Friday, August 12, 2016

Fancy Feathers: Restoring Tiki Room Birds

Original 1963 Tiki Room animatronic "robin"
It's a special treat to get up-close-and-personal with these beautiful little figures.  For several years I've had the great fun of "figure finishing" some of Disney's historic Audio-Animatronic characters, both internally for the Disney Company and for private collections. Tiki Room birds are my favorite, mainly because of their small size, and because I'm such a fan of the attraction's design.  The mechanized cast of Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room in Anaheim consists of 77 birds, 136 flowers and 12 tiki drummers (not to mention several chanting totems).  Each figure is a work of whimsy and craftsmanship.
Original robin figures being assembled at WED, vintage photo
The smallest talents in the show are the "robins" (there are 20 of 'em) perched in cages suspended from the woven mat ceiling of the theater.  They really are quite tiny and, I think, easily overlooked. Compared to the more sophisticated animation of  Jose and the other "Master of Ceremonies" macaws, the robins perform very subtle functions.  Heads turn, beaks open, tail feathers twitch, and some of the robins can flap their wings. They have just enough life spark to convincingly do their job as chorus members. 

Recently I restored two original 1963 robins, one after the other, that had been retired from the show decades ago.  They both had the fiberglass bodies used in the early California and Florida shows.  In the 1980s, a new generation of birds sporting bodies made of lightweight Kydex were developed for Tokyo Disneyland. The Anaheim show today is a mix of old and new bird performers.
Creating the fur patterns in our studio
Both robins arrived at our studio in pretty bad shape, with soiled fur, overly-handled feathers, and fiberglass parts gritty from too many coats of paint and hardened glue. The photos below were shot after a weeklong deep cleaning inside and out, priming and painting. I built display perches and replaced the birds' missing feet.  I removed their back panels and thoroughly cleaned the inner-workings.
Wingless robin with moving head
It's amazing how much is packed into the interior of a tiny bird. Two rubber hoses, each roughly the thickness of a spaghetti noodle, carry air pressure through the bird's legs into the two cylindrical chambers in his body. The left cylinder operates the tail, and the right cylinder turns the head side to side .

The next photo is a different robin with slightly different functions.

Robin with moving wings and tail
For this variation, the tail moves, but not the head.  Instead the right cylinder pushes open the wings which are hinged at the shoulder. Black electrical wires lead to the head where audio impulses synched to the show's soundtrack would operate a tiny magnet behind the lower jaw, making his beak open and close.  When the five robins in each birdcage are moving together, the resulting performance seems choreographed to the music.
Pardon me, buddy, your little black wires are showing.
Restoration complete and ready to tweet.
With the addition of fur cloth and feathers sourced from Disneyland's original supplier, the birds really come to life. Chicken hackles for a jaunty topknot, coque feathers for the forked tails, and wings adorned with duck quills dyed green and pre-sorted for their natural left side/right side curves.  It takes care and patience to do a nice job.

The Tiki Room's avian actors were sculpted in 1962 by Blaine Gibson, based on Marc Davis's drawings. Engineers Roger Broggie and Bob Gurr devised the inner workings and perches for each bird, and the resulting figures were taken to show-quality appearance by three supremely talented women: Harriet Burns, Leota Tooms, and Glendra von Kessel.  I was so lucky to meet Blaine and Harriet in the '90s and learn from them about their work on these fanciful creatures—"based on nature but styled for drama."  I'm immensely grateful for the rare opportunity to take on a project like this. The best part is just being able to spend a little time enjoying these great characters in detail.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How to Talk Like Disneyland

Do you frequently use words like autopia, circarama, monstro or hippopotami? You know you do! This rare 1962 handbook helped transform Disneyland personnel into well-spoken rhetoricians. So straighten up, relax your throat, engage your diaphragm, and let's all learn how to speak the Disneyland way!

The booklet ends with a list of common "Disneyland words".
There's some nice nostalgia here!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Gifts From Disneyland 1960

Oh, for a time machine!
Shopping at Disneyland in 1960 was the BEST ever.  
Look at all the fun things you can buy.
What are we waiting for?  Let's shop!

  Even the catalog, colorfully illustrated, is a wonderful souvenir.
And who wouldn't want a "Magic Surprise Box" from Disneyland?

A Skyway Chalet that tells the weather? We'll take it!

I know you're dreaming about those animation cels for $2.25 each,  but can you comprehend that it was possible to buy cufflinks at Disneyland made of real elephant tusk? It's true. 

Most of the items on this spread are priced higher than those original animation cels! Shocking. 

 Disneyland Ticket Books — good anytime!

