Monday, October 31, 2011

Art of Pixar, a Book Review

Amid Amidi, a celebrated animation journalist, has authored a new book about the art of Pixar. Is this one worth adding to your library? Read on to find out.

All you need to know is that this is a gorgeous book. Like other Art of... books published by Chronicle, this book showcases some beautiful and historic artwork.

Amid Amidi is a well known animation journalist, historian and author. He is the co-founder of Cartoon Brew and has written several books covering animation. This is not his first Art Of... book (The Art of PixarThe Art of Robots and Cartoon Modern) from Chronicle and I hope it won't be his last.

In an inspired spurt of a week or so, [Ralph Eggleston] painted the colorscript, a roadmap for the way the color (and thus emotion) would be applied throughout the film.

The idea of a color script might be a new concept to you (it was to me). It is a defining work or a canon on a film that shows the progression, changes and mood of the color as it relates to the stories and the characters. From what I understand, it goes hand-in-hand with the storyboard and might be created before the storyboard has begun. A few studios used the color script before Pixar, but not for every single film and short. Ralph Eggleston created the first color script for Toy Story and it captivated John Lasseter and Steve Jobs. It became a standard tool after that.

Beyond presenting every color script that Pixar has created (at least the ones that were saved), the Art of Pixar shows how the artistry has evolved. It was very surprising to see how close the color script stayed to the final film as well as how different films changed over the course of production. Amid included the color scripts for the short films so you get a look at how the process differs for the shorts. With a company like Pixar, you would assume that all of color scripts would be computer-based art. Surprisingly,they were done with different media, including pastels.

The second half of the book is dedicated to "Select Art from 25 Years of Pixar Animation." There are over 100 pages of artwork sharing the creative process of the 12 feature films. This is closer to what we are used to with a typical Art of... book. The artwork shines and is an impressive look at how the films develop. Amid discusses that the artwork we see is part of the Pixar Living Archive that was created during the development of A Bug's Life. Pixar was shipping its art to the Animation Research Library when Pixar decided to keep its own artwork and create a "morgue" for their artists to use. 

With most art-related titles, it is sometimes easier and more effective to let the images speak for themselves. Many of these images would be welcome in any art gallery.

The Art of Pixar is a welcome adition to the body of literature on Pixar. The color scripts offer fantastic insight into the development of the modern animated film. It is a part of the animation process that has not garnered a lot of attention previously. This is a gorgeous book that will leave you speechless at times when you realize how dazzling the artwork is and that more attention needs to be given to the art of animated films.
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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Marvel Avengers, Earth's Mightiest Heroes DVD Review

Avengers Assemble!
Season Two of this fantastic series is available on DVD.

We are huge superhero fans at Imaginerding HQ. With the rebirth, so to speak, of the Marvel Universe with the Iron Man film, we have seen every film and collected the DVDs.

I reviewed Volumes One and Two, here.

Much like the first season, we found the stories to be engaging, exciting and educational. Yes, I said educational. We were able to use the DVDs as a starting point to talk about Norse Mythology and how we have run into these same gods, goddesses and stories in other media. I was surprised that my twelve year-old was as captivated by the stories as my eight year-old. Whenever the story talked about Yggdrasil or the nine realms, we were reminded of the amazing book series by Michael Scott, the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.

The second season brings Loki's plan to fruition that began in the first season. You can still enjoy Volumes Three and Four without watching the previous two, but I would urge you to watch the whole series for the stories and the arc. Both seasons are a great interim while waiting for the release of the Avengers movie in 2012. They add a lot of depth to the existing film franchise and fans of Iron ManCaptain America and Thor will revel in the back stories and character development.

The voice acting was very well done and the animation was a notch above most superhero animated series that we have seen. These two volumes represent the story arc of the second season of the Disney XD series.
  • 14 – Masters of Evil 
  • 15 – 459 
  • 16 – The Man Who Stole Tomorrow 
  • 17 – Come the Conqueror 
  • 18 – The Kang Dynasty 
  • 19 – Widow’s Sting
  • 20 – The Casket of Ancient Winters 
  • 21 – Hail, Hydra! 
  • 22 – Ultron-5 
  • 23 – The Ultron Imperative 
  • 24 – This Hostage Earth 
  • 25 – The Fall of Asgard 
  • 26 – A Day Unlike Any Other
Although the final episode ties up the Loki story nicely, there is a surprise cliff hanger that leaves us waiting for Season Three.

