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)