Thursday, February 20, 2014

When WED Enterprises Became Walt Disney Imagineering, 28 Years Ago...

28 years ago WED Enterprises, the company founded in 1952 by Walt changed its name and became "Walt Disney Imagineering". All this week and the next one Disney and more will pay tribute to WDI Imagineers and it started with the two parts article on the Epcot Africa pavilion, the second part being now on line below. And there is more tribute to WDI Imagineers coming soon!

Picture: copyright Disney

Epcot Equatorial Africa Pavilion , The World Showcase Pavilion That Never Was - Part Two

In this part two article about the "Epcot World Showcase Equatorial Africa Pavilion that never was" we will have a closer look on the "Heartbeat of Africa" show thanks to a great 2010 interview of Director and Cinematographer Jack Couffer coming from the Volume 12 of my friend Didier Ghez excellent book series "Walt's People" and the original Herb Ryman artwork for the show that you can see above, thanks to John Stanley Donaldson who is the author of a great book about Herb Ryman: "Warp and Weft".

If you've missed the part one of this article, it's better you read it first HERE.

According to Imagineer Ken Anderson original presentation: "The Heartbeat of Africa show will open as a standard 70mm projection on a section of the dome filling an area of 28' x 53' there are two themes to our show: the first is to present an image of what Africa is like today - the differences of its peoples, the contrasts of traditional with modern, an "african experience" that will give both insight and entertainment. The second theme is an exploration of the evolution of music which probably began, as man himself might have begun, in africa. Our title derives from the concept that everything has both visual as well as audible rhythms.

As the film progresses, the music will follow its historical development, beginning with the sounds of nature, then moving on to the imitation of those sounds by the original instruments - drum, rattle, bells, and flutes - voices singing and chanting give rhythm to work. the drum-beats and flute notes of the first music become more sophisticated as they are used to accompany ceremonial and dance. Then african music went out into the rest of the world where it influenced european and african music. finally, at the conclusion of our show we will discover that african music has gone full—circle to return to its source in thoroughly modern jazz.

As an outdoor jazz concert in a modern african city builds in excitement, occasional super—imposed laser images will begin to be seen, interpretations of the now—modern music, growing in importance until our film presentation has changed into a full—blown laser show as modern as the new african music that throbs through the dome. In this way, we will have led our audience, both in sight and sound, through the long evolution of modern music, and to have shown its african heritage."

The Heartbeat of Africa show would have had a fantastic pre show described by Ken Anderson, its creator, as "a Tiki Bird show only with talking drums": 
"As the guests enter the salon to await the film show they are greeted by the sound of a full orchestral arrangement of traditional african instruments and voices in the "welcome ceremony." The waiting area will be the interior of a chief's house attractively decorated with colorful african masks and objects individually illuminated. Centrally located will be the circular preshow stage mounted on a dogon platform called a togu—na. Traditional african musical instruments - xylophone, the stringed cora, the mbira (or stomach piano), fifes, horns, flutes, bells and gourd rattles—-will be hung from the ceiling. After the opening "welcome" number there will be other arrangements featuring these instruments playing african theme music. Many african tribes have musical themes to represent nature's manifestations——the forest, rivers, mountains, rain, different bird and animal species, etc, these will be the themes we will use. Each will be identified as will the names of the various instruments. this section of the preshow in the waiting salon will last approximately nine minutes -slightly over one half of the total 17 minute time for the pre show."

"Then our hostess (an ethnic african) will appear spotlighted at center stage and begin the final 8 minute segment of the preshow. She will welcome the audience and inform them that the music and rhythm they have been listening to are the "heartbeat of africa" - the very core of african life. essential to this music around which life revolves  are the african drums  - like the drum family which she is about to introduce. These drums of various sizes and designs are arranged on the stage in a semicircle. as she introduces each one by its name, it is spot-lighted and responds with animation and a drum roll (each drum beat will appear as an impulse spark of light at the point of origin on the drumhead.)"

As for the "Dome" show itself, which was following this brilliant drums pre-show, here is the Ken Anderson presentation:

"The drumbeats have not been interrupted as we enter the fully illuminated theater. Then as guests have taken their seats and the lights dim, huge drums, appearing three dimensional as they seem to tumble overhead across the dark sky, sail away like asteroids in space, growing smaller as they reach a common vanishing point at the front center of the dome. out of the zone of disappearance something appears. It grows, pulsing with the drumbeats, and becomes a decorative visualization of the african continent; throbbing with the drumbeats until we feel they might be the very heartbeats of the earth. The continent grows and grows until africa fills the whole foreground of the dome; then as it continues to grow larger we are inside the land mass, zeroing in on the central part where a huge waterway divides the land - the river congo.

The drumbeats fade as another picture dissolves from the dome onto the film screen: the lush green treetops and winding rivers of an endless forest. Silence; then as we descend closer toward the trees, we begin to hear the sounds of nature, a hidden insect sawing from the leaves, a bird call, a monkey's screech, water's song. Down and down we soar, like a great bird of prey, until we are into the trees.

The scene changes to a large bird soaring through the forest. An unfamiliar sound-—odd percussive notes—— pick up the bird's rhythm as it slowly flaps to a landing on a vine—draped tree.

The camera moves toward the source of sound - behind the giant buttresses of a forest tree. out of the shadows of the roots, a figure steps into the sunlight - an old man, the griot an appealing-looking gentleman with wrinkled skin and a sparkle of humor in his eyes. This engaging personality who will become the leitmotiv of our film has a face and bearing warm with personality. On a strap held tightly under his left armpit, he carries an hour—glass shaped squeezedrum - the ancient talking drum of west africa. The griot indicates to us, the camera, that we should follow him: the old man has become our symbolic guide. When he addresses us, it is directly into the camera: like us, he is an insider, and he engagingly (and somewhat conspiratorially) takes us along under his wing.