Avengers Assemble!

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Splash Mountain Laughing Gasous

Revitalizing a post from 2007, we take a look at one of the hidden gags from Splash Mountain that most people Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah on by!

Everyone stops at Splashdown Photos to see the their ride photo after being tossed down Chickapin' Hill into the briar patch. While most people rush by to get to their next attraction, we took a few moments to stop, look around and savor the details. I was amazed at the intricate theming that took place in the Splashdown Photos area. Most people would have just seen a cattle line with slightly wet people waiting to pick up their picture.

The walls are covered with odes to the art of photograph developing. There are bottles of glycin, bicarbonite of soda, developer fixitive fluid, potassium bromide, photographic paper and old cameras. Of course, there were also some books scattered throughout the shelves. Unfortunately, the books didn't lead to any in-jokes or hidden references.

We found this bottle on the shelf. It seemed an obvious reference to the attraction and a rather tongue-in-cheek reference, at that!

The label reads:
He He


Everyone needs a laughing place, even if it takes a laughing gas, right?

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Disney's Cars 2 Blu-ray Review

Cars 2 debuts on Blu-ray just in time for the holiday season. Does it fare better on the home theater front than it did in its theatrical release?

Cars 2 (Two-Disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo in Blu-ray Packaging)
Cars 2 was the critics' whipping boy during its initial theatrical release. We saw it in the theater and enjoyed it, but the film couldn't hold a candle to Thor and Captain America for our family. Cars 2 has a lot of action and is a stunningly gorgeous film, but it seemed as formulaic as any fish-out-of-water story that we had seen before.

When we received our review copy, everyone was excited to watch it. The film was beautiful in the theaters, but seeing it in hi-definition with the blu-ray edition was even more dazzling. By far, the most enchanting parts of the film were the night races in Tokyo.

With a second film in a franchise, the filmmakers are able to let the characters stretch and put them in different situations. Mater really steps up and is the central character, yet it is just gag after gag about his lack of intelligence. The first Cars film was about Lightning McQueen discovering himself. Cars 2 is about McQueen discovering that he is alright with who Mater is.

My major gripe was the violence perpetrated on a few of the characters. We are introduced to a world where cars, boats and planes are living with human characteristics. One character is crushed by a compactor and another one is tortured. It was fairly off-putting to me, but my kids didn't seem to notice. I guess that is what they call desensitization.

Cars 2 is an action film, though and through. Boys are going to love it; spies, chases, explosions and humor round out most of the film. Although, I hear that the Good Ole Boy Network is contacting a lawyer about a defamation suit, or something. Apparently, Mater is not the best image of a Southern person.

It is still puzzling that Disney doesn't seem to offer a standard package with Blu-ray releases. The only extras included are the two short films and the director's commentary. With an initial release, there is probably no need to add anything extra, since the film should sell itself. I hope we have some good documentaries for the 45th Platinum, Smell-O-Vision version. "Hawaiian Vacation" was just as charming as it was in the theaters. The Pixar short film is still a fantastic medium. "Air Mater" was a typical Cars Toon short that follows a day in the life of Mater and the incredible adventure he falls into. As expected, it was a direct tie into the upcoming direct-to-video Planes film. There is some self-deprecating humor at the end of the short, though. My eight year-old has watch "Air Mater" countless times. Not sure what that means...

After viewing the movie on blu-ray, it is definitely one that I am glad to own and that will get repeated viewings in our household. It is obvious that Pixar is able to create gorgeous worlds and they are still the masters of digital animation. It is a compelling story; I just appreciate Pixar more when they are producing more original content and not working on sequels.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Walt and the Promise of Progress City by Sam Gennawey

Chad Emerson of Ayefour Publishing announces a fantastic new book by Sam Gennawey about Walt Disney's vision for EPCOT Center.

PASADENA, Calf. (October 22, 2011) –In the middle of Central Florida swamplands and ranch property, Walt Disney aspired to build the greatest American city ever conceived--EPCOT. While Disney would die before realizing this epic achievement, he still left behind the blueprint for one of the boldest and most unique projects ever proposed on American soil.

