The Art of Attractions: Imagineering or Bust
“Yo ho, yo ho,” I whisper-sang as I gazed at the pirates staring back at me.
There I was, standing alone in a studio at Walt Disney Imagineering, geeking out as an assortment of busts—sculpted by Blaine Gibson for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction—stared back. The buccaneers, with their exaggerated expressions, brought back black-and-white memories of Walt Disney pitching the landmark ride in the 1960s on his television show. The moment gave me the shivers.
I recently returned to Imagineering’s headquarters in Glendale, California, as part of a preview of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and the visit reminded me of the time, a number of years ago, that I first set foot in the shop. As a lifelong theme park nerd, the pilgrimage to tour the place where people such as Marc Davis, Mary Blair, John Hench, and Marty Sklar worked to bring projects to life was a dream come true, if a bit overwhelming.
The day was filled with many pinch-me moments. When my tour guide needed to take a short break, he left me to peruse the hushed and slightly eerie sculpture studio on my own. “Hey! There’s Humphrey Bogart,” I thought as I looked at maquettes of some of the figures from “The Great Movie Ride.” And there, tucked in a corner, were the original “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” statues that greeted Disneyland guests for many years.
Imagineer Tony Baxter escorted me to the cafeteria for lunch. I got a kick out of the retired “Skyway” vehicles that had been repurposed as dining sets. While regaling me with tales of his years in the themed entertainment trenches, it was fascinating to watch the guy who crafted “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” and “Journey into Imagination” order edamame and then meticulously arrange the beans into perfectly symmetrical lines.
Perhaps the most geektastic experience I had that day was stumbling upon Herb Ryman’s famous 1950s concept drawing of Disneyland. It was perched on a pallet amid Imagineering’s art history archives, ready to be shipped to an exhibit. It took my breath away to see the artifact, which is arguably the road map for what we now call theme parks.
It has been a wondrous journey from the Disneyland that Walt and Herb conjured all those years ago to the dawn of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Like the Imagineers, keep dreaming and looking to the future as you plan, design, and present new experiences. But be sure to take heed of the pioneers who preceded you and helped to chart your course.
I’ll see you at the parks. I’ll be the one geeking out on the latest attraction—and the classic ones.