Friday, March 10, 2017

EPCOT Center

Drawing and discussing EPCOT Center is both bittersweet & therapeutic for me.  I was fortunate enough to have had my formative theme park experience take place during EPCOT Center's "Golden Age".  It was a place that inspired me and was probably the greatest, highest-aiming theme park ever produced.  In my estimation, EPCOT Center in its original form was made possible by two complex, now-lost factors: one inside the Company, the other outside.

The first was that Walt Disney Productions in the late 70s/early 80s was populated by a group of executives and designers who were True Believers in the School of Walt.   CEO Card Walker and Parks & Resorts chief Dick Nunis placed operating by Walt Disney's tenets (Innovation, Quality will Out, etc.) as the primary mission of the Company and ahead of executive or shareholder enrichment (or that the latter would arrive because of the former).  The Company was a lot smaller and leaner than today's massive conglomerate and could focus its energies on a few key endeavors.  

The Imagineers responsible for EPCOT Center were not creating Walt's original vision of an actual, working city of the future, but their decades with the Company and personal connection to the Disney Brothers made them well-versed in the principles behind that vision.  In many ways, the art of the theme park design has improved since those days.  However, theme parks are most often used today as a means to an end: that end being synergizing with or marketing some other type of saleable media with much higher margins or a built-in audience.  But EPCOT Center eschewed all of that.  It was the end in itself.

The second, outside factor that created EPCOT Center was the zeitgeist of the period: it probably only became clear in retrospect, but a renaissance in the American spirit & energy was underway that would manifest itself with the re-birth of the idea of American Exceptionalism and the high-times of the Reagan Years.   The blue chip corporations that would sponsor the various pavilions were still viewed with pride by the public and became important partners in EPCOT's earnest and patriotic vision of American innovation.  This collaboration was right up Walt's alley.  

Personally, EPCOT Center was the focal point of our family WDW vacations in the 80s and 90s, with MK becoming an afterthought.  The scale of the entire park was mind-blowing and the standard ride on display was characterized by being slow-moving, highly-detailed, lengthy, having a recorded-spiel; multi-media; multi-sensory; audio-animatronic-filled; intellectual; past-present-future-based; musical; optimistic; featuring no-IP.  This is type of attraction held particular appeal to my young self.  Some of my all time favorite E-tickets were in close proximity: Horizons, World of Motion, The Living Seas and Spaceship Earth, along with a favorite D-ticket: Maelstrom.   From this list you, can understand my sadness and bitterness about the evolution of the park.   Parks evolve... sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. 
It is the great attribute & drawback of the artform.

Suffice it to say, even though a significant amount of physical EPCOT Center still exists as it did in the Golden Age, somehow that original Spirit & Soul that made it my favorite park has been amputated (although vestiges can still be felt in small, overlooked corners such as the ascent scenes of Spaceship Earth).  This illustration shows my vision of EPCOT Unspoiled.  It is how, if history could be re-written, I might like to see EPCOT Center developed over its 35 year history:

The fountain hub of the park would be clean and uncluttered and put a heavy emphasis on Nature, framed by spare, monumental CommuniCore buildings.  The CommuniCore interactive displays, shows and exhibits could be regularly-updated by the Company and its partners to reflect a myriad of future developments in technology.

For me, if an attraction attains a certain level of excellence and Classic status (e.g. DL's Haunted Mansion, MGM's Tower of Terror, Paris' Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.) you can make some enhancements and technology upgrades, but you never mess with it too much - particularly when there are so many better options to create new audience attractors (i.e. in place of non-classics or expansion areas).  You need to keep what makes a great attraction, great.  Two EPCOT attractions in Future World East easily deserved this untouchable status but are now gone.  In my illustration they proudly endure.    

For me, the first cracks in the Company's approach to EPCOT Center appeared with the Wonders of Life icon. This is a small thing, but I've always wondered why its Vitruvian Man icon didn't match the simple but ingenious style of all the others of the park.  It seemed something was askew.  Regardless, this plan leaves out the Wonders of Life (maybe a future development) and moves its cabin simulator style ride across Future World.

Universe of Energy could get a completely new show 10 years after its 81 debut (sans Ellen).

I've never been a fan of the low, hexagonal architecture that marks Tomorrowland Terrace and the Odyssey Restaurant.  So it gets torn out for a natural arboretum featuring the flock of pink flamingos that once populated this area.


My initial thought in drawing this park was to put in the much more interesting-looking concept for a crystalline pavilion (above) with a balloon ride over various biomes in place of what became The Land.   Additionally, Soarin' has never fit the actual theme of The Land (Agriculture and the Environment), but I think if a dedicated aerial film were made over the earth's various biomes (e.g. Tundra, Boreal, Savanna, Rainforests, Deserts, etc.) as well as agricultural and damaged areas, then it would be a fitting substitute for the Balloon Ride.   The focus of the pre-show and ride film would need to be on the natural environment as opposed to human landmarks such as the Taj Mahal or Great Wall to make it work within the pavilion. 

