Epcot’s 30th Anniversary – the D23 Event

On September 30th, we attended the D23 EPCOT 30th Anniversary Celebration. Nora really wanted to do this, and nick wanted to humor her (although he grumbled about having to go to a whole day of boring powerpoint presentations).

The good news… it wasn’t an entire day of boring powerpoint presentations.

The bad news… about half of the presentations could be easily and truthfully called “boring powerpoint presentations”.

(note: this is a word heavy post because you couldn’t take photos)

The event was held at the World Showplace Pavilion (what used to be the Millenium Pavilion back in 2000). We were able to register and get our badges and such on Saturday afternoon.

When we entered the venue, it looked very much like it looks for the Party for the Senses and for the 3D Dessert Party during the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival (not a surprise since there was a Party for the Senses in there on Saturday night). It was  a rather simple set-up — rows of chairs; lots of chairs.

There were over 1200 attendees — damn shame that it takes the internet geeks to get DIS to realize that people WANT to celebrate Epcot. Also, nora still thinks it’s a stinking disgrace that DIS tried to ignore Epcot’s 25th Anniversary, at least this time they really planned and promoted SOMETHING to commemorate the event. In fact, there were more presentations on October 1st that were available on a first-come-first-seated basis for anyone inside Epcot.

The event was kicked off by Steven Clark, the head of the D23 Community… he said that they had “scoured history and archives” to find stuff that had never been seen and that the presentations tomorrow would contain different material than today’s.

Marty Sklar, Epcot: The Dawn of a New Disney Era, joined us next, via video, he was unable to attend Sunday’s events but would be on hand for Monday.

Former Walt Disney Imagineering Principal Creative Executive Director Marty Sklar shares favorite memories from his work with Walt Disney and a team of creative leaders to bring the dream of Epcot to reality.

  • Epcot is truly an example of urban planning.
    • Although it was originally intended to be a true urban community, that’s obviously not what it became.
  • Walt said that no one company can do something this large.
    • All along, even though the idea was back shelfed after Walt’s death, the imagineers understood that it would take sponsorships from corporations and from other countries governments to realize the dream of Epcot.
  • Marty talked about “the Epcot film” with Walt Disney that was shot 6 weeks before his death, this is where the whole vision/daydream of Epcot is clearly laid out
    • If you’ve been to see “One Man’s Dream” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, then you’ve seen some of the props/displays used in that video and you’ve also seen Uncle Walt storytelling Epcot
  • After Walt’s death, it was very difficult for everyone to wrap themselves around continuing Walt’s Disney World dreams
    • And that’s not just Epcot, even Magic Kingdom was somewhat difficult to continue without Walt’s determination and vision
  • In 1974, Card Walker stopped and asked “What about Epcot?”
  • Originally EPCOT Center was to be two parks – one industry and one world’s fair – there was no way to get enough money to do two parks (remember that this is the mid to late seventies, can you say recession and energy crisis?) – so they pushed the two parks together and created one theme park
  • Interesting note: The plants in The Land are hand pollinated – someone was sensible and said “we can’t have bees in an attraction! people might get stung!”
  • A phrase from the past: One of the things that the imagineers thought about and planned for… creating “turn ons” during the EPCOT Center theme park experience (“turn on” …. had nearly forgotten that one!)
  • Why is Epcot laid out the way that it is? The biggest sinkhole in Florida sits between Future World and World Showcase… They kept trying to excavate and do construction and stuff just kept going in the sink hole! The “land bridge” from Spaceship Earth to the World Showcase is actually floating (keep in mind that you can float wide broad things on quicksand but small slender things will sink like crazy). Okay, so now you have to ask… What about the monorail columns? Why don’t they sink? Because there are larger concrete platforms at their base that “float” in the sinkhole.

More information about Marty Sklar…from Wikipedia, from Disney Insider (a bit outdated), and an article about “The Genesis of Epcot Center” written by Marty Sklar published on MiceChat.

Marty was followed by a panel discussion entitled… “We Can Do It!”

Disney Legends and EPCOT Center curators review the immense challenge that loomed ahead of them when bring the park to reality. Panelists include Duncan Dickson, Bob Matheison, Jim McCaskil, Tom Nabbe, Charlie Ridgeway, Howard Roland, Bill Sullivan, and host Jason Surrell.

