Friday, March 24, 2006
I took off suddenly on Saturday at 4pm to get down to Universal for the Mardi Gras Parade and the live concert after the parade. My last chance before my Annual Pass runs out, for both visiting the theme parks and this celebration of Mardi Gras, and never having made it to NOLA for the real thing, I figured I could at least get a taste of it.
I had just learned through the MouseForLess that Spring Break had sprung, so I had no illusions as to what I might expect in way of crowds, and more so on this special party night at Universal. My fears only grew when, at the late afternoon hour; I had to wait in line at the tollbooth thirty miles out. It only grew more certain when I entered the parking structure to find it all but full, and dozens of cars roaming in search of a space. As I powered my ECV through City Walk and over to Universal, the density of the numbers showed its effects, however, it all moved along well enough. Inside the park at 6:15, people were lining the sidewalks for the 8 pm parade! I decided to forego that long wait and took the intervening time to check out the opening act on the stage next toward the back side of the park next to the Jimmy Neutron ride, and thus discovered there was a special area for wheelchair access right up next to the stage left. This would come in handy later for the show I came for, even though it turned out to not be whom I thought it was: I was expecting Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes, and was then disappointed to see it was to be George Thorogood and the Destroyers. This was a feeling that would be drastically changed by the end of the night.
Finding the volume of the amps, which sat on the ground right in front of the special section, to be way too high vis-à-vis the music coming through them, I departed and headed over to Revenge of the Mummy, taking two turns at that short yet exhilarating experience, and then heading over to the far end of the park to at least momentarily escape the crush of the crowd. It was a good move as it was sparsely populated as soon as I left the streets of the parade route. As I headed past my old favorite, Back to the Future on my way to Men in Black, I thought, given this would be my last visit for at least some time, that I would check the regular line to see how long I would have to stand if I chose to go that route. It was only 20 minutes, a very reasonable time considering, but too long for me to stand, so I talked to the staff member (what do they call them there???) and explained to him that if I went in via the handicapped line, I would, like everyone else so entering, be in one of the lower cars, and the strain on my neck at looking up to the screen was simply too painful. I asked if it would be possible for me to get to one of the higher levels. He called in and it was granted, and I was directed to what turned out to be the regular Express Pass line, which was virtually as long as the regular line. I stayed there until the first batch of movement showed that it would be at the very least ten minutes, and I was already hurting, so I left the line. I had to pass the staff member going the wrong way as I left, so I explained to her that I simply couldn’t stand that long so, thanks, but I gotta go! She made a phone call and arranged for me to use a back door and sent me up right away on a higher floor! Thank you staff member! So I did get to ride what used to be my very favorite ride, but one I had done only once in the last five years or so due to the neck problem with viewing it- and it was good! It is truly amazing what a different show it is from the higher levels. I am happy to report that despite being “old hat” ride-technology-wise, it still holds up. I enjoyed it and was very pleased to be able to have an enjoyable re-viewing of it on my final visit.
I left, and simply walking the exit ramp back to my ECV was draining, making me even more grateful for the special treatment I had received. The staff member at the front asked me how I liked it, and I told him it was great! Checking the time with him, he suggested that it being still 15 minutes before parade time, I could get in one more ride, just what I was thinking when I asked! So over to Men in Black, where I am pleased to report a score of 372,000 without getting the big bonus!
Out of Men in Black, and over to the just started parade, I checked a couple of locations for possibly shooting it across the lake with my 10 X zoom, but though I could get a close enough shot, the movement of the float and the long exposure in the dark made for only a blur of lights against a very sharp background. I moved on to another location with the same results, and finally bit the bullet and faced having to actually merge into the crowds. I ended up behind a four person thick wall of people, and again, fruitless photography- a theme that ran through much of this visit. Of 163 shots, I have maybe a dozen or two of everything that are useable.
