Prior to running the Disneyland Half Marathon, I meant another fellow RunDisney blogger, Greg of Why I RunDisney. (If you have not checked out his blog as he is an excellent blogger of all things Disneyland, including all the RunDisney events.) Well, during our planning for our first trip out to California, Greg asked if we would like to tour the Walt Disney Studios in Burbanks (where he happens to work). I could not get an email back to him fast enough to accept the offer with excitement. This serves as the corporate headquarters for The Walt Disney Company. Beyond the daily Disney business, it is still an active studio with sound stages, backlot, and production facilities where Disney shows and films are made.
So on Thursday (9/4/14) this was going to be our primary site to tour for the day. When we arrived at the Studios, we immediately felt important. Greg had prepped security that we would be arriving, so they were ready for us, welcomed us to the Studio, and handed us our official badges. It also helped that the guard grew up in the Southeast, in North Carolina, so he understood and welcomed our southern accents! My badge photo looks like I am going to Alcatraz as opposed to Walt Disney Studios though!
Here is an overview map of the studio.
The current Walt Disney Studios, located at 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, was built from the revenue from the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Walt Disney and his staff began the move from the old studio at Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake on December 24, 1939, and was completed on May 6, 1940. Designed primarily by Kem Weber under the supervision of Walt Disney and his brother Roy, the Burbank Disney Studio buildings are the only studios that have been owned by The Walt Disney Company to survive from the Golden Age of filming. A bungalow and other small buildings that were located at the Hyperion Avenue location were moved to Burbank.
Back to the tour…
After parking, we walked across the studio lot to the R.O.D., the Roy O. Disney Building, where we met Greg. We started in the Legends Plaza. This is where those who have received the Disney Legends Awards are honored. This is also home to the Partner’s Statute of Walt & Mickey, and a replica statute of Roy Disney and Minnie sitting on the park bench. This is the only place where you can get right beside them for photos, unlike their originals, which are in the park.
Here is the Disney Legends Award for Robin Williams
Statute of Roy Disney & Minnie
From the Disney Legends Plaza we could get a excellent view of the Team Disney Building where CEO Bob Iger’s office is located. The building is supported by the Seven Dwarfs from Snow White, since the revenue from this movie is what allowed Walt Disney to purchase the 51 acres to build the Studios.
On the opposite end of Disney Legends Plaza is the Frank G. Wells Building, which honors his time as President from 1984 to 1994. This building houses many things, but what we got to see in there was the Disney Archives.
Here are just a few pictures from the Disney Archives. I took way too many to post.
Here are a few more recent items that if you are not an avid Disney-file, that you would probably recognize. Jack Sparrow’s compass from Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Mad Hatter’s Hat from Alice in Wonderland, strangely both played by… Johnny Depp.
Then there were these priceless articles from both Walt & Roy. I just froze at these two cases fro several minutes in awe!
While in the archives, we were able to see the Multiplane Camera. This was the type of camera used to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Here is a video showing how the Multiplane Camera is used.
Next we went by the Ink & Painting Building, but did not go in.
Next up, the Animation Building. The former main building for Walt Disney Animation Studios was built and completed in 1940, based on a design by Kem Weber. Walt Disney personally supervised the “double H” design, ensuring as many rooms as possible had windows, which allowed natural light into the building to help the animators while working. Many of the classic Disney animated features including “Dumbo”, “Peter Pan”, “Cinderella” and “Lady & the Tramp” were created and drawn here. Walt Disney had two offices within the building, known as his “formal” and “working offices”. Walt’s rooms continued to be used after his death in 1966, and personal items were archived in 1970, as it is believed that Walt would have wanted his offices to be reused. The rooms still include some original features and are still currently used by company officials.
Walt had two different offices in the Animation Building on the lot. Walt Disney’s original office is now used by a Disney producer. A lot of his original fixtures still remain present in the room and are identical to what they looked like when Walt used the office. It’s kept the same as a respect to the heritage and history at the studio. The Saving Mr. Banks art department studied detailed photographs of Walt Disney’s formal and working offices as they appeared in the late 1960s so that they could accurately recreate it.
This corner office is said to have been Walt’s office.
The Animation Building had a long hallway with sketches from various Disney Classics. Here are just a few.
The Annette Funicello Stage, Stage 1
Stage 1 was completed between 1939 and 1940 and is the original Disney soundstage on the Burbank lot. The soundstage was designed to replace a smaller stage at the former Hyperion Avenue Studio. Although The Walt Disney Studios predominantly made animated films, the soundstage was built in order to film Leopold Stokowski’s segments in the 1940 film Fantasia. During World War II, the stage was used for repairing army vehicles. The soundstage was formerly dedicated to Fantasia, for it being the first motion picture that was filmed in the building. The stage is the smallest on the lot at 11,000 sq ft. It features a 2400 sq ft underwater tank and is still in active use. On June 24, 2013, it was dedicated to Mousketeer Annette Funicello as it was the original shooting stage for The Mickey Mouse Club. In the Mary Poppins film, Stage 1 held part of the Bank’s home as well as Uncle Albert’s house.
