Friday, February 20, 2009

An Imagineer's Second Life

For most of you a WDI Imagineer is somebody who creates a theme park - or at least attractions for Disney. Whether he is show designer, show producer, sculptor, model specialist, architect,etc... But what happens when a former Imagineer - decides to leave WDI? What do they create if its not an attraction? This is what I will talk about today.

Eddie Sotto is a former WDI imagineer who began as a Main Street show designer/producer on DLP. It is my favorite Main Street. While he was at WDI, he also worked on the development of Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure, and eventually ran his own concept studio within WDI, where his team could explore new ideas. That period yielded many new projects for TDL including "Pooh's Hunny Hunt" or Tomorrowland concepts like "Sci-Fi City", as well as "outside the berm" projects like "Encounter" Restaurant at LAX, or New York's ABC "Times Square Studios" and many others.

In late 1999, Eddie was hired away from WDI to be the creative director of an internet media company, then got involved creating television pilots for Mtv, Current, ABC, and Showtime networks, and eventually in 2004 founded SottoStudios, his own "think tank" where they have been busy designing everything from the Ferrari experience within Steve Wynn's Las Vegas resort to ClubAston, a "Bond-esque" Aston Martin dealership where you design your DB9 at a Martini bar and it is presented to you inside a bank vault.

On January 16, Eddie's latest project "Rivera", a modern latin Restaurant opened in Downtown Los Angeles, just a block from Staples Center (Laker's home) and the Nokia Theater. Rivera is the middle name of the chef, John Rivera Sedlar. A man noted for his gourmet latin cuisine. They met as a result of Sotto bringing in chefs to lecture at WDI on how to better marry the dining experience to the attractions. they later worked on Encounter together and it was a hit.

So, I called Eddie in L.A - who also gently provided me his artwork and some CGI renderings - and had a little interview with him about the Rivera. He explained it this way:

E.S: Form follows food. That was the takeaway from the WDI lectures John gave and it really impressed me. John is amazing at presentation and thinking about the design and food in the same breath. It's all one experience to the guest. He is so into the details that he has flower petals pressed onto each handmade tortilla so they become art in themselves. It's like John Hench said, "it's about the longshot and the closeup". Everything matters to him and every course is an an attraction. This made sense to me. Why at EPCOT do we serve heavy Lasagna for lunch, then eject the bloated guest into the Florida heat, only to put them piping hot on a spinning thrill ride? It's out of sync. How do we rethink places as complimentary experiences, not just rides and restaurants? Experiences are systems. Ever since then I was looking for a chance to work with a Chef. Rivera was there to bring it all together because this Chef sees the room as just a bigger plate".

A.L : So did it materialize as an experience?

E.S: It's a Pan-latin menu (tamales to tapas and more) with a heavy emphasis on Tequila. John wanted to serve "flights" of tequilas, meaning several tastes in small glasses that are custom mixed for each guest. This "flight" notion became the inspiration for the design of our own ultimate First Class seat, of polished bronze with a stainless tray table. The chair stays on the ground, you do the flying. They became the heart of our Samba lounge. To help your mind become airborne, kaleidoscopic "hallucinations" of agave plants, aztec masks, and spanish art, randomly appear and vanish across a 40' video wall.

Below, from the first sketches to CGI renderings to the final result, the "ultimate First Class seat".

A.L : As long as you don't land in the Hudson River...

E.S: "Now that's an experience! See, the one thing chain Restaurants seem to be lacking is "special". What we mean is being truly memorable with a sense of ceremony. What happened to salads tossed at our table, flaming drinks, or special dishes you just could not eat elsewhere? That's why we have the custom tasting chairs. Each chair was designed to fit a plate that John had ordered from Dubai. That's the whole idea of experiential design. It's working the food and the design out in lockstep. Start with the "wow" and work backwards to achieve that. We all opted to be the "anti-chain" restaurant and just make it special.

A.L : What about the design itself, what inspired that?

E.S: "One of the things Sedlar said is that he didn't want a cliche'd mexican restaurant. No Sombreros on the walls. He wanted the food to be the latin flavor. Clean, modern and minimal. Very hard to do and still make it inviting. We had to make it authentically L.A too. One of the inspirations was the concrete blocks of a Lloyd Wright Neo-Mayan Sowden house here in Los Feliz.

Here is a picture of the Lloyd Wright's Sowden House.

