D23’s EPCOT 30th Anniversary Celebration: We Can Do It! – Part II (The Afternoon)

On September 30, 2012, D23, the official Disney fan club, hosted a 30th anniversary celebration for Epcot.  D23 Epcot superfans convened in Epcot’s World ShowPlace where they were treated to a day-long series of sessions with the minds, hearts and hands behind the building of EPCOT.  George Gensler posted a quick recap and photos of the event, but there was so much rich information we wanted to share a detailed account of the proceedings.  Part I of this report described the morning sessions that focused on the infrastructure – from the ground up to the rooftops.  Part II focuses on the afternoon sessions on the building interiors, the characters and the “magic.”  There were so many people who shared so much great information that this half of the recap will probably read a lot like bullet points.

1981 Construction photograph of Epcot's Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth at Epcot began to take shape in this 1981 construction photo at Walt Disney World Resort. Opened to guests on Oct. 1, 1982 EPCOT Center was one of Walt Disney's original ideas for his "Florida Project." © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Article and Photos by George Gensler

Slide from D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

The first post-lunch panel was called “Imagineering Epcot: An Extra Perceptive Close-up of Things and included Jason Grandt, Jason Surrell and Alex Wright.  These three men showed exactly why people want to work at Disney.  They were connected and obviously very fond of each other.  The entire presentation was very playful – just what I’d expect from Disney Imagineers.

Imagineers present at D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

The presentation started with Future World:

Spaceship Earth, is the only geosphere to sit off the ground.  Though engineers said it couldn’t be done, Disney did it, suspending the bottom 25%.

Slide from D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

The Living Seas is so large Spaceship Earth can actually fit inside it!

The tile mosaic in the Land is meant to look like the strata of the earth.  Garden Grille was meant to be a farming landscape from seed to sun to plants and is the most rehabbed area.

The water in the Fountain of World Friendship came from bodies of water from all over the world.

Next, the Imagineers took us through World Showcase pavilion by pavilion:

They started with a “secret” view of the pyramid in Mexico, which makes it look as if you’re approaching the pyramid from the jungle.

Slide from D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

There are “easter eggs” in Grand Fiesta, located in the cliff-diving scene and the water splashing scene.  The female dancers ad-libbed their lines, including “you naughty duck.”

On to Norway, where the restroom block was originally tied to Denmark, which, of course, does not have a pavilion.  The stave church has an external colonnade, so you can walk around the entire building.  Two of the buildings in Norway are considered the most friendly buildings – they share one door.

The China pavilion was based on imperial architecture in Beijing and includes stairways to nowhere, which can be interpreted as showing that “the world continues beyond what we build.”

Slide from D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

In Germany (a personal favorite of mine), the Glockenspiel plays three hours of original music based on a German opera.  In the Biergarten it is always Oktoberfest – take a peek at the trees next time you’re there.

In Italy, pizza is the star of the pavilion.  The water used to make the pizza is the same water as Naples, but from Pennsylvania.   The three wood-burning ovens represent three Italian volcanoes.  Can you name them?

Next up is World Showcase’s “castle” or “weenie” – the American Adventure Pavilion.  It was originally meant to be on the other side of the lagoon (between Mexico and Canada, where it belongs, geographically), but was moved to the far side of the lagoon to draw visitors around to it.  Blaine Gibson sculpted the farmer, using his own father as the model.  Gibson first captured the somber expression he remembered his father bearing, but was advised to make it more hopeful.  Therefore, he resculpted the face, creating the expression he had wanted to see on his father.  Muller’s Landing is a real place, but no longer existed at the time of the filming, so that scene was shot at Disneyland.

We were advised to visit the Spirited Beasts exhibit in the Japan pavilion, so I went.  The watermelon box, bearing the image of Kappa (sushi lovers will recognize the name), was hand-carried back to Epcot from Japan by an Imagineer.

Morocco is the most authentic replication, thanks, in large part, to the King of Morocco, who sent his own artisans to create the features that would make it believable.  The water seller costume was bought off of a water seller (he literally gave them the shirt off his back – well, sold it, anyway).

In France, the bridge to the UK represents the Ponte des Artistes.  The Eiffel Tower is Disney’s most successful example of forced perspective (numerous visitors have asked how to climb it).  Impressions de France made history as the first film to have its sound track recorded digitally.

Slide from D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

In the UK pavilion, the architecture tells a story.  The pub is really four pubs in one – a waterfront pub, a Dickensian pub, a provincial pub and a city pub.  Architecture styles from the 15th through the 18th centuries are represented along the street.

In Canada, the totem was carved on site as performance art.

The presenters then took us back to “the Golf Ball” and broke it down into numbers:

  • 165’ in diameter
  • 11448 triangles make up the shell
  • 3816 pyramids
  • 1.63 billion golf balls would fit inside
  • A pizza the size of Epcot (165’ in diameter) should feed everyone in Epcot for 2 meals
  • If Tiger Woods were to use it as a golf ball, he would be 1.35 miles tall and could drive it all the way to Fort Lauderdale.
  • If Spaceship Earth were Jason’s head (that’s how they phrased it), he’d be as tall as the (real) Eiffel Tower.

Imagineer Jason Surrell at D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary CelebrationSlides shown at D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

After they laughed themselves off the stage, a new panel came onstage to discuss entertainment at Epcot:  “We’ve Just Begun to Dream.”  The panelists were Ron Logan, Carol Campbell, Gene Columbus, Gary Paben, Tony Peluso, Bob Rudock and Steve Skorija.  They mainly spoke in turn.

