Monday, February 17, 2014

Making of: Journey into Imagination Pavilion

By Keith Mahne

Today we return to the popular Making of articles here at Disney Avenue with the making and history of the Journey into Imagination Pavilion. Journey into Imagination with Figment is the third and latest incarnation of a dark ride attraction located within the Imagination! pavilion at the Epcot theme park at Walt Disney World. Originally opened on March 5, 1983, its original and current version feature the small purple dragon named Figment as well as the song "One Little Spark", composed by the Sherman Brothers. Continue after the page break for a closer look into the wonderful Journey into Imagination Pavilion...

I. 1983–1998: Journey into Imagination

The original attraction opened on March 5, 1983. It began with the omnimover vehicles “floating” in the clouds and seeing the silhouette of a strange blimp mixed with a vacuum cleaner and hearing the humming and singing of its pilot. In the next scene the riders come right next to this vessel and the pilot, an old man with a red beard dressed in a blue suit and top hat, introduces himself as the Dreamfinder ( Chuck McCann ) and saying that he uses his vehicle (called the Dream Mobile or Dream Catcher by some fans) to collect dreams and ideas to create all sorts of new things. Soon he creates a figment of his imagination: "two tiny wings, eyes big and yellow, horns of a steer, but a loveable fellow! From head to tail, he's royal purple pigment, and there, voilà! You've got a Figment!" Both Dreamfinder and the dragon Figment (Billy Barty) imagine things to fill the "idea bag". When the idea bag is full, Dreamfinder declares that the ideas need to be emptied in the "Dreamport" which, as he says, is "never far away when you use your imagination".

The omnimovers leave the side of the Dream Mobile and enter the Dreamport’s storage room, which includes a massive contraption for sorting ideas. Also in the room there are numerous objects including boxed applause, a plasma ball, and a birdcage of musical notes. After leaving the storage room, the ride continued through several rooms representing Art, Literature, the Performing Arts and Science. The Art room was mostly white colored, and had a large painting Dreamfinder was making using a large fiber optic paint brush, a carousel with giant carousel animals, and a pot of rainbows held by Figment.

The Literature room was mostly focused on suspenseful tales and had Dreamfinder playing a massive organ with words coming out of it, words that turned into their meanings, a massive book featuring the raven from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem cawing menacingly, and books of horrible monsters Figment tried to keep closed.

The Performing Arts had Figment trying on costumes backstage while Dreamfinder conducted a laser light show in the manner of an orchestra conductor.

The last of the rooms, Science, featured a large machine that Dreamfinder was operating that took a closer look at the workings of nature such as the growth of plants, the formation of crystals from minerals and looking into space.

At the end, Dreamfinder tells Figment and the audience that Imagination is the key to unlocking the hidden wonders of the world. The ride then enter the final show scene. As the rider's pictures are taken, they see Figment surrounded by several movie screens of him being a scientist, a mountain climber, a pirate, a superhero, a tap dancer, a ship captain, a cowboy, and an athlete. Dreamfinder, who is behind a movie camera, gives the riders one last inspiring message and tells them to use their newly found sparks of imagination in the ImageWorks and the on-ride photo is shown on a screen next to the camera. You can watch the original and my personal favorite ride below:

The original Journey into Imagination attraction was the creation of Tony Baxter and Steve Kirk. The ride closed on October 10, 1998 in order to begin a major renovation of the attraction.

II. 1999–2001: Journey into YOUR Imagination

The attraction reopened on October 1, 1999 as Journey Into YOUR Imagination and featured an updated theme based on the 3-D movie Honey, I Shrunk the Audience (1994). Now guests would take a tour of the Imagination Institute and be test subjects for the new invention, the Imagination Scanner. Dr. Nigel Channing, played by Eric Idle, hosted this version.

The ride began with guests going through the scanner and saying that the riders have no imagination. Then Channing decides to send us through the numerous labs throughout the Institute including Sound, Illusion, Color, Gravity and Connections.

