Backstage Magic Tour - WDW October 10, 2008
Posted 13 November 2008 - 02:45 PM
The day started off fairly early... I left our Saratoga Springs room at Congress Park around 8:00 AM. I walked to Artists' Palette restaurant and grabbed a coffee, and then, as luck would have it, walked to the Springs bus stop JUST as the Epcot bus pulled up. I was the only one there... since the park didn't open until 9, and there were no Extra Magic Hours scheduled anywhere that morning.
Had a nice chat with the driver, who turned down the automatic announcements and music so we could hear each other. The trip to Epcot took about 5 minutes, as traffic was light and we hit no red lights. I was SO early, I toyed with the idea of taking the monorail, but decided to just meander around the Epcot entryway, listen to the sounds of Alice in Wonderland (the entry plaza music, due to the Food & Wine festival theme), and just generally chat up the cast members as they prepared for their day.
About 8:45 I went over to the meeting area for tours... to the right side of the entry plaza, past security, over by Guest Relations. There I met Wayne, our tour guide, and we did a brief getting-to-know-you with the group, about 20 people in all. Wayne has worked for Disney in various capacities, including at The Land when EPCOT Center opened as a landscape designer, and he still consults with WDW for landscaping and plant selections.
We also were given handset radios and earpieces, which were fairly comfortable and offered pretty good sound; we could hear Wayne just fine, and all he had to do was speak in a normal tone of voice.
Once were signed in (Photo ID required) and did a sound check, we entered Epcot. It was now 9:10 or so, so the park was open. We walked underneath Spaceship earth and paused near the restrooms on the right side for a moment. Wayne discussed the concepts of on-stage vs backstage, and how very little money is spent in non-guest areas. He pointed out the planting "wall" that covered up the wall and backside of The Seas with Nemo & Friends, and how rather than just a wall, it was a mounded earthen berm with progressively taller plants and trees. Next time you're in Epcot... walk in under the right side of Spaceship earth and look to your right... you'll see what he means.
Then, we ventured backstage for the first time.
Posted 13 November 2008 - 02:48 PM
We saw VIP parking for Siemens employees and a few semi trucks lined up to unload their wares for the park. I was amazed that all of this activity was going on, with heavy machinery and diesel trucks, just 10 feet from a guest area, and you NEVER hear the commotion when in the park. Wayne told us that speakers are strategically placed so as to drown out backstage noise as much as possible and to not interfere with the onstage "show". We then boarded the bus and headed over to the backstage are of The American Adventure.
On our trip, we saw several areas, particularly behind the Land and the Soarin' building, that had "real world" vehicles, including scissor lifts and service trucks. those do venture out into the parks when they're closed, to do maintenance and other types of work that requires that level of involvement. Wayne told us there are very few inaccessible parts to every theme park; they are designed to be as easy to get to as possible for maintenance and repair.
Parking behind The American Adventure, we got off the bus and went to the front of the pavilion. There, Wayne pointed out that since this area isn't open to guests yet, there is no background music... no food carts, no sanitation workers... essentially, World Showcase looked to be deserted. This, of course, was not the case. In fact, hidden behind the trees were several high lift vehicles that were replacing lightbulbs on the building; you just can't see them from Future World. Kinda cool!
Wayne then demonstrated the "reverse" forced perspective used to make the 5 story American Adventure building appear to be much smaller than it actually is. For example, the "first floor" is actually 2 stories tall... the doors and windows are VERY oversized (take a look next time you go) and the bottom levels are painted a brilliant white. As you go further up the bulding, the white fades a bit to become a light gray color, as White attracts your eyes more than every other color.
Wayne also pointed out that unlike Cinderella Castle, which is mostly fiberglass cast "rock" and "brick", the American Adventure building is made of thousands of real Georgia clay bricks. The rationale is "if a guest can touch it, make it real as possible"... since we can touch the brickwork, it should be real bricks. If we can touch the woodwork, it should be real wood. The framing around the windows and the trimwork up along the roofline are not wood, they are painted molded plastic, to cut on cost and maintenance, but, since you can't touch it, they went that direction.
We walked around to the other side (the right side) and ventured backstage again, through the small courtyard. There we saw the trees that appear in the background are actually on HUGE raised concrete planters, and there's an earthen berm to keep the backstage area hidden from sight from the Boardwalk and Dolphin & Swan resorts. Again... planting in layers and placing tall things even higher up on slopes to shield as much as possible.
Now, we headed into The American Adventure's basement, to see the animatronics scene switcher.
Posted 13 November 2008 - 02:49 PM
All in all, the switcher appears to be a good 20 feet square, with the bays extending 20 feet on either side.
