in March 2006
A History Part 1
By David Hatmaker
Disney’s staffers have been stretching technological
boundaries for decades.
Editor’s Note: Few in the entertainment
segment of our industry have the legacy, to say the least,
of the Disney organization. In light of our theme this month—Theme
Parks and Attractions—we asked members of the Disney
creative staff to offer up a bit of the company’s
history as it applies to the use of AV (audio, video and
lighting) technology at the parks, most notably Disneyland,
which celebrated its 50th Anniversary the same month as
Sound & Communications celebrated ours (see our May
2005 issue). This multi-part look back provides insight
into how our industry has evolved, and where it is going.
many of us in our industry look forward constantly, our
50th Anniversary at Disneyland has prompted a number of
us to fondly look back on our rich history of live entertainment.
In order to understand the technological journey that has
taken place in Disneyland live entertainment over the last
50 years, it may help to know how it all began.
When Disneyland first opened in
1955, all technical support elements, including live entertainment,
came under the jurisdiction of a department called the Sound
Shop. As the years progressed and live entertainment became
more important to the Park, an Entertainment Department
was created. The Sound Shop was split into two different
departments. The first, retaining the name of Sound Shop,
was responsible for maintaining all technical elements for
our attractions. The second, now named Technical Services,
became responsible for the technical portion of live entertainment.
Originally covered with
orange groves and comprised of parcels of land owned
by 17 different people, Walt Disney purchased 160
acres in Anaheim to build his dream of a place where
parents and children could have fun—together.
time (the late 1970s), the department had fewer than 40
technicians, most of whom were part-time. We now employ
almost 300 techs, many of whom are full-time. Our techs
are members of IATSE 504, which is a Mixed-Craft Local.
These technicians have shepherded the Disneyland Resort
through a period of expansion unprecedented in our history.
Technical Services now acts as a fully functional production
unit, engaged in development, design, installation, operation,
maintenance and removal of Projects, Shows and Special Events.
We also perform design and development for our Parades.
In looking back, it’s evident
that the first 20 years of our history were fairly uneventful,
in that live, large-scale entertainment generally was not
a large component of the Park, so we have concentrated on
those shows or events that have represented true paradigm
shifts in equipment or philosophy.
Our first major leap forward was
with the opening of the Electrical Parade in 1972. That
was followed by another leap with the opening of the Videopolis
nightclub in 1985. The ‘90s marked a major period
of advancement with the opening of Fantasmic! (a nighttime
effects spectacular) in 1992, Festival of Fools (a large
show based on the Hunchback of Notre Dame) in 1996 and Light
Magic (an effects-driven parade) in 1997. You will see numerous
references to those shows throughout our discussion.
The new millennium finds us stretching
technological boundaries with the Hyperion Theatre (opened
in 2001), Aladdin (a large show that opened in 2002, based
on the film of the same name) and our three newest Entertainment
offerings: Remember, Dreams Come True (a pyrotechnics spectacular),
Walt Disney’s Parade of Dreams (an extravagant parade
at Disneyland) and Block Party Bash (a high-energy, interactive
parade at Disney’s California Adventure). These projects
incorporate a variety of off-the-shelf and proprietary technologies
to support our stories.
Walt Disney unveils his
plans for Disneyland to a national television audience
during the premiere of Disneyland, the television
show, October 27, 1954. He’s standing in front
of an early rendering by Disney legend Peter Ellenshaw.
When I began my Disney career
in 1987, we had a large inventory of “custom”
speaker boxes, amps, crossovers and EQs. For each show or
event, we would go to the warehouse and put together a system.
We would pull out some subs, low-end boxes, stack on the
raw horns, then build our amp racks up. We’d set it
all up and test it, then tear it down and load it on a truck.
When we were setting up for our shows, we would use a cassette
tape recorded from our home turntables, or some of us had
CD players and CDs. We would tune our rigs by ear! Steely
Dan’s Babylon Sister would make the setup crew crazy.
(The first eight bars does get old after awhile.)
Setups Went Faster
Shortly after I arrived, we purchased
a 2"x15" concert rig, with horn in one box. We
packaged our amps in two racks so we could easily put out
two boxes and subs or four boxes and subs per side. Our
setups went much faster. I was able to talk our senior audio
engineer/designer into listening to a new speaker from Meyer
Sound in Berkeley CA: the UPA-1. I was familiar with this
box after using it for the Crystal Cathedral’s The
Glory of Christmas. He loved it and we bought 30 units and
amps. We became heroic with our show directors!
One other trick we used at the
Crystal Cathedral was forehead micing with Sennheiser MKE2s.
A lot of the stage shows at Disneyland were using bigger
lavs (Audio-Technica AT831) sewn into costumes, or floor
mics “mouse mics”/PZMs. I was able to convince
one of our show directors (and technical director) to let
me try putting a small omni lav (I think I was able to borrow
a Tram because it could be plugged into a Vega VHF pack)
into one actress’ wig. There was an immediate paradigm
shift: smaller, better-sounding speakers and omni lavs on
actors’ faces. We moved the bar way up in themed entertainment
and never looked back!
