Tuesday, April 14, 2009
It's with great pleasure that I introduce today in my Imagineers articles series Don Carson.
Don Carson initially trained as a commercial illustrator at the Academy of Art College of San Francisco. Launching a freelance career in the early 1980’s, Don quickly discovered he disliked working as a commercial illustrator, and much preferred designing for environmental and theatrical projects. This style of art allowed him to communicate ideas through conceptual drawings, and were not merely selling a product or illustrating an editorial.
Don also had a childhood love for Disneyland later that manifested as a series of beautiful sketches of different areas of the park. These sketches were created for a proposed book to be called “Attention to Detail, A Disneyland Sketchbook”. Although this book was never published the work created for it became the foundation of his portfolio, which led to his being hired as an Imagineer.
Here are some of the sketches from that proposed book, from the top: Adventureland, Treehouse, Fantasyland.
In 1989, Don was hired as a Show Designer for Walt Disney Imagineering and was initially assigned for two weeks to work on the Splash Mountain attraction for the Magic Kingdom in Florida. These few weeks eventually turned into two years, as Don took on the role of lead designer for the project.
During the production of Splash Mountain, Don started work with Imagineer Joe Lanzisero on the beginning phase of what would become Mickey’s Toontown for Disneyland California. Unlike his work on Splash Mountain, Toontown worked with a team of designers, including Hani El Masri, Andrea Favilli, Marcelo Vignali, Maggie Parr, Chuck Ballew, Jim Shull, and Judy Chin. Don became the Senior Show Designer responsible for the Downtown portion of the new land, and eventually participated in the construction phase of the attraction
Below, Don's rendering for a "Critter Elixer Wagon" to be located at the exterior of Splash Mountain.
At the top of this article, the rendering of Don Carson's vision for Mickey's house. Below a picture of the house built in Toon Town. Include with the next Toon Town artwork some photos of the finished Toontown buildings. It is always interesting to see just how close the final land came to those very early concept sketches. Don told me: "That is one thing I really loved about working for WDI, they bend over backwards to make the final product as close to your design as possible".
Below, an early concept for Toontown when it was still under the working title of Mickey Land. As you can see the rolling slope of the street was supposed to go up and down. Considering the problem of accessibility for some guest, the idea was later turned into the flat land you see today.
The rendering below is a Toontown elevation for the island building located in the downtown portion of the land. Some of the buildings designed by Don made it into in the final Disneyland version of the Toontown we know, others not.
Since the buildings in Toontown do not follow traditional right angle construction methods, all concepts needed to be done as both flat elevations and three quarter view sketches. Below are examples of the Barber Shop (not found in the finished land) and the Fireworks Factory. The black and white sketches were used to create construction drawings while color sketches helped communicate the desired final look for the structures.
The next rendering is of the now famous “Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin” facade.
Although the Toontown Powerhouse facade did make it into the finished land, the elevated track depicted in the concept sketch did not. The original intent for the Roger Rabbit attraction was for it to take place on two stories. As part of the attraction, vehicles would pop out of the Powerhouse facade on a second story and crash and careen through the Glass Factory and Gag Warehouse facades. This second story feature was later cut, but the second story balcony that would have supported these vehicles remains in both the Disneyland and Tokyo parks as you will see in the pictures below.
This last sketch was one of the very first done for the project and depicts a "Piano Movers" truck, which unfortunately did not make it into the park.
Don worked on many other projects for the Disney parks, including these Adventureland themed elements, like this Elephant God, in fact a penny pinching machine - the arms of the elephant god would animate and give the illusion that it was pressing your penny! It was build at Disneyland, Anaheim
Same for this Adventureland truck with an Indiana Jones theming, which was also built.
I love this next one! Don's design for the entrance of a Hook's Tavern at WDW Magic Kingdom, with lamps based on a design that appears in Disneyland's Peter Pan attraction.
In part two of this tribute to Don Carson's artwork, we will have a look at the other projects that Don did participate during his career at WDI. Don't miss it!
All artwork by Don Carson and pictures: copyright Disney - WED enterprises