Monday, March 29, 2010

Close Encounters of the first kind for WDI Imagineers during the construction of Disneyland Paris ?

Today's article is about the strangest case ever to happen at Disneyland Paris, and probably in any Disney theme park. Two months ago I was talking with my good friend Jeff Burke from California, who was Disneyland Paris' Frontierland show-producer when Jeff suddenly said to me, "Have I ever told you the strange things that happened when we built DLP, in the early 90's? We had really strange encounters... I mean, CLOSE Encounters." I said, "What are you talking about, Jeff ?!?" to which Jeff replied, "Let me find the pictures, you'll be amazed". Days later, looking at these pictures I was indeed amazed, as WDI Imagineers obviously experienced for one month in August 1991, some really close encounters "of the first kind" with unidentified flying object which appeared over the park and vanished in less time than it takes to explain it.

The first picture above was shot by Jeff Burke himself, while standing in the middle of the Rivers of the Far West, which was not yet filled with water. He recalls, "I was there, in front of Big Thunder, shooting pictures that I was supposed to send to Mickey Steinberg in Glendale who, as Executive Project Manager, wanted to check the work's progress.
I took three pictures from different angles. On the first two there was nothing, and suddenly, when I shot the last picture, these three objects came out of nowhere over BTM. They weren't moving, nothing. No noise, either, as far as I remember. And suddenly they disappeared, instantly. The whole experience, or "encounter" as we may call it, lasted less than two minutes, but I had time to alert Pat Burke and some of Big Thunder workers who were just as amazed as I was".

Two weeks later the same group of UFOs appeared again, this time over Fantasyland. This time the pictures were shoot by Eddie Sotto who was in front of the castle. "I had stopped to shoot a series of pictures, as I wanted to do a panoramic of the works on Central Plaza and the Castle," recalls Eddie. "The Plaza Gardens restaurant was already finished at that time, and I was standing on the roof over Victoria's Home-Style restaurant. When I saw these three UFOs in the clouds on the right of the castle, I had just enough time to take out my camera again and shoot two pictures before they disappeared. On the second one you can see them much better, emerging from the clouds".

Around mid-August it was Imagineer Bill Gorgensen's turn to have a close encounter. Bill, who was at that time working on Pirates of Caribbean, was walking through Adventureland towards POTC to meet Chris Tietz. Bill recalls, "I'm not the one who shot the picture. I was walking quite quickly through Adventureland with Imagineer Chaz McEwan, and I remember that we were late for an important meeting with Chris. Suddenly, Chaz stopped me and said "Bill, do you see what I see?". We couldn't believe our eyes. The UFO stayed stationery for a few minutes on the west side of Swiss Robinson Tree before disappearing at an incredible speed.

Bill continues, "The workers who were on that side of Swiss Robinson Tree saw it, everybody could see it for at least two minutes. If you enlarge the picture you can even see one of the workers standing on the tree, almost hypnotized by the scene".

This UFO didn't reappear over DLP for the next three weeks, but early September it was Tom Morris' turn to see it while he was in front of Toad Hall in Fantasyland. "To tell the truth, I was checking the pavement work and I didn't noticed anything. It's only when I got back the prints some days later that I saw it on the picture, and I was stunned," recalls Tom.

"The weather was pretty cloudy that day, and the UFO was partly hidden by the clouds. I had to scan the picture and raise the contrast to get a perfect image of the UFO".

Tom continues, "I think it was the last time they appeared during the daytime, but I know that shortly before the park opened, when we were shooting promotional pictures at night, it reappeared again. Try to find the photographer who did the marketing pictures, he'll tell you about it."

It took me some time to find the photographer who did the shooting 18 years ago (by the way, all my thanks to DLP photo library which was very helpful to find this photographer), but I'm happy he still had the pic as it is probably the best one, as you can see below.

Allan Hynek was organizing the photo session in Discoveryland - at that time Space Mountain was not yet built - and he remembers perfectly what happened: "It was amazing, we had dozens of extras standing still in Discoveryland for this big panoramic promotional picture, all waiting for me to shout "nobody moves!" as we were shooting at sunset, and it was already pretty dark. And suddenly the UFO was there. Nobody saw it coming, it stayed in the sky less than one minute, with flashing lights but no noise except a strange vibration, something like a high-frequency sound... and then it disappeared. Vanished would be a better word as it was just like somebody who switch off a light. In fact, it gave everyone who had seen it the feeling that the object, UFO, space ship, call it whatever you like, vanished in another dimension".

