Back in 1998, Animation Producer Peter Hastings (Pinky and the Brain, Tiny Toons) contacted me about sketching some ideas for a "magical expanding building" to open his new TV show "ABC's One Saturday Morning". We discussed the deco optimism of there 1939 world's fair, modern architecture, even the Matterhorn as to this amazing building that he wanted to rise from the ground. After sketching for some time, I submitted a sequence to him and the he and his producer Prudence Fenton were happy with. It was even more than a building, it had a ride in it! Fenton and her team ran with it, making my sketches of a "cereal bowl splashdown" and calendars being torn, chasing bulbs and satellite dishes, come to life and better than ever! A fun memory that in a way inspired our "thrillboard" project...
Art in the Park. Stories told in layers.
Main Street USA for Disneyland Paris was designed to satisfy a European audience that was accustomed to living within "layers of history." Buildings in Europe have lived and still carry on many "lives," evolving to meet ever changing needs, yet sporting their 19th Century roots. Everywhere you look in your stroll down the streets of Paris, those layers of history stand out and remind you of another time just beneath the modern signage. People flock to the "city of lights" to experience those layers that were once called "La belle époque." Far from the mid-century suburban world of Anaheim, California, (the site of the original Disneyland,) our 19th Century "Main Street USA" needed to reward it's guests similarly with layer upon layer of it's own changes, gas lighting becoming electric, horses yielding to cars, etc. or it would feel hollow and insincere to this historically sophisticated audience.
Designing for the audience. Details in Context.
What would guests think if they saw our street of modern asphalt (as it was in Anaheim) when Paris still has it's cobblestones? Not a very credible representation of "turn of the century." What story could the street itself tell while waiting for an hour on the curb for the parade? In addition to making the street from brick pavers, we decided to go a step further with a tribute to those boulevards of the past. I had run across a book (Manhole Covers) that brought attention to the fact that even back in the 19th Century, manhole covers were a symbol of civic pride and stunning craft, so I asked our team create a small art installation of various antique american manhole covers for guests to discover right in the street. If the guest saw how we went to that length to embed detail, they'd assume everything had that level of thought.
Seen Below. In addition to the star-studded Baltimore Fire Dept. example, we installed covers from Chicago, New York's Croton Water (sporting a DWP intertwined logo), and the elaborate filagree adorning the Central City, Colorado cover. It was so pretty, we reproduced that one and used it in two locations! All of these spanned the late nineteenth century and are great examples of how cast iron was used in simple and decorative ways all at once. Story is where you find it.
Thanks to David Goebel for his images and research.
While working for Landmark Entertainment Group we got to design and build this great victorian Submarine in the manner of designer Harper Goff's "Nautilus," made famous in Disney's "20,000 Leagues under the Sea" epic. It was made for the "Six Flags Power Plant" family entertainment center in Baltimore, Maryland. The theme was that a professor named Phineas Flagg created many technical wonders prior to Jules Verne, Edison and others and guests could visit his world. The amazing model seen below was built by Terri Cardinali, a very talented sculptor from just one drawing! Also seen are a few shots of the finished sub. This was built on a shoestring budget and I was shocked it did not get cut from the project. Designer Joe DeMeis did the color styling. So fun and from such a small staff.
Back on the farm after 30 years.
Eddie Sotto began his design career at Knott's Berry Farm in 1979 as an assistant project designer. His first ride design and production was the successful "Soap Box Racer" and created some of the thematic structures and iconic character Clock for "Camp Snoopy." It was a great thrill to return decades later to produce a conceptual presentation and analysis for a remodel of the historic "Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant."
Recommendations, sketches and images samples, graphic designs, plans and market trends, even historical providence went into a slide presentation. Everything matters. Here are just a few random slides to give you a sense of the extent to which we delved into the project. We tend to be ambitious and throw the net wide to capture the vision and then rein in some of the inspiration with the client based on what they can execute in the time and budget they have. The reason we do this is that the best ideas need to get on the table and usually they can be executed in a more modest way and still retain their power. At times, the client goes with the full vision. If you never see "the wow," how can you achieve it? Many of those suggestions were adopted by the in-house team that executed the final remodel. Happy to have had a part in the inspiration.