Above it all is the MONSTROUS screen, which is rear-projected so as not to cast shadows when the animatronics are up in front of the screen. The projectors are set back about 60 feet or so and have HUGE fans to keep everything cool back there... very neat.
It was here that we discuss the two types of animatronics, hydraulic (water) and pneumatic (air). There was a demo model set up backstage, and Wayne told us essentially pneumatic is only used near water (to ease pollution fears) or near guests (no leaky Tiki birds, for example). They also used to dye the hydraulic fluid red so they could find leaks, but when Mr. Lincoln sprung a leak at Disneyland, he looked as if it was a recreation of his assassination at Ford Theatre. Ever since, Disney Hydraulics have been clear.
After spending about 10 minutes discussing animatronics (did you know that whenever possible, human hair is used for the wigs on the figures when indoors?) and the switcher (including a pretty good closeup look at George Washington on his horse), we headed back to the bus.
This time we continued behind World Showcase to the Cast Member center, located near Mexico and Test Track. This was neat for me... seeing people coming in and getting ready for work. By this time it was about 9:45 or so... and World Showcase Cast was rolling in to start their day. We entered as cast does, then paused in the hallway.
Wayne pointed out the typical "You make the magic" signs, and there was a lot of employee engagement posters, internal awards, and the like on the walls. Also, no Disney music in there... the speakers were tuned to a local radio station. From here we walked through the locker room (NOT a changing room!!! as many many signs attest to!) to see one of the true hidden wonders of Walt Disney World... the Costuming department.
We were well timed getting to this point, as this central "pickup and drop off" location is likely hopping when Future World is getting set to open. Let's see if I can sum it up...
Each Cast Member has a costume for his or her position, which can include pants, shirt, vest, jacket, hat, and sometimes shoes. Wayne told us that Cast can "check out" up to 5 complete costumes at one time. At Epcot, there are rows and rows and rows and rows of each garment type... ranging from size 0 all the way up to XXXXXL (Yes, we saw a 5-X bus driver costume shirt). Cast would then go to their appropriate row, then grab their size (hopefully it's there) and how many they need. Then, clothing in arm, they go to a "check-out" counter, where they hand their cast member ID to the checkout person. Once that is scanned, each piece is scanned into the computer using a bar code imprinted onto the garment.
These bar codes play an important role in the life cycle of a garment... which I will go into more detail later.
Standing in the enormity of the Epcot Costume department, Wayne reminds us that there is a similar facility at Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, and Disney Hollywood Studios... all with racks and racks of bar-coded garments. We make our way past the "check-in" desk, where cast members are retuning their worn costume garments. Each piece is then scanned again, removing the item from the Cast member's "inventory" and now into the laundry tracking system. More on this later as well.
We now venture towards the back of Costuming... into the repair shop.
Posted 13 November 2008 - 03:14 PM
There is a rack on the left of garments in various states of repair; we saw several Sleeping Beauty garments, as well as an undergarment "fat suit" for Eyeore, among other things.
Behind this repair rack was the makeup department. This I liked... a lot. Because I got to see some princesses in various states of makeup. All of the princesses do their own, don their wigs, then head over to get outfitted. At this point in their day, they were in the makeup chairs, in full wig and applying lipstick, etc., but in shorts and tank tops. One particularly fine looking Belle was walking across the parking lot later, in sweatshorts... but, I digress.
The repair work done at this location, we were told by Wayne, is of the minor variety... ripped seams, missing buttons, etc. Most of the major work is done at the costume shop at Disney Hollywood Studios. I'd estimate there to be about 2 dozen people working at various sewing machines and work areas... and they were ALL busy. One thing I'd say in general about the people who are cast members behind the scenes... they all work with purpose. Their jobs don't require the hap-hap-happiness as those who interact with guests do, but you get the sense that they are all consummate professionals in their trade, and confident not only in their ability but in all of those around them, to get the job done, done well, and done right the first time.
Now, it was out the back door... into the parking lot, where the bus awaited us. It was time to head to the Studios.
The bus went through the security gate to the right of the Tower of Terror, and we parked right alongside it, next to a stand of bicycles. It appears bikes are the best mode of transportation around the Studios for cast members! Once again, here we were, in a large parking lot immediately next to Rockin' Rollercoaster, and you never hear any road noise. For that matter, we did not hear the Aerosmith music on this side, either. The trees you see to the right side of the Rockin' Rollercoaster behind the big wall are in the same kind of planters I described by The American Adventure... they add a good 4 feet of hight to the trees.
