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WARNING: This contents of this blog reflect my true experience on the Adventures By Disney tour to the best of my recollection and may contain information and details that reveal specifics about places and events that may be considered spoilers. On this token I add that I was well aware of many of theses same details prior to my trip and still was overwhelmed by what I had experienced. However if you do not wish to be informed of these items, please do not continue to read this blog and opt to find reports elsewhere that may not contain said information.

Adventures by Disney Backstage Magic Blog - April 2008

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Day 6: Imagineering and Studios

No more late starts, today we met at 7 am for breakfast at Twist before heading out for the day. Bags are to be kept in the room as bell services will collect them and get them onto the bus for us.

The one thing I had to do this morning was visit Grauman's Chinese Theatre. I actually finished, went to breakfast, ate breakfast and then ran back for a couple of pickup shots with Stitch before we were scheduled to depart.


The bus ran late picking us up due to traffic so we just lingered in the lobby until it arrived and then we were on our way to Walt Disney Imagineering.

Cameras were left on the bus as there was no photography allowed at all on site. We were met by David who led us through the halls into a room where we watched a presentation/video on WDI. Part of the presentation included photos of the Cinderella and Prince Charming that had been added to the 'it's a small world' ride in Hong Kong Disneyland. They were actually pretty cute (and previously I had talked about it with Andrew who had nothing but good things to say about it).

The video was on an animatronic called Lucky which was the first autonomous audio animatronic. He's a large dinosaur pulling a cart that toured through Disney's California Adventure, then Disney's Animal Kingdom, then Hong Kong Disneyland. In fact, as the video ended, a curtain was drawn back to reveal none other than Lucky himself. After we were introduced to Lucky, he autographed (in the form of a clover) an 8x10 photo for one of the kids on the tour. We then broke up into our Mickey and Minnie groups and each family got an individual photo with Lucky (he feels like latex rubber for some strange reason). He's really amazing though, this is the first time I got to see him as he left DAK a few months before I was able to go in 2005. I'm not even sure how he completely works, but I have an idea (and the guy that would tour with him isn't it).

With our separate groups, we headed to different areas of WDI. First (I think), our group went to the sculpture room where maquettes from virtually every attraction and animated feature were on display. I could easily have spent all day going through them, as well as samples of how audio animatronics are made. Our speaker was none other than Valerie Edwards, the apprentice/protege of Disney master sculptor Blaine Gibson. Gibson is long retired but is the man responsible for such icons as the Partners statue as well as *every* president in the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom. In fact, he actually had come out of retirement to sculpt George W Bush. The next president will be Valerie's first, but I was surprised to learn that she won't necessarily actually meet with the president, but do it all from photos.

Speaking of the Partners statue, I couldn't hope but notice a maquette of the statue in which Mickey is holding an ice cream cone, which Valerie said was Blaine's first attempt at the design.

Also in the room were the original Snow White and the Seven Dwarf marble sculptures that sat in Snow White's Grotto at Disneyland. They had subsequently been replaced with reproductions due to wear and tear.

Interestingly enough, both a placard and Valerie announced that the oft quoted scenario that the statues were anonymously donated is completely untrue (the placard even suggested another believed falsehood but I don't even remember what it was). According to Disney, the statues were commissioned by Disney (sadly I can't recall the name of the sculptor) and Snow White is the same size as the dwarfs due only to a misunderstanding with metric conversions.

We then headed over to Studio C where we were treated to the Soundsations attraction to demonstrate WDI's pioneering with a very old technology of creating 3D audio. You can hear the attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios in the soundbooths in the post-show area of Sounds Dangerous, but somehow it seemed much better when I heard it here. If you haven't heard it, the binaural technology allows for the listener to be surrounded by sound (effects) in specific locations even with depth of field - it's used in a few attractions. And the most amazing thing is that there is nothing special about the headphones being used (it can be any headphones but it has to be the same headphones each time as the mix is adjusted specifically for it) or the recording itself which is simply an audio CD. The magic is in the microphone in which everything is recorded.

And the microphone is actually in part the shape of a human head manufactured by a German company (don't remember the name) and nicknamed Klaus. The microphones themselves are actually where the ear drum would be, so the head records everything as if it were a human head. We were told the only real drawback to this method is that post-editing isn't really possible, so everything has to be done in one take. We were also told that should Disneyland decide to restore Abraham Lincoln to the Opera House, that a whole new civil war battle was staged and recorded with Klaus in the middle of the action.

Our groups then met up and we headed down a hallway where Imagineers were working on several projects (couldn't really tell what any were, but there were detailed models of Disney's California Adventure for one), turned around another corner and were introduced to an A100 audio animatronic known as Joe Cocker. At the flick of a switch, this AA skeleton went through and performed a well choreographed version of Feelin Alright, complete with not-so-complete backup singers. It was quite entertaining.

We then headed down another hallway lined with paintings from Disney Imagineers and went into a courtyard area where there were vehicles from older attractions like the Fantasyland Skyway and the People Mover.

We then got to spend about half an hour at Mickey's of Glendale, a shop on site that's normally exclusive to Cast Members (that can get there) and contains a lot of merchandise (including pins) exclusive to Walt Disney Imagineering. I managed to buy a few things. (also pictured are couple of items I picked up at Walt Disney Studios later in the day)


Here's another image of the pin set along with a Mary Poppins Soundstage 2 Pin from the Studios

Day 6 Continued...

Before I go on, I neglected to mention that each guest received a coupon good for 40% off one regularly priced item (and the prices were decent to begin with) at Mickey's of Glendale. Mine went to that letterman jacket which was priced at $160 but ended up costing me around $95. My second most expensive item was the pin set at $80 (my thanks to those who told me it was there hidden behind the counter as I was considering another framed set which wasn't as interesting and even a tad bit more expensive).

So we loaded the bus, bags and all, and headed over to Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. With exception to the 6 or so soundstages that are concentrated in one area, the entire place looks very much like a campus. By the commissary sits a flagpole from the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley for which Walt Disney served as the Head of Pageantry. Disney legend John Hench even designed the Olympic torch.
The street sign (familiar to those who have been to Disney's Hollywood Studios) was an actual prop for a film (but I forgot which) that was so well liked, it stuck around. Another interesting item is the corner by one of the fire hydrants designated as Pluto's corner, complete with 3 paw prints embedded in the cement (the 4th leg managed to stay high and dry - or at least high).

We headed over to the building marked Animation (Walt Disney Animation actually has a separate studio across the street which we drove by but didn't visit) where we broke up into our two groups as they didn't want to overwhelm the hallways. Minnies went first while Mickeys waited for them to clear.

Across from the Animation Building is the Screening Room which, not unlike a certain Chinese Theatre, features hand prints of Disney legends.

The screening room also features an interesting sign posted on the door which was so well received, there's even a popular Disney pin sold at the Employee Center commemorating it.

We walked straight through the building through a corridor that was basically an art gallery, covering most facets of the animation process, starting with traditional hand drawn animation (including many backgrounds) and leading into the use of computer generated animation (still 2D, like the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast).

Through the opposite doors, we entered the Disney Legends Plaza, a courtyard lined with plaques honoring Disney Legends (for example, here's Lillian Disney's):

The courtyard faces the famous Michael Eisner building designed by Michael Graves with all of the dwarfs supporting the roof. It also features the large Disney Legends award sculpture and casts of the Partners statue (still no ice cream) and the Sharing the Magic sculpture with Roy Disney and Minnie Mouse (as seen at Magic Kingdom).

