Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Original WED Imagineers!


This is a favorite photo of mine taken Ive been told around 1965. It includes many of the wonderful folks we know as Disney “Imagineers”. I had the pleasure and honor of knowing all of them except for two. In addition I actually enjoyed the opportunity of working with quite a few of them during my “loan-outs” to WED, and even had one as my teacher at Cal Arts. 
Walt Disney Imagineering was originally formed by Walt Disney on December 16, 1952 as WED Enterprises (WED: Walter Elias Disney) to develop plans for a new theme park using Disney's personal assets. It was originally an independent, private company, owned by Walt Disney himself, but on February 3, 1965, was merged into Walt Disney Productions. It is currently known as Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), Disney Imagineering, or simply put Imagineering. I still find myself calling it WED but try to remember to say WDI when I'm in house.
Their expertise and vision was instrumental in making Walt Disney’s vision of a unique Park experience like no other on earth known as Disneyland, into a reality enjoyed by countless millions.  
L-R: Herb Ryman, Ken O'Brien, Collin Campbell, Marc Davis, Al Bertino, Wathel Rogers, Mary Blair, Thornton Hee, Blaine Gibson, X. Atencio, Claude Coats, and Yale Gracey.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

"It's a Small World After All"


Painting the "Blues" while listening to them.
To celebrate the famous attraction's 50th Anniversary, I decided to create a painting in my retro style as an artistic acknowledgment to the time period in which it opened in 1967, well at the Disneyland location anyway. I wanted to show the iconic facade with a nod to the famous balloon motif along with the streamlined boat filled with happy guests.

The familiar tune is famous the world over and whether it recalls the colorful attraction at Disneyland or simply the arrival of a local neighborhood ice cream truck, it elicits smiles from children young and old. The original creation was devised at the Walt Disney Studios and over at its sister studio WED and here's some of the backstory.

The destination was to be the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. A major soft drink company, Pepsi-Cola had wanted a major attraction at the fair but the board of directors argued over what exactly that would be. Board member and actress Joan Crawford who had recently been widowed by the former president of the company called upon her Hollywood friend, Walt Disney, to help them out. Pepsi execs jumped at the chance and traveled to California in February of 1963 and ran into "Admiral" Joe Fowler who was the construction honcho for Disneyland. He informed the disappointed Pepsi execs that they (Disney) were already working on 3 previously committed attractions and because it was less than a year left couldn't possibly take on another. Walt found out and from all accounts he hit the roof. (There's reportedly still a dent there, the roof, not Walt). Anyway he told Joe and the rest, "I'll make those decisions! Tell Pepsi I'll do it!"  Walt explained that they were never going to be too busy for a great opportunity like this to showcase what the Disney company could create. You have to watch those kinds of missteps or you can be demoted from an admiral to seaman in one quick cut.

One of Mary Blair's lovely concepts
Original Installation at World's Fair
Walt was well aware that he had already committed his talented team of Imagineers to projects for the State of Illinois, General Electric and Kodak but was still game for the challenge. Walt commissioned a feasibility study but everyone involved already knew it was a done deal. The challenge was that they had to deliver the completed pavilion in only 11 months, yes I said it, ELEVEN MONTHS people! 

Opening Day with Walt and kids 
Joan Crawford then dictated to the board that they would accept Walt Disney’s proposal no matter what he presented. Because of the short lead time to come up with a concept and construct the attraction. Disneyland was about to celebrate its wildly successful first decade so the man obviously knew what he was doing and had the right people to back up his dreams. Some of the most talented Imagineers from WED pitched in to make the last minute attraction a reality. Mary Blair, one of the key creative concept people (and one of my favorites!) at the studio in the 1940s through the 1950s had left to work on her own. Walt asked her to come back and lend her talents to the attraction and she was happy to oblige. The Small World dream team included Marc Davis one of the 9 old men and his lovely wife Alice Davis who designed the costumes for the dolls. Claude Coats came up with additional color studies. Rolly Crump came up with inside toys and eventually the outdoor display named Tower of the Four Winds. Blain Gibson was charged with sculpting the doll faces.
The attraction was originally called “Children of the World”. Walt was immersed in a “walk thru” of the model settings with a couple of his song writers, the Sherman Brothers. During the visit, he told them he needed, “… ONE song that can be easily translated and be played as a round”. For those reading this unfamiliar with the term “round” think back to your early school days when your class was divided into groups singing different sections of “Row, row, row your boat.” The song the brothers came up with was so memorable that they even changed the attraction's name to, you guessed it, "It's a Small World."

Marc's audioanimatronic sketches
The married team of Marc and Alice Davis supplied a One-Two punch of creativity. Marc designed many of the various lands within the attraction while Walt personally asked Alice to oversee the costumes. Have you ever counted the doll population in Small World? Well someone did, and it's over 300! That's a sizable group which translates to quite a few colorful and culturally accurate fashions from around the world thanks in large part to Alice Davis.

