Friday, August 30, 2013

2013 D23 Expo Recap


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.

Day One

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.

WDFM

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.


After that great moment the presentation let out, so Jeff and I merged back in with the throng of Disney fans downstairs. There were so many pavilions to visit, we just began stopping at each of them and looking around. Jeff decided to try his hand at the video game Ducktales Remastered.

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.



Day Two

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.

It's Kolby!

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

Day Three

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.


Thoughts on the Expo

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.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride - Walt Disney World

Today I officially began guest-blogging for the wonderful site: allears.net!

For my first post, I decided to talk a little bit about the beloved Magic Kingdom attraction, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. While it's true Toad is alive and well in Disneyland, the Walt Disney World version closed its doors permanently on September 7, 1998 (fifteen years ago next month).

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

During early planning for Walt Disney World, Chief Operations Officer of WED Enterprises Richard Irvine tapped Imagineer (and future Disney Legend) Rolly Crump to spearhead all of the Fantasyland attractions. Thrilled with the assignment, Rolly immediately began formulating ways to improve upon the existing dark rides from Disneyland. One of the rides Disney decided to carry over was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, which was extremely popular in Anaheim.

Photo courtesy of http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog


Check out the full article on allearsnet: Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dueling Disney: War of the Watercraft


It’s no secret that water plays a huge part in the aesthetic of Disney Parks. Whether you’re passing through New Orleans Square and gazing upon the Rivers of America, or admiring the World Showcase Lagoon in Epcot, water has been a big part of Disney since Disneyland’s opening day. In addition to its visual factor, however, it also serves as a platform for conveyances. This time on Dueling Disney, Keith and Jeff endeavor to determine which coast does the watercraft better!



War of the Watercraft


 
 

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Disney Project Podcast--Episode 10: Service with Character

Disney author and historian David Lesjak joins the fun this month to talk about just some of the many projects he's involved in. From his recently released e-book Service with Character, to upcoming projects like a book on Disney's Hyperion Studio days, David displays his vast knowledge of early Disney history.




Your listening options are iTunes, the direct podcast’s page, or via the window below. Enjoy!


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Learning from Walt with Rolly Crump


On Saturday, July 20, I attended a presentation at The Walt Disney Family Museum titled: Learning from Walt with Rolly Crump. Disney Historian Jeff Heimbuch stopped by to moderate an informal talk with Rolly on what it was like to work for and learn from the greatest creative genius of all time, Walt Disney.

When Rolly was first offered a job with Disney, he was working as a dipper in a ceramic factory. He was head dipper, in fact, mainly because he was the only dipper. His salary was $75 a week, and Disney was offering him $30. Not sure if he’d be able to deal with making less than half of what he was used to making, he asked for a night to sleep on it. His mom reminded him that working for Disney was his dream, and to just go for it. Rolly took the job, and to supplement his income he worked making sewer manholes on the weekends.

Rolly was the last “in-between” hired for Peter Pan. Early in the talk he shared some of his fun drawings with us.

A Rolly Penny!
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

Aside from drawing, Rolly was also a fan of lifting weights at the Studio Gym. Proud of his physique, he shared a photo that demonstrated just how adept he had become. He also showed us a drawing of how he chose his outfit each morning.

You go, Rolly!
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

One day fellow future Disney Legend Frank Armitage brought a mobile he built into the office, and Rolly became fascinated with it. Rolly had no idea what a mobile was at the time, so Armitage told him to visit the Studio Library and look up Alexander Calder (Calder was an American sculptor perhaps best known for inventing the mobile). Rolly did just that, and found himself building them on the weekends, when he had time off from his second job. Rolly even won over the Studio grouch by giving him a mobile he had created.

