2013 Disney D23 Expo Wrap-up

New Hatbox ghost closeup at 2013 Disney D23 ExpoAlrighty… It’s time for ye olde biannual Disney D23 Expo wrap-up.  As always, some good, some not so great stuff.  But overall, a fun experience.

First off, I’m not a company boy type of Disney fan.  I don’t go to these events to buy every little “collectible” trinket or gawk at celebrity appearances or gather autographs.  My purpose is simply to be around people who are passionate about their art and inspire me to work harder to achieve the art that’s in my head.

Ok, I wanted to hear something about what they’re going to do with Star Wars too, but that didn’t happen.

Like any real Disney experience, it starts with waiting in a line reminiscent of Soviet-era Russia.  I arrived on Day 1 at 6:30 in the morning because I wanted to see the Art and Imagination presentation in the arena about all the new animation releases.  Mind you, it started at 10:00 am, so I was in line 3.5 hours early.

Day 1 line outside 2013 Disney D23 Expo

About 600 people in line at this point. Another few thousand would line up behind me.

Good stuff: The queue system was better designed this year.  Rather than snaking back and forth park style, they had separate straight lines that they just took in one at a time.  Though one very loud guest (drunk at 7am?… maybe…) assured every staff member around him that it would not work and be a total disaster.  Twas not.

Also, while they still had the “no cameras, no phones” rule in effect for the arena, the system was a little easier this year.  Instead of taking it away from you on the way in and dealing with the mob scene of trying to get it back after along with the other 3999 people, they just had you stick it in a gray plastic bag that sealed shut.

Granted, it was more of an honor system thing that you wouldn’t just pull it out of the bag after the check-in.  But most people played along and left it in the bag.  Even I, who flouted the ban regularly at the last two expos.

So after spending a couple hours waiting outside the arena (thank goodness for awesome So Cal weather) then another hour or so waiting inside, we finally got into the arena and they started the event a half hour late, at 10:30am.

I didn’t think to take notes during the presentation because I’m an idiot.  But here was the cool stuff.  The new shorts are fantastic.  We saw a new Monsters U short that will be included with The Good Dinosaur on release.  And it was waaaay funnier than the Monsters U movie.  Which I liked, but this is super fast paced joke writing and really well done.

"Artifacts" for the Mickey Mouse short "Get A Horse"

“Artifacts” from the new Mickey Mouse short “Get A Horse”

The new Mickey Mouse short is an Oscar contender.  It’s called “Get A Horse”.  The premise is that they found some old cels from 1925 of a never-released Mickey short.  They went in and finished it so we can all enjoy it.  However, it quickly builds to modern day with the old school, rubber hose, Ub Iwerks Mickey and friends jumping out of the screen into full color CGI-ness and interacting with the still black and white Peg Leg Pete on the screen.  Back and forth hilarity ensues.  The technology and creativity are off the charts with this one.  The story is a typical 1925 Mickey plot about Mickey keeping Minnie away from Pete.  But the execution is something I’ve never seen before.  Really cool.  It’ll be on the front of Frozen when it’s released to theaters.

And we did see clips from Frozen as well as Planes (which was released the next day).  I’m not totally sold on either one.  I’ll see them of course.  But I’m not sure we’ve got bonafide classics on our hands with either.  Though John Lasseter (who MC’d most of the presentation) seems more excited than usual for Frozen.

After that, there’s some cool stuff coming up.  Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur is based on the premise of the asteroid missing Earth, never creating an ice age or killing all the dinosaurs.  And the dinosaurs become farmers.  The previews read a little slow, like riding through the dinosaur diorama on the Disneyland railroad. But once they get to the characters, I think it will pick up.

We’ll also see a film from Pixar called “Inside Out” which takes us inside the mind of a teenage girl (horror film?) and shows us the interactions of her emotions and how they relate to the little people in everyone else’s heads.  A really creative idea that I’ve never seen done this way before.

There’s also a second Planes film coming out called “Fire and Rescue” that looks to be on a similar level as the first.  Though it will shed some light on the little known aviation field of forest fire planes, which could be very cool.

This Halloween there’s a new Toy Story TV special coming out called “Toy Story of Terror”.  We saw the first 10 minutes or so and they cut it off just as it was getting good.  And I wanted to see more, so definitely watch for that.  The writing looks good.