Moving behind him, we enter the forest. we follow the old man, magically guided through a variety of locale. Sometimes we see as through his eyes: sometimes he is there on the trail before us as he leads, showing us the rhythm of nature - the beat of the herds of antelope pounding across the kenya plains, the giraffe in their nodding canter, the tempo of the hippos snorting spray in their pool.
With his drum, the wise old man imitates the natural rhythms, turning nature's sounds into man's music, showing us and telling us without words where his music comes from.

The griot is an acute observer of nature and he points out details which without his help would have gone unseen. The camera - our eyes goes on, stopping, seeing, moving again. the lens has totally assumed a subjective point of view and we move through a forest alive with creatures that must be sought out with the camera eye, vignettes of life that are only seen—-and their rhythms heard+—by the most experienced hunter. The formations of pelicans at nakuru in their choreographed fishing behavior, the fish eagle shouting its superb cry, a horde of multi—colored butterflies whose wings make a soft rhythmic patter as they flutter over a puddle, the thousands of pink flamingos that burst in a stunning crescendo of sound and color from a black lake.

Water ripples across the dome: it becomes a cataract. suddenly the spray is parted by the bow of a huge canoe. The chanting of strong men's voices bursts into the dome and we are with the powerful wagenia canoemen of zaire, transported as we are carried with them into the boiling rapids. Bursting with vitality and physical strength they stand tall at the long paddles of their canoes, twenty men to a craft, pulling together in exacting rhythmic strokes, chanting to help them in their great energy, pulling us through the rapids with exciting speed.

Their chant segues into the chant of the men of marsabit wells. Twenty men in loincloths cling to a scaffold of poles that descends deep into the earth to reach the water —- chanting to maintain a tempo of work. the men, muscles rippling in the dripping water, pass up the skin buckets hand over hand to the daylight where herds of thirsty borana camels and cattle stampede to plunge their noses into baked mud troughs.

In Mali, a group of drummers beat a tempo as singing men and women flailing sticks thresh dried millet from the stalks——we catch the eye of the old griot, nearly hidden behind the other drummers as he accompanies them with his drum. he gives us a grin and a wink—letting us know that he is still with us. Then on the beaches of Senegal, chanting as they pull their net, the seiners take up the tempo. A graceful pirogue is poled across the mirrored water of Casamance to the song of the boatmen near Sangha, women pound grain in tall mortars, one with a baby slung on her back, asleep, its little head lolling from side to side in rhythm with the work and song.

Then we are in the lively market at djenne, following behind a woman as she weaves her way through the colorful multitude. On her head she balances a stack of loaded egg trays three feet tall. She moves with graceful nonchalance, colliding with merchants, stopping abruptly to let running children race by at her toes and, somehow,incredibly the eggs perched so crazily on her head do not tumble. As she passes an overhanging balcony, the griot appears. He reaches down, plucks an egg from the top, gives us a conspiratorial grin, breaks the egg, throws back his head, and swallows it raw. 

The lovely senoufo girls of the ngoro ceremony and the acrobatic boys of the leopard dance near korhogo, the twelve-foot-tall masksof the Dogon in mali dance to the ancient sound of drums, the wildly whirling dancer—drummers of the baoule, the tumbling of the Wakamba, people dancing across the wide breadth of the continent. In ivory coast the masked dances of the dan leap on tall stilts, while the knife dancers of danane challenge gravity and fate with their perilous dance as young boys are seemingly caught in mid—air on the sharp points of long knives. the dazzlingly painted Nuba of Sudan fill the screen with their suberb ritual.

Then, we are again following our old friend, the griot, through the forests of Kenya. what is that rumbling sound coming from the green wall ahead? We approach cautiously. a soft hissing sound, as of air being blown through a large hose, comes from behind the leafy screen - the muffled crack of a limb being broken, then a glint of mottled cream and white - ivory - and out of the leaves an enormous shadow materializes. Suddenly the forest parts and a huge elephant towers
threateningly above us. Its ears flare as wide as barn doors and its trunk goes up trying to zero in on our scent; its head goes back and with a heart - stopping trumpet, it charges. The rest of the herd follows in wild stampede, the bugles of many huge beaststhunder toward us.

Then they are gone and as the dust settles the old man resumes his soothing music - almost an irony now after the excitement of the elephants - and we find ourselves approaching an odd—looking vehicle manned by a friendly crew of grinning men.

The weather—beaten face of the driver is as craggy as the rock kopjis on the plains. we join them as with a shout they grab for handholds and the old truck leaps forward with surprising acceleration. It is one man's version of an off-road racer, its many dents and bruises the result of countless collisions with trees, boulders, and the sky, looking down on one of the most beautiful modern cities in the world.

Wild animals it pursues. we race out onto the plain and our purpose immediately becomes clear. We are aboard a game—catching vehicle, manned by the Kenya government capture and translocation unit, and the ride is the most hair—raising experience imaginable. flat—out on the tail of a herd of giraffe, we follow whereever they go, through gulleys, over ant hills, across rough grasslands. We plow through thickets of thorn bush without slackening speed, explosions of wicked thorns rat-tat-tatting against the windshield. We pull alongside a young giraffe and a man who seems to cling to the truck with his toes reaches out with a lasso on a pole and nooses the animal.

Then the giraffe is held by men in a different locale. It is released and gallops off to join its herd in new green pastures where they will be forever safe.

