Saturday, October 24, 2009

Disney and more header : No longer twice the same !

Hello everyone. I've finally succeeded to do something that i wanted to introduce on Disney and more since a long time: to have a random image rotation for the header. It's easy to do on a web site structure but not at all on Blogger - that's why you can see it very often on web sites but rarely on Blogger blogs.

All the difficulty was to find a java script code which works with the Blogger structure, and i've found it finally...only to realize that something went wrong somewhere as it didn't worked when i introduced it in the html code of Disney and more! Three more hours to find what was missing in the code, and that was it!

So, from now, each time you'll arrive on Disney and more front page the header image will be a different one! All images are of course related with Disney and i've created 73 different images! As you can see, the header is also more wide - almost a "cinemascope" format - and the images are a mix of beautiful view of the parks or attractions, artwork and historical pictures...and i tried to don't choose the worst! The "Disney and more" title is always written on each header image but you'll note that sometime it will be placed on the right side when it fit better with the image. Color of the title may also change depending of each image.

You can test the different images simply by reloading the page, or even more simply by pushing on the F5 key. I hope you'll enjoy this new little improvement, let me know if you like it in the comments!
Editor's Note: Eddie Sotto was one of the most brilliant WDI Imagineer - Eddie was the show-producer of the fantastic Main Street at DLP - and today's article will show you what kind of wonder an ex-Imagineer can do in his "second life". Since its opening, The Rivera restaurant designed by Eddie was named one of Esquire's top new restaurants for 2009. L.A's top food critic choose the Rivera as top Restaurant, L.A Magazine gave the Rivera 4 out of 4 stars, including best new bar, best tequila and choose John Sedlar for "Chef of the Year". So, if you live in L.A and are looking for a great place to have dinner this week-end Eddie Sotto's Rivera seems to be the right place to go! And, with a bit of luck, Eddie might be there!

Friday, October 23, 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!

Thanks to leave a comment or discuss this article on D&M english forum on Mice Chat

Eddie Sotto's Artwork: copyright Eddie Sotto

Pictures: copyright Rivera - Eddie Sotto

Mickey Ville , The Toon Town that never was

After yesterday's introduction to the talent of Hani El Masri, here is the part two of this article.

At the end of 1990, Hani was asked by Walt Disney Imagineering to work on the creative development of a new project "Mickey Ville" which was supposed to be a new land for Tokyo Disneyland.

It was the first study for a "Toon Town", but much different than the one we know, as the architectural style was more "medieval". For a very good reason: this Mickey's Ville was supposed to be a tribute to Mickey's "medieval" cartoons, like "The Brave little tailor" or "Mickey and the Beanstalk".

Hani's team was under the direction of imagineers Yoshi Akiyama and Bob Weis - yes, the same Bob Weis who designed the Disney-MGM Studios and Disney's America and who is now in charge of the huge placemaking of Disney's California Adventure.

Here is a first rendering of the Mickey Ville project. For the design of this artwork, Hani was also slightly inspired by the architecture of Pinnochio’s Village.

At the entrance, guests would have find at the left of the porch a nice fountain with Daisy...

But Mickey Ville also would have include a "Mickey's Music Store" with chimneys who looks like pipe organ. Inside the music store, CD’s, sheet of music, and all kind of merchandise items related to music would have been on sale.

Also envisioned, a "Minnie's Candy" house, which looks like a real candy house, and was supposed to be.....that’s right: a candy store.

Another interesting concept was this "Donald's Dock" where Donald's house and boat were mixed all in one.

In fact , Donald’s dock would have been the departure point where guests would have embark in small boats for a little cruise on a small river all around the village.

But the project also include this beautiful Mickey's Theatre - artwork above, on the top. Because the Oriental Land executives knew how popular Tokyo Disneyland is, they wanted a big theatre,. So, instead to design one big facade, Hani and the imagineers thought it would have been more interesting if all the facade was designed like a little village. With on the right side the house of Mickey and Minnie - not to forget Pluto’s doghouse.

