Wednesday, August 29, 2007

J.K. Rowlings Magical Gift

Just last May it was announced that Warner Bros. and Universal were partnering to create a 20 plus acre Harry Potter ‘theme park within a theme park’ at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando. Disney Imagineering had officially lost the bid to celebrate all things 'Boy Wizard' within their own theme parks.

Intuition would tell us that the Disney Company had just dropped the ball on one of the most lucrative franchises on the planet. But for Disney Imagineers this was no loss whatsoever. In fact, it was cause for celebration. "Perhaps the best thing that's ever happened to WDI" one top level executive was overheard saying.

It’s certainly no loss to the notoriously quality obsessed J.K. Rowling either. Universal is sparing no expense to make sure this fully immersive environment will be of the highest caliber. Within this “Wizarding World” guests will be able to interact with many of the locations from the books and films, including the village of Hogsmeade, the Forbidden Forest and the iconic Hogwarts Castle. “I don't think fans of the books or films will be disappointed," said J.K. Rowling.

Taking a cue from the genesis of WED Imagineering in its golden age, talent isn’t being bartered from art school interns or freelanced out to fly-by-night design firms but is coming directly from artists, technicians and visual story-tellers from the motion picture industry itself. Stuart Craig, the three time Academy Award winning production designer of the Harry Potter movies (as well as Gandhi, Dangerous Liaisons and The English Patient) is heading up a core design team well versed in the incredibly specific milieu of three dimensional fantasy environments.

“The philosophy on the movies,” Stuart noted, “was to make everything seem as real and credible as possible. We undertook a period of research and looked at the great European cathedrals, Oxford University in this country. All of this informed us and helped us keep the world credible; to keep the detail very real and very specific. That same philosophy was applied to the theme park.”

You can bet that come late 2009 guests to Universal’s Islands of Adventure will feast on an intricately detailed fantasy environment that promises to rival the richness of a Pirates of the Caribbean or a Haunted Mansion, an ironic homage to the classic Walt era Imagineers. J.K. Rowling wouldn’t have it any other way.

After the official press release from Warner Bros. and Universal Orlando you’d have thought that Bob Iger would be marching several legions of Disney Executives to the guillotine or that an angry mob of stockholders would be storming the castle. Instead a group of resilient battle weary Imagineers were quietly grinning from ear to ear, cracking open a bottle of champagne and staring out upon a very, very ‘blue sky’.

Chat with any Imagineer that’s lived through the last couple decades at WDI and they’ll tell you tales of the good old days back in the 70’s and 80’s when the company took pride in being an industry leader and when it was not only fun but vital for Imagineering to one-up the competition every step of the way. This was a time when so much was going on at then WED that even friendly rivalries between creative leads on separate in-house attractions broke out, assuring the highest quality showmanship from every corner of the company.

Now more than ever Imagineers are itching to step up to the plate in the spirit of knocking the socks off the competition. With ‘Harry Potter’s Wizarding World’ opening in Orlando the competition has never been more fierce.

“We are going to devote more time, more money, more expertise and more executive talent from throughout our entire organization and creative team,” noted Tom Williams, chairman and CEO of Universal Parks, “to ensure that this entire environment is second-to-none.”

Universal can go right ahead and follow the franchise. The heritage of Disney Imagineering, however, is one of building franchises from the ground up. With Hogwarts Castle looming on the horizon, WDI is primed and ready to show the world something fresh, exciting, original, daring and wholly surprising, to dare to deliver to guests an experience they never knew they wanted.

Make no mistake about it, it's going to be tough for WDI to top what's going on over on those islands of adventure. But they will. They have to. For the company that put the ‘theme’ in theme parks nothing less than their reputation is at stake.

And for todays Renaissance Imagineers the challenge couldn’t be more intoxicating.

Gentlemen, start those engines.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


“When we opened Disneyland, a lot of people got the impression that it was a get-rich thing, but they didn’t realize that behind Disneyland was this great organization that I built here at the Studio, and they all got into it and we were doing it because we loved to do it.”

“Disneyland was a natural. It was so close to what we were doing in film. I thought of it a long time, but very few people believed in it at first. Now look at it.”

“Disneyland is a thing that I can keep molding and shaping. It’s a three-dimensional thing to play with. But when I say, ‘play with it,’ I don’t mean that. Everything I do I keep a practical eye towards its appeal to the public.”

