Posted on Monday, August 12th, 2013 by Peter Sciretta
Animating a Legend
Found in the box is a 9-inch disc that resembles an old Phonovision record, but is apparently “an experimental form of video storage technology similar to the laserdisc.” The disc was dated “November 1963.” The audio tour at D23 Expo claims that Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird brought in visual effects producer Tom Peitzman (Alice In Wonderland, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol) to figure out a way to extract data from the disc. His team supposedly found “a never-before-seen piece of Disney animation from the early sixties.” But problem is the content on the disc had been severely damaged. So who did Bird and Lindelof bring in? Data extraction specialists? The CIA? Nope… Pixar.
According to the story, Pixar Animation Studios were brought aboard to help whip “the animation into viewable shape.” Of the seven minutes of content believed to be on the disc, Pixar has been able to recover or produce “three minutes of high quality footage.” Of course, this is the footage that was screened at the D23 Expo live action film presentation. While the style of animation looked like something from the era, the quality of the animated was well above anything you would imagine. Most people who saw the footage at the presentation believe this part of “the legend” of the 1952 box to be completely created by Lindelof. But the tour isn’t clear how involved Pixar is/was in the restoration, and others believe that they have completely recreated the rough animation which would theoretically explain the high quality.
The footage starts with humanity at the dawn of history, smashing together two rocks to make a fire and creative cave drawings, before jumping forward to ancient Greece and other cities. “There is no such thing as fate,” proclaims a voice that resembles Orson Welles’. Fast-forward to the World’s Fair in Paris in 1989. Images of Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Jules Verne and Gustave Eiffel flit by, and they appear to be working together on a big, secret project. We also see pictures of various technological advancements including radios, cars, battleships, tanks, planes, electricity, the nuclear bomb, and the burning streets that followed the bomb. The implication is that technology is a double-edged sword — it has great potential for danger, but it also represents optimism for the future.
Yet those three minutes give us a good idea of the entire narrative. Entitled “A History of Tomorrow,” the animated short begins with a moralistic fable about the pursuit of progress and the benefits – and folly – that can come from it. The choppiest section of the film tells the story of how Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Jules Verne and Gustave Eiffel met at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris and began working on a project of an unknown nature that other brilliant minds continued after their respective deaths. A document placed inside the sleeve of the disc is a fragment of a longer letter; the date, unknown. Judging from the tone of the correspondence, the author of the letter was tasked with researching the plausibility of the Tesla/Edison/Verne/Eiffel summit. The legend of this meeting is just that: A legend. It is also highly unlikely that it ever happened: While Tesla, Edison, Verne and Eiffel all attended the Fair in the summer of 1889, and while Edison and Verne did indeed meet in Eiffel’s apartment atop the Eiffel Tower on the evening of September 10, there is no historical evidence to substantiate the claim that all four men met to discuss, debate and even dream the shape and form of things to come. And yet, those who know this alleged tall tale find meaning within it. Edison and Tesla were bitter rivals in the war to bring electricity to the masses. The very idea that these enemies could muster the grace to put aside self-interest for a night to dream about a better future for the planet is extraordinarily inspiring – an example worth bringing from the realm of legend and making real in the world of today.
The animation ends with a voiceover which explains “And fellow traveler, that’s why you were invited here. At long last we are building that tomorrow. A shinking beacon of hope. In just 20 short years, we will share this extraordinary place with the entire world. Would you like to see it?” Teasing a peak at a new futuristic city.
The box contains a book about “sophisticated science and mathematics of aeronautics and rocketry”, but not a real book. It’s one of those hallowed out books used to hide objects inside it. Inside is “a pin case the size of a hockey puck”, and there is no pin inside the case, but instead a picture of a pin .
The box also includes a dozens of photographs of Walt Disney with various other people. While most of the pictures are authentic (or believed to be real), at least one of them is a proven forgery: a photo of Walt Disney and Amelia Earhart (obscured in the image above). Apparently the photo was created by putting Walt’s head (from a 1956 photograph) on the body of movie star Cary Grant who posed with the aviation icon on the set of the 1935 film Wings In The Dark. According to the tour, no animators or imagineers employed by Disney during the fifties and sixties have any knowledge of this manufactured image . But it could have been created for a television project or a background prop for one of the tv episodes.
The box also contains an August issue of Amazing Stories magazine, which contains stories by Sci-fi authors H.G. Wells and Edward Elmer Smith.
The issue of Amazing Stories included in the “1952” collection was placed amid a thin layer of newspaper clippings which lined the bottom of the “1952” box. It was published in the summer of 1928 and contains work written by sci-fi luminaries H.G. Wells and Edward Elmer Smith, whose story “The Skylark of Space” – an early example of the so-called “space opera” – inspired the cover. It also includes a classic story by Philip Francis Nowlan entitled “Armageddon 2419 A.D.” It tells the tale of a certain sci-fi Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep and woke up in a spectacular yet imperiled Tomorrowland 492 years in the future.