One thing that struck me right off the bat was the phenomenal lack of theming on that side of the Tower... it looked almost naked. Again, it follows the saying of "If the guest can't see it, don't spend money on it". We walked into the maintenance bay of the Tower to behold one of the elevators. It's pretty simple, with some intricate welding and themed metalwork, but it is more like a giant shopping cart with seats than anything else. We talked a bit about how the Tower was conceived (in the backseat of the Sci-Fi Dine In, I think) and designed, about the reprogrammability of the drop sequences, and said hello to a couple of the engineers working on repairing/maintaining one of the electronic pieces. After about 10 minutes, we reboarded the bus and headed over to the Studios Costuming Department.
Posted 18 December 2008 - 11:21 AM
So, we get off the bus at the Costuming Department, which I remark to Wayne is themed a LOT more than other backstage areas. He explained that when the Studios was built, it was meant to be a real working studio much of the time, so several backstage areas would be designed for the comfort of the production crew, as well as the animators in the Disney Animation Florida shop.
Once we walked into the lobby of the costume shop, we needed to be announced over the PA by the receptionist. The reason for this is that this facility is where the majority of the costumes are fitted and designed, so there is a fair amount of outfit changing going on. The announcement gives people time to close their doors! We see on the table in the lobby the original mockups of several outfits: Belle's gown, Prince Charming's suit, Cinderella's gown, and (I think) Prince Eric's suit. These are the original models, and they are slightly larger than 16" tall. The designers make these out of a gray material (color choices come later) and make them this small so as to not waste valuable material. We are told that the materials used for Disney Costumes are authentic, and the show costumes can be quite expensive. Belle's gown in the Beauty and the Beast stage show costs thousands of dollars in materials alone!
After everyone has had a chance to cover up or close doors, we are led down a hall with various design sketches framed on the wall, then into a kind of "pit" area where wheeled clothes racks are congregated and we are introduced to a cast member (didn't catch her name) who went on to pass around a "from concept to completion" example of a costume; in this case it was from Festival of the Lion King, and one of the main male narrators (not doing well with names here).
We saw concept sketch boards, a fabric swatch sheet, and got to hold the final product for his vest, which was fashioned in a traditional African style of sewing seashells. The thing weighed a good 20 pounds! After everyone got a chance to see the example, we were led down the hall, past fitting rooms and designer workrooms, and into the large workroom you see while on the Backstage Studio Tour.
In here, we saw a lot of dresses being prepared for the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique, as well as some show costumes. We also saw the huge pattern cutter machine up close, which is what lets Walt Disney World create such a variety of costumes at every size imaginable. It was not in operation while we were there, unfortunately.
Now it was on to Lunch at the Whispering Canyon Café, at the Wilderness Lodge.
Posted 18 December 2008 - 03:24 PM
We arrived at The Wilderness Lodge, and the bus let us out near the main entrance. As we walked in, Wayne explained some of the challenges with landscaping the Pacific Northwest in Central Florida. He also noted the Disney tendency of using real materials (wood, stone, etc.) when it can be actually touched by guests, while using faux materials when it can only be seen. Some exceptions to this are the flagstone at the Lodge, as it is painted cast concrete, and the large pillars at the Lodge are in fact large steel beams with concrete, however there is a lot of real lumber used at the Lodge, just not for structural members.
Wayne also pointed out to us the very determined way Disney wants you to feel when you enter the lobby. You walk into the low entryway, which is primarily the way to make you feel closed in, then, entering the main building, you are almost forced to look up at the expansive hall, which is a subtle way to make the immense building look even more immense.
Lunch was the skillet at Whispering Canyon, with your normal exceptional service. If you don't know, I won't spoil it here, but, these waiter and waitress cast members are fantastic at their roles.
After lunch, we went outside to observe the rockwork and the way the resort itself is situated. As Wayne tells it, it's the ONLY Disney resort that has no view of any other resort or park; and it's meant to be that way. This location was chosen specifically for this fact, and, even when Discovery Island was operating, the dock was on the far side of the island, keeping the illusion of the Pacific Northwest intact.
Getting back on the bus, Wayne pointed out a few of the topiaries, and discussed the different ways they can be constructed. The buffalo (bison) that are adjacent to the main entrance are stuffed and take less than a week to construct, in contrast to the topiaries seen at The Magic Kingdom, which can take months or years to grow into the correct shape.