And in the front, another cute fountain, with Minnie on the top.

The entrance of the Mickey’s Theatre was on the middle of this little village facade...

And inside the theatre, guests could have watch old Mickey’s cartoons - like “Plane Crazy”, Steamboat Willie”, etc..but also others animated shorts with Pluto, Donald, etc...

By the way, when i saw this Mickey's Theatre artwork, it reminds me the facade of Mickey's Philarmagic theatre at Hong Kong Disneyland. I remember when i was at HKD being surprised by the architecture, but may be HKD imagineers took their inspiration from this concept - who knows?

To come back to the Mickey Ville story, and always back in 1990, another team lead by Tony Baxter and imagineer Joe Lanzisero was working on another Toon Town concept, this time for Disneyland, Anaheim. And it seems that when the executives of Oriental Land Company heard about it, they decided to wait and see how this "other" Toon Town will look once it'll be built at Disneyland.

We know the end of the story: Toon Town opened at Anaheim, everybody loved its great "cartoon" style, and so did the Oriental Land executives who decided to build it at TDL.

This marked the end of the Mickey Ville project, and Hani moved from one team to another to work with Joe Lanzisero's team where he created the Toon Town concept-arts you saw yesterday.

In a future article we will talk about Hani's work for Dream Works Animation, as he did wonderful paintings on the three animated movies "Prince of Egypt", "El Dorado" and "Spirit", and also his extensive work on the 'Thousand and One Nights'.

You can see some of his work for animation on Hani's site, where all the renderings you saw today and yesterday were previously posted.

Thanks to leave a comment or discuss this article on D&M english forum on Mice Chat

All Artwork by Hani El Masri and copyright Disney and Walt Disney Enterprises Inc.

Many thanks to Hani El Masri for his great help in the making of this article.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Will Shanghaî Disneyland be the first Disney theme park to have WDI Marvel super-heroes attractions ?

According to the always good Screamscape web site their sources told them that "Disney has asked the Imagineers to start studying up the huge collection of Marvel Comics characters and stories" and "that the first Disney park that could get new Marvel based attractions will likely be the new Shanghai park."

Although it's still a rumor, it's an interesting news and here is why it could eventually really happen at Shanghaî Disneyland before any other Disney theme park.

I'm not aware of the contracts signed between Marvel and Universal before the Disney deal with Marvel, but i won't be surprised that an "exclusivity clause" was asked by Universal to Marvel. At least for each country where the attractions are already built, i.e America and Japan where Universal Studios have theme parks, and the Spiderman ride in two of them.

Now, although Universal do have a theme park project near Beijing - which awaits China officials approval just like Disney for Shanghaî Disneyland - they still don't have a park in China. And, bad news for Universal, Disney now owns the Marvel rights, which basically means that Disney is doing what he wants as long as they're not stuck with previous contract clauses signed before they own the rights.

So which Disney theme park could be better than Shanghaî Disneyland to introduce the first WDI Marvel super-heroes attractions? But there may be also another reason: from what i've been told Imagineers intend to pay tribute to Chinese mythologies in Shanghaî Disneyland. Which is a pretty good idea as chinese are generally not aware of European mythologies - that's one of the reason you don't find any Snow White, Pinnochio or even Peter Pan dark rides at Hong Kong Disneyland. Chinese know more Pixar characters as these are coming from recent animated films but for the old Disney classics it's another problem...

On this angle, Marvel super-heroes mythologies thanks to recent movies - and one dollar pirate Dvds that anyone can find in most Chinese cities! - are probably well known by young chinese generations - and we can count on Disney to have check this with a marketing research!

So, for all these reasons, and although the Screamscape news must still be consider as a rumor, i would bet on it - not only for the fun but also because, as i often say, there is always a logic behind corporate decisions and in this case we can catch a glimpse of the logic who could decide WDI Imagineers to create Marvel super-heroes attractions for the awaited Shanghaî Disneyland.