Walt and the Promise of Progress City is an amazing new book that explores how Walt Disney—the master of fiction—was determined to bring new life to the non-fiction world of city design and development and, in doing so, fundamentally improve the Great American way of life.

This 374-page paperback by Sam Gennawey explores Walt Disney’s vision for a city of tomorrow, EPCOT, and how this great city would be a way for American corporations to demonstrate how technology, creative thinking, and hard work could change the world. Quite simply, Disney saw this project as a way to influence the public’s expectations about city life, in the same way his earlier work had redefined what it meant to watch an animated film or visit an amusement park.

Gennawey, a professional planner and highly-respected theme park and attractions industry expert, also breaks new ground in detailing the process through which meaningful and functional spaces have been created by Walt Disney and his artists as well as how guests understand and experience those spaces.

Gennawey has spent years researching the history of EPCOT and Walt Disney’s love for city planning while interviewing a wide variety of key players familiar with Walt and his vision for EPCOT.

"Walt and the Promise of Progress City explains how the architecture and design of Disney theme parks is so successful,” explains Len Testa, Co-Author, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. “Far from being a lucky accident, Sam Gennawey shows that Walt's interest in urban planning led Disney Imagineers to draw upon established architecture theory to build one of the most popular, successful urban landscapes of the 20th century."

For more information, visit Ayefour.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An Early Visit to Walt Disney World

Let's look at another anecdote from Bill Justice—this time Bill shares his first trip to Walt Disney World.

I'd been wondering how Walt Disney World was progressing, but had been too busy with Disneyland attractions to check. My chance finally came in 1969. Twelve of us flew to Florida to inspect the property. We were driven around in jeeps, then taken two at a time by helicopter to get an overview. 
Jeep tour of Walt Disney World escorted by thousands of bugs.
I have several distinct memories from this trip. The first was size. Walt had said he’d gotten us plenty of land for our dreams and he was right. The place was immense - around the same acreage as the city of San Francisco. The second memory was bugs. Everywhere we went thousands of little creatures swarmed around us. They made our visit miserable. Third was a sense of isolation. There was almost no development in the area. Interstate 4 was practically a country road. The only sign of life was one of the symbols of the rural South - a Stuckey’s Pecan Shoppe.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Before There Were Disney Hipsters

Do you remember "Epcot Magazine" from the Disney Channel? Apparently, Disney was well ahead of the times with their Disney Hipsters, er, Tipsters.

Epcot Magazine was a short-lived show that premiered during the nascent days of the Disney Channel. Different sources offer different time periods for the approximately two-year run. It looks like it ran from 1984-1986, but this clipping from the November 24, 1983 Eyes and Ears states that it was currently airing in the fall of 1983.
Throughout the week, on Disney Channel's "Epcot Magazine," a family of tipsters present "Great Ideas" from their particular field. Frank Berry, collector and consumer advocate, offers his "best ideas" on everything from antiques to vacations. Super handyman Al Carrell shares his"Great Home Ideas." Joe Calin, the all-American chef, delivers "Great Food Ideas." Marilyn Hencken, the plant doctor, focuses her "Great Home Ideas" on gardens and growing things.
Apparently, Disney had plenty of quotation marks in the early 1980s and wasn't afraid to use them!

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Disney Universe (Xbox 360) Review

Disney Universe

We received a preview copy of Disney's Universe for the Xbox 360. I played the game with my eight year-old son and it was a blast. It reminded me a lot of Super Mario titles with cooperative play and coin collecting. The costumes were very cute and the levels, all based on Disney films, were inventive and charming. The co-op play was a little frenetic and we had to really cooperate in order to defeat the enemies, solve the puzzles and keep grabbing coins. I asked my gaming partner to write this review. These are his words;, I only typed them.

You're supposed to defeat levels and get costumes. It is really fun. I liked the TRON suit the best. You are supposed to do the objectives. They pop up on the screen so you know what to do. You had to build cannons in some levels and move the fire around. For instance, you use the cannon to shoot the bridge pieces and make them fall down so you can go across. When you do all the objectives, the exit shows up and you have to go through it to win the level. You have to collect all the Mickey coins. You buy worlds and things with the Mickey coins. By the way, the worlds cost 2000 Mickey coins. You have to defeat all three levels in a world to get enough money to buy the next world. 
Hint: Always use keys to open the chest. A star pops out which levels up your character and your weapon. 
I think that kids that like to play video games will like this game. Disney Universe is like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2. I played the Pirates of the Caribbean level, Monsters INC, Wall-E levels. I can't wait to play more.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fort Wilderness Railroad, A Book Review

Love vintage Walt Disney World? Want to know everything possible about the Fort Wilderness Railroad? Read on to see if this set of books is for you.