We headed out from the Wilderness Lodge area, under the water bridge, past the Contemporary, and drove past the Magic Kingdom on our left. Wayne pointed out the Monorail and train barn on our right. I asked if they had a tour that did a behind the scenes specifically for monorail, and they do not. I would take that in a heartbeat. Anyway, about a quarter mile Northeast of the Magic Kingdom, we entered a massive backstage complex of buildings, including the bus depot, a gas station, Central Shops, and the Magic Kingdom Laundry facility, which was our next stop.
Posted 18 December 2008 - 04:25 PM
Wayne showed us that the Laundry services is the only WDW group that has their own unique logo... it' Mickey's head made of bubbles. You can see this next time you're on property... look closely at the laundry bins (both for clean and unwashed laundry).
Amazingly, this facility and the others on property (I think there are 2 others, could be 3) turn around 250,000 articles EVERY DAY. All of the costume pieces have the bar code and are in the laundry system (as discussed back when I was at the Epcot Cast costuming department). Linens go to one facility, dry cleaning to another, and costume articles go to the respective facilities. The articles are sorted by hand and placed into huge steel hoppers. Those feed the washing machines; which when we entered were the first things encountered... HUGE front-loading drum washers, about 10 times the size of what we have at home.
Once washed, the articles get placed into dryers, where they are dried anywhere between 5%-50%. Nothing is ever dried completely, as it's difficult (if not impossible) to get wrinkles out of dry clothes. Once taken out of the dryers, each article is scanned into the system, along with the hangar it is hung onto. The computer then sorts the articles to the appropriate press or ironing department. The pieces flow overhead like the doors in Monsters, Inc. Once the items are pressed, they are placed onto that cast member's wheeled rack, which is then, when full, wheeled to the loading dock. From there they are placed onto vans, to be delivered to the various Cast Costume departments.
The volume was staggering, but, again, if you factor that each Cast member could theoretically have 25 articles of clothing with Laundry services at one time... it gets big quickly.
Our next stop was my favorite... Central Shops. We were handed safety glasses (union rules) but never told to put them on (oops on Wayne). Central Shops is where any and all off site repair, paint, modification, or creation is done for WDW attractions, shows, and scenes... from animatronics to fences to benches to ride vehicles. The layout of Central Shops is genius in it's simplicity, and I'll see if I can describe it adequately.
The building is at least a quarter mile long, with a large central corridor running down the middle, about 100 feet across. At each end of this central corridor are large garage doors, and up above is a heavy-lift crane that runs on I-beams up near the ceiling. The garage door to the North is where the equipment to be worked on enters, and the garage door to the south end is where the finished piece is transported back to the respective park, resort, or section of WDW.
Now, running the entire length of this large hallway, to both the left and the right, are the individual "shops", which are delineated by what job they do. There is a welding shop, a woodworking shop, a casting shop (for animatronic skin, for example), a paint shop, a design shop, an animatronics shop, and so on. The shops nearest the door are for stripping down the ride vehicles or whatever down to their base components, and each piece is cataloged and logged by the date in, the work done, who worked on it, when, and for how long. From there, the piece just moves down the length of the central corridor, hitting every appropriate shop as it's needed, until it reaches the end.
In Walt Disney World, everything that moves or that guests touch have a "life span" before it is pulled from service in the parks or wherever and sent to Central Shops for a complete overhaul. This preventative maintenance is key to keeping attractions running smoothly and consistently.
Some of the many hundreds of things that were "in the shop" while we were there were a Space Mountain train car (half disassembled, wheels off), a Jungle Cruise boat (just entered the process, roof off), a Primeval Whirl car (completely disassembled, saw the metal frame underneath, getting fiberglass repair) an animatronic elephant from the Jungle Cruise (getting reskinned), some temporary stanchions from The Magic Kingdom parade route along Main Street (getting a fresh coat of gloss white paint; drying), and a flume log from Splash Mountain (getting new foam and vinyl coverings for the cushioning). It was such a wonderful mix of equipment, showcasing the true variety and ingenuity of the Imagineers that work there... I WISH I had been allowed to take a picture of it!
We walked over into the animatronics shop, and Wayne demonstrated some animation techniques with the former host of Kitchen Cabaret, Bonnie Appetite. There also was an animatronic dog and hundreds of solenoids, valves, miles of tubing, wires, etc. in this shop.
When we got to the paint section, Wayne told us that the monorails and buses get painted in this facility as well; the paint section has garage doors that open to the outside. There is a special flatbed tuck that can ferry the monorail cars over for touch ups if needed. Also, the overhead crane is used if a piece needs to "jump" ahead of others down to the next stop... typically if something needs welding it doesn't need woodworking, etc.
