Jun 30, 2007

America Sings Art

America Sings or Carousel of Progress? It was a tough call. I liked America Sings, but I missed the corny "Carousel." I especially missed Walt's "Progress City" the model you saw after the show. I've seen the parts of the model on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority but it's not the same as the full presentation that came with the model when it was at Disneyland.

Now, I have neither ride. Carousel is on the other coast at WDW and America Sings has been closed since 1988. Some of the characters in the sketches above now populate Splash Mountain. The moving building that was once Carousel of Progress and America Sings now houses an uninspired electronic abomination sponsored with dirty money from insipid corporate sponsors that wouldn't know a good concept if it unzipped their... I'm sorry, I must have lost track of what I was saying. Where were we?

In honor of America Sings 33rd birthday [yesterday], I thought you might enjoy a few of Marc Davis's original sketches for the ride. These concept sketches were used for the 11 page booklet attached to the America Sings album.


Jun 29, 2007

Happy Birthday Don Rosa

I really hate to start this entry this way but it's hard to talk about Don Rosa without mentioning Carl Barks. By now, I'm sure Don Rosa is used to it.

If you pay any attention to Disney comics at all, you may have heard the name Carl Barks. Barks was an animator and gag man for the Disney studios in the early years. When he left the Disney studios in the 40's he began drawing Donald Duck comic books for Whitman. Barks most famous character creation is Scrooge McDuck.

Since we here in America pay very little interest to anyone else's popular culture, it's hard to describe just how popular Disney comics are in other countries. The closest comparison I can come up with is J.K Rowling and Harry Potter. No, I'm not kidding, Mickey & Donald comics were [and still are] that kind of popular, particularly in Italy and the Netherlands. This popularity made Carl Barks something of a European rock star and anyone who creates Disney comics has to live in that shadow.

Fortunately, Don Rosa doesn't mind.

Rosa was working for his family's tile company in Kentucky in 1985 when he found out that a small comic publishing company called Gladstone was creating Disney comics. [The whole Disney comics story in America is a long and weird tale left to others who know more]
As a kid growing up in, Rosa loved Donald Duck comics. The adventure stories of Donald and Unca Scrooge were as fascinating to him as they were to millions of American kids in the 40's 50's & 60's. Those old Carl Barks stories had even influenced Rosa's college cartoon strip the Pertwillaby Papers.

Rosa Called the publisher of Gladstone and sent him a story and the rest as is often said, is history.

Now with 20 years of Donald & Uncle Scrooge adventures under his own belt, Don Rosa is the grand old master of Disney Comics with his own rock star status overseas. We here at the Atomic Treehouse wish him a terrific 56th and hope to read more of his comics under the covers with a flashlight for years to come.

John Hench June 29 1908 - Feb 2004

At the time of John Hench's death in 2004 He was 96 and still maintaining an office in Imagineering. He had worked for the Disney Company for over 65 years as artist and philosopher king. Hench was the conscience of Imagineering. The tall firm reminder that the theming in Disney parks had balance and a purpose.

He had started as a sketch artist in 1939, moved over to the special effects department and then helped to create Disneyland from the beginning. His concept drawing for the monorail is one of the most iconic pieces of art known to Disney collectors and enthusiasts. As "Mickeys official portrait artist", he had rendered Mickey on significant birthdays since 1953.

While it's hard to believe next year will be a celebration of a century since his birth, It's even harder to believe he's been gone for 3 years.

Does the picture at the top look familiar? It's a Dorothea Redmond sketch for one of the tile murals inside Cinderella's Castle at WDW. The tall gentleman standing with the pencil thin moustache is Redmond''s homage to John Hench. He now stands at the gate to Fantasyland, a truly fitting tribute

You can learn a little more about John Hench on Disney's Legends site here

By the way, Hench's book titled "Designing Disney" co-written with Peggy Van Pelt is like a graduate course in theme park color theory. If you're really into the theme park thing, ya gotta read this one.

Jun 26, 2007

Disneyland's Viewliner is 50 Years Old Today

In 1955, Walt Disney had decided that a circus would be a cool addition to Disneyland so he bought a huge tent and created a circus using the original Mouseketeers as the main participants. (It wasn't really that simple but let's roll with the short answer for the sake of brevity shall we?)

The circus flopped like a fat guy from the high dive and Uncle Walt was left with a big dirt field. Since he abhorred a vacuum as much as mother nature, he asked Imagineer Bob Gurr to design a modern train to fill the space.

Bob was Disneyland's mechanical Magiver. If Walt had given Gurr an old sewing machine, a couple dill pickles and asked for a nuclear reactor, Disneyland may have never needed electricity. You'd have to wear lead underpants to ride the rides and the warm glow of main street would make your hair fall out in clumps, but there would have been a reactor.

Gurr sketches out an engine design loosly based on GM's new Aerotrain. The streamlined Aerotrain was designed by Harley Earl's infamous General Motors design team and released in 1955. Bob modified the Viewliners front end a little by intersecting two ovals to house the headlights [The Aerotrain had all it's lights in a single oval] and streamlined the sides of the passenger cars with channeled chrome that runs the length of the train. The engine & the top of the passenger cars are painted in matching colors Disney decides he wants two of the cool trains. One in red, one in blue.

To speed the process, the Viewliner's passenger cars are built by outside vendors while Gurr builds the engines starting with stock V-8 motors and the parts from two 1954 Oldsmobiles.

The whole train is built in a screaming hurry and Gurr is still putting out electrical fires the morning of the Viewliner premiere.[June 26, 1957] When it's time for the inaugural trip, the band begins to play, Walt jumps in the engine and off they go with Bob in a new uniform that had been sewn together just the night before.

Amazingly, the opening was a success without any real problems and the little Viewliner that could chugged around Tomorrowland until Sept of 1958. Why did it have such a short life? The land the Viewliner was sitting on became part of the Disneyland expansion of 1959 which included the Submarine ride, the Matterhorn & the Monorail.