Golden Dream was Nearly a Nightmare – How Imagineers created Disney history worthy of an American Adventure

in Disney, Entertainment, Epcot, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

I’ve written about my introduction to Walt Disney Imagineering, putting me on a project presenting some of EPCOT Center’s original films. Getting those films completed in time for the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982 was hard. Getting the Golden Dream sequence of The American Adventure was practically a nightmare.

There was a theme for the sequence: Dreamers and doers from the end of World War II through modern times. There was the song, written by Randy Bright and Bob Moline. It had even been recorded and was ready to go. But what no one seemed to know is what the film should look like. And the park built on Walt Disney’s dreams was just six months out from opening day.

Several filmmakers were working hard on concepts for it including Jack Boyd, one of Disney Animation’s effects animators, who was also producing the Theater One film for Universe of Energy. Boyd developed an abstract animated approach to all those “dreamers and doers,” complete with an animated eagle flying through the various shots. Rolf Darbo, who had produced the live action shoot of the World War I, Eddie Rickenbacker shootout and the Two Brothers sequence, was working on a different still photo version. There was also an edited montage version of various pieces of film and photos, a straightforward approach. But it wasn’t working.

I was asked to set up a screening on Stage Two on the Walt Disney Productions lot where the postproduction for EPCOT Center’s films was headquartered. The stage had been transformed into the world’s largest screening room. This screening included all of the various versions of the film.

Rick Rothschild, creative director of The American Adventure, flew back from Florida where he was supervising the installation and testing and programming of the Audio-Animatronics-driven show, along with several other pavilions. Randy Bright was there too, as well as Don Henderson, the manager of WED Film Production at the time, along with many of the others involved in all the EPCOT Center films.

First the song was played, then all the footage from the various efforts was shown. Lots of discussion followed among the approximately 30 people there. Finally Don Henderson spoke up and said, “Let’s ask Rick what he thinks it should look like.”

So everyone turned to Rick, who at the time looked a lot like a young Mark Twain, moustache and all, thought for a moment and said these immortal words, “I think it should be an ethereal dream-like reality with a soft, hard-edged matte.” Stunned silence. Then a unanimous, “Huh?” Brice Mack, a former story man for Walt Disney’s shorts unit, finally spoke up and said, “I think I know what to do.”

Brice was one of the unsung heroes of Disney and was good at figuring things out. Don asked him what he his idea was, to which Brice replied, “I need to just go do it and show you. Give me three weeks.” Randy and Don looked at each other, gave Brice the okay, and off he went, production number in hand.

Two weeks later, Brice stopped by my desk. He wanted me to set up a projection mockup with three 35mm film projectors, all to be synced to the sound playback system. I asked the format (it was Cinemascope) and went out and worked with the projection engineer, Walt Seifert, to figure it out. We had it ready the next day. I called Brice and he came over with three reels of film and the soundtrack for a private test screening with just him, the three projectionists and myself.

On one reel was a series of shots flying through clouds. On the other two reels were alternating shots moving images of, yes, dreamers and doers that looked like there were magically floating across the clouds. There were also lots of editorial grease pencil marks indicating dissolves. But I could already tell it was going to be magical.

The next day it was shown to Randy, Don, and everyone else, and enthusiastically approved. It would take another six weeks to get the finished film through the special photo effects department but we finally had a winner. The nightmare was now the polished dream that Randy had envisioned while developing and writing the show.

17 Comments

  1. They REALLY need to remove Lance Armstrong from the ending!!

    1. Mark Eades

      I agree. When we were producing the 1993 update, (my last completed project for Disney, though I worked on Honey, I Shrunk the Audience for a while) I fought hard to not end on sports figures. They did not update the film again until late 2007.

      The danger with sports figures, is that negative stuff seems to happen with them at times.

      So yes, I agree, Disney should redo the sequence and take Lance Armstrong out of the show.

      1. Brad Day

        …and Rudy Galindo, too! I knew him casually in San Jose at that time…biggest coke-head you’d ever meet…

      2. kristie

        What is the name of the song in this show? I’m trying to find it… Please let me know. Nobody syncs music and art like Disney Imagineers! Thank you!

  2. Carlene Gonzalez

    Thank you for all of the hard work and nightmares thant you had to go thru. Love your work. I was able to go once to Disney World I loved everything with no complaints. My dream is to go back again. Thank you for all the movies to.
    Hope to see again CARLENE GONZALEZ.

  3. JEANY SANCHEZ

    yeah remove Lance Armstrong too!

    1. Tom

      Just saw it this past weekend and had the same thought as others, “What is Lance Armstrong doing in this montage?” come on now that edit would take no time.

      1. Mark Eades

        While I agree Disney should remove Lance Armstrong ASAP, I also know it’s not as easy as editing it out.

        The Golden Dream sequence is one long piece of film with no actual edits. Now they could do it in a computer and spit out a whole new piece of film. When I did the 1993 version (which lasted until 2008) it was all done on an optical printer. A long and costly process.

        The film at American Adventure is still film, due to the very unique projection set up. So it has not gone to a digital projector yet, like all the other EPCOT films have, or will be soon.

  4. Wendy Bright Faust

    A friend of mine shared this article with me – I’m Randy Bright’s daughter, and it’s fantastic to know his work is still so admired today. Loved reading your story, Mark, about how he hired you as an Imagineer. His legacy still lives on through the many talented people he was fortunate to work with. Hard to believe it was nearly 24 years ago that he passed away. Thanks again for sharing!

    1. Mark Eades

      Wendy, really great to hear from you. I sent you an email and would love to talk with you. Mark Eades

  5. Reesie

    I wish they would have included the Miracle on Ice in the new version. It was important when the original came out. With the Cold War being on everyone’s mind, it was a nice bit of modern day history.

    Taking out Armstrong (which I’m all for) is harder than it sounds. Plus, there’s a new plaque in the lobby detailing all the figures in the montage. His name would have to be removed from that as well.

  6. Andrew Jackson

    Hey cousin. Greetings from Indiana. Enjoying your Imagineering stories. You should post a story of how you drive back from Indiana to California with a new kitten named Acey Duecey.

  7. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article.
    I will make sure to bookmark it and come back to
    read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post.
    I’ll certainly comeback.

  8. MrSalta

    This my second favorite Epcot attraction (yes, the Judi Dench version of Spaceship Earth takes the prize), but it is absolutely spectacular on many different levels.
    It sounds fascinating and exciting to have been there for its production. The anecdotes from these stories are great. Good work, Mark, and I look forward to more.

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