Tony Baxter, Figment and Imagination

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

I have heard that there may be a special Dreamfinder and Figment encounter at the D23 presentation at the end of September. It would certainly be appropriate as those two characters were so closely tied to the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982.

I’ve written about Figment and Dreamfinder before.

For those readers who may not be familiar with the two characters who were the primary mascots for EPCOT Center when it first opened and lived in the original Journey Into Imagination pavilion, here is a quick glimpse:

"Two tiny wings, eyes big and yellow, horns of a steer, but a lovable fellow. From head to tail, he's royal purple pigment, and there, voila! You've got a figment! A Figment of imagination," declared the character of Dreamfinder as he created a little purple dragon in the original Journey Into Imagination attraction that opened at EPCOT Center’s Imagination Pavilion on March 5, 1983, "Ah, ah, ah, not quite. I'll throw in a dash of childish delight."

As Imagineer Tony Baxter told Disney Historian Didier Ghez in one of those outstanding interviews Ghez does, "I thought, 'There is this name, the word "figment" that in English means a sprightly little character. But no one has ever visualized it, no one had ever drawn what a figment is. So, here is great word that already has a great meaning to people, but no one has ever seen what one looks like.' So we had a name that was just waiting for us to design the shape for it."

"I came to work and said, 'I have the answer for our show, it is going to be Figment,' he said. "We had come up with Dreamfinder earlier. That was easy, he was a Santa Claus-type who is wise and older and knows all the great things, a great thinker. But we needed a child-like character that had like a one second attention span and was a little crazy."

The Miami Herald newspaper of Monday, September 28, 1981 declared the following:

“With the opening of EPCOT Center next fall, Disney officials hope to launch an entirely new generation of lovable, laughable characters. To that end, they have banned Mickey Mouse from the elaborate new theme park and declared it the domain of new characters.

“If Figment seems to capture the hearts of Disney guests, a well-orchestrated campaign will swing into action. Disney writers will create series of Figment adventure books. Figment T-shirts, keychains, mugs and charms will find their way onto souvenir racks.

“Dozens of other characters also will be born on the stages of EPCOT Center, and artists are now striving to develop individual personalities and voices for every one of them.

“A single character, if he captures the public imagination could be worth millions to the company,” said one artist reverently, “You feel like you’re birthing a child.”

The last major ride attraction started for the opening of EPCOT Center was the Journey Into Imagination. Even though Kodak signed on late as a sponsor, and the attraction had an innovative and intricate ride system, as well as a plethora of special effects, the show was installed and ready to go on opening day.

“The show was ready to go, everything was running, and they made the call that the show was not perfected enough to guarantee the reliability they wanted,” Baxter told Disney Historian David Koenig for his outstanding book Realityland. "You get it up, there are all these people in it, it breaks down, and then they’re all mad and everybody in line is mad. Disney doesn’t like that especially when you’re under the gun, with the press there. It’s an awful way to see something.”

Imagineer Tony Baxter held a forum on the new pavilion at WED/MAPO in Glendale on August 31, 1982, to bring everyone else up to speed on the project:

“We haven’t been able to be free with information on Imagination simply because we had to jump into it at the last minute and then stay one jump ahead all through the project,” Baxter explained. “We’re playing a good game of catch-up though, and we’ll have the show completely in operation by December 1.” [Actually, it wasn’t ready until March 1983.]

“Kodak see themselves more as a human-oriented company than a technical one. We showed them our ideas for sea and space, but we had a feeling that they weren’t going to go along with those because the subject matter didn’t quite tie in with their philosophy.

“But when the idea for Imagination was showcased, they were immediately taken up with the idea. All of us were wondering why we didn’t do this in the first place since Disney and the world of imagination have been synonymous back to the beginning. It’s a natural thing to tell a story so close to our company.

“The next step was to decide on how to tell about such an ambiguous subject as imagination. The difficulty revolved around the fact that this was a subject unlike energy or transportation. Rather than being a place or a thing, imagination is ethereal, coming from the realm of the mind where everybody sees things and approaches things differently.

“The goals that we’ve established in life and the things we do are diversified and yet the human abilities revolve around Imagination. We knew there had to be something to link it all together.”

Baxter then elaborated more on the two main characters and the storyline for the attraction. Dreamfinder was to remind guests that imagination is a “happy stage.” In the beginning of the attraction, it guides guests through the night skies to an area of clouds where the Dreamfinder is vacuuming “sparks of imagination.” He is on his way back to the Dreamport described as a storehouse for imagination. The initial design had a “diving bell” for “deep thoughts.” As Dreamfinder explains how the imagination process works, he creates the small dragon Figment as an example of what he has been describing.

The Dreamport was meant to be a dimensional set, styled like a storehouse “where natural elements such as desert winds and tornadoes arrive and depart on a regular basis.” Dreamfinder explains to the guests that before imagination can take place, information must be gathered and stored.

The Dreamport is a “sensory experience where the ethereal is real.” Dreamfinder and Figment take the guests on a journey through the Dreamport to discover the worlds of art, literature, science, technology, and the performing arts. The final area with the raw film stock was meant to show Figment’s future dreams coming true on film, “showcasing that any potential dream becomes possible with imagination.”

“Our real basis for planning was…’what will be the most fun?’” Baxter said. “When something does work well, there’s usually a good reason why, but sometimes we don’t figure out the reason until after the fact. In this case, we just planned for what was fun. It was really more inspiration than calculation.

