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Orange Bird Photo Hunt


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Marc Davis and His Early Days at WED

Marc Davis is my hero. He is the best Imagineer to ever live. His influences in theme park design continue today more than a decade after his death. But his early Imagineering experiences weren't all sunshine and lollipops.


An Animation Legend

His contributions to animation are significant– Cinderella, Alice, Tinker Bell, Maleficent, Auroro, Cruella De Vil, and so on. Though he didn't particularly like animating "bland female characters" he mastered the difficult task. Marc once told Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston that "he got a lot of crap characters (to animate). Moving a girl around with a rotoscope [tracings of live action] is a pretty rotten way to make a living."


Marc's WED Legacy Begins

After his work on 101 Dalmations, Marc with a few other animators produced preliminary work on an animated film they hoped to eventually make at the studio. The film "Chanticleer" was never made because management deemed a chicken movie to be not-so-interesting. Note: Some of the work did go on to influence the studio's 1973 "Robin Hood". After "Chanticleer" was bagged, having not been assigned to any specific animation effort, Marc Davis would unknowingly begin his WED legacy. 


Improving Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland

In 1962 Walt Disney asked Marc to head over to Disneyland and take a "good, hard, critical look" at Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland which opened in 1960. "See what you think about this thing." Walt was less than satisfied with this somewhat boring attraction.

Upon viewing the attraction Marc quickly saw that "there was an awful lot of things wrong" with Mine Train and other attractions. He had plenty of constructive feedback for Walt and many ideas for improvement. "They had no gags in it, no story at all," Marc said about Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland. "One kit fox's head is going up and down, then about a hundred feet away another kit fox's head is going left to right, so I took the two, put them nose to nose, so one is going up and down, the other moves side to side, So immediately you have humor!"

Marc made about 40 drawings of how the park could be improved. At this time of Disneyland history, park management was very unhappy with the men sent to Disneyland from the Walt Disney Studios to help with the park.  Marc's wonderful wife Alice remembers that the Disneyland people "seemed jealous".

Marc quickly found himself (within 2½ hours of telling Walt he had drawings) in a meeting with the entire WED crew. "Everyone who was important was there, and here I am, a stranger from animation. So I stood up and I started explaining piece by piece." When discussing animated figures his knowledge of anatomy gave him the credibility that no one in the room could compete with. He expressed frustration with the way people were seated in the Mine Train cars (all facing center). He described how we look forward when driving a car because forward is where the danger and excitement will exist. This and everything else he spoke of impressed Walt and "he was buying everything I had done and he was quite intrigued with it," Marc said. Interestingly enough, I do not believe Marc's suggestion for the modified seating arrangement was ever fully implemented. 


Marc's "Little Pencil"

Quickly Marc Davis was Walt's choice for some of the most interesting and challenging assignments at WED. Other crew members resented this, as you could imagine. One short-sighted WED executive once walked by Marc's desk and said, "And what are you doing with your little pencil now?" Jerk. This would not be the end of Marc's run-ins with prominent Imagineers.


Jungle Cruise Improvements + Ride Posters?

It's no secret that Explorer Boat Ride a.k.a. Jungle River Cruise a.k.a. Jungle Cruise was nothing to laugh about in its early years. By that I mean it was more serious and less funny than the versions we know today. Marc was asked to pretty much do with Jungle Cruise what he did on Mine Train. He often mentioned that he got a kick out of the Elephant Pool in particular. He also mentioned, "I really did most of the ride posters as well." Interesting! Any we haven't seen?? Most certainly. 


Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room

Holy moly how did he do it? I know he wasn't alone in any of these but by golly his visible influence out ways that of all others. Could you imagine a grass hut with dozens of robotic birds singing above you... WITHOUT the Marc Davis charm? This (and quite possibly every other Marc Davis attraction) would have had the potential of being creepy on the level of third-rate (yet still fun) local amusement parks. Or even crazy Japanese rip-off parks.


1964-65 World's Fair

Walt assigned not only Marc Davis to the World's Fair efforts but his lovely wife Alice Davis as well.  The character work in all four Disney-designed Fair atrractions– "it's a small world", Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, Carousel of Progress, and Ford's Magic Skyway– were all heavily designed by Marc. Alice's costume designs were also a significant contribution.

Marc, Alice, and Mary Blair (what a trio!) with a small handful of other WED-ites created all of "it's a small world" in what, 11 months? Dang.


All This in the First Couple Years

So with no prior "3-D" experience and in a very short period of time, Marc Davis would create and/or strongly influence some of the theme park industry's most successful attraction experiences ever. "This was quite a change to get up from an animation desk and find out all of a sudden there were people with bulldozers and they wanted to know where you want his pile of dirt!"


Shortly After:

Marc's greatest achievement of his career followed by his second-greatest achievement– Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland and The Haunted Mansion. After that, his greatest unbuilt acheivement– Western River Expedition. Other fantastic Marc Davis attractions after Walt's death were and are also fantastic– Country Bear Jamboree, America Sings, etc. 

More to come.


Thank you Alice Davis, John Canemaker, World Famous D.E., and others for the stories.


Related posts:

The Wonders of Nature's Wonderland [ PART 1 ]
 Davis and Disneyland's Rivers of America Rehab
America Sings
Carousel of Progress Like You’ve Never Seen It
Diana Lai: An Original Enchanted Tiki Room VIP Hostess
Jungle Cruise Commercials
EYE CANDY: National Geographic Aug '63
EYE CANDY: National Geographic Aug '63 [Part 2]


Reader Comments (20)

It's interesting to see how much Davis' Chanticleer designs look like his America Sings design (hens in particular). And how much his Song of the South designs and his other America Sings designs resemble each other. And it makes perfect sense. And it's wonderful.