The griot grins knowingly as he watches the young giraffe canter off with his herd; then the old man turns and as our view widens, we realize that we are now in another place and time. We follow the griot through the crowded sidewalks of a modern city, and his drum takes up the new exciting rhythm of the bustling city of Dakar. Then other music blends with that of his drum-—modern jazz-—somewhere in that crowd ahead a band is playing.

The music continues, growing richer, and now we are high in the sky, looking down on one of the most beautiful modern cities in the world; tall buildings on a green finger of land-—the cap verde——point into the blue atlantic. In the heart of the city, surrounded by modern skyscrapers, is a wide mall - the place de l'independance - and as we descend toward it we see that it is jammed with thousands of people. The sound of the jazz concert grows louder and more exciting, people in the mall are dancing. closer, as we come down, we see the sengalese group called, jalam, dressed in traditional clothing, incorporating traditional african instruments into their exciting music.

Then we are on the mall, continuning the long move that was started out of the sky, moving now through the joyously dancing people, toward the old griot who is dancing and drumming with jalam, moving through the musicians, and our music has gone full- circle, out from its primal origins in africa and back again.

We continue to move, closer and closer until we zero in on the drum of our old griot. Closer and closer until only the drum head fills the frame, and then as his fingers strike the skin we begin to see eruptions we can only describe as visual sound-laser light effects, interpreting the music in visual images, colorful, growing stronger as we cut back to the entire group of jalam, and now each of the instruments is emitting visual musical images, erupting from the drumheads, horns, and strings, increasing in importance until they explode in color and motion and take over the whole dome above us. The music plays on, fuller and more exciting, but now dakar and the griot and jalam change from realistic to surreal, vibrating with vivid color as they play, an exciting phantasmogoria of exploding, melting, drifting african designs, dazzling in three dimensions,

Then the show has ended and the hostess who greeted us is saying good bye, interpreting for the talking drums: "Farewell, my friends, farewell. Go in peace. Until we meet again, farewell.""

It surely would have been a great show, and now, here is the interview by Didier Ghez of Jack Couffer - picture above - who filmed the movies for the Africa pavilion and who was one of Disney's key naturalist-cinematographers on various "True-Life Adventures" and on many of the best "nature" movies that the studio produced for cinema and TV over the years. This is an excerpt from Jack Couffer full interview that you can find in Walt's People Volume 12 and Jack tell us more not only about his work on the project but also about why the Equatorial Africa pavilion was cancelled.

Didier Ghez: How were you brought on to the African Pavilion project and when?

Jack Couffer: I was there pretty much from Day One until it ended. Ken Anderson was the lead man. He knew I’d been living in Africa for years, knew Africa, that I had made successful shows both for Disney and elsewhere, and asked me.

DG: Who was the creative team on the project besides yourself?

JC: Randy Bright was in charge of all EPCOT shows. He was a chap who started his Disney career as a boat-driver-narrator on the jungle ride at Disneyland and hung in there clear to the executive position he held at WED. I answered to him. We all answered to Marty Sklar.
Ken Anderson was the first. He was a chum of Herb Ryman and Herb was interested in Africa and sort of edged his way in so he could do the design renderings. Ken did the buildings’ design and layout and Herb painted the visualizations. There were just the three of us. Ken and I shared an office at WED. I was hired to research, write, direct, and shoot two film shows, both of which were completed.

DG: What can you tell us about the project itself?

JC: The original idea was that, like the other pavilions, the Africa Pavilion would be paid for by the countries represented. Morocco came in early, but it didn’t have the “Tarzan” flavor imagined by the brass. Thus “Equatorial” was added to the idea. South Africa, wealthy and thus the most obvious as a contributor (even though it was outside the geographic limits, the country did have some traditional cultural interest). But it was in the midst of apartheid times and troubles and was considered off-limits. A team of Disney guys (and I don’t remember who they were if I ever knew) made an unsuccessful tour of African countries to solicit partners. I don’t know who they met with, but they failed to come up with any contributing countries. That doesn’t surprise me, because we’re talking about mostly impoverished countries run by governments with officials on the take. This all happened when the Africa Pavilion was only an idea, before any development began.
Then the decision was made that, as a World Showcase would be incomplete without Africa, Disney would fund the pavilion.
Ken came up with the idea for the big show which he called The Heartbeat of Africa. Ken and I researched the impressive history of African cultures, which is very little known other than by students of the topic. Even educated American blacks are pretty much ignorant of their sometimes (depending upon their tribal origin) rich, ancient, and sophisticated African antecedents.
We decided that as human evolution began in Africa, we could make the assumption that musical evolution also began there. And as the drum is the most primitive musical instrument, we could begin with that. (Even chimps “drum,” although we didn’t go back that far in our historical study.) So the development of music from its roots to present day was our theme.
We discovered that in traditional African societies—and there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of very distinct tribal societies—one nearly universal trait was the importance of music. Music plays a vital role in nearly every social event—religious ceremonial, births, death and mourning, field work, sports, wrestling, paddling, the list could be long. All of these activities were wonderfully visual and exciting audio experiences that lent themselves to film.