“Disneyland would be a world of Americans, past and present, seen through the eyes of my imagination – a place of warmth and nostalgia, of illusion and color and delight...”

“Physically, Disneyland would be a small world in itself – it would encompass the essence of the things that were good and true in American life. It would reflect the faith and challenge the future, the entertainment, the interest in intelligently presented facts, the stimulation of the imagination, the standards of health and achievement, and above all, a sense of strength, contentment and well-being.”

“A word may be said in regard to the concept and conduct of Disneyland’s operational tone. Although various sections will have the fun and flavor of a carnival or amusement park, there will be none of the ‘pitches,’ game wheels, sharp practices and devices designed to milk the visitor’s pocketbook.”

“Almost everyone warned us that Disneyland would be a Hollywood spectacular – a spectacular failure. But they were thinking about an amusement park, and we believed in our idea – a family park where parents and children would have fun – together.”

“When I started on Disneyland, my wife used to say, “But why do you want to build an amusement park? They’re so dirty.” I told her that was just the point – mine wouldn’t be.”

“Disneyland is like Alice stepping through the Looking Glass; to step through the portals of Disneyland will be like entering another world.”

“It came about when my daughters were very young and Saturday was always daddy’s day with the two daughters. So we’d start out and try to go someplace, you know, different things, and I’d take them to the merry-go-round and did all these things – sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts – I felt that there should be something built where parents and the children could have fun together. So that’s how Disneyland started. Well, it took many year… it was a period of maybe 15 years developing. I started with many ideas, threw them away, started all over again. And eventually it evolved into what you see today at Disneyland. But it all started out from a daddy with two daughters wondering where he could take them where he could have a little fun with them, too.”

“Disneyland is like a piece of clay, if there is something I don’t like, I’m not stuck with it. I can reshape and revamp.”

“Whenever I go on a ride, I’m always thinking of what’s wrong with the thing and how it can be improved.”

“It’s no secret that we were sticking just about every nickel we had on the chance that people would really be interested in something totally new and unique in the field of entertainment.”

“Disneyland is a work of love. We didn’t go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money.”

“We did it, in the knowledge that most of the people I talked to thought it would be a financial disaster – closed and forgotten within the first year.”

“The more I go to other amusement parks in all parts of the world, the more I am convinced of the wisdom of the original concepts of Disneyland. I mean, have a single entrance through which all the traffic would flow, then a hub off which the various areas were situated. That gives people a sense of orientation – they all know where they are at all times. And it saves a lot of walking.”

“The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It will be a place for parents and children to share pleasant times in one another’s company; a place for teachers and pupils to discover greater ways of understanding and education. Here the older generation can recapture the nostalgia of days gone by, and the younger generation can savor the challenge of the future. Here will be the wonders of Nature and Man for all to see and understand. Disneyland will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dream and hard facts that have created America. And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts and send them forth as a source of courage and inspiration to all the world. Disneyland will be sometimes a fair, an exhibition, a playground, a community center, a museum of living facts, and a showplace of beauty and magic. It will be filled with accomplishments, the joys and hopes of the world we live in. And it will remind us and show us how to make these wonders part of our own lives.”

“Disneyland will be the essence of America as we know it, the nostalgia of the past, with exciting glimpses into the future. It will give meaning to the pleasure of the children – and pleasure to the experience of adults. It will focus a new interest upon Southern California through the mediums of television and other exploitation. It will be a place for California to be at home, to bring its guests, to demonstrate its faith in the future. And, mostly as stated at the beginning – it will be a place for the people to find happiness and knowledge.”

“To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here, age relives fond memories of the past... and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America… with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”

“Disneyland is a show.”

“I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the park. I want them to feel they’re in another world.”

“Disneyland is not just another amusement park. It’s unique, and I want it kept that way. Besides, you don’t work for a dollar – you work to create and have fun.”

“In the wintertime you can go out there during the week and you won’t see any children. You’ll see the oldsters out there riding all these rides and having fun and everything. Summertime, of course, the average would drop down. But the overall, year-round average, its four adults to one child.”

"Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children's approach to life. They're people who don't give a hang what the Jonses do. You see them at Disneyland everytime you go there. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought - sometimes it isn't much, either."

