Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Be Our Guest" Restaurant Mural

One of 10 early watercolors I did for Beauty and Beast 

"The Little Mermaid" was not even in the can so to speak when I was hooked in to fish out a few concepts for a new picture entitled, "Beauty and the Beast" along with Mike Hodson, a remarkable designer with a pencil. Dick Purdum was named director after Richard Williams turned it down and my wife Patty was creating pastels alongside Mel Shaw. Patty was the Project Lead which meant she was also my ... boss. She enjoyed that aspect tremendously as she could now tell me what to do at work as well as at home. I began doing some colorful watercolor concept pieces only to be called into the front office where I was told by management, "This isn't going to be another musical like Mermaid, it will be a very straight dark film, much like the Jean Cocteau version." I checked out the Cocteau classic and suddenly had visions of another heavy film like Black Cauldron all over again and reluctantly decided not to stick around, a rather short sighted mistake on my part. I needn't have panicked for when Mermaid was released and became a resounding splash along with or maybe because  of it's memorable soundtrack, the direction of a non-musical dark Beauty film was tossed, thank goodness. It was to be a magical musical more than ably directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, utilizing a very talented animation crew, another outstanding score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken and with stand out character animation of the Beast by Glen Keane. A true classic of the so called "Disney renaissance."

Well let's scoot forward to 2011 when I answered my phone, (I often do that when it rings,  but I get so sick of those telemarketers don't you?), and found myself in a discussion with WDI to design a mural for their "Be Our Guest" restaurant based on the film. Naturally I said yes, partly because I had worked with this talented team already on earlier projects and also because it's' nice to work and get paid. My wife shares in that opinion.

Mural rough blocking with guest's eyeline in mind
 The mural was to be a distant simple countryside view of majestic mountain ranges as seen from the Beast's castle ballroom. There would be drifting cloud effects and twinkling stars. After some early sketching I just thought it was lacking that something special. I mean come on, summer in Orlando, with that humidity. I just remembered how great it always felt to come in from the sweltering sun and sit down and cool my heels at the Blue Bayou restaurant at the Pirate ride and wanted something as visually memorable. I remembered that the Beast Castle was blanketed in snow for quite a bit of the film. I watched the DVD of the film just to make sure, yep, there was definitely some white stuff on them thar hills. So I though, "Why not add some icy frost to the window panes, skip the moving clouds and instead add soft falling snow flakes that would glisten as they dance through the light from the restaurant's Renaissance styled windows? "

CGI set that sold the snow idea
My final "thumbnail" rendering

I created an animation using my almost completed illustration as a rear projection with the camera moving around a simply modeled dining room CGI set and through columns, and timidly added it as an attachment. When I got a call from WDI, I was prepared to get politely reprimanded for wasting time but instead entered a phone conference call full of imagineers congratulating me on the idea. One even remarked how neat it was to actually see the concept realized fully in 3D!

"Be Our Guest" restaurant during construction.
With the support of the marvelous team at WDI headed by Senior Show Designers Jon Georges, Chris Beatty, and David Minichiello, I surged ahead finishing the final illustration. The digital painting I created was saved as a PSB, which is the "super-sized" format for Photoshop files and I brought it over on my hard drive. At first they had trouble finding a computer with enough ram to open and scroll through the massive image which had me sweating bullets over whether I had saved it correctly but it all worked out. They were able to transfer the image onto a large curved canvas and the Disney artists on site did their wizardry to make it all came together.

The full size canvas mural ready for installation

On location in Walt Disney World, a team of skilled artists worked it over and really made it shine. In the end, the folks at WDI from the Senior Show Designers and Imagineers to all of the talented technicians and artists involved created yet another savory and delicious memory for Walt Disney World guests.

Well as Lumiere would say, "Ma chère mademoiselle. It is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that we welcome you tonight. And now, we invite to relax, let us pull up a chair, as the dining room proudly presents... your dinner." 
Sheesh, I'm getting hungry already! HEY WAITER!!!


  1. Thank you Jenny! It was a labor of love with many hands helping to make it a reality.

  2. Stunning! Simply beautiful! Can't wait to see it in person.

    1. Thank you Snow White, hope you'll be able to see it (and like it) soon.

  3. Hi Mike, I haven't been on in a year or more (we've been homeschooling Mitch for highschool). Anyway I caught up and read all the years news. I love your blog. I feel like I'm closer to my childhood whenever I'm here. Thanks. Your work is still so amazing. My kids are Disney fanatics with makes your blog doubly fun. Please say "Hi" to Patty.

    1. Hello Carrie, great to hear from you and thank you for the kind words. Hard to believe Mitch will be heading to High School soon. Time really flies especially when you have children, lol. I will give your message to patty and please give our warmest wishes to your family.

      Best regards,

  4. Your work is incredible!!! We are going to Walt Disney World in August 2013. We can hardly wait to see the Be our Guest art you have created! Thank you so much for the Facebook friendship. Sincerely, Jodi Rice

  5. Your work is incredible!!! We are going to Walt Disney World in August 2013. We can hardly wait to see the Be our Guest art you have created! Thank you so much for the Facebook friendship. Sincerely, Jodi Rice

  6. Hello Jodi/21,

    Thanks Jodi for your comments and I sincerely hope you enjoy yourself at the "Be Our Guest" restaurant. Quite a few talented people made that magical place possible and I'm just glad to be a small part of their team. Please make sure to drink lots of water and Gatorade if you're visiting in August.