I made my first across-Africa tour, researching the places where I could shoot the kind of stuff we were after. Along the way, I was instructed to make pitches for contributing funds, and so met with upper-level government peoplepresidents and ministers, in Senegal, The Gambia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Zaire, Guinea, Ghana, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, and Sudan. This was necessary, anyway, as I also had to be assured of obtaining the necessary permits and government cooperation. The Disney name opened doors that would otherwise be hard to crack. And my first meetings in each country visited were usually arranged by the USA Embassy in that country. I met with titles such as Minister of Information, Minister of Arts and Culture, or Minister of Tourism. I met the people who the first guys should have approached, but didn’t.
I never met any African government official who knew of the project or had been approached by the first team. My conclusion was that the Disney guys had a good time visiting tourist spots, but not attending to the business they’d been hired for. Or maybe they just didn’t know Africa or how to get around in Africa, which does take a bit of getting used to.
Well, I can’t say that it mattered. I didn’t raise any pavilion money, either. But I did get tons of goodwill and the cooperation without which it would have been impossible to film the things I was after.
Later the President of Guinea (a country which does have the money) came to WED with his Finance Minister and met with Marty, but I was out of that loop by then and don’t know what took place. In any case, nothing materialized.

For EPCOT everything had to be grand in scale. IMAX and 3-D shows already were in use in three shows. I had to come up with something different. See my book (The Lion and the Giraffe) for a description of the system I dreamed up.

Note: In The Lion and the Giraffe, Jack Couffer wrote: “I imagined a show even grander than IMAX: three IMAX-sized screens, side by side, each with an image of the same action but shot from different points of view.
“Three huge screens, each with different images, all running simultaneously, might seem difficult for an audience to absorb. One can’t see everything at once on so large a scale, just as one doesn’t see a lot peripherally in real life. But one’s eyes tend to rove—or be directed—and it’s easy to gather an impressionistic feeling of all that’s happening.
“The main center of action was the middle screen, but the eye could be randomly directed […] shifting from middle to one side screen or the other. With this dazzle of imaging, editing, and sound, the format alone—the three huge screens—would be exciting.” 

I made three tours across Equatorial Africa. The first was to find and select the different traditional events I wanted to film. I was accompanied by Sieuwke Bisleti who spoke French. Important, as most of West Africa (where there is still lots of traditional life) is French-speaking. She had a way and personality that quickly charmed the Ministers and although we never got the funding, we did get wide-open doors and access to everything we asked for. Sieuwke and I went deep into the hinterlands to find traditional culture as untouched by modernity as it still exists in remote places to this day.
We returned to Burbank and I finessed the script to incorporate my discoveries. Then Sieuwke and Production Manager Eva Monley and I made a second trip and arranged for the people, places, and times for the shoots.
On the shoot, my crew consisted of Steadicam operator Steven StJohn; gaffer Larry Prinz; sound recordist Michael Evjie; accountant Mac Meltzer; assistant camera Michael Couffer; gofer Michael Fields; Sieuwke, Eva, and myself.
The shoot was about three months long. Then Norman “Stormy” Palmer set up three linked editing machines side by side, and I sat beside him in one of the Studio editing rooms and we cut the picture.

DG: How far along was the project developed before it was canceled?

JC: From the time it was put into play, the Africa Pavilion was not planned to be ready on opening day. We had a late start due to the fumble over African funding. Thus our pavilion was to open exactly one year after the official opening day of EPCOT.
There was to be the main show, Heartbeat of Africa, in the largest building. It would also house a collection of African musical instruments. There were to be hosts and/or hostesses who would entertain those waiting in line for the twenty-minute change-over to enter the Heartbeat show.
Another building would house a museum-like exhibition showing the surprisingly advanced cultural aspects of different African tribes at the time of European discovery. There was to be a gift shop stocked with everything from African folk art to expensive old wood carving and treasures of brass and ceramics. And there was to be a restaurant that served, of course, different African meals.
The Heartbeat of Africa was finished and had three screenings (one for invited guests) on a soundstage on the Disney lot where it was applauded enthusiastically.
The Tree House film was shot, a miniature model tree house was built, and a full-scale model was roughed out.
In the meanwhile, the death of Walt, the competition between Roy Jr and Ron Miller for top spot, then the successful opening of EPCOT all spelled doom for the Africa Pavilion. The land for the pavilion had been reserved and signposted with appropriate “coming attraction” signs. A few props were on the spot (a thirty-feet long Senegalese seagoing canoe that I’d bought and had shipped from Senegal was on the lakeside). Sites for the buildings were staked out, but construction had not begun.
The general attitude was, “We’ve only spent a couple of million dollars on developing this, EPCOT is a thriving success without it, so why spend a lot more when nobody will miss it? Do we really need a costly African Pavilion?”
I think a lot of the fascination with this project is in how close it came to reality. One gets the feeling that, conceptually, it was almost completely ready to go. The design seemed fairly fixed. I've just long wondered if any of the filming was actually done, and how/when/why the project was officially canceled.

DG: Any other stories you have not told about the African Pavillion and the artists who worked on that project?

