The Story Behind the Art of Animation Resort

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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The official Disney description for The Art of Animation Resort is "Be surrounded in the artistry, enchantment and magic of Walt Disney and Disney and Pixar movies. Stay at a Disney Resort hotel that invites you to explore the storybook landscapes seen in such classics as Finding Nemo, Cars, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid.

"From delightfully themed family suites to wondrously detailed courtyards, Disney's Art of Animation 'draws' you and your family in to become a part of some of your animated favorites."

Basically, the idea was to give guests at the 26th resort at Walt Disney World an opportunity to be immersed in several playful animation environments at an affordable price. In keeping with the bright colors in animated films, the resort itself is a burst of vibrant color looking very much like the set of an animated film.

In order to encourage more Disney guests to stay on property rather than in the more budget friendly accommodations in the surrounding area, Disney developed the concept of value resorts that offered some of the same amenities and conveniences as its more expensive resorts, but at a more financially accessible price especially for larger groups.

Starting in 1994, three All-Star (Sports, Movies, Music) value resorts all designed by the Miami company Arquitectonica were opened. These value resorts featured a food court rather than a sit-down restaurant, but did include pools (although no towels provided like at the deluxe resorts and no water slides), earlier access into the parks on certain days and free bus transportation to other areas of the property.

All Value hotel rooms at Disney (not counting the family suites at All-Star Music and Art of Animation that are 565 square feet) are approximately the same size at roughly a meager 260 square feet when the national average for such a hotel room is 330 square feet.

These All-Star resorts were such a success that Disney planned two new value resorts to be called Pop Century celebrating each decade of the 20th Century just as the new Millennium was about to begin. One of the resorts, called the Legendary Years, would be devoted to celebrating America from the 1900-1940s, while the other, the Classic Years, would showcase the 1950s-1990s.

Each half-century resort was to consist of 2,880 rooms in 10 buildings each, for a total of 5,760 rooms, equaling the combined rooms at the three All-Star Resorts, which had 1,920 rooms each.

Construction work took place on both halves of the resort from 1999 through 2001. A bridge originally named the Generation Gap Bridge was constructed across Hourglass Lake to connect both parts of Pop Century and make them accessible to each other.

However, the terrorism attack on September 11, 2001, resulted in a significant drop in tourism, as well as a drastic effect on the economy in general. So Disney stopped work on the entire resort, with even some partial closures at its existing resorts because of lack of demand.

When work finally resumed on Pop Century, the economy was only barely rebounding slowly and there was no need for all the planned rooms just yet, which meant only The Classic Years was initially completed and opened in 2003. The complete and partial shells of The Legendary Years buildings sat untouched, even though there were some decorative details in place such as the year markers.

The immediate success of the Classic Years section prompted Disney to announce that the Legendary Years section would be finished and opened in 2007.

However, work never resumed on that section for a variety of reasons and the buildings remained as a type of "ghost hotel," as it was referred to by Disney cast members and guests. The shells were complete with doors in place and more.

In October 2005, the All-Star Family Suites were opened on a test basis at the All-Star Music resort and were hugely successful when they were opened for reservations in February 2006. Strong sales resulted in it being announced in April 2006 that the Legendary Years resort would be completed as an all Family Suites resorts.

The plan was to convert the existing structures, but it was not until January 2010 that Disney announced the resort would be re-themed into Disney's Art of Animation Resort with construction beginning that summer.

The already completed shells meant for Legendary Hall (the main building that was to house the front desk, food court and merchandise shop) and the 1940s building would be changed into Animation Hall and The Little Mermaid section.

Since the Little Mermaid guest buildings had been completed with standard rooms and exterior hallway, they would remain so. The structures of the remaining buildings were incomplete, and so they were completed with interior hallways and configured as family suites.


The 1940s building of the Legendary Years area became The Little Mermaid section.

The phrase "The Art of Animation" has a long Disney heritage.

When Walt Disney was producing the animated feature film Sleeping Beauty (1959), he realized that a great way to publicize the "high art" approach of the film as well as address all the letters that flooded into the studio from young artists interested in animation would be to put together three similar exhibits showcasing the history of animation as well as how animation was done. He used elements from the film itself like cels, backgrounds, model sheets and more to explain the actual animation process. The traveling exhibit was titled "The Art of Animation: A Walt Disney Retrospective."

