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Entries in Marc Davis (8)


Big Thunder Mountain Model

We've got lots of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad love for everyone. This marvelous 1/4" = 1' scale model can be seen in the lobby of the "Frontierland Tower" at the Disneyland Hotel. It's the wildest model in the wilderness!


Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Origins

Young Imagineer Tony Baxter had recently worked on the install of some Magic Kingdom Fantasyland attractions prior to Walt Disney World opening. He landing work in the model shop and was working with Marc Davis on plans for Thunder Mesa and Western River Expedition. The area would have included a train ride and a very elaborate boat ride sometimes explained as “Cowboys of the Caribbean” or “Pirates of the Caribbean with Cowboys and Indians”.

Rising 1970s gas prices, lower-than-desired park attendance, and guests expecting a pirate ride ultimately led to the management-promoted idea of axing Marc Davis’ Western River Expedition and the entire Thunder Mesa complex in favor of Pirates of the Caribbean at a fraction of the cost.

Baxter himself was not very happy with the current state of his mine train ride concept. “It has no story, no theme. It’s just a train rolling across a hillside, nothing more.” The train wasn’t very thrilling until later in the ride. Baxter pitched to executives his ideas of a bat-infested cave, an earthquake, and a more thrilling experience starting from the beginning of the ride. Card Walker told Baxter to start work on a stand-alone E-Ticket runaway train thriller, independent of Marc Davis’ project.

Meanwhile the concept of Space Mountain was becoming more and more attractive to Magic Kingdom management. America had recently landed on the moon, people were more interested in space flight than the Old West, and the park needed its first “thrill”. Space Mountain became top priority amongst Imagineers at W.E.D. Space Mountain opened in January 1975 at Walt Disney World. Shortly after construction started on an entire Space Mountain complex at Disneyland which opened in May of 1977.

Everyone in both parks had thrill fever– guests and management alike. Disneyland management had grown tired of Frontierland’s great Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland and it’s high maintenance costs. They wanted yet another thrill. Tony Baxter’s mine train now had new potential. Would his Florida concept fit in MTTNW’s location? Plans were “flipped” and the more-fitting rock style of Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park was selected. The style was to allow for a nice transition between this part of Frontierland and the very nearby Fantasyland.

Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad opened September 1979. The name “Big Thunder” came from a large waterfall in Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland. Magic Kingdom wanted a thrill for its west side and debuted their Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in November of 1980.


I, for one, love the Big Thunders. They are very well crafted, have great layouts, a touch of thrill without being obnoxious, and are super immersive. As nice as it would be to ride Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland (it was like three time larger in footprint than its replacement) Big Thunder Mountion wonderful. It lacks a lot of the "nature" of Nature's Wonderland and it's difficult to watch any animal for more than a few seconds (many of which were originally in Nature's Wonderland!). It lacks that charming ride narration and the ride ends much much sooner than the original but really it's a gem.


Related posts:

The Wonders of Nature's Wonderland [ PART 1 ]
The Wonders of Nature's Wonderland [ PART 2 ]
Buena Vista Street Model
Swiss Family Treehouse Model
Disneyland 1955 Model Close-ups
Mars and Beyond Robot


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]



Carousel of Progress Like You’ve Never Seen It

As a boy I was entertained to no end by the cleverness that was Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress.  Today I enjoy it just as much-- Laser discs and all.

Here we get a look at our favorite animatronic family and their surroundings from all new angles. Photos provided anonymously with statement that they were taken with permission a number of years ago. **May contain partial animatronic nudity!**

I too spent a bit of time working on-set at Carousel of Progress and noticed a few interesting things.  First of all, it was great to work with some of the very same props seen in photos and video of Walt with the Carousel sets.  Few things at Walt Disney World were around for Walt to enjoy so this attraction has great meaning.

I thought it was fascinating that inside the cups and other dishes there are screws and other tiny pieces of hardware for Maintenance workers to easily access.

The printed paper props (newspapers, calendar, etc.) are made up of stacks of the exact same print.  If the top print wares out or goes missing, the subsequent layers of paper are identical.  Was this always the case? Don’t know.

The stages are not as deep as I would have thought.  I had suspected the center core of the building be be much smaller- that the stages went further in.

Rover has a two-piece shell of fur (head and body) that easily pops off.  Until recent years, his fur was glued directly to and animatronic components and had to be cut away and sewn back together every time the dog was maintained.

The television Grandma is watching is driven by 8mm film projectors running footage from the basement below- the ballroom dancing footage and the boxing footage (for when Grandpa’s asleep).  “Give’m a left you big lug!”  Here you see an actual piece of dancing scene film stip thrown out after breaking:


Preview of Things to Come

In our new and upcoming series we compare the old to the new and see what remains the same.  Golly this will be fun!


This post is intended to be a simple study of attraction staging with no intent to spoil illusions.  Please do not photograph or visit backstage areas without permission.


Related posts:

A Look at the Progress City Model - Then and Now
Horizons Animatronics Found Under Carousel of Progress
America Sings
HORIZONS MURAL, "The Prologue and the Promise [High Res]