If you took the Backlot Tour back around the opening of Disney's Hollywood Studios, you may recall a very different Backlot Tour and in particular, you may remember a part of the tour that highlighted how special effects we see in the movies are done. The original Backlot Tour focused on many aspects of film making and on one part of the then two hour tour, guests could see how impressive special effects are done for the big screen. Disney's goal was to show how movie magic is done without it taking too much away from the entire experience.
The Special Effects Workshop was one stop on the original Backlot Tour and it showcased how seat battles and ocean storms are done as well as other neat effects, although most guests will likely remember a giant bumble bee from the "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" film. The film's opening of summer 1989 coincided with the opening of the Studios in May of 1989. The bee scene, where in the film one of the characters rides on the back of the bee through the backyard, is comprised of a giant bee model and a "green screen" behind it. In the attraction, guests are shown how the sequence from the film was done. Guests first saw footage of the backyard scenes and how film makers used low camera angles to come up with the background of the shot.
After, guests ride atop the bee against a blue screen where a stop-action animator created puppet footage for scenes needing additional detail and all the elements from the movie process are combined and the guests would watch on monitors the final product to recreate the famous scene from the film.
The bee wasn't the only part of the Special Effects Workshop. There was also a 3 foot-deep pool of water which was a miniature ocean for miniature battleships, about 10 feet long, and a tugboat that could accommodate one person. Guests get to see that the storm tossed tugboat is really just a miniature boat in a tank that is rocked by waves that were created by fans. The next part ought to sound very familiar to guests who have been on the Backlot Tour in the last few years as a guest from the audience would be selected to put on a full rain suit and put in a full-size mock-up of the boat's pilothouse. There, the guest will act as the boat's captain and from the side would be hit with a tidal wave of water that crashes into the pilothouse and drenches the guest. This same effect is still done on the Backlot Tour today.
Speaking of effects that have survived to this day, following the boat taking on water scene, another guest from the audience is selected to be a "commander-in-chief" of a war scene, where the guest uses a control board to direct bomb and strafing gun fire water effects. In today's Backlot Tour, Cast members perform this task of showing how simple underwater explosions are nothing more than compressed air underwater. While today's Backlot Tour water tank highlights recent Disney films such as Pearl Harbor, the original attraction featured props from the television mini-series, "Winds of War", which was a big hit in 1983 on ABC.
Finally, guests would enter the most visually stimulating part of the Special Effects Workshop that was filled with creatures, miniatures, lighting effects, "mad scientist paraphernalia, fog machines, odd sounds and other props from over 50 years of movie making. Some items in the area included a cable-operated ant, the shrinking gun, solar coffee maker and automatic dog-food dispenser, which were all from the "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" film. In addition, there was a B-29 miniature bomber from the film "The Last Flight of Noah's Ark", miniature side-wheeler from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and original matte paintings from "Mary Poppins". You may also recall other weird movie props, such as Doctor Doom from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" after he was flattened, as well as the evil robot Maximilian from "The Black Hole" and even the music-making aliens from the "Captain EO" attraction.
This whole Special Effects Workshop was just one part of the tour, that included the tram tour, animation demonstration and more. While a few elements survived the cut backs of the attraction to this day, most of the Special Effects Workshop has been lost to park guests and from the description, you can see what an interesting look into the movie making process this part of the Backlot Tour was.