From August 9th till the 11th, I attended Disney’s third biennial D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center. I attended the first one in 2009, however was unable to attend the second one in 2011. As this was the first Expo for me in four years, I was pretty excited. Through The Disney Project I was able to obtain a press pass this time around. It allowed for special access to certain areas, access to the pressroom, exclusive events, and more.
I spent all three days at the Expo, pretty much from opening till closing. Because of that I won’t even attempt to write a comprehensive recap of the entire weekend, as it would take forever. I would however like to talk about a few of the presentations available, share my experiences with you, and my thoughts on the Expo in general.
The festivities began Friday at 8am, with a special waffle breakfast held for the press. In addition to waffles we were treated to typical breakfast food, and dined outdoors in the shadow of the structure erected for the Phineas and Ferb Waffle-inator. I got to see several Disney bloggers/writers/podcasters right off the bat, which was fun. My good friend Jeff Heimbuch and I ate some surprisingly delicious waffles, and spent a few minutes watching the Waffle-inator in action.
After breakfast we entered the Convention Center. We had a naively ambitious schedule, given how popular the Expo was. But first we meandered around and took it all in.
The Expo floor was broken up into several areas. Other than the arena and the stages that held presentations, people could visit such areas as: The Disney Dream Store, Disney Consumer Products, Disney Citizenship, Disney Interactive, Journey into Imagineering, Mickey’s of Glendale, and much more. In addition to those areas, there was a huge Collector’s Forum, which housed all of the exhibitors’ booths. It was there where I spent a great deal of time, not only perusing the booths, but putting in volunteer shifts at The Walt Disney Family Museum booth.
After leaving the Collector’s Forum, it was time for the presentation: Undiscovered Disneyland with Tony Baxter and Josh Shipley. Tony mentioned early in the presentation that he had given it a few times, so to mix things up he re-branded it as “Rediscovered Disneyland.” He talked about and showed us images from several attractions, locations, and parades that no longer exist. It was a fun and interesting presentation, and I took so many photos of the slides, I will have to make the recap its own post on The Disney Project soon. I would like to share a photo I snapped of a video Tony made at the original ImageWorks from EPCOT Center’s Journey into Imagination.
|That's Tony in the checkered shirt|
The coolest part of the presentation actually came after it ended. Tom Staggs came out on stage to surprise Tony with the announcement that he was getting his own window on Main Street. Tony received a well-deserved standing ovation, and he was clearly touched by both the gesture, and the crowd’s reaction. I took a photo of Tony the moment the announcement was made.
|Life is like a hurricane...|
After that he made me visit the Optimist booth with him, which was in the Collector's Forum. I was in fact not following along with this particular social media campaign, but I was told by more than one person it was very well done. After that we stayed around the Forum, and checked out a few more booths. We saw Mike Peraza, artist on the original DuckTales cartoon, at the Micechat booth. Of course we had to take a picture with him.
I then went to put in a shift at The Walt Disney Family Museum booth. As I volunteer for them, it only made sense to do some volunteering at their booth while we were both at the Expo together. It was a lot of fun. I never get tired of talking about Walt. I was a little surprised however that so many Disney fans had never heard of the Museum before. We happily filled them in, as well as handed out free pins, and 3-dollar off vouchers for when they decided to visit. Once my shift ended, Jeff and I decided to visit the Journey into Imagineering pavilion. On the way there, we stopped to admire some cosplayers.
|This kid took home first prize in my book|
|I was wearing my Spidey shirt - how serendipitous!|
Jeff and I entered the Imagineering pavilion, and we both instantly loved it. Our only complaint was that there wasn’t more of it! This is probably where we spent the bulk of our time, aside from the Collector’s Forum. We walked around and soaked up the exhibits, and when I realized they had a Captain America meet-and-greet, I had to jump in line. I had just met Spidey, after all!
|Captain America was a big dude|
After meeting Cap, we ran into a familiar fellow who graciously agreed to pose for a photo with us.
|Somehow it just doesn't seem like R2 without 3PO around nagging him|
The pavilion housed a variety of exhibits, and also displayed some amazing models of ride concepts. One of them being Tony Baxter’s original concept for the Land Pavilion for EPCOT Center, complete with hot air balloon ride.