One day, Meyer Sound’s Bob
McCarthy came to Disney to show the SIMM System II. He brought
this box to Glendale to show the Walt Disney Imagineering
(WDI) AV department as well as a few of us from Disneyland.
It was a real-time FFT analyzer that can “see”
into the air. We embraced this technology immediately and
were able to quantify our in-park audio systems to elevate
them another step. We could find “tired” or
non-functioning components quickly.
Some years later, Sam Berkow showed
us SMAART V1 running on a laptop and a small Soundcraft
con- sole…another real-time FFT analyzer—on
a laptop! Well, in addition to listening to our audio systems
with Steely Dan CDs, we began tuning every system we sent
out with either SIMM or SMAART. We wanted consistency throughout
the park. The Music Department loved what we were doing!
No matter what speaker boxes we were using, our systems
began having a unified “Disneyland” sound. From
venue to venue, show to show, our audio systems were better
sounding, more consistent, offered higher quality for our
guests and were easier for our mixers to train on.
Original Electrical Parade
Here’s a bit of fun looking
back. I was able to talk with (and work with) guys who had
originally set up the Disneyland Electrical Parade (perhaps
the most viewed parade in history). When it originally debuted
in 1972, the parade had the first show-control system in
existence. A Berkey Colortran “computerized”
lighting console, if I recall correctly, was used to trigger
audio, lighting and machinery to operate the parade. One
of our sound-shop technicians figured out that the console’s
control output of 0-10V could be configured to control some
ITC radio-station VCAs, two of which were available per
each parade zone. In front of the VCAs was a custom Disneyland
router controlled by the console’s “non-dim”
The Disneyland parade route is
about 2000 feet long and is divided into multiple zones,
each ranging from 70 to 100 feet long. In each zone, music
can be sourced to move as each parade float enters or exits
that zone. The source available to each zone was from one
of six available cart machines (triggered from the Colortran)
that would play pre-show announcements, etc., and program
audio from one of two 16-track analog tape machines (a primary
Studer and a backup Ampex) using 12-inch reels of two-inch
tape running 15ips (no noise reduction). There was also
a TASCAM four-track that could be hard patched into the
system and operated manually as a last-ditch backup. The
speakers were custom 70V two-way 12-inchers powered by Crown
70V amps that performed admirably for a number of years.
The difference between our parade
route(s) then and now is like night and day. Both parks
feature LCS routers/mixers with proprietary show-control
software (DECS: Disney Entertainment Control System), various
digital playback devices and IQ-controlled Crown amplifiers.
Disneyland speaker systems include EAW custom passive KF-300WP
and Disneyland-designed subwoofers. Disney’s California
Adventure speakers include biamped EAW KF-300WP, AS-300,
UB-82, SB-1000, SB-250 and custom WDI (Walt Disney Imagineering)
concrete in-ground subwoofers.
This Disneyland classic
premiered June 17, 1972. The parade featured one-half
million tiny lights on floats themed mostly around
classic Disney films. Renamed “Disney’s
Electrical Parade,” this beloved tradition is
now featured at Disney’s California Adventure
during the Summer.
Fantasmic! had some interesting
firsts. This was the first project we created that would
attempt to intertwine audio with lighting, gas, smoke, pyro,
film projection and water, not to mention 60 performers.
The audio system was huge! We used a lot of EAW KF850s,
KF600, KF300, SB850, SB1000, Crest/Nexus-controlled amplifiers,
and Meyer Sound UPA-1As, and CQ-2s. Version 1 of our audio
control had a proprietary DECS computer-scripting cue controller,
a Synthesis controlling router and audio/video sourced from
two jam-synced (black burst synced) Pioneer laserdisc players.
Four audio tracks were taken from one
machine and four more from the other. Only one video source
was taken, and the other was a redundant backup. There was
not an audio console in the system path. We found that the
show ran great this way, and was consistent night to night.
But, when we wanted to use the system for special events
going through Synthesis to set levels, it was not very fast.
A mixer was added to the path to help speed up our special
events. Subsequent iterations have seen Synthesis going
away and Peavey MediaMatrix being installed. In its current
form, LCS is installed as the router/mixer/EQ and some audio
movements have been put in using space maps. LCS wild tracks
are now the playback medium.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Festival
of Fools was a large-scale show that signaled a dramatic
paradigm shift for our live-entertainment product. When
the production team pitched the idea, we (the design team)
thought, “Wow! This can be done with a lot of time
and planning.” As it turned out, we had only six months
to design, purchase, install and rehearse a show that had
barely been story- boarded.
The show director said he was looking
for “theater in the round and theater around you”
in the 2½-acre performance arena. Actors would have
to be sourced so the audience would know where the cast
members were on the stage. I knew that none of the traditional
consoles we had would fit the bill. As fate would have it,
one week prior to learning about the Festival of Fools,
I had been given a “non-disclosure” viewing
of a new Yamaha console: the 02R.
