Remembering the studios in Disney's Hollywood Studios

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

From the feature:

Instead of roller coasters and thrill rides like a traditional theme park, Disney-MGM Studios aspired to be something different — a place to make movies and TV shows. Could it help Orlando become Hollywood East?

But that vision — a place where tourists could see real movie-making magic at work — faltered over the years. The studios that were supposed to produce the hits shut down. The animators packed up their desks. The Mouseketeers from “The Mickey Mouse Club” grew up.

Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.

I agree. I remember going on it in the early years and loving it. On close to its last year I rode again and wondered why I thought it was so good...

Towards the end of life the backstage tour was a shell of its former self. That got rid of a lot of the elements that made it interesting. They eliminated the vehicle boneyard, some of the warehouses were taken offline and even the backstage street was closed off more often than not. It really only became a vehicle to get you to the Catastrophe Canyon attraction and that was about it.

TheMillenniumRider's avatar

Why does it seem like a large amount of Disney feels like a shell of its former self? I would have loved to see Epcot in the mid 80's, now it just doesn't seem the same. Animal Kingdom also seems less animal focused and more like they are looking for new ways to add IP into the park.

Disney always did well with original rides, but the newer IP driven ride development just feels lacking overall, not to mention out of place in some areas where they are sticking them.

Jeff's avatar

I don't know about that. Animal Kingdom is everything that it opened with and then some now. Epcot's World Showcase hasn't changed in decades, and the festivals make it better. Admittedly, Future World, I don't know that it has any real focus anymore. DHS is the real problem area, looking for an identity. As an attraction, I think the onsite production was a great idea, but in practical terms, I'm not sure it made sense for the actual production. What does it take to get the professionals there? In Hollywood, there is more work from gig to gig because it's a hub of the industry. (By that I mean interior studio production. Location shooting seems to favor Vancouver these days, and Georgia in the cooler months.)


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

99er's avatar

Production in Florida was a huge success after MGM and Universal built parks. Orlando became known as "Hollywood East" and rightfully so as the city became the 3rd largest production hub after LA and New York. Whether it was movies or television, the industry adapted and moved to Orlando with it. Companies like Panavision, Arri, and Chapman/Leonard all opened up new locations in Florida to help support the amount of productions using Orlando. The Animation Guild even charted a branch of IATSE because Disney had so many animators at MGM working on feature length movies. But once the tax incentives ran out and other cities took advantage of that, production dwindled and now I doubt Florida even ranks in the top 10. Total bummer because this city is filled with so many creative professionals that have worked on some of the biggest movies and tv shows. I luckily get to work with them from time to time and the stories they tell of when work was plentiful in Orlando are awesome.

Production companies will always follow the incentives. Its the reason Vancouver became so popular after Orlando, then New Mexico, Louisiana, and now why Georgia is getting so much work. I looked at the criteria for joining Local 479 in Atlanta and the initiation fee was $1,400...yeah, they aren't hurting for anyone at all. Hopefully Georgia doesn't screw it up because very, large, studios are being built and it could turn into another Orlando all over again.


-Chris

Jeff's avatar

That's good context, thanks. I knew TV made some inroads because I still had designs on working in the business in those days, but had no idea how far it went.

IATSE still has a fairly large presence from what I can tell. Heck, Actor's Equity still has an office off the Beach Line (though that's stage, not film). I have some friends from up north who very rarely do freelance work here, but they suggest there isn't enough to move.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

ApolloAndy's avatar

RCMAC said:
I agree. I remember going on it in the early years and loving it. On close to its last year I rode again and wondered why I thought it was so good...

This is exactly my experience.


Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

TheMillenniumRider's avatar

Jeff said:

I don't know about that. Animal Kingdom is everything that it opened with and then some now. Epcot's World Showcase hasn't changed in decades, and the festivals make it better. Admittedly, Future World, I don't know that it has any real focus anymore. DHS is the real problem area, looking for an identity. As an attraction, I think the onsite production was a great idea, but in practical terms, I'm not sure it made sense for the actual production. What does it take to get the professionals there? In Hollywood, there is more work from gig to gig because it's a hub of the industry. (By that I mean interior studio production. Location shooting seems to favor Vancouver these days, and Georgia in the cooler months.)

DHS is a mess, it opened with a vision, which didn't work out long term, DHS should be renamed and it should be alongside the MK as the IP based parks. Epcot world showcase is great, but Frozen and Ratatouille, they really don't belong. Future World was at one point an exhibition of new ideas and things to come, or in some cases a history lesson also. The addition of Soarin was a plus to The Land, but we lost Wonders of Life, Energy (which needed a full redo anyway), world of motion, horizons, journey into imagination, communicore, etc. Odyssey sits vacant 95% of the year. Mostly huge negatives here. I walk around Epcot and looking around think to myself, this place must have been amazing in the 80's.

Test track replaced world of motion, I think they did well with TT. I am probably in the minority who enjoyed Mission Space, but again, that ride did fit into Epcot. Innoventions took communicores space, but it fit with the theme of the park, for the most part, but was a slightly reduced experience. GotG & Nemo really have no place in Future World. But I guess changing audiences? Either way I believe Epcot is a reduced experience from 20-30 years ago.

Animal Kingdom, I didn't agree with Pandora, I would have loved to see something rooted in reality have taken that space instead, Pandora could have gone to DHS, along with Star Wars, and Toy Story, DHS could have been almost an entirely new park, which it needed in the first place. Keep the IP in the fantasy parks, Epcot and AK were never built on the premise of fantasy, and the addition of it continues to contribute to an identity crisis.

Jeff's avatar

What would Future World even have today?


