Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Geeky Disney Year

I've been one of those hardcore "foamer" Disney nerd / fan since I was 10 years old (when I decided I wanted to grow up to be an Imagineer).  I honestly thought that the biggest highlight of my life would be working for Walt Disney World and WDI (from 98 - 07).  Seriously, few experiences can beat wandering around in the Haunted Mansion in the middle of the night.  However, 2013 (and parts of 2012) hosted a series of increasingly awesome Disney-related experiences, making it pretty much the geekiest of Disney years ever.  And I want to talk about it... like an excited 10 year old.  

Let me explain.  Better yet, let me recap:

- The first event really pushes the definition of year since it happened way back in May 2012... but it was amazing.  Thanks to a connected friend, I got the opportunity to visit Disney Legend, Bob Gurr, AT HIS HOUSE!  We hung out in his backyard on the side of the Tujunga hills listening to coyote packs and watching the sunset while drinking handmade Gurr-tinis and listening to Bob tell stories about working with Walt and building Disneyland.  This is the man that invented things like the Autopia cars, omnimovers, and the freakin' monorail.  He has a retired Toad car in his living room.  This was an awesome start to a string of geeky Disney events.

- In October 2012, I attended the Tron 30th Anniversary screening at the Chinese Theater (my first visit to the theater despite working next door for over a year).  This movie was a huge influence on me as a kid and seeing it again, restored and on a gigantic screen was a great way to revisit it.  This event included Q & A with the Director, Stars, and other key creators as well as an after party featuring some great artifacts and lots of lasers!  PHOTOS

- On several occasions in 2012, a good friend took Danny and I to Disneyland on his employee pass, and then in December, my parents bought us annual passes.  Between the two, we visited at least 20 times (which is a lot for us).  This gave me the opportunity not only to see all the latest goodies (like Cars Land) but also experience all the classic attractions I'd never seen before (like Lincoln, Storybookland, etc).  TONS OF PHOTOS  AND MORE

- In January, I kicked off my Disney geeky 2013 with a trip to the Henson Studios for work.  While not entirely Disney, I do closely associate the two and think it counts.  One of the biggest highlights was seeing an actual Skeksis puppet from the movie, The Dark Crystal (another huge influence from childhood).

- Throughout February and March, I created artwork, models and concept designs for a friend's finalist submission to Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development's Living World's competition.  The entry was a time-traveling ARG puzzle game played in Downtown L.A., using augmented reality, elaborate sets and special fx, ride systems, and live stunt performers.  Although my involvement was indirect, it let me feel like an Imagineer again for a few weeks.  PHOTOS OF MY CONTRIBUTIONS

- June was my first visit to the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood to see Monsters University.  Though the experience was not the best due to terrible crowd management, it was great to see this historic theater (and the movie).

- This year was my first trip to D23 in August.  It included a presentation by Tony Baxter, recreating (via video) the Journey Into Imagination ride and the announcement of his window on Main Street at Disneyland.  This event also included my first Disney augmented reality game, The Optimist, which took me into the Fire Station, Main Street Cinema, and the Lilly Belle car of the Disneyland Railroad for the first times.  D23 PHOTOS  OPTIMIST PHOTOS

- In September, Tony Baxter came to visit my workplace.  I have few heroes, but this man would be one.  He did an hour-long presentation for us about his personal history and projects.  Nearly every attraction that inspired my love of the theme park industry is on his resume.  I got to speak with him after the fact and he even offered to help out with my Journey Back Into Imagination project.  PHOTOS

- Also in September, I finally got in to Club 33, thanks to my Cousins.  The inside is fairly small and while fancy, it's not really that unusual.  But the history and exclusivity of it give it an awesome vibe.  And the staff is happy to point out all the hidden gems inside, including the abandoned hidden microphones and one remaining animatronic that was intended to be interactive decades before it became a reality in the form of Turtle Talk with Crush.  The food in here was actually pretty amazing.  I have no idea what most of what I ate even was, but everything tasted great.  PHOTOS

- I've been to the IAAPA conventions before, but it has been a few years.  This time, I went as a member of a company that was escorting clients and helping them shop for the parts of their theme parks and attractions.  And my company, Thinkwell Group, was a sponsor of the event.  It was an exhausting and awesome week in theme park central that included multiple business trips to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, where I got to see many attractions that I hadn't visited before.   PHOTOS

- And finally, we most recently went to see Saving Mr Banks at a special screening on the Disney Studios lot in December.  They open up to the public pretty infrequently and I had never been there before.  We watched the movie in a theater that is actually in the movie.  In fact, we were watching a movie about the making of another movie in the place where both movies were made!  Following that, we got to tour parts of the lot and see both real and imaginary artifacts (props for the movie) as well as real locations around the lot where the movie was made.  PHOTOS

I know a lot of this may seem silly or obsessive to many folks, but Disney has and always will be embedded deep in my DNA.  And the last year or so has been like one big Christmas present to that 10 year old in me that still gets excited about this stuff.  And I'd really like to thank the friends and family that made all of this happen.  Thanks Danny, Dad, Mom, Christi, Neil, Dave, Devin, Jonathan, Jon, Craig, Chris, Shauna, Keena, Erik, Kate, Bob, Tony, and Walt.

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