One exhibit was showcased in Tomorrowland at Disneyland from May 28, 1960 to September 5, 1966. There were two other traveling versions of the exhibit that toured the United States beginning in 1958, and then one was sent to be shown in Europe and the other to Japan in 1960 to once again promote the release of Sleeping Beauty in those countries. The Japanese exhibit was originally displayed at 17 department stores throughout Japan, a common practice since Japanese department stores often sponsored fine art exhibits. When the exhibit finished its tour, it was moved to the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.

In addition, Walt had writer Bob Thomas put together a book titled The Art of Animation to explain the history and process of animation.

A dust-jacketed version was released by Simon and Schuster in 1958. Later, an edition without a dust jacket, but with a black cover decorated with brightly colored film strips with the Disney characters instead, was released by Golden Press. This later edition is the one most commonly found in collections since it remained in print for several years.

In 1991, Thomas updated the book, still titled The Art of Animation for Hyperion Press but all of that valuable information about Sleeping Beauty was pretty much completely thrown out and what remained about early animation was cut back to less than half the book. The other half of the book was devoted to the making of Beauty and the Beast.

In 1997, Thomas updated the book again, still retaining The Art of Animation title for Hyperion Press, but this time added a new chapter on some recent Disney animated features, eliminated all of the pages on the making of Beauty and the Beast and replacing them so that half the book was now dedicated to the making of Hercules.

Disney's Art of Animation Resort is devoted to showcasing four animated feature film favorites in a larger-than-life format, creating distinct decorative environments.

Research showed that modern families were more familiar and emotionally connected with films released during the previous twenty-five years especially those produced by Pixar rather than the original classic Disney Studio ones created by Walt Disney. In addition, selection was made of films prominently represented in the parks by attractions, shows, merchandise sales and more.

The four sections include the following:

Finding Nemo (2003)

A computer animated feature film produced by Pixar about a clownfish father and his friend, a female blue tang named Dory, sharing adventures to try to find his missing son Nemo. The resort section was the first section of the resort to open on May 31, 2012, along with the Animation Hall building.

The main pool at the resort is the "Big Blue Pool" referencing the name that the undersea creatures in the film call their ocean world. At 11,859 square feet square feet and 310,000 gallons of water, this is the largest resort pool at Walt Disney World. A giant Mr. Ray, whose wingspan is 27 feet, looks over the area, as does a gigantic Crush the turtle, which also includes a colorful reef and the East Australian Current. Underwater speakers allow guests to hear conversations from characters from the movie as well as musical selections. There's a stereo effect with the sound moving so that the creatures seem to swim past you. The Big Blue Pool is fairly shallow being 4'8" at its deepest. There's real living foliage around the pool which was selected to give the impression of underwater plants like seaweed. The pool rules are printed on an oversized pair of swimming goggles that appear to be the same ones lost when Nemo was captured since they carry the identification: "P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way Sydney, NSW.

Cars (2006)

A computer animated feature film produced by Pixar about the lives of anthropomorphic vehicles in the struggling desert town of Radiator Springs along Route 66. The resort section opened on June 18, 2012.

The Cars section is painted to resemble the desert backdrop of the fictional town of Radiator Springs. The full-sized automotive residents of the small town like Sally, Mater, Doc, Luigi and Guido as well as Lightning McQueen greet guests as they walk down the freshly blacktopped road to the rooms situated in a building representing the Cozy Cone Motel from the movie. In addition there is the Cozy Cone Pool with oversized orange traffic cones as cabanas. Cozy Cone Pool is a kid-friendly 74,740-gallon watering hole.

The Lion King (1994)

A Disney animated feature film about a young lion in Africa who must succeed his father as king and battle the tyranny of a usurper who has devastated the Pride Lands. The resort section opened on August 10, 2012.

The exterior of the buildings depicts an African savannah, with an elephant graveyard play area displaying a huge elephant skeleton as well as figures of Scar the villain lion and a couple of hungry hyenas protecting the site. This cave-like area is built on a long-lasting soft surface made from recycled sneakers. A giant-sized adult Simba overlooks the scene from Pride Rock while characters from the movie like a young Simba, Timon and Pumbaa frolic on a tree trunk in the surrounding jungle.

Every night in the Lion King courtyard there's a Disney movie scheduled showing on a large outdoor inflatable screen.

The Little Mermaid (1989)

A Disney animated feature film about a young mermaid who falls in love with a human prince and her challenges to live happily ever after. The resort section opened on September 15, 2012, as the fourth and final section of the resort.

The outside area is filled with the treasures that Ariel has rescued from the human world like the statue of Prince Eric and a huge bent fork. In addition, there are 600 cutout objects on resort balconies to help create the feeling of being under the sea. The Flippin' Fins Pool holds 103,642 gallons of water and features the "Under the Sea Orchestra" conducted by Sebastian the crab.

