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Remembering Disney theme park conceptual artist Collin Campbell

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Remembering Disney theme park conceptual artist Collin Campbell

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How many times have you looked at a piece of Disney theme park concept art and thought: "Oooh, I wanna go there right now."


Collin Campbell's painting of the Fort Wilderness Railroad
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

 Collin Campbell was an absolute master when it came to those sorts of paintings.


Collin Campbell (1926 - 2011)

Campbell (who passed away back on April 2nd at the age of 84) was - in a lot of ways - like Walt Disney. In that Collin was a country boy from the heartland who had an obvious talent for drawing. And after a stint in the service (during which time Collin was a combat artist for both the Navy and Air Force) ...


Campbell's painting of the Glendale Airport / Grand Central Air Terminal during
the war years. This site is now home to the Walt Disney Company's Grand
Central Creative Campus.

... Campbell then settled in Southern California. Where - after graduating from Glendale's School of Applied Arts - Collin found work as a background artist at Walt Disney Studios, where he then contributed to animated features like 1955's "Lady and the Tramp" and 1961's "101 Dalmatians."

But Walt ... He saw something more in Collin. Which is why Disney moved Campbell from the Studios over to WED in 1961. Where he then began doing concept illustrations for projects like "Walt Disney's Legend of the Enchanted Island" (i.e. the never-produced 1964 New York World's Fair show that served as the inspiration for Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room).


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All right reserved

Collin clearly enjoyed working at WED during this period in the Company's history. Given all of the challenging assignments that Walt would send his way ...


Collin Campbell working on the 1'- to-1" scale model of the Wicked Wench for
Disneyland's "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But with Walt's passing in December of 1966, Campbell then took on a truly important role for Walt Disney Productions. In that he was one of a handful of artists who would then help Company execs determine what Walt Disney World would actually look like.


Collin Campbell's painting of the Main Street Train Station for WDW's Magic Kingdom
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

One of the reasons that WED's key creative always loved to have Collin do the concept illustrations for their projects was ... Well, to be blunt, Campbell made your ideas look better than they actually were.


Collin Campbell's painting of City Hall for WDW's Magic Kingdom
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Collin not only had a gift for capturing the excitement & romance of a proposed new ride, show and/or attraction right there on canvas ...


Collin Campbell's painting of the United Kingdom pavilion for EPCOT Center's
World Showcase. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... but his concept illustrations made these proposed additions to the Disney parks seem buildable / doable. The sorts of ideas that the Company's board of directors could then actually get behind and agree to finance.


Collin Campbell's painting of the Norway pavilion for EPCOT Center's World Showcase
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which was why - when Tony Baxter was trying to get Splash Mountain greenlit - he asked Campbell to create several concept paintings of this "Song of the South" -themed flume ride.


Collin Campbell's painting of Splash Mountain's finale sequence
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Likewise, when Bob Weis was trying to get what-was-then-known as the Disney-MGM Studio Tour approved ...


Collin Campbell's concept painting of Disney-MGM Studio Theme Park
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... he had Collin paint multiple canvases ...


Collin Campbell's painting of Hollywood Boulevard at Disney-MGM Studio Theme Park
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... just so Michael Eisner & Co. could then get some sense of what a movie-and-television -themed theme park might actually look like.


Collin Campbell's painting of Hollywood Boulevard at Disney-MGM Studio Theme Park
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which isn't to say that every project that Campbell ever painted for the Imagineers actually got approved. For every greenlit project like Pleasure Island ...


Collin Campbell's concept painting of WDW's Pleasure Island nighttime
entertainment complex. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

... there were things like Euro Disneyland's 1920s version of Main Street, U.S.A. with its flappers and gangsters. An idea that Michael Eisner supposedly lost his enthusiasm for after he watched Robert DeNiro - when he played Al Capone in Brian De Palma's 1987 film, "The Untouchables" - beat one of his partners-in-crime to death with a baseball bat.


Collin Campbell's 1920s-inspired version of Main Street, U.S.A. for Euro Disneyland
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And there are still folks at WDI who believe that - if Disney World managers hadn't cheaped out back in the mid-1970s and had then built Treasure Island just as Collin had originally painted it (i.e. with a walk-thru wreck of the Hispaniola ...


Collin Campbell's concept painting of the Cypress swamp walk-thru portion of WDW's
Treasure Island. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... not to mention a full-sized, elaborately-themed version of Ben Gunn's cave to explore) ...


Collin Campbell's painting of the interior of Ben Gunn's Cave for WDW's Treasure Island
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... this early, early of WDW's Discovery Island zoological park would have actually caught on with Guests and then wouldn't have had to close in April of 1999.

You know what I find fascinating about Campbell's work? Usually when Collin was painting these concept illustrations, all he had to work with were a few rough sketches and some bare-bone blueprints. And yet Campbell would then deliver these dazzling canvases ...


Collin Campbell's painting of the Mexico pavilion for EPCOT Center's World Showcase
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... Which - at least in the case of EPCOT Center in the late 1970s & early 1980s - played a crucial role in many countries and corporation's final decisions as to whether they wanted to be a part of WDW's second gate.