So I too landed on abstracting the order and texture of "blocks" with "carvings" as on Mayan pyramids. So that was the inspiration for our exterior grillwork, the R logo, and the wall of 400 crystal Tequila "blocks" that form the walls of our Sangre dining room.

E.S: Each bottle represents a "block" of John's own extra anejo Tequila, each features a member's name while locked into the wall as part of a private reserve. A turn of their key allows the member to remove the walnut brick and "drink the architecture" at their table. If you look closely at the walls you may find the names of some famous Imagineers too. Start with the half consumed bottles!"
The whole experiment was meant to blur the lines between the interior and the food in a way that the story can be consumed by all the senses. When they all play together the result is richer and you tap into emotions and create an experience. (I bet you think I've been having tequila right now!)

E.S: All these elements are very unique (Conquistador Helmet lamps are a nod to LA's Brown Derby hat lamps) and I often get asked who made all these things. In fact, Scenario Design, the same company that has been building many of your favorite Disney attractions (Nemo,Toy Story Mania, DLP TOT and more) built the tasting chairs, bottle shelves, lamps, grillwork and so much more. Without them (and help from Imagineer Deb Gregory) we would not have been able to pull this place off."

Below, a picture of the hat lamp from Brown Derby, 1926 Hollywood...

...And a Conquistador Helmet lamp at the Rivera.

So I guess the things that never change once you leave WDI, is that you never get tired of creating memorable experiences for your guests and doing whatever it takes to wow them."

Thanks Eddie...More coincidental is the WDI address in Glendale is Flower Street, and Rivera is located in downtown L.A in a street called...Flower Street! (The Walt's restaurant in DLP does this too) Could the Rivera be the next Imagineer's hangout? I thought that since so many aspects of this touch WDI and Disney you might be interested.

If you're a Disney fan living in Southern California, you should make a dinner reservation at the Rivera. Not only you will eat great food in a sumptuous decor, but you might meet some Disney imagineers as well. And just keep an ear open, just in case at the fifth tequila they begin to talk about WDI secret projects!

Eddie Sotto's Artwork: copyright Eddie Sotto

Pictures: copyright Rivera - Eddie Sotto

American Idol Experience Gala Premiere at Disney's Hollywood Studios

It was the American Idol Experience Gala Premiere at Disneys Hollywood Studios this week, and if you were not there, here is two WDW videos! Enjoy!

Youtube videos: copyright Disney

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Editor's Note: I don't know if you've noticed it, but since some days the "header" image depends of the article of the day. For instance, today's article is all about Star Tours 2 and the image at the top is a beautiful WDI rendering of Star Tours. I will try to keep this, not only because it allows to have a new visual at the top of the home page each time i post a new article, but also because it will allows you to know immediately each day what Disney and more is talking about. Hope you'll like it!

Who have some news about Star Tours 2 ?

Some years ago, in 2005, Georges Lucas himself announced at the Star Wars Celebration III event: "Star Tours will be getting an overhaul soon". Since then, we heard some infos or rumors and then, nothing. It's just like if the project had fall into a black hole! So, let's have a look back to this Star Tours 2 saga, a story by itself.

Ten years ago, i was at WDI doing some Imagineers interviews and, back in 1998 or so, the imagineers were already thinking about a story line for a Star Tours 2 attraction. At that time the script was basically that the StarSpeeder on the road for Tatooine would be trapped in one of the Pod race, and there we go. An interesting idea was about the ride beginning: In Star Tours first version, if you remember well, the Star Speeder has a sudden left turn and a "fall" - inside the huge room where we can see the Adventure through Inner Space mighty microscope - before ho goes in outer space at light speed. Rex, the driver robot, excuses himself for his mistake, etc...

Now, in the 1998 script, the beginning of the Star Tours 2 movie would have been the same, but instead to wrongly turn left the Star Speeder would have take the right way, i.e moving straight ahead. A way for the imagineers to do a wink of an eye to the first version.

And then we know what happened: Eisner and Lucas relations were supposedly as bad as possible and we had to wait for the end of the Eisner's era and better relations between Lucas Film and Disney new CEO to have the project on the road again.

After Lucas announcement to the fans, everybody was expecting Star Tours 2 for 2007 - as the year was at the same time the 30th anniversary of the first Star Wars movie AND the 20th anniversary of the first Star Tours. But we're now in 2009 and - correct me if i'm wrong - but i don't think we've seen the opening of a Star Tours 2 attraction two years ago.