It's so interesting that the most influential Imagineer had so many ridiculous road blocks. Ridiculous from what we fans can tell. And jealousy really must have played a role in people's negative feelings for Marc Davis. I never thought of him as a trouble maker so I doubt his personality was a real source of conflict. Then again I wasn't there for any of this.

September 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJumperJH

GREAT post!!

September 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

“Best Imagineer to every live”?

I would agree with that for the following reasons:

-No other person has ever headed up and designed so many “classics”.

-No other person’s work has had such a direct impact on park attendance. Let’s be honest. The biggest reason by far for coming to the parks is attractions. Everything else comes second. And some of Marc’s attractions are the most ridden and most memorable of any ever built.

-No other one person’s work has provided an identity for Disneyland/WDW like Marc’s work has. He can be largely credited for defining what a Disney ride is.

-No other person has inspired the stylings of later attractions. Tony Baxter’s work has often resembled Marc Davis’ work for example. The overseas parks follow Davis’ lead still today.

-No other person has designed so many rides that have stood the test of time and still stand today, largely unaltered.

September 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSkipper8085

JumperJH- I too love comparing Marc Davis’ work from his early animation days throughout his Imagineering career.

Connie- Thanks!

Skipper8085- I agree with your list. Might I add to it saying that perhaps Marc Davis defined what a Disney ride is.... even more than Walt himself did. I know that might sound crazy but look at Disneyland pre-’62. Walt no doubt invented the idea of a theme park, got the ball rolling, and set the stage. The timing was perfect for Davis to enter. And after that, the place began to fill with personality and charm more than ever before, largely thanks to Marc Davis.

September 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterFritz

Mark Davis was a Great WED role model for the new kids on the block to follow. He, Sam McKim, and Claude Coats were the First String Designers or the WED A Team. Working with Mark on Country Bear, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Small World, Carousel of Progress and America Sings were the foundations used to create the same and other attractions in Tokyo, Paris and Honk Kong. It would be fitting to someday build Mark's Western River Expedition while there are still those people who worked with him around to get it done as he would have wanted it. PD

September 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

Professional Dreamer- I agree. Sadly I don't think management has any interest in doing such a thing. I should mention as well that he wasn't the only great Imagineer. Plenty of credit to Sam, Claude, Herb, and many others- each of which deserve their own articles.

September 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterFritz

I was very happy that Marc Davis's America Sings animated figures and gags were able to relocate to Tony Baxter's First Edition Spalsh Mountain at Disneyland, as well as Marc's Natures Wonderland actual animated critter upgrades to Tony's Big Thunders in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I'm still waiting for the Country Bears to announce their open house or new location. PD

September 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

I was very happy that Marc Davis's America Sings animated figures and gags were able to relocate to Tony Baxter's First Edition Spalsh Mountain at Disneyland, as well as Marc's Natures Wonderland actual animated critter upgrades to Tony's Big Thunders in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I'm still waiting for the Country Bears to announce their open house or new location. PD

September 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

Wow, it seems that every time i see art from Fords magic skyway, it always looks incredibly interesting. Does anyone know what ever happened to the remnants of that ride (besides the dinosaurs)? Also, it's always great to hear about early WED. I was recently talking with Bob Gurr about the same time period. It seems as if more doors were open when Walt was around.

September 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Who is that blonde babe with Marc in that photo?

September 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRuss

I believe that is the voice of Cinderella with Marc.

September 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

No she is Mary Costa, the voice of Sleeping Beauty with Marc. Marilyn McCoo peaked over my shoulder to see what i was doing on America Sings, and that was a great suprise.

September 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

So that's Ilene Woods with Marc?

Great post by the way. In addition to all of Marc's other tremendous life achievements, he also had the wonderful opportunity early in his career to apprentice with the great animator Grim Natwick.

September 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSnow White Sanctum

Illene Woods voiced Cinderella. Mary Costa standing by Marc, did Sleeping Beauty's voice. Alot of celebrities who were doing work with Disney or WED,were always coming through the shop. PD

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

One of the things I love about Marc Davis is that his face looks like it was drawn by Marc Davis.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Mary Costa has a great 2008 You Tube video about how she got the Sleeping Beauty role with Walt and Marc Davis. Big Al Bertino used to work with Marc on America Sings and Country Bear Jamboree. That's how the character Big Al got in the show. PD

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

Totally Melissa! Plus, Mary Costa looks a lot like Aurora! Did they use her as a model?

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily Oriotis

Mary Costa attended D23 with Disney Legend Tony Baxter. He seemed very enchanted with her company.

November 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRusty

What things inspired him, I wonder? For some reason his Pirates of the Caribbean designs give off a heavy European Western vibe.

October 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTamsin

I recently found some old "prototype" paintings done for the haunted mansion done by Marc Davis. Disney's Imagineering department will not connect me to anyone at Disney to help me find the proper home for these fantastic paintings. I paid a great deal of money for them but wish to find a good home for them.
Plz if anyone from Disney Imaganeerig can help me with this issue I did find a YouTube video of Mr David showing a smaller version of the paintings I have. So Iam sure they are authentic.
Plz plz help.

January 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterB Smith

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