Walt Disney World Railroads, Part 1: Fort Wilderness Railroad by David Leaphart. 2010. 143 pp.
Walt Disney World Railroads, Part 2: Fort Wilderness Railroad Gallery Companion by David Leaphart. 2010. 57 pp.

David Leaphart has created two works detailing the most complete history of the Fort Wilderness Railroad imaginable. If you are a Walt Disney World history enthusiast, then you need to add these two books to your collection. It is obvious that Leaphart is very passionate about trains and the Walt Disney World steel wheels experience. He spent more than two years researching, interviewing and compiling material for the book and it is evident.

As we begin the journey, Leaphart traces the history of Walt's fascination with steam trains. A section is dedicated to looking at all of the steel wheels at Walt Disney World, which previews the future volumes promised by the author. The majority of the photos were provided by former castmembers and guests, which only adds to the historical significance of the title.

The book is presented with four sections: Inspiring Walt Disney; Riding Around the World; Whistling through the Fort; and Discovering the Railroad. Visually, the work is almost overwhelming. Photographs, maps, brochures, mechanical drawings and illustrations are featured on almost every page. You will spend as much time leafing through the pages to view the images as you will enjoying the comprehensive historical detail and anecdotes. If you have any recollections of visiting Fort Wilderness in the 1970s then you will find Leaphart's books invaluable and an amazing tip down memory lane..

The two most important sections of the first volume are: Whistling Through the Fort and Discovering the Railroad. Both sections provide the real steam behind the title. Whistling Through the Fort is a fairly comprehensive history of the railroad. We are there for the inception, development, construction and daily operation of the 1973-1980 railway. Leaphart offers details as to how the track was layed out, including all of the work that was done by Roger Broggie to keep it running. Discovering the Railroad is a theme parkeologist's dream. The author, along with Broggie, MAPO staff and former castmembers, hunts down the remnants of the railroad. Presented with overlays on current satellite images, we can see where the tracks existed and what you can still see. There is plenty of photographic evidence of former buildings and equipment used for the castmembers and engines. Full-color mechanical drawings, layouts and cab diagrams  would lead you to believe you could build the Fort Wilderness Railroad for yourself!

Leaphart spoke to many different castmembers about the difficulties of running the railroad on a daily basis and he was able to dispel several myths about its closing. The author includes many of the interviews. The amount of historical detail is unprecedented—where else are you going to find the complete routes and their changes mapped out as well as the different scripts that were used?

David Carriker, a railroad historian, contributed to the book, including a wonderful essay with the following thought:
We are coming up on the 40th anniversary of Fort Wilderness Resort and much has changed. Many of the old trees are dying or have beetles and are today being cut down. I don't think there are many bobcats loose in the campground; there is no train or locomotive; there are no depots, switch stands, crossing gates and Mickey can't hold a musket any longer. Times have changed but memories of the old days will not be forgotten.
He sums up what draws so many of us to delve into the Walt Disney World that is no longer.

As much as I loved this book, it wasn't without any shortfalls. The layout of the book and the tone reminded me of a majority of the Disney-related blogs—and like most, could use a good editor or proofreader. Leaphart is a competent writer, but there were many grammatical errors and spelling mistakes that take away from the overall tone and authority of the work. Regardless, this is still an amazing Fort Wilderness resource.

The Gallery Companion is 57 pages of photographs recounting the history of the railroad and the archaeological remains of the railway and its environs. By itself, it is a stunning photographic history. There are three sections of the book: the Photo Gallery, the Fort Wilderness Railroad in 3D and Old and New...Then and Now.

This is a book that should have been part of the Fort Wilderness book discussed above. Having to pay an additional $19.99 for it seems like gouging, but the author must have a reason for creating the separate volume.

The Photo Gallery section is comprised of photos from the past 40 years of the Fort Wilderness Railroad. Leaphart was able to compile pictures shared by castmembers and guests; you really gain a sense for what an amazing experience the Fort Wilderness Railroad was. More than just typical vacation pictures, there are many shots provided by former castmembers that offer a more mundane look at the day-to-day operations of the train.