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

TheMillenniumRider's avatar

I knew that would be your response :)

I cite my observations, nothing more, I was never a pro at the whole design aspect. The problem with Future World today is that we just don't have major innovations on a regular basis as was the case 50 years ago.

However, Wonders of Life & World of Energy are still relevant, just updated for current advancements. Would this draw crowds? I would enjoy it, but I enjoy educational attractions. Would the GP enjoy it? Maybe not, but they did at one time, maybe that is what is wrong with the world today? A focus on pointless entertainment with no personal enrichment.

I would see future world today as renewed with a heavy focus on sustainability as our current existence is unsustainable. I'll let the imagineers do the rest. :)

Jeff's avatar

"Disney people" are notorious for pointing out why everything is wrong with WDW, but only offer alternatives linked to the past. Frozen didn't ruin Norway, and I don't expect the rat to ruin France.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

TheMillenniumRider said:

Epcot and AK were never built on the premise of fantasy, and the addition of it continues to contribute to an identity crisis.

Traveling through time in an electronic jeep to catch a dinosaur is clearly rooted in reality.


99er's avatar

Jeff said:

That's good context, thanks. I knew TV made some inroads because I still had designs on working in the business in those days, but had no idea how far it went.

IATSE still has a fairly large presence from what I can tell. Heck, Actor's Equity still has an office off the Beach Line (though that's stage, not film). I have some friends from up north who very rarely do freelance work here, but they suggest there isn't enough to move.

Nickelodeon was the biggest by far when it came to television. Almost all of their content was produced in Orlando making them the largest tenant at Universal. I credit them for really jump starting the film/tv industry in Orlando and getting so many talented people to move here. For MGM it was the arrival of the animation department as they produced some of Disney's greatest feature-length cartoons like The Little Mermaid, Lion King, and Lilo & Stich to name a few. I occasionally have meetings in the Feature Animation Building at Hollywood Studios and I love being in there every time. So much cool film history came out of that building in the 90s.

IATSE 631 and 835 still take care of productions in Orlando with the majority being at Disney, Dr. Phillips, and the OCCC while 477 down in Ft. Lauderdale takes care of movies in Central Florida. Actor's Equity is here basically to support Disney performers exclusively at this point. There definitely isn't enough work here as the area is oversaturated with professionals who freelance out of the state now, mostly to Atlanta and NY. It can be difficult to get on the few productions that do come to town because of how many people are in Orlando willing to do the work. Disney is shooting a movie in Lakeland over the next couple weeks and I didn't even try to pick up some hours over there because I knew it would be difficult to land it. I stand a better chance of getting on 'The Jungle Cruise' in Atlanta later this summer.

Last edited by 99er,

-Chris

TheMillenniumRider's avatar

bigboy said:

Traveling through time in an electronic jeep to catch a dinosaur is clearly rooted in reality.

I forgot about Dinosaur. :)

Well, it was rooted in reality up until the time travel part at least. We had to get back millions of years somehow. :)

Jeff said:

"Disney people" are notorious for pointing out why everything is wrong with WDW, but only offer alternatives linked to the past. Frozen didn't ruin Norway, and I don't expect the rat to ruin France.

Jeff, I wouldn't exactly classify myself as a Disney person either, I would much prefer a trip to any regional over Disney, but location prohibits that from being a regular option. I have been enjoying Universal much more these days also. The only reason for visiting Disney really is F&W and F&G when the food booths are setup, and so most of my time at the resort is centered around Epcot, hence why I can find fault there much easier than the other parks. After a visit to DLR my perspective on WDW changed quite a bit. I imagine if I visit Tokyo that would further move WDW down the list, but that's for another time.

Last edited by TheMillenniumRider,

Frozen didn't ruin the Norway pavilion at Epcot. If anything, the additions they made to the exteriors made that a gorgeous pavilion and while the ride is nice for the kids (and was done very well) I don't think it takes away anything. I'm sure the same will happen when they open Ratatouille in France. Like it or not, families are the biggest draw to Disney and it was hard to take kids into World Showcase. They had the "KidStop/KidSpot" or whatever they called it but that was just a short diversion for them and it didn't hold their attention.

Mark me down as being ok with the addition of Finding Nemo at the Living Seas. The ride is certainly more entertaining now and you still get the reality once the ride is over. Now, can they do that with the Universe of Energy when they bring in the Guardians of the Galaxy? That might be more of a stretch but we will see.

Jeff's avatar

Have you seen how tall that Guardians building is? I don't even care if it "fits" at Epcot!


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

The size of the Guardians building cannot be truly appreciated until you see it from across the World Showcase lagoon near Japan or somewhere in that area.

The crowds for Frozen Ever After tell me all I need to know about whether or not the ride ruined Norway or even tainted it just a little.


99er's avatar

Yeah...that building is going up fast and it even surprised me with its size. I think I’m looking forward to that more than Tron at this point.


-Chris

Holy crap Jeff! No, I had not seen that building's height yet. That is certainly going to change the Epcot entrance.

I’m searching for construction photos and am coming up short. I’d love to see that building.
I did find a lot of aerials of the space for that and the Rat ride. I’ve always been fascinated by Disney’s frequent technique of placing the show building a distance away from the entrance and anything you see from the street, and that seems to be the case in both instances. From the sounds of it, though, that illusion will be difficult to maintain in Future World.
And there was word of taking the festival building, formerly the Body Building, and using it for another hotel. Is that supposed to happen?
Help me, locals.

Edit: never mind, I found some shots on Mice Chat. And yes, that’s pretty darned tall. I wonder what kind of skin it will have on it.

Last edited by RCMAC,

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