We talked to all of the Imagineers inside the pavilion, mostly to the gentleman named Tom who was working towards the front. He was very nice and very knowledgeable. He also happened to be stationed next to a model of a little something called… The Western River Expedition! Apparently some of the Imagineers found this inside a wall. Crazy.
Day One was a bit of a whirlwind, and Jeff and I were exhausted by the end of it. Sure we had only attended one presentation, but we each worked shifts in booths throughout the day, and talked to/mingled with tons of people. Just before we left for the day, we decided to rest our eyes.
Jeff and I woke up nice and early to get to the Expo by opening, but not as early as some folks, who had apparently started lining up for the Live Action at the Walt Disney Studios presentation (which started at 12:30p) at 3 in the morning.
We didn't end up doing any presentations this day, as the lines for the ones we wanted were longer than we wanted to wait, so we had fun goofing around in the Collector's Forum for a bit. Jeff somehow got his hands on an incredible bandana, and it sparked a tug-of-war, to the death!
|Disclaimer: nobody actually died during this tug-of-war|
Once the epic battle ended, we found more fellow Disney writers and podcasters to mingle with. Nate Parrish from WEDWay Radio and John Donaldson, author of the memoir, Warp and Weft: Life Canvas of Herbert Ryman stopped by to say hello!
|Nate, John, Jeff|
Then I had the pleasure of running into the talented Kolby from Kolby Konnection, showing off a terrific model he had on display.
Jeff had a book signing with Rolly Crump from 1-3p at the Micechat booth, so I decided to put in more time at The Walt Disney Family Museum booth. A few people recognized me from the articles I write for the WDFM, which was nice. I handed out buttons, talked to folks about Walt and the Museum, and had a great time with my WDFM co-workers while we interacted with fellow Disney fans. Once Jeff finished signing autographs for his adoring fans, we headed back to the Imagineeering pavilion. We saw Tom again, and spoke with him some more. I also took the opportunity to snap a few pics of an early concept model for Spaceship Earth.
|Check out those Skyscrapers|
Michael Colglazier, president of the Disneyland Resort, came meandering into the pavilion, and was nice enough to pose for a few pictures. Since he basically stopped right next to me (he must be a huge Disney Project fan), I asked him for a pic.
After posing with me, he decided to pose with the Dreamfinder and Figment, who were on hand to present Tony Baxter with his Disney Legend award earlier in the day.
I actually got to meet Steve Taylor, the second and longest-running Dreamfinder, during Epcot’s 30th anniversary last October. He is a great guy. He recognized me, and before I posed with him, I nabbed my friend Vanessa Hunt.
It was a fun second day, mostly consisting of, again, interacting with Disney folks. Jeff and I didn’t really want to spend too much time waiting in lines for presentations. I was going to see one while he was signing from 1-3, but I ended up having too much fun at the WDFM booth. On our way out, we spotted a girl with a clever Rocketeer outfit. I asked her for a pic, and it turns out her dad was a featured extra in the film! Pretty cool.
|I may look dorky, but at least she looks cool|
Exhausted, Jeff and I got to the Expo just after it opened this time. We had no specific agenda for the last day. We had pretty much abandoned the notion of attending any presentations, as the ones we thought sounded good had crazy lines. And really, meeting fellow Disney fans and peers had been the most fun for us up to that point. We started day three in the Collector’s Forum again, and I met up with yet another superhero.
Okay, so maybe that was actually a statue. Adjacent to the Collector’s Forum was an auction area. Bob Gurr had told Jeff and I that while there he autographed a few of the items to make them a little more valuable. One of them was half an Autopia car (which he designed) mounted on a frame as art. The other was a former Matterhorn Bobsled (which he also designed).
Before long, Jeff, myself, and a few others found ourselves headed back to the Imagineering pavilion. This fun sign was adorning its queue.