When you glance through the Old and New...Then and Now section, you understand that a majority of the railway and buildings are gone. A lot of the areas no longer resemble their former selves or are being used for another purpose. The author has done his best to locate the position of where a photograph was taken and tried to recreate it today. He marked a focal point on both pictures with a large X to provide a reference point. I can imagine it would be fun to take both volumes to Fort Wilderness and try to do a little parkeology yourself.

Both books will make an excellent addition to the Walt Disney World historian's collection. Especially since it is the most authoritative and complete reference work on the Fort Wilderness area. It is also a sad reminder that the Walt Disney World experience has changed to the point where former attractions are no longer recognizable.

You can purchase copies of the book here.
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Friday, October 21, 2011

On Stranger Tide, A Pirates Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Two-Disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo in Blu-ray Packaging)

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides returns to the roots of the series, so to speak. I have enjoyed the series but found the middle two films a little muddy and reaching. On Stranger Tides returns to the formula familiar from the Curse of the Black Pearl. Captain Jack Sparrow still takes center stage and we have a few returning favorites.

This ain't your daddy's little mermaid!
Captain Jack is dragged into a quest for a mystical object that he has no real need or interest. Of course, this leads you to question his motives during the entire movie. The filmmakers introduce some new characters, including a feisty female pirate, mermaids and...

...Blackbeard, otherwise known as Edward Teach! 

On Stranger Tides explores the mythos of Blackbeard and places him central to the story. It was a nice touch to see how frightened all of the pirates and sailors were of Blackbeard; especially having visited some of Blackbeard's haunts on the Crystal Coast. I loved the depiction of the Queen Anne's Revenge, as well.

In typical Pirates fashion, the film is full of intrigue, fantastic vistas, amazing stunts and witty repartee. Some might bemoan a fourth Pirates film, but it allows tremendous character development and opportunities for the characters to do what they do so well: be themselves! Even if you didn't enjoy the middle films, On Stranger Tides can be viewed without seeing Dead Man's Chest and At World's End.

As an oddity, another item that seems to be hit or miss with Disney Blu-ray releases concerns the addition of bonus features. With the two-disc Blu-ray combo, there are two short featurettes that are throwaways at best. A movie with such a brilliant cast and amazing technical features would benefit with some behind-the-scenes video. Of course, this is a Pirates film and, for the most part, it is like printing money for the Company.

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment provided a review copy of this film.

If you want to read a fantastic book about pirates, check out the Raiders of Castillo del Mar, an ebook written by Shane Lindsey (of Parkeology fame) and his brother Tristan.
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

1991 Walt Disney World Map

Maps, for most of history, were carefully guarded since they often boasted the whereabouts of natural resources or travel routes. Let's explore a map that helps celebrate Walt Disney World's 20th Anniversary.

It should be pretty obvious that we are completely obsessed with Disney-related maps at Imaginerding. Maps are a great way to track changes with the resort and to see how Walt Disney World presents itself over time. A map that is from 1976 looks different from a map from 2011 and not just because there are more parks and hotels. As Disney became more sophisticated, so did its guests. Different maps were produced to highlight specific interests or to attract specific clientele.

Here are just a few of the posts that have involved maps or referenced them:
The next map we are excited to present was created to represent Walt Disney World as it existed in 1991. It has been used in various publications, but this scan is from the Fall/Winter 1991 Newsweek guide to the Disney World 20 Years of Magic, a Yearlong Birthday Party.

Click on me to see a larger version.
By far, this is a more elegant map than any that Disney had produced before. The colors are more subdued and there is a lot of green. It is hard to present detail on a map that illustrates 43 square miles and Disney chose to highlight a few park icons without making it too messy. When I look at the map, it appears as if Disney is really promoting the resorts. With Eisner at the helm, I can see how the marketing/PR departments would want to highlight one of the growth areas. Also, the special issue spends time focusing on why adults without children would travel to Walt Disney World. Anything in particular stand out to you?

October 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. The Vacation Kingdom has seen a lot of changes over the past four decades and the editorial staff at Imaginerding wants to celebrate the unique and rich history of the resort with a series of posts. 

A very special thanks to Celeste Cronrath for designing the series of logos for our posts. Make sure to follow her on Twitter.