POST OF THE DAY
Disney
Dinner at the Red Hot and Blue, Laurel, MD

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By UberSquirrel
October 14, 2003

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This is long, but some of you might find it interesting. My husband and I met some new co-workers of his tonight for dinner. This married couple (I'll call them "Jack and Jill") just came from California -- they had been Imagineers at Disney since the early '80s. They left Disney because it had become too painful to work there anymore, so they ended up in Baltimore working for a large defense contractor.

Jack worked on just about every cool thing Disney did, from about 1980 onward. He helped design Tower of Terror. He helped do ToonTown. He did Splash Mountain (one of his kids provided a voice for one of the rabbits). He did Star Tours (his license plate and those of other Imagineers ended up as "numbers on the overhead buckets"); all of the robots and "inside show" gadgets were done by his shop. He worked on DisneySea, and had horror stories about Japanese customs. He offered to help in Hong Kong, but Disney said they didn't need him there, and he was finally glad not to be a part of it... "it's going to be horrible, like a big shopping mall. And the air is still horrible there; one of our friends has a wife and kid who have been deathly ill from the moment they set foot there."

I mentioned to him that I met Dave Smith last year when I flew through Burbank on my "Ohana Project," and he told me about his one encounter with Dave. They were redesigning something in Fantasyland (I think?) and throwing out the restroom signs that said "Prince" and "Princess." Dave said that they weren't identifiable as Disney property, so he concurred with throwing them out. John asked if he could have them instead -- and they ended up on his kids' bedroom walls.

Jack said that he had to go through the executive program, which included going to Disney World and being a character for 20 minutes. He was Br'er Bear. He said the costume was horrendous; it was hot, he couldn't see, and he lost track of his "handler." He got lost and was wandering around aimlessly, bumping into things, until he felt his handler tug on his costume and lead him back offstage. He said one guy, who is very high up in the Studio, was bitching and moaning the whole time about having to wear the costume. He thought it was stupid. He ended up being "Tigger." He got into his costume, bounced off, and they lost track of him -- he just disappeared.

Jill worked on "Alien Encounter." She said the Imagineers warned the brass that the attraction was not scary and was very lame, but nobody would listen. Then Eisner came through with one of his teenage sons -- who said, "Dad, this is lame." Then they had to spend a lot of money revamping the whole thing.

I asked Jack why there was such a revolving door between Disney and the defense contractors. He said it was because both Disney and the defense contractors used strict project management techniques. Used to be, the Imagineers would get an idea and just sort of go with it, to see where it took them. He said that the shell of "Haunted Mansion" sat there for years before they figured out what to put in it. Same with "Pirates of the Caribbean." Now, everything is micromanaged to death, just like building an F-22 Raptor.

I said, "Maybe what they need is something in the middle, between those two extremes?" He said, "No, maybe what they need is to allow for creativity. Disney is a creative company; it's not a defense contractor. You can't run it the same way."

Finally, Jack told me about his last encounter with Frank Wells. Jack was at Disney MGM, working on Tower of Terror, and Frank showed up, just to say hello and ask how things were going. Jack said that Frank often did things like that. They had a nice chat about how the ride was coming along, then Frank said goodbye. It was dusk, and Frank was wearing those sneakers that have lights in the soles, which light up with every step. Jack said that, for some reason, he felt compelled to watch Frank walk away until he couldn't see the sneaker lights anymore. Just about two weeks later, Frank was dead.

That's about it.


~alice


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