Sunday, June 18, 2017

Inside WED and the Making of Hall of Presidents (1971)

By Keith Mahne

Literally hundreds of Disney artisans, designers, craftsmen, and technicians collaborated on Walt Disney World's Hall of Presidents attraction to get it up and running by opening day. Painstaking research, exacting execution, and technical innovations were required in order to achieve the degree of perfection once demanded by Walt Disney. It's one thing to talk about the hard work that went into the creation of this classic attraction and another to actually see it for ourselves. That's just what we'll do in today's new article with some rarely seen footage inside WED Enterprises at the making of Hall of Presidents shot in February 1971; only a few short months away from Walt Disney World's opening day...

"The skills of the sculptor, the talents of the artist, and marvels of space-age electronics make history 'live' inside The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square. Sculptors spent two years creating life-size heads of all 36 American Presidents; a dozen artists painted 82 scenes in the style of famous painters of the period portrayed. Walt Disney originated the show concept in 1956, searching for 'a different and exciting way' to dramatize our American heritage." 

- The Story of Walt Disney World

In order to put into perspective the amount of handwork the men and women of WED Enterprises (Imagineering today) went through in order to create the Hall of Presidents, here is an excerpt from the Spring 1973 issue of Walt Disney World Vacationland...

"A new five-screen, 70mm cinematic process was created which literally places the audience at the center of the action, sweeping it into the historical arena where the ethical, idealistic, and constitutional conflicts of the nation were raised and resolved.

More than a dozen internationally renowned artists working under the direction of four-time Academy Award winner John DeCuir worked daily for two years to create 85 masterpieces - some more than 40 feet long - in the style of the period when each specific action takes place.
Music, narration, and special sound effects accompany the images on the 'wrap-around' screen. For example, as an impressive composition of the Founding Fathers, based on a historical painting of the period, fills the screen, the words of George Washington echo through the theater..."
- Walt Disney World Vacationland, Spring 1973

As you read these words, you begin to form an idea of what these dedicated artisans and creative minds did to perfect the Hall of Presidents into the classic attraction we know today. But it's one thing to read about it and another thing entirely to actually see it. And so friends, I present to you this rarely seen footage inside WED Enterprises that was shot on 02/16/71; mere months before Walt Disney World's opening day in October of that year. Keep an eye out for legendary Imagineers like Herb Ryman, Harriett Burns and others. And, perhaps most importantly, let this be a tribute to the men and women who carry on Walt's legacy of building the most magical places on earth for all to enjoy...

(For your viewing pleasure, be sure to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player at the top, left-hand corner of the page prior to playing the video below if you are on a desktop computer.)


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.

You can find all of Keith's articles here.

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