One year old today!
Sunday, May 13, 2012
|The original Dragon's Head model sculpted by Rich Collins, 1991.|
Twenty years ago this very night, the dragon made her first grouchy appearance on the southern tip of Tom Sawyer Island, and for twenty years since, Mickey Mouse has never failed to "imagine" her away.
But materializing her into existence in the first place took the imaginations and talent of many creative and resourceful people. Not only would Maleficent, as a dragon, act out a dramatic scene while belching real fire, she also had to rapidly appear and disappear from view. In spite of all our well-made plans in the design phase, the final dragon still had some issues, including torching its own head off a week before opening night. But that's a tale best left to the Theme Park Operations and Tech Services people to tell...
Throughout the planning stages of Fantasmic!, I was closely involved in the show's oversized creatures, working on the three-dimensional prototypes and planning out each of their performances.
|24" stop-motion animation model.|
An articulated scale model was built by Vladimir Petrov, with a jointed wooden armature covered in a flexible foam rubber skin, to help us figure out the puppet's movement. I took the model home with me over a weekend and filmed a brief animated test on a folding table in the middle of my apartment. With lighting clipped to the backs of chairs and a gridded background to define the range of motion, Maleficent was put through her paces, first in profile and then in front view.
If you have ever tried doing stop-motion animation, you know what a painstaking process it is. Each frame of film is clicked off one at a time, as you adjust all the pieces and parts in small precise-measured increments. In a minute and a half, you will watch something that took 30 hours to produce. I got a little giddy halfway through the ordeal, as you'll see.
And now, drumroll please...
Prepare to be awed by the never before seen, original animation test for Disneyland's Fantasmic Dragon!
Breakdown of Profile Animation
0:17 -- Appearance of the Dragon
0:21 -- Dragon notices the audience and reacts with surprise.
0:28 -- Dragon's evil laughter.
0:33 to 0:44 -- Dragon throws tantrum, and blasts fire toward audience.
0:45 to 0:47 -- Second fire blast.
0:50 -- Third fire blast, interrupted by Mickey's magic.
0:53 -- Dragon rears back "in pain."
0:58 -- Dragon is defeated.
Breakdown of Front View Animation1:09 to approximately 1:20 -- Dragon enjoys a snack.
1:26 -- Surveys audience.
1:37 to 1:42 -- Fire blast.
Yes folks, this was made back in the dark ages, before computers ever existed in the Disneyland Art Dept. This was shot with a wonderful antique Swiss-made Bolex 16-millimeter movie camera on 100 feet of black & white Tri-X Reversal Kodak film. It's what all of us artsy-fartsy indie film makers used in those days. I hope you're impressed.
There were several other dragon models, too, including a pair of hard resin-cast figures sculpted by Rich Collins.
|Me, with nerdy goggles and dust mask, and the one and only Rich Collins.|
And as for our old friend the Dragon...
|"Heading" north on the I-5!|
Come back soon for more fantasmic memories.
Monday, May 07, 2012
|A crocodile swims in an Anaheim parking lot, 1991.|
This week marks the 20th anniversary of a little nighttime show that ignited a long tradition of "water and fire spectaculars" at the Disney parks around the world. Back in 1992 I was a young theatrical designer beginning my fourth year in the Disneyland Entertainment-Art Department, building scale models for full-sized stage sets and parade floats. Among my particular specialties were miniatures and puppets, and prior to Fantasmic!, I had designed three-dimensional elements for several Disneyland projects, including the "Party Gras" Parade (1990). It was a fun place to work, surrounded by talented people who became my friends. I had a lot of wide-eyed enthusiasm back then, and learned how to fabricate all kinds of neat stuff just by doing my job. My career in the Disneyland Ent-Art Dept lasted eleven years.
|Art Director Tom Butsch and a young model builder in 1991.|
|He was once a little green ball of plastilina...|
During this time, I led a group of model makers at the off-site Entertainment-Art Warehouse on Olive Street, a mile northeast of Disneyland in the historic Anaheim Colony neighborhood (Oh, the stories I could tell about that place... Great, great memories.) The first models I built were the barge/puppets for Ursula and the Crocodile. Vladimir Petrov, Jackie Gonzales, Rich Collins and I made a multitude of other miniature pieces, including various fire-breathing dragons (more on that later this week...)
Ideas for an outdoor show on Frontierland's riverfront actually began in the late 1980s including, I recall, a Haunted Mansion-themed "River Haunt"with ghosts rising from the mansion and appearing to fly over to the island, a la "Night On Bald Mountain." That evolved into a short-lived concept called "Fantasia Live!"consisting of projected film clips on three enormous movie screens accompanied by an orchestra on a floating stage. In the above photo (taken at a seminar for art students), one of the earliest renderings, by artist Scott Sinclair, shows the tip of Tom Sawyer's Island engulfed by a trio of "drive-in movie" type screens. It wasn't until an outside French company came up with a method for projecting film onto water mist, that things began to fall into place. For a year, production went forward under the title "Imagination" until it was determined that the word could not be trademarked. Director Barnette Ricci suggested a made-up word "fantasmic" - which sounded silly to us designers at first - but the new name stuck. Nevertheless, the show's musical soundtrack still begins with "Imagination" sung on the recording.
|With the legendary Tom Butsch at his retirement lunch, October 2011.|