Journey to Imagination goes back to its classic original form, with regular technology upgrades to the ride, ImageWorks and Magic Eye Theater.  No brainer.

The Living Seas also returns to its original, toon-free form.  From Seabase Alpha, much like Soarin' today, Guests could decide to queue through a bridge to a new simulator building for a semi-thrilling scientific expedition to the ocean depths.  One enters and exits the pavilion through Hydrolators once again.


 The first thing you may notice is that I left a number of Country Pads undeveloped.   I did this because I like greenspace in theme parks, and because with everything I've added, combined with live, cultural entertainment in each pavilion, EPCOT Center is already a multi-day park without filling up World Showcase.  While I didn't add big E-tickets such as Mt. Fuji or the Matterhorn as I have in past plans, each pavilion gets a D-ticket level attraction on the scale of American Adventure or Maelstrom.  

As in the Golden Age, there are no M&Gs or toons of any sort in this version of the Park, save for park-originated ones like Dreamfinder & Figment or perhaps the circling OmniBus of general characters.   EPCOT Center aims higher than being "a Disney Experience" as the Company defines it today, and as such, distinguishes itself from Magic Kingdom or the Studios.   I may eventually draw a version of the Coming Epcot, where each country features a ride based on the most closely-associated Disney-Pixar characters.  

Mexico: Reverts to a simpler time with El Rio losing its toons and the waterfront losing the current restaurant for the original small scale Cantina.

Norway: Maelstrom was easily the best ride in World Showcase for me (crushing its only competition, El Rio) and gave me that PotC feeling (AAs, cool environments, drop), but on a D-ticket, versus E-ticket scale.  I would have liked to see it altered to delete the Theater (move the film to the queue) in favor of an additional show scene.  

China: While it would look the same from the outside, I opted to change out the CircleVision theater (maybe for the 25th Anniversary of the park) and adapt its queue to a new darkride that examines China's history and landscapes in the stylized storybook view of a Panda named Pagoo.  This would be another park-originated character like Figment.

Russia: Since sub-Sahara Africa is well-represented in Harambe, I opted for the Russia pavilion, as designed by WDI, for the only new country.  It has a multi-media show similar to American Adventure, dining & cultural venues and a C-ticket darkride based on a Russian folk-tale.  This Pavilion could come online in 2010.

Germany: Again, I added the intended-but-never-built Rhine River Cruise.  I have tried to vary the show mechanisms (e.g. small flume, omnimover, boatride, darkride) for each of these proposed additions so that one style doesn't become overly represented.   Ride added to the pavilion in 1995.

Italy: The rear of the pavilion loses the pizza restaurant in favor of a roman facade that leads to a suspended darkride (DaVinci?) that showcases some major eras of Italian history (Etruscans, Roman Empire, Renaissance, Papal States, etc.).  The height of the showbuilding is masked by a reproduction of the dilapidated Coliseum (akin to France's Eiffel Tower).  Ride added in 2015.

American Adventure: Added restrooms gone in favor of old herb garden.

Japan: Japan currently beats out the Tangled Bathrooms for "Coolest Facade with No Attraction Behind It".  Here, I assigned a darkride that looks at the Shogun/Samurai period of Japanese history.  Ride added in alt-universe 1993.

Morocco is a brilliantly-rendered environment and in this version of EPCOT gets a darkride to accompany it.  The ride would look at the North African desert culture and folklore.  Ride added in 2012.  Also, the waterfront is returned to its original form with irrigated citrus grove.

France: France gets a boat ride that takes riders into the famous Catacombs of Paris to have encounters with some literary characters and moments made famous by Victor Hugo.  Ride added in 2000.

United Kingdom:  A large showbuilding disguised as the Crystal Palace hold an American Adventure style show on the long and varied history of Great Britain.  Ride added in 1997.

Canada:  Once it finishes its 12-year run, the original CircleVision theater would be replaced with a small-drop-flume that mirrors Maelstrom, re-adapting the rockwork and waterfalls out front.

Again, these additions and changes would take place steadily over 35+ years, so the park would constantly feel like it is growing and improving with age. 


MAP OF THE MONTH CLUB: If you have any inkling to support the work you've seen on this site, consider it art, want to see the details not visible in the online versions, and/or want more maps made available in the future, you may consider buying a canvas print for $50 (not including printing & shipping, which can add quite a bit (at least $30 (discounted) to print an 11'x14' canvas)).  

 Printing on canvas gives a nice painterly/watercolor effect to the plans, forgoes any need for framing, and the larger sizes (11x14, 16x20) show a good amount of the minute detail I put into each.  Each month, there will be a new map released and I may also be open to releasing some maps of the last year or so (going back, but not prior, to this post) for purchase.   Email (at left under About Me) for orders or inquiries. 