However, since then, exciting news were released more or less unofficially : Anthony Daniels who played C3PO announced in May 2007 at the Adventure Con comic book convention in Knoxville said that "he just got finished filming the new digitalized upgrade for the ride". He also said: "this update will start up around the end of the year and from what he has seen it looks very, very exciting". Good. Happy to know that.

Then we learned more about the future new special effects:

- Each Star Speeder simulator would be equipped with five 3D retro-projectors screen using the Disney Digital 3D technology. A big screen in the front and two smaller one on each side. The screens on the side are supposed to give complementary views.

- Another source said that imagineers may use lenticular screen for the smaller "3D" scren on the left and the right of the main screen in the front.

- The simulator would have also an additional hydraulic system with the ability to lift up part of the Star Speeder's roof during some sequence or special effects of the movie.

- 3D polarized glasses would have a Star Tours theme.

- The front projection system would be changed to allow the perception of landscapes in 3D. It should be a a double projection of high-definition film on a hemispherical screen - like the one you have in Omnimax theatres. Right now, the projector is inside the simulator, but in this case it may be located outside to cover the whole screen surface, and more, like when the roof will be lift.

- A DTS audio system will equipped each shuttle for a better realism of sound effects, and others loud speakers could be put outside the simulator for other sounds effects.

- Finally three Audio-Animatronics would be part of ride. Two of them would have a "walking" simulation although you will see only the upper part of their "body", and the third one won't walk but would move thanks to its computer program or eventually could have a "live" animation for a better interaction with the guests inside the Star Speeder.

If all of this is really part of a Star Tours 2 experience, it will be great, isn't it? But still, the main question is: when?

In a May 2007 interview about his CGI effects in the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, ILM wizard Hayden Landis said that “Next up (for him) is another nostalgia-oriented project a redo of the Star Tours ride at Disneyland”.

Last year a Screamscape source said that "WDI has been playing around inside the cabin after hours and playing It’s Tough To Be a Bug footage of all things. While this seems odd at first, apparently they are doing it to test a new 3D projection system they are working on for the cabins for the new Star Tours" and other rumors also said that Imagineers were using the Epcot's Body Wars simulators for some tests which i must say would make sense as they can do them secretly in the now closed Wonders of Life pavilion.

And for on opening date, fall 2009 was envisioned, but an opening in 2010 should be more consider if the "Tomorrowland 2010" project that may see the entire land refurbished again for Disneyland's 55th Anniversary is still in the plans. It would be perfect, and also explain why we waited so long as obviously Disney - on a marketing point of view - will need not only a re-theming of the land but also a new attraction.

Now, i must say that the secret is perfectly kept at WDI because none of my sources or imagineer friends know anything about a Star Tours 2 opening date - or, of course, they keep it secret. Anyone out there who have more real news - not rumors - about it is very welcome!

Pictures include in this article including that fake new DLP Star Tours outside decor - and the opening date on the top image which is pure wishful thinking - are not Disney or WDI pictures but were done by two talented members of the french Disney Central Plaza forum - BIX! and McFLY - whom i thanks a lot for their authorisation to post them here.

Thanks also to my friend Pascal Pinteau for some technical infos from his excellent EffetsSpé web site

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ten copies - only - available of the Disneyland Paris, From Sketch to Reality Book

I thought i was out of stock of my Disneyland Paris, from sketch to Reality book i did with my co-author and friend Didier Ghez, but, good news for those of you who were looking desperately for a copy, i recently've found back ten copies of the last - and updated - english edition, with the text in english of course.

It's a 320 pages and 750 pictures book - including 250 renderings from Walt Disney Imagineering - and if you like Disney and more for the great hi-res pictures and artwork, you will literally love this book - no kidding!

Here is everything you need to know if you want to order it. Please note that no re-printing of the book is scheduled, and these last available copies may be the REAL last one!

Even at the park where i was two weeks ago, it was impossible to find a copy of the english edition. When i asked at the Storybook store if they had the english edition, i was told that they were out of stock.

So, if you don't have it yet and don't want to miss this beautiful book , i'm afraid to say that may be it's now or never...

HOW TO ORDER THE ENGLISH UPDATED EDITION: As i've said, i have ten copies available of the english edition, and I will personnaly sign each copy with a special dedication to you or anyone you wish if your purchase of the book is for a gift.

Price for one copy of the english updated edition is 87 Euros + 15 Euros of shipping.

