Walt Disney World's Maelstrom, Part 2

by Paul Torrigino, contributing writer

Paul Torrigino's stories last fall about the never-built Dragon Tower attraction (read part 1 | part 2) were very well received and prompted many questions about his work on the Maelstrom attraction at Epcot's Norway pavilion. Paul returns with a multi-part series about his experiences with the Maelstrom.

In part 1 of this series (link), Paul described the origins of the Maelstrom attraction and how it became its current format of a time-travel ride. Today, he looks deeper into the design and early construction of the attraction. — Mark Goldhaber

Talented neighbors

During this time, the model shop was an exciting place to be. Chris Tietz had the cubicle next to me, and he was designing the first Star Tours ride at the time, so there were all kinds of Star Wars paraphernalia all over the place. I remember the day when they were shooting the pre-show safety film and they had all these Star Wars puppets of aliens laying around that George Lucas sent down for the shoot.

Now and then, Chris would ask me to help out painting little props and things. In the next booth over, John Stone was doing storyboards and sculpting models for the new Splash Mountain ride for Disneyland. I remember at the time the title of the attraction was going to be “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” and they ended up calling it Splash Mountain right before it opened. John is a phenomenal model maker. Years before, I was in the cubicle next to him during the time he built the entire model for the original ride in the Imagination pavilion.

Kent Elofson sat in the cubicle right behind me, and at one point I remember him painting the artwork for that beautiful mural for the Peter Pan load area. Just out the door in one of the bays, Eric Jacobson and Cory Sewelson were working on the big model of the Munchkinland scene for the Great Movie Ride for the new Disney-MGM Studios. There was always something interesting going on in the model shop.

Modeling scene designs

In the early model construction phase, we tried quite a few different scenes that didn't work out. I think every couple of weeks, a section of the ride would change and we would try something different.

I came up with one big scene that was going to be a miniature version of the Norwegian coastline, with the city of Oslo in the middle of it. It was a nighttime scene and the ride boats were going to cruise by it. There were all kinds of little details in the scene like boats in the harbor, oil rigs and cruise ships along the coastline and lots of little tiny buildings that were landmarks. The whole thing was done in black light with all the little lights done with black light paint just like the London scene in the Peter Pan ride. It came out really great and everyone liked it. I remember Marty especially liked it, but for some reason they cut it. I think maybe they thought it wasn't exciting enough.

I remember another review in particular where I had the model of the Viking scene where the Vikings were getting ready to go on a sea voyage and they were in the process of loading their boat with supplies. I made tons of little props like chests, shields, spears and stuff, and had them all around the scene like they were about to be loaded in the boat, and it was all painted with black light paint. Marty and Randy Bright came down to review it and the first thing Randy said was, “It looks like a parking lot sale at K-Mart.” So I had to cut maybe half of the little props in it, and we ended up using the scene.

Another scene that turned out really nice was the scene with the three-headed troll. I sculpted the little maquette of the troll for the model. We had a fiber optic overhead magic effect thought out, like pixie dust, and I built it into the model using little pieces of wire with the ends painted with black light paint. Everybody loved that scene. It's the one where the boat does the turnaround and shoots out of it going backwards.

Paul holds the first model of the three-headed troll, which he sculpted out of polyform clay for the attraction model. The unusual colors are due to the black-light paint. Photo courtesy of Paul Torrigino.

For the hall after that leading to the polar bear scene, originally I had rockwork on all the walls, but Randy said it was too expensive, so we had to cut most of it and replace it with black light-painted flats instead.

The little fishing village in the unload room was one of my favorites to build. I made it all up on the model using picture research. Old Jack Ferges (one of the original Imagineers) was still there at the time in his little cubbyhole in the model shop, about to retire, and I got him to help me with some of the more detailed elements of the model. He built some of the little fishing boats for me, and sculpted the polar bear maquettes. He also built that great model of the ride vehicle boat, and they eventually cast it in fiberglass. It was a beautiful model.

A promotion, and finishing up the model

When the entire model was almost finished, they promoted me from 'model maker' and gave me the grand title of Production Designer. They asked me to art direct the production of the show elements at Tujunga and then to relocate to Florida to oversee the installation. I was so thrilled.

Paul holds the ride vehicle model that was built by Jack Ferges. The boat and the three-headed troll maquette are the only remnants of show model left. They were the only pieces that Paul was able to salvage when the model was broken up during the construction of the ride at EPCOT, and they remained in his office for the rest of his career at Disney. Photo courtesy of Paul Torrigino.

After the model was about finished they got Sam McKim to do a quick overall rendering of the ride, kind of like the one for Pirates of the Caribbean, but not quite as detailed. He came over to the model, looked it over, made a couple of sketches and then went back to his office and went to work. A few days later, it was done.

I went in to see him from time to time while he was working on it and was in awe of his skill. I would watch him paint and we would talk a little and he would be painting away at it. He just knocked it out, every brush stroke sure and precise, and it came out great. They used it for publicity for the ride—I wish I had a copy of it.

After the sets were drawn up by the team, we went into production right away. For the Viking figures, we used existing figure tooling from molds left over from the other EPCOT attractions like World of Motion and Spaceship Earth. The sculpting for the new figures was done by Peter Kermode, who had become the head of the sculpture shop after Blaine Gibson retired.

In particular, Peter had a great time with that three-headed troll—Peter was into trolls at the time, and he used to sculpt all kinds of little trolls and goblins for himself. He would make all kinds of weird creatures and things out of old knurly pieces of wood and stuff, and the sculpture shop at that time was full of his creations.

Paul adjusts the sailboat at the fishing village model. Photo courtesy of Paul Torrigino.

Coming next week

In the next part of the story, Paul discusses more of the design process and the construction of parts of the attraction at Imagineering in California.