On our way out we entered the design shop, and on the wall were some examples of Disney's attention to detail. There is a mock up of the different types of "wood" used in Frontierland... at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, on Tom Sawyer's Island, and on Splash Mountain. Since they take place in different sections of the country, the wood appearance is different for each, and different yet from the real wood used in the Frontierland facades.
Next stop: The Magic Kingdom and the utilidors.
Posted 22 January 2009 - 02:04 PM
After the short trip to the backstage area behind Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, we got off the bus and went onstage between The Plaze restaurant and the Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station, for a bit of a restroom break. Waiting underneath the shady trees along the walkway, and gazing at Cinderella Castle, I did feel different. The magic wasn't "spoiled", but, rather, I had even MORE of an appreciation of what goes into not only the creation of these parks, but what it takes to operate it at it's top level of service that we're all accustomed to.
From here, we ducked back backstage and we had a short walk to the East Main Street entrance to the Utilidors. The entrance is a set of double glass doors, and then we descended a flight of stairs.
Then we were in the famed Utilidors!
We saw some Cast member lockers, some carts (for transportation), and saw more of the same things we saw in other Cast Member areas... motivational posters, timecard slots, etc. There were signs pointing to various lands that can be accessed form those tunnels. Walking through, Wayne pointed out the pipes and tubes above us, which is an advantage to having buried electric or water lines in a street or under ground. Also, he pointed out the computer cables, which made it VERY easy to upgrade the systems form time to time.
As we walked through the Utilidors, we saw a lot of great original posters and displays, including a wall of history of the Magic Kingdom construction and dedication, a poster of "Disney Look" do's and don't's, and some vintage Magic Kingdom-specific things that would look FANTASTIC in my office.
We did only the small loop that runs under Main Street, but at every junction, there was a map that showed the larger loop that runs out to Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, Mickey's Toontown Fair, Tomorrowland, then back to Main Street. From what Wayne said, it's well over a mile round trip, and, on that hard, smooth concrete floor, I was glad not to make the larger loop! We came back up the same stairwell we descended 20 minutes earlier, and at this point it was about 2:45.
Wayne told us that for the next 45 minutes, we were on our own to take in the sights and reflect on what we've seen... and get a good vantage of the parade. We went back onstage next to Tony's Town Square restaurant. I of course went up to the Train Station platform to see the performance.
The point of seeing the parade was seeing the culmination of all that we had seen the entire day... the Cast getting ready backstage, donning the costumes that were designed and laundered where was saw them, the floats from where we saw them be fabricated, the face characters after being made up like we saw, and then seeing the whole performance that so MANY unseen people had contributed.
I had a new appreciation for the parade, to be sure.
An added bonus was I happened to run into my wife, my daughter, and my in-laws as they entered the park... we weren't planning on meeting up there! We watched the last 5 minutes or so of the parade together.
After the parade, our tour group gathered together at the flag pole in Town Square. From there Wayne led us down Main Street and pointed out various windows, and some of the stories that they told. We paused a bit when heading back backstage while walking down the small side street on the East side (can't remember the name now), and looked up at an open window on the second floor. On the window it indicated that singing lessons and piano take place up there, and Wayne told us that there actually is audio of both that float down at regular intervals down onto folks on the street below. It's the last detail on our tour, and it's likely the one that the fewest people get to enjoy; perhaps only 20 people per day get that experience... but, that's the Disney Difference.
We then boarded the bus and headed back to Epcot, back where we started. Wayne asked us if we had any questions... I asked if there was a monorail tour, which, sadly, there is not.
Back at Epcot... we handed back in our headsets, and we got our super-limited edition keepsake pin!!!
From there, we all went our merry way.
And that's the end of my months-long tour report.
Posted 22 January 2009 - 05:49 PM
Posted 22 January 2009 - 06:29 PM
I didn't mention it, but Wayne noted they go to great lengths to ensure as little overlap as possible between the tours (someone asked him at the beginning, as they had taken the Keys to the Kingdom tour), so I think you're good to go!
As for the pin... yeah! And it's a pretty good sized one, too... almost 2 inches tall.
Posted 23 January 2009 - 06:11 AM
DVC Old Key West 9/27- 10/5/2013 for Food & Wine w/ friends from NJ
Board of Directors Member & Treasurer, The ConGaloosh Society, Inc., a 501(3)c not-for-profit
ConGaloosh 2013 - September 27 - 29, 2013
Posted 23 January 2009 - 03:39 PM
Posted 23 January 2009 - 08:51 PM
I usually do a pictures trip report, but on this one, no pictures allowed.
Posted 23 January 2009 - 08:53 PM
I do recommend it! I also might recommend doing it after the events... as a nice guided tour with frequent rides on comfy AC buses is nice...