  • We thought this was the best presentation of the day! It was so much fun listening to these Disney Legends just trample the concept of an organized panel discussion and simply reminisce and tell stories about the creation, literally the construction, of Epcot Center
  • The phrase “We Can Do It!” was the rallying cry during construction, keep in mind that what was being attempted was tremendously large and it was extremely advanced in any and all matters of construction, electrical, computer, design, etc…
    • It was very nice when one of the Legends muttered under his breath during the introduction “We Did It”
  • The first decision (after agreeing to just do it a few years after Walt died) was HOW “are we going to do it?”
    • Tishman construction had the expertise to do HUGE construction projects, so they were engaged to build Epcot Center
  • The construction crews and the Imagineers learned early on … things are always unpredictable … how long it will take to complete something, what are the processes that were necessary to get a project done, what materials were needed, how much manpower it would take, etc… and that’s without figuring in the weather, the snakes, or the sinkhole!
  • Interesting tidbit – the muck and slurry from Epcot’s construction was trucked over to where Caribbean Beach Resort is now and the original dirt from the CBR provided fill dirt for Epcot (a nice circular use and replacement)
  • More on the monorail beams… at that point in time, monorail beams (the horizontal parts of the track that the monorails actually ride on) were built in Tacoma, Washington and trucked to wherever they were needed. Given how many beams WDW was going to need, it was decided that it was cheaper to build the beams in Florida! Engineers from the beam company came to Florida with their casting forms and created the beams
  • When they had the official land-breaking ceremony to kick off construction – they used Christmas tree garland (silver of course) that had been “imagineered” into the shape of Spaceship Earth and was suspended from two construction cranes as the backdrop… keep in mind that all of this happened in a swamp, they had to bring in truckloads of “stuff” just to create an area where a dump truck could be driven for photo opportunities
  • Some of the most interesting stories revolved around the Imagineers and their families working and “playing” with Ambassadors from other countries during the planning and construction phases of the Epcot project
    • The imagineers had to go to special deportment classes with an instructor who was a very proper Washingtonian lady (they had to learn what fork to use, when to bow, how to greet people in various situations, etc)
    • At one point, after the Imagineers and their families had traveled to Washington to meet their “assigned ambassadors” and families, the Ambassadors came to WDW…
      • At least ambassador refused to attend the State Dinner at WDW – remember this was the 1970s and the Cold War wasn’t so very cold at that time
      • When the Ambassadors arrived in Florida, of course they were all suited up with jackets and ties (poor things in the heat and humidity) and right away, they were given their own WDW name badges… On the second or third evening, the Imagineers took all these Ambassadors to Hoop Dee Doo (that must have been a hoot!)… things quickly became less formal
  • It’s very difficult to do the stories justice…
    • Bob Matheison told a story about visiting his assigned Ambassador in Washington DC (keeping in mind that families and spouses were very much part of this whole deal)… The Ambassador had planned an INFORMAL dinner (he was from the South Pacific somewhere). Well, Bob, being American, when someone says that it’s informal and there will be a barbecue, that doesn’t mean you wear a tuxedo. Bob showed up for this INFORMAL event in a leisure suit – uh oh, informal meant that there wouldn’t be toasts and such all night long and there wouldn’t be a formal receiving line.
    • Charlie Ridgeway talked about the sat-link (satellite link) during the Opening Ceremonies (actually, these were on October 25, 1982) – at that p0int in time, sat links were still very new – the opening of Epcot was the first real, long distance remote live broadcast on television — bet you didn’t know that!
    • Duncan Dickson had a story about the telephones in England… there were so many calls to a specific number that it crashed the Ministry of Defense phone lines in the building next door AND originally, the World Showcase Pavilions were to have 10 to 15 college fellows from each country, that only lasted a short while because Dick Nunis wanted each pavilion to be staffed with people from each country (in other words, China was to be staffed with Chinese and Germany was to be staffed with Germans… not College Fellows)
    • Howard Roland had a lot of stories…
      • He talked about the Ambassador who loved to play tennis, there weren’t a lot of people around WDW at that time who played tennis, but Howard and his wife did. Of course Howard was pretty busy with construction things, so his wife played a lot of tennis
      • His Dick Nunis Story – he was called into Dick’s office one day and asked why a garbage pile hadn’t been moved, even though he (Dick) had specifically said that it must be moved right away, well Howard didn’t really know what he was talking about and he had more important things to worry about than a pile of garbage… He asked Dick how did he know it was the same pile of garbage? That prompted a wild ride in Dick’s golf cart (they all murmured about Dick’s driving of that golf cart like a maniac), right up to the garbage pile, Dick got out of the cart and walked over to the pile, he reached down and plucked out one of his business cards… “I know it’s the same pile of garbage, because this is exactly where I left my business card 2 days ago!”…. uh oh
      • The other thing that Dick Nunis would do to move construction along on schedule… He’d plan events in some of the pavilions clearly before they were finished, then demand that they be ready for such and such an event on this or that date… after it successfully lit a fire under everyone at that pavilion and got things done…. he planned a lot of events!
    • Bob told a story about flaming portalets (portable toilets) – pranksters would set them afire and it was very common for the Reedy Creed Fire Department to have to rush out to the construction site to put on burning toilets
    • Duncan (being in human resources) got a request for 4 rock painters – for all the imagineered rocks in the Canada Pavilion – where in the world do you find rock painters? At the zoo of course, so that’s where he went and got rock painters
  • Everything, ride / attraction parts and bits, was built in California and trucked to Florida – one of the Legends related the amazement and delight of opening those trucks and taking bits and pieces off and being amazed at how complete and wonderful everything was
  • A final question for the panel – What would Walt think of Epcot 30 years on? Charlie Ridgeway answered immediately, “Walt wouldn’t have been satisfied because he never was. He was always changing and plussing things, everything could always be better.”
    • That’s very telling and something that the Walt Disney World fandom tends to forget – Walter Elias Disney was very much a continuous improvement man; the passion that some fans feel for what they remember, most likely wouldn’t have been catered to by Walt if he had lived… this thought stayed with us through some of the other presentations which were simply nostalgia and not history