The one thing I thought was weird.. And I definitely saw a lot of Disney kool-aid being drunk on this one… They closed the show with the lady voicing the main character in Frozen singing a song from the film.  Sorry, I don’t remember her name.  She has a great voice, but it sounded like she was picking up a delay in her in-ear monitors, and she was consistently about a 1/4 beat behind the music the whole time.  It was really odd.  Certainly not because she can’t sing.  Definitely a technical problem of some sort.  But NOBODY even mentioned it after.  The performance was talked up like the second coming of Elvis.

After getting out of the Animation presentation, my plan was to head straight for the Show Pass line and pick up a pass for one of the panels later that day in the smaller rooms.  I had pre-planned exactly which ones I wanted to see and which I was going to get Show Passes for.

Show Pass was a new system this year that’s essentially Fast Pass for the presentations.  I thought it was a good idea.  And when it worked, it worked well.  However… If you went to one of the morning Arena presentations, all the show passes for the day were gone by the time you got out.  Then you were left with the standby line.  Yikes.

Now I blame the problems here on two things.  Me and them.  My assumption was that once the Show Passes were gone, you were just hoping people wouldn’t show up and you could get in on standby.  But since you could only get a max of two passes per day, it wasn’t likely that people wouldn’t show up.  And the one standby line I did stand in, didn’t even get close to getting in.

However, I think my assumption might have been a little wrong.  On Day 3, when I finally did get some Show Passes, there seemed to be plenty of seats left for standby people, even after the passes were all in.

So, if they were only Show Pass-ing maybe a third of the room and then leaving the rest to standby, perfect.  But they should have communicated that a little better.  A lot of people I talked to just skipped presentations thinking the standup line would be a waste of time.

On Friday I only saw the Animation presentation and skipped everything else because I couldn’t get a pass.  Missed a lot of cool things.

Saturday was a similar schedule.  Though I opted to arrive at 7:30am based on my line position the day before.  I just needed a seat. 🙂  This was for the movie studio presentation.  This is the one where the big stars come out.  I’d skipped it the last two Expos and opted for the Legends Ceremony.  So I thought I’d flip it this time.

This was a Marvel heavy presentation of course.  Captain America, Thor, Agents of SHIELD, etc.  If you like that stuff, you’ll be pleased as punch.  I’m not a super big fan.  Tired of action scenes.  Though Guardians of the Galaxy looks like it’ll have my kind of humor in it.

The clip from “Saving Mr. Banks” was really exciting for me.  It really shows the opposite polarity of Walt Disney and P.L. Travers and how she really made it difficult to get “Mary Poppins” made.  Definitely looking forward to this one.  I hadn’t realized their relationship had that kind of dynamic to it.

The new Muppet film looks like fun too.  Everything you’d expect from a Muppet movie… Corny jokes, a zillion celeb guest appearances.  All done with a wink through the 4th wall.

There’s a new Cinderella live action pic in the works.  The saving grace is that it’s directed by Kenneth Branaugh.  Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie, looks like fun too.  It’s basically Maleficent’s origin story and the whole Sleeping Beauty story from her point of view.

And then there’s “Tomorrowland”.  I don’t know what to make of this.  The premise is that the film makers found a box marked “1952” in “the Morgue” at the Disney studios.  The morgue is an underground storage vault where, initially, stuff was just kind of tossed in boxes rather than kept track of with any system.  So they’re still picking through and finding stuff.  This particular box includes a strange array of items related to the 1964 World’s Fair, EPCOT, and science fiction and urban planning. All well into the 1960’s of course.

The film makers have designed a story around the items in the box that will become the film.  And there was a large exhibit of the boxes items on the Expo floor that was pretty intriguing.  However, some of is seems a little too interesting/conspiracy theory-ish to have happened like they’re saying.  So I’m not sure I buy into the whole premise.  But regardless it should be an interesting film.

And celebs?  Sure.  Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Evans, Ty Burrell, Brad Bird, Damon Lindeloff, Jason Schwartzman, and BJ Novak made appearances. But I was seated so far from the stage, it was still like watching them on TV. 🙂

Once again, by the time I got out of this event, all the Show Passes were gone for other stuff.  So I didn’t get to see a lot of the other cool stuff going on that day.  But I was bent on seeing the Richard Sherman/Alan Menken concert that evening.  After meeting my friends Carlos and Alfredo at a nearby Starbucks for some conversation, I headed back over to the check on the line for the concert.  By 4:00 the line was already a couple thousand people deep.  So I jumped in and settled for a 4 hour wait.  It’s insane. It really is.  You almost have to reach a Zen level of patience to see around on the floor of a convention center for 4 hours.

Richard Sherman performing live at the 2013 Disney D23 Expo

Richard Sherman performing live. I was sitting reeeeally far away again.