JC: Yes. This is the way Herb Ryman got to know and become friends with Alex Haley... All of this happened at the time when the Studio employed no blacks in the higher echelons of management. In prior years there had been an incident at Disneyland with the cowboys and Indians section (Frontierland) that had created a lot of press. A group of Indians (excuse me—Native Americans) had various objections, I've forgotten the specifics, but it got substantial press and made Disney look bad.
So one of the V.P.s.I seem to remember that it was Harper Goff, but can’t be surewas super sensitive about minority issues. And blacks, in particular, were a dangerous mystery to him. So he questioned the suitability of my movie and wanted to get some black input.
Marty Sklar called the UCLA black history department and arranged for a half dozen students to look at the film and comment. Couldn't have been a worst move. These young guys came with a chip on their shoulders. The theme of the film was the development of music in Africa (where it all began), and it covered a lot of traditional music in traditional settings. The gist of the objections that came from these kids was their embarrassment that some modern Africans look and behave the way they do. I wasn’t showing the Africa of today—suits and skyscrapers—but dwelt on Africans who still live in the traditional way. The film was about history, after all, and African blacks, unlike African-American blacks, are of a different kind. All blacks who saw the film or knew the concept—and there were many—loved it. These UCLA guys missed the whole point of the Africa Pavilion, which was directed at showing the rich cultural history of the continent and the film greatly enhanced that point of view. 
Here is an example of a UCLA kid’s reaction: Once when I cut to a beautiful African child watching a traditional event, a remark from one of the students was, "Oh, my God, there it isthe pickaninny shot." I laid into him after the screening and Marty was uncomfortable with my irritation.
Marty was uneasy after this session. I agonized as to who I could get to counter the student agitator remarks, someone who would make an impression on the Disney folks, and I settled on Alex Haley. I got his number somehow and called him out of the blue. He wasn't connected with Disney in any way. He came, saw the film, loved it, and became my champion. He got support from Loretta King and others in the important African-American community. He made such an impression on the Disney folks that he was invited to join the Board of Directors. He told me they merely wanted him on the board as a "token black" and declined.
I don’t think he was ever officially a WED employee or on the payroll.
I considered writing about this incident in my book, but it went out the window with a lot of other good stuff.
Both Herbie and Ken Anderson, but especially Herb, became good friends of Alex. And of course, I thought of him as a friend. But I believe Herbie was the closest.
Herb painted a large oil portrait of Alex which was still in his house when I last saw Herb shortly before his death.
There was one potentially touchy detail for which I wanted to get Alex’s input before I screened the movie for the Disney brass. I had shot a lot of dance and ceremonial material in remote areas where the tribal people still lived in their traditional way. One sequence, the Poro ceremony in northern Ivory Coast, was a favorite. A dozen musicians played flutes, drums, portable xylophones, and other percussion instruments for which I only heard the local names. They were led by a grotesquely masked and costumed figure who repeatedly cracked a long whip with explosive reports. A dancing chorus of twenty bare-breasted girls wove through the players in a snake-like column shaking pom-poms with rattles. All was filmed at night in the light of open fires. It was wild, spectacular, and exciting, one of my favorite pieces—but what would Disney folks (Disney being what Disney is—or was) think of bare-breasted girls?
Alex Haley loved it and found no reason to edit the boobs. I agreed and so did Ken Anderson. I never heard any criticism from the brass. Everyone seemed to like it. Perhaps their approval was a bit daring for Disney, and I was pleased with their pluck.

Technical note: I shot this show with two cameras in 35mm (myself and Steve St John operating). 70mm cameras, although they are used for IMAX shows, were too bulky at this time to ship and use with a small crew all over Africa. We did a lot of experimentation with 35 mm projection on the big screens. Because of a slight jitter between frames of 35 mm at 24 frames per second, we modified our cameras to shoot (and the projectors to project) at 40 frames per second. This smoothed out the jitter and with the sharpest anamorphic lenses available at the time (Technoscope—a British company), the result was nearly indistinguishable from 70 mm.
I’ve got some regrets about this project. I spent a year on the film, researching, location scouting, writing, shooting, and editing. I was disappointed that it was never shown in its proper venue. I was proud of this film—for its difference, its enjoyment and quality. Also, some of the ethnographic things may never be filmed again. Surely they would have been of interest to some anthropologists and musicologists. Even if the footage has been saved (and I doubt that it has been), it would be difficult to screen because of the 40 fps. Also because as it was shot so specifically for three screens, that would make viewing difficult. Still, the center screen pretty much told the story and carried the show and that alone might have been of value to anthropologists.

And it's with this interview of Jack Couffer that ends this two-parts article about the Epcot World Showcase Equatorial Africa Pavilion that never was, which i hope provided you the answers to the many questions that Disney fans could have about this legendary project.

You can find the full interview of Jack Couffer - in which he talks about his long career of naturalist-cinematographers for Disney's "True-Life Adventures" and "nature" movies in Walt's People Volume 12 that you can order on Amazon HERE.

Artwork: copyright Disney

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hong Kong Disneyland New "Disney Paint the Night" Parade Should Debut September 2014 !

The name of the new Hong Kong Disneyland night parade has been revealed and it is: "Disney Paint the Night". It will debut this year and although HKDL didn't announced yet precisely when it will start in 2014, from what i've been told the new parade should start this September. September being also the month of the HKDL Halloween season it means that you can also say goodbye to the "Glow in the Park Halloween Parade" which last performed on Oct31 after running for 7 years - as i told you in a previous D&M HKDL update. 

I remind you that the new "Disney Paint the Night" parade will have a new interactive concept with guests. As you know the glowing ears in Disney parks are receiving signals and change color. With the new "Disney Paint the Night" parade there will be new devices which will enable guests to send signals to change colors on the parade floats or costumes. So far, it seems that this new parade will be the first one to introduce this new kind of interactivity with the guests which looks to me as an interesting idea... though i'm curious to see how they will manage all the guests signals when sent at the same time to a same float...

Talking about Hong Kong Disneyland i also told you recently that because of the works on the new Iron Man Experience ride - most of the land for the show building being on the other side of the train track - the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad will be closed, literally, during one year or so. And this was confirmed if i can say "officially" by the new HKDL visitor guide below... the train has disappeared on the new map - see below before / after.

Last but not least, those of you interested by the annual business review" as they call it, can download the PDF released yesterday for the fiscal year 2013 HERE 

Don't miss below the great article about Epcot's World Showcase Africa Pavilion that never was and tomorrow the part two of it!

