Inside Disney Animation Tour>

A She Said/She Said Report
by Andrea McKenna and Dotti Saroufim, February 2002


<Andrea> On a recent cold and clear February morning, we arrived at the Bus Information kiosk outside the Disney MGM Studios at 8:45 a.m. for the Inside Animation Tour. I have always wanted to take this tour, and so was very excited when the opportunity arose to take the tour and write about my experiences. I'm sorry to say it did not live up to my expectations. This tour is strictly for people who know absolutely nothing about animation or the Walt Disney Studios, and it did little to enlighten me about any aspect of those subjects.

<Dotti> Like Andrea, I was really looking forward to my morning "inside animation." I'm one of those who does know absolutely nothing about animation and not too much about the Walt Disney Studios. Unfortunately, I read too much into the word "inside" and didn't dress appropriately for the weather. Did Andrea mention that it was COLD?

<Andrea> A cheery Cast Member was there to greet us and check us in. We were required to show picture ID, and then were given a Steamboat Willie button/name badge to wear and to have as a keepsake. At 9:00 a.m. sharp, our tour guides Nancy and Bobbie arrived to begin our adventure inside Disney animation. Unfortunately, we neither went inside the Animation Building nor even saw much animation on this tour. Instead, the tour consisted of several stops at key points around the Disney MGM theme park, with each stop coinciding with a particular period of Walt Disney's life and the history of the Disney Studios. It was my understanding that this tour used to go behind the scenes at the animation building, but we were told that they no longer do this due to security issues. It was never made clear whether they meant industrial security (to prevent theft of ideas) or physical security (to prevent terrorist attacks.) Either way, this integral piece of the tour is sorely missed!

<Dotti> Nancy and Bobbie walked us the short distance to the green in front of the park entrance. We were asked to share our name, where we were from, and what we were "missing at home" to do this tour. Since the group was relatively small (20 person maximum, 18 in our group due to 2 no-shows), it was a nice way to make people comfortable, especially those touring alone. We were then instructed to have our passes ready, go through the turnstiles, and meet up with the group once inside the park. No, park admission is NOT included.

Introductions notwithstanding, it was hard to get a feel from my fellow tourists on their impressions of the tour. One man seemed to have a great interest in animation and answered most of the tour guide's questions. Andrea knew most of the answers as well but just mumbled them to me under her breath. ;-) No one else commented much. Chattering teeth are not conducive to conversation, "animated" or otherwise.

<Andrea> Our first stop was Sid Cahuenga's, where we heard about Hollywood history. Our next stop was at the patio outside the Hollywood and Vine restaurant, where we were given a piece of paper and a pencil and shown how basic animation works, and heard a very short history of animation. This talk featured a piece about Winsor McCay, known as the father of animation. Onward to Dinosaur Gertie's, with more about McCay's famous animated dino. A short walk to the Academy of Television Arts Plaza, and soon we were hearing about Walt Disney's early life and times. From there, we moved to Peevey's Frozen Drink Stand to hear about the inception of Walt's first characters, Oswald, Alice and finally Mickey, nee' Mortimer. Next, we were taken up Sunset Boulevard to the Carthay Circle Theater shop for more studio history, including the addition of sound and color to Walt's films.

<Dotti> The tour was given in an "imagine you are transported back in time" format, where we were a group of animators applying for a job on Walt's big project, the first full-length animated film. If our tour guide was less enthusiastic, she could never have pulled this off. Fortunately, Nancy had lots of energy and humor, and made it enjoyable rather than farcical.

<Andrea> After a short break, we were taken backstage near the Fast Pass entrance to Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and led to two waiting vans. We were driven to the Disney Institute and given individual cels of Mickey to paint. A short video was shown about how animated feature films are made, from storyboard through soundtrack recording and sweetening to finished product. The video featured a scene from Tarzan and I'm fairly sure I've seen it somewhere before; either on The Disney Channel or possibly on the Tarzan DVD. Either way, it wasn't very informative.

<Dotti> I think that the highlight of the tour for me was the visit to the Disney Institute. I have never been on the DI grounds and was especially interested now that the Disney Vacation Club has announced plans to expand there. Of course, I could have easily done this on my own. Another reason that this was my favorite part of the tour was that it was inside. Did I mention it was cold? ;-)

I also enjoyed talking with Bobbie, our driver. She had been a teacher and course developer for the now defunct children's programs at the Disney Institute, and is very involved in Disney's Y.E.S. (Youth Education Series) Programs, courses available to youth groups of 10 or more. I would have had a great time just sitting in the van and chatting!

Inside the classroom at the Disney Institute, we were seated at high square artist tables accommodating 8 people, 2 on each of the 4 sides. We were supplied with an unpainted cel, a brush, water for rinsing, mixing cups, and paint. We were instructed on the proper way to apply the paint to the cel - "puddling" rather than using your typical brush stroke. I actually very much enjoyed this part of the tour, but a big part of that was the camaraderie in that small classroom. We could laugh at our own ineptitude at cel painting (well, speaking for myself anyway), or our young married tablemates laughingly berating each other on their sloppy work, or the perfectionist who couldn't give up her cel until we were leaving the Institute to get back in the vans.

<Andrea> The best part of the Disney Institute trip was getting to see pieces of the set from Nightmare Before Christmas and some concept art from Disney films. The entire visit lasted approximately one hour. Tip: if you paint a cel, have it mailed to your office so that it arrives flat and uncurled. We were ushered back to the vans and driven back to MGM, where we were asked to show our photo ID to the backstage guards. We came back onstage near the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster bathrooms and walked back to the Carthay Circle for the end of the tour, finishing with a talk about the first full-length animated feature film, Snow White. The tour ended promptly at 11:45.

Final Thoughts:

<Andrea> The $59.00 price tag on this tour is downright outrageous without the Animation Building part of the tour. If you're looking for an in-depth look at how animated films are made, this is not the tour for you. There are other, better behind-the-scenes tours at Walt Disney World for your money.

<Dotti> I have to agree 100% with Andrea on this. $59.00 is a steep price to pay for this tour and it was an insult to actually have to pay for park admission on top of it. The walking tour of the animation building, included with your park admission, is far more informative than this. The guides did an admirable job with what little they had to work with, but the tour itself needs much more "umph" or a smaller price tag to make it worthwhile.

<Andrea> Our tour guides were very friendly and competent and were the saving grace of the tour for me. They answered each guest's questions with good humor and accuracy. I've taken other Disney tours with guides who regularly gave out misinformation about the parks, the Disney family and the Studio. I was happy to see that our guides knew their stuff, even though they only barely scratched the surface of their subject. It's a shame that the "inside" part of "Inside Animation" has been removed from the tour. Maybe it's time for a new name?


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