After a group photo, we were given a total of 40 minutes or so to eat and shop (or shop and eat as I decided to do since I knew I could stop eating at any time, but it'd be harder to stop shopping based on my prior experience at Mickey's of Glendale). We were handed a voucher for one entree, one side, one dessert and one drink at the commissary.

I (and a few others) hit the shops first. There are 2: One is the Walt Disney Company Employee Center which sells some Walt Disney Company branded items as well as the pins. Next to it is a Disney store which sells Disney Store merchandise but also a few items exclusive to Walt Disney Studios. The bear pictured above in my collection is a holiday season Disney bear from 2007, but it was actually free with any purchase above $35 (and I actually got two of them if that's not telling enough).

After all was done (and then some), we boarded the bus and were on our way to Anaheim and the Disneyland resort.

(to be continued dot dot dot)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

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Day 5: The adventure continues (Day 2)

Today we got to sleep in and met by Twist at the late hour of 7:50 am. We walked through the Hollywood and Highlands Center complex and walked across Hollywood Boulevard for our first stop of the day: breakfast at the Disney's Soda Fountain and Studio Store. We were given a menu to choose from.


As we were waiting for our food, we went up table by table to have a private meet & greet with Ariel. While I was waiting for that, I poked around the shop as it was my first time there (it had opened a couple of months after I had been in LA last). Maybe 3/4 is the soda fountain and ice cream shop while the remainder is a gift shop (mostly generic merchandise, but some items exclusive to the store). One wall (and then some) is covered in signed photos (and in Miley Cyrus's case, a guitar) of celebrities who have visited the shop.

Because the current film is a sing-a-long version of The Little Mermaid complete with appearances by Ariel, there is a setup at the counter where kids can make a Little Mermaid mobile or paper masks.

Now it's time to meet Ariel who couldn't possibly be more amazing. Everything about her was dead-on. Her manners, her talk, her voice and it probably didn't hurt she was gorgeous too. She also had a really good sense of humor and seemed to take to Stitch rather well. Quinn made sure that Stitch held the Adventures by Disney sign.

And then Ariel met Ariel. As you can see, the two are virtually clones of each other, so even the one on the right can't even be sure who's the real Ariel and who's the imposter.


After breakfast, we headed over to the El Capitan and met Ed. Ed took us outside by the box office and began to talk about the history of the theatre (which was originally the El Capitan but had gone through name changes throughout the year), starting with how it had been created for stage shows. He then talked about how it was closed down and then later converted to a movie palace and all of the physical changes made to the building (essentially removing all of the details and replacing them with something more modern). He then went on to talk about Disney's renovation process, how they went to photos and were able to find bits and pieces of original items such as some of the molding and were able to replicate it all.

He took us upstairs to the balcony and pointed out the boxed seats, left over from the stage days and then lead us downstairs and back into the lower level of the theatre and introduced us to the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ (complete with all of the 'bells and whistles') which wasn't original in to the theatre but was found in a private collection and became a Disney project (it is often played in the theatre). John, one of 3 of the players, showed us around the instrument and played various selections and sound effects which also managed to show off the impressive sound system in the theatre.

The curtains were raised, revealing the movie screen and then that too was raised, revealing the full sized stage which we were lead up and able to walk across and learned a bit about the sound system which is currently being upgraded.


We exited backstage and went down into the lounge where Disney currently occasionally holds exhibits or events related to whatever is going on at the theatre at the time (e.g. a meet & greet with all the princesses for Enchanted). Ed pointed out a lot of the design of the room which includes original (but modified) light fixtures and a fireplace.

We then headed over to the Masonic Temple next door which is home to Jimmy Kimmel Live where Diana gave the history of the building itself and then and met with Chris and Kelly who work on the show. They led us into a room on the side to show us a short video compilation of big moments from the show. They pointed out another room where indoor music performances were sometimes done. We were lead upstairs where we were shown makeup rooms, the editing bays and the audio room which is pretty advanced. We also went into the control room and Chris pointed out who sits at every seat and what they do for the show, including broadcasting standards and practices who get the honor of censoring the show. The show tapes 'live' from 7-8 pm PST and first airs at 12:05 AM EST, which actually only gives them about an hour to make any last minute changes and then send the show to LA which then forwards it onto NY.

We then went downstairs in the lower level to see the green room and dressing rooms. The green room is a really nice setup which has more of a lounge feel, a bit dark with a large LCD tv (to watch the show as it goes on). It also has a pool table, a couple of arcade machines and a PS2 console along with a bar. Here we met Uncle Frank and Guillermo from the show with Frank doing most of the talking. He talked about his life starting with being a cop in Times Square and his years of private security in Vegas with Sinatra and others and how he had retired and gotten bored and jumped at the chance when Jimmy told him he wanted Frank for the show.

We then went upstairs and went into the actual theatre where the show is performed. I have to assume it's due to the fact that everything was retrofitted into the temple, but it was all very small (I have been to a few tapings of talk shows in NYC and while everything in reality is smaller than it appears on TV, this was SMALL) - part of the stage even extends to between the first couple of rows.

We then went outside to the Pontiac Garage setup for outdoor concerts where we ended our tour of the temple after some of the crew took questions from us. They told us about one stunt that had failed miserably because the victim was tipped off (it's too funny to share here) and when asked about their favorite guests, Matt Damon came in and the whole history of that was brought up (basically during a couple of seasons, Jimmy decided apologize to Matt Damon at the end of every show for running out of time and then one day, Matt Damon finally was able to be fit into the show and Jimmy made such an enormous introduction, that by the time the interview began, they had run out of time (and Damon subsequently goes off on Jimmy during the credits)).

We boarded the bus and headed over to Jim Henson Studios.


We broke off into two groups - Mickeys and Minnies (or Quinn's and Diana's groups respectively). I'm in Quinn's group. Our group started off by going into a screening room and watching a film featuring a couple of irreverent puppets (not muppets) who talked about the studio and its history (it was initially opened and used by Charlie Chaplin and was once the home and A&M Records). It was very funny.

This is the original door to Charlie Chaplin's film vault:


Quinn pointed out some of the creatures that were hanging out around in the courtyard area before we headed into the reception area where a lot of props and puppets are on display around the building as well as many awards the company has won.

We visited Brian Henson's office and then went into a soundstage where they were taking a break from using digital puppetry (basically motion capture where the actor wears a special suit with balls on it) for a new PBS show called Sid the Science Kid.

Next was a video that highlighted Jim Henson and the studio's work decade by decade starting with the appearance of the muppets on Sam & Friends, no audio and no real clips, just every project represented and all edited together.

This is hanging in the kitchen where we saw the video (I'm not really sure what it means):

Then we made our way into the barn (Charlie Chaplin's barn that is) which is now home to the Jim Henson Creature Workshop. We met Michael, a puppeteer with the company who talked about how Jim Henson revolutionized puppetry and how the company continues to do so, exploring new avenues. Around the workshop are puppets used in various well known productions (including the baby from Dinosaurs, the pigeons from the producers (musical) and more).


It was now time for lunch, but I took some time while I waited for my food to arrive to take some photos including the footsteps Charlie Chaplin made. The ones below at the studio are not the original (they were taken by Red Skelton, a former owner of the lot, and gifted to a school, but they allowed a cast to be made which was placed back in the studios). There is actually an original trail of footprints that are still somewhat visible however.



