This weekend at D23 Expo, director Brad Bird and writer Damon Lindelof finally gave the world a glimpse into the mystery box of their new film Tomorrowland. On stage, they literally unboxed the mystery, a 1952 box found inside the basement of the old animation building at Walt Disney Studio. The box and the contents serve as the inspiration for the new film. We wrote about the presentation here, but thats not the end of it. As the presentation came to a close, Bird and Lindelof announced that we’d all be able to get an up close look at the contents of the box at a newly constructed/unveiled booth on the show floor.

We spent two hours waiting to tour the booth with plans to give you guys a virtual look with a photo gallery — but Disney security was out in full force and not allowing ANYONE to take ANY photos. So after the jump, we do have something, information we learned about the contents of the box from the booth, including select transcripts of the audio tour from the booth. We have also included some images from the presentation released by Disney ad closeups of the box’s contents from Bird and Lindelof’s earlier tweeted photos.


The Legend Behind The “1952” Collection

Under the old Animation building on the Burbank, California Walt Disney Studios lot  is “a labyrinth of corridors recessed with alcoves and cupboards, connecting a series of closets, storage cages, and boiler rooms” and a place which used to be referred to as “The Morgue”. Used as storage for artwork produced by Disney artists and stray artifacts. Many lost Disney artifacts have been rediscovered in this location. In 2003, a Pinocchio marionette, used by animators of the 1940 animated classic for animation reference, was found in “a custom-made plywood cabinet stashed in a dusty nook.” A series of musician maquettes were used in the creation of Fantasia were also discovered in the space.

Now the legend behind the box which is the inspiration for Tomorrowland suposedly began in the summer of 2008, when maintenance workers cleaning out the basement discovered dozens of boxes in a locked room once owned by the titles department of the movie division. Most of the boxes contained a random assortment of film cells, which were immediately sent to Disney Archives and the company’s other libraries.

But the contents of the cryptically marked packing box in this display case never reached Disney’s history keepers. For this peculiar potpourri of reference material, concept art, photos, memos, books, comic books, newspaper clips, blueprints, machine parts, props, and more speaks to a creative history as odd and unverifiable as fiction. Yet together, the collection expresses values that were fundamentally true to Walt Disney himself: The dreamy fascination with space, technology, and exploration; the drive to create innovative forms of entertainment; and the desire to harness the power of imagination to cultivate new ideas that could build a more vibrant and vital future.

The box, marked with the labeled “1952” served as inspiration for Tomorrowland.

1952 box

Damon Lindelof: “To be able to collaborate with someone like Brad Bird on a scifi project titled Tonorrowland is literally a geek dream come true. That this project should coincide with the discovery of this treasure trove of wonderful and weird stuff just oozing with Walt Disney‘s optimistic view of the future is an extraordinary windfall. Wondering what it all might mean has enriched our creative process and even inspired ideas for characters, story, gadgets and sets in the movie itself. Wether all of this is legit or not is really besides the point for us. Although I for one am dying to know. All that matters is that this box captured our imagination, and we hope it captures yours too.”

1952 box

The World’s Fair

The Walt Disney Company had a significant presence at the 1964 World’s Fair. Several iconic Disney attractions made their world debut at the fair, including Great Moments With Abraham Lincoln and It’s a Small World After All, which were later relocated to Disneyland where they remain today.

Disney’s other contributions to The Fair included:

  • “The Magic Skyway,” a car ride through space and time that traced the history of knowledge and achievement.
  • “Progressland” where visitors traveled a moving sidewalk – alternately known as “The Time Tube” or “The Galaxy of Science and Engineering” – into “The Corridor Of Mirrors,” which featured massive projections of scientists at work, chasing after far future wonders, including the pursuit of infinite energy.
  • The grand finale: “Medallion City,” a model community for the electric age.