The outside of each four-story rectangular building at the resort is covered in characters, backgrounds and icons from the respective films. There are more three-dimensional figures displayed than at any other Disney resort and offer multiple photo opportunities like the 35 foot tall sculpture of King Triton done by Imagineer Joni Van Buren from the film The Little Mermaid. In total, there are approximately 2,500 figures at the entire resort.

"These themes have both compelling storylines and vivid visuals which will come together to create a truly memorable, immersive resort experience," said Eric Jacobson, Senior Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering. "With more multi-generational families vacationing together, guests are looking for places where they can play together and stay together. This resort was designed with the needs of families in mind, as we continue the Disney tradition of providing a great guest experience for every taste and budget."

The total size of the property is 87 acres, including 37 of those acres devoted to landscaping and irrigation that covers the equivalent of the size of twenty football fields.

There are over 529,000 square feet of ceramic tiles on the project, enough to cover a standard two-lane road four miles long. There's enough metal railing to wrap around the Amway Center in Orlando eight times. The project used 23,000 gallons of paint and there are over 2,300 parking spaces. The resort has 227,000 lineal feet of carpet, which if laid out, could stretch from downtown Orlando to the Kennedy Space Center.

The Animation Hall is the check-in center for the resort and includes a self-service business center (a first at a Value resort), arcade, merchandise store and food court. The interior is meant to suggest how animation evolves from simple pencil sketches of a character to the finished full color version. The examples on the wall opposite the check-in desk progress are enlarged from the actual original rough concept art of the characters from the four films represented at the resort to the final full-colored version, cleverly leading guests in the process to the Ink and Paint Shop and the Landscape of Flavors food court as well as the door leading outside to the various sections. The background music is a loop of music from the four films. The end of the hall features the "storyboard chandelier" designed by the former head of Pixar animation, John Lasseter. The glass plates are examples of storyboard panels and one of the drawings featuring Lightning McQueen was drawn and signed by Lasseter. When the resort opened, it was the only drawing that was signed in the hallway.

When the resort first opened to reinforce the overall theme, those people working in the check-in area were not referred to as "cast members" but "concept artists."

The wall outside the Ink and Paint Shop represents a color-key script used by animation artists to help determine the overall color palette for each scene that sets the tone. The Ink and Paint Shop's wall fixtures are shaped like giant paint jars, arranged by color. Traditionally, specially mixed paint was once used to color the individual cels of an animated film. Today, the coloring is done digitally by computer.

Besides the usual items found in a shop at the WDW resorts, this entire shop is lined with art supplies up on the shelves and the walls. Paint brushes, colored pencils, and paper all examples of the tools animation artists use in order to create a feature film.

Landscape of Flavors is the 600-seat food court with an extensive variety of ever-changing offerings, divided into four sections to reference each of the four animated features represented at the resort. The location features artwork of the environments from those films on the wall, painted ceiling light fixtures and more. For instance, the ceiling fixture in the Lion King section simulates looking up through a jungle canopy while The Little Mermaid section has a painting of the grotto holding some of Ariel's treasures that she has gathered. The flooring is made from all recyclable materials. Guests dine with real silverware on melamine, reusable dishware instead of paper and plastic.

The interior of the rooms reflects the film designated for each section. Each room matches its movie from the bedding to the shower curtains to the shape of the light fixtures and chairs.

The Finding Nemo rooms have coral-shaped chairs and ceiling lights that look like bubbles. The bathroom is designed like the sunken ship scene in the movie, right down to the porthole that serves as a mirror and Bruce the shark on the shower curtain. Pulling down the Murphy bed reveals an image of Marlin and Nemo sleeping in their anemone home. Artwork depicting the East Australian current runs through the Nemo carpet.

Lion King rooms showcase Zazu performing on the headboards and Pumbaa and Timon decorating the shower curtain.

Cars rooms capture the "feel" of a motel (motor hotel) with tool chests serving as drawers and storage spaces while a map of Radiator Springs adorns the top of the coffee table.

Disney's Pop Century Resort and Disney's Art of Animation Resort share a Disney Skyliner station theming in with both resorts. Upon departing the gondola station, Skyliner passengers ascend over Hourglass Lake and enjoy a panoramic view of these two colorful resorts.

Of course, the thing that I ponder is that since only half the Pop Century resort was built, why is it still referred to as the Classic Years with the check-in area clearly labeled The Classic Hall? Maybe it should be renamed the Half-a-Pop Century resort.