Walt Disney World's Maelstrom, Part 4

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. In Part 2, (link) he looked deeper into the design and early construction of the attraction. In Part 3 (link), Paul looked the construction and assembly of the attraction on site at Walt Disney World. Today, Paul completes the series by discussing the construction and assembly of the attraction on site at Walt Disney World. – Mark Goldhaber

Getting started in Florida

After the sets and figures were finished they sent me off to Florida to art direct the installation. I was the only one of the team they sent out. Randy Carter flew in from time to time, but other than that I was the only one from the show team there in Florida. Dave Van Wyk was in Florida also, overseeing the construction and installation of the track and vehicles. On the exterior, Ron Bowman, the architectural designer, was there directing the exterior construction. He did amazing work on it.

Paul poses in front of the under-construction Norway pavilion. Photo courtesy of Paul Torrigino.

Since I had previously only done work in the model shop and at Tujunga, this was all new to me, and a great new learning experience. When I got there, the building was under construction and it was a great tangle of concrete, steel and pipes. You could just make out where the track was and where all the rooms would be.

One of the first people I met there was John Olson (one of the greatest rockwork and themed plaster guys in the world; he had just finished the great Morocco pavilion there at EPCOT), and he showed me the ropes and introduced me to the people in the 'rock yard' behind the Magic Kingdom who were working out the calculations to make all the rebar shapes for the rockwork in the attraction.

The main two guys I worked with in the rock yard were Patrick Brennan (who went on to work for Show Quality Standards at Disney World) and John Mazzella (who worked on many other Disney projects over the years). They were very knowledgeable with what they were doing and I caught on pretty fast.

After that, I went into the show building and basically stayed there for nine months, art directing the construction workers on every bit of the show. We built the fishing village scene from scratch right there in the building using the scale model as a guide. That was a lot of fun, trying to get the little buildings to look old and slightly warped. It came out nice.

The fishing village incident

The fishing village is under construction. Imagineering inside tidbit: Paul says, “I just noticed there are address numbers above the door of the building there. '129' That's my birthday! January 29th! I forgot I did that!” Photo courtesy of Paul Torrigino.

I remember one little incident in particular when I was directing the painting of the fishing village. In Norway, it is very typical for them to paint a bright color on the windowsill and window trim as an accent to their clean white painted buildings. In every bit of research I did, I found that they always painted the accent color on the faces of the trim only, never on the returns (the side edges of the frame). I thought that was kind of odd, that it would look better to paint the returns, but we were going for authenticity so we were going to paint them the way the Norwegians do. I was directing a small crew of four or five people and specifically told them about how the returns were to be handled.

One morning I came in as usual and the painters had gone in and painted all the returns with the accent color. I asked them why they did that. They said John Hench and Bob Jolley had come walking through the night before after I left and didn't like the way the windows were painted and they directed the paint crew to repaint them. Well I was mad! Not about the change they made, I actually agreed with them; but about them coming into the building and directing the crew to do something without consulting me! After all, I was the designer and it was MY little scene! So I was throwing a fit later in the office and asking everyone, “Who the @$#%! is this Bob Jolley guy and where is he and where is John Hench?”

Paul works with plasterers carving petroglyphs into the rockwork on the up ramp. Photo courtesy of Paul Torrigino.

Well John had already flown back out to California that morning, but I found out where Bob Jolley's office was and drove over there to see him. I was outraged and told him so and told him he had a lot of nerve, etc., and to ask me first if they wanted to change anything in the ride—I really went off on him. He just sat there stone-faced and shocked and hardly said anything.

Later I found out that Bob was like THE great paint art director at Disney World at the time and had a great history with motion picture set painting including the Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra set, among many other things. Somebody should have warned me. Anyway, he never apologized, but he never said anything else about the ride. He retired soon after, I think. So when you go into the fishing village at the end of the ride, you can see the trim color is painted on the returns, and now you know the story of it.

Mickeys and film

It's funny about the hidden Mickey phenomenon. Terry, the scenic painter, put mouse ears on one of the Vikings in the ship in the mural in the load area, but that was it. We all thought it was funny and no one would notice it. Also, he used himself for a model of one of the people in the mural. I think Bill Anderson (head Disney mural painter) is the guy at the ship's wheel, and his daughter is the nurse. There's no other intentional hidden Mickeys in there or anywhere else on the ride, but people sure find them everywhere!

The first ride vehicle arrives in the unfinished load area. Photo courtesy of Paul Torrigino.

The film at the end of the attraction was part of the design early on because the Norwegians wanted it, and the village was designed as a holding area. I never liked the idea of being trapped there so we tried to make the village as charming and authentic as we could so people wouldn't mind being there for a few minutes.

The film was okay, but like anything it gets boring after you've seen it a couple of times. Early on during tests, I found that the theater doors remained open long enough at the exit side of the theater so that you could walk right through the theater from the village and get out before the doors shut for the next film. Not many people know there is enough time to just walk out if you want to. But that was back when it first opened. It may be different now.

Attraction films are tough because people will see them more than once, and they can get boring when they are seen multiple times. For the new film that they're currently shooting, I would probably stick with some awesome scenery and nice classic music, kind of along the lines of that beautiful film over at the France pavilion. I could watch that over and over. The country of Norway has breathtaking scenery, beautiful fjords, historic towns, pretty coastal villages, and lots more. I would definitely avoid any kind of hard-hitting celebrity-of-the-moment schlock like they tend to do so often now, or any attempt to be too funny.

Enjoying fruits of hard work

The Norway pavilion is almost completed. Photo courtesy of Paul Torrigino.

After I finished my part of the installation, they sent me back home and I was back in the model shop. It was still about a month from opening when one day I got an invitation in my mailbox—an official-looking thing inviting me to the grand opening of the pavilion in Florida.

Very nice, I thought, but I didn't even think about going. I made very little money back then and couldn't afford the trip, not to mention taking the time off. Well, my boss at the time, Michael Morris, came up to me later that day and asked if I had received the invitation. I said, “Yes, that was really nice of them to invite me. Too bad I won't be able to go.”

He said to me, “Pack your bags! That invitation is good for the whole trip and it's on the company!” And they even let me take a guest along. I was really surprised! So they flew me and my sister out first class for a week and we got to go to the opening and play all over Walt Disney World. They treated us employees so great back then!

I think the attraction is pretty full as it is now. I think it's an OK little ride. I just wish it could have been longer. I think if you wanted to improve it, you'd have to make it longer and then add some bigger scenes. Then again, I think the original troll ride idea with a Sherman Brothers song would have been way cool.