Here's an unboxing video of this Month's map:

video video

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Freeflow Design: DisneySpires (Concluded)

I'm back a little sooner than expected with Part II of this exercise.  You can find Part I here

The large Star Wars land featured here is inspired by the numerous pieces of glorious concept art for the under-construction land(s) - particularly the earlier pieces that showed saucers embedded in the upper-reaches of the giant rock spires.  Having just seen 'Rogue One' last month (and having loved it), I wanted to bring Star Wars into the park.   The real-world SW land is physically all about natural spires, so it would make sense to include it here.

In an ideal world, rather than clones, I'd like to see each park that gets a Star Wars Land get its own unique planet environment, one not featured in the movies (i.e., Orlando and Florida get two new, distinct planets/lands).  So I do somewhat regret drawing a 3rd version of that verdant, rock-spired outpost here.

While the style and feel of the land is based on what is being built, the attractions here are not.  One section of the land is dedicated to the Dark Side where the E-ticket ride gives guests the viewpoint of being part of the Empire(or First Order).  At the opposite end of the land is the Rebellion(or Resistance) Side where the 2nd E-ticket ride is located.   Between these factions are the more independent, diverse areas, with features such as a spacer Cantina, a dinner show featuring AA alien acts and a Bounty Hunter walkthrough-meets-shooting gallery.


 This is a mini-land, on the same scale and vein as Mystic Point.  Blackwater Manor is the next-gen Haunted Mansion for the park.  Its exterior is that of a 1880s Gilded Age seaside manor in the Shingle Style.  Its master, Cpt. Edmund Blackwater III had some villainous but wealthy pirates as forebearers, who now haunt its hallways.  It gives the classic Haunted Mansion a nautical flavor, just as Phantom Manor gave it an Old West one.  The caretaker's house has been converted to an eatery.


 Medieval China, like Renaissance Italy, is a rich source to mine for theme parks for which the surface has only been scratched (e.g., the recent Tea House in SDL).  The land is built around a large-scale flume attraction, Yulong Mountain, which I imagine could take on the more-realistic, adventurous tone of a PotC (versus a Splash Mountain).  Balancing it, I envisioned a D-ticket musical darkride that could be original in nature or incorporate the animated feature Mulan.  Dragon Boats are another attraction in this land that give passengers and tour around the perimeter of the park's lagoon.

The majority of this land's dining & retail take place in a building designed to feel like a chaotic Chinese market, with a series of winding indoor streets under invisible glass roofs (like DLP's original Adventureland Bazaar).  Numerous food stalls and merchants would be held within, creating the authentic feel of historic streets and alleyways.


The entirety of the park is designed around a very large, elaborate, SFX-filled lagoon theatrical experience.   There could be a major day show, a major night show and intermittent, smaller-scale, Bellagio-like shows, featuring only music and dancing fountains.   

Hundreds of water fountains/canons would be on a WOC like platform below the lagoon's surface (Dragon Boats hug the coastline for this reason).  The rocky center island contains animated SFX apparatus and powerful spotlights.  Rockwork and buildings around the lagoon's edge hide more show equipment which would automatically rise into position for showtime, as in DisneySea or EPCOT.    

The Great Spires themselves are integrated into the show, as the image above shows.  The backstories to the lands can also be integrated. Viewers in each section would have a different show experience and represent a different faction in this 360 degree extravaganza: the climax of a day at the park.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Freeflow Design: DisneySpires (Part One)

Laying out a theme park can be a left-brain, technical process.  I find a more enjoyable approach is to use the right-brain and 'freeflow', painting a site plan like an artist might paint a landscape.  A park plan created through freeflow, rather than being a mechanical assemblage of pre-designated parts (attractions/lands) more easily turns out to be a natural, cohesive whole. 

This is a current example of that process (I'm about 2/3 through it).  I began with one idea: A park with a castle overlooking a very large lake or coastal bay, sitting atop a rocky point (an iconic fantasy image) and that this castle should be at the front of the park, so that the view from a resort hotel on the far banks - or from passing/approaching ships - is of the great, full-scale fantasy citadel dominating the coastline.  

I didn't give too much thought to what I wanted to include in the rest of the park, or what the over-arching theme might be until after that entry area had been drawn.  I just drafted counter clockwise, land by land, letting the park unveil itself to my imagination.  Even now, I could go any number of different paths for the final lands.  I decided to make it a 'Disney' park because I find it helpful to include real-world reference points in parks that will exist solely in the imagination.