After we ate, Michael came back out for a photo-op with one of the puppets they use in an improv group called Puppet Up

Next was a special treat. It's my understanding that the adventure was meant to have a tour of various landmarks that essentially no longer exist and it was deemed to not work. For our tour, they took us to see Walt's barn from the Carolwood Pacific that had been relocated to Griffith Park. The barn is normally open to the public (with admission) a few hours every 3rd Sunday of the month, so they opened it just for us. It was noted that it may be exclusive only to our vacation and if we mention it to anyone else, to give that stipulation.

We got to tour the barn which is essentially a museum of all things Disney trains and we were also treated to a ride on the 1/8 scale railroad in the park, which has about a mile and a half of track.

The curse of the five-fingered Mickey:
This is an actual Disney's Legends award, given to George Bruns (yes, spelled correctly):
Next we went back to the hotel as we were done for the evening.

I went over to Hollywood Forever cemetery and got there about 5:50 to be told the grounds were closing at 6. I had an agenda so I was certain I could be done in time, however it took me a bit longer and I couldn't find the grave of Mel Blanc (who voiced most - if not all - of the looney tunes characters and countless others such as Barney Rubble). It turns out he wasn't in the section I thought he was in at all, but the security guy knew exactly where he was buried and was very nice to tell me despite the fact that it was almost 6:30 and I should have been kicked out long ago.


The only thing left for the evening was to see Wicked at the Pantages and I had tons of time, so I walked around the Hollywood area a bit, including visiting the real Crosswords of the World which of course inspired the greeting structure at Disney's Hollywood Studios, only the original is much larger and doesn't feature Mickey on top.

I went on to see Wicked which was Wicked, so that made it very good, but I just wasn't as impressed with the performances (I had seen it previously on Broadway with the original cast and had even seen some performances by later cast members during Broadway on Broadway and nobody can hold a candle to the originals in my opinion). I do have to confess though that despite my non-appreciation for her exaggerated vocals, I was impressed with Megan Hilty's portrayal of Glinda.

And that ends today.

Day 4: The adventure begins part 2

Before I continue with the rest of the day, I want to note that the basket pictured above was actually a gift from Adventures By Disney (there was a card I eventually got to reading after I picked off all the grapes). Also, my room was on the 6th floor and the view was facing Highland Ave. Not the best view, but I could manage.

Also, during my conversations with Jim and Quinn, the process about going to 5 day park hoppers came up and I was assured many times over that the 4 day tickets were special as it was and there was no way to upgrade to 5 day and I would have to purchase a 1 day ticket if that's what I wanted to do, which was okay but I explained that the ABD Backstage Magic specialist had assured me that upgrading the ticket wouldn't be a problem, but owell.

So we head up to Twist (the restaurant inside the hotel) where there will be no pictures of as I had left my camera in my room. We had a room in the back exclusive to us where we were served drinks and a selection of cheeses and vegetables, et al. Quinn and Diana made some initial announcements. We were given sheets to fill out, the top half about us and the bottom half was a 'getting to know you' type game where the goal was to find other guests who matched various qualifications (who has been to all 11 parks, who has met a celebrity, who can name all seven dwarfs (me!). After playing the game and going through the list, we then went around the room introducing ourselves, where we are from and what about the trip we were most excited for.

We then headed over to dinner at Trastevere Ristorante Italiano where we had our own room in the back. All of the appetizers were laid out on a table and served buffet style and placed our orders for our entrees. While we waited for dinner, we met Matt who hosted the trivia gameshow of the night which consisted of a mildly elaborate set (definitely more than I was expecting) consisting of a game show contestants type podium for 4 people, complete with scoring system and lights. To put it mildly, it was a rather insane version of 'You Don't Know Jack' in that it was much more humor and entertainment than trivia per se. Matt was really great and definitely entertained us all while we were waiting for our meal.

Waiting for us and throughout the meal, we received the following items, all of which were made of recycled materials (the pencil made of money). There was also quite a bit of Disney's Environmentality thrown in throughout the night, including in the trivia gameshow. Afterall, it was Earth Day (and the 10th birthday of Disney's Animal Kingdom, which Andrew was a part of when it opened).

(Pictured above in the upper left hand corner of the activity booklet is also our pin of the day, so we got two total)

We had our meal and dessert (I think I had pasta for the entree and the dessert was key lime pie for everyone) and everyone just lingered and slowly headed back to their rooms. I ended up speaking with Andrew, Jim and Diana for a couple more hours (although only Diana held in for the entire time) until around 8-something when I had basically exhausted them all and it was time to break for the night.

Friday, April 25, 2008

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Day 4: Sony Pictures Tour and the Adventure Begins (Really!)

The original plan for today was to go to Hollywood Forever Cemetery before heading over to Sony for the 10:30 tour. However, when actually trying to plot out the traveling details, it looks like I'd be left with no time at the cemetery: it's a pretty quick trip from where the Renaissance is, but Sony is in Culver City which is a 45 minute commute each way, so I decided to try to fit it in elsewhere.

So the first thing I did was check out of the Super 8 I was staying at and headed over to the Renaissance to leave my bags for the day since check-in was at 3 pm. I got there around 8:30 and was surprised to find that Quinn, one of the guides, was already there. It turns out my room was actually available too, so Quinn handed me my key and also gave me the storybook which contains a more detailed itinerary, an amenity kit and a rubik's cube-type item featuring Backstage Magic oriented images.

I went to my room to leave my bags before heading to Sony. The room is really quite impressive. It features things like two phones (one being cordless), both a wired and WiFi internet connection, and shades for extra privacy as opposed to the hotel standard of curtains.

I then hopped over to Hollywood & Highland and waited for my first bus to get to Sony (which requires a bus transfer).

I got to Sony, where the tour meets inside a Sony Pictures Entertainment corporate office building across from the lot. The atrium lobby is absolutely huge and features props and wardrobe from several different films (photography was restricted) including Charlie's Angels 2, Men In Black 2, Memoirs of a Geisha, the Spiderman trilogy (including all the villains from S3), Talladega Nights, Ghost Rider (including Johnny Blaze's motorcycle) and much more.

The tour starts promptly at 10:30 and we are lead into a screening room and watch a film (well, more of a video), that highlights the history of Columbia and Tri-Star pictures. It's a lackluster film in comparison to WB's, but it features one re-occurring neat effect which is that it shows the various films projected at angles on to building facades, all done with computer graphics. One scene even pans the building and the film's angle changes as well to reflect it. That's basically what I found most interesting about this video.

We now go across the street and enter the Sony Pictures lot which had been primarily MGM's. It's only 44 acres because MGM had sold off its backlot to raise money many years ago (in case I forgot to mention it in yesterday's post, on the WB tour we learned that only 2 studios never lost any land through the years: WB and Universal). I believe Sony has only 6 soundstages, but its post-editing facilities (for sound mostly) are widely used in the industry.

We go to the first administrative building and enter the lobby where all 12 of the best picture Oscars the studio has won are on display (Sony is tied with Universal Artists for the most best picture wins, although they haven't won any in decades).

We visit Soundstage 25 which is largest in area (not height) second only to the 007 soundstage in England. Hancock was the most recent film shot here.

