Walt Disney Studio & Archive Tour Trip Report

WDW Daily News has been able to cover various Media events and we were on hand for the first D23 Walt Disney Studio & Archive Tour.

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Let me start by saying, yes I know it is LONGGGGG, but I wanted to be as thorough as I possibly could for those who wanted as much detail as possible about the Studios & Archives.

On Saturday, June 27, my wife and I were lucky enough to attend the D23 Walt Disney Studio & Archive Tour in Burbank, CA. We drove from Anaheim and arrived around 8:00 AM, so we had an hour to kill. We decided to take some pictures of the outside of the Walt Disney Studios and also drive by some of the other non-Disney studios for a quick look. After that we arrived outside the entrance to the Studios off of Buena Vista Street just before 9:00 AM and were greeted by a security guard. I think security was caught off guard by how anxious the guests were to enter the property. The event didn’t begin until 10:00 AM, but we were told check-in would start at 9:00 AM. Sure enough, at 9:00 AM on the dot, there was a long line of cars that stretched out into Buena Vista Street, eagerly anticipating the adventure through the studios. Security quickly had some of us drive off to the side of the entrance, but they realized that it was simply better to have us all pull into the parking lot as to not block the entrance anymore. The positive in doing this was that we got to park and begin the excitement right away. The negative was that some of us who were ushered into the parking lot right away did not get our security badge that featured the name of the event and our name on it, which would have made a great souvenir.

Once my wife and I got our video camera and digital camera out we were ready to check in. As we got out of our car I noticed someone about my size walk right past me and I noticed his shirt said, “WDW Radio”. I told my wife I think it is Lou Mongello, noted author of Walt Disney World Trivia Books, and the successful WDW Radio Show. I called out to him and introduced myself. Lou had given me advice a few years ago when I was trying to write my book, Walt Disney World Peak Seasons. It was nice to finally put a face with a name.

We all walked about 500 feet to the check-in area, which was manned by two wonderful D23 employees. In fact, as I gave my name one of the D23 Cast Members (I believe it was Jeffrey) noticed my WDW Newsletter polo shirt. He gave us some props for putting out a nice website while covering all things Disney. That was a pleasant way to start our adventure knowing that all our hard work on the website does get noticed by members who work for the Disney Company. I did notice a sign that said that “Notice-Filming Today” which meant that we could not videotape the studios, only the archives, which was fine by me.

After we checked in, all the guests were told to stand in an area in front of the Walt Disney Employee center. While waiting there we could view the outside of the new health club for employees and even the Hyperion Room- a studio bungalow built in 1935 which was the original home of the Disney Publicity and Comic Strip Department-building that was moved to Burbank in 1939. There was also a Mickey topiary in the courtyard area that we could take pictures of.

I noticed there were not many people in this area, so I asked one of the D23 members how many people were allowed on this tour and I was told only 50 people! WOW did I feel lucky to be able to experience this event. At 9:35 AM, D23 Cast Member, Becky Cline, got all of us together to tell us a little background of the studios and what to expect on the tour. She broke us into two groups of 25 to allow for better flow of the tour. Our group was assigned to go on the walking tour of the grounds first, while the other group was taken to the Archives for viewing. We left the waiting area and walked past the Mickey Avenue sign and past the Disney Legends Plaza and headed to our starting point, the Frank G. Wells building. This building is home to the Archives, so this was the area where we then split into our two groups. The best part about this was that the tour was supposed to start at 10:00 AM, but since we were the first group they started us a bit early at 9:47 AM.

Our tour guide was D23 Cast member, Laura, and she had a wealth of knowledge about the Studios and the company. She was very excited to present all this information to us and in fact she even commented that she could talk for hours and hours about all of this. We were also joined on tour by D23 cast members, Jared, Natalie, and Paul. All three of them were eager to answer any questions we had along the way and even take pictures of us with our cameras. The first stop on our tour was a street scene that was used in many ABC shows, such as Alias and Brothers and Sisters. We were then shown the adjacent Stage 6 building that is used as dressing rooms, make-up and hair etc. instead of outside trailers, for the show Brothers and Sisters. One of the first things most of us noticed was how small the actual studio lot is. There are only six stages, or buildings used for filming. Laura told us that is because Burbank is the corporate home to all of the Walt Disney Company and most of the area now is used for office space. She informed us that most of the ABC/Disney shows will rent out other studio buildings in other cities to actually film scenes or entire shows.
We then got to view the back of the “Ink and Paint” building which has a women’s lounge on the top of it. Laura took us down some more of the backlot area, and we could view buildings that housed the “Production Operation Center”, the “Mill” where they would build different sets, the Paint and Sign/Graphics” where they would create and paint signs used in movies, the inside of Stage 3 where parts of 20,000 leagues under the sea were filmed, the building where current filming was going on for the new ABC show “Flashforward”, the famous “Water Tower”, and an alley that is used for many TV shows and movies.