“Part of the reason the story works so well is that like much of the best fiction, it works on different levels," Baxter said. "First, it works on the very literal level of an interesting story with wonderful characters. On a second level, it is a metaphor for the complex process of imagination. On a third level, some people may see it as a psychological interpretation of this process with the Dreamport representing the memory function of the mind and the characters representing such functions as the ‘id’ and ‘superego’.

“We didn’t plan it that way. It just sort of happened. We wanted to say that this process is common to everyone, whether you’re baking a cake or making a scientific discovery. Figment is universal. He’s the childlike curiosity in all of us," Baxter said. “We want people to experience the show and then say, ‘Yes, I do that, too. I’m creative and I use my imagination!’ This is something everyone shares and the most important thing is, it’s fun!”

The attraction was designed to handle 2,576 guests an hour on a maximum of 92 omnimover type vehicles covering 1,460 feet of track.

Also at the forum, Greg Wilzbach and Pete Stougaard explained how, at the end of the ride, Image Works was established so that guests could actually try new imaginative tools for themselves. Bob Swartz of Show and Ride Engineering spoke about the ride systems.

There were three main sections to the Journey Into Imagination Pavilion: The ride attraction named after pavilion, Image Works and the Magic Eye Theater.

“Filled with electronic innovations, Image Works is one of four fun-filled experience areas in Journey Into Imagination, presented by Kodak,” stated a publicity release. “Each guest creates his own works in sound and light. Visitors jump electronically onto a TV show, paint pictures by touching a television screen, lead an electronic orchestra, and explore a wide range of audio-visual experiences by moving, pressing, stepping and vocalizing.”

According to the information given to cast members, Image Works was “a hands-on exhibit area designed as a fun house of the future. It is a playground of creativity where guests can use their imagination on a variety of futuristic art media.” It was estimated that guest would spend 15 to 20 minutes in the area that covered 19,194 square feet and could hold roughly 600-800 guests.

Some of the things included in the area were described at the August forum in this way:

Dreamfinder’s School of Drama casts guests as stars in their own television adventure. Five actors appear in the four minute mini-drama of their choice. Standing on a bare stage, these guest actors watch themselves on television monitors as they are electronically placed in the center of dramatic scenes.

With a computer controlling the production, they see themselves hop between moving railroad cars, fly off into space powered by rocket jet boots, or sail through the air caught in a floating bubble. The actors on stage coordinate their movements with the video they see on the screen. (This was an early form of chroma-key technology often used on television.)

In addition, in other areas, guests can make Bubble Music by playing the keyboards of bubble organs. The “music” appears as pulsating color bubbles projected on giant 12-foot screens. By pushing combinations of six different keys, guests send globs of color floating across the screen. As different colors cross paths, other colors are created.

The floor itself becomes a musical instrument as guests enter Stepping Tones. Here, 50 squares of colored lights are laid out like tiles on a kitchen floor. When stepped on, each emits distinctive electronic tones or sounds. By walking around the room, visitors create some of the most unusual melodies ever heard.

Other interactive experiences included Figment’s Coloring Book, Magic Palettes, Light Writers, the Rainbow Corridor Tunnel where a particular neon colored light ring would follow the guest through the tunnel, Pin Screens, Making Faces, Image Warp, Lumia, Giant Kaleidoscopes, and Electronic Philharmonic.

The third part of the pavilion was the 600-person capacity Magic Eye Theater premiering the 14-minute Magic Journeys movie described as “a 3-D film on Imagination which will delight the senses.”

According to Guest Relations records, the film received the best reviews of anything else in EPCOT Center. It was not unusual for audiences to applaud enthusiastically at the end of the film.

The pavilion was officially dedicated on December 4, 1982. even though the ride was not yet operating for guests. Disney and Kodak officials were in attendance, as were Dreamfinder and Figment on a small raised platform surrounded by male and female singers and dancers from Main Street U.S.A., the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland and female parade dancers attired with huge butterfly wings.

Ron Miller, Disney's president and chief operating officer, said, “It’s a privilege to have Kodak, a company well known for its creativity, innovation and technology, as our partners in this pavilion that is an exciting tribute to imagination. Imagination has always been a hallmark of this pioneering company and we highly value the continuation of long association that dates back to our Wonderful World of Color television series.”

Actually, the extensive association with Kodak and Disney goes back much farther. with Kodak even sponsoring the “Disneyland ‘59” television special and event that marked the introduction of the Matterhorn Bobsleds, the Monorail and the Submarine Voyage, not to mention that Walt Disney had approached George Eastman, founder of Kodak, to supply film for one of his early movies.

Colby H. Chandler, president of Eastman Kodak Company, declared:

“We are honored to be part of EPCOT Center, this showcase of imagination and the realization of Walt Disney’s greatest dream. We knew from the very beginning it would be a challenge to create a journey that would capture the imagination of everyone. But we also knew that if anyone could do it, Disney could and if anyone should sponsor it, Kodak should.

“Our business, like Disney’s, is based upon imagination. And in fact, imagination is like a camera. Neither is important for what it is; both are vital for what they enable us to do. Each is simple enough for a child to use, but each has capabilities to enable us to capture, store, and express insights that can change our tomorrows.

“This pavilion is a functional building, but we see it as much, much more. For the millions of guests who come here, it will be a symbol of the joy of photography, a symbol of our firm belief in a bright future, and a symbol of a partnership between Kodak and Disney that goes back a long, long way.”

Some Disney executives and Imagineers consult with the Webmaster of the Friends of Figment site when they want to learn information about Dreamfinder and Figment.