An extremely sad news happened this morning as Hani El Masri, former WDI Imagineer, highly talented designer and illustrator and very good friend of mine died in Los Angeles at 63 at 2.30 am, surrounded by his son Cherif and friends.
Hani had more than thirty-five years of an award-winning, creative career in illustration, graphic design, and advertising as well as children’s books and theater productions. And for Disney fans he was a WDI imagineer who did creative concept for many WDI projects. You may not know it but Toon Town, Tokyo Disney Sea Arabian Coast, Blizzard Beach and many more wouldn't have been the same without the help and creativity of Hani. Hani worked at WDI from 1990 to 1995 and here is the list of the projects - coming from Hani's resume - he worked on when he was Concept and Show Designer at Walt Disney Imagineering:
- Responsible for creating environments, facades and props on diverse projects ranging
from Toontown at Disneyland, California to special show of Egyptian collections at Walt Disney World in Florida.
Major projects included:
- Tokyo Disneyland’s Critter Country; Concept design of Grandma Sara’s Restaurant.
- Mickeyville, for TDL (was not built, but was the inspiration for Toontown, Disneyland).
- Toontown, Disneyland: Entirely responsible for all the designs and structure of Minnie’s House and Goofy’s Bounce House, from concept to props.
- WESTCOT: Lead designer for Africa and the Middle-East.
- Blizzard Beach, WDW, Florida: Architecture of village, props, fabric design for cast
- King Tut: Concept of special proposed exhibit for the famous collection at World Showcase, EPCOT.
- Tokyo Disney Sea: Concept image, props and taxi boats for preliminary presentation.
- Disney Stores: Special production designs of four bas-reliefs, Gallery Store, Santa Ana; six stained glass windows, Union Square Store, San Francisco.
- Disney Traveling Show: Design and model-painting of dining courts.
- Moroccan Pavilion, EPCOT: Concept of renovation.
- Arabian Coast, TDS (Tokyo Disney Seas) : Concept for general architectural look and design of buildings and area development as seen in the actual park.
- Sindbad Ride, TDS: Concept to design of characters, backgrounds, props, styling of architecture, etc.
We will now have a closer look at Hani's life and career at WDI. You can see even more of Hani's artworks on his website HERE and those of you who speak or understand Egyptian can see videos of Hani on Youtube HERE, or HERE or HERE during Hani's presentation at a TED Conference in Cairo in 2014.
Hani was 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 was 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.
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 below - 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...
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 as all began in fact when 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 reminded 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?
Let's 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 above.
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" which i personally still consider as the best animated movie done by Dreamworks.
Hani stayed at Dreamworks for another two animation movies "El Dorado" and "Spirit". Above and below, some of the wonderfully detailed visual development artworks that Hani did for Dreamworks Prince of Egypt ( above ) and El Dorado ( below ).
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' , one of his dearest project, 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.
Hani was also a perfect example of how an Imagineer could change his medium. FAs i told you when Hani was at WDI he was lead designer on Arabian Coast for the Tokyo Disney Sea project. What is less known is that Hani designed an incredible concept for the Sindbad attraction. I was supposed since years to go and visit Hani in Cairo to meet him and do an article about this "Sindbad attraction that never was" but i had to postponed the trip and now, it's unfortunately it's too late. From what i remember that Hani has told me it was a great concept but WDI choose another concept, closer to an occidental / hollywoodian vision of the legend of Sindbad, and soon after that, Hani left Imagineering.
But the famous tales of 1001 Nights has always been one of Hani's favorite and since then Hani wanted to give a grand tribute to one of the most famous collection of stories in the world. In January of 2009 the idea - and the project - took shape when Hani began to design what will be a huge Egyptian tapestry, a work of art.
Inspired by Classical Folk Tales the Thousand and One Nights and executed in the traditional blind stitch patchwork technique of Egypt called Kheyameya, this one of a kind unique tapestry was finished recently and is now available for purchase. The piece stands an impressive 5 meters tall by 8 meters wide (16.5 feet x 26.2 feet), weighs 45 Kilograms, and was composed with a staggering 102 unique colors.
The scene of the tapestry is dedicated to the opening story of the Thousand and One Nights, The story of the stories, and the circumstances that led Scheherazade to tell the king her nightly tales, not just to save her neck, as it is thought, but also to cure him from his blinding jealousy.
And how do you create such an impressive and huge tapestry, you ask? Well, like anything in art it all starts with an idea, a sketch, a line drawing and then a full color painting. Here is below the "line" only version...
...and the final painting with colours. The pictures are in high-res and i strongly recommand to double-click on the pictures to explore this fantastic scene in details.