Nora found some very nice videos on youtube from JeffLangeDVD and mousesteps (take a moment to check out Jeff’s website and mousesteps) with the Disney Legends that were on this discussion panel… Session #1 featuring: Disney author and Imagineer Jason Surrell; Disney Legend and executive vice president of Parks, Walt Disney World, Bob Matheison and Former president of Disney Participant Relations Jim McCaskill; Session #2 featuring: Disney Legend, original Tom Sawyer on Tom Sawyer Island, and former manager of distribution services at Walt Disney World, Tom Nabbe; Former Imagineer, Film Produver and Director Bob Garner and Disney Legend Charlie Ridgway, who helped launch the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971 and EPCOT Center in 1982, among other Disney theme parks around the world; and Session #3 featuring: Disney Legend and former vice president of the Magic Kingdom Bill Sullivan; Former Walt Disney World vice president of purchasing and contract services Howard Roland and Former director of Walt Disney World Casting Duncan Dickson.

After a short break, it was time for Looking Back at Tomorrow.

Archivists Steven Vagnini and Michael Crawford take you behind the development of some of your favorite Epcot attractions of the past!

Honestly, we thought this presentation was rather boring and too geeky (even for us). They went through EPCOT attraction by attraction… There was a LOT of material on Horizons, including a “never seen before” 35mm film (nora thought this film was very depressing). Note: There is a segment of the Disney World Fandom that is really bananas about Horizons, we think that we may have ridden it on our first visit in 1990 but we don’t remember anything about that ride.

Next up was Makin’ Memories: Epcot on Film

Join former Disney Imagineer Bob Garner and Disney author and historian Tim O’Day as they cast a “Magic Eye” on the marvelous world of Epcot on film.

This presentation was more interesting… Bob started out in television on the Carol Burnett Show (wow 🙂 ). He started with the Disney Corporation in 1976 at Disneyland. His job during the creation of EPCOT was to capture the Imagineers on film.

  • He made the film for the EPCOT Preview Center at Magic Kingdom, “The Dream Called Epcot” (excellent post from Progress City regarding this film).
  • The use of images and models was very different 30+ years ago, Bob didn’t have the advantage of computer-generated-images (CGI).
  • Bob produced “EPCOT Behind the Scenes” with Ray Bradbury, this was originally produced for the DIS Board of Directors.
  • He did Figment’s screen test.
  • The biggest production was the CBS television special for EPCOT’s Grand Opening (video of the event, hosted by Danny Kaye).
  • Lastly, Bob Garner is the man who put Mickey Mouse on the top of Spaceship Earth (at the end of this commercial, you can see how it’s been reused and repurposed; because nobody’s had the guts to put Mickey up there again!).

Time for a 2 hour afternoon break. We wandered around opening weekend of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival…

The first afternoon session was Imagineering Epcot: An Extra Perceptive Close-up Of Things

Disney Imagineers explore the details that make Epcot so unique. From miniature gardens to massive buildings (and every international food and beverage offering in between). Panelists Jason Grandt, Jason Surrell, and Alex Wright will show you what makes Future World and World Showcase like no other place on earth.