We pass by a soundstage where Screen Gems is shooting a bunch of films back to back and they are in the process of converting a set from the second film (a 2 story house for a movie called The Stepfather) into another set for a film called Obsessed. We can only see the back of it though.

We then walk around a couple of corners and enter the soundstage where Wheel of Fortune is shot. Here's where the guide talks about the taping of a game show as well as sitcoms and the schedules of actors and how they all compare with each other - a lot of the same things I heard on the WB tour. I learned that Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy share the same crew and a lot of the same equipment, so they shoot on alternating days. Which means that the Wheel set is pretty bare. The wheel was there but covered up as was the letter board which was also off to the side. It was all pretty nondescript. The one thing that really surprised me was that the view from the front row is almost completely obstructed.

We then headed back down to the main street area which is the studio's exterior facades. Some places like the ice cream shop and souvenir shop are real while most are facades of all different types and periods of buildings that were slapped on by Sony to the back of the existing administrative buildings because they have no backlot.

All in all, it was the least impressive of the studio tours thus far, but WB really set the bar high for everyone else, so if you're planning on doing studio tours and still want to do Sony's, do it first, otherwise you WILL be disappointed.

I came back to the hotel around 2 pm to try to get a bit of rest in before the first group meeting at 4 pm took place. When I got back in my room, I found this nice surprise:


I then tried getting the internet but it turns out that despite what a hotel employee had told me earlier, I had to go downstairs to put a credit card on file at the front desk, so I did. However I never made it back up to my hotel room as I started talking with Quinn, met Diana and then started talking with Jim, who works in trip operations for ABD and then Andrew who is also in trip operations and that basically ran into the welcome meeting at Twist upstairs in the hotel.

which will now become a to be continued (dot dot dot)

Day 3: Warner Bros Studios & American Gladiator


Today is going to be a bit of a blur only because use of cameras were prohibited for most of the duration of the tour so it's a matter of piecing things together from memory, so I'll probably miss a lot of things and I'll probably mess up the order of those things I do remember.

WB offers two flavors of its studio tours. The regular tour runs several times a day and is a couple of hours long. The deluxe, which I took, runs once a day and is said to run about 5 1/2 hours long.

I arrived at the studios with plenty of time before my tour and headed over to the building to check-in for the tour. One stark contrast became immediately clear between WB and Universal: Whereas Universal basically has Universal City, WB has a series of corporate buildings in addition to the studios all over the area which is deeply entwined with residential homes. Homes are literally across the street (and sometimes closer) from the studio walls.

I checked-in for the tour with about 20 minutes to kill and looked around the Studio gift shop. They also had a few items on display: Will Smith's costume from I Am Legend, Arnold Schwarzenegger's costume from Batman & Robin and Daniel Radcliffe's from Harry Potter.

Now it's time to begin the tour. We are seated inside one of two plush screening rooms and treated to an excellent and relatively current (features segments of 300) film depicting a brief history of WB and how it's progressed over the years in movies, television and animation. After the film, the deluxe tour stays seated while the regular tour exits. Our guide, Dean, talks about how Jack Warner used to offer personal tours to VIPs of the lot and he used to present his guests with a key to the studios, at which point we are all given rather large and heavy keys to the studios.


There's one main re-occurring theme: everything is a set. All of the buildings on the lot with exception to the soundstages and a few others are designed to be nondescript and possible filming locations for virtual everything.

Our cameras are stowed and locked up inside the vehicle as we head out and start touring the studios. The first stop is the Warner Museum, a two level display of various props and wardrobe from WB projects throughout the years focusing on newer things (like wardrobe from the tv series Chuck) and further back in time. There's a heavy number of items/wardrobe from The Matrix series, a set and the lead puppets from the Corpse Bride, costumes from Superman Begs and Batman Returns, etc.

Upstairs is an overwhelming collection of props and wardrobe from the Harry Potter movies. The entire floor is dedicated to it and virtually everything is represented. You walk in to face Hagrid's robe (carrying baby Harry) standing next to his motorcycle. Wands are represented, the fully stocked shelves from the candy store are displayed. Costumes galore (including the yule ball gowns of Cho, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore and McGonagall (Harry's was out on loan for the next movie). Even Ron's Christmas sweater. Highlights for me included the entire (and very tall) Goblet of Fire, the staircase Harry used to live under (complete with full set decoration) and the piece de resistance, the actual petrified Hermione Granger from Chamber of Secrets. It was a dead on clone of Emma Watson.

Moving on, we toured the lot, passing by various stages including the only stage to be named for a specific project, the Friends stage (which the show used for 9 of its 10 years).

We visited the soundstage where Pushing Daisies is filmed and peeked inside all of its sets. I watched a couple of episodes in the beginning of the season but couldn't keep up so I wasn't all up to date on everything I saw which included a temporary swing set of a candy shop called Bittersweets that opened across the street from the main character's Pie shop which Dean said they were still holding onto because they didn't know if it would be used in the upcoming storyline so they kept it just to be sure, otherwise they'll dismantle it.

We passed by stages where ER shoots and had a brief run in with Scott Grimes who portrays Dr. Morris. We spent time in the soundstage where they shoot Two and a Half Men where Dean spent some time explaining what it's like shooting a sitcom, giving a day by day schedule, starting with a table read and taking it all the way to the actual filming. He said a half hour sitcom could take upwards of 5 hours to tape. There was a temporary, undecorated set of a police station which Dean mentioned was being used as part of a cross-over between the show and CSI.

We passed by the construction of the 30th soundstage (the foundation was just beginning) on the lot. Dean also talked about how they were working on moving Ellen Degeneres's talk show to the studio. We passed by the framework of her administrative offices being constructed which had a sign posted in front of it announcing the arrival of a new medical center, which reinforced the everything is used principle as it meant ER was using it for an upcoming scene.

We visited Soundstage 16, the largest soundstage in North America and 3rd largest in the world, and home to the largest indoor water tank. (it was completely dry when we were in it). I believe it's almost 100 feet tall and can hold 2.5 million gallons of water. It was used in Poseidon and the Perfect Storm. Most recently it was used for Speed Racer and Indiana Jones. The entire casino from Ocean's 13 was constructed in it. Originally it was the normal height of a soundstage, but through a long and interesting story, WB increased its size by actually jacking up the original building and constructing a new foundation and walls underneath it. So you can see where the original portion starts about halfway up. The soundstage is so large, it's quite visible from Universal (you'll see it below), so a giant WB logo was added to the back of it.

We visited one more soundstage which is currently being used by Chuck as the apartment complex Chuck lives in with his sister which is a very large and detailed set (both the interior and exteriors). Because it's a one camera show (like Pushing Daisies), the whole set is 360 degrees, but we actually got to walk through this one a bit. Dean then took us into the makeup room of the guest star of the previous show that used the soundstage, the George Lopez show. George Lopez had every guest star sign the wall so the entire room was covered in autographs. Some famous, most not so, but basically everyone who had been on the show and then some added to the walls. Dean mentioned he learned they were going to paint over the walls but he went to the execs who didn't even know about the room and they decided that rather than paint over the walls, they're going to extract them to preserve them and then construct new walls in their place.

We then head to lunch which is at the WB Commissary. This is an indoor, full-service restaurant reserved for VPs and talent (and the deluxe tour group) only. Other employees use a counter service location next door. The cost of dining is including in the price of the tour, but the entrees run an average of $20 or so.