Picture: copyright Disney, HKDL

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Epcot Equatorial Africa Pavilion, The World Showcase Pavilion That Never Was - Part One

Here is a fantastic two parts article about Epcot's World Showcase mythical pavilion that never was, the Equatorial Africa Pavilion. Others countries pavilions were also envisioned and never built, but the Equatorial Africa Pavilion is probably the only one that "almost was" as not only research and models were done but the two films for the pavilion main shows were filmed, too! 

You'll see in this first part article great pictures never shown before, Imagineer and Disney artist Herb Ryman artwork for the Africa pavilion in the best definition you've ever seen, Imagineer and Disney artist Ken Anderson original artwork as well as interviews of two important people who worked directly on the project, WDI Imagineer Pat Burke who did the pavilion model and Director Jack Couffer who filmed the movies for two of the pavilion attractions. I want to thanks John Stanley Donaldson for the precious Herb Ryman artwork scans. John is the author of "Warp and Weft", a fantastic book about Herb Ryman that you can find on his site HERE as well as my good friend Didier Ghez for the Jack Couffer interview excerpts coming from the volume 12 of Didier's excellent Walt's People book series HERE. All my thanks too to Pat Burke for the never-seen-before model pictures.

Above and below three pictures of a different model of the Africa pavilion than the one done by Imagineer Pat Burke. According to Pat, "this model was realized much later and smaller than his concept model, and was done in a smaller copy that could fit into the whole World Showcase model".

The Equatorial Africa pavilion was planned to open one year after Epcot opening, i.e in 1982. For reasons that we will explore it never happened but, first, why "equatorial"? In fact, Equatorial Africa refers to the group of African countries that lie along the equator and to which the pavilion would have paid tribute. The pavilion was also known as the "African Nations pavilion" or the "Africa pavilion" and the Equatorial Africa pavilion would have been located between China and Germany.

At the entrance of the land, surrounded by huge Kopjis rocks, guests would have start their "Africa" experience with a giant 60 foot tall tree house. Up in the tree house a wooden observation platform, which surrounded the upper trunk. From the center of it thanks to WDI Imagineers wizardry and a real movie filmed by cinematographer Jack Couffer guests would have overlook a waterhole at dusk with wild animals of the jungle coming to bathe or drink. It would have been a multi senses experience as, in addition to the far projected 70 mm live action movie projected on a 20 foot screen, was included wind and heat effects as well as scents - thanks to Disney's "smellizer" technology - and HD sound to create the perfect illusion that guests were actually in Africa watching real wild  animals.

In addition to the the house experience two shows and what was called the "Heritage" area were also part of Equatorial Africa. The first show was called "The Heartbeat of Africa" - and we will talk in details about it in the part two article - would have shown Equatorial Africa's past, present, and a vision of its future. Before the movie was a great preshow all about the meaning and history of drums in Africa that Ken Anderson described as "a Tiki Room with drums". "Drums would have magically played themselves and with each hypnotic beat, light would have emanate from the instrument up to the point when rhythms would become more complex and more and more instruments would join in with the elaborate melodies causing the room to be filled with colors, patterns and music". The Heartbeat of Africa finale would have present "a jazz concert in a modern African city, with superimposed laser images coming out of the jazz instruments".

Above, Herb Ryman artwork showing the African village. 

The second show was called "Africa Rediscovered" and was to be hosted by Alex Haley, the famous author of "Roots". Before the show guests would have discover a preshow with a giant relief map of Africa as well as a presentation of Africa's natural wonders of flora, fauna, and climate. Alex Haley had hopes that the 15 minutes film would have teach World Showcase visitors that Africa was a continent with a rich and illustrious history and not a primitive, primeval jungle inhabited by wild beasts and savages. 

Guests could also have explored the "Sound Safari" which, thanks to WDI then-new 3D sound technology, would have create "sound illusions". As described in a  excellent 2006 Jim Hill article that you can read HERE when World Showcase guests would have walked through a path, "invisible infra-red sensors would have triggered the sound of trumpeting elephants, laughing hyenas and grunting hippos -- seemingly just out of sight behind the thick foliage. To reinforce this illusion, the Imagineers wanted to set up a system of simple but extremely effective special effects along the Sound Safari trail. This would have caused some of the bushes in this attraction to rustle in perfect synchronization with the sound of the out-of-sight jungle animal -- giving WDW guests the impression that there really was something alive and ferocious lurking out there in the bush. As for the Sound Safari climax, "After sending guests across a rickety suspension bridge over a thick jungle that seemed to be full of vicious beasts, the only path to safety for these Epcot visitors was through a darkened cave that echoed with the sound of lions fighting over a fresh kill."

Finally, the Heritage area was an African village with live entertainment consisting of traditional performances. The area was also planned to hold a museum of fine African art. 

Above, Herb Ryman artwork showing traditional african dances.

Director and Cinematographer Jack Couffer was among the persons who worked with Ken Anderson on the Equatorial Africa Pavilion project. In an interview by Disney historian Didier Ghez published in Walt's People Volume 12 Didier asked Jack Couffer what was the nature of hiswork on the project.

Jack Couffer: "I was hired to research, write, direct, and shoot two film shows, both of which were completed. One was the Tree House show. Concept was Ken’s. A single point of view from the tree house of a waterhole populated by a variety of animals. It was an imaginative idea that would have been great fun. The idea was that people would enter the hollow tree in dim light, darkness outside, they’d climb up a ramp and stand at handrails on a downward-sloping floor, looking toward the outside through a wide “hole” in the tree. The safari guide narrator would softly caution them to be quiet so as not to spook the animals they were about to see when the light came up at the waterhole.

