Earlier this year, I shared a story from creating “Magic Journeys,” the 3D film that debuted with EPCOT Center back in 1982.
Today marks 32 years since that opening day. But just a few days before that, I embarked on an adventure that nearly made that attraction miss its debut.
It all started on September 24, 1982. We were all standing around waiting on a screening of the first print of “Magic Journeys,” the 3D flagship film for EPCOT’s Kodak-sponsored Imagination Pavilion. We were on Stage Two at Walt Disney Productions, which had been my office for the past year and a half, first as the post-production coordinator, then as the post-production supervisor of the films for the EPCOT Center project. Even though I worked for Walt Disney Productions, I also had a boss in Randy Bright, the executive producer for EPCOT Center’s films.
The film came in from Technicolor around 9:30 a.m. to the Editorial Department. I sent an assistant editor over to get it. I put it together on reels so we could screen it for myself and several others, including Bob Gibeaut, the vice-president of studio operations. Bob always looked at every answer print (a print made with a color timer to the best of the lab’s abilities). While we were waiting, Bob told me that if the print looked good, I would be hand-carrying them that night on the red-eye flight to Florida to get them installed in the pavilion for screening the following night. That screening would be for all the Disney bigwigs – Card Walker, Donn Tatum, Ron Miller – and all the big CEOs from all the corporate sponsors for all of EPCOT Center. No pressure. He assured me that his secretary was busy making arrangements for my flight – first class – on Delta Airlines and a room at the Contemporary Hotel.
By 12:30 p.m., we finished looking at the print, and Bob signed off on it. It had taken Technicolor a day and a half to make it, and it was the only good print we had on the film. I called Technicolor right away to have them start making another one. The projectionists came down with the two cans of 70mm film and handed them to me. “Guard them well,” said Bob. I went to his office and picked up the two first-class airline tickets from his secretary – one for me, one for the cans of film. It was that serious. Bob went with me to his office on the third floor of the old animation building. “Do not let them out of your sight. I want you to hand carry them through the changeover in Atlanta.”
So shortly thereafter, I left with the two cans of film in my 1975 Honda Civic and went home to pack. My wife drove me to LAX with our three-month-old first child, where the cans and I boarded the 10 p.m. flight to Atlanta. The flight attendant laughed at the cans being in the seat next to me. There was no room for large cans of film in the overhead compartment, and I was under orders not to send them as checked luggage. Off the ground, we went. I did not sleep at all on the flight to Atlanta. Then I had to hand-carry two hefty cans of film as I changed planes in Atlanta (at 4:30 a.m. Atlanta time) for the flight to Orlando.
The next flight attendant also laughed at the two cans occupying the seat next to me; she about the time a famous golfer bought a ticket for their clubs to do the same thing. I did not sleep on the shorter jaunt to Orlando, Florida, either. I got my luggage and rental car, still hand-carrying the film.
I stopped at the Welcome Center in Lake Buena Vista to get my parking pass for EPCOT Center; then, I drove on into the WED Enterprises trailer, which was located behind the China pavilion. Once I checked in, I was directed to the office of the head of EPCOT Center’s projection department. He said it would take a couple of hours to load it into the film loop cabinets and that I looked like I needed breakfast. I agreed and headed off to the employee cafeteria. I would meet him over at the Imagination Pavilion at 10 a.m.
I got over there, and they were still loading the film into the film loop cabinet. They had to check the final length and adjust the cabinet. Now, we were supposed to run the film with the show programming at 9 p.m. that night. It had not been tested at all, and I was responsible for that. Finally, at noon, we pushed the button and tried running our first test show of “Magic Journeys” in the Imagination Pavilion at EPCOT Center. It was not successful.
The projectors were out of sync with each other. Show lights came on during the film. Doors opened at strange times, and the audio was out of sync with the film. And all the bigwigs would be coming in at 9 p.m. expecting to see the show.
So the show programmer was given notes and went about fixing things. The next trial show was at 1 p.m. Many things were fixed. The film projectors were in sync with each other; lights were better, no more mystery door openings, but the bloody audio was out of sync by at least 20 seconds. The show programmer was given notes and went back to work. I left to walk over to the Energy Pavilion to see Rick Rothschild, an Imagineer, about an issue there but didn’t make it.
As I was walking across the Future World area of EPCOT Center, coming from the Imagination Pavilion after that frustrating screening, I was headed toward the Energy Pavilion and walking around the fountains in Communicore. Walking towards me were Ron Miller, head of the Disney studios, and Randy Bright, Executive Producer of EPCOT Film Production. We nodded as we passed each other. I continued walking and heard two male voices from behind me say, “Mark Eades.” I stopped, and I hear it again, “Mark Eades” a little louder. I turn around to see Ron and Randy pointing at me like some overlord. Then they both said in unison, “Mark Eades, ‘Magic Journeys’ will run at 9 p.m. tonight.” I started to say we were having problems, and they were working on it. The pair said again, more ominously, “‘Magic Journeys’ will run at 9 p.m. tonight.” I said, sure. We will have it running. They turned and walked away. I made a beeline back to the Imagination Pavilion.
At 8 p.m., we still had not had a successful screening. The last thing to fix was the audio sync. And each time we would run it, it would be out of sync. And of course, we had to wait for the entire 18 minutes of film to run through the film loop cabinet each time we tweaked it. We had a coordinator with us telling us the execs were running on time. Oh, and at 8:20 p.m., we had our first successful showing of Kodak’s preshow. SIGH. Well, we adjusted the start frame on the projectors and did not touch the show programming. 18 frames. Ran the show – really close, but still a little off. I watched the whole show and had them move it by 4 frames. We ran it at 8:45 p.m. Finally, success!
Everything was working, and then, precisely at 9 p.m., the Chairmen, CEOs, presidents, and more of Disney, Kodak, American Express, AT&T, Exxon, GM, Kraft, Coca Cola, and a few others walked in the entrance doors. We ran the show so they could see the pre-show; of course, the Kodak folks loved it. Then they all went in to see “Magic Journeys” in its entirety. FOR THE FIRST TIME! We had a tremendous response to the 3D and the show—a big success. Randy Bright and Ron Miller congratulated the team and me for pulling it off. Randy told me to extend my stay and get my wife and kid down here for the opening. I finally left for the Contemporary at 10:30 p.m., having not slept in almost two days. I called the wife and told her to get tickets and get on a plane the next day. She and our three-month-old son, Casey, flew down the next day. I skipped the big soiree that night, went to the Contemporary and checked in, and went to bed and slept soundly.
A few days later, EPCOT Center opened formally on October 1st. I spent several days checking out all 120 plus film projectors responsible for making sure the park had been printed.
EPCOT Center postcard photos from EpcotPrime.com.