A mobile Rolly built
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

Rolly picked up different art projects from his co-workers. For a while, he painted on rocks. Then one day he noticed something another future Disney Legend he worked with had created: a propeller. Wathel Rogers had taken the clip off of a pencil and made a little propeller out of it. Rolly constantly bugged him as to how he did it, but Rogers never told him. Finally, one day, Rogers offered to divulge his secret for the price of… one penny. Rolly happily paid, and Rogers advised him, “You use a ballpoint pen to make the dent, so the dent is smooth.” Rolly credits his propellers with changing his life. Years later when they were looking for people to join WED Enterprises (WED, which are Walt’s initials, was the early name for WDI, or Walt Disney Imagineering), Ward Kimball brought up Rolly’s name. Walt remembered those clever propellers, and Rolly was eventually transferred over.

WED

Walt Disney decided to pair Rolly with yet another future Disney Legend, Yale Gracey, to work on concepts for the Haunted Mansion. The two set up their own little studio, and took full advantage of the creative freedom they were granted. All sorts of crazy and spooky artifacts soon filled the area, to the point where the janitorial staff had requested the lights be left on at night. Soon after receiving said request, Rolly and Gracey came up with an idea. They rigged some of the figures to activate via an infrared sensor one night, then went home. The next morning when they came in, all of the figures were still going off, and there was a lone broom lying on the floor. Later that day they were informed that janitorial would no longer be cleaning their studio.

Rolly then told us about a few of the concepts they created for the Mansion. Yale discovered a book called The Boy Mechanic, and in it read about a visual effect from the mid-1800s known as the “Pepper’s Ghost Effect.” The simple effect utilized light and glass to reflect images, giving them a ghostly appearance. The two then came up with a creepy storyline to take advantage of this visual trickery. An old sea captain who murdered his wife drowns at sea, returns home, and is attacked by the spirit of his shrieking bride.

The Sea Captain
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

After tales of the Haunted Mansion, Rolly switched to a less scary gear and discussed his work on the Enchanted Tiki Room. The original concept for the Tiki Room was a restaurant featuring mechanical birds that would entertain the diners. Walt assigned Rolly to create some Tikis for the pre-show area out front, only there was one problem. Rolly didn’t know the first thing about Tikis. Of course he still said okay to Walt, but then went to the library and found a book called Voices on the Wind: Polynesian Myths and Chants. The book was a treasure trove of information for Rolly. He then found a book called Oceanic Art that detailed the sculptures, and he referenced it throughout his Tiki creation process. As we all know, the restaurant idea was scrapped, but the Tikis remained. According to Rolly, the Tiki Room was conceived, designed, and built within 90 days. One of the many benefits of working with Walt!

The book Rolly used to study Tikis
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

Rongo, god of agriculture
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

Another part of Adventureland Rolly had a hand in was the Bazaar. In 1961, it wasn’t very nice to look at, nor was it bringing in much money. Rolly was tasked with sprucing it up. And spruce it up, he did.

Adventureland Bazaar after Rolly fixed it up
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

While work was underway for the pavilions at the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair, Rolly was working on a mechanical orchestra to adorn the queue of Ford’s Magic Skyway. “Maybe you should make them [the instruments] look like car parts, being the Ford pavilion and all,” Walt said to him. Rolly loved the idea, and immediately sought out WED’s resident mechanical mastermind, Bob Gurr. They went through a catalog of Ford parts, and began to pick ones that could be cut up or manipulated to look like instruments. The end result was quite good.

Car Part Orchestra
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

The most famous piece Rolly did for the Fair, however, would be done for the Pepsi-Cola Pavilion. Pepsi wanted to do a salute to UNICEF, so Walt wanted to do “a little boat ride,” and he recruited Rolly to create its marquee. Upon hearing what Walt had in mind, Rolly was delighted, as it basically sounded like a tower of mobiles. He soon assembled what would become one of the most iconic structures of the Fair, The Tower of the Four Winds.

Rolly with Walt and the model of the Tower of the Four Winds
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

Walt and Rolly in front of the actual Tower of the Four Winds
Photo ©Disney

Rolly also worked on the “little boat ride” itself, which would become known as it’s a small world. Walt recruited Mary Blair to work on the attraction, which immediately made Rolly excited. He was a huge fan of Blair’s work, and somewhat idolized her. In fact as a tribute to Mary Blair, Rolly made sure a little doll wearing her favorite outfit and sporting short, blonde hair made its way onto the ride. The doll is still there today, in Disneyland’s it’s a small world.

