The mud. When you speak to Imagineers that worked on the Disneyland Paris project during its construction phase, that is the first thing they remember: the mud of the Marne-la-Vallée region, 30 kilometres east of Paris, where the park stands today. Its weight, its unbelievable stickiness, its overwhelming presence during the rainy fall and winter months. The second thing they remember most is a lot more magical : it is the amazing talent of the European craftsmen that mastered techniques long forgotten in the US.

Nowhere was this more clear to them than when they built Fantasyland.

The Castles and their European "Fairies"

The craftsmen came literally from all over Europe.

The copper weather vanes on top of Sleeping Beauty Castle were produced by two Frenchmen, who arrived on the project site, looked at the rooftops, referred to the drawings that Imagineers gave them, and, on the spot set about creating the weather vanes, in front of the actual buildings, without even going back to their workshop ! As for the wooden structures used for the rooftops of Fantasyland were built by Spaniards. They came to the site dressed in costumes that resembled that of Zorro: black jacket, black pants, black hat, white shirt. And they spent weeks sawing giant beams and creating the gigantic structures.

Paul Chapman, an English stained-glass specialist who had worked for the queen of England and on the restoration of Notre Dame, was one of the most fascinating of the European artisans who contributed to the construction of the Castle. When work began on the Park, he was already in his 80s, but he didn't hesitate to supervise the creation of the splendid stained-glass windows which tell the story of Princess Aurora. All his life Paul Chapman had created designs for churches that were intended to impress and frighten the faithful. He admitted that he had always wanted, for a change, to create pieces that would make people smile and laugh.

As for the Castle towers, they were made in Italy, sent through France, and attached to the Castle on August 2, 1991. But the color was not exactly the one the Imagineers had expected, so they had to be repainted. To accomplish this, Imagineers used the tallest crane in Europe that measured nearly 300 feet high. Ron Esposito, the Imagineer responsible for color theming, found himself on this lift during winter, in the rain and the cold, 50 feet up in the air, painting the Castle. He'll probably never forget this dreadful experience! In fact, on some days, it was so cold that the paint chipped and landed on the sides of the castle as if it were sand.

I am freezing just to imagine the scene. So let's take the opportunity to enter one of the warmest stores of the park, situated within the Sleeping Beauty Castle itself, La Boutique du Chateau. To create the various sculptures that decorate that part of the Castle and to find many of the theming elements, Imagineers visited a city close to Paris. In Orly they discovered the home of an amazing character : the house of this French artist was full of old scientific instruments and stuffed animals. He looked a little like a mad scientist but was also a wonderful creator and one of the big experts in casting plaster and resin.

Oh, by the way, since we are still talking about castles, do you remember that Disneyland Paris on opening day contained not just one but two castles (there are a few more that sprang out later in Storybookland)? Granted, the second one is much smaller. As the center part of the attraction "Alice's Curious Labyrinth", the Queen of Hearts castle had to be both very appealing and whimsical. Once again Imagineers taped local talents for the occasion. The castle was sculpted by a French company which first used blocks of polystyrene. The artisans then carved them by knife into the desired shapes. Next concrete was poured over them, and when it had dried, the artisans removed the polystyrene that protruded. The shape of the castle was born!

A Tale of Two Cities (Camelot and Ohio)

Now let's back track a bit. As we exit the Sleeping Beauty Castle, we enter an area of the park that pays tribute to the court of Camelot, with Arthur's sword and the Carousel of Lancelot. Guests that visit the park for the first time are always stunned by the beauty of that carousel and there are quite a few good reasons for this Generally the carrousels in theme parks and fairs only have one horse with a fancy harness and trimmings and visitors fight against each other to get on it. In the Disneyland Paris carousel, however, there are no less than seventeen of these horses. The craftsman that created them, this time was not European, though. He was American and based in Ohio. As for the 70 horses located in the middle, which were fabricated by Imagineering's workshop in Florida, they included a very special note: Imagineers used a different color for each one and installed them in the order of the colors of the rainbow in order to add to the visual impact.

Imagineers also wanted to include two large chariots in the carrousel. While creating Walt Disney World, they had used several elements from an old carousel made by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in the '20s. They had not used the chariots, however, and the Smithsonian Institute had frequently offered to buy them. In Tokyo, Imagineers became aware that many older guests, who wanted to enjoy the carrousel were unable to get up onto the horses. So in Paris, they finally decided to use these chariots that they had possessed since the '60s.

The US for Germany, Germany for Italy

An other place in the park that was shaped mainly by US artists was the store "La Chaumière des Sept Nains". It is comprised of two parts: the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs itself and the Evil Queen's castle, which are separated by the forest. Imagineers actually referred to the original animation drawings to design the cottage, the beds, the elements decorating the pillars,...If you explore this store with enough time, you will discover spider webs on the ceiling, burned-down candles and notice that the floor seems deliberately poorly swept. As for the beds of the dwarfs, they are carved from real wood. Ceramic cups and place settings, all inspired by the film and created by a student in Los Angeles, can also be found in this shop. To recreate the feeling of the animated film, Imagineers departed from the straight and narrow and made the beams and set pieces with more rounded shapes, less realistic and more whimsical. Everything was to be a little distorted, a little curved. This effect could only be successfully executed by hand. Most of the elements and set pieces were therefore fabricated by the artists of WDI's workshops, but a few of them are perfectly genuine and come straight from Friburg, in Switzerland.

French, Spanish, English, Swiss and American craftsmen worked on Fantasyland. Where else could Imagineers find the right talents?

For the restaurant 'Bottega di Gepetto' Imagineers wanted to reproduce all of the clocks and puppets in the film. It is in East Berlin that they found the artist that would help them make this project a reality. The puppet maker Ralph Schade is the artist who reproduced all of the objects from the movie Pinocchio that the restaurant features, including the mechanical clocks in perfect working order. As for his wife, she made the puppets using old Berlin fabrics from the '40s and '50s.

That's it for today, but before wrapping-up, here are a few odd additional details and titbits:

The ceiling of the attraction "Mad Hatter's Tea Cups" is actually an extremely heavy glass accordion and, unfortunately, when the Imagineers first installed it, it acted just like an accordion, folding back in on itself, collapsing under its own weight. Imagineers had to completely revise its concept to make it work.

While designing the "Mad Hatter's Tea Cups", Tom Morris, Fantasyland's art director, became obsessed by the beautiful shapes that appear throughout the Alice in Wonderland animated feature For the attraction he wanted to recreate the subtly interconnected arcs that one sees here and there throughout the Alice film as well as the rounded reassuring shapes that are omnipresent in the movie. Achieving this with precision was no small feat.

When they worked on the first concepts for Alice's Curious Labyrinth Imagineers thought about including huge tapestries of Aubusson within the labyrinth to give the surroundings a medieval feel.

Since I always refer to the book "From Sketch to Reality" in that series, I just would like to remind you that, at the latest news, Didier Ghez still seemed to be selling both the regular and limited editions of the English version of the book at a discount price. For more information you can contact him at [email protected]