Disney Legend Francis Xavier “X” Atencio Passes Away at Age 98

Disney Legend Xavier “X” Atencio, a former Imagineer and Disney animator, passed away on September 10 at the age of 98. X was responsible for helping bring to life a number of beloved Disney parks attractions including Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, as well as such animated classics as Pinocchio and Fantasia.

Born on September 4, 1919, in Walsenburg, Colorado, X—whose friends shortened his name from Francis Xavier to simply “X”—moved to Los Angeles in 1937 to attend the Chouinard Art Institute. X thought a job at Disney was out of his reach, but the then-18-year-old artist’s instructors prodded him to submit his portfolio. In 1938, when he got the good news from Disney, X ran from the original Hyperion Avenue studio to his aunt’s house shouting, “I got a job at Disney! I got a job at Disney!”

X first saw his work on screen at the 1940 premiere of Pinocchio, and as he watched, he was incredibly moved by seeing the audience’s reaction. That year, he was promoted to assistant animator for Fantasia but left temporarily to join the Army Air Corps in the war effort.

Upon his return in 1945, he picked up where he left off, returning to the studio and working for the next eight years on animated short subjects. His first on-screen credit was for Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom in 1953, an Oscar®-winning film that took audiences through the history of music. Other films X contributed to during this time included Noahs Ark (1959) and A Symposium on Popular Songs (1962), both Academy Award® nominees, as well as Jack and Old Mac (1956). He worked on the “I’m No Fool” series for the original MickeyMouse Club, and in the 1960s, X provided memorable stop-motion sequences for Disney feature films TheParent Trap (1961), Babes in Toyland (1961), and Mary Poppins (1964).

At the request of Walt Disney, X transferred to WED Enterprises (later Walt Disney Imagineering) in 1965 to work on the Primeval World diorama for Disneyland. At first, X was unsure of the move to WED: “I went over there reluctantly because I didn’t know what I was getting into, and nobody there knew what I was supposed to do either,” he recalled. “About a month later I got a phone call from Walt. He told me ‘I want you to do the script for the Pirates of the Caribbean.’” From that point on, X cemented his legacy at WED, playing a key role in the development of music and dialogue for the attraction, including co-writing the iconic song, “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me).” For the Haunted Mansion, he wrote the attraction’s dialogue and co-wrote the song “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” For Walt Disney World, he contributed to If You Had Wings and Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom, as well as Spaceship Earth, World of Motion, and the Mexico pavilion at Epcot. Throughout his career, X always said that his reward, as it was in the days of Pinocchio, “is still the audience’s reactions.”

“X was an enormous talent who helped define so many of our best experiences around the world,” said Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering. “Some may not know that when he wrote the lyrics for ‘Yo Ho’ he had never actually written a song before. He simply proposed the idea of a tune for Pirates of the Caribbean, and Walt told him to go and do it. That was how X worked—with an enthusiastic, collaborative attitude, along with a great sense of humor. His brilliant work continues to inspire Imagineers and bring joy to millions of guests every year.”

X retired from Disney in 1984, but continued working as a consultant to Walt Disney Imagineering for many years, and was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1996. He is survived by his wife, Maureen; his children Tori McCullough, Judianne, and Joe; his stepchildren Brian Sheedy, Kevin Sheedy, and Eileen Haubeil; sons-in-law Mike McCullough and Chris Haubeil; daughters-in-law Kathy Atencio, Trish Sheedy, and Beth Sheedy; and eight grandchildren.

From D23

Legendary Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar Dies at Age 83

Legendary Disney Imagineer Martin A. “Marty” Sklar passed away in his Hollywood Hills home on Thursday. He was 83. During an illustrious career spanning 54 years, Marty worked closely with Walt Disney and was instrumental in creating, enhancing and expanding Disney’s creative vision. Named a Disney Legend in 2001, he is best remembered and revered by fans around the world for his work bringing Disney’s theme parks to life.

“Everything about Marty was legendary – his achievements, his spirit, his career,” said Bob Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company. “He embodied the very best of Disney, from his bold originality to his joyful optimism and relentless drive for excellence. He was also a powerful connection to Walt himself. No one was more passionate about Disney than Marty and we’ll miss his enthusiasm, his grace, and his indomitable spirit.”