To prove just how exclusive this location is, shortly after we are seated in the back, Dean points out that producer Jerry Weintraub is setting in front of us. Shortly thereafter, Weintraub is joined by George Clooney - I kid you not. I had my back to them, but I was able to catch a glimpse now and then. Gerard Butler also made an appearance.

After lunch, we visit the people that really make it happen - the shops. We see the metal shop who did the work for the Pirates of the Caribbean (the lamp that hung off the Black Pearl is hanging in their shop). We visit the Scenic Art department where we watch guys hand-paint enormous backdrops (which they raise and lower to paint as opposed to being on a ladder). They were working on backdrops for a movie called Seven Pounds. We then passed by the Staff shop where they create plaster molds of anything (usually for things like brick walls, statues, etc). We see a mini-exhibit and film on Special FX using squibbs for people getting shot. We head downstairs to the media library where they house prints of every WB movie (even saw a can of The Wizard of Oz that made someone wonder why WB has an MGM movie). The movies here are for renting out to any venue that wants to show them (nothing first run here though), but the movies go back to the beginning of the collection.

We then head to Scenic Arts digital. Where they use large plotters to print out enormous backdrops and advertisements for films. Dean demonstrates how a simple painting technique (painting the back side of the material in negative colors) can be used to go from a daytime view of the NYC skyline to a night-time view all lit up.

We pass by WB transportation and its fleet of cars including a trailer housing the Mach 5 from the new Speed Racer movie (didn't get to see it though) which is going on a nationwide promotional tour. We did however get out the cameras and go inside one room which housed some of the show cars from various productions including the George Clooney batmobile (which I think cost about 1.5 million to make), Robin and Batgirl's motorcycles, the Mystery Machine from the Scooby Doo 2 movie, Trinity's motorcycle and a car from The Matrix, a sled from Fred Clause, a General Lee and Mr. Weasley's car from Harry Potter. Here, complimentary green screen photos of the tour guests (individual groups) against an oncoming Hogwarts Express were taken.


The cameras stay out as we then visit the Props department which features the Central Perk set from Friends which had been rescued from storage for the purpose of the tour, complete with all the lighting. Dean took pictures for each group in front of the set (with the individual cameras).


We then walked through a little bit of the prop house which looked more like storage for a museum in the lower level. He showed us one room of props so valuable that they are no longer available for renting and WB is considering selling off including a matching pair of 15 foot tall baccarat crystal lamps which are 2 of 4 known to exist and command about 3 million for the pair. There was one piece that was estimated to be worth 8-10 million. The story goes that there were a pair of chandeliers that would be routinely rented out and one day a touring art expert saw them on set and asked where they got the Tiffany chandeliers, which the studio thought were just very good reproductions. After it was confirmed they were legit, they had appraisers come in and everything determined to be too valuable to rent out were stored away in that room.


Furniture made for The Island:

We rode through Warner Village which is a relatively new set of residential homes which actually double as offices for various productions. We then drove through the 'Jungle' which is used for all sorts of productions.


We then made a stop at an area that was partially being used for a production of Without a Trace. The main courtyard area had been used as Stars Hallow on the Gilmore Girls and the film Norbit. There was a residential street where Dean pointed out the Seevers home from Growing Pains and other houses such as those used in Gilmore Girls.


We passed by a set up for an upcoming Buick commercial shoot complete with a car modified to have a camera mounted on it (and a door removed for quick access to the vehicle).


We visited the exterior set of ER's County General Hospital.


(in case you were wondering, that Jumbo Mart is fully stocked)

We passed by an intersection used in various productions, including this one theatre I remember fondly from a great music & dance number from the Drew Carey show, Rocky Horror vs Priscilla Queen of the Desert


We then locked up the cameras and were able to visit where they were shooting a scene outside for ER featuring Maura Tierney. We were right behind the director and she walked towards us in the scene (and later said hi to the group of nobodies gawking at her).

Our last stop was on a street that had just finished taping for Without a Trace so the cameras were kept locked away. Dean took us on a tour of the set and pointed out various productions who used it, more recently Adam Sandler's You Don't Mess with the Zohan which still had one of the hair salon signs up over the building that served as his salon location (and was also the pet store on fire that Pee Wee saved all the animals from in Pee Wee's Big Adventure). He showed us where they filmed the infamous upside down kiss scene from Spiderman as well as the location of the first ER hospital when there was no budget. One of the areas had been used for the front of the Ocean's 13 casino but had since been removed, but he showed us the interior where some of the carpet still remained.

And that's about it in a very large nutshell. Amazing experience for anyone who really does enjoy the industry.

I headed back to the hotel and quickly out again to go the LA Memorial Sports Arena where I had a ticket to attend the taping of the 2nd season of American Gladiators (the new bunch). Because of the setup for each event required, they only filmed one event this evening, the pyramid (not one of my favorites - would have LOVED to watch assault over and over again), but it was pretty darn good anyway. The whole thing ran about 3 1/2 hours and they taped the segment for probably 6 shows or so. All I can say is evidently this is a very special season of AG as one episode features married couples competing, one show has twin women competing against eachother and yet another episode has a FIFTY-TWO year old woman named Yoko competing (and to be honest, I don't think she does very well) - Crush would taunt her by sitting down on the pyramid steps as she waited for Yoko to get to her. Sometimes the gladiators would swing by to amuse the crowd when they were done with their segment (I was in the 3rd row in the 2nd section, next to the section where friends & family members of contestants were - look for me). Unfortunately, no Hulk, just Leila Ali doing all the interviews.

And that's about all for today.

I apologize but the photos aren't working right for some reason. I'll try again later.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Day 2: Universal Studios

Bad News: Today, I started out about an hour late
Good News: Since I overbudgeted on time, I ended up being only 15 minutes behind schedule
Best News: It didn't matter anyway, everything turned out just fine.

So the first thing I did was to head over to Hollywood & Vine because I wanted to get a better shot of the landmark Capitol Records building than what I had previously. I then proceeded to walk all the way to Hollywood and Highland, taking pictures of stars on the walk of fame I had noted as well as a couple of buildings that inspired buildings at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

(5 and 10 anyone?)

Because it was so early, I also learned that many of the store security gates had murals painted on them of Hollywood royalty. One store on a corner even has a whole Star Trek theme.


The Universal City metro station is plastered in advertisements for the new Indiana Jones movie including this huge floor decor:

Universal Studios opened at 9 am, so I was hoping to be on the metro at Hollywood/Highland by 7:30 and hoping to get to the park by 8 just for the sake of photos. I got into the station around 7:45 but since it's only one station away, by 8 am, I was sitting and waiting for the free shuttle to take you from the metro stop to the theme park (or City Walk to be more specific). It came around 8:15 or so. The park gates are about a mile away from the Metro and it's all uphill - steep uphill - so while walking was an option, it really wasn't an option.


I got to the park and got the shots I wanted, although I had to wait for them on each occasion. The Will Call window opened up around 8:30, but they couldn't help because I had to wait until the VIP office opened up 'around 9' while they started letting people in at 8:45.

To jump ahead, I'll jump behind and note that I had been to Universal Studios Hollywood once before in 2005 and I did the VIP tour then, but I knew the tour had recently been revamped and people had been raving about it, so despite a price increase (it's $200 now, but that does include admission), I jumped on it. Looking ahead, I must say that the park appears to have changed quite a bit in the few years I've been and mostly for the better. I was really impressed by what I saw, just in the park alone.