Thanks to leave a comment or discuss this article on D&M english forum on Mice Chat

Pictures: copyright Marvel

Discover Hani El Masri, wonderful Designer, Illustrator, and former WDI Imagineer

Today, i would like to introduce to you Hani El Masri. Not only Hani is a highly talented designer and illustrator, but he was a WDI imagineer some years ago and did creative concept for many WDI projects.

Hani is Egyptian, but he was raised by French Jesuits in Cairo. Thanks to this, he spent most of his childhood reading european literature, and so, at the surprise of others WDI imagineers, he was familiar with the world of European tales, myths and architecture.

And, as an Egyptian, and after five years of academic studies at Cairo's school of Fine Arts - the oldest in the Middle East - he is of course also familiar with Oriental tales like the famous tale of "One thousand and one nights". So, it's naturally that in the mid 90's Walt Disney Imagineering asked for his help on the design of Tokyo Disney Sea's Arabian Coast.

In fact, Hani, it's more than twenty-five years of an award-winning creative career in illustration, graphic design, advertising and promotion of an unusually broad array of consumer products, as well as children's books and theater productions.

He arrived to the United States in 1987 and freelanced until being hired by Walt Disney Imagineering in March of 1990. We will have a look to his work for Walt Disney Imagineering, but while he was in California, Hani did some beautiful watercolor paintings like this one of Los Angeles Chinatown - picture above, on the top - who look also like a decor study for a Disney theme park...

Or this one of the San Juan Capistrano mission. By the way, this reminds me that San Juan Capistrano was part of the inspiration for some of the Zorro series decors...

In 1995 Hani was hired as a visual development artist by Dreamworks SKG - Steven Spielberg's studio - to work on the animated "Prince of Egypt", and stayed on for another two animation movies "El Dorado" and "Spirit". The September 11 attack was devastating for Hani, as he always dreamed of being a cultural bridge between Orient and Occident and thought his work on the 'Thousand And One Nights' could be of some help in this dream...
He then came back to live and work in Egypt in February of 2005 and was awarded Best Egyptian illustrator of 2004 by the National Council for Children Books, headed by Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, Egypt First Lady, in may 2005.

At walt Disney Imagineering, Hani, as i've said, worked on many different projects, whether it was the Blizzard Beach concept - here two concept study for the Summit Plummet chalet and the Merchandise shop.

Or these boat concepts for Tokyo Disney Sea....

Not to mention this beautiful Nautilus artifact who was supposed to be placed outside on TDS Mysterious Island. The imagineers idea was that, when a guest will use the telescope to look at other places of the park, a green laser ray coming out of the telescope would have point the place the guest was looking at. Great idea, unfortunately never realized.

For Tokyo Disneyland, Hani - and it was one of his first work for WDI - did the concept-art for the Grandma Sarah Restaurant located in Critter Country.
He did also amazing concepts of "Critter Cars" that Tokyo disneyland wanted to use as photo-ops in the land. The first rendering below was inspired by the shape of an old Rolls Royce - totally transformed in a vehicle you will only see in a Disney theme park!

Hani also worked on the Disneyland Toon Town project and ended up designing Minnie's House and Goofy's Bounce House, and here is the concept for his Goofy's house...

And pictures of the model that was done inspired by Hani's concept art

This color rendering was Hani's concept for Minnie's house...

Here are the preliminary black and white study for Minnie's house

And, too, pictures of the model inspired by the concept arts

But there is much more to say about Hani's work for Toon Town... And this is why i invite you to don't miss tomorrow's part two of this article, as you will discover something you've never seen before!

Thanks to leave a comment or discuss this article on D&M english forum on Mice Chat

All Artwork by Hani El Masri and copyright Disney and Walt Disney Enterprises Inc.

Many thanks to Hani El Masri for his great help in the making of this article.