But it was an impressive parade. The floats were colorful, unique, varied, and beautiful! There were a total of fourteen, ending with a giant glowing green gator! Each was also manned top and sides with gaudily costumed revelers throwing beads to the begging screaming arm-waving masses! This is unlike any other parade, so interactive and making the crowd really a part of it! The spirits were high and the competition fierce for the so-desired 2-cent strand of plastic beads. But I saw no arguments when two different hands grabbed the same strand- one simply released. In fact, this happened with myself, as a strand that was clearly thrown to me, isolated way back- still trying for the occasional photo- was cunningly intercepted by a small boy destined to be a future goal tended in the NHL! I surrendered without contest and we were both still smiling. The wonderful thing was that several minutes later, this same boy came over and happily handed me a different strand of beads! With the end of the floats, there were the usual parade followers, the search for missed strands on the ground as the crowd cleared, and the rush to get over to an adjoining street where the parade was just beginning: I ended up viewing from three different locations, and with three strands by my own hand, and two given by others. I also passed on another strand to a lady whose husband had assisted me in recovering it from the high branches of a tree.
I hung around in my last spot for a bit watching the crowd disperse and relaxing, then I heard the rumble growing from the stage as the beginning of the night’s show commenced. I made my way to the special area, found a space, and it was on! The place was packed from the stage right out to the building across the street and it was a party crowd. A large screen to each side of the stage showed varying views of the show, but I was close enough to see the actual performers live, and George Thorogood’s hands working the strings- wow! Basically, it was a blur of huge volume for the next two hours, rehabilitating my belief in rock and roll. This is why electric guitars were made. This man was amazing! I never particularly followed the Destroyers, and was surprised at just how many of their songs I knew simply by airplay, but what impressed me most was the intensity and joy with which they were all playing, especially George. And they wouldn’t stop! The show ended after maybe half an hour- typical, all the big numbers played, the contract fulfilled... but the crowd kept yelling- like in the old days! After several minutes, much to my surprise, the band came back on! Okay, I figured they would do one more... then I figured, okay- three more. I forget exactly how many more they did, but it was like a whole additional set, then they left again... and came back again and played on and on again! It just kept going! It was fantastic! It was so fresh and alive and loud: maybe I am not too old! Loud ain’t bad when the music is this good! By the end of the night, heck, by the end of the first song, my ears were ringing, but it felt good! This guy could work a guitar! I thought of that opening spiel on the Meatloaf album when the son cries out, “Dad, you know I love you, but you’ll just never understand Rock and Roll”. This was rock and roll. Born again!
During the first set, there was this family next to me, ranging in age from very young to older than me, and the Dad kept crying out for what sounded to me like the “Haircut song”. Well, it finally came on and the whole family went wild! Rocking out! Later, near the end of the last set, when the special area had emptied quite a bit and we in the back had made our way more forward and center, George actually pointed specifically at that man and waved to him!
I also interacted a bit with a couple of other people and one lady was the bestower of my second strand of beads. All in all it was a fine family concert and night, beautiful warm moonlit, and the now-heads-of-families grew up on rock and roll. Even the old retired men serving as park security knew this music, and this spirit! We were all smiles as we slowly emptied the stage area and the park...
I made my way slowly out of the park enjoying the sites of City Walk on the way, left in my van, found a place to park and settled down for the night.
I slept well that night, only waking three times, and in the morning after cleaning up I headed down to Celebration Florida, the Disney town, for a show being put on by the National Fantasy Fan Club, a large organization of Disney fans in the main, based in California and now making its way to the East Coast, this being their second such show with more planned in the near future. I arrived early on this the second day of the event, and hung around in the very visually appealing town of Celebration on this fine day. After a while I went in and spent some time talking with Gary Schaengold, the Vice President Finance for the group, and later met Kendra Trahan, the National President, as opposed to Arlen Miller, the president of the local, “World” chapter. The show, much like the many woodcarving shows I have participated in, consisted of various members and vendors having spaces in which they either displayed their collections, for sale or simply for sharing. There were some remarkable items on display.
As I set about to get an overview of the show, I met Lou Mongello, author of the book Disneyland Trivia, who was there promoting it. We had a nice chat and I looked through his book noting a few very nice details and fascinating facts. He gave me a lapel pin, and a few other goodies, including a very nice lanyard with clear plastic pouch that will come in handy!
Later, I discovered another book, Disneyland Detective, and much to my surprise it was by Kendra! Her husband Russell was manning the table, as Kendra was busy running around as is normal for one in charge of such an event, and again, a fascinating book! She said she wrote it when she couldn’t find a guide that fulfilled her expectations of what a guide should be. And again, lots of fascinating extras throughout! Also gave me some good info on Disney and copyrights...
Further down the line I met Arlen Miller, the president of the World chapter, where he was both manning a club sign up table and his own filled with rare and delightful print material related to Disney, including many magazines that had had short lives.