My first glimpse of what was to come was when I noticed an addition to the fountain in the first section of the park just past the gates.


The statue guy was incredible and looked phenomenally real, not anything like those statue or robot street performers you see. He blended into the fountain perfectly, occasionally changing poses or jumping in on photos people were taking in front of the fountain.

Around 9 am, they let me into the VIP area where I checked in. They gave me my VIP pass which doubles as a front of the line pass as well as a 25% discount on merchandise, took my lunch order (which is now included in the tour) and sent me into the park. Last time I did the tour, they actually gave me a ticket and an annual pass as part of the admission, but that was during the time they had a promotion where if you bought a one day ticket, you could upgrade to an annual pas for free. But this time, not even a one day ticket, they just walked me through another door into the park - I didn't even have to go through bag check - and told me to come back around 10:30.

So I spent the next hour and a half basically just taking photos as if I had never been in the park before (last time I was there, my camera wasn't nearly as good and the fact is the park changed so much from what I remembered, it almost was like my first time).


My most favoritest sign ever (sorry, Disney):

and a couple of shots of the upcoming simpsons ride:

I made sure to cover the upper lot first and then worked my way down to the lower lot, a process I absolutely despise. You have to take a series of escalators (the 'starway') which are steep and it's just time consuming (and does nothing for my acrophobia). About 1/3 of the way down is a large platform area complete with pay-binoculars and a sweeping view of the studios, the Burbank area and Universal's neighbor, Warner Brothers. I had remembered from last time that someone had said you could see Walt Disney Studios from there as well but I was unable to spot it, so I was ready to try my hardest to find it this time. Here I found a welcome surprise: They added a large photographic map and pointed out where everything is. And sure enough, there was the Disney Studios. Here you can see both Warner Brothers (including the famous WB water tower to the left, home to Wakko, Yakko and Dot) and the Disney Studios watertower off to the right.

and here are the various sets visible on the tram tour

I worked my way down to the lower lot and by now it was approaching 10 am and there were people everywhere so photos became less important. I decided I would go on Jurassic Park which I did twice, each time with different lenses, the second with my 35mm f2/0 because I was semi-determined to get a decent shot of the T-Rex. The only issue was I left it on manual focus because I was sure I wouldn't have enough time to try to autofocus against all the fog effects. So the picture isn't as great as it could be, but I'll live with it for the next few years.


I then went all the way back up to the upper lot and headed towards the VIP tour as the clock approached 10:30. On my way back, I encountered Dora, Curious George and Spongebob Squarepants, so I had to get photos. I finally made it to the VIP area at the front of the park with a few minutes to spare before the tour began at 11 am. Fortunately I wasn't the last of the group so I had a fair amount of time to rest and laze about in the VIP area where they offer 'complimentary' pastries and bottled drinks. They also have a few displays set up. Last time I was here, they had a Back to the Future display featuring the Gray's Sports Almanac from BTTF2 (which is my favorite of the trilogy). This time was a bit weak, featuring a few items from the American Pie series and a bunch of documents from the Bourne Identity trilogy. But still cool to see.

The VIP tour waiting area:
Once everyone had arrived, the we kicked off and our first stop was the tram tour. The VIP tram tour differs from the regular tram tour because you're on a much smaller vehicle and you get to stop and walk around various sets in addition to seeing additional things that you can't see on the normal tram tour.

Passing by the Universal City fire station (Universal City has its own Fire and Police departments)

The tour narration has been changed to reflect the process of creating a movie. Our first stop was the actual studio gates where we were introduced to the writers and directors building and the commissaries (we remained outside for the whole portion). We also saw several Oscars and Emmies the studio had on display. This stop was the only location anywhere on site where photography was prohibited (no doubt due to the Oscars, as this is something the Academy is very strict on - it's also cited as the source of the no photography rule at the Kodak Theatre). The lax photography rules are what I love about Universal.

I had heard about celebrity sightings on the tram tour, but I was shocked and awed to have an encounter of my own:

They were so gracious to the groups, they even signed autographs for one of the kids on the tour. We had about a 5 minute stop with them (staying on the vehicle) and then off we continued.

As we passed by various soundstages, Doug (our guide) would rattle off what recent movies and tv shows filmed there. I knew Desperate Housewives and Pirates of the Caribbean had shot on site outside at the studios, but learned they actually shot pretty much everything at the studios too.

The VIP tour includes visiting and exploring a working soundstage (an actual hot set) which I believe I had heard was CSI in some recent cases. For us, it was the NBC series Life, the soundstage I immediately recognized as being the same soundstage I had visited in 2005 which was then Crossing Jordan.

I don't watch Life, but the soundstage is basically an LAPD station. It was pretty neat to see, especially in comparison to remembering how the Crossing Jordan setup was (the skyline and 'elevators' were in the exact same locations). The only not great thing here was that most of the furniture was covered in plastic to protect the set dressing. As always, photography was unrestricted.

We then headed over to the shops which were accessible, but not active as it's Sunday. We passed by where they create sets, the sign shop that makes virtually everything including documents and the metal shop.
We boarded the vehicle and worked our way to our next stop, the New York street where we spent some time as Doug rattled off a list of previous and future movies that used it, including the end battle scene of the Transformers.


We then walked around a corner and ended up at the exterior set of the Ghost Whisperer, or the artist formerly known as the Back to the Future town square. Unfortunately when I did the tour in 2005, this area was closed off and I couldn't see the courthouse with the clock tower which I was very disappointed in. I felt a little bit better this time, even though the courthouse has had a serious makeover.


As we headed back to the vehicle, Doug pointed out Soundstage 747 which is where they do interior filming of airplanes. I think he said it features a full sized 727 and 737 and they can even fit a 747 in it if they need to.

After a brief Kongfrontation, we passed by a shoot for Guess Jeans although nothing was going on at the moment (looked like they were just doing some preparations).


We passed by a bridge used in Quantum Leap and various cars used in films including Biff's c and a Delorean from BTTF.


We then stopped to watch a new (to me) segment of the tram tour, the Fast and the Furious demonstration which basically uses stunt cars on a robotic arm to show how action sequences can be filmed.


Passed by a bunch of vehicles and props from Jurassic Park and made our way to Mexico where - surprise, surprise, we encountered a little rain and a flash flood. This was followed by the actual Mexico set which we were told was used in the new Indiana Jones movie - look for it!

I'm not sure if this is the parting of the red seas portion that I had heard about (and it didn't seem that way in 2005), but here we got to see a model of a ship used in Peter Jackson's King Kong.


Next stop was the Edith Head building, home of the largest wardrobe and props department in the industry. Universal has over 5 million props catalogued in a huge warehouse. Some items on display are movie specific and are just for show, but most props can be rented out to anyone. Doug even pointed out several items used recently on Ugly Betty. By the way, here is quite evident that Steve Carell is a god to NBC-Universal. Evan Almighty and 40 Year Old Virgin everywhere. everywhere.


Next was a drive through a couple of sets with visits to Earthquake: The Big One and escalating to Jaws which was also something I was unable to experience in 2005. Okay, it wasn't that impressive afterall but it was pretty neat in that we were able to park and watch a tram group go through it too.


Something I was able to do in 2005, but not this time was visit Wisteria Lane as they were shooting today, so the street had to be passed by.