Alice Davis sizes up doll
Over 90 percent of the guests of the 1964 World's Fair the opening year made it their mission to attend "It's a Small World." For some reason even though Pepsi was the sponsor of the original attraction, when it migrated to Disneyland, Bank of America, one of the key backers of the park took over the steering rudder by taking over sponsorship of the "happiest cruise that ever sailed."

Sadly Rolly Crump's marvelous "Tower of the Four Winds" didn't join the move to Anaheim. It was replaced by another of his crafty and creative concoctions of a 30 foot clock centered within a facade based on Mary Blair's styling that symbolized structures and shapes from around the world. The guests in line, along with those in the loading area get to watch the toy soldiers trumpet the parade of dolls every quarter hour. So if it's a very crowded day, well, you're going to get to enjoy that parade over... and over... and over.
Celebrating 50 Years of the Happiest Cruise that ever Sailed!

As per Walt's vision the imagineers kept attempting to improve on what was there. They added visual imagery projected onto the facade set to music that even included surprised gusts in the audience that very day. Imagine looking up and seeing a closeup of Aunt Mildred bigger than life on the Small World facade devouring her third delicious Dole Whip? Yikes!

From January to November 2008 they dry-docked the happy little cruise while the fiberglass boats were replaced by a more durable plastic body. The water propulsion was upgraded to smoother and more powerful electric water jet turbines. Other additions have included installing characters from Disney films within the lands such as Alice, Lilo, Stitch and even Woody numbering 29 new characters in all. It has been argued (quite successfully) that the them song, "It's a Small World" is the single most performed and translated piece of music on Earth. I was even told by no less an authority of the Sherman Brothers themselves that somewhere in the world, it's being played at this moment. I believe it, and have to thank Walt and his talented team of imagineers for one of the most magical and memorable of all Disney attractions! Happy 50th SMALL WORLD!


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Disney Cruise Line Art

Painting in my favorite couple as they run through the waves
The maiden voyage for the beautiful Disney Magic ship was July 30, 1988. This ship has astounded its guests with beautiful views from the exquisite staterooms to the magnificent Grand Atrium Lobby which guests enjoy when they first enter the ship/. Yep that is a big'n as we say down south. As impressive as it is on the outside, the interior is breathtaking. 

Each Inside stateroom has a "virtual" porthole showing rolling waves and Disney characters swimming by all in HD. And you won't guess the next item. One of the most popular features is the first ever water roller coaster at sea - the Aqua Duck is 250 yards of transparent tubing that sends guests soaring over the top decks and at one point - over the ocean! Donald Duck may have had something to do with this inventive aqua adventure.

The Aque Duck overhanging one of the many spas 
When I was approached by Disney to create artwork for the Cruise line I first asked about the ports of call. After discovering that it visited the Caribbean I had my theme! I painted the pieces in gouache just as we used to back at Disney Studios from Pinocchio of the 1930s and on into Rescuers of the 1970s. Well they did sneak in some oil paint for Bambi but that my friends is as they say another story. 

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse were my obvious choice of a happy couple enjoying a cruise together. I used a palette of tropical colors to give the settings a bright colorful feel that would remind the guests of their wonderful vacations on the Disney Dream while down in the Caribbean. I then requested the Disney framers use bamboo motifs as the framing element to finish it off. Left to right are: Cruise the Caribbean, Running Through the Waves, and Tubing Offshore. I sincerely hope you like all three of them.


The Disney Magic offers the latest designs in contemporary staterooms, elegant restaurants, and fabulous entertainment.  In addition to the kids' clubs, there are nightclubs and lounges, as well as theaters for movies and live shows. And don't forget the artwork. Bon voyage!

Monday, February 6, 2017

"A Lifetime of Achievement"

Disney Award Book cover Mike Peraza
Here's the early press release for a book about the awards presented to Walt Disney over his lifetime:

" Walt Disney received over six-hundred personal awards and honors over the course of his amazing life. The accolades were given by a wide variety of private and public organizations as well as governments from around the world. 

Besides being recognized for his contributions to the field of entertainment, Walt Disney was also acknowledged for his innumerable contributions to public service, the environment, education, and technology. 


Walt receives special award for Snow White
A Lifetime of Achievement by Disney historian David Lesjak, chronicles all of Walt’s myriad collection awards and goes into depth describing the reasons he received each one. The awards are portrayed throughout the volume in photographs, some of which have not seen the light of day in decades. 

The book, with amazing cover art by renowned Disney artist Mike Peraza, will be available for purchase in the Fall of 2017 through Amazon and the publisher, Theme Park Press."