We created a performance space
consisting of six zones into which we could “steer”
audio sources or actors. Each zone had roughly the same
complement of speakers that were tuned with a SIMM II system
to ensure that they were frequency- and level-accurate,
zone to zone. The Disney Music Department brought several
ADAT machines to the venue and we “posted” the
show through the sound system. The 02R took the sources
(two ADAT tape playback devices: 16 channels plus 16 RF
mics) and routed the various actors’ mics around the
stage. The FOH engineer would mix on a Yamaha PM3500 analog
console with the channel direct outs being fed to the 02R.
The ADAT machines would supply SMPTE to the 02R so we had
frame-accurate mixing of the tape tracks as well as microphone
routing. It sounds so simple now!
It was the first 02R shipped with
Studio Manager V1 for Mac only (our IS department had just
said we could no longer purchase Macs). We (or anyone else
as far as I know) had never used recallable program changes,
et. al., dynamic automation in a live show! We were also
the first to install the Crest CKS series amplifiers, as
well as the first install for the Shure UHF series wireless.
This show was an excellent example of us being on the leading
edge of emerging and “pre-emerging” technologies.
(Left) Amp room at Fantasyland
Theatre in 1997. (Right) Technicians installing EAW
KF861 line arrays at Fantasyland Theatre in 1997.
The First ‘Dark Theater’
Early in the planning phase of
our newest Disneyland Resort theme park (Disney’s
California Adventure—DCA), Walt Disney Imagineering
invited Disneyland Entertainment to participate in the design
of the company’s first “dark theater,”
which was to be a jewel at the resort. It was being planned
to house 2000 seats, to stage two shows at any one time,
to be able to show major motion pictures and to be used
for special “hard-ticket” special events. The
Resort got all of those desires and more.
The Hyperion Theater has received
rave reviews from critics and entertainment peers, as well
as the many guests who have witnessed our many stage shows.
It features a left/center/right audio system that is controlled
by a 120-channel Yamaha PM1D (the first installation for
this line of consoles). The acoustics in the theater are
“dead as a doornail,” with no measurable RT60.
Environmental space can be added via a matrix of ceiling-mounted
microphones and surround speakers. Currently, Aladdin the
Musical is playing on stage with 28 mics in use for the
40-minute stage show. [Editor’s Note: Sound &
Communications featured the Hyperion Theater installation
in our September 2001 issue.]
Shortly after DCA opened, we were
tasked with bringing the streets of the Hollywood Pictures
Backlot (one of DCA’s “lands”) to life.
The design team wanted many tech elements to be included
in what was to be called “Streetmosphere,” but
did not want to see (or build) technician mix locations.
We went to work to integrate wireless control with existing
hardware. What we came up with was an AMX wireless controller
controlling mixers such as the Yamaha 01V96, Roland AR200s,
minidisk players as well as triggering show automation elements
and lighting. The AMX coding is done in-house and includes
serial interfaces as well as MIDI and switches. Today, the
operator holds an AMX touchscreen (about the size of a novel),
and can stand inconspicuously among the guests and “mix”
or control the show. This is now the standard of how we
set up atmosphere shows at the Resort.
Another Paradigm Shift
This past year brought us another
paradigm shift. The “Block Party Bash” features
80 dancers and the Pixar characters in a high-energy, interactive
parade, driven by a dynamic pop soundtrack. Previously,
our parade floats had 24VDC amplifiers providing power to
various speakers hidden by art pieces. This new higher-energy
show required more volume and punch. The new Meyer Sound
M1D was mocked up on a test float/battery rig. It ran at
full-tilt pink noise for 12 hours off the available inverted
The M1Ds were employed in clusters
of two with approximately eight units on each float. Various
conventional non-powered subwoofers were used for extended
low end (600HPs were not available at install time). Crown
8810 processors are installed on each float for mixing,
EQing and system control. Additionally, the six floats were
linked via a Wireless G network to make the rehearsal process
The electronics are not accessible
when the floats are in show mode, with 80 dancers and dozens
of characters careening on and off the various set pieces.
Typically, in the past, we would be forced to wait until
the end of the rehearsal to make any changes to the system.
Now, changes could be made in real time, and the Production
Team could then A/B the change to approve it.
As far as what is in store for
us, I think that the future of audio at the Disneyland Resort
is all about envelopment and interactivity. It would be
cool if each guest could somehow hear our shows his own
way: a little louder for some and, perhaps, a little softer
for others. I still hope that, some day, someone will invent
the “reverb eliminator,” an intelligent omni
lav mic that doesn’t feed back, and auto-fixes pitch
or an array of speakers that I can dial in the amount of
throw, then, die off at 60dB per foot.
Coming up: Chuck Davis, senior
technical director, Disneyland Resort Entertainment Productions,
will detail the evolution of video in Disneyland live entertainment,
and KC Wilkerson, technical director, Disneyland Resort
Entertainment Productions, will cov-er live show lighting.
David Hatmaker, technical director, Disneyland Resort Entertainment
Productions, began his audio career while attending Oxnard
(CA) High School, when he founded Trinity Sound Works, a
regional sound company. He attended California State University
Long Beach, receiving a BA in music, and then worked as
an audio technician/mixer for Knott’s Berry Farm and
The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. Beginning his Disney
career in 1987 as a mixer at the Tomorrowland “Coke”
Terrace, Hatmaker has provided audio designs for various
stage shows and special events. He is a member of AES and