We then went by Whoville followed by the Bates motel and house. I was really excited because I had heard all these reports of the new tour being able to walk around the Bates set. Unfortunately we passed right by it, but we did get to walk around the War of the Worlds set which was pretty damn awesome (especially as all those pour regular tram folk suckers drove by). Doug pointed out that the parking lot structure was actually camouflaged with a really fake facade (I know that sounds redundant, but this thing didn't even look remotely real) so that it would be hidden from the view of those living in the hills.


Our tour ended at the lower lot, where we experienced Backdraft, Jurassic Park (#3 for me) and Revenge of the Mummy which I was really disappointed in (the Orlando version just slays this one).

It was now time for lunch which was upstairs at the Cove Cafe next to Jurassic Park. The area was closed off just for the VIP groups. Lunch was a cold dish (I had chicken breast with some pasta) and a personal apple pie. We were to meet Doug at the upper lot at 2:50, about 40 minutes later. I basically swallowed my food whole because my plan was to make it towards the front of the park to see if The Simpsons were out for a meet & greet (I saw them in the beginning of the VIP tour but we had to pass them by).

On my way, I learned that the stairs by Jurassic Park made an excellent vantage point for watching the splashdown.

Turns out they were supposed to be out but didn't show for the set for some reason, but I was told they'd be back out (without Lisa) at 3:30 and 4:30. Went back to the starway to meet with the group and we headed over to the house of horrors, which back in 2005 was Van Helsing, but basically the same thing, a walk through haunted house.

It started off pretty weak and I almost missed Van Helsing, but then it really started picking up, especially when the rooms got movie specific like the Chuckie room. Trying to use my new lens and get the settings right, I actually ended up behind everybody that was in the attraction (it didn't seem very popular). In fact, I had lingered in the Chuckie room for so long, that as I turned around to take yet another photo in there, I noticed a zombie had been trying to sneak up on me.

One interesting thing about being the only guest in the haunted house... I suddenly had a HUGE target painted on me. I was later assaulted by the Wolfman and Frankenstein.

It was about 3:15 and the tour headed over to the animal show for 3:40. Doug let me leave the group to catch up with the Simpsons at 3:30 and then I figured I'd have time to make it back to the 3:40 animal show. I had some time to kill, so I ended up visiting the Madagascar penguins and Shrek (I was told Fiona wouldn't be out today). The set with just Bart and Homer (I was waiting for all 3) ran a few minutes long so it wasn't until about 3:33 that they all came out and then Bart ended up leaving (wardrobe malfunction) but he did come back after a couple of minutes.

I headed over to the animal show but noticed Fiona was out with Shrek so I got on line and got pictures with them. I was a little late to the show but got there before it had started so I was able to get into the theatre and meet back up with the group afterwards.

After the show, we did Shrek 4D. The group was off to end the tour with Water World but I left early because while talking to a character handler earlier, I learned that Feivel was a character as part of the cartoon calvacade (or whatever they call this trolley show) so I 'had' to catch it at 5.
I had seen the Water World show anyway and while it's nice, I could have done without it. So I did. I caught a glimpse of Marilyn Monroe while waiting for the trolley.

The trolley came and looped around the upper lot area and stopped back where I was where the characters stepped off and did a huge dance routine before breaking off for meet & greets. And here's where I must make my confession: I'm gay for Feivel. Look at him. He's too freakin cute.


I then ended my day at Universal with T2:3D. I had seen this attraction only once before (back in 2005 actually) and I think it was before I had ever actually seen any of the Terminator films so it was lost on me. I did actually get into the Terminator subsequently but didn't remember the show as any must see, but I figured I'd give it a shot again. Basically what makes the attraction unique is it seamlessly blends live action with a 3D film. It's actually pretty darn good once you understand the plot.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Day 1 Recap

The plane left JFK about 30 minutes late. 10 minutes after the takeoff time, the captain announced that maintenance was in possession of the log and he was awaiting the return of it. Later he announced that there were a few lights out on the plane but it wasn't a safety issue.

The flight was decent, mostly smooth with a little turbulence. Touched down about the same time as I expected so no biggie. BUR is definitely a small but very long airport. Finally got my bag and got a taxi. At one point we hit a snag where I guess 2 lines were trying to merge into one (or more accurately, one lane was starting much earlier than it should have) and that's the lane we had to be in because we had to make the left turn onto the road, but if we were lucky, 2 cars would move for each green light. The driver asked me if I was in a hurry to which I responded it couldn't hurt and he then switched to the next lane over which was intended to go straight ahead. He actually went across the street we needed to turn on, directly into the oncoming traffic side (the turn-only lane was empty) and then proceeded to make a U-Turn and then made a right onto the road. It was genius if not highly illegal. The taxi ended up costing me $10 more than I had hoped, but it was worth it. I was still on schedule.

Got to the hotel, but couldn't check in because no rooms were available, which was fine by me. I left my bags with them and took the metro over to Hollywood & Highland. It was about 11:45 and the plan was to check out the Hollywood Museum which is in the Max Factor building. My schedule gave me until about 3 pm for it.

This building served as inspiration for buildings at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's California Adventure. It's also across the street from Hollywood High School.


Max Factor, for those that don't know, is primarily known for being a famous make-up artist and this was his working space. Where I had known him from was I Love Lucy (his name is prominently displayed in the closing credits). Admission to the museum is $15 but alas no photography is allowed. The museum consists of 4 levels. The first level is dedicated to Max Factor and includes tributes and items from his more famous clients: Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, etc. Also on the first level are several costumes and props from various movies as well as the enormous private collection of an autograph hound.

The basement is advertised on the site as containing Hannibal Lechter's jail cell (which it does) but it also houses a tribute to Egypt in the Movies and contains props and wardrobes from many movies throughout the year including several versions of Cleopatra, going back to 1917. It also has some props from other horror movies (like the Friday the 13th and Halloween series) and a bunch of items (mostly documents) from the Indiana Jones 'trilogy.'

The second floor is a tribute to award winners and contains props and costumes (mostly costumes) from recent movies such as Sweeney Todd, Juno, No Country for Old Men, etc. Some of the really interesting props on this level to me include training boxing gloves from Rocky (signed by Stallone) as well as his italian stallion robe and the bike and suit from Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

The third floor is more costumes than anything else, including a large collection from Moulin Rouge. There are also tributes to Bob Hope and Johnny Grant, the honorary mayor of Hollywood.

Perhaps it was because I didn't use the camera that I ended up breezing through the museum and found myself with much more time than I had allowed for, so I took advantage of the situation and got in a jump start on things I was planning to do later on during the trip.

I decided I would do the Kodak Theatre tour, so I headed over there and went to the area where everyone was lined up for the 1 pm tour. The guide opened the door and let everyone in but they already had tickets and I had no idea where to get them, so he told me to go back down one level to the box office and the 1 pm was fully booked anyway. So I went downstairs and I saw an information booth with cash registers. It didn't look like a box office, but I asked anyway and sure enough it wasn't. She did direct me where to go though and gave me a referral discount that knocked $3 off so the tour was $12 instead of $15. I bought a ticket for the 1:30 tour and proceeded to kill some time.