Then the Kheyameya workers began to create the patchwork. By the way, the word Kheyameya has its origins in the Arab word for 'tent' (Khaymah), you are probably familiar with it from the name of the famous twelfth century Persian poet and scientist Omar Khayyam, since his family made tents in Nichapour, Persia.
In the wider Middle East, the craft consisted not only in the fabrication of large tents, but also decorating the inside walls with traditional patterns since the main use of these tents was to host large family gatherings and social events like weddings,
religious celebrations and funerals.
Today, across the Middle East this craft is disappeared due to changes in our modern lifestyle. Fortunately Kheyameya has survived in Egypt, as an entire section of medieval Cairo has morphed into another tradition of home furnishings. From wall hangings to bedspreads, tablecloths and pillowcases, the colorful pieces artistically and painstakingly hand stitched with traditional geometric patterns, ancient symbols or skillful combinations of both, are everywhere in Egyptian homes and have become some of the best tourist souvenirs you can buy in Cairo bazaars.
The work itself begin with a line drawing. The line work then enlarged to the right size on blueprint paper and the lines are patiently perforated to create a stencil.
The stencil is in turn transferred to the base canvas using a simple dusting technique and the little dots are clear enough to be the guide for redrawing the patterns onto the fabric.
Next, every shape is assigned a different color and neatly covered with a colored piece of fabric, usually a cotton twill, linen, silk or muslin, which is blind stitched to the background canvas in a thread of the same color as the swatch.
By the time the tedious work is finished, the result is delightful, lively and extremely durable
The result of the finished tapestry is spectacular as you can see on the picture at the top and on these close shots showing details of the tapestry.
The work lasted nine months and on the next picture Hani arrive at the work-shop and is amazed by the magnificent work.
On this last picture, Hani El Masri stands near the now finished tapestry.
Another unknown gift of Hani was his talent to create, when he was at WDI, wonderfully funny "retirement cards". He was so good creating them that when Marty Sklar retired some years ago from his long career at Walt Disney Imagineering he remembered the previous ones that Hani did, and asked Hani to create the retirement card that Marty then sent to all Imagineers. This is the one below and as you can see it's another totally different style - and a very fun card too as you'll see if you explore it in details.
Talking about WDI you may have noticed this line in Hani's resume of the projects he worked on at WDI: "King Tut: Concept of special proposed exhibit for the famous collection at World Showcase, EPCOT". Yes, an exhibit of the legendary treasure of King Tutankhamun almost happened at Epcot World Showcase and there is a wonderful and quite funny story behind this that Hani once told me.
This happened at the time Michael Eisner was at the height of his WDC CEO career and before Frank Wells died in a very unfortunate helicopter accident. Anyway, Hani, as he was Egyptian, had been asked to see with the Egyptian Antiquities Dept if it could be possible to have this King Tutankhamun exhibit at Epcot. And believe it or not, but Hani succeeded to have an agreement from the Egyptians. Then arrived the day of the meeting with Eisner, Frank Wells and others and Hani announced the Egyptian agreement. Everyone in the room was happy to hear this as it was almost miraculous that the Egyptian Antiquities agreed to let the treasure of King Tut going out of Egypt. And then, Michael Eisner said "...and make sure that the Egyptians will pay to have this exhibit at WDW ! ". Everyone looked at Eisner, stunned by the enormity of what he just said and Frank Wells, realizing the insanity of it, said to Eisner "Michael, what the FUCK are you talking about!?!". Then, everything started to go awry and the King Tut exhibit unfortunately never happened at Epcot World Showcase...
I would like to end this tribute to Hani by something that you may not know. Above is the logo of my Innoventions website on which i post from time to time articles about cool technologies. What you don't know is that it's Hani who did it. And what you also don't know is that it's in fact the very first Epcot Innoventions logo design which was approved years ago by Michael Eisner before another one was chosen later. Here is the story: when WDI Imagineers created Innoventions at Epcot they were asked to find an Innoventions logo. Several people worked during months to find one and suggested a design during a meeting. And Hani also did a proposal, the logo you can see on the picture above. And guess what happened? During the logos presentation to Michael Eisner Hani's Innoventions logo was Michael's favourite choice! Due to internal politic reasons another logo was chosen but the final logo that one can see at Epcot is partly inspired by Hani's first concept.
I have to say that i am really happy that Hani redrawn this logo for my Innoventions website - and he did it in five minutes during our Skype conversation! - as it is also a perfect one to represent Hani himself - an artist pencil on one side with the light of creativity on the top. For me it will always be the light of Hani and his amazing creativity which will stay switched on forever in our hearts. May your soul rest in peace, Hani, we all loved you and we will miss you forever.
All Artwork: copyright Hani El Masri and copyright Disney and Walt Disney Enterprises Inc.