“The idea for Disneyland lay dormant for several years. It came along when I was taking my kids around to these kiddie parks… I took them to zoos, I took them everywhere, and while they were on the merry-go-round riding 40 times or something, I’d be sitting there trying to figure what I could do. When I built the Studio I thought we ought to have a three-dimension thing that people could actually come and visit – they can’t visit our Studio because the rooms are small. So I had a little dream for Disneyland adjoining the Studio, but I couldn’t get anybody to go in with me because we were going through this depression. And whenever I’d go down and talk to my brother about it, why he’d always suddenly get busy with some figures so, I mean, I didn’t dare bring it up. But I kept working on it and I worked on it with my own money. Not the Studio’s money, but my own money.”

“Drawing up plans and dreaming of what I could do, everything. It was just something I kind of kept playing around with.”

“Here is adventure. Here is romance. Here is mystery. Tropical rivers – silently flowing into the unknown. The unbelievable splendor of exotic flowers… the eerie sound of the jungle… with eyes that are always watching. This is Adventureland.”

“Here is the world of imagination, hopes and dreams. In this timeless land of enchantment, the age of chivalry, magic and make-believe are reborn – and fairy tales come true. Fantasyland is dedicated to the young-in-heart – to those who believe that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.”

“Here we experience the story of our country’s past… the colorful drama of Frontier America in the exciting days of the covered wagon and the stagecoach… the advent of the railroad… and the romantic riverboat. Frontierland is a tribute to the faith, courage and ingenuity of the pioneers who blazed the trails across America.”

“A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying man’s achievements… a step into the future, with predictions of constructive things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals: the Atomic Age… the challenge of outer space… and the hope for a peaceful and unified world.”

“Now, when we opened Disneyland, outer space was Buck Rogers. I did put in a trip to the moon. And I got Wernher von Braun to help me plan the thing. And, of course, we were going up to the moon long before Sputnik. And since then has come Sputnik and then has come our great program in outer space. So I had to tear down my Tomorrowland that I built 11 years ago and rebuild it to keep pace.”

“Everybody thinks that the Park is a gold mine – but we have had our problems. You’ve got to work it and know how to handle it. Even trying to keep that Park clean is a tremendous expense. And those sharp pencil guys will tell you, ‘Walt, if we cut down on maintenance, we’d save a lot of money.’ But I don’t believe in that – it’s like any other show on the road; it must be kept clean and fresh.”

“To try to keep an operation like Disneyland going you have to pour it in there. It’s what I call ‘Keeping the show on the road.’ Not just new attractions, but keeping it staffed properly… you know, never letting your personnel get sloppy… never let them be unfriendly. That’s been our policy all or lives. My brother and I have done that and that is what has built our organization.”

“There are many ways that you can use those certain basic things and give them a new d├ęcor, a new treatment. I’ve been doing that with Disneyland. Some of my things I’ve redone as I’ve gone along, reshaped them.”

“The first year I leased out the parking concession, brought in the usual security guards – things like that – but soon realized my mistake. I couldn’t have outside help and still get over my idea of hospitality. So now we recruit and train every one of our employees. I tell the security police, for instance, that they are never to consider themselves cops. They are there to help people. The visitors are our guests. It’s like running a fine restaurant. Once you get the policy growing, it grows.”

“The Era We Are Living In Today Is A Dream Come True.”

“Disneyland will always be building and growing and adding new things… new ways of having fun, of learning things and sharing the many exciting adventures which may be experienced here in the company of family and friends.”

“When we were planning Disneyland, we hoped that we could build something that would command the respect of the community and after 10 years, I feel that we’ve accomplished that, not only the community but the country as a whole.”

“It’s something that will never be finished. Something that I can keep developing, keep plussing and adding to. It’s alive. It will be a live, breathing thing that will need change. A picture is a thing, once you wrap it up and turn it over to Technicolor you’re through. Snow White is a dead issue with me. A live picture I just finished, the one I wrapped up a few weeks ago, it’s gone. I can’t touch it. There’s things in it I don’t like; I can’t do anything about it. I wanted something alive, something that could grow, something I could keep plussing with ideas; the Park is that. Not only can I add things, but even the trees will keep growing.” The things will get more beautiful each year. And as I find out what the public doesn’t like, I can’t change it, it’s finished, but I can change the Park, because it’s alive. That is why I wanted that Park.”