I read on the Hollywood & Highland Center website that they had this great view of the Hollywood sign which I had failed to see last time I was in LA back in 2004 and I remember even trying to figure out how to get to a point where I could see it using mass transit without killing a lot of time. If only I had known about this gem. The sign is pretty far away but with my telephoto zoom, I can get fairly close (the sky wasn't so clear where the sign is)


And here's another shot I took of the Hollywood & Highland Center courtyard with the Elephants which are famous for something but I forgot and have to look it up


After I spent some time poking around, it was time to get to the Kodak Theatre tour. While the 1 pm was sold out completely, there were only 3 on my tour: myself and a couple from Brazil who didn't really seem to realize they were on a tour.


The Kodak Theatre is a lush 3400 seat house that's relatively new and is primarily known for being the 'permanent' home of the Motion Picture Academy Awards (throughout the month of February, the Oscars are on display at the Hollywood & Highland Center, where the theatre is located). It does hold other events here, both televised (like the American Idol Gives Back show) and regular concerts. It's a very impressive space. The tour basically covered the design of the theatre and how versatile it is (they can remove rows to create a huge orchestra pit, add rows to the media pit if needed, etc). We also went into the George Eastman VIP room which is off limits to regular folk outside of the tour. Not too much to it, but they do have one of the oscars on display that Kodak won for technical achievements.

After the tour, I was still ahead of schedule so I did some walk of fame star hunting. Unfortunately I didn't have my list of desired finds with me because I hadn't planned on doing so, but I think I managed to find most in the area. I realized after the fact that I didn't find Disneyland's star which was supposed to be right there, so I must have missed it.


I wanted to go by Grauman's Chinese Theatre but it was mobbed. All along Hollywood Boulevard in front of the complex are these cheesy character ripoffs who charge a few bucks to take a picture with them (although this one supergirl was definitely worth a few bucks). I saw everyone, from Spongebob to Snoopy to Superman to a Transformer and even Ironman. There were also ghetto versions of Mickey and Minnie. Mind you this is all across the street from the El Capitan Theatre and the Disney Studios Soda Fountain Shop. Aside from all being 6 feet tall, this guy was no Mickey.
I worked my way down Hollywood Boulevard until I got one of Walt Disney's stars which was my benchmark for the day. I then picked up the bus and took it to Petersen's Automotive Museum which was hosting a 'The Art of Cars' exhibit including 'life-size replicas of lightning mcqueen and mater.'

Now I'm not normally a fan of cars in general, but I've been to a few museums and mostly they're just garages with cars spread out all over. Not this place. At only $10 per adult, this is money so well spent in my opinion. It's huge and they obviously take great care in presenting the collection as most of it's backed up with props and scenery. Current exhibitions also include a Hot Wheels tribute and Lowriding.





(okay, how cool is that kid? even with training wheels)


lightning and mater were huge. they're billed as promotional prototypes that toured the country prior to the movie bein released.


unfortunately photography of the artwork is prohibited, but one of my favorite pieces just happened to get in the background of the shot above. it's a poster of all the iris art (yes, irises as in eyes) for the cars characters.

there's also a small collection of other hollywood vehicles (including the batmobile from the 1999 movie and the batcycle from the adam west tv series) but i was secretly hoping and ecstatic to find none other than... Mach 5 from Speed Racer. This prototype is from 1999 so it's not from the new movie, but... who cares?


After wandering around some more to the point of overwhelming myself at the museum, I headed back to the hotel with a quick stop at Quiznos to get my first meal of the day. I tried the new sub, the Fireeater which is pretty spicy but it doesn't stick around for very long.

The hotel I'm at is a Super 8 which now offers free internet but to be cheap, they didn't wire the rooms but threw in WiFi instead which barely works in my room, if at all, so ultimately I had to come downstairs to a common area to catch up and write this. And now I shall go back upstairs and head to bed.

Tomorrow: VIP experience at Universal!

Mater at Petersen Automotive Museum (with Herbie in background)

Mickey Mouse's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

The elephants at Hollywood & Highland Plaza

The Hollywood Sign.. sorta

En route to the hotel

At the airport...

At the airport now, the flight is just starting to board.

Good news: minimal pain in my foot
Not so good news: still limping and just hoping I don't make it worse by walking this morning
Possibly good news: there's still another 9 hours or so to go before I actually have to walk a significant amount
Amazing news: the wifi at JFK is actually working properly and well. although I think it always has worked well in the area I'm in, I'm just usually at gates in other areas

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Itinerary (almost!)

Right now I'm suffering from a minor physical impairment which might affect my pre-ABD itinerary but hopefully it's looking good. The following is incomplete and subject to change, but here's what I have so far (items in red are part of the ABD Itinerary)

SATURDAY - 4/19
- Flight to BUR
- The Hollywood Museum
- The Petersen Automotive Museum (currently featuring The Art of Cars)


SUNDAY - 4/20
- Visit some landmarks and stars on Hollywood Walk of Fame
- VIP Experience at Universal Studios Hollywood


MONDAY - 4/21
- Warner Bros Studio Deluxe Tour
- American Gladiators taping


TUESDAY - 4/22
- Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Sony Pictures Studio Tour
- Kodak Theatre Tour
- Welcome Dinner - Twist


WEDNESDAY - 4/23
- Behind the Scenes at El Capitan Theatre
- Backstage at Jimmy Kimmel Live
- The Jim Henson Company Studio
- The Stars of Hollywood
- Hollywood Forever
- Wicked


THURSDAY - 4/24
- Walt Disney Imagineering
- Walt Disney Studios
- Travel to Disneyland Resort
- Dinner - Hook's Pointe
- Free time in parks


FRIDAY - 4/25
- Breakfast - Minnie & Friends
- VIP Tour of Disneyland
- Lunch - Cafe Orleans
- Free time in parks


SATURDAY - 4/26
- Breakfast - Goofy's Kitchen
- VIP Tour of Disney's California Adventure
- Free time in parks
- Farewell Dinner


SUNDAY - 4/27
- Breakfast - Storyteller's Cafe
- Disneyland Resort
- Walk in Walt's Footsteps Tour


MONDAY - 4/28
- Disneyland Resort
- Fly back to NYC

Adventures By Disney Messenger Bag

This is the bag that came a couple of weeks later after the initial package

Friday, March 21, 2008

The countdown begins

And so begins my blog documenting my experiences on the first ever Adventures By Disney Backstage Magic tour featuring unprecedented access to such places as Walt Disney Imagineering, Walt Disney Studios, Jim Henson Studios and backstage at Disneyland Resort including a visit to Walt Disney's apartment in the firehouse. Additional reported destinations at Disneyland are detailed in a spoiler by Al Lutz of miceage.com.

The countdown begins at approximately 30 days when UPS knocks on the door and delivers this box containing some basic information about the trip.



The blue item on right is used to help identify your luggage for the ABD guides. The opposite side has an identification card.

On the left is some card to help you count down the days (I guess). Since this is my first ABD trip, I don't know if this is something they do for all trips or if they were just stretching for something else to include in the package, but it seemed pretty pointless to me.


Also included in the package is a booklet which outlines the itinerary plus gives some additional information when it comes to arriving for the trip. It seems that it's in standard ABD format even down to where one might expect to find common foreign phrases if traveling abroad:


All in all, it's pretty nice (although some of the clip art used is really jaggy and just looks unprofessional). I still would have appreciated a detailed itinerary since time in the parks is limited and it would help to plan things out in advance, but one won't be available until check-in, so it'll just have to be played by ear.