Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cap'n Jack's Restaurant sign

Downtown Disney has undergone a series of radical changes over the decades: starting out as the humble Lake Buena Vista Shopping Center, it's grown by acres as the Empress Lilly, Pleasure Island, and Downtown Disney Westside were added. The Village itself has been radically transformed as stores have come and gone, been demolished, corporatized, and refurbished.

Perhaps the only bit of the original Shopping Village that's been left mostly untouched is Cap'n Jack's Restaurant, located on the waters of Lake Buena Vista. The backlit sign, shown here, is still the original installed in the 1970s. Somehow, despite the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise, the management has resisted the urge to replace this peg-legged, concertina-playing Captain Jack with a more swashbuckling and marketable modern namesake.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

There's a hot band playing at the Tomorrowland Terrace

The talent showcased at Walt Disney World's Tomorrowland Terrace has fluctuated as wildly as the twinkling psychedelic lights that once shone above its food counters. Between the departure of the brilliantly deranged Michael Iceberg and his Iceberg Machine and the arrival of Audioanimatronic songster Sonny Eclipse, the Terrace played host to a variety of unmemorable rock bands that rose and descended robotically from the bowels of the hydraulic stage.

One of the few standout groups was Tabasco, probably more for the name and sign that displayed it along with the show times than for the music (although from what I recall, they were pretty good for a cover band). The sign featured the name three times, stacked atop one another, almost in an homage to the slit-scan "movie of the week" promos that were fashionable in the 1970s (never mind it was the mid-'80s by now), in blazing red that matched the carpet that lined the stage front.

It must have left an impression — for I found myself in art school a few years later, staring at a catalog of Letraset press type, and there floating before me was the band's logo in a sea of typography. Astonishingly, the logo's designer used a typeface with the exact same name as the band, "Tabasco." Talk about a timesaver! If a band named Hobo ever comes to me to design their logo, I know exactly what to do.

Tabasco Double is currently unavailable in digital form. Tabasco Bold is featured in the Dover Publication, "Extra Bold Alphabets: 100 Complete Fonts" (Buy at

Update: Just a few minutes after I hit the "publish post" button I decided to google Tabasco to see if there was anything about them on the Internet. Lo and behold:
  • website for the David Van Such Band, whose keyboardist, Dario Caballero, played with Tabasco. His bio confirms that the band played at Tomorrowland Terrace from 1983 to 1988. The group was even flown to Washington D.C. to perform for then President Ronald Reagan. They were originally from Mexico City and moved to Florida to perform at Disney.
  • Video of the band performing Whitney Houston's "So Emotional"
  • Video of the band performing Bob Seger's "Shakedown"
  • mySpace page for Carlos Murguia, who also played keyboards in the group. His brother played guitar in the band.
  • The website of Beth Lawrence's company, Viva La Voice. She relates the story of how she was hired to be in the Kids of the Kingdom, lost her voice, and eventually joined Tabasco.
Walt was right: it is a small world, after all.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Recycling Design: the Posters of WDW's Magic Kingdom

WDW was never intended to be a copy of Disneyland, but once the decision was made to put a Magic Kingdom in Florida, it was up to the people at WED to figure out what parts of the new park could be duplicated from the original to save time and money and what would have to be designed and fabricated from scratch. For example, it's commonly reported that the props for both Disneyland's and Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion were built at the same time. New casts could be pulled from old moulds for characters in the Tropical Serenade and Jungle Cruise as well. With all the new attractions going in at the time, any part of Disneyland that could be reused was probably considered a blessing.

And so it would be for many of the attraction posters that would be placed under the Main Street Station at WDW's Magic Kingdom. Along with new posters for new attractions like the Hall of Presidents and the Mickey Mouse Review, some of the old poster designs would appear with minor tweaks, customizing it for Florida.

Here's a couple of samples. Ready to play Hocus-Focus and spot the differences?