Laura then took us down another alley and pointed out a few non-descript smaller buildings that looked like small forts. She told us these were used as vaults that were originally built to house the old films in case film canisters exploded! We were then led past the buildings were they would cut movies and then into the actual “Animation Building”. (Keep in mind there is now a newer animation building that is located across the street from the studios and we were not allowed to view it, only this one on the actual lot). Once inside this building this is where most of our time was spent. The doors to each office were decorated with Disney characters and motivational phrases. A black silhouette of Mickey’s Head with a white room number was on the outside of each room. As we walked around the hallways there was a lounge area that had a few chairs and Gus the Donkey used in a movie about a donkey who played football–he even had a security tag with his name and picture! The walls were covered with black and white photos of the original studios as well as other pictures of Disney characters.

We exited the Animation building and then were shown how close the buildings were in relation to each other. Laura told us of an underground tunnel connecting the Animation building with cutting and post production events. She said that Walt didn’t want the elements to damage any of the drawings that were created, so by using a tunnel items would never encounter the outside weather and possibly ruin a drawing. We then walked past the “Camera” building and even noticed that each building had bikes around seemingly to allow employees to ride from one building to the next at their leisure. Laura took us back into another area of the “Animation” building and in the middle of the floor was a Steamboat Willie logo ingrained into the floor. Laura took us down the stairs so that we could walk through the actual tunnel that she had told us about. As we were walking through the tunnel, Laura said the storage in the tunnel is called the “morgue” because it houses materials not in the archives.

Back in the Animation building, we walked post several rooms that had signs on them that said, “The Last Song – Corporate HQ”. (The Last Song is the upcoming Miley Cyrus movie). We walked past office doors for Disney Legend, Marty Sklar, Post Production Servies, a Portrait of Walt Disney, and even noticed on the listing of names for rooms that producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, has an office in the building.

We were led outside of that building and were able to view from street level the outside of Walt’s second story office. From there we headed to Legends Plaza (the area in front of the Michael Eisner building) and got to take photos of the Michael Eisner Building, aka the Team Disney building. The outside of this building is immaculate, and it features the 7 Dwarfs holding up the molding of it. Laura told us that the reason the 7 Dwarfs were used is because it signified that Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs were the first movie that Walt made which helped fund everything else, so it was only fitting to use them for this building, which is the symbol of the company. From the ground, we were able to look up and view Disney President Bob Iger’s rather large office at the top floor around the side of the building.

Once inside the Legends Plaza area we were able to view all the hand print plaques of the 200 famous Disney legends ranging from Ub Iwerks to Ollie Johnston. Anyone who has historical significance to the Walt Disney Company has a plaque in this area. At the front of the Plaza there is a Disney Legends sculpture which features a wave that turns into a castle and then turns into Mickey’s hand with a wand at the end. It is a beautiful sculpture and pictures do not do it justice. At the other end of the plaza sits the “Partners” statue, which features Walt Disney holding Mickey’s hand, just like the one in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. It provides a perfect setting as Walt and Mickey are looking up at the Team Disney building seemingly appreciating all that has become of their partnership. We were allowed pictures of ourselves with the statues if we wanted. The only regret I had was that after the tour I realized I didn’t get a shot from behind the Partners statue facing the Team Disney building. Off on the side of the plaza was a bench that had a statue of Roy Disney and Minnie Mouse, similar to the one on Main Street USA at Magic Kingdom. After we took all the pictures of this area that our hearts desired we headed back towards the Frank G. Wells building to go view the Archives.