The Julie Andrews Stage, Stage 2
Constructed from 1947 and opening in April 1949, Stage 2 is the second oldest soundstage on the Walt Disney Studios lot, and at 31,000 feet (9,400 m), one of the largest in Los Angeles. It was built and financed between a joint agreement between Walt Disney and director Jack Webb, who used the stage for the filming of the television series Dragnet. In October 1955, Stage 2 began production on the first series of The Mickey Mouse Club. From 1954-1955 and prior to the opening of the facilities at Glendale California, WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Inagineering) occupied soundstage 2 to build multiple attractions for Disneyland, including the Mark Twain Riverboat. Since then Stage 2 has been used for filming of multiple attractions for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. In 2001 the stage is dedicated to English actress and Disney Legend Julie Andrews, due to the filming of Mary Poppins and The Princess Dairies, which took place inside soundstage 2. During the filming of Armageddon, the filmmakers discovered the 40 feet high tall stage was not tall enough to hold one of the “asteroid” seen in the film. The floor was removed and an additional 20 feet was dug down to accommodate the 360 degree set for the scene. Once done filming, rather than filling the hole, they just covered it up and it was later used for some of the water scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Stage 3 was completed in 1953 and designed especially for the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The stage is 19,000 sq ft and contains an operational 3600 sq ft water tank that is divided into two parts for underwater and special effects filming.
The tank area was also used heavily beginning in the 1960s as Disney pioneered the use of the sodium screen process. In the 1970s stage 3 was equipped with the first computerized motion control system. The ACES (Animated Camera Effects System) was designed by Disney engineers and broke new ground with technology which has become one of the foundations of current special effects photography.
Other Stages (4-7)
There are 4 other stages that have the newer technologies and are more modern, but we were not able to get near them because of construction
The Hyperion Bungalow
The Bungalow was built in 1935 as the original home of the Disney Publicity and Comic Strip Departments. It was constructed at the Disney Studios on Hyperion Avenue in Hollywood and moved to the Burbank location as part of the construction process in 1939-1940. At the Disney Burbank lot, the building housed many support services over the years. Payroll, Publicity Support, Traffic and finally the Post Office were located in the building. The structure is the last remaining example of the “California Bungalow” type architecture that remains from the Hyperion studio facility. Its attractive style and utility, dating back to the early years of the company, give it a special place in the history of the Disney lot.
Roy E. Disney Animation Building
This building was formerly known as the Walt Disney Feature Animation Building. Now, the Roy E. Disney Building is the current home of the Walt Disney Animation Studios. It actually sits to the south across Riverside Drive.
As noted above, in 1985, Disney Animation was moved out of the studio lot and into a cluster of old buildings in Glendale. During Michael Eisner’s 1990 restructuring of The Walt Disney Company, the studio’s animation division was spun off to officially create Walt Disney Feature Animation as a separate subsidiary of the company, and in 1995 it came back to Burbank when its new home opened.
The new studio is a colorful architectural landmark, adorned by a giant version of the Fantasia Sorcerer’s hat, which once housed of the office of Roy E. Disney, former head of Walt Disney Feature Animation (now called Walt Disney Animation Studios). It also displays the word “ANIMATION” on giant letters on its south side to passerby on the Ventura Freeway.
We spent about 45 minutes touring with Greg to see all of the above. Afterward Greg had to return to work, but we were allowed to walk the studios as much as we desired; however, we could not enter any soundstages.
Before Greg headed off, we took a moment for a photo at the corner of Mickey Ave. & Dopey Drive. He said this is a very photographed intersection on the property. In true Disney fashion, if you look at our feet, it is also Pluto Corner. Pluto gets his own fire hydrant, and there are actually three dog paw prints in the corner by the hydrant. Do you know why? Because Pluto was peeing on the hydrant, obviously!
So we planned this visit around lunchtime. Why is lunch important in this? This is where Walt started out! The commissary on property still makes Walt’s special chilli everyday that he loved so much. I have to admit, it was pretty good! Here is the menu for the commissary.
Mickey makes sure everyone is on time for lunch!
Here is my choices at the commissary. They had about everything. The bowl in the top left of the tray is Walt’s very own chilli. It is served daily, and was pretty good. It had a spicy kick to it!
Finally, in true Disney fashion, it would be right without a store. Even though this is not a place you can just show up and tour, they have a store and Employee Center at the studios for staff and guests. Needless to say, we dropped a few dollars before heading out.
What an amazing experience we will never forget. Thanks again to Greg for this unexpected opportunity to increase our Disney history!