Clipped to the cover of the magazine was a piece of cardboard perforated with 30 holes (elongated rectangles). The top right corner of the card stock references page 422 of the magazine, the first page of the “Armageddon 2419 A.D.” story. When you place the piece of cardboard over that page, words are visible in the slits:
“I have seen across the gap between I began practical penetration into the world. Secret retreats needed The perfection of mechanical labor and organization of industrial resources almost at hand.”
But of course, the box has no other references to the purpose of this coded message. But who knows, maybe early imagineers were looking into new ways to code secret messages?
The box also contains designs for a ride called “Jet-Man” by legendary Disney Imagineer Bob Gurr that would have “simulated the experience of soaring through the sky using a rocket powered jet pack.”
As the director of special vehicle development, Bob designed some of the theme park’s most iconic attractions, including “The Matterhorn” and “Autopia”. He also helped to develop the original “Submarine Voyage” ride and the retired yet much beloved “Flying Saucers” ride. Bob imagined and engineered other wonders, too. He was deeply involved with Disney’s World’s Fair work as a member of the team that designed the “Magic Skyway” ride. Perhaps most impressive, Bob was the man who brought Abraham Lincoln back to life as an audio animatronic marvel. But there was one project that never made it beyond his drawing board: A ride called “Jet-Man”
Bob Gurr explains what happened to the Imagineering project:
“In 1966 for a new potential attraction at Disney they wanted us to simulate someone flying in space. Walt always wanted us to look at what we could do as an attraction that people could actually experience and a Jet man ride was a really obvious thing to do. Everyone has dreams of flying.” …. “Awe I was really deep in working on that jet man ride . It was really gonna work really well. It was very straight forward, very simple and right in the middle of that job we got the bad news on a cold morning that Walt had died. They said Walt’s dead, go home. Then a few days later were going to resume working on these attractions and then I got word that not only is Walt dead but the jet man ride was dead.”
Walt Disney was fascinated with robots and part of Disneyland’s legacy is due to the innovation of audio animatronics.
The “1952” collection includes many photographs of audio animatronic Abe and schematics and drawings for other, unknown audio animatronic figures. There is also a 12-foot long stretch of yellow tracing paper featuring robot-themed sketches and notes. Due to legal concerns and issues of taste, we can only show you the portion displayed here. The work is unsigned, though the style resembles that of early midcentury Disney animators and early Imagineers. The piece refers to an initiative called “Project Little Man, Phase Two.”
It should be noted that “Project Little Man” was the inside company code name for Disney’s original audio animatronics initiative.
City of Tomorrow
Other items in the box describe a proposed “city of the future” project, including a topographical map for what you may assume to be EPCOT but its not. The location in the plan is not the Florida site, and remains unknown. The map has a ripped-in-half overlay showing “a variation on Walt’s idea of a radial city – an urban planning concept favored by futurist architects like Le Corbusier and Victor Gruen.” Some of you may recall that one of Walt Disney’s last ambitions was to build a city of tomorrow. Thats what he planned for EPCOT (Experimental Protoype Community of Tomorrow), which became something very different after his death. But the original plan for EPCOT was never realized.
Walt Disney: “I don’t believe there’s a challenge anywhere in the world that’s more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities. But where do we begin… how do we start answering this great challenge? Well, we’re convinced we must start answering the public need. And the need is for starting from scratch on virgin land and building a special kind of new community that will always be in a state of becoming. It will never cease to be a living blueprint of the future, where people actually live a life they can’t find anywhere else in the world.”
The box also contains several science fiction novels, magazines and comic books, including:
- A March 1964 issue of Strange Adventures
- A Classic Illustrated adaptation of The Time Machine by HG Wells (yes, him AGAIN).
- A midcentury French edition of The Begum’s Fortune by Jules Verne (yes, also again). The novel was wrapped in newspaper clippings from the early sixties describing Walt Disney’s original plans for what would become Walt Disney World. Select pages of the book sport “odd cigarette burns”. Inside the book, they found a folded typed document featuring a list of books and magazine articles. The list “closely matches another document that TOMORROWLAND’S research team found in the art library of Walt Disney Imagineering: A list of reference material that informed Walt’s vision of EPCOT.”
Originally published in 1879, The Begum’s Fortune blends elements of utopian and dystopian sci-fi to tell the story of two men who move to the same faraway land – otherwise known as Oregon – and build their own versions of utopia. One is an oppressive industrial engine devoted to manufacturing weapons of destruction. The other is an idyllic democratic community. The two cities come into conflict. At stake: The future of civilization. The Begum’s Fortune is not as widely known as Verne’s other novels. But it had an impact on the founders of a city in Argentina called La Plata, who modeled some aspects of their community after Verne’s descriptions of Frankville. At the 1889 World’s Fair, the founders of La Plata were honored for their visionary planning. Presenting them with a gold medal in the category of “City of the Future” was none other than Jules Verne himself.
The audio tour speculates that “Walt Disney and his collaborators might have used this material as inspiration or reference for known creative work and work still to be discovered.”