Payment can be done easily with Paypal - Paypal payment must be sent to the email adress:

I ALSO HAVE ONE COPY - ONLY ONE - OF THE EXTREMELY RARE ENGLISH COLLECTOR'S EDITION: Out of stock since 6 years, this collector's edition is printed on luxury glossy paper, with a "gold" colour print on the cover AND most of all, it includes four lithographs of WDI artwork for the Walt Disney Studios, exclusive to this edition. This was a limited edition, and each copy have a "number".

Price for this copy of the english collector's edition is 200 Euros + 35 Euros of shipping. Of course, i will sign it too for you.

I HAVE ALSO COPIES OF THE FRENCH EDITION. If you're looking for the French edition, NOT updated and with the text in French, which also will be sign for you, it's the same price: 87 Euros + 15 Euros of shipping

If you want to be sure i still have copies available whether it's the english or french edition before you send your Paypal payment, please send me at:

And, of course, thanks to let me know about your order payment and your shipping adress by sending me an email at the same email adress - or if you have further questions.

As i am the one who designed the book, i'm not really at the good place to send compliments about it, but if you are a reader who already own the book, please leave a comment at the end of the article to let other readers know what you think about it.
Previous comments can be read at the bottom of this page where the article below was previously posted.

So, here is the previous article that will tell - and show - you more about the book.

A little description of the book, now - See below some pictures of the book pages - Please click on the mosaic pictures to see all the photos.

The book is really large at 320 pages and with 750 pictures - of which 500 are park and attractions photos and around 250 are renderings from Walt Disney Imagineering(WDI)! The size is 9 x 12 inches, all pages are in color and it's hardbound with a glossy dust jacket. The text (by Disney historian Didier Ghez), was written after more than 75 interviews he conducted with all the Imagineers who created the park. He goes into just about everything you wanted to know about this unique place that many describe as the best "Magic Kingdom" ever created by WDI.

It took Didier and I five years to create the book, but it was worth all the time we spent on it, and the book looks just as good as we had hoped for at the beginning.

The first chapter about Main Street has 52 pages and introduces the reader to the "legend" of Main Street, USA. You'll learn all about the Disneyland Paris Railroad, the unique "Discovery" and "Liberty" Arcades; find out about the architecture, the restaurants (like "Walt's," a tribute to Walt Disney, but also inspired by Club 33 in Anaheim) and the shops; with dozens of photos, renderings, models, and reproduced for the first time here, all the "cities of the future" posters located in "Discovery Arcade."

The second chapter on Frontierland discusses the park's western side with extensive sections about its major attractions, "Big Thunder Mountain" and "Phantom Manor." In fact the book has the longest sections ever put together in a book on all the major attractions. The Pirates of Caribbean section in the Adventureland chapter is 26 pages, Phantom Manor has 16 pages devoted to it, as does Space Mountain, it's a small world, etc. The photo material was so great that we kept adding more pages to the book, which was supposed to have only 240 pages when we started... we ended up with 320 upon completion!

The Frontierland chapter also covers the Mark Twain, the River Rogue Keelboats, Fort Comstock, all the restaurants, the shops and Cottonwood Creek Ranch.and featuring stunning photos of Disneyland Paris from the air by Yann Arthus Bertrand, author of The Earth from Above that make spectacular "double-pages," and allow the reader to discover the park from a whole different angle.

The Adventureland chapter is even more interesting, as many elements of the land exist only in Paris - such as the Bazaar and Aladdin to Africa and the ex-"Explorer's Club." Plus there's a long section about "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril," "Adventure Isle" and "The Swiss Robinson Treehouse" and, of course, "Pirates of Caribbean" the land's major attraction and featuring its amazing Audio-Animatronics! All in all there are 56 full pages about Adventureland, and as in the previous chapters, there are dozens of photos, lots of concept art, and many shots of Imagineers at work. There's even a great bonus here, with the Marc Davis artwork for "Pirates" also included.

56 full pages are also dedicated to Fantasyland. There's an extensive look at Sleeping Beauty Castle, sections on all the dark rides (Snow White, Peter Pan and Pinocchio), as well as a look at "Alice's Curious Labyrinth," the "Mad Hatter's Tea Cups," "Storybookland," and "Casey Jr." There are even 14 pages about "it's a small world" with stunning photos of nearly all the scenes in it. Here the reader can discover a new attraction that exists only at Disneyland Paris, with a great view from above of Alice's Labyrinth.

