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You know what they say: If you want to get something done,
ask a busy person to do it.
Joe Lanzisero, Senior Vice President - Creative, Walt Disney Imagineering.Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
Back in 2007, it's arguable that no one person was busier at
The Walt Disney Company than Joe Lanzisero. As a Senior Vice President - Creative
at Walt Disney Imagineering, Joe was riding herd on all of the Tokyo Disneyland & Hong Kong Disneyland Resorts' theme parks. Not to mention that -- at the
exact same time -- Lanzisero was helping to design two brand-new ships for the
Disney Cruise Line.
But when the Hong Kong government
came to Joe and said that they wanted some new rides, shows & attractions
for HKDL, he didn't use all of his other obligations as an excuse to shirk this
new assignment. Lanzisero just turned to his team at WDI and began spit-balling
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.All rights reserved
"And I have to thank our Hong Kong government
partners because they were very adamant that -- in their marketplace -- they
really wanted to have bragging rights. These officials wanted to be able to say
that 'The only place in the world that you're going to experience these
attractions is at Hong Kong Disneyland,' " Joe explained in a recent phone
interview. "Which meant that we were now going to get to do what the
original Imagineers did with Walt. Which wasn't build a ride or show around
some pre-existing Pixar or Disney intellectual property. But -- rather -- create
something out of whole cloth like 'The Haunted Mansion' or 'Pirates of the Caribbean'
or 'it's a small world.' Build a brand-new theme park experience around a place
that people had never been before featuring characters that they'd never
Which sounds like a pretty big challenge in & of itself. But Lanziero was
looking to raise the bar even higher
when it came to Imagineering's newest assignment.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
"Think about it. Thanks to all of these giant, big
budget special effects films, people are now just used to seeing the most
unbelievable things," Joe continued. "And what I wanted WDI to try &
do was create an attraction where the Guests wouldn't be able to tell where a
piece of projection began & ended and where a live set began & ended
and where an animatronic began & ended. With the end result being this
absolutely seamless visual melding of all these elements which then created
this ride experience that was so mind-blowing that Hong Kong Disneyland
visitors were going to walk out of this thing saying 'How the heck did they do
Mind you, the Imagineers were going to need a story and some
characters to build this special effects extravaganza around. And after a
couple of false starts, they eventually came up with Mystic Manor. Which was
where Lord Henry Mystic, a turn-of-the-century explorer and his simian
companion Albert, lived surrounded by all of the rare & unusual artifacts
that these two had collected during their travels 'round the globe.
"The idea behind this ride can kind of be traced back
to Walt Disney World's Adventurers Club. Though -- truth be told -- it really
has more to do with Tokyo Disneyland's version of the Tower
of Terror," Lanzisero stated.
"Since the Japanese weren't really familiar with Rod Serling or the
'Twilight Zone' television series, we had to come up with a brand-new back story
for the Tokyo DisneySea version of this thrill ride. Which is when the
Imagineers dreamed up Harrison Hightower III, this billionaire explorer /
industrialist who built the Hightower Hotel and then met a mysterious fate on
New Year's Eve 1899. Supposedly because Harrison didn't
heed the warnings about a particular artifact that he had recently added to his
"And since Harrison Hightower was supposed to be a member of SEA, the
Society of Adventurers & Explorers ... Well, we decided to build Mystic Manor
around another SEA member who had just taken possession of a mysterious object
that might cause him problems," Joe continued. "Only this time
around, it was a Balinese music box that -- when it was opened -- released this
magical music dust which then caused inanimate objects to come to life."
And given that music played such a big part in this proposed Hong Kong
Disneyland addition (More to the point, given that all of the truly classic
Disney theme park rides -- "it's a small world," "Pirates of the
Caribbean" and "The Haunted Mansion" -- all prominently featured
songs) ... Well, Lanzisero was just thrilled when Academy Award-nominee Danny Elfman reached out to WDI and then volunteered to write an original score for
"Danny came on board this project via his manager Richard Kraft. Who -- as
it turns out -- is a big-time Disney enthusiast," Joe said. "Richard
was at the very first D23 EXPO and saw the display that WDI had put up for
'Mystic Manor.' And as soon as Richard saw the concept art & storyboards
for this ride, he immediately thought 'Wow, this would be a great project for
Danny to work on.' Who Kraft knew was looking to expand beyond the scores that
he'd been creating for film & television. And since -- when Elfman was
growing up in Southern California -- his favorite ride
at Disneyland was The Haunted Mansion ... Well, Danny
was just the perfect guy to write the music for Mystic Manor."