“It has that thing – the imagination, and the feeling of happy excitement – I knew when I was a kid.”

“You can’t live on things made for children – or for critics. I’ve never made films for either of them. Disneyland is not just for children. I don’t play down.”

“To make the dreams of Disneyland come true took the combined skills and talents of hundreds of artisans, carpenters, engineers, scientists and craftsmen. The dream that they built now become your heritage. It is you who will make Disneyland truly a magic kingdom and a happy place for millions of guests who will visit us now and in the future.”

“A lot of people don’t realize that we have some very serious problems here, keepin’ this thing going and getting’ it started. I remember when we opened, if anybody recalls, we didn’t have enough money to finish the landscaping and I had Bill Evans go out and put Latin tags on all the weeds.”

“I had different cost estimates; one time it was three and a half million and when I kept fooling around a little more with it and it got up to seven and a half million and I kept fooling around a little more and pretty soon it was twelve and a half and I think when we opened Disneyland it was seventeen million dollars.”

“Disneyland is the star. Everything else is in the supporting role.”

“Here You Leave Today – And Visit The Worlds of Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy.”

“Disneyland is often called a Magic Kingdom because it combines fantasy and history, adventure and learning, together with every variety of recreation and fun designed to appeal to everyone.”

“I first saw the site for Disneyland back in 1953. In those days it was all flat land – no rivers, no mountains, no castle or rocket shops – just orange groves, and a few acres of walnut trees.”

“Well, it took many years. I started with many ideas, threw them away, started all over again. And eventually it evolved into what you see today at Disneyland.”

“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

“Disneyland really began when my two daughters were very young. Saturday was always Daddy’s Day, and I would take them to the merry-go-round, and sit on a bench eating peanuts, while they rode. And sitting there alone, I felt there should be something built, some kind of family park where parents and children could have fun together.”

“Well, you know this Disneyland concept kept growing and growing and finally ended up where I felt like I needed two or three thousand acres. So I wanted it in the Southern California area; had certain things that I felt I needed, such as flat land because I wanted to make my own hills. So I had a survey group go out and hunt for areas that might be useful and they finally came back with several different areas and we settled on Anaheim. “The price was right but there was more to it than that, and that is that Anaheim was a sort of growing area and the freeway project was such that we could see that eventually the freeways would hit Anaheim as a sort of a hub so that’s how we selected Anaheim.”

“Anaheim was a town of 14,000 then, and if someone had mentioned that one year soon six million visitors would come to Disneyland, folks might have had second thoughts about inviting us. In fact, we might have had second thoughts about building a Disneyland!”

“I think what I want Disneyland to be most of all is a happy place – a place where adults and children can experience together some of the wonders of life, of adventure, and feel better because of it.”

“The way I see it, Disneyland will never be finished. It’s something we can keep developing and adding to. A motion picture is different. Once it’s wrapped up and sent out for processing, we’re through with it. If there are things that could be improved, we can’t do anything about them anymore. I’ve always wanted to work on something alive, something that keeps growing. We’ve got that in Disneyland.”

“I just want to leave you with this thought, that it’s just been sort of a dress rehearsal and we’re just getting started. So if any of you start resting on your laurels, I mean just forget it because… we are just getting started.”

“Well, I think by this time my staff, my young group of executives, and everything else, are convinced that Walt is right. That quality will out. And so I think they’re going to stay with that policy because it’s proved that it’s a good business policy. Give the people everything you can give them. Keep the place as clean as you can keep it. Keep it friendly, you know. Make it a real fun place to be. I think they’re convinced and I think they’ll hang on after… as you say… well… after Disney.”

"I love the nostalgic myself. I hope we never lose some of the things of the past."

“The whole thing here is the organization. Whatever we accomplish belongs to our entire group, a tribute to our combined effort. Look at Disneyland. That was started because we had the talents to start it, the talents of the organization. And our World’s Fair shows – what we did was possible only because we already had the staff that had worked together for years, blending creative ideas with technical know-how.”

“Well WED is, you might call it my backyard laboratory, my workshop away from work. It served a purpose in that some of the things I was planning, like Disneyland for example… it’s pretty hard for banking minds to go with it… so I had to go ahead on my own and develop it to a point where they could begin to comprehend what I had on my mind.”

“There’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward – opening up new doors and doing new things – because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting. At WED, we call it Imagineering – the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.”