Allan Hynek continues, "Some months later i was reading a book written by Jacques Vallée (Note: the most serious UFO specialist who was Steven Spielberg's inspiration for the character played by François Truffaut in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind") in which Vallée talks about his encounter with a brahman in India who told him: "They are not coming from another planet, they are coming from another plane, another dimension". And it's exactly the feeling we all had during this incredible night".

Of course, I asked Jeff Burke why we never heard about these amazing encounters before: "Well, first, there were only a few of us who saw them, who were at the right place at the right time" says Jeff, "Thousands of workers were working on the park at that time but considering each UFO's appearance lasted no more than two or three minutes and that everybody was doing their job which was not to look at the sky, only a few saw them. We informed Mickey Steinberg at Glendale that strange things were happening, but Mickey told us to not talk about it. At that time, the opening of Disneyland Paris was almost considered in France as a U.S invasion, so if we had added a UFO invasion it would have been the icing on the cake! (laughs) Frankly, i think it was a good idea to keep it secret at that time".

Amazing story, wasn't it? Your thoughts?

Learn how this article was done in the "making-of" HERE.

All my thanks to all Imagineers and Allan Hynek who kindly agreed to deliver their testimonies on this mysterious case.

Pictures: copyright Disney

Many thanks to Nate Walz for the text editing.


Dave said...

Amazing article, Alain. I wish i had been there during the sightings!

John Patrick said...

Great article, Alain! However, I think Jeff forgot to tell you about a meeting we had three months after the grand opening. As Frontierland's Show Designer I was working on adding props near BTM, when Jeff and I met one of the farmers who had previously owned the land on which we had built the park. This guy told us something pretty weird. It's incredible, but five years before the UFO "wave" over the park, he found one of those mysterious "crop circles" in his field, that generally appears overnight without any explanations, although people think they're a kind of "extra-terrestrial" message. And guess where this crop circle was located in his field? Exactly where we had built Big Thunder Mountain four years later, and where we first sighted the UFOs in 1991!

Al Ventureland said...

Hallucination due à une intoxication alimentaire aux fruits de mer je pense... Jeff Burke a sûrement gouté aux poisson-chats du lac de Thunder Mesa... XD

En tout cas belle prise Alain!

Richard said...

Funny, It's not the 1st yet here in the states but I know a photoshop cut out when I see one! LOL!!!!

Alain Littaye said...

Richard, you may not believe me but there is NO use of Photoshop in all this! Really!

john321 said...

Legends have it that there are still some alien remains behind the dragon in the cave.

Anonymous said...

the words "APRIL FOOLS!" spring greatly to mind.

Dave said...

Haha! well done- had me going for a second

Unknown said...

Wait this is a day early! April Fools isn't till tomorrow. Oh well still a fun article!

DisWedWay said...

Alain, That is one timely prodigious appraition. Former WED VP and astronaut Gordon Cooper would love it.

Alain Littaye said...

Ken, Paris is nine hours ahead of California, so we are ALREADY on April 1st in France!

The_Mad_Hatter said...

Happy April Fools Day!

Mark Hickson said...


Happy April Fools Day from Hawai'i!


Mark Hickson

Anonymous said...

Iphone App UFO Gold, good job though using it over old construction pictures.

Anonymous said...

try to keep uniform proportions in mind next time you use photoshop haha

David N. said...

Nice 1st April story - all elements of the classic UFO-encounter stories: mix of facts and fiction :)
Good work!

Alain Littaye said...

Actually as i've already said there is no photoshop at all, everything was done thanks to an IPhone App called UFO which allows you to put a choice of different kind of UFOs on any picture.

So i took some real pictures of the park's construction - which are in my DLP book by the way, and upload them in my IPhone to be able to add the UFOs with the App. But there is no use of Photoshop at all in the pictures, the App did all the job.

Anonymous said...

great story
I almost fell for it, but then I remembered the date. April 1.
Looking closer at the pictures you see that it is photoshopped. Nice work though guys.

Anonymous said...

Happy April Fool's Day!
Excellent article. :-)

Dr Bitz said...

When we met the titanium Saucer on the roof of Walt's, it was obvious they were of higher intelligence.
They uttered "take me to your director of corporate synergy".

The had telepathy too. These Aliens were the only ones smart enough to bring their own wine on opening day. (Shatner 1967) I wish they had brought cash, the next fifteen years would have been easier. Thanks for exposing this Alain.

Major Pepperidge said...

I KNEW IT! All of you people who say these are fakes - wake up! Our alien brothers are here.

Unknown said...

Very fun, Alain! Nicely done!

Christine said...

Hahaha! This was wonderful! :) And a very happy April Fool's day to you as well. :)