Tom was in there again, manning his position. He had actually given us a question to ask Rolly Crump in regards to inspiration for a ride effect. Jeff and I had breakfast with Rolly that morning, and remembered to ask him. We were happy to relay that information back to Tom, since he had been so cool to us the entire weekend. He was one of the highlights for us. The group broke apart briefly, so I took Jeff’s boy Alex to visit the Avatar booth. While Avatarland is certainly a controversial topic these days, the Imagineers did a great job of never “breaking character.” Instead of talking about the progress of this particular project, they kept letting folks know that the Imagineers were taking research trips to Pandora. We got a kick out of that. Speaking of getting a kick, they let Alex hold a boot from one of the Na'vi. It was bigger than him.
|How heavy was this shoe? Just ask Alex.|
One of the sections inside the pavilion showcased Audio Animatronic technology. Some of it was stuff hardcore Disney nerds like Jeff and myself have seen before. But then, I ran into this guy.
The rumor is, the Hatbox Ghost will make his eventual return to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion!
We found ourselves over near Tom again, only this time we let the poor guy talk to some other guests. While we were there, some folks who admire Jeff’s work flagged him down. That had happened a few times over the weekend, and each time I sort of took a step back and let him do his thing. I was either chatting with Alex, or Jeff’s fiancé Martina, when I heard him say, “Oh really? Because Keith is right here!” I walked over to him, and it turns out the two Communicore Weekly fans he had been conversing with were also big Dueling Disney fans! Their eyes lit up when they saw Jeff and I together, and proceeded to tell us all of the things they enjoyed about our column. We ended up chatting for around 15 or 20 minutes. They were so sweet, and so much fun to talk to. As soon as they left Jeff and I agreed that was hands down the best moment of the weekend.
|L to R: Mason, Jeff, Keith, Benjamin|
After that awesome experience, we had another one when we ventured into the Walt Disney Imagineering Art Library. My friend Vanessa was in there, since that’s the branch of Imagineering she works for (she also put together all of the artwork for the Poster Art of the Disney Parks book – she’s pretty awesome). There were three separate stations in there. Vanessa showed us the original Herb Ryman sketch of Disneyland. Our friend and budding Imagineer David Younger was also in there, giving folks a brief history of Imagineering. The third display was the E-ticket, however. For the first time being shown to the public, they had Peter Ellenshaw’s rendering of Disneyland for the Disneyland TV show. What makes this painting so special is the black light paint used for all of the lighted areas, so when the lights go off, those areas of the painting glow. It was truly incredible.
As Sunday drew to a close, the line to get into Mickey’s of Glendale was finally manageable. Jeff and I took a look around, only to find that all of the best stuff was long gone. Our group gathered outside of the shop, said our goodbyes, and Jeff and his family drove me to the airport.
This weekend felt pretty nonstop. At times the enormity of the venue felt overwhelming, but nothing more than we could handle. There was so much stuff to do, and so many people to interact with, I don’t recall ever having much downtime. And we only saw one presentation! I would have liked to have seen more, but again, some of the lines were just a bit too long for us. The food at the convention center was horrible, so by day two we were venturing outside of the facility to find lunch. Working the WDFM booth was delightful. Basically everyone who comes up to you is a Disney fan, and you just get to sit there and talk about Disney, or Walt, or the Museum. Also, as a blogger/podcaster, it was great to finally meet many of my peers.
I did hear a few complaints about the Expo. Sure some of the workers had no idea what was going on, the venue’s food was awful, and long lines prevented us from partaking in many activities. That all said, I still think it was run very well, and gave guests a unique opportunity to be immersed in such a “Disney fan” environment. Obviously we’re all Disney fans when we’re in Disneyland at the same time, but that doesn’t cultivate nearly as much interaction as an event such as the Expo. I definitely recommend that every Disney fan visit the D23 Expo at least once to experience it for themselves.
Thanks to Jeff for being my partner-in-crime the entire weekend. Thanks to Martina and Alex for putting up with me, and thanks to new friends Ryan and Cassie for hanging out with us half the time. Oh, and thanks to Rolly for buying breakfast on Sunday! I wish I could say hi to and/or thank every fan/peer/friend we met over the weekend, but there are just so many.
One last very special thanks to Mason and Benjamin, for making me and Jeff’s weekend. I hope to see all of you at the next one!
Oh, and if you want one visual representation of what three full days at the Expo felt like... well here you go.
Thanks for everything, D23! See you in 2015.