Telling the historic story one room at a time.
Truth be told, Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant began as roadside berry stand that grew into a dining phenomenon during the great depression. Served on her wedding china to make bit more money, Cordelia Knott prepared her famous fried chicken in their humble home, which still stands today inside the restaurant. We wanted to bring guests into that story and let them experience the sense of family in a recreation of the Knott home. SottoStudios would love to do the same for your brand or your story. Everything matters!
By Edward Sotto
We often get asked what parts of project we can do and where we stop and others begin. In the case of my working on Disneyland Paris, I had to serve as both creative producer overseeing and approving virtually all of the design, but also as a designer, generating the "macro" or "the big picture," with conceptual sketches (especially after Herb Ryman was no longer available.) and the "micro," the details.
On a job like Main Street USA where architecture plays such a large role in telling our "story", we begin by building on loose directional sketches that are shared with the architect, and then over a series of elevations passed back and forth with the architecture team, finally refining or driving the details and other design intent in the "micro" sense.
Disneyland Paris Railroad Station.
The train was to "pierce" the central marquee as to be seen moving through a section of the new station. Stained glass and wrought iron were a component of the welcoming marquee over the central entry portal. Detail had to be envisioned that would pull all of this together.
Ornament was also considered, like this sketch of a bronze station clock. - Unbuilt Ed Sotto 1988
At WED Imagineering I had the honor of working with Disney legend Herb Ryman when heading up our Disneyland Paris Main Street design team. I was looking for talent to help visualize the project and Marty Sklar arranged to bring the now retired Ryman back into the company to help out this young producer. I had met Herb working for industry legend Gary Goddard a few years earlier, and knew of his ability to illustrate an idea like no one else. After all, he had done the original rendering that sold Disneyland, I was hoping he could help sell this new vision of the 1920's themed Main Street for Paris. Sklar warned me that he may not be very productive, but I learned that listening to him and spending time developing a relationship was the key to Herb finding a reason to enjoy the project. And he did, and produced many great things, the best being our friendship. We enjoyed each other very much. He taught me so much that goes beyond the art, but in fact, the "why" of art. Although he turned in some amazing pieces, his health was in decline and our time was cut short. He brought me along to his Thursday lunch group of retired Disney greats, known as "The Dinosaurs." and after his passing, I learned that the best thing he could leave me was not a painting, but his place at the table.
When I see this image, I'm reminded of a story. The dark object you see by Herb's hand was the failed fan clutch from his Mercedes. Fascinated by it's shape, I told him I thought it would make a great modern hotel design for the Paris project. (It reminded me of the Tower in the 1929 Film "Metropolis") My sketch is on the board...and he is here telling the photographer the story.. I even photographed it and later developed the design, hoping to later reveal how a "massive German car part landed in the French countryside", Herb and I laughed so much about it...now that's Imagineering!
Herb put a bit of himself into his work and encouraged me to do the same. "Bad taste costs no more" he'd say and encourage me to go the extra mile, researching the history of a period design, not just copying what has been done, but start with the story and the emotion of why something should be there. Good advice, and as a company, that's exactly what we do today.
Building mockups for scale is an experiential fundamental and something we strive to do on our current projects. Beyond computer modeling, simple mockups lend a tactile impression CGI does not. Having a sense of how a space can experientially feel can be overlooked, but when your success depends on how much people love it, it pays to focus on experiential massing. This image from the late 1980s shows Disney Imagineering Chief Marty Sklar reviewing a "mockup" of the enclosed arcades of Main Street USA for Disneyland Paris. We had never attempted to create an alternate route to the center of the park,let alone an indoor one. It had to feel just as warm and intimate as the rest of the park. Part of the scheme are the 80 or more flickering Gaslights (shown in white paper and styrofoam and pictured right) that highlight our path . In that dusty Imagineering parking lot within view of the Interstate 5 Freeway, Marty gave us his approval. The real arcades emerged in 1992 and the reviews have been great, thanks to the foresight of "mocking up" the height and width to great effect.