So obviously Collin Campbell made a huge contribution to Disney Company history. Which is why this talented artist is sure to be missed by his old co-workers at WDI as well as by Disneyana fans around. But as for me ... I guess the reason that Collin Campbell's passing really struck a chord with me is that he's the Imagineer who actually created the illustrations for my first official Disney theme park souvenir ...


Collin Campbell's painting for the cover of the "Story and Songs of The
Haunted Mansion" LP. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All right reserved

... which was a copy of the "Story & Song From the Haunted Mansion " that I purchased back in July of 1970 when my family spent a day at Disneyland as part of our cross-country trip.

I have to admit that I must have paged through the 12 page booklet which accompanied this Disneyland Storyteller LP hundreds of times as I tried to remember everything that I had seen while riding through The Haunted Mansion. Of course, the Hatbox Ghost had long since been removed by the time I and my family experienced this New Orleans Square attraction ...


Collin Campbell's painting of the Hatbox Ghost from Disneyland's
Haunted Mansion. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

... but Collin's painting of this Haunted Mansion character continues to haunt me to this day.

Which is why I guess that it's appropriate that - while Campbell has been honored with a Window on Main Street at Walt Disney World but not yet one at Disneyland - that Collin's considerable creative contribution to the Company's history has been acknowledged with a monument in that new interactive graveyard that was recently added to The Haunted Mansion at WDW's Magic Kingdom.


Collin Campbell's tribute tombstone
at WDW's Haunted Mansion.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Given the way things timed out here, some might think that this is a pretty gruesome way to honor Campbell's artistic legacy. But given the stories that I've heard about Collin from his fellow Imagineers over the past 20 years, I'm just going to assume that he would have approved of this amusing if somewhat macabre coincidence.

The staff of JimHillMedia extends its heartfelt condolences to the friends & family of Collin Campbell during their time of sorrow.

For further information about Collin Campbell and his amazing career, please check Jeff Baham's excellent article about this Imagineer and Jeff Kurtti's post over on Storyboard, the Walt Disney Family Museum blog.

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  • His art conception is the most admirable feature of WDW parks. I took a friend in 2001 to Orlando to show him the reason of my amazement, so we sait on a City Hall's bench for an hour, just enjoying the atmosphere. Excellence and attention to detail make the difference between any theme park and a WDW park.

  • Thanks for this article. The cover and pages of the Haunted Mansion LP were so incredible to me as a child. I still have the record and now I know more about the artist. Rest in Peace Mr. Campbell.

  • Now THESE are concept paintings! Yes, several may have some fireworks and lights to dazzle the viewer and get them enthused, but every one of these paintings features a real idea that is being visualized in a manner that suggests what the attraction or park will actually be like. So different from those concept paintings that depict the proposed Shanghai park you just recently ran that, for all their razzle dazzle, really show us nothing.

    Also, I have to say that there's still something far superior in the medium of real paint on illustration board. In comparison, all of these contemporary digital paintings feel so sterile and overly rendered to me. It's so sad when we lose illustrators like Collin Campbell, as it seems like there's nobody today willing to carry on their rich traditional way of working.

  • Interesting - now there's proof that moving the America Sings figures was NOT a last-minute emergency stopgap, but that Mr. Baxter planned it all along.

  • He will be missed.

  • Collin, was one of the greatest artists whom ever worked with Walt Disney at WED, as it was called when I worked there. I was truly fortunate to have been able to work with him on numerous occasions. He was a true inspiration to challenge my creative ability to do more and be more then you could.   He was a gentleman and a true gift to the design team of Disneyland and WDW.  Wish there were more like him working for Disney today. May he rest in peace, even in memory at the Haunted Mansion at WDW.

  • Collin was one of the Dinosaurs group assembled by Ken Anderson. We all had lunch together once a week and as the youngest of the group I can tell you that Collin was, like so many other Disney artists, kind, quiet and delightful to be with. He was one of the finest and well respected by all who knew him. I am sad he is gone and happy to have known such a lovely person.

  • Dear Uncle Collins,    You will be missed very much and loved.  Tell grandpa, grandma and Eric that I love them and miss them so much.

  • I'd like to thank the author Jim Hill for the nice tribute to my Uncle Buck. He was a very nice man as well as all my Aunts and Uncles from the Campbell family. If there is more information out there about work that he did at Disney please share. My mom who was 4 or 5 years older than Collin would always tell the story that when he was a kid whenever he met anyone, he would ask if they wanted to see what he just drew. He would reach in his pocket, take out a piece of paper, unfold it,  and show off his latest drawing. He was truly one of the lucky ones who got to enjoy a lifetime doing what he loved most...Thanks to all for the kind words...

  • How so very orginal and honest ! Big bad Bruce and Nat would be so proud!

  • I have a Jungle Cruise Concept  number 191/300 for sell. Moving from SoCal $500

  • are reprints of his art available for purchase

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  • I grew up with Collin. He and my father, Paul Hartley, were close friends and co-workers at Disney. He would LOVE the tombstone. I know he's smiling about it now!

  • Wondering how to get in touch with any of the children of Wed Imagineers like myself. My father, Mits Natsume, was a colleague and good friend of Collin's back in the day. Thanks.

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