After I’d been there 45 minutes or so they were telling us the lines around us that we might get put in the overflow area.  That was new this year too.  The arena shows all had an overflow area with giant screens to watch the proceedings.  However, that didn’t seem all that satisfying to me.  So for the next 20 minutes I debated in my head whether to hang in there and hope to get in, or go spend $55 on a twilight Disneyland ticket and head to the park.  The cheapskate in me opted to sit in line and hope for the best.

Glad I did because I did get into the show and it was fantastic.  I don’t know if it was 4 hours fantastic, but it was really good.  We got a solid 90+ minutes of the Disney songbook in a great stripped down piano and vocal setting.

Alan Menken live at D23 Expo

Alan Menken performing live. Songs from Aladdin right here.

I draw a lot of inspiration from both Richard Sherman and Alan Menken in my own songs – melody structures and such – so it was a treat to see the scaffolding of these songs and really hear what’s going on.  A few astute listeners have commented on the direct musical reference to Alan Menken in the closing song of my show.  I’m not always that obvious, but that stuff is in there.

Not only the songs, but the stories to go with them are always fun to hear.  Both guys are talented performers who know how to spin a tale for a Disney audience.

Afterwards, I didn’t have the energy to drive into Hollywood for a comedy show like I’d done the night before (always working….). Instead I went over to Downtown Disney and took advantage of the remaining hours of Cheat Day on my diet.  Beignets and an Earl of Sandwich sandwich.  Both awesome.  The people at Earl of Sandwich lost my order at

Full Size Darth Vader

Vader seems a little less imposing with a fat dude and a kid with a shopping bag right behind him.

some point and left me hanging.  But they were kind enough to get me a sandwich together AND refund my money.  Win. 🙂

So you might be wondering what I was up to during the time in between arena presentations, since I couldn’t get into anything else.  Plenty to see on the convention floor.  A huge chunk was taken up by Disney Consumer Products.  A larger space than previous Expos.  But I’ll give them this, it was more interesting too.  Instead of just showing off products, there were some good displays.  A history of Mickey and Minnie drawing designs. A whole section on Darth Vader.  Some good stuff to look at.  I’ll be honest, I skipped right over Sephora, Jelly Belly, and Tervis, and the like.  That was mostly “here look at our stuff that has barely any connection to Disney.”

There were also plenty of sections for Disney Interactive. I’m not much of a video game guy, so I skipped a lot of that too.  DI has been really suffering financially. So I

understand why the gave them such a huge chunk of real estate to work with.  But it’s not me.  They did however, have this very interesting princess carriage on display.

I also spent quite a bit of time in the Collector’s Forum.  They had it much more sectioned off from the rest of the place this year, but it didn’t look like it hurt traffic much.

It was, as is expected, a ton of pins, posters, vinylmations, and ephemera for the collector set.  I’ve toned down my collecting over the years.  But I do really like to check out the art work being done by artists outside the company.  And certainly the art being done inside the company too.  The unfortunate thing is that I can’t afford any of that art. 🙂  I was hoping to find a cool random $20 cel like I did last time, but no luck on that one.  Still fun to check it all out.

Kermith The Frog interview at 2013 Disney D23 Expo

Kermit being interviewed while some dude has a hand up his keister.

Also ran into a recently Legendary Tony Baxter at the Van Eaton Gallery booth, had brief audiences with Bill Farmer and Bob Gurr, and saw Kermit the Frog being interviewed for WDW radio.  Here’s the thing about Muppets…. I could see the puppeteer laying there under the floor with a mic up to his mouth.  Didn’t even matter.  You still buy the illusion almost totally.

I was a little disappointed by the Disney Studios displays on the convention floor.  They had stuff about the new films and shorts that were talked about in the presentation.  And there were a couple things with animators discussing technique (like the new tech in Paperman).  But there wasn’t a ton of stuff to look at.  If you were there at the right time to catch a meet and greet or see a talk, it was cool.  But I didn’t find myself pulled over there.

One super cool thing that I didn’t take advantage of?  Bill Rogers, the voice of Disneyland (as in “Ladies and Gentleman, may I have your attention please…”) was doing people’s cell phone voice mail messages.  Yes, you could have him do your outgoing message and it was free.  Awesome, right?  The line was pretty long though, so I skipped it.  But what a cool idea.

Classic bobsled auctioned off at 2013 Disney D23 Expo

I would pretty willingly get rid of my couch and have this in the living room instead.

