Thursday, July 8, 2010

When John Lasseter snuck onto a construction site at Disneyland

Excerpt from a long interview with Tony Baxter, the Senior Vice President of Creative Development for Walt Disney Imagineering and the Creative Executive for Disneyland:

Really when John [Lasseter] came, and there are others like Pete Docter who are absolutely obsessed with Disneyland, and I think John put it into his contract that not only would he take on the film responsibilities of animation at Disney and animation at Pixar but he had to have his hand in Imagineering as a chief advisor. It’s purely out of that 12 year old mentality that, I think, John has to this day of what Disneyland meant to him growing up in Whittier, CA. He was only about as far away from the park as I was and those visits.

When I first met John, he was very cordial and overly nice to me, and I was trying to figure out “What is this about?” I should be agog at you, but it was kind of the opposite. It turned out, he was a ride operator at Disneyland on the Jungle Cruise and had come over and snuck through the fence when I was building Big Thunder. This would happen all the time, so I don’t remember it, whereas for him it was one of those milestone days. I guess I was there and he said – you have a very cool job, how did you get this job? And I said, oh come on, I’ll walk you through the whole ride. I gave him this tour and talked to him about Imagineering. Like anybody that was young and wondering what their future’s going to be it was something that was really important to him.

I had had the same thing happen to me with Claude Coats. I had snuck into the pirate ride when I was scooping ice cream at Disneyland. I peeked around the corner and they were doing the work, and I thought I was going to get arrested. Instead, I heard this voice that said, “Oh, you can’t see anything good from there – come on over here!” And it was this guy who was delighted in showing it off – turned out it was Claude, but it was always to me “just this guy.” Years later after I’d been working with him three years, I opened my old souvenir book from Pirates, and I looked at “this guy” in the picture that was in there and went “Oh my gosh, that’s Claude!” It was Claude Coats. So I could hardly wait to go into work the next day and I go “Do you remember a guy in a red and white striped…” He goes, “Yeah, yeah, the guy at the ice cream counter, I used to go get ice cream from him and I thought I’d show him the tour.” As he was saying it he goes, “Nooooo.” It suddenly dawned on him that we’d met, and he had so inspired me with that tour. When they docked me for the hour I was late, I said, “I don’t care.” I had just had the best hour of my career so far.

*Previously: Indiana Jones: Temple of the Forbidden Eye as a Left 4 Dead level.

*Buy Disneyland collectibles at eBay.