Imagineers present at D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

Ron Logan talked about the ground-breaking and having to wear flea collars around their ankles.  The Hard Hat Construction Band performed.  Carol Campbell related a moving story about the opening of the American Adventure pavilion with a 500-piece marching band filling the aisles and the crowd going wild when Walt Disney appeared in “Golden Dream.”  Bob Rudock talked about being a trombone player in the All American College band.  Steve Skorija, the only member of the panel who is still at Disney, told us about using 11 notes from the oldest piece of written music (a 37-note Greek song from about 200 BC) to create “We’ve Only Just Begun.”

Slide from D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

Gene Columbus talked about the Ceremony of the Waters at the opening of the Fountain of World Friendship and having to coordinate with the plumbers, because the fountain wasn’t working.  Tony Peluso told us that he took the World Showcase March’s anthem idea from Bridge over the River Kwai.  He and Gene rehearsed with the plumbers and musicians, using a stop watch, to ensure that the crescendo of water coincided with the crescendo in the music.

Slides from D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

Next up (and last before the afternoon break) was Daniel Joseph who presented EPCOT Illusioneering and Beyond.  He learned that at Disney, the answer is never “no.”  It’s “yes, if…”  He talked about the “father of Disney special effects,” Yale Gracey, most known for the illusioneering of Haunted Mansion.

Slides from D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

He gave us a techno walk-through of Epcot, highlighting fiber optics and the photo voltaic cells on the roof of Horizons.  In the Universe of Energy, the vehicles run on sunlight.  Photo-capture on rides began in Epcot.  Photos weren’t originally for sale, but, of course, Disney was able to capitalize on that technology in hugely successful way.  I know I never leave the parks without at least one ride photo of me making a ridiculous face.  The touch screen was pioneered by Bell for use in Epcot’s Communicore.  He also mentioned that Test Track’s facelift will be a glimpse into Epcot’s future.

Slides from D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

Concept artwork for redesigned Test Track attraction at Epcot

Opening Fall 2012, the refurbished Test Track will be presented by Chevrolet. Guests will create their own custom concept vehicles prior to buckling into their 6-person "SimCar" ride vehicle and putting their design through its paces on the hills, switchbacks and straight-aways of the Test Track circuit. © Disney Enterprises, Inc.


After the break (in which I visited the ladies’ room with more stalls then I’ve ever seen in one restroom), Tony Baxter, Ron Schneider and Steve Taylor took us through “Journey into Imagination.”  Professor Marvel was the original name for DreamFinder and Figment was named after a line in a Magnum, P.I., episode, when “figment of imagination” was mentioned (as in “Figments don’t eat rare tropical flowers.”)

Figment, the purple dragon, in a balloon at Epcot

Figment, the playful purple dragon, in Epcot's Journey Into Imagination with Figment attraction at the Imagination! pavilion © Disney Enterprises, Inc.


Figment was first presented as a traditional green dragon, but Kodak, the official sponsor, didn’t like the green (Fujifilm’s color was green), so a yellow and red outfit was designed to reference Kodak.  After a viewing of “Wonderful World of Grimm,” Billy Barty was approached to become the voice of Figment.  Ron Schneider and Steve Taylor told tales of being a “friend of DreamFinder” with some wonderfully inspiring stories from Steve Taylor about his work with Give Kids The World Village.  A special treat at the end of this presentation was a ride-through video of Journey into Imagination.

The final presentation was “The Music of Epcot Center.”  Russell Brower, Greg Ehrbar, Tim O’Day and Steven Vagnini regaled us with stories, games, and, of course, music.  Clips were played for the audience to guess where the music could be heard in the park.  The audience never failed to know the answers; these were mostly hard-core Epcot fans!  Here are some highlights from their stories:

Slides from D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

  • Buddy Baker, the last staff composer of a Hollywood studio, created the music for Impressions de France, naming it his favorite piece.
  • Disney music is recorded in the best studios around the world with the best artists.
  • Buddy Baker was brought out of retirement to write the music for Winnie the Pooh.
  • Ken Jennings, Earlie the Pearlie in the Astute Computer Revue, had played Sweeney Todd on Broadway.
  • We heard a sound clip of a scratch track for Dream Finder with Imagineer Joe Rohde singing
  • We saw a video clip of the Sherman Brothers singing “One Little Spark.”
  • Melody Dale (of D23’s Armchair Activists) performed Tomorrow’s Windows, a never-before-heard song.
  • Joe Harrington, the Scooby Doo villain voice, rewrote Bradbury’s story, adding the Tony Baxter-named song, Tomorrow’s Child, which became the theme song for Spaceship Earth.

Slides from D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary CelebrationMelody Dale performs at D23's Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration

As the finale to the entire day, Billy Flanagan, who has been performing at Epcot for 30 years, starting with pouring water into the Fountain of World Friendship, sang “Golden Dreams” as clips of Walt played across the screens, ending with the “We Can Do It!  We Did It!” clip.

Thanks for following along with these recaps.  I feel so honored to have been a part of the audience for this event.  The speakers opened their hearts to us, and I was moved to tears at certain points, especially when the speakers were emotional about their joy for, and love of, Epcot.

Disclosure:  George Gensler received a complimentary media pass from Disney to attend and cover D23′s Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration, but all opinions expressed are those of the author.  For more family entertainment news, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About George Gensler

George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends. She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents. She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland. She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises. She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.