Inside the Frank G. Wells building, the lobby area contained some couches and chairs for casual seating. There were large glass cases that showcased costumes from various movies, such as Sharpay’s Graduation Gown from High School Musical 3, a dress from Hannah Montana the Movie, a dress from Enchanted, Elizabeth Swan’s dress from the first Pirates of the Caribbean, and an outfit from Narnia. Just down the hallway from the glass cases was the actual multiplane camera Walt Disney used to give depth to the cartoons designed for Snow White film. In another area of the lobby was an exhibit entitled, “Hats off to Disney”, which featured a collection of famous hats from Disney movies, rides, and even ones Walt himself wore. There were at least 50 hats inside these glass cabinets, and some of the popular ones were Davy Crockett’s coonskin cap worn by Fess Parker, Mary Poppin’s famous hat, 3 of Walt’s favorite hats, Ollie Johnston’s railroad hat, Jimmie Dodd’s Mickey Mouse Club ears, Pharoah’s hat from Spaceship Earth at EPCOT, Sam the Eagle’s patriotic hat, and Jack Sparrow’s hat worn by Johnny Depp.

After we viewed the rest of the hat display it was onto the actual Archives. The exterior wall of the archives had four posters for D23 inside large glass cases to help build the anticipation of what would be inside. We entered through the doors and I can say I was amazed at how small the area was. Really it was like a small library with bookshelves, a desk, and some exhibits inside glass containers. I know that Disney could not let us walk through large warehouses which would house larger items, and I understand this smaller space contains most of the main items, which showcase the historical significance of the Walt Disney Company. To put it into perspective of the size of the room I would guess that the space is no larger than a one-bedroom resort room at Walt Disney World. That is the reason they had to break up the groups into two because it was tight to fit 25 of us in this area.

Upon entering the Archives, on the right side of the entrance, you are greeted with a waist high glass display case that was about 4 feet wide, featuring all kinds of old fashioned Donald Duck food products. Next to that display is the actual The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe doorway to Narnia, as well as the statue of Mr. Tumnus turned to stone. After we passed by those displays we were led to the center of the Archives. Our guide, Becky, introduced us to Disney legend and Archive founder, Dave Smith, who gave us an overview of the Archives. The first thing he asked was, “Why did Disney start the Archives?” That was the main question all of us wanted to know. He went on to tell us that, “I think that answer is pretty obvious. Can you think of another company in the world that re-uses its past as much as Disney does? We’re constantly delving back into things we did years and years ago and using them in projects we are working on today. When you are using material that is that old you need a well indexed collection of that material so you can find everything needed and that is the main reason why the Archives were set up.” Dave Smith explained to us that the entire history of the Walt Disney Company is found at the Archives. He added that the Archives are not open to the public, only the employees of the Walt Disney Company.

Dave Smith then gave us an explanation of what was inside all of the glass cases found in the Archives. Behind where we were standing there was a glass container that was at least 6 feet high. On the top shelf were some original Donald Duck items featuring his very long bill and long neck. The next shelf contained classic Mickey Mouse items such as old watches and clocks. The second to the bottom shelf showcased more Mickey Mouse items and even some Three Little Pigs figurines. We were told that Mickey Mouse was the first character to be marketed by Disney and the Three Little Pigs were the second. On the bottom shelf were more Mickey Mouse figurines of all different sizes.

To the right of that tall glass structure were two 4 foot wide display cases that had memorabilia from Sleeping Beauty, Enchanted, Mary Poppins, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Princess Diaries. At the end of those two wide display cases was another 6 foot tall glass shelving unit matching the one at the other end of the display. Inside this one was Walt Disney memorabilia. The top shelf contained a model of the Carolwood-Pacific railroad car that Walt loved and some other train related items, as well as a picture of Walt Disney’s airplane. The case below that had some items such as “That Darn Cat” script, Walt’s passport, and even his business card saying, “Creator of Oswald”. The bottom shelf has several of Walt’s awards-an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy, as well as one of his cameras.

Between these cases and the center of the room was one more glass display that contained several items of animation art that were used for the multi-plane camera. Running along the far wall was a long bookcase that contained all sorts of books devoted to Disney and their movies. My guess is there are over a thousand books inside this display. On top of the book cases were small models of various characters, about 4 to 12 inches high, that were used by animators to judge the three dimensional look of the character as they were drawing them.

