons World of Motion was my favorite of the group.

Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate that the animatronic "magic" has degraded into being such a refined commodity that it could be outsourced in the first place! Where is the creative leadership?

The best thing about Disney used to be that it was so unique it didn't exist anywhere else in the world.

Anonymous said...

"For the Florida property, Penelore.com should be considered. They area a small shop filled with talented "old school" Disney fans."

Normally I would say this isn't the right forum for plugging a company, but in this case you're right. I saw what they did for Pirate's Cove and would have sworn it was a WED product.

Like Lou said, the source isn't as important as the vision. If Disney finds the right outside firms to develop quality AA figures and it leads to more of that content down the road, no one's going to complain.

dun1 said...

what i find sad is these outsourced companies like garner holt do nothing to enhance or advance the technologies. What innovation has come out of garner holt productions? they just do the same thing that has been done for the last 40 some years. at least companies like Sarcos advanced the technology but since apparently they had a bit of a falling out with Disney which is too bad since their figures like the auctioneer at POTC and Lincoln were fantastic figures with lifelike movements! i think Garner Holt is responsible for the dismally minimal animation of Monsters Inc. Being a lover of all things animatronics it really saddens me to see Disney give up this once vaulted technology! i used to love seeing the behind the scenes on Wonderful World of Disney and in books but now the magic is pretty much gone and companies like Garner Holt are devoid of any imagination and are simply a factory that turns out stale, boring, static figures.

its just more of the same with Disney - decling quality, no more imagination - everything has to be tied to a movie or a character now. if Walt operated this way Disney would not have the Pirates of the Carribbean movie franchise since POTC would've probably been a glorified Peter Pan ride!

SAD, SAD, SAD!

pariartspaul said...

Yes time marches on…companies evolve. It’s kind of sad that MAPO no longer exists. It used to be right at WED there, so the designers could just walk through it anytime they wanted to and talk to all the great mechanics there and get their input on ideas… on what could be possible. It was a great collaboration, and so accessible. You felt like everyone was part the same team. When they moved MAPO over to North Hollywood, it added a degree of separation and it kind of felt like they were more of a ‘vendor’.

On the other hand, most of the vendors today really do a great job. Especially I think of Garner Holt, who was inspired by MAPO and has a sense of wonder and excitement and curiosity about the whole thing. In my opinion he is really turning out to be a master. He leaves no stone unturned to produce a super quality product. As a former Imagineering art director, it was always a real pleasure for me to work with him and his group.

I don’t know why over time animatronics became less used. Maybe the expense, or maybe a lack of imagination, I don’t know. But to me, animatronics were always a major part of the magic of the park. When I was a kid I remember thinking how amazing and fascinating they were. I would go home and mentally add up how many there were in each attraction in awe of the variety! Yes I was a real animatronics nerd. I’m still amazed at how intricate those shows were... the Bear Band, wow. But America Sings I think was the pinnacle of the art. There has never been anything so elaborate before or since. Well, maybe the American Adventure. It’s still pretty incredible. Even simple figures like in the old Nature’s Wonderland could make an ordinary scenic ride into a really special experience. To a child, it was inspiring and exciting to think that someone put so much thought and effort into a simple entertainment like that.

I hope today’s Imagineers will consider using more animatronic figures. I still think they are relevant and can enhance just about any attraction. And every new figure doesn’t have to be a multi-million dollar mechanical marvel… simple is good too.

Anonymous said...

Paul makes a good point in that outsourcing encourages a "brain drain", and the synergy of left to right brain collaboration fades away. No doubt the engineers got a charge out of the designers and vice versa. Both could feed on the other's suggestions and come up with ideas to enable the other's breakthroughs.

Anonymous said...

Top be honest, I've been outsourcing my posts on this blog. I just filled out a cynical personality profile and rated my traditionalist Disney values 1 to 10. Most of the time they are right on. It's so tough to stay on top of every blog and get in your two cents.

This post originates from somewhere in Sri Lanka.

Anonymous said...

