So after lunchtime, the schedule continued with “A Long Time Ago…The Making of Star Tours,” presented by WDI Creative Executive Tom Fitzgerald.
He detailed the inception of the ride as coming from George Lucas, and then related his trip to London to investigate the motion simulators with Tony Baxter. The simulators there were apparently a great deal rougher than what they ultimately were out here, and after watching them for awhile, the Imagineers began taking bids for whatever tablets of Dramamine they had with them.
The original name they came up with for for the ride was “Cosmic Winds,” and like the title, the concept for the droid driver changed a bit as the development process continued.
He talked a little about the voice they ended up with–they originally demoed Billy Barty for the part of Rex, however they wound up feeling that the part called for someone who was less child-like, and heavier on the screaming (a reflection, perhaps, on the shared experience of Tom and Tony of failing their DMV tests.) They became acquainted with Pee Wee Herman’s performance ability as he was appearing in his show at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles and had recently done the voice of another robotic driver in “Flight of the Navigator,” and a match was made.
In an interesting note, he reminded people that the ride was created in a time prior to CGI, and consequently much of the special effects shown on the film were actually achieved by the use of models, including the trip through the comets.
Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic company did much of the film, and consequently most of the actors seen in it are ILM employees.
As the project continued, the budget for the droid room suffered; in an attempt to salvage the concept, they were able to recycle the Goose Quartet from America Sings, who were reincarnated there.
There was also some debate over whether the guests should see the outside of the speeder or not. Hench drew this rendering of one potential setup where the speeder was not visible.
Ultimately Hench suggested that with warm light inside the speeder, and cool light outside, entering guests would likely never notice the outside in their enthusiasm, and he was largely proven correct.
Anthony Daniels was brought in to record the voice of C-3PO and also acted out the part in the preshow to aid in the animation of the audio-animatronic. In addition, he wrote and voiced the announcements in Ewokese (“ku channa, ku channa…”)
Tom Fitzgerald went on to discuss the new changes coming to Star Tours in the currently-ongoing re-imagineering of the ride, but all the announcements in that vein have been pretty well covered by him in his disney blog at http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/author/tom-fitzgerald/.
The next panel, hosted by Paul Anderson, was “The 1964 New York World’s Fair and the Development of Audio-Animatronics.” This was one of the presentations to which I was most looking forward, as both the 1964 and the 1939 World’s Fair are on the top of my list of “first places I’m going when Time Machines are commercially available.”
Of the four pavilions Walt produced for the World’s Fair (Carousel of Progress, It’s a Small World, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, and Magic Skyway,) Anderson mostly discussed the Magic Skyway as the other three have survived in some form or another to the present day.
Initially planned as a “Symphony of America,” the scope of the ride was broadened out to the history of the world, as seen from the comfort of your Ford automobile. You would board your car and be whisked effortlessly on multiple levels and tracks through both the primeval and the future world.
[Seriously. If this picture doesn’t make you want to sell your soul to the Devil to go back for a ride, you and I can never be friends.]
The narration came in different languages, and if you picked English, you were lucky enough to hear Walt Disney himself, coming in through the car radio.
You initially went through a time tunnel, back to a Primeval World that may seem fairly familiar to those who have gone around the Disneyland Railroad, by way of the Grand Canyon dioramas.
The cavemen depicted in later scenes were largely drawn by Marc Davis, and sculpted by Blaine Gibson. They bear something of a resemblance to their descendants who later peopled the first couple scenes in Spaceship Earth.
After leaving prehistoric times, the cars drove outside onto elevated highways, where the various levels and directions of tracks gave the outside the busy, kinetic appearance that always signaled the Future to Disney. The route took the cars past a futuristic city, and then back to the unloading area.
Anderson then showed some brief photos of the other pavilions, such as this one of GE’s Progressland:
As enticing as it seems, to see the original Carousel of Progress, I think I’d be a little concerned about the Nuclear Fusion Demonstration going on in the center…
Finally, he spoke a little of the Roland Crump’s famous Tower of the Four Winds that stood outside It’s a Small World, and how Walt looked into transporting it back to California after the Fair, but found the shipping costs to be prohibitive.
Ultimately, the fact that the Tower and all the other pavilions were destroyed after the Fair is considered part of the impetus for Disneyland–Walt found it such a shame, that he was even more driven to create a permanent location for his creations.
In addition, Disneyland owes the Fair for contributing to the development of the Omnimover and Peoplemover, Audio-Animatronics, the canal boat ride (Pirates,) and the entire Walt Disney World resort as it proved Disney could pull in an East Coast audience as easily as a West Coast one.
The Fair continues to stand as a beacon of that era’s space-age, optimistic and forward-thinking views of the Future as an unending vista of marvels. Ultimately, waves of change would come with the Vietnam War, civil rights struggles, and various other cultural revolutions that would dim that vision a little…but for 1964-1965, it was a world of singing children, electric ovens, and Ford automobiles that could take you to the stars.