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Here are some insights, stories, tips and other bits and pieces from a former Disney Imagineer.  I hope you enjoy the reading!

Insights, Thoughts and Ramblings From a Former Imagineer...

*Your comments are welcome!

By Brian~WDWithMe, May 27 2015 01:08AM

Every once in a while, you see something at Disney that just makes you shake your head and wonder “what the heck is with that??” The 5-legged goat in Disney's Contemporary Resort is just such a thing. To anyone familiar with the finer points of Disney lore, the 5-legged goat is actually quite legendary, as it has been a part of the resort since opening day in 1972. If you don't know what I'm referring to, here's the background.

The 5-legged goat is part of an enormous mural inside the Contemporary--a showcase piece that actually shrouds the elevator shaft in the center of the hotel. All sides of the 90-foot structure are visible and covered with beautiful tile murals designed by by Disney Legend Mary Blair. Mary, like many of Walt's early Imagineers, was a talented animator who worked on several of the classic animated features including Cinderella, Dumbo, and Peter Pan. She also gave “It’s a Small World” that attraction's distinct look and feel. As a matter of fact, next time you ride “Small World”, take note and you will certainly see a distinct resemblance in the style of the animatronic dolls and the artwork on this mural.

The Contemporary's giant mural portrays Native American Indian children standing along the slopes of the Grand Canyon. Disney often liked to boast that this was indeed the World’s largest handmade mosaic. That's easy to believe when you realize there are more than 18,000 ceramic tiles—each one individually hand painted and fire-glazed.

Designed within one of the scenes is the unusual aforementioned 5-legged goat. If you are heading up the escalator, or down, from the monorail platform, take a gander at the mural facing the tracks, and if you look closely you will see him there. Was the extra leg a mistake? Part of old native American lore?

Here is what I can tell you; there is often method to the madness when it comes to Imagineering. Well...maybe not often...but often enough. In this case, many references cite that this was indeed an intentional design feature added by Mary. It was her way of honoring the culture of the Grand Canyon Indian tribes who felt that nothing in life, including artwork, could be “perfect.”

I always check him out whenever I'm at the Contemporary, kind of like visiting an old friend who has been there from the start. Explaining him to my friends and guests...that's always the fun part.

By Brian~WDWithMe, May 8 2015 02:32PM

At WDI, as well as all other areas of Disney, it’s often times the attention to little details that make such a huge impact in design and themeing. Here’s an example. I was at the Grand Floridian recently—been there many, many times before. Upon entering the lobby from the monorail platform, there is a large GF logo inlaid on the floor, surrounded by very pretty scrolling work—all done in exquisite colored marbles. I’ve always noticed it…but never really stopped to NOTICE it…until my last visit.

To my surprise and delight, when you look closely, you find that some of your favorite Disney characters are carefully blended into the design…much like the hidden Mickey’s you can find throughout the parks. Look carefully at the photo above and you’ll see Minnie in the bottom left and Mickey in the bottom right. Donald and Goofy are also to be found as well—see if you can find them next time you visit. As I said…the Donald is in the details…

(Special Note: Visit my Facebook page—officialwdwithme—and you can check this inlay out in an immersive 360-degree photo. Donald and Goofy are visible—but you have to look hard, since they appear upside down from the photo’s viewpoint.)

By Brian~WDWithMe, Apr 30 2015 06:03PM

Shortly before I was hired on to Imagineering, I occasionally worked as a production assistant for Disney and for the Disney-MGM Studios. In 1990, one of my assignments was to assist NBC with a major PGA event at the time--the Disney Oldsmobile Scramble. One of the more common questions I've been asked over the years is whether or not it's true that Disney paints the grass on their golf courses green. Here's what I can tell you.

Florida is blessed with having wonderful weather for golf--and certainly plenty of golf courses to support that fact! The reality is that mother nature usually does a great job in assisting the greenskeeper with keeping the turf looking great, so normally, while there is certainly a lot of work that goes into maintaining a golf course, painting the courses green on a large scale is not something I noticed that was done on a regular basis. There are some very talented and skilled individuals that keep the courses under control.

That being said...

I do remember one time as we were up early in the morning assisting the TV crews. I overheard one of the network directors asking the greenskeeper if there was anything they could do for some unsightly brown patches that were on the course. They just wouldn't make for good TV and show the fairways in their best light.

To my surprise--back then it was the first time I actually saw this firsthand--they brought out some small sprayers and did indeed proceed to "spray paint" the worn turf areas with an environmentally safe green dye! So yes--there is such a thing!

For our international TV viewing audience, and the players themselves, all were presented with spectacular looking and consistently green golf courses. Of course—if you’ve ever been to one of Walt Disney World’s golf courses, it doesn’t take a lot to elevate their typical world-class beauty…but I suppose, every once in a while, even mother nature can use a slight boost.

So…remember that next time you’re watching your favorite tournament and wondering “Gee, how can I get MY lawn to look that good!” Now you know.

By Brian~WDWithMe, Apr 23 2015 04:34PM

One of the fun things about working for WDI is that you get to collaborate with some truly fun and extremely talented people on a day-to-day basis. One afternoon, I was sitting at my desk when one of my fellow Imagineers came by. He was working on creating the “Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure” at the Studios. He looked at me with a grin on his face and I could see he was holding a note holder from his desk that looked like a big paper clip. Him: “I need to take your picture.” Me: “Okay—what for?” Him: “You’ll see. I just need to test something out.” One thing I learned at WDI is that if a co-worker wants your opinion or wants to test something out, it’s usually going to be worth your time to see what it is.

