Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend D23’s Destination D at the Disneyland Hotel. I listened to a fascinating presentation, “Animating the Disney Parks,” featuring Eddie Sotto and Imagineers Tony Baxter and Tom Morris. Each Imagineer shared the story of how legendary Disney animators and artists became the first Imagineers during the early development of Disneyland and then the Walt Disney World Resort.
Tony Baxter, Walt Disney Imagineering senior vice president of creative development, got the discussion started with the story of his mentor, Claude Coats. Originally in 1935 as a background painter, Coats created the worlds of “Pinocchio,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Lady and the Tramp.” His backgrounds created a sense of place, Baxter said, much like WED Enterprises (later Walt Disney Imagineering) would do in theme parks.
When Walt Disney was creating Disneyland, the talents of his animators were needed for this new medium. As Baxter recalled, Coats’ experience working on “Lady and the Tramp,” especially, gave him the inspiration to look at the world from an altered perspective – inspiration that would later lead to real-life experiences like Storybook Land Canal Boats and Adventure Thru Inner Space.
“Disneyland defined the ability to take you out of the world you live in,” Baxter said.
Coats was trained in architecture, Baxter said, which gave credibility to the environments he created. When the scenes for Pirates of the Caribbean were being developed, it was Coats who had the idea to paint the ceiling black, creating the illusion of a night sky and making the ceiling disappear – giving guests the sense of being outside at night.
You can see Coats’ background painting talents for yourself today in the Grand Canyon Diorama and Primeval World along the Disneyland Railroad.
Check back for more from “Animating the Disney Parks” – next time, we’ll focus on another master of creating a sense of place, Herb Ryman.
That is really awesome. I did not know the artist behind so many iconic attractions. It’s going to be in the 90s today at disneyland. I have a friends’ family going today. I hope they can handle the heat. I’d just go on Pirates all day! A Pirates life for me!
THANK YOU for this post! We owe those early animators/Imagineers so much, and we hardly ever get to see any attributions for their work. Can’t wait to see the next one!
I enjoyed this article almost as much as that panel! Nicely done. I love fun Disney history like this. More please! 🙂
That’s quite a compliment, Nicole – thank you! It was such an interesting panel and I’m glad I did it justice. 🙂
That underpass on the Magic Kingdom Railroad would be a great place to add the Grand Canyon Diorama and Primeval World!
I love the background work in Lady and the Tramp– countless scenes have lush foliage in the background, adding to the charm of the movie. It’s awesome to learn that the same guy who worked on LatT also did so much throughout the park. The night ambiance of Pirates of the Caribbean helps to make the ride so incredibly immersive. Thanks very much Claude!