Earlier this year, I shared a story from the creation of “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 â€śMagic Journeys,â€ť 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 Centerâ€™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, and 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 labâ€™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 a 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. â€śGuard them well,â€ť said Bob. I went to his office and picked up the two first class airline tickets from his secretary â€“ 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. â€śDo not let them out of your sight. I want you to hand carry them through the changeover in Atlanta.â€ť
So shortly thereafter I left with the two cans of film in my 1975 Honda Civic and went home to pack. My wife, with our three-month old first child, drove me to LAX, 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 to not 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 very heavy 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 off 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 Centerâ€™s projection department. He said it would take a couple 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.