Across the way, I was checking out the multi-space location of WDW itself and noticed someone who somehow seemed a tiny bit familiar and when I saw the embroidered name on her polo shirt, AllEarsNet, I asked, “Are you the Deb?” She laughed and modestly agreed at last that she was the one I was thinking of, and we chatted very briefly as she was playing hooky from some guests to just check out the show.
The highlight of the day was when I came upon a booth where a rather longhaired fellow was promoting his movie on DVD, complete with a TV playing it. I learned very quickly that he had been a Disney animator, and that locked in my attention right there. I soon learned that he was in fact at the Florida Animation Studios and that he had been there for 15 years! The movie was about the rise and fall of Disney animation during that period, and is called “Dream on Silly Dreamer”. Using the excuse of me being “press”, he gave me a copy to review, but that may or may not be as interesting as the hour or more of conversation I had with him following, interrupted only by my giving way to those wanting to buy the DVD or the sudden appearance of friends.
He was Tony West, and as I said, for 15 years he was an animator at the Disney Animation Studio in Florida. The conversation was very disjointed, jumping from one matter to another mid sentence as new things were learned, so what I got did not come in a logical orderly fashion, but by the time I left, I learned a lot of fantastic things about animation and Disney Corp.
Tony’s main job was effects animation, and he did the explosions in Mulan! For those of you who know little about animation, that magical process by which Mickey Mouse and many others have been brought to life, done with a pencil on a piece of paper one frame at a time, in making a movie of such, there are hundreds of people involved, each with a specific job. If one watched the credits on any animated feature, one will see the animators listed by character, that is, there is a lead animator for character #1, and several assistant animators that may or may not be listed as in-betweeners, clean up animators and other such things. Another specialty is effects, those who have shown remarkable talent in creating the effects of clouds or rain or snow or other such details that create the atmosphere of a scene. These are specialists who do this, so for any given single frame of an animated feature, there may be twenty or more people who have contributed to it, one for each character, several to assist or clean up or paint a single color of that character, and several more for any particular effects in that scene! For most of the general public, the idea of being an animator is glorious and exciting, but what they are thinking of is the lead animator! And a few steps within reach of that exalted position! For those on the lower rungs of the drawing scale, it can mean, for instance, as I witnessed myself in 95 while touring the then functioning animation studio at Disney/MGM, painting one particular shade of brown on Pocahontas dress again and again for tens of thousand of frames. Bo-ring!
Back to the story: Tony was an effects animator. He did the rocket explosions in Mulan. Later in the day, I discovered, that he also worked on LILO AND STITCH!!! Oh! Wow! I mean, this is my favoritest bestest movie since 101 Dalmatians, and here I am sitting with a real animator who was one of the people who actually created that movie!!! Specifically, Tony told me, he did the ray guns for Stitch, Bantu and the other guy... I should know the names… He also told me he did a sequence that I cannot for the life of me recall, so I am wondering if I missed it or he forgot that it got cut? Anyway. This was all very exciting! He also told me several amazing stories concerning the making of the movie, material that was cut and other that was modified, which greatly clarified certain things that seemed slightly a bit off in the movie. One thing I can pass on that will most directly clarify a certain moment in the movie is that originally there was a scene on the beach just before Stitch does his Elvis thing and all heck breaks loose- well, just before that, Lilo had done something to raise a bit of a stink herself- thus the results of that scene- which remains in the movie- were brought about by more than just Stitch getting bugged by the flashbulbs, and the resultant declaration of Cobra is a bit more in line with what actually happened. But it was decided that Lilo’s behavior made her a little too nasty for the mood of the movie so it was cut.
As four o’clock and the end of the show approached, I grudgingly ended off, and Mark suggested I give him a call when I was at UNI the next day and we could do lunch. I got his machine when I did call so he was probably in meeting or something. His new place is Project Firefly, one of three studios to start up with the remains of the people and equipment of the former Disney Animation Studio in Florida. One of those, Legacy, has gone under, funding problems like so many start-ups, but Firefly is carrying on, along with Cecropia (Cecropia was established in 2001 by gaming entrepreneur Omar Khudari, co-founder of the game developer Papyrus Design Group: see http://www.cecropia.com) which came out of Boston, funded by a man who made a lot of money in another field, but as the animators didn’t want to relocate along with their families to Boston, it opened a studio down here, reportedly in offices adjoining Sea World. So, Disney is over at UNI and Sea World...