Discoveryland also gets 52 pages of special treatment, with sections on the Visionarium, the Nautilus, Star Tours, Space Mountain, and everything you wanted to know about the other attractions in this land – Autopia and Orbitron. In fact the Nautilus chapter takes you on a visit with photos of every room of this detailed walk-through and two double page photo spreads, one which makes you feel you're inside Captain Nemo's grand salon, and the other showing you a unique view of Discoveyland featuring the Nautilus and Space Mountain in a kind of "CinemaScope" view.

When the book was released in early 2002, the Walt Disney Studios didn't exist, so you won't see them in the book. But there's still one last chapter about the hotels of the park, and Disney Village too, with the great Buffalo Bill Wild West show that entertains hundreds each evening.

And because every day in a Magic Kingdom should end with a parade and fireworks, we have the Main Street Electrical Parade that close the book, with an Herb Ryman gorgeous painting, see picture on the top of this post.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Disney's Animal Kingdom Original Artwork - Part One

Here is an article that i've promised to you a loooong time ago. It took me some time but this two parts Animal KIngdom original artwork article will show you more WDI renderings you've ever seen about this beautiful park, one of my favorite.

Let's begin with a bird eye view of the whole park. Released at the opening, it's an interesting rendering as we can see the Asia land - not yet build at that time - and most of all, the never built Beastly Kingdom.

let's have a look at the entrance with this first concept-art - a never realised concept.

Here is another early and never realised concept for the entrance by Joe Rhode.

Artist Gerry Dune did also a proposal for the entrance with this rendering.

Here is a Bryan Jowers rendering for the Genesis Gardens.

Joe Rhode did also this Oasis carousel concept, never realised.

Let's move now to the Tree of Life. You have a beautiful rendering at the top and below, a Dan Goozee concept-art.

Another Tree of Life concept by Dave Minichiello.

Here is an early concept for the whole island by Gerry Dunn and Joe Rhode.

Artist Ben Tripp did also this view toward the Tree of Life.

I've also added one or two pictures of models or imagineers at work, and here is one with a WDI imagineer working on the model of the Tree of Life.

Here is a picture of the Discovery Island model.

You may not know it but different concepts were envisioned for the show under the Tree of Life. As we know, the one which was realised is the "It's tough to be a bug" show. Here is a rendering for it.

Artist Bryan Jowers did a concept for a "Wonders of Nature" show...

...And Dave Minichiello did another one for a Lion King character show.

Here is a rendering showing the Creature Comfort shop interior by Karen Conolly Armitage.

On the east of Discovery Island is Camp Mickey, here is two Joe Warren artwork for it.

A Jim Heffron plan for the Pocahontas show theater...

...And a scenic design concept by Joe Warren.

Artist Jim Heffron did this design and elevation for a new bridge.

Let's move to Africa with this view of Harambe by Tom Gilleon.

A great rendering of the Kilimandjaro Safaris savannah by Ben Tripp.

Another view of the savannah and animals by Ned Mueller.

The famous sequence of the suspended bridge.

This Tom Gilleon artwork below is supposed to show Kilimandjaro Safaris, but if you look closer, it shows a raft ride and the temples on the left looks more Asian than African...except if the imagineers did envisioned another raft ride for Africa...

Some artwork for the research station by Mark Shumate.

A great concept-art for the Harambe train station by Zofia Kostyrko.

A rendering of the Wildlife Express train by George McGinnis.

And another one for the Wildlife Express locomotive.

As we know, the train bring the guests to Conservation Station, and here are three renderings showing it.

Always about Conservation Station, another concept-art by Zofia Kostyrko.

Some years after its opening, the Asia land opened at Animal Kingdom. Here is an Asian market concept by Joe Rhode.

A beautiful rendering by Ned Mueller for the tiger overlook.

Also by Ned Mueller, this concept for the grand ballroom.

Kali River Rapids is Animal Kingdom's raft ride, and here is a concept-art by Ned Mueller.

Always by Ned Mueller, this concept-art shows the burning forest sequence of the ride.

Before the Kali River Rapids concept was chosen, other "Asian raft ride" concepts were envisioned. Here are two renderings of these early concepts.

We will end this first part with this Alex Wright artwork for the Kali River Rapids FastPass structure.

Be sure to don't miss the part two of this Animal Kingdom original artwork article next week!

All artwork: copyright Disney - WED Enterprises.

Many thanks to Mark Taft for some of the renderings. I strongly suggest you to have a look on Mark's site Insights and Sounds, it's always interesting with rare pictures or renderings and Mark is posting new articles almost every day!

Some of the renderings are coming from the great "Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom" where you will learn all the WDI secrets in the making of the park. You can find it on from only $3.87!