Rolly with Mary Blair
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

The program ran a bit long, but no one seemed to mind, as Rolly’s stories were so engaging. Jeff Heimbuch did a good job navigating the pace of each story by providing accompanying photos with Rolly’s words. He also reminded Rolly to tell the audience about any tidbits he may have forgotten. Rolly’s talk wound down with a few post-World’s Fair projects. The first of which was getting it’s a small world relocated to Disneyland. The Tower of the Four Winds, which Rolly didn’t care for since engineers had to dramatically alter it to withstand the elements, was not going to make the trip. It met a grizzly fate, getting cut up into two-foot lengths and tossed into the ocean.

After the World’s Fair, and the relocation of Small World, Imagineers resumed work on projects that they had been involved with prior to the Fair. For Rolly, that meant the Haunted Mansion. He quickly realized that most folks were expecting the Mansion to be a typical haunted house ride. Rolly did not want it to be a house of spooky clichés, so he began sketching as many weird characters and set pieces that he could think of.

Museum of the Weird séance room
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

One day Walt saw a bunch of the strange stuff over in Rolly’s area. No one seemed to know what he was doing, so Walt approached Rolly and asked, “Okay, what are you working on, Rolly?” Rolly replied, “ Honestly, I don’t know!” Walt told Rolly how weird all of the stuff was, and Rolly agreed. For the next few minutes Walt was trying to get Rolly to outline how all of those weird things were going to be utilized. Rolly didn’t have any definitive answers, so Walt eventually said, “That’s it, I’m out of here,” and left. The next morning Rolly went into the office a little early, only to find Walt waiting for him at his desk, wearing the same clothes he was wearing the day before. Walt told Rolly he didn’t get an ounce of sleep that night, because he couldn’t stop thinking of those sketches. A contrite Rolly apologized, but Walt just smiled and said, “No, no, don’t be sorry. I’ve got this idea for it.” That’s when he explained his idea for adding a little “Museum of the Weird” to the end of the Mansion, and Rolly loved it. Of course that idea never came to fruition, but Rolly did share several of the amazing sketches he created.

Rolly brought the presentation to a close with images from his work during the “New Tomorrowland” of 1967. Those images included a new central ticket booth, the Mickey Mart, the flowerbed at Tomorrowland’s entrance, and the Tomorrowland Terrace’s elevator bandstand. Rolly informed us that to create the pattern of flowers, it took just him, Bill Evans (head of Landscaping), and a shovel. Rolly created the pattern from his mind as they went, and the two planted each and every flower themselves.

Tomorrowland Terrace elevating stage
Photo courtesy of Jeff Heimbuch and Rolly Crump

With that, Rolly wrapped up his talk and fielded a few questions from the audience. It was after the Q&A that the grateful crowd responded with a standing ovation.

I want to thank Rolly and Jeff Heimbuch for the outstanding presentation. Jeff is a good friend of mine, but I thoroughly respect him as a peer, and the work he put into this program should not go unappreciated. I also want to say thanks to Jeff and Rolly for providing me with several of the photos used in their presentation to use in this recap. I would also like to point out that while I did take a copious amount of notes, this recap would not have been as comprehensive if I didn’t supplement my notes with information taken directly from Rolly and Jeff’s book, It’s Kind of a Cute Story.

After the standing ovation, the two adjourned to the lower lobby, where they met with fans and signed autographs. Unfortunately photos with the two weren’t allowed, but as my recaps always have photos of me with the presenters, I will just have to pull out some previously taken shots!

Me with Rolly at the Tiki Room

Jeff and I hanging out on Buena Vista Street

I hope you’ve enjoyed this recap as much as I enjoyed writing it. Once again, big thanks to Rolly Crump and Jeff Heimbuch for everything. If those two are ever making an appearance in your area, I strongly recommend going to see them.