Danny Elfman outside of Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland.Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
Of course, it's one thing to have a story & characters to build your theme
park attraction around (or -- for that matter -- a theme song for your theme
park attraction). But then comes the really tough part: How are you actually
going to convey people through this experience? Because many a promising theme
park attraction has been undone because its designers opted to go with the
wrong ride system in the end. Which then made it impossible to properly tell
that attraction's story.
"But that's why it's great to work at WDI,"
Lanzisero enthused. "Here at Disney, we are blessed with the top of the
industry. The very best lighting designers, colorists and special effects people. And our ride guys
really outdid themselves with Mystic Manor. Those engineers made use of some
proprietary software -- not mention the more than 200 RFID tags that we buried
in the concrete floor of our Mystic Manor show building -- to create this
trackless ride system which can then dispatch four vehicles at a time. Not only
that, but these ride vehicles -- Mystic's Magneto Electric Carriages --
actually reinforce our story. We now have the ability to program each individual
vehicle so that it can go up to a particular prop or effect in a show scene and
then direct the Guest's attention at that specific vignette. Then after this
show scene plays out, this trackless vehicle is programmed to move the Guests
to the next vignette. So that cumulatively -- going from scene to scene to
scene -- we can then treat Hong Kong Disneyland visitors to a complete story.
Which climaxes with Albert frantically trying to close that Balinese music box
before its magical music dust actually tears Mystic Manor apart."
It's this skillful mix of special effects, music, storytelling & ride
systems that has made "Mystic Manor" the talk of the themed
entertainment industry ever since this new HKDL attraction first opened back on
May 17, 2013. More
importantly, it's why -- this past Saturday night -- TEA (i.e., The Themed
Entertainment Association) paid tribute to Joe & his team at WDI by giving
"Mystic Manor" an AOA (i.e., an Award for Outstanding Achievement).
And Lanzisero -- even though, as I mentioned at the very
start of this article -- is a very busy
guy, he still made a point of traveling to the Disneyland Hotel to accept this
award. And as Joe stood at the podium in the Grand Ballroom during the Thea
Awards Gala, he graciously made a point of thanking the people who helped make
this attraction possible. Which -- to Lanzisero's way of thinking -- stretched
all the way from Ethan Reed (who did such a brilliant job with designing Lord
Henry & Albert) all the way back to Disney Legend Marc Davis (who taught
Joe at CalArts back in 1975 about silhouette value and using design &
strong poses to tell Guests how they're supposed to feel about the characters that
they encounter in Disney's theme park attractions).
Joe Lanzisero with WDI's Thea Award for Outstanding Achieve-ment for "Mystic Manor." Photo by Noe Valladolid
"As for that Award for Outstanding Achievement, it's one thing to have the
Guests go through and then say that they like the ride that you & your team
designed. But to be recognized by your peers, by people who know all too well
the challenges that we face when we design rides, show and attractions like
this, that means the world to me," Joe concluded. "I've had the
chance to do a lot of neat stuff around the world. But Mystic Manor -- thanks
to the people, the location and the subject matter that I got to work with here
-- has probably been one of the high points of my career at WDI."EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article credited Imagineer Ethan Reed Credit with the sculpting of the Lord Henry & Albert figures for "Mystic Manor." While Ethan designed these characters and served as Animation Creative Director on this Hong Kong Disneyland project, it was actually Imagineers Steve Cotroneo who sculpted Albert and Scott Goddard who sculpted Lord Henry.
The whole notion of a creating this SEA (Society of Adventurers & Explorers club) story template provided Disney with so many story boarding scene options. Something I wish the "States" parks would do. The fabricated society they created became the "life force" driving this and HK's other attraction(s) It was a stroke of genius! These unheard of characters and the mysteries they reveal further fuel the wonderment of the attractions. Having only read about Mystic Manor (envisioning it as a real manor and not an attraction) I can't help but want to become an SEA member or at the very least learn more about how this perfect backstory template and those characters came to create such an amazing attraction. Joe and the gang really deserve all the praises. Disney should be so lucky to have them. If only Lord Henry Mystic and the rest SEA were prominent stateside at DisneyLand or WDW...
...one can dream.
One member is - sort of - pinkmonorail.com/.../society-explorers-adventurers-away