Some long-time readers may recall the "Forgotten/Lost Portal" parks I have conceived & drawn.  The idea is, like the existing Castle Parks, to provide a loose umbrella theme under which one can include anything one can imagine.  This ends up being a blend of the Lost Portal and the classic castle parks.  I call it 'DisneySpires'.  Each land will be marked by a central, tall, iconic structure.  The Spires and the lands themselves will be woven into the cental lagoon show, especially the end-of-day spectacular, and a connective thread can be sewn throughout the park this way.  


Castleton, the entry land to the park, is another name for fantasyland.  Of the myriad potential of themes, there are handful that have been built really well, multiple times (e.g., 1920s pulp adventure, the American Western, and Storybook Fantasy).  When I draw parks, I like to avoid things that have been done already and put in themes that have only been built well once or twice (or better yet, never).   But here I hypocritically go against that guideline and include the quintessential disney land, though in a unique form.  One enters asymmetric, 'narrow' village streets of half-timber shops, eateries & facilities, all the while seeing the massive citadel looming above. 

The citadel itself is a multi-attraction facility, housing a signature restaurant, show-scenes for the 'Once Upon a River Adventure' and elaborate walkthrough/exploration areas: Dungeons, Dragon Lair, Throne Room, Armory, Chapel, Wizard's Workshop, Royal Apartments, Griffin Roost, etc.).  The citadel features one tower taller than all the rest and that is this realm's Spire. 

There was once a site on the web dedicated to a ride concept called "Mr. Toad's Motor Mania."  I'd link it, but it appears to have been taken down by its creator.  The artwork on that site inspired this attraction.  The queue winds through the various rooms of Toad Hall, before emerging to the Carriage House where boarding takes place.  This is a 21st Century Autopia wherein riders have some degree of control over their motorcars' speed and steering, but computers & LPS technology keep them on the track, avoiding collisions and moving along, as well as triggering effects as the vehicles pass through an English Village, abandoned castle, train tunnel, etc..

Another walkthrough attraction is the ancient oak grove which features, fountains, games and a character meet & Greet at each of the massive hollowed out trunks of an ancient grove of giant oak trees.


Renaissance is a history-based theme that has been done wonderfully-well one time - at DisneySea, and this would be its sister land.  The aesthetic is a 1500s Mediterranean port, with a fortress-like guildhall guarding the entrance and a very large carrack docked nearby to explore.  There is a DaVinci Flying Machine aerial spinner.   the massive show-building, disguised as the port's buildings and ramparts, houses a 15-minute long, AA-based, multi-media omnimover, "the Age of Discovery", which could cover the rise, fall and re-rise of Western Civilization, concluding with the flowering of the Renaissance and the Discovery of the New World.

My happy place with respect to theme parks is late 1980s to mid 1990s EPCOT Center Future World, with its great series of omnimoving edutainment attractions (Horizons, World of Motion, Spaceship Earth, Living Seas were my four go-tos).  Combining a variety of types of presentation in each ride, great music & narration and an inspirational tone, these attractions awed and left an imprint on a young me like no ride has since.   So I wanted to include an attraction of this style in the park.

This land's spire is a massive campanile/lighthouse marking the anchor attraction.  There would also be a theme-appropriate animated diorama for the train that passes behind this land.


The second idea that generated this park concept (after the castle-on-a-cliff) was my desire to illustrate plans for a pulp adventure-based coaster.  Big Thunder Mountain is the quintessential themed coaster and I wanted to draw (and probably will in the future) attraction-level art for its equivalent in the pulp adventure versus old-west style.  Having just listened to the original audiobook for King's Solomon's Mines, that classic book became the theme for the attraction.

There are some different interpretations of the locale of this mythical place, but I went with that of Nubia, just beyond the edge of the Ancient Egyptian Upper Kingdom(modern Sudan).  This location would also allow other parts of the land to reflect a geography/culture that is more commonly depicted (that of Thebes, Memphis, etc.) in pop culture.  King Solomon's Mines loosely interprets the book's story and locales with many of the landmarks and characters present - entered through the native village kraal, past the villains plotting, including an AA witch Gagool, the silent watchers, sprung booby traps, etc.   The coaster would be a train of ancient mining carts through the diamond caverns and burial chambers, often going outside and hugging terrain as the track dips and twists around the rocky African landscape. 

Continuing the northeast Nubian aesthetic is the central explore zone, akin to Camp Jurassic or Tom Sawyer Island.  Book-ending these wilds are the more urban parts of this extensive land.  The area to the east (near Porto) represents Egypt of the 1880s-1920s (train station) and could house major dining and a theatrical attraction.  At the top of the park, marked by this land's spire -an enormous obelisk - is a Pharaoh's palace area that goes back in time to Ancient Egypt and features the land's 2nd E-ticket.  Here I'm imagining an elaborate shooter based on the Egyptian Pantheon (borrowing a title from the 2016 movie).   

I will conclude this park in a few weeks time.  Happy New Year! I wish all readers good luck, health and happiness in 2017!