Born in New Brunswick, N.J., on February 6, 1934, Marty was a student at UCLA and editor of its Daily Bruin newspaper when he was recruited to create The Disneyland News for Walt’s new theme park in 1955. After graduating in 1956, he joined Disney full-time, and would go on to serve as Walt’s right-hand man—scripting speeches, marketing materials, and a film showcasing Walt’s vision for Walt Disney World and Epcot. During this period, he also joined WED Enterprises, the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering, and he would later become the creative leader of Imagineering, leading the development of Disney theme parks and attractions for the next three decades. He retired as Executive Vice President and Imagineering Ambassador on July 17, 2009, Disneyland’s 54th birthday. Disney marked the occasion by paying tribute to Marty with the highest Parks and Resorts recognition, dedicating a window in his name on Disneyland’s City Hall.

“Marty was the ultimate Disney Imagineer and Cast Member. From his days working as an intern with Walt to just two weeks ago engaging with fans at D23 Expo, Marty left an indelible mark on Disney Parks around the globe and on all of the guests who make memories every day with us,” said Bob Chapek, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “He was one of the few people that was fortunate to attend the opening of every single Disney park in the world, from Anaheim in 1955 to Shanghai just last year. We will dearly miss Marty’s passion, skill and imaginative spark that inspired generations of Cast, Crew and Imagineers.”

Bob Weis was one of those Imagineers. “Marty was one of Walt’s most trusted advisors and helped turn his most ambitious dreams into reality. For us, it’s hard to imagine a world without Marty, because Marty is synonymous with Imagineering,” said Weis, President, Walt Disney Imagineering. “His influence can be seen around the world, in every Disney park, and in the creative and imaginative work of almost every professional in the themed entertainment industry.”

Marty’s impact and achievements were recognized with a number of prestigious awards and accolades, including the Lifetime Achievement award from TEA (Themed Entertainment Association), induction into the Hall of Fame of IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions), and the prestigious Professional Achievement Award from UCLA.

He also authored several books about his experiences and adventures at Disney: Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms (2013), and One Little Spark!: Mickey’s Ten Commandments and The Road to Imagineering (2015).

Marty is survived by his wife of 60 years, Leah; son Howard and his wife, Katriina Koski-Sklar; grandchildren Gabriel and Hannah; daughter Leslie; and grandchildren Rachel and Jacob.

Marty and Leah were two of the founders of the Ryman Program for Young Artists, a project of Ryman Arts, a nonprofit foundation whose purpose is to teach and mentor “traditional” drawing and painting skills to talented young artists in Southern California. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Marty’s name to Ryman Arts at www.rymanarts.org.

George McGinnis, Last Imagineer Hired by Walt Disney, Dies at 87

McGinnis was the show designer on a variety of projects while at Walt Disney Imagineering including Space Mountain at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

McGinnis’ senior project while attending the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles was for a high-speed train that caught the eye of Disney.

Upon graduating in 1966, he was invited to work at WED Enterprises (the name then of Walt Disney Imagineering, the company that designs Disney theme parks and rides).

His first assignment was to design the miniature transportation models for the Progress City display that was part of the Carousel of Progress attraction.

Other designs at Disneyland included the “Mighty Microscope” inside Disneyland’s “Adventure Through Inner Space” ride.

“George was a disciplined “pro” – a designer who truly paid attention to every detail,” said Marty Sklar, the former vice chairman of Walt Disney Imagineering in a statement.

For a while, he was assigned to work on designs for Walt Disney World including the still operating WEDway Peoplemover in its Tomorrowland.

He also helped out with the designs for upgrades to both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World monorails.

For Epcot Center, McGinnis was the lead show designer for the Horizons Pavilion, which opened in 1983.

Sklar said in a statement: “I was just writing something about the Horizons pavilion in Epcot at Walt Disney World, and found this quote from George: ‘We’re convinced that even though environments will change, people won’t. Teenagers in our show will still monopolize the phone; kids and dogs still exasperate mom and dad. We believe one of the main differences high technology will make is that it will give us more choices.’”

Before retiring from Disney he designed a variety of vehicles for its theme parks around the world, including the “jeeps” for the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland.

After his retirement, McGinnis continued to take on occasional design projects including the trolley for The Grove in Los Angeles.

He also wrote a book about his experiences that was published in 2016, “From Horizons to Space Mountain: The Life of a Disney Imagineer.”

McGinnis is survived by his wife and family.