From the audio tour:

These exhibits were suffused with Walt Disney’s personal, altruistic form of futurism. For Disney, the concept meant human beings working collaboratively in a never-ending labor to produce new ideas and new technology that could engineer a better, constantly improving world for all. His passion for future-dreaming, future-building and future-fun manifested itself many ways, too, from the Tomorrowland section of Disneyland to his EPCOT ambitions and more. The box that has inspired Tomorrowland contains materials that speak to almost every aspect of Disney’s futurism. However, the box is, at best, an unreliable narrator to its own significance. Among the many questions begged by the “1952” collection: Is this just a bunch of random stuff thrown together? Or do these items share a common, meaningful purpose, perhaps elements of some heretofore unknown Disney endeavor? Our inquiry into the matter begins with blueprints for Disney attractions at The 1964 New York World’s Fair, and one set of plans in particular…


It’s a Small World

The 1952 box contains a stack of blueprints which includes early plans for Walt Disney’s “It’s A Small World” attraction for the World’s Fair. This is the only blueprint known to exist which differs from the ride as it was built in New York, featuring “an alternate vision of the climactic set piece” which includes a miniature Eiffel Tower. Hidden in the blueprint is plans for another structure which would have been built below the pavilion.

This part of the blueprint can’t be seen with the naked eye. The designs for the lower level only become visible when you shine a Wood’s black light lamp on the paper, at a frequency prescribed by a handwritten instruction scribbled near the center of the blueprint. The access point to this underground space is not shown, and its purpose remains unclear. However, other notes suggest it might have been a large theater that used projection technology and an interconnecting group of screens not unlike the “Corridor of Mirrors” section of another Disney-produced World’s Fair attraction, “Progressland.”

There is no evidence to suggest that this proposed underground space was ever built but writer/producer Damon Lindelof wonders “what if?”

“A secret room, a secret movie theater, a secret ride inside a ride — how cool is that? If that didn’t happen in 1964 then I call upon every Disney fan to lobby Bob Iger to make it happen now. Seriously, this was exactly the thing that made the box so exciting to us. It’s why we let is inspire our creativity. What was the secret basement supposed to be? How did it fit within the larger goals and ambitions of Disney’s work at the Worlds Fair? Brainstorming the answers to these questions led to some really cool ideas. At least, we think they’re cool.”


Another item found in the box is something called a Trylosphere, which to my google searching ability, doesn’t exist.

[The Trylosphere] evokes two iconic structures of The 1939 World’s Fair, The Trylon and Perisphere. They can be seen on another item from the box, a ticket to The Fair. The Trylon and The Perisphere are iterations of architectural motifs that have been intrinsic to World’s Fair design for decades and the history of art and architecture for much, much longer. The Trylon was a 610-foot tall spire. The Perisphere was 185 feet in diameter and held a massive diorama depicting “Democracity,” an automated high tech metropolis. Neither The Trylon nor The Perisphere exists today. They were both scrapped during World War II so their material could be used to make armaments.

Called “The Trylosphere” according to a label affixed to its faux cherry wood housing. The same plate dates the object to 1962. At first glance, you might think “The Trylosphere” is simply a symbolic model of The Trylon and Perisphere, and a rather crude one at that. But there are some notable differences. For starters, the proportions are all wrong, with either the copper spire being too big or the copper sphere being to small, depending on your perspective. And then there is the cord and its bizarre six-prong plug, suggesting that “The Trylosphere” is actually an electrical appliance. Another label on the protective sheath includes a pictogram that shows the ball levitating above the point of the spire. There’s also a code of dots and dashes – instruction, perhaps, for how to activate “The Trylosphere.” While it’s possible that “The Trylosphere” was created as a prop or model for an unspecified Disney production, Scott Trowbridge of Walt Disney Imagineering says he would love to see it work as the device it was designed to be.

T-Land TV

In the mid-1950s, Walt Disney produced a series of specials devoted to space, technology and scientific progress for the weekly Disneyland tv series on ABC.

The “Tomorrowland” shows were directed by an animator who shared Walt Disney’s passion for futurism: Ward Kimball. Serving as consultant was a renowned rocket scientist, Werner Von Braun, a key architect of the country’s space program. The “1952” collection contains scripts, storyboards, and Photostats of original concept art from the “Tomorrowland” series. There’s also a memo describing several other science factual programs that were never produced or aired. These pieces seem connected to another peculiar item that deserves more detailed exploration…

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