Using images and other items from Disney Archives, they went through each EPCOT attraction… (a lot of this information is available in the excellent book “The Imagineering Field Guide to Epcot at Walt Disney World” by Alex Wright)

  • Spaceship Earth
    • the only geosphere off the ground
    • bottom 25% suspended (thanks to John Hench’s determination)
    • 165 ft in diameter
    • will fit inside the Living Seas aquarium
    • each panel is made of four pyramids, each pyramid is made of three tiles
  • Future World
    • one side is organic and the other side is non-organic
  • The Land
    • celebration of Earth
    • mural – supposed to look like a slice has been removed from the strata
    • painted sunset rust instead of go-away-green (article on go-away-green from Passport2Dreams)
    • the restaurant we know as “The Garden Grill” has also gone by the name “The Good Turn”… because it rotates
    • inside the Land, the wall-carpet at the Circle of Life apparently has some pretty hardcore fans (we’ve never seen the Circle of Life and so had no idea what the hullabaloo was about)
  • Imagination Pavilion
    • some of the notes on the walls in the waiting area are actual meeting memos
    • the sheet music on the walls is the theme to the pavilion
  • Universe of Energy
    • LED tiles
  • Innoventions
    • banners at this pavilion, the DNA spells out “communicore” in tribute to the extinct Communicore
  • Fountain of World Friendship
    • water from waterways from around the world
  • Mexico
    • striking architecture
    • pathway to the right gives a great reveal
  • Norway
    • the restrooms predate the pavilion
    • in other words, the pavilion was built around the restrooms
    • the Stave Church is very unique
    • they showed a picture of one of the buildings in Norway, 2 buildings with one door = World Showcase’s most friendly building
  • China
    • imperial architecture
    • along the side of one of the buildings, there’s a stairway to nowhere
  • Germany
    • glockinspiel has three hours of original music (but if you look up “glockenspiel” on wikipedia, it’s a handheld instrument)
    • there are statues of German emperors, one famous emperor is missing = Maxmilian
    • because it’s fall inside the Biergarten, there are leaves on the ground
  • Italy
    • Venetian and Tuscan architecture
  • American Adventure
    • this is EPCOT’s Castle
    • Mexico and Canada are at the entrances to World Showcase leading toward American Adventure because they’re our neighbors
    • Dave Blain was the sculptor who did the animatronics for American Adventure, he used his father as the model for the farmer… when Marty Sklar saw the animatronic, he insisted that it be made less dour
    • the train station in American Adventure is actually a train station at Disneyland, the name used in the film is the name of a real place that doesn’t exist anymore
  • Japan
    • the gallery with exhibits, changes periodically
  • Morocco
    • most authentic replica of the real country (that’s because the king sent over actual Moroccan artisans)
    • also has a gallery, there’s an exhibit of a water-seller’s garments, they were literally bought off a man’s back
  • France
    • 2 different bridges going from France to United Kingdom … the first when you leave France is a French bridge and the second is a bridge over the river Thames in England
    • Impressions de France – the soundtrack was fully recorded and edited digitally in the early 1980’s
  • United Kingdom
    • Rose and Crown pub is actually representative of four styles of pubs – waterfront, city, dickensian, and provincial
    • on the other side of the street, the buildings represent four centuries of buildings – 1500s, 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s
  • Canada
    • the large totem pole was carved live onstage inside EPCOT, the artist’s workspace is now home to Off Kilter

The next two presentations were really just not our cup of tea, they had a lot of potential and failed to reach that potential…

“We’ve Only Just Begun to Dream” Disney entertainment veterans reminisce about the official EPCOT Center opening festivities that remain among the most elaborate ever staged in Disney history! Panelists include Ron Logan, Carol Campbell, Gene Columbus, Gary Praben, Tony Peluso, Bob Radock, and Steve Skorija.

This presentation had potential, but it wasn’t a discussion or storytelling; each person on the panel talked one at a time… it wasn’t very engaging.

EPCOT Illusioneering and Beyond – Daniel Joseph gives an inside look at the groundbreaking technologies and special effects “illusioneered” by Disney Imagineers for landmark attractions at Epcot. With a glimpse into the world ahead, this presentation will truly demonstrate what the “P” means in EPCOT!

We were pretty excited about this presentation. Unfortunately, the person giving the presentation was an engineer – and most of the time, engineers aren’t very engaging or personable as a general rule. And when the guy is more like a character on “The Big Bang Theory” than like Bill Nye the Science Guy… it’s pretty boring.

We left after this presentation and thus missed the last two “Journey into Imagination” (we probably would have liked that one!) and “The Music of Epcot Center (expect we would have liked it too!)… we had two food and wine festival events to attend. Since we didn’t get the schedule until a few days before the D23 Event, we had already planned on attending those Food & Wine Festival events…

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