This poster for the Hunted Mansion is a classic. No need to really mess with it—but there were some minor changes:
  • Mansion facade changed to depict WDW's design. Color changed to purple to stand out a bit more.
  • Hitchhiking Ghots, top subhead, and land name changed fom blue to white.
  • Bottom subhead changed from green to yellow (to complement the purple).
  • Grass/shadow color changed from dark green to black.
  • Two scary trees added next to the house to fill in some of the white space. This is a subtle, but nice change, as it keeps the eye moving uninterrupted between the house and the ghosts.

Here we have the poster for the Enchanted Tiki Room and it's Florida cousin, the Tropical Serenade. The birds are the same and so is the Adventureland font, but after that things begin to vary:

  • The name changed between the coasts. "Walt Disney's" is gone, as 1) Walt is dead, 2) you're at Walt Disney World, so by default anything in it is Walt's, 3) the attraction is no longer owned and operated by Retlaw, so it's not his legally his. The Enchanted Tiki Room was replaced as the name because the attraction is housed inside "The Sunshine Tree Pavilion," which also includes the Sunshine Tree Terrace juice bar. You can't have a room in a pavilion, I suppose.
  • The tag line is shortened substantially. One can assume Audioanimatronics at Disney parks is now expected and not something worth mentioning on the poster.
  • "At the Gateway to" is dropped from in front of Adventureland (because it's not at the entrance to the land in Florida, it's much farther back). Curiously, the designer chose not to center "Adventureland" on the poster or fill the now empty void created by the edit.
  • The tiki is different (it's now a Lono). Oddly, like in the Disneyland poster, it's still not one of the tikis in the show.

Ah, 20K, as the employees called it. It is missed. This has the most strightforward changes of all the posters, which is good, because the design is fantastic!

  • Name of attraction changed.
  • Sub style changed.
  • Mermaids removed and replaced by teaser copy.
  • Name of land changed
  • Ocean floor reworked slightly (Atlantis column out, seaweed in) to better fit around the shape of the word "Fantasyland." Note how the "Tomorrowland" on the old one was hard to read as the thin-serifed face crossed over the busier background.

The poster for the Monorail is one of my favorites. Clean design; sweeping arcs: the poster practically knocks you over the head with the idea that this transportation system is fast and modern.

And it has a giant error. Can you spot it? It's more obvious than you think, but I had this hanging on my wall for almost 6 months before it jumped out at me.

  • Name changed.
  • Information on where to board changed. Oddly, no mention of the Ticket and Transportation Center.
  • TWA Moonliner and Flight to the Moon attraction building replaced by Cinderella's Castle.
  • Matterhorn replaced by the Contemporary Hotel (note the colored area inside the building that represents Mary Blair's Grand Canyon Concourse tilework. It's economic and brilliantly done.)
  • Did you find the mistake? Although there's a Mark IV monorail in the background in front of the castle (at it should be), that's the same Mark III as in Disneyland's poster somehow coming out of the Contemporary. It's such an obvious mistake, one has to wonder if there was once a plan to use the Mark IIIs at WDW.

The posters of Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom are nothing short of wonderful. It's no suprise that the company is not only still using them, but selling them as souvineers in the parks as well. They've even shown up in film — scattered about in the different children's rooms visited in Pixar's Monsters, Inc. It's a shame that the designers and illustrators of most of the posters have remained unknown and not received the credit and recognition that many of the other Imagineers have and deserve.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Disney's Chicago Adventure

This image of the new entrance to Disney's California Adventure, published on Mice Age, caught my eye.

First, it's a virtual duplicate of the entrance to Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios), which in turn was inspired by the Pan Pacific Auditorium, built in 1935 in Los Angeles.

Second, the typography topping the streamline modern edifice is rendered in Chicago, Susan Kare's face developed in 1984 for Apple's Macintosh computer. Disney rarely makes such anachronistic errors, so I'm hoping it was added as a placeholder by another artist after the rendering was done.

Oddly, Chicago is often the "go to" typeface for Hollywood designers when making signs used in film and television. Perhaps, like the Whilhem scream, it's become an industry in-joke.