Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tombstone Junction

I have one last western themed brochure to share, it's Tombstone Junction in Cumberland Falls, Kentucky.  This park was notable for having a full-size operating steam train that ran on a 2½ mile track.

I was a little skeptical of the "See the World's Top Country & Western Stars Perform" claim (see the yellow circle above), but after checking out the Wikipedia entry it seems this was totally true.

When other small parks fold up they usually just quietly go bankrupt, but it sounds like Tombstone Junction went out in a blaze of glory.  The place caught fire twice - once in 1989 which caused serious damage, and again sometime around 1991 which was the final coup de grĂ¢ce for the park. Then according to the wiki entry even the wooden train cars were intentionally burnt to salvage the scrap metal in 1992. Although it's reported the burning cars rolled away uncontrolled and crashed in a flaming heap.  I think I might have bought tickets to see that.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ghost Town in the Sky

Continuing with the western theme for this month here's a brochure from 1979 for Ghost Town in the Sky in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. This park has been in bankruptcy for the last few years, and if you care about such matters you can read about the whole mess here.

If you want to see what Ghost Town in the Sky looked like in 2007 (which I think was the last year the park was open) here's a link to a pictorial "TPS Report."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Animated Concept Art from Western River Expedition: The Last Roundup

Here we go folks with the last of the Western River Expedition concept art animations. I took last week off because I needed to attend to other things which took priority, but it also gave me extra time to think about how to present this final animation.

What we have this time is a collection of Marc Davis's art arranged in a sequence that's basically in order of how they could have been presented if they were in the actual attraction. Let me make it clear, they would not have appeared back-to-back like this. This is simply a progression of selected show scenes.

Since I always like to present Marc's unadulterated art, here's what I've animated...

The "singing" cactus would have appeared early on in the ride...

... and so would the singing cowboy and longhorns.

The drunken Indian and jail escape above would appear somewhere in the middle of the ride in the town of Dry Gulch.

And lastly the masked "banditos" are the final show scene before attraction drops you down a waterfall.

Now let's watch the animation...

The D23 Expo 2011 (a convention hosted by Disney for fans) was last week (August 19 to 21 ), and coincidentally featured a short presentation on Western River Expedition by long time Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter. Tony had just started working at Imagineering when the WRE was being designed, and he is the man responsible for the Big Thunder Mountain Railway. So who better than Tony to give a kind of virtual ride- thru...

Final Comments

Until I saw the Tony Baxter video a couple of days ago I was planing to use this for the primary music...

Do singing cactus sound like chipmunks? I thought it's possible. Although now I don't know if the cactus would have been animated. In the model which Tony showed there's an awful lot of cactus, and that makes me wonder if the cactus were planed to be static figures. There were cactus that looked like humans on Disneyland's Rainbow Caverns Mine Train (later called Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland), and they didn't move. Then again, WRE was supposed to have a animatronic cartoon talking owl named Hoot Gibson (which Tony didn't mention) who was going to be a sorta host/guide - so maybe moving singing cactus would be a part of the ride. Does anyone out there have a solid answer on this?

The big thing that sunk Western River Expedition was it's huge cost, but some un-PC elements didn't help things either. The dunk Indian "talking" to the wooden Indian is a funny gag, but I don't think it would ever had made the cut into the final ride. Although one could make the argument that most of the pirates in POTC are drunk, and certainly many of the cowboys in WRE are drunk too - so the Indian isn't being singled out. Also it looks like some of the art in the D23 had been changed to remove the sombreros from the "banditos" and thus making them simply "bandits" which avoids any more potential un-PC elements.

While Marc Davis is a master of staging, I don't know how the jail escape would work. It's a funny gag on paper or for an animated cartoon, but I don't know if it would "read" in the actual attraction. From the drawing it looks like dirt is flying into the air, and I don't think that would be possible to do. Never the less, I still animated it as I thought it was intended - although the burrowing looks like the way Bugs Bunny sometimes travels. If I was working on WRE I'd suggest the way to stage this gag is to have the mound of dirt already created, and just have the escaping criminal pop his head out of the ground at the end of the burrow. He'd quickly look around, and then go back down.

I got a little artsy/cheesy at the end to illustrate the intended waterfall finale of WRE. I hope you liked it, and I didn't embarrass myself too much.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stagecoach Stop USA

Hope this isn't too much of a disappointment for anyone, but I'm taking a little break from the Western River Expedition animation this week.

But in keeping with the western theme this month here's a brochure from the now defunct Stagecoach Stop USA in Irish Hills Michigan...

It's sad that this roadside attraction closed back in 2009. It was a fun place for a family to visit on a quick day trip. Along with the Prehistoric Forest this is another Irish Hills attraction that's a victim of the recent "economic downturn."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Animated Concept Art from Western River Expedition: Horse on the Roof

Last time I animated a Western River Expedition saloon singer, and this time I'm animating a horse on the saloon porch roof.

There's two variants of the "Horse on the Roof" art I've seen. Here's one that looks like it's at night and has three saloon girls in the foreground.

Mary Blair's interpretation of Marc Davis's "Horse on the Roof"

This version is reportedly done by Mary Blair who was valued by Walt Disney himself for her expert color styling.

Then there's the "daylight" version by Marc Davis, and instead of the saloon girls there's a drunk cowboy and dog.

Marc Davis's "Horse on the Roof" 1968

This above picture is from Jason Surrell's The Disney Mountains, and that is a book I happen own. This means I was able to get good scan of the art for once, and this makes animation a lot easier.

Now let's look at the animation...

Closing Comments...

It's been reported that the lighting in load area for Western River Expedition would make it appear as is if the sun was just setting, and so therefore the ride would take place at "night." This makes the coloring of Mary Blair's art much more appropriate. Although if it's night, what are the kid, "Ma" and "Grandma" doing still walking around town? Shouldn't they be getting ready for bed? Aren't there cows to be milked at dawn or something? Am I overthinking this?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Animated Concept Art from Western River Expedition: Saloon Singer

Western River Expedition at Walt Disney World was planned to be a kind of sequel to the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. The building designed to house WRE was named Thunder Mesa, and themed to look like rocky cliffs and bluffs. Along with WRE, Thunder Mesa was reportedly going to be home to three other attractions - a runaway mine train ride (that idea would eventually become Big Thunder Mountain Railroad), and hiking and pack mule trails winding up the side of cliffs.

Thunder Mesa Art

To ride the Western River Expedition park guests would enter inside Thunder Mesa thru a cave-like passage, and board small boats much like Pirates of the Caribbean at the Disney parks. Part of the journey would take them through a western town called Dry Gulch. It's here the guests would witness all types of rowdy cowboy activity. Like a lively scene from the front porch of a saloon...

"Saloon Singer" by Marc Davis

... so now here's this concept art animated to look like audio-animatronics with simulated show lighting...

Closing Comments...

Long time Disney composer Buddy Baker (he did the music for the Haunted Mansion) was supposedly going to write the music for WRE. To the best of my knowledge no WRE music was ever recorded. So for my animation the saloon singer is Tammy Grimes from a 1963 episode of the TV western The Virginian entitled "The Exiles." Here's Tammy's performance if you wish to check it out...

I learned it's really hard to animate a piano player. If I was in charge of programming an animatronic piano man I'd be asking (more like begging) that we use some sort of motion capture to do the job.

Lastly if you want to learn more about Western River Expedition please visit Widen Your World. This was the first place on the internet to seriously document the history of WRE.


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