Thus it was that Tony suggested we meet for lunch while I was at Universal.
After leaving the show, I headed out to Kissimmee to lunch at Checkers, then up to Universal where I took a nap in my van before heading in. I had decided, given the warmth of the day and the short period I had for it to do the “wet” rides, so brought my swim suit and water shoes to be prepared, but alas, Dudley Doo Right Falls was down for rehab, and Bluto’s Bilge Rat raft ride had just broken down with its reopening time unknown, I went over to Jurassic Park and took a couple of drops there. On the second one, I was next to the most precocious little girl who knowingly exclaimed that this was impossible cause the dinosaurs all died. We debated the matter for most of the ride, but alas, I could not make a believer out of her, and she simply refused to be intimidated by any of the special effects- until for one brief moment, his eyes did widen a bit as we went over the top and headed down that drop! She explained though that that was understandable as we dropped straight down! Her father thoroughly enjoyed our discussion and suggested I had met my match with his ten year old. I enjoyed it anyway.
After leaving the park, I went to the theater at City Walk and watched Johnny Depp in The Libertine. While interesting and always enjoyable watching Depp, and the other actors were excellent, the film was dark and moody and well done, but I have no idea the point of it. I am not sure to recommend for or against it, for I am not at all certain what I saw. Lets leave it at interesting.
Back to the van, place to park, sleep for the night.
Monday, I headed back to Universal for my last day, deciding I would simply go through it in order, starting with the Hulk. The place was mobbed, but with the handicapped pass, I was able to ride without waiting. I did Hulk, then the spinning thing- can never remember what that is- then Dr Doom, always a rush: good airtime! I leave my arms outstretched for the lift and even as familiar as I am with it now, it still surprises. That harness is defiantly needed! But the view is breathtaking, if oh so brief! Then over to Spiderman, and then I saw that Spidey was out for pictures and the line had dwindled to naught so I grabbed a postcard and had him sign it for a young friend, then headed on over to the now working Bluto’s Bilge Rat ride. I changed in the men’s room into my swim trunks and water shoes, and noted I had failed to bring an extra t-shirt! On the first ride, much to my surprise, as I thought I had it all figured out, I got the dump seat! Wham! Soaked in an instant! And while I have been so saturated by this ride before, I forgot that that had been in summer, and the water was welcome refreshment! This was cold! And the day, though warm, was not that warm! And as is the course, he who gets the first dump gets many more, and I did, and when I got off, I removed my t-shirt and wrung it out, easily creating a large puddle at my feet. I rode twice more, not getting the worst of it, that being reserved on the third trip to an older gentlemen across from me, and not, as would have been so fitting, for three teenage girls in complete denial and horror once they saw just how thorough drenching was possible on this ride! It would have been worth the risk to my camera if I had had it to shoot the face of one girl in particular! It was so thoroughly strained and fixed on denying what was happening! She did get a good soaking, but not the total dump that is always visited on one rider on each trip.
After finishing and changing back into dry clothes, simply forgoing a T-shirt and wearing my vest, I reflected that I think this is the ride I enjoy most at IOA. It is a good ride, with or without the soaking, a better than typical river run, with some real twists and turns in it.
I hit Spiderman again, being technically the best ride experience in Orlando, and then headed over to Seuss Landing, tried to connect with Tony West, failing, then riding each of the three rides, and getting some potatoes and corn on the cob at Circus McGurkus. The funny thing is, the kitchen for that restaurant is the same one that, on the other side, serves the cafeteria that serves the offices in the building that Tony’s offices are in!
Took a second ride on Cat in the Hat, love that ride, then just “strolled” around in this exceptionally well themed area for a while. I explored the little ones’ play area a bit just to see what was there, some wonderful use of characters and motifs in decorating the area, and then headed out and eventually decided to call it a trip and head home. Got home in time to watch 24: love that show!
A few days later, I did get time to watch the movie Tony West produced, Dream on Silly Dreamer. As a fan of animation, it was completely engrossing and informing while still being gripping in its story. It is very well done and a must see for anyone with any interest in animation or the inner workings of Disney. The only downside was summed up by a common question many viewers have asked Tony as they dab at their eyes, “Where’s the happy ending?” I can totally recommend this movie.