In the first room, Sound, the room starts out in total silence and complete darkness. Slowly, one can hear the sounds of cricket chirping, distant city noises, and an approaching train that comes closer and closer until it seems to pass over the audience’s heads.

In the second room, Illusion, there is a fish swimming in and out of its tank and an empty cage with a butterfly that seems to materialize as riders go by (The trick was created by putting a mirror between two halves of a swing, one of them with the butterfly on it).

In the third room, the Color lab, there are sounds of jungle animals and cities that cause two large light screens to change colors matching the sounds.

In the next room, Connections lab, the room is covered with numerous stars that soon form into constellations.

Finally, in the Gravity lab, the riders enter an upside down house.

For the finale, riders go through the Scanner again and find that their minds have been supercharged with ideas. The machine then "explodes" and you see a light show. The riders exit to an updated version of the ImageWorks.

Figment’s appearances in the experience were reduced to a few cameos in the queue movies, a constellation in the connection lab and at the end of the ride, where he is only heard, but is shooed off by Channing. Dreamfinder was not present at all in this version. The attraction closed on October 8, 2001 and again, went through another renovation. The second, dull and unpopular version can be seen in the video below:

III. 2002–present: Journey into Imagination with Figment

The attraction reopened again on June 2, 2002, now as Journey into Imagination with Figment. Figment returned with a larger role, appearing in every show scene. The song "One Little Spark" also returned with new verses.

This time, the Institute has five labs based on the five human senses: Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, and Taste. Dr. Nigel Channing of the Imagination Institute (Eric Idle, from the previous incarnation) invites guests to the Institute’s open house. Figment (Dave Goelz) tags along, much to Channing’s dismay, and causes mischief along the way.
  • In Sound, Figment interrupts the experiment and comes up with a telephone and the train sound from the previous version is now a “Train of Thought”.
  • In Sight, Figment knocks the letters off the room’s eye chart and begins a sing along to "One Little Spark". The materializing butterfly from the old version was carried over from the previous version, but rather than appearing in the cage, the effect is now reversed so that the butterfly disappears.
  • In Smell, Figment becomes a skunk which sprays the riders with a foul odor (which is actually a coffee smell).

After seeing the chaos Figment has been causing, Channing stops the tour outside the Touch and Taste lab, abandoning the tour. Figment takes the riders to his own open house, which he literally turns upside down with his carefree mind. Channing soon learns from Figment that Imagination should be set free ("If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!") and the riders go into the finale with numerous Figments in various situations while Figment and Channing sing "One Little Spark" together while riders disembark for the ImageWorks.

A homage to the initial incarnation of this attraction can be found on an office door in the initial show room under the name "Dean Finder" instead of "DreamFinder". Both the 1999 and 2002 versions were created by Tom Fitzgerald. The Kodak company ended its sponsorship of the pavilion in August 2010, after nearly 28 years.

The current version of the attraction can be seen below:

"One Little Spark" is a song written by the Sherman Brothers for the original Journey Into Imagination attraction. While the song was performed (1981–1998) by audio-animatronic characters, Dreamfinder (voiced by Chuck McCann) and his creation Figment (voiced by Billy Barty), the 2002 version is performed by Dr. Nigel Channing (Eric Idle) with Figment (voiced by Dave Goelz).

The 2002 revamp of the Journey into Imagination attraction includes several visual elements suggesting that the "Imagination Institute" is connected to Medfield College, the setting of several live-action Disney films. The queue line for the attraction passes the "offices" of Professor Brainard (Fred MacMurray's role in The Absent-Minded Professor, although the queue addressed the 1997 remake when the role was played by Robin Williams) and Dean Higgins (Joe Flynn's role in the "Dexter Riley" films). The ride includes a view of a glass-fronted computer room, with a sign on the door indicating "no tennis shoes allowed," a reference to The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, the first Dexter Riley film. A Medfield College letterman's jacket can be seen inside the room.

IV. Journey into Imagination Pavilion Concept Art and Model


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. 

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

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