By Mark Eades from the Orange County Register

Iron Man Experience at Hong Kong Disneyland Gets Opening Date

The Iron Man Experience, the first Marvel-themed ride for any Disney park, has an opening date set for Hong Kong Disneyland.

The simulator ride billed as a multisensory immersion experience will open January 11, 2017.

“The Iron Man Experience is a unique immersive motion experience using Hong Kong as the story background for the very first time,” said Samuel Lau, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Hong Kong Disneyland Resort in a press release. “We are proud to give local and overseas guests a different perspective and experience of Hong Kong while promoting our vibrant city to the world at the same time.”

The ride will be located in Hong Kong Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, which is  home to the Stark Expo. Tony Stark’s creations will be on display in exhibition halls the Hall of Legacy, the Hall of Protection, the Hall of Energy and the Hall of Mobility. Riders will then climb aboard the Iron Wing flight vehicle to take part in the ride, which will put them alongside Iron Man battling the forces of Hydra in Hong Kong.

“We’re excited to be able to create the Iron Man Experience with an authentic Iron Man Super Hero adventure that takes place in a real city, Hong Kong,” said Ted Robledo, Creative Director of Walt Disney Imagineering in a press release. “We’ve set this up as the next Stark Expo after the one Tony Stark did in 2010 in New York. He’s showcasing his latest and greatest products from Stark Industries, so guests see all kinds of things in the exhibition halls when coming through the Expo. But the ultimate experience is to get on this brand-new Iron Wing vehicle, which is essentially a really large Iron Man suit that 45 guests can get into. And guests will be going out on a tour of Hong Kong ending at the Hong Kong Stark Tower.”

Because Universal Orlando owns the rights to many of the existing Marvel properties east of the Mississippi in regards to the theme parks, there has a minimal presence at Walt Disney World beyond the Iron Man-skinned monorail a few years back.

Disneyland’s California Adventure park, though, is changing the Tower of Terror ride into one based on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. And Disney Cruise Line now has two ships with Marvel play spaces.

Iron Man won’t be confined to the ride, though. There’s an Expo Shop with more than 70 Iron Man-themed items exclusive to the park and the opportunity for visitors to try on the Iron Man suit in an interactive game “Become Iron Man at The Stark Expo,” which also features a 35-second video of their transformation available for purchase.

There will also be Iron Man-themed food and beverage options such as the Iron Man Waffle, Iron Man stein, Iron Man desserts at Chef Mickey Buffet and Iron Man beverages served at the resort hotels.

And the man himself will be in character at the park.

“Anybody who visits a Disney park loves color and spectacle and excitement and adventure, and that’s all that Iron Man is,” said Iron Man creator Stan Lee.

 

Bob Weis Named New Head of Walt Disney Imagineering

Bob Weis, executive vice president of Disney's creative division, talks about the new World of Color show that will debut at California Adventure in 2010. ///ADDITIONAL INFO: n.disneywater.0716 - 7/16/09 - Photo by JOSHUA SUDOCK, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER - Disney invited members of the press to a preliminary briefing on their new water show, currently in production, at California Adventure called "Disney;s World of Color." The show features new projection technology, LED light effects, lasers, flame throwers, Disney characters and a whole new musical score. It will debut in the spring of 2010.

 

The Walt Disney Company has named Bob Weis the new president of Walt Disney Imagineering, the arm of the company that oversees the design of its theme parks, cruise lines and resorts around the world.

The appointment was announced in a memo today by Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Weis is heading up the company’s efforts for the Shanghai Disneyland Resort. Before that, he was the creative lead on the expansion of Disney California Adventure, which culminated in the addition of Cars Land at the theme park.

He was also the creative lead on the Disney/MGM Studios, now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios, that opened at Walt Disney World in 1989, and oversaw the development of the Tower of Terror.

Weis also worked on Tokyo Disneyland in the early 1980s.

He left the company for a while, and worked with others on a variety of projects. Bruce Vaughn, the former Chief Creative Executive at WDI will help Weis with the transition, before leaving the company to explore other opportunities. Craig Russell has served as a co-executive leader of the company, and will take on a new role focusing on project execution and integration around the world, according to the memo from Chapek released by the company.

From the Orange County Register

Disneyland Releases Concept Art for New Rivers of America

The Rivers of America and the Disneyland Railroad at Disneyland park in Southern California have closed temporarily as Disneyland prepares to bring an all-new Star Wars-themed land to the park.