Lou Zucaro had it right. From the second you enter the realm of TDS's Sinbad ride, you KNOW you've entered the next generation. The AA characters are not to be believed. Fluid and magnificent. And the ride is beautifully art directed, lit, and scored as well. WDI designed it, so we know it's available. From what I understand, Japanese investors pockets were wide open, allowing for the virtuosity and far advanced complexity of the best Disney theme park (TDS). But we know that the heart of the company are the Florida and California parks, and if suits are now injuring the public's wallets to the tune of $75/day, it's time to put the money where the heart and soul is. Journey to Center of the Earth, Sinbad, Stormrider, 20K-- ALL should be in the US parks. Sorry this comment wasn't addressing the outsourcing topic. But my heart aches when i see another mediocre attraction open like Florida's Nemo ride, Monsters, Inc, or video game rides like Buzz Lightyear or Toy Story Mania.

Signed, Someone sorely missing the imagination, scope, and breadth of Horizons.

BC Morris said...

Companies that don't focus on their "core-competencies" waste time and energy while letting the competition catch up with them.

A core-competency is defined by economist Michael Porter as a skill that is:

1. Inimatible - Nobody else can do it (and the knowledge of how to do it can't be hired away by a competitor)
2. Sustainable - You can do it continuously over time and over distances.
3. Valuable - Being the world's greatest lint-weaver might meet requirements 1 and 2, but not 3.

In the 1960's audio-animatronics were INVENTED by Disney, so of course they were inimatible. Disney was able to continuously build, ship, and use the animatronics, so the skill was sustainable (in the short-term, at least). And obviously, the animatronics were valuable stars of a Disney-experience in the 60's 70's and 80's.

However, in the long term, two of these requirements have (arguably) not been achieved by animatronics:

1. Inimatable: While a "living character" animatronic may be an in-house speciality, plenty of 3rd party vendors can create excellent Jungle Cruise elephants, Pirates, ghosts, goats, etc.

2. Sustainable: This requirement would still be met by Disney's animatronics. (Unless there's some strange 'environmental' cause behind Disney not wanting to manufacture animatronics any more!)

3. Valuable: Here's where the real controversy lies. The debate over the value of an animatronics show in a Disney theme park.

I love animatronics, I love Pirates of the Caribbean, I love the Tiki Room, I love all of them. But you have to admit that the animatronic industry isn't groundbreaking anymore. Sure there are groundbreaking animatronics, but the industry in general doesn't capture the public's imagination anymore.

If the day comes that some sort of glasses-free holographic projection technology can depict ransacking pirates and bathing elephants with such unbelievable detail as to render animatronics unnecessary, why would Disney continue to use animatronics in their parks? That day isn't here yet, nor is that day close at hand. But we are marching that direction.

I don't say something is "Disney" or "high quality" JUST because it has animatronics in it. I also don't condemn the use of other technologies being used to tell a story (nemo).

It is wiser for Imagineering to focus on their core-competenies of storytelling & immersive design than to waste time and money on a technology that others can do just as well.

Anonymous said...

"Valuable: Here's where the real controversy lies. The debate over the value of an animatronics show in a Disney theme park. "

When it's Johnny Depp the guests go nuts.

Anonymous said...

The Walt Disney Company has blatantly denied any and all rumors that due to the very busy schedules of company executives and prior commitments of the entire Board of Directors, that the 2009 shareholder's meeting will feature an all Audio-animatronic cast of players.

David H

Anonymous said...

bc morris said...
“It is wiser for Imagineering to focus on their core-competenies of storytelling & immersive design than to waste time and money on a technology that others can do just as well.”


While storytelling and immersive design are important elements, Imagineering’s core competency WAS based on technology, hence the “-neering”. It may be rational to have those elements done by others that can be produced more cost effectively (as long as the Disney quality is maintained). But Imagineering should still focus on providing the technological breakout elements that keeps Disney at the forefront of advanced entertainment experiences.

Anonymous said...

