Monday, June 05, 2006

A little DISNEY Stuff

Behind the gates at the Disney studio lot

Walt and Mickey confront the Michael Eisner Team Disney Building and its seven-dwarfs facade.

The Walt Disney Studio grounds are rich in Disney history - after all, history is made here every day, from decades of cartoon shorts to wartime information films, and on to the upcoming chapters of the Pirates of the Caribbean saga.

It's the home of Legends Plaza (where handprint plaques commemorate Disney greats old and new), the Disney Archives, and the Julie Andrews soundstage.

The Disney parks are open to anyone who cares to journey there, and great Disney films are as close as your DVD player - but relatively few Disneyphiles get to pass through the gates of the Disney Studio Lot.

So the Insider decided to take you behind the scenes and share some of the secrets of the Walt Disney Studio.

Walt Disney Archives Manager Becky Cline gave us a quick rundown of the Studio's history, and explained some of the little-known splendors of the Studio Lot.

The Walt Disney Studios has been at its present location in Burbank, California, since 1940. It's not only an active movie studio hosting production for live-action and animated films and TV shows, but also the corporate headquarters for The Walt Disney Company. The spacious grounds include soundstages; television production facilities; an enormous prop house holding everything from jewelry boxes to larger-than-life statuary; a costume department; a studio commissary; and much more.

The very first home of The Walt Disney Company was modest - a space in the rear of the small office of a Los Angeles realty company. Walt and Roy began producing their "Alice Comedies" series of short cartoons there in 1923, and within four months the "Disney Bros. Studio" expanded into the space next door.

In 1925, the Disneys were prosperous enough to build their own studio, on Hyperion Avenue in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles (that space is now occupied by a supermarket and some small shops). Finally, in 1940, the growing and thriving studio needed room for more expansion and relocated to its current home in Burbank, on land purchased with proceeds from Disney's first full-length animated feature, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

Becky tells us, "Walt was personally involved with all aspects of designing the new studio. From the layout of the buildings to the design of the animators' chairs, nothing was left to chance. His main concern was to produce a self-sufficient, state-of-the-art production factory that provided all the essential facilities for the entire production process. Because of the singular problems confronting those working in an animation studio, each department was asked to turn in every suggestion it might have which would make for ideal working conditions.

"Today, because the Studio is in effect a small town, the lot still retains a campus-like feel with buildings that are spaced to allow for the maximum of sunlight and lawn areas between them, as well as its own streets, storm drains, natural gas lines, sewer system, water lines, underground fire protection piping, fire hydrants, and a complete electrical distribution system."

It also feels bucolic and welcoming, with a burgeoning and friendly population of squirrels, lush lawns and flowerbeds, and employees zipping past on bicycles - the quickest way to get around.

One piece of the Hyperion Avenue studio has pride of place on the Lot: The Hyperion Bungalow, built in 1932 as an early home for the Disney Comic Strip Department. It was constructed at the Disney Studio on Hyperion Avenue in Hollywood and moved to the Burbank location as part of the construction in 1939-1940. It is now used as a conference center.

The most famous intersection on the Studio Lot is the intersection of Mickey Avenue and Dopey Drive. It's one of the sights that makes the Studio Lot unmistakably Disney! In addition to the famous signage, the corner is helpfully labeled for Pluto's use, and there are even paw prints in the cement near the fire hydrant.

The original Animation Building, erected in 1939, is no longer the home of the animation department, but it is still in use for office and production company space. Its corridors are hung with animation cels, concept sketches, and background art from Disney animated masterpieces throughout the years. It was constructed with eight wings so that each work area can have natural sunlight. The windows are shaded by mechanized awnings that are adjustable in each room. Walt wanted his animators to have the best light possible for their work.

Today, Feature Animation has moved across Riverside Drive from the main Studio Lot. It's easily visible from the 134 Freeway and prompts millions of daily commuters to ask themselves the burning question: what's inside that Mickey's Sorcerer's Hat in front of the animation building? The answer: a conference room.

"Team Disney - The Michael D. Eisner Building" is the headquarters of The Walt Disney Company, worldwide, and includes the office of Disney President and CEO Bob Iger, as well at the executive Rotunda Dining Room. Its distinctive facade makes it a highly recognizable symbol of Disney - all seven Dwarfs can be seen welcoming visitors to the Studio. Six of the Dwarfs are each 19 feet tall and weigh 30,000 pounds, Dopey, the smallest Dwarf, is 12 feet tall and is situated at the top, "holding up" the center of the building.

Immediately in front of the Team Disney building is Disney Legends Plaza, honoring Disney greats old and new. Brothers Walt and Roy can also be found here, as life-size bronze sculptures, accompanied by Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

Leaving the Walt Disney Studio Lot, we pass through a gate bordered on each side by oversized, cartoon-styled "palm trees," through a fence decorated with wrought-iron Mickey ears.

In every detail, the place where the magic is made is rich in Disney magic - and history - itself. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND I'M SURE THIS WASN'T WRITTEN JUST AS A PUFF PIECE, BUT AS HARD-BITING, FACTUAL REPORTAGE. (SNICKER....)



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