In fact, the Arcades were part of a mandate for the Paris park to allow the guests to warmly circulate during inclement weather. An initial proposal was covering the entire Main Street with a steel and glass roof as was done to ill effect in Tokyo Disneyland. To his credit, Tony Baxter, the executive in charge, did not want to cover the street or create an extensive network of porches and awnings, but rather to create alternate fowl weather route, which allowed the guest to experience Main Street the way it was intended, and the arcades developed from there as a way to avoid covering the entire street.
"We have 30 years of sketches, details , stories and wonderful imagery from past projects, so we created this section to share some of that art and process from the past. The process can be as exciting as the product!" - Eddie Sotto
So to start things off, I often get asked if I had an interesting Disney project that never got built.
"Lafitte's Island (and Catacombs)- 1998 Disneyland"
Guests find a small cemetery across from the Haunted Mansion along the river. Standing tall above the headstones is New Orleans most notorious pirate citizen Jean Lafitte. Upon closer inspection, thieves have dug up his brother's grave and opened his crypt. Dare we venture inside?
In the late 1990s, long before Johnny Depp wore mascara and brandished a sword, I was on vacation in Hawaii, sketchbook in hand when the notion of transforming Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland into "Lafitte's Island" (in honor of New Orleans most famous privateer) hit me. Disneyland had references to Lafitte in the form of naming the landing after him on the Pirates Attraction, and even an Anchor in his honor along the river.
The fact behind the fiction.
Historically speaking, Lafitte had a real thieves market of stolen goods on an island (Barrataria) across from New Orleans and the wealthy would shop there, so the logic made sense to me. I quickly read his alleged memoirs where he claims to have faked his death. The "driver" of this while thing was that park's operators wanted to eliminate the Tom Sawyer Rafts that transported guests back and forth, even explore closing the island for economic reasons. The Lafitte suggestion set out to address this issue by improving it's daily visitation and profitability while lowering operating costs (limited by the capacity of the rafts.) By tunneling under the river and creating a 2 way "underpass" of sorts, we would bring an unlimited flow of guests on and off with little operational cost. How? In the form of "Lafitte's secret crypt and Catacombs." Story was that Lafitte faked his death and created a burial Crypt in a small graveyard along the river in front of the Haunted Mansion. Grave robbers, knowing it was actually a secret passage had broken through to the series of catacomb like chambers, littered with treasure and the remains of Lafitte's conquests. This led to the island where a capsized series of scuttled ships hulls were covered in Earth as secret interior rooms and hideouts were there to be explored. Even though there are only a few sketches and some of them are pretty rough, others have been cleaned up in living color, so let's go!!!
Guests explore the remains of lost crews, treasure and Lafitte's piratical career, chamber by nefarious chamber.
At the end of the catacomb, we find a shipwreck buried below ground with stairs leading to the light of day and Lafitte's Island.
Violations of ship's articles and embezzlement were taken seriously. Lafitte held court from a Spanish throne in this cavern where we hear the splash of the surf and witness the plank of the convicted.
Lafitte Bros. Treasure Lair
Capsizing the remains of a shipwreck and disguising it with earth, the Lafitte's were free to trade from a grand cache of treasure with the New Orleans elite. Food, Pirate grog made from gunpowder, baubles and trinkets, along with challenges in gunnery await adventure seekers.
Here we see how the underground fort used to protect itself with demonstrations of captured Spanish cannons.
Next time you are at Disneyland and stroll along the river near the Haunted Mansion, note this bricked up entry. Could this be the sealed entrance to Lafitte's lost catacomb? Guests have been wondering this for more than a decade, and ironically some of his legend has made it to the Island, but someday we may explore the rest of his legacy...till then, our caves are sealed ;-)