The recent Outsourcing of A.A. figures began with Disney Creative Entertainment making parade floats in the mid-90's (Phil in the Hercules Parade, Simba in the Lion King Parade). The outsourcing of A.A.'s goes back further to The original Jungle Cruise under the 1st Imaginer, sure they were crude but if were calling DL Pooh figures A.A.’s they count. The early 80's saw more outsourcing when EPCOT Center and TDL were being built. Central Shops at WDW built CBJ, Haunted Mansion and numerous other shows for TDL as well as most of the Dinosaurs for the Energy Pavilion at EPCOT Center. To-Ho Studios in Japan built most of Small World for TDL. In the late 80's early 90's an outside Animatronics company was brought into MAPO to build all of the figures for Splash Mountain in Tokyo and Florida. The funny thing is those Splash figures are the same thing as those great America Sings figures you mentioned. Most of the sophisticated A.A.’s for Pirates in Paris were built by Central Shops as well. So this is nothing new. But back then the internet didn't exist and no one knew or cared….the computer you are using was most likely made in China. The Computer is a tool and so are A.A.’s.

When Haunted Mansion Holiday opened in 2002 with the Garner Holt produced A.A.'s (that's right all of them) the company took notice, MAPO was in the process of building figures for Pooh at Disneyland, and the Garner Holt figures were much more sophisticated than the simple tick-tock figures of DL Pooh, and the GH produced figures were much less expensive. Fast forward to 2005, Stupid-Star-Lamo had to go, Monster's Inc. was a great franchise and WDI wanted to erase SSL from people's minds....but they had a very small budget. So the Creative team sent the more complex figures such as Roz to MAPO and the simpler figures to Garner Holt, all of this was done under WDI's strict supervision and direction. Monster's at DCA has much more complex figures than Pooh and if they had all been built on the outside they could have been more sophisticated for the price tag, maybe they would have all had mouths.

The Sinbad figures as exist today were re-built by TDL in 2006-2007. Going back to 1999 there was a lot of dis-pleasure with the original Sinbad figures MAPO had produced and a lot of money was spent making them work.

Outsourcing seems like a bad thing, but it will lead to an overdue renaissance for A.A.'s. The remaining talent at MAPO will continue to innovate with cool figures like Hopper and Potato Head, and the larger cast of the show will be made up from outsourced figures.

Charles w said...

I think I posted this in the wrong place. OOPs

I saw the post about Penelore llc. I wrote them and asked if I could come visit their shop (it's only 20 minutes from WDW). I reached Dave Ensign who was very enthusiastic and invited me to the shop right away. I can't tell any of you how cool the place is. It's like I walked into wed imagineering in the 60's just a little bit smaller. They have these autographed pictures of wed legends everywhere. Harriet Burns, Marc Davis, Perry Russ, Lee Nessler etc. When I asked what this had to do with their work, Dave kindly told me that Penelore was here BECAUSE of these great people. Dave was great and took me to lunch. He started to tell me about Penelore's future projects and I was completely captivated. I don't think he ate a bite but he left me so inspired and as a "disneyland museum" fan I can finally see that it hasn't died.

Hey. I'm not a fan of Disney subbing things out to outside vendors BUT it's good to know that there are companies who live and breath Walt's vision.

Anonymous said...

"In the late 80's early 90's an outside Animatronics company was brought into MAPO to build all of the figures for Splash Mountain in Tokyo and Florida."

This last anonymous posting is simply not accurate. Every one of the Florida and Tokyo Splash Mountain AA figures were built in-house by MAPO.

"The Sinbad figures as exist today were re-built by TDL in 2006-2007. Going back to 1999 there was a lot of dis-pleasure with the original Sinbad figures MAPO had produced and a lot of money was spent making them work."

Another falsehood. The figures originally built by MAPO for the Sindbad attraction were just fine. Every attraction with this kind of scope (163 figures) has some adjustments necessary that are discovered during installation, but overall the animation was extremely successful. Perhaps the comment refers to the re-working some of the figures to accomodate the significant storyline alterations that occurred in 2006-2007. Several scenes were changed and a new score by Allen Menken was added. Figures were repurposed for the new scenes, but they were not rebuilt because of dissatisfaction with the animatronic animation.

Anonymous said...

It's true that some of the Imagineers that have left, did so because they were frustrated by the lack of ingenuity at WDI or the stifling layers of management. It's not like once they leave they forget everything or lose their desire to create. So I'm not surprised to see these reports of outside vendors acting more Disney than Disney.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm funny... last time I was on POTC there were four Asian guys in suits flashing their cameras like crazy. They kinda' spoiled the atmosphere for the rest of us, after a 45 min wait in line (muttering about walk the plank was heard). I joked about there being a POTC in Beijing next week.
Really, in a global economy it isn't a surprise.
I've spent I don't know how much time trying to get refund or replacements for Made in China items that don't work. My current project, a screw that is half the length it needed to be to hold my cell phone case to the belt clip, after three replacements (all the same problem) I found a longer screw that fits and repaired it myself.