Then a light outside would gradually brighten on the waterhole. In the foreground there was a “frame” of real three-dimensional branches of the tree (with a three-dimensional Animatronic lemur on one branch). A three-dimensional cascade of real water was flowing from near the tree’s roots away from the tree in a small stream that flowed under a fallen tree, which was the three-dimensional bottom frame of a rear projection screen on which we saw the waterhole and its collection of animals. The transition from three-dimension to flat screen worked very well.

My chore was to shoot the waterhole scene in one continuous three or four minutes of action (I’ve forgotten the exact time), but there could be no cuts; it had to be continuous to create the effect, and it had to be long enough and with enough interplay between the animals to satisfy the customers.

I built and lit the set and shot on 70mm. The camera was placed on a scaffold to give the correct perspective at the height of the tree house “window.” We even placed a log at the foreground edge of the waterhole to give proper ripples to the pond when animals disturbed the surface and wavelets splashed against the log. Trainer Hubert Wells managed the animals, and we shot it in one night after a week of construction and rehearsals at a game park in Texas. I may have forgotten all the animals, but there was a mother and baby elephant, zebras, giraffe, eland, roan antelope, maybe kudu, and maybe others."

Above, Herb Ryman artwork for the waterhole scene that guests would have seen from the observation platform inside the treehouse.

Following Herb Ryan and Ken Anderson artworks and instructions Imagineer Pat Burke worked on the Equatorial Africa Pavilion model and share, too, his memories:

"I worked on the concept model of the Africa Pavilion for over 2 years with Disney Legend Ken Anderson. Ahmad Jafari was the project Architect who took then all the village concepts over to Animal Kingdom years after Disney President Ron Miller closed down the pavilion for World Showcase for several reasons including having no sponsor to finance it. Disney Legend John Hench who always kept an eye on the project also felt the tree needed it's own park and was too big, even after I made 3 scales of it for him to see on the overall Showcase model.  Ahmad and I also transferred some of the same ideas to Adventureland in Hong Kong Disneyland. You'll see below Polaroids of my model in development and some sketches of the tree house in design. 

I also worked on the viewing room guests would see from inside the treehouse. This one had a rear projected screen with many films done in Africa which had been shot by Jack Couffer just for this pavilion for Ken Anderson, and lay waiting to be rediscovered maybe one day for Animal Kingdom. In the movie animals would come at night to the watering hole and their various sounds and scents would have been directed at the viewing guest port. WED Special Effects dept developed over 100 scents just for this.  

I know somewhere i saved a piece of my viewing theater Watering Hole back wall I painted on a curved piece of thin basswood plywood, to match the Herb Ryman interior rendering above. I had to duplicate Herb's style of a jungle forest with the blues and green tones of filtered light with trees interlocking. Artificial trees were than made in front of the backdrop and to soften the edge of the rear projected screen. Overhead hanging vines were also used to match Herbs rending.  Having worked on 2 Jungle Cruises by this time with Marc Davis, I was able to pull from those experiences on the Africa Pavillion. Herb and Ken Anderson would come out and looked at it through the viewing port and said "you got it!" with a usual Herb pat on the back. Herb was like the WED teacher on wheels, as he would walk around the whole shop and check up on everyone and everything during the day. He and John Hench were like the next thing to Walt as far as what was correct or not. Then at night during the drawing class we had in the sculpture area of WED, Herb would do the same. I still have some drawings Herb worked on making quick enhancements. At one point I cut a hole in the back of my Watering Hole model and put a plex screen in back of it. We  then projected a slide of Herbs rendering shown here on the back of my interior screen, and I sprayed a few of the animal scents into it as they viewed through the front window. Disney Legends Ken, Herb and John all loved the effect.

Ken Anderson was always going on trips to Africa for research and doing detailed sketch books of everything he thought would apply for the pavilion. I remember Ken Anderson would make me copies that applied to what I was doing on the concept model.  Ken was also purchasing a lot of authentic African props as well, including a dug out canoe for the project. When the Africa pavilion project was turned off, a lot of the props and artifacts went to the Adventurer's Club at Pleasure Island which Joe Rhode was designing.  When the Adventurer's Club was closed down, part of the artifacts then moved over to Honk Kong Disneyland's new Mystic Manor.  I'm sure Ken Anderson would be glad to see how his influence has spread since he first started the Africa Pavillion." 

Below, an issue of "Wonderful World of Disney including Africa sketches from Ken Anderson. 

Pat continues: "Here is a photo of Ken Anderson favorite African tree he and I used for the model of the treehouse - and probably also served as inspiration later for Animal Kingdom tree of Life.  You can see how large it is and why John Hench thought it needed its own park like the later Animal Kingdom. I used to sculpt the tree house with this picture. The tree is called a Baobab Tree and is sometimes called the Tree of Life as it stores water inside the trunk and branches for life sustaining properties, and it's the reason why it was next to the watering hole.  It's interesting that Animal Kingdom's giant tree became the "Tree of Life" following Ken Anderson's lead."

"The viewing screen sketch below is a Ken Anderson concept sketch. Herb Ryman did the waterhole rendering ( picture above ) which I used to create the interior mood and color pallet within the viewing model".

"On the next photo i'm carving the treehouse roof out of real straw cut from a broom."  

"You can see on the photo below my clay model in progress. Using clay was rarely used at WED back then, but Disney Legend Tony Baxter did use it on his original 1973 Big Thunder Mountain concept model and Disney Legend Fred Joerger used it on the River Country concept model I worked on as well , at about the same time."