In the back of the room there was a desk that had a Mickey Mouse stained glass lamp and more books. Along that wall was another door that I believe led to a much larger area of the Archives that we were not allowed to go to. The final wall is where Dave Smith’s office is located and on the wall were a couple of Mickey Mouse paintings as well as a table that featured early audioanimatronic test heads, an antique bird in a cage from 1850, and a few smaller items. There was even a display case that had some memorabilia from the Haunted Mansion, as Disneyland is getting ready to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the attraction later this year. Next to that exhibit was a card catalog, just like the ones you would find in a traditional library, that had cards that read, “Publications”, “Phonograpgh Records”, “Tape Recordings and Transcripts”, “Magazine Articles”, and “Videotapes/Television” to help categorize items. Located on top of that card catalog was a bronze statue of Mickey Mouse from Fantasia.

Finally, Dave Smith brought out a few items that are usually not on display. The first item was the Ticket for the Press Preview of Disneyland from 1955. The next item was a parking pass from Disneyland dated July 17, 1955. He then brought out Roy O. Disney’s Ticket #1 for Disneyland which costs a whopping $1.00! Dave Smith then pulled out the very first version of the Disneyland ticket book that guests purchased for $2.50. He explained the A, B, C, D, and E ticket options that were used and that in 1982 Disney decided to discontinue the use of them. We then were privy to view the original script for Steamboat Willie and the only thought my wife had was, “Why isn’t he using gloves to hold it!” Dave said that one of his first jobs at the Disney Company was to inventory Walt’s offices. He found the original script for Steamboat Willie in his desk. He then brought out two items that he said he has never shown before, the first was a background from the first animated Mickey Mouse cartoon, Plane Crazy, and one of the primary backgrounds from Steamboat Willie.

We thought wow could it get any better than what we had seen and Dave Smith then pulled out one of only three Disney produced Oswald products–stencil set (other items were an Oswald candy bar and an Oswald pin). We then got to see a sketch book from Walt that showed Mickey Mouse drawn by Walt with a note and his famous signature. The logo for the company (Disney font) was based on that signature. Last but not least we got to view and hold an original Oscar Award from the true life adventure film, White Wilderness. I can attest that it is at least 5 pounds and much heavier than I was anticipating.

Dave concluded his presentation and we were allowed to walk around the Archives and videotape and take pictures of the items. I introduced myself to Dave Smith and got my picture taken with him. I thanked him for all he did in preserving the Disney legacy and keeping the memories alive and fresh for future generations of Disney fans. As we exited the Archives we received a free gift…a replica patch that Walt Disney Productions security officers wore as they kept an eye over the studio lot.

Laura and the rest of the D23 cast members waited patiently for all of the members of our tour group to exit the Archives. They then walked us back to the front of the studio lot where our adventure began a few hours earlier. Along the way we did cross “Pluto’s Corner”. This is the name given to the intersection of the fictional streets of Mickey Avenue and Dopey Drive. To show you how much detail Disney puts into things, there is a fire hydrant on that corner and in the cement are three paws in front of the fire hydrant. You can guess why the fourth paw isn’t on the ground! Details, details, details….that is what I love about the Walt Disney Company. Nothing is left to chance and they are always thinking of even the smallest detail to tell a story.

At the conclusion of the tour we were allowed to enter the Walt Disney Studio Store and Employee Center to purchase any exclusive merchandise we wanted. My wife picked up a few pins to commemorate our trip and I bought an Oswald T-shirt. Even on a free tour I still feel the need to give Disney a little more of my money LOL! We left the store and headed back to our rental car. We gave a final goodbye to the studios and looked up at the nearby mountains. There were very few clouds in the sky and everything seemed perfect with the world. This was a special time and experience and something I will never forget. I was surrounded by people who love all things Disney just as much as I do. What an amazing time and I want to thank all D23 cast members for their hard work in putting together such a wonderful event. I have a lifetime full of memories now and cannot wait for the next event that I can attend and cover for all our loyal WDW Newsletter readers.

*For official information about D23, please visit the Official Disney Fan Club at: https://d23.com/