Anonymous said...

I think WDI/MAPO is the NASA of engineering. Outsource away.

mr wiggins said...

> So I'm not surprised to see these reports of outside vendors acting more Disney than Disney. <

Yup. At this point outsourcing the bodies really doesn't matter -- they outsourced the soul years ago.

Anonymous said...

It's funny that the Alweg Monorail, VonRoll Skyway, Arrow development for the Matterhorn, Vecoma, Rediffusion Simulators and other base technologies were based on "outsourcing" strategies.

Jason said...

Spokker said...
Darn you lou zucaro, I was rushing here to mention Sinbad!

Sinbad was perhaps my favorite ride at DisneySea, even more than Journey to the Center of the Earth (which does the "one big animatronic at the end" thing).

Sinbad truly harkens back to a time when animatronics carried a show, as the Re-Imagineering post explains. Even if you don't understand the lyrics to the song that plays during your journey, the expressive and fluid figures more than make up for the lack of (understandable) dialogue.

Here's a better-than-YouTube- quality video of Sinbad that I took on my trip to DisneySea that I've hosted on my web space:

http://spokkerjones.com/TDS/Sinbad.wmv

While a video isn't quite the same as being there, it sort of gives you an idea of what a modern animatronic laden attraction looks like.

I don't think that the Re-Imagineering article explicitly states that outsourcing animatronics is a horrible thing, but that animatronics have taken a backseat to 3D projections, coasters, and queues.

I would definitely agree and it's a shame.

I wonder how heavy the Little Mermaid ride will be loaded with animatronics, or if that attraction too will be hijacked by CGI fish.


First of all, nice job camera man! That was one of the better on-ride videos I've seen. Second of all, wow! This ride brings a smile to my face just watching the video of it, I can only imagine being there, and imagine further if I understood what the heck they were singing about. This certainly demosntrates that the day of the animatronic is far from done. Nice post.

Anonymous said...

"Audio Antique-amatronics"

Anonymous said...

"what i find sad is these outsourced companies like garner holt do nothing to enhance or advance the technologies. What innovation has come out of garner holt productions? they just do the same thing that has been done for the last 40 some years." " i think Garner Holt is responsible for the dismally minimal animation of Monsters Inc."

Boy, Dun1 could not be more incorrect. I have contracted for Garner Holt, and know him personally. I have been in this business forever and no one even comes close to the level of commitment and innovation he has put into the art of Animatronics. If it were up to him, every figure in the parks would be A-100's. He will build the simplest figure or the most complex because thats what he is directed and bugeted to do by the client. Innovation you say? 20 years ago, he built "wendell the unicycle rider" (on youtube) and some of the things seen in his shop today are stunning. I know that Disney parks will only benefit because of their relationship. I am all for the continued use of animatronics in attractions...and I truly believe they are making a comeback. There are many attractions both Disney and non-Disney in the works that are animatronics based.

Anonymous said...

I stood and watched the Mr. Potato head AA last night at the "Toy Story Mania" attraction. No one seemed to care or looked impressed. Maybe it was the script.

Anonymous said...

I can hardly wait for the tribute to Harriet Burns. It must have been outsourced to "Disney and More" in France.

Spokker said...

"I can hardly wait for the tribute to Harriet Burns. It must have been outsourced to "Disney and More" in France."

Nobody is obligated to post a tribute to anybody. If she's so damn important to you post your own tribute.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason Mr. Potato Head isn't all that impressive is because he's so big. People see huge Disney characters walking all over the park and know there are people inside them. Mr. Potato Head has the same ambience, if you will, thanks to his size. If he were about half the size, he'd be more believeable. I know that the point of the ride is that the guests get "shrunk down" to toy level, but I don't think that comes across very well. You know, if the Living Character Initiative is ever applied to Mickey, I hope the Imagineers keep size in mind. I remember seeing the Mickey Mouse Review years ago at WDW, and Mickey was about the right size for a believeable AA figure. I mean, if the Imagineers make an AA, on-the-street interactive figure of Mickey who's the same size as the walk-around, what's the point?