The auction this year was done as a silent auction.  They had some cool stuff like the recently removed classic bobsleds from the Matterhorn, a Disneyland sign used on one of the entrances to the park, and some interesting art.  But they were also auctioning pieces from Disney Store displays.  Some were ok, like the pint sized Mickey’s House.  Others, like the round table (yep… just a round table) were a little less interesting.  I was happy to see that the auction prices at least reflected the level of coolness.

On Sunday, I got a bit more stuff done.  And got more sleep as well.  Showed up at the lazy hour of 8:30 this time.  And still stood in line for another hour just to get into the building.

Outside were a couple of Fundamentalist Christian nuts yelling at everyone that we are going to hell for liking Disney stuff. “You in the mouse ears, repent!”  That’s a direct quote.

No one is safe from the religious nuts. Even the 2013 Disney D23 Expo

Going to hell with my mouse ears on…

I laughed walking up to the door and asked one of the staff members if that was the correct door to Hell.  He said, “Yep, go on in.  You’ll come out happier.”  It was ridiculous.

There was no big arena thing on Sunday morning, so I was able to hit the Show Pass line (fastest line in the place!) and pick up passes for two Imagineering panel discussions.

Disneyland sign from D23 silent auction

My girlfriend would have killed me if I brought this 6 ft Disneyland sign home.

The first was on innovation in Imagineering and included Asa Kalama, Scott Trowbridge, and the inimitable Bob Gurr.  If there’s any example that creativity and passion keeps you young, Bob Gurr is it.  Dude’s in great shape.

This was an enjoyable talk about the creative process. In this case they don’t have a process.  They stay open to ideas from any source.  There was even one story about an idea that came from a drunken cast member at a bar after hours.  Basically they always stay open to new ideas.  And then they tackle every challenge as it comes.  When working on a new attraction they’ll run into a myriad of problems each day and have to solve each one.  There’s no “process” or “step-by-step”.  It’s “keeping throwing money at it until it’s solved”.  Ah, to have that kind of budget. 🙂

They were asked about whether they read the Disney blogs and forums where so many armchair Imagineers like to post ideas.  Mostly the answer was no.  Except Bob Gurr.  He said he loves them.  The topic of crowd sourcing Imagineering ideas came up too.  The basic problem is that the Disney legal department would have a fit.  So they have to be careful where the idea comes from and make sure the company doesn’t get sued for using it.  I’d love to see them figure out a way to crowdsource ideas.

Imagineering Innovation panel discussion at the 2013 Disney D23 Expo

The panelists on the Innovation talk.

Overall, I found myself grabbing my notebook the second I walked out of the room and writing down ideas.  So that’s a good talk.

The other panel I went to was on how Imagineers use humor in attractions.  This one included Dave Fisher, Joe Lanzisero, Kevin Rafferty, Jason Surrell, and George Scribner.  Their stated goal is humor that is non-offensive and timeless.  As you may well know, that often leads to pretty corny humor.  But they kind of embrace that idea and have fun with the corniness.  Can’t say I’ll be using a lot of those ideas in my show.  But it was fun nevertheless.

Imagineering and Humor panel discussion at the 2013 Disney D23 Expo

The panelists on the humor talk.

One great moment was when they were talking about the corny jokes that Mater tells in the Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree ride.  They played an audio recording of some of the jokes.  One of the guys said, “Ok, I saw some of you mouthing along with the jokes.  If I might quote William Shatner… Get a life!”  He meant it lightheartedly, of course.  But one lady behind said loudly, “This IS my life!”  Which made me think, “Yeah, that’s what he’s talking about…”

In between those, I finally made it into the Imagineering section of the convention.  This I found to be better organized and more interesting than previous years.  Each section

Abraham Lincoln's Animatronic Head at the 2013 Disney D23 Expo

Lincoln’s disembodied head on a table. That’s not creepy at all.

(Special Effects, Animatronics, Modeling, MyMagic+, etc) had it’s own little cubby you could check out.

The Animatronics booth had some great stuff including plants that play music and Lincoln’s animatronic head making expressions.  I kept thinking it should be in a bubble like on Futurama.

They also had the little Destino character out, which was cool.  Then they pulled them all back for a demonstration of El Fortuno.  Which Marty Sklar, who was standing next to me, would also be checking out.

El Fortuno is a one of those fortune telling machines.  But this one has an animatronic inside that converses in real time with the person standing in front of it.  It’s pretty impressive.  They even had monitors up so you could how

the figure was monitoring everyone in the room to know what was going on.  Now if they can figure out how to get it to converse without a human being speaking through… Well,

then the robots have won and we’ll all probably be dead.  Maybe not a good idea.