He explained that they needed some safety and operational signs for the HISTK Movie Set Adventure. If you’ve never been there, this is a play area inspired by the Honey I Shrunk the Kids movies. The idea is to make you feel like you’ve shrunk down to the size of an ant—upon entering, you’re surrounded by 30 foot high blades of grass, a giant leaking water hose, a monster size bumblebee, “spider webs” you can climb on, and one of my favorite features (and for all the kids who visit too!), an enormous dog nose that sniffs and sneezes.

Anyway—they needed some signs to put into the attraction as well. Of course, being WDI, we couldn’t design just normal signs; they had to be themed to fit in with the attraction. What was my colleague’s solution? He envisioned a large scrap of notebook paper with the information scribbled onto it, then stuck on a paperclip and placed into the “sand” (actually a rubberized floor…) If that’s hard to visualize, don’t worry—most of the stuff that came out of our heads was tough to describe. That’s where the picture comes in.

Outside we went, and he proceeded to set down the desk accessory he was carrying on a picnic table we had outside—that large paper clip I described earlier. He then tucked a piece of paper into it with some operational jibberish created just for the mock-up. He asked me to stand about 15 feet behind this little prop. After a few minutes of positioning me and having me adjust my arm movements, he snapped a few pictures with his Polaroid. (Yes—if we wanted an instant photo, we actually used Polaroids back then—smart phones were years from being invented!)

The result was a crude but wonderfully effective “forced perspective” photo showing a "miniature" me standing next to a "giant" paperclip with the paper stuck in it. (To give you an idea of the illusion, in reality, the paper clip is about 6 inches tall--I'm almost 6 feet.) That’s the picture you see below. I don’t think the concept ever made it into the park, but just a fun example of some of the day-to-day creativity that went with being an Imagineer…

By Brian~WDWithMe, Apr 14 2015 01:44PM

I know the title probably isn't proper English, but last night I was watching an interesting documentary about the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team. It brought back a memory (actually a few) that has to do with the first Russian I ever met. In 1992, this was a pretty big deal, since the cold war was still very much a reality—though starting to come to an end. At this time, most Americans had never met a Russian before, and our perceptions about them were shaped very strongly by the media and politics of the time. They were "the other country", way on the other side of the world.

Back in the United States, I was helping Disney’s marketing department as a “Pool Rep.” during one of the resort’s major press events. For this particular one, I was assigned to host a TV station from New York that was here to cover and participate in the Goofy Games. This had nothing to do with my job as an Imagineer—it was just pure fun. The Goofy Games were an event that pitted together teams of 4 or 5 against each other in a series of silly competitions throughout the Walt Disney World Resort. Each team was assigned a WDW “pool rep.” who acted as their host/liaison while they were here. Typically, if I remember correctly, the teams consisted of a local group from whatever city—usually a news anchor and some other local TV personalities. In addition, they were encouraged and allowed to bring a high profile celebrity with them as well.

One day, I was standing by with my team from NY, waiting for one of the competitions to begin. I started chatting with one of the gentlemen from team next to us and to my surprise, learned they were from Russia! What made it even more fascinating is the person I was speaking with—the first Russian I had ever met—was Sergei Krikalev. You probably don’t know his name, but Sergei is a Russian Cosmonaut, and most notably, particularly at the time, was famous for having set the record for one of the longest tenures in Space—albeit unwillingly.

As detailed in a 1992 Washington Post article:

Cosmonaut 3rd Class Sergei Krikalev, stuck in a space station as an orbiting hostage to budget problems on the ground in Russia, returned on Wednesday to a bewilderingly different country than he left 10 months ago.

The cosmonaut, who was blasted into space 313 days ago by the former Soviet Union, landed in Kazakhstan, one of the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States that was formed in December.

The 34-year-old flight engineer appeared dizzy and had to be helped from his spacecraft by soldiers.

While he was circling the Earth in the Mir space station, the Soviet Union fought off a coup, changed leaders and went out of existence.

Nicknamed the ``space victim`` and ``the man who is sick of flying`` by the media while he waited to be returned to Earth, Krikalev has been compared to science fiction characters who suddenly find themselves catapulted into a new century.

Even his home town changed its name while he was in space-from Leningrad to St. Petersburg.

Scheduled to return in October, Krikalev spun around the Earth 16 times a day while economic, territorial and bureaucratic battles raged below.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia and Kazakhstan began to fight over how to administer the huge Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan`s government tried to charge massive fees for use of the space complex, and Russia -- already strapped for money -- worked out a deal to launch the first Kazakh cosmonaut in return for easier access to the cosmodrome and the atmosphere above it. The agreement, however, caused another delay, because the Kazakh cosmonaut was not experienced enough to replace Krikalev as flight engineer.

Financial problems also forced a delay in Krikalev`s retrieval from space. Glavkosmos, the Russian space agency, has been selling space rides to other countries to raise money, and could barely afford to send supplies the 240 miles outside the Earth`s atmosphere to keep Krikalev and other cosmonauts well-fed.

I remember speaking with Sergei for several minutes as we were killing time and waiting for our turns. I didn’t know his name either, when he first introduced himself—but as soon as he explained who he was, I knew right away—his story had been all over the news. He was incredibly cordial and had a sense of humor about his experience. I remember him making a comment about how Disney World in America was the last place he thought he would be when he was circling our planet just a few months earlier. I certainly never imagined I would have the chance to meet and talk to him.

Meeting interesting people like Sergei was one of the coolest things about working at Disney, whether as an Imagineer or in some other capacity. In this case, it was a Russian Cosmonaut—other times it was sports stars, musicians, movie and TV celebrities, and even a Miss America thrown in there. I’ve got some other interesting encounters I’ll be sharing with you as well…

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