"I used the Herb Ryman watering hole artwork in creating my viewing window for the treehouse model. A construction model of the tree house inner framework made of telescoping pipe extending off a center armature was in development and then had to be turned off. I believe the concept was applied to Animal Kingdom's Tree of Life later on."

"The rockwork grouping that you see on the Ken Anderson 1979 artwork above and pictures of my model below was called Kojpe. Ken was very particular that it have the correct look that Disney had never captured or created before, even in the Jungle Cruise. I remember a few of the rocks were there at the 1983 opening Africa marker taken from the ones I had sculpted." 

And now, for the first time, as these pictures like the ones above were never seen before here is the full set of the Polaroid pictures of Pat Burke Equatorial Africa Pavilion model, at different steps in the making. The first Polaroids below shows Pat Burke model of the tree houses and the Kopjes Rocks on its side.

"The rear projected theater was located under the nest or mound of rocks or Kopchi next to the tree-house.  You can see where the tree house upper window runs into them and that's where the viewing window would start for the watering hole show inside. Jack Couffer was the cinematographer shooting all the films that would be rear projected on the screen in the viewing room. I think Ken Anderson had a few stills we also projected on the rear of my screen."

"This photo below shows at a very early stage the tree house as I have yet to put the decoration on the wood turned model.  It has the Tree of Life trunk and branches extending though it.  The clay rock formations in the foreground are covering the indoor where would have been the water hole theater and projection room.  You can see a small path leaving the tree house and working it's way through the rock-work which gave guests and wheel chairs a way to exit the viewing room from the treehouse. The building next to it and located on the ground level was the gift shop and maybe later food would be sold there."

"On the picture below the small stage is covered with gathered sticks and an assortment of small thatched viewing huts surrounded it. These are visible in Kens research photo at the base of The Tree of Life you have shown.  Disney Legend John Hench loved all these various scaled architectural African huts. Disney Legend and Mr. Rockwork Fred Joerger had suggested to me to make this model of clay, as we had done on the River Country model together and Disney Legend Tony Baxter had done on the first 1/4 inch Big Thunder Model for Walt Disney World about that same time at WED.  It really gave me a chance to sculpt the rocks formations the way Disney Legend Ken Anderson wanted.  He was very particular to African details."

"The two shots below show the shoreline where 3 African boats would be beached next to a small out cropping of the African style rockwork. This was to be there for opening day of World Showcase as a place holder even if the Pavilion was not there yet." 

"I didn't mention it but remembered the tree-house trunk was going to have an elevator in it so the handicapped could get up stairs to view the watering hole.  I had to develop the tree's trunk around that elevator. Ken had me make 3 scale blow ups of the tree for the overall World Showcase model for John Hench to look at, and that's when John commented it was just too big in any scale and could use its own park, as later Animal Kingdom became. On the model many branches were left out so that the tree house could be seen, as shown on the model.  The trunk remained large so as to house the inner elevator. I can see influences of the African village in the architecture for DLP Adventureland done by the same Architect Ahmad Jafari."

"I built several tree houses as a kid growing up after my first Disneyland visit.  I did 2 of them for Disney, 1 on TSI Island in TDL and this one.  I also worked on DL Swiss Family Robinson making 3 for WED Enterprises at Disney. Sorry this one wasn't completed"

Actually, this Equatorial Africa Pavilion model was shown during the Epcot Grand Opening TV show with Danny Kaye and Alex Haley - author of "Roots - standing near to the model. You can see the sequence at the 35 min of the video HERE and according to Imagineer Pat Burke: "I think the model with Alex Haley and Danny Kaye is my model because of its odd shape and size. I think they just asked someone to add people and some paint to it. I was known as the tree man as you made trees when work got slow, as well as specimen trees for Ken as found in Africa, like the ones on the model you can see on these Polaroids. I also made full size trees for America Sings, Jungle Cruise, and Big Thunders. I built several tree houses as a kid growing up after my first Disneyland visit. I did 2 of them for Disney, 1 on Tom Sawyer Island in TDL and this one. I also worked on DL Swiss Family Robinson making 3 for WED Enterprises at Disney. Sorry this African one wasn't completed". 

Pat Burke continues: "As for the Heartbeat of Africa show, I remember Ken describing it like "a Tiki Bird show only with talking drums".  We never mocked up any of that but Ken was doing illustrations and sketches for it. The project was turned off before we could do any dimensional models on the Talking drum theater.  Ken had purchased drums from Africa to study for his sketches for the show.  Not having any supporting sponsor for Africa, this was all sounding very expensive to Management at the Studio, and remember Ken being frustrated.  I hardly ever remember Ken not wearing his Safari coat with all the pockets and belted waist and lots of drawing pens and pencils in the pockets and a drawing sketch book under arm to show me each day.  

I almost felt sad for Herb, as I think near his end at WED/WDI, I think he was kind of neglected, and when I met him while he was walking about, seemed like he had lost someone or something. He was always very excited about what he was doing as well as what you were doing and had that twinkle in his eyes, and buoyancy in his steps. Near the end I didn't quite feel he had that twinkle as much. How was he when you were doing that show for him? Its sad WDI doesn't have that 1st or 2nd string "True Disney Imagineers" as my friend still there mentions often to me."

Don't miss the part two article now on line HERE in which we talk about the incredible "Heartbeat of Africa" show which would have been Equatorial Africa pavilion main attraction and also why the pavilion was never built!

Pictures: copyright Disney, Pat Burke. All my thanks to pat Burke for the Polaroid model pictures and this memories and to John Stanley Donaldson for the Herb Ryman artwork scans!