Hatbox ghost in action at the 2013 Disney D23 Expo

The new Hatbox Ghost

One of my favorite bits was in the robotics booth.  A new Hatbox Ghost!  This is one of the best animatronics I’ve ever seen.  The movements are super fluid and detailed. The thing even breathes as it’s holding a pose.  If you look back at the picture at the top of this post, I was looking at my phone camera to frame the shot and it happened to switch

positions right them and stare straight into my lens.  Scared the crap out of me.

Right now they don’t have a use for the Hatbox Ghost.  They’re just rebuilding him as an experiment.  However everyone was encouraging them to put him in the Mansion.  And I agree.

As for Star Wars news… Practically none.  They hint at something called Orange Harvest as an attraction name

star wars d23 expo

The mysterious Orange Harvest crates.

maybe?  But I don’t think they even really know what they’re doing with it.

I also stopped into the Archives exhibit.  Thankfully, I hit it at a time that had a short line.  Plus, in the line area, they were showing how they did all the live action/animation stuff from Mary Poppins.  You could watch the scenes without all the animation in them

and such.  Really cool to see how they put that together.

Then I thought, why weren’t they showing Disney films on a screen in the arena waiting area?  It was separated from the rest of the expo pretty well and there was plenty of wall space.  I’ll bet everyone would have loved to watch films for a couple hours while we waited without our electronic devices available.

The Archives exhibit was ok.  The first chunk was all about “Return To Oz”. Remember that one?  Yep, neither does most anyone else.  I watched it once years ago and it wasn’t that

R2D2 at the 2013 Disney D23 Expo

R2D2 also made a photo op appearance in the Imagineering pavilion.

great.  Not sure why they wanted to focus on that.  The other half was all Mary Poppins stuff.  Some of it was cool, like the matte painting used in the film.  Other stuff, like costumes, I’d either seen before or don’t really care about.  Not their best try on the archives this year.

They also included the fan art competition as part of the archives exhibit which I think limited the traffic to it a bit.  Shame.  There was some really cool stuff in there.

All told, I probably spent clo

se to 24 hours standing in line altogether.  Pure insanity.  And I think the biggest downfall of the event is that there’s no way to really come out of it satisfied.  I understand their scheduling from the point of view of giving as many people a chance to see something as possible.  But nobody got to see everything they wanted.  I didn’t even see a third of what I wanted and considerably less than previous years.

Mary Poppins Storyboard

A Mary Poppins story board from the Disney Archives exhibit.

So I came out of it not feeling like I should have been able to do and see more than I did.  Not good for repeat business.  For next time I’m really considering doing Destination D instead.  And a lot of people I talked to this year that weren’t going came to that same conclusion after the last Expo.

Now, I’m sure events like Comic Con are similar in their setup.  But I’ve never been to that one.

And a lot of Disney people haven’t.  So the general feeling was that, while the stuff we saw was great, so probably was the stuff we didn’t get to see.

El Fortuno Animatronic at 2013 Disney D23 Expo

The El Fortuno Animatronic

I think the Stage Pass idea is good in theory.  But it shouldn’t so easily exclude people who did the wait to see the morning events in the arena.  And they should make it clear that the amount of Show Passes doesn’t completely sell out the room and you can still get in with the standby line.  If in fact, that’s the case.

I really wish there was a way to break Disney fans out of this 4-hour line tradition they seem to have.  The only reason we have to wait so long is because people get in line so early.  People were actually camping out the night before to get into the building on the first morning?  Why? Not like they were going to run out of room.

If everyone just shows up an hour before opening or whatever, we don’t all have to wait so long.  But I don’t know how anyone would break that habit.

Hitchiking Ghost maquettes at 2013 Disney D23 Expo

Hitchhiking Ghost maquettes.

I think one of the telling things about this year’s expo is that I didn’t take nearly as many pictures.  A few times I kind of had to dig to snap something for Twitter.  And the pics you’re seeing in this post are pretty much everything.

So I’m not sure if I’ll do the next one.  Depends on if I spend the money for Destination D next time.  I do think they’re slowly improving the expos, but they really need to do more to cut down on the giant lines (or keep people entertained while in line) and really find ways to help people maximize the amount of stuff they can see.

A few more pics….

Honda's Asimo robot live at Disney D23 Expo 2013

Honda’s Asimo robot. It walks, it talks. It will one day ruler over you with a plastic fist.

Snow White marble figures

The original marble Snow White figures from the grotto at Disneyland.

The Once Upon A Time Display at the 2013 Disney D23 Expo

The Once Upon a Time Display that housed stuff from the show.

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