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right. No one is obligated to do anything.

But when a blog practically deifies first generation Imagineers the way this one does, it almost screams louder when you read nothing about the first woman to be an "Imagineer" in a creative capacity at WED.

Here's a few things about her that might be interesting. Prior to WED, Burns was instrumental in bringing an abstract "Steinberg" graphic style to the Mickey Mouse Club and helped prototype the animatonic projects (Dancing man, Disneylandia) that would pave the way for Disneyland.

Harriet was at the right hand of the masters and played a strong supporting role in development of prototypes, color styling and could do practically anything in heels with a saw.

She was probably best known and seen beautifully dressed in books and on Disney specials doing "figure finishing" for the 1960's attractions like IASM, Tiki Room, Pirates, and Lincoln. I met her several times and she was an amazing and wonderful person to know that helped shape the "Disney Look".

More of Harriet's career can be found in Jeff Kurtti's new book, "Imagineering Legends" in which Harriet is described as one.

Again, no one has to do anything, but knowing a bit more about the supporting cast of WED helps us understand the dynamic of what it took to create that first park.

Anonymous said...

"I think the reason Mr. Potato Head isn't all that impressive is because he's so big. "

GREAT point. Agree.

Spokker said...

No one is denying that she was important. But this is also a free to read blog with no motivation to make profits. The people who post entries to it, I assume, have real jobs that demand their time and will post entries when they can.

Has The Walt Disney Co. posted a tribute anywhere to Burns anywhere? Shouldn't they be the ones to celebrate their history, and not in a "It's Disneyland 50th anniversary! BUY AN ANNUAL PASS YOU CONSUMER WHORES!!!" kind of way.

Anonymous said...

I am not worried about the outsourcing. In the last five years, the best new audio-animatronic figures put into the Disneyland park were Jack Skellington and OOgie Boogie in the Haunted Mansion. I know they were done by Garner Holt Productions. Jack is one of the best figures in the park.

Anonymous said...

^^^^^ Well, not all outsourcing is as successful as that. The employee food service they outsourced had gotten some serious criticisms. Some other areas of Imagineering, other divisions and corporate wide, have resulted in some significant problems, many resulting in creative slippage. I don’t know what the extent of outsourcing has gone in the creative areas, but if they aren’t capable of getting the level of quality that Imagineering and Garner Holt strive for, it’s best that they keep it in-house.

Anonymous said...

As happened in the American Automotive industry, eventually the people you once outsourced components to ( Japan) eventually figure out how to build the whole product and do it better.

Anonymous said...

This is nothing new. Disney has been out sourcing since the first Disneyland was built.

Anonymous said...

OK OK, it's been a month, time for something new to complain about, let's go, c'mon,

Anonymous said...

Why does it seem that other companies are doing what Disney used to do better?

Disney should be doing shows like "Walking With Dinosaurs" and yet a company in Australia created it and out did Disney.

Everyone else is way beyond Disney and Disney is just outsourcing projects so that they can save a few bucks.

What gives? Call us "Walties" or not, but Walt tried to do things a little bit better the next time and go beyond what others were doing and the current management wants to take a step backwards.

The Disney Company should be in the forefront of technology once again and not back in the past "Walking with the Dinosaurs".

Spokker said...

"OK OK, it's been a month, time for something new to complain about, let's go, c'mon,"

Hey, just in time. From the press release for the new promotion at Disneyland.

"Park D├ęcor: The parks will be decorated with colorful banners, balloons and festive party hats – as if awaiting your celebration."

And to think we just got over the Year of a Million Dreams crap. I hope they put a big party hat on the Matterhorn. I really want them to outdo the Mickey wand in terms of absurdity.

Anonymous said...

I grew up with Garner Holt and have known him since he was 14 and back then the guy was consumed with Disney and Animatronics. when he was just 15 he built a figure that stood from a chair and delivered a speech ala Lincoln. His Wendell Uncyclist figures is one of the most amazing animatronics i've ever seen. Disney is in good hands with Garner!

Jarred said...

If they can do it cheaper it will free up more money for other parts of the project or other projects