 "Almost real" plastic plants, direct from Disneyland's Flower Market.

 We'll take Mr. Stubbs.

 The Disney books shown here are some of the best ever published. 
Jody and I have copies of every one of 'em, as a matter of fact.
But we sure don't have Diane Disney's book "personally autographed by Walt Disney" for $4.30!!  Holy moses.

 Who else had those Bambi wall cut-outs, besides me?

 Some of these games have become Disneyland merchandise classics.

 From Ruggles China Shop on Main Street. 
Those life-sized clip-on parakeets are nice, but
we're saving our money for animation cels.

From the Mad Hatter shop.  
Isn't it fun that this catalog takes us to shops around the Park? 
Each shop is different and unique, with its own themed merchandise.

We're fortunate to have a player piano ourselves, and a stack of original 
paper rolls from Disneyland's Wonderland Music Shop. We love them. 

Whew, we're finally at the back cover---but WHAT a back cover.  Disneyland Records were the best souvenirs of all, and these titles are super iconic. Some have been released on CD or iTunes by now, though not all of them. "Life of the Party" is one of our favorites, with recordings of actual player piano rolls (for those folks without pianos at home) and a sing-along booklet of the lyrics.  There are so many fine things in this catalog that are, today, the most treasured Disneyland souvenirs ever made.

So, if you could go back in time to Disneyland in 1960,
what would you buy?

Friday, January 15, 2016

We Do Logos

Our studio, the Kevin & Jody Show, designs logos!  
We can create a logo for you, too.

Client: Anaheim Brewery
Assorted logos for different companies and organizations
"Andy Anaheim" logos and graphics for Anaheim, Calif.
Client: Disney Consumer Products

Monday, January 04, 2016

Toyland Gates

"Once you pass its borders, you may never return again."

Last week was Christmas, and we were busily making gifts, including this miniature wooden ornament for a close friend who loves the 1961 Disney film "Babes in Toyland". It's a replica of the gates to Mother Goose Village—only five inches tall.  Our friend was thrilled.

Back and sides
It was a lot of fun to paint! The "snow" is white sand.

Film frame
Walt Disney's "Babes in Toyland" (1961) is all filmed on interior soundstage sets. The movie has really fun scenic design, resembling the illustrations in a mid-century children's book.

Hmmm, which building should we make next year??

Monday, December 28, 2015

Small Wonder: Disneyland's 1977 Christmas Parade

All lined up: float models for Disneyland's Very Merry Christmas Parade 1977.
In the late 1980s, I was a designer at the off-site Disney art facility on Olive Street in Anaheim. In our building there was a warehouse aisle of stacked crates containing some of the most beautiful miniature models you've ever seen, some harkening back to the early 1960s and the time of Walt Disney himself.  There were parade floats, tiny stage sets, photo locations, miniature puppets and architectural details spanning the entire history of Disneyland's in-Park live entertainment…

...including the original hand-made models for 1977's Very Merry Christmas Parade! At the time, these 3/4 inch-scale works of art were still in marvelous shape, and I photographed them all for reference.
This turned out to be a rather smart thing to do, just a few years later Disneyland discarded their entire archive of entertainment models to create room in the warehouse for other things. I believe these photographs are the only way we can view this body of work today.

The iconic Gingerbread house popping out of an open-book would become the symbol of the parade, its image appeared in advertising and on tickets.

In the final parade, Chip and Dale made sweets at the kitchen table,  
surrounded by happy, dancing gingerbread cookie people.

At the North Pole Post Office, letters are pouring in 
from children around the world for Old Saint Nick.

Meanwhile on the toy factory float, toys of all kinds are being manufactured.
Even the factory itself is made of toys!

These drum units were rolling stages for various characters and dancers, 
and were also packed with speakers for the parade's musical soundtrack.

Some of these environments seem empty without the performers.  Here is an implied cottage for the Seven Dwarfs.  Grumpy played the pipe organ, while Dopey pumped the giant air bellows. 

Incidentally, this was the spot in the parade where the characters from
Disney's newest animated film The Rescuers made their appearance.

Disney characters of all kinds, including Pooh, Tigger, the Three Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, appeared with this unit, carrying prop gifts and decorating the Christmas Tree.  Snowmen and Snowladies bopped along behind.

And finally, Santa!  Led by his team of silly reindeer, and surrounded by the famous Disneyland Glockenspiel Girls,  Santa wished everyone "a very merry Christmas" from his sleigh above a landscape of snowy rooftops! 

To all of you who've follow this blog throughout the years, thanks!  I hope it's been as enjoyable for you, as it's been for me putting it together.  Here's wishing you a very merry 2016! And more merriment to come!