To carve out space for the new land, the company is rerouting the Disneyland Railroad, shortening the Rivers of America and likely shrinking Tom Sawyer Island.

When these areas reopen, the north bank of the Rivers of America will have a beautiful new waterfront.

DL - New Rivers of America

As you can see from this artist’s rendering, courtesy of Walt Disney Imagineering, this gorgeous new riverbank will also feature an elevated trestle over which the iconic Disneyland Railroad will travel.

 

Imagineers Joe Rohde and Bob Weis Expand their Roles with Walt Disney Imagineering

Cameron, Rohde, Staggs - DAK

Two of Disney most well known and highest ranking Imagineers are expanding their roles ahead of a period of expected growth.

Joe Rohde, currently the creative lead at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, will expand his role at Imagineering to take on global creative leadership of the Marvel property.

Rohde is currently working on the the development of AVATAR Land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and also oversees the creative work at the Aulani Resort.

Bob Weis, who is currently heavily involved in the creation of Shanghai Disney Resort, will also take on the position of creative lead of Hong Kong Disneyland.

Weis is best known to the American park fans as the creative force behind the development of Disney MGM Studios, and for the massive make-over of Disney California Adventure.

Together with the recent appointment of Scott Trowbridge as the lead on the Star Wars projects, the expansion of roles for Rohde and Weis would seem to send a clear message of where the future of Imagineering will be focussed – Star Wars, Marvel and Asia.

Disney Legend Blaine Gibson Dies at 97

blaine-gibson-disney

Disney Imagineer Blaine Gibson, who sculpted everything from pirates to presidents, has died, according to the Walt Disney Family Museum, he was 97.

Gibson started his career with Disney as an in-betweener and assistant animator working on such classics as “Fantasia,” “Bambi” and “Peter Pan.” While working at the Disney Studios, he took evening classes in sculpture at Pasadena City College.

The story goes that one day Walt Disney saw some of his sculptures and assigned him to the Disneyland project. Eventually he became the head of then WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering) Sculpture Department, where he sculpted figures like Abraham Lincoln for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and dozens of pirates for Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland.

Other Disneyland attractions he worked on included the Haunted Mansion and the Enchanted Tiki Room.

“Blaine Gibson was one of the most important storytellers among all the great talents on Walt Disney’s team of Imagineers,” said Marty Sklar, former vice-chairman of Walt Disney Imagineering. “He showed all of us how to make our Disney park show characters so realistic you never had to guess the role of any three-dimensional figure in our attractions.”

After his retirement in 1983, he continued to consult and sculpt for Disney, including continuing his tradition of sculpting U.S. presidents – of which he sculpted every one for Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents up to and including George W. Bush in 2001.

Gibson was also commissioned to sculpt the “Partners” statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in the Central Hub of Disneyland.

Other famous personages he sculpted included Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and Will Rogers for the American Adventure Pavilion at EPCOT.

From the Orange County Register

WDI Recruits Advanced Robotics Expert to Work on Future Animatronic Figures

Martin Buehler

From WDWMAGIC

Walt Disney Imagineering has recruited Martin Buehler, a well known expert in the field of advanced robotics.

Buehler is most well known for his work on the Boston Dynamics ‘BigDog’ project

Buehler joins WDI at a critical time for Audio-Animatronics, as Disney looks to separate itself from the wider adoption of animated figures at other parks around the world.

The upcoming AVATAR project at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is expected to debut some next generation Audio-Animatronic figures to bring the AVATAR story to life.

Martin will lead WDI R&D’s Advanced Robotics and will take on the role of executive R&D Imagineer.

 

BigDog runs at 4 mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rubble, climbs muddy hiking trails, walks in snow and water, and carries 340 lb load.

Martin was also director of research at iRobot and a VP at Vecna Technologies

Walt Disney Imagineers Release Video on the Backstory Behind Disney Springs

disney-springs-night

The Disney Parks Blog released a new video giving us a glimpse of Disney Springs and more information about the new unifying backstory.

In a video one of the Executive Creative Directors on Disney Springs, WDI’s Theron Skees explains the area’s backstory –

Disney Springs Backstory Video

The first “neighborhood” in Disney Springs – the opening of The Landing – is set for 2015. Construction on Disney Springs will continue into 2016.