Event Recap: Creating “The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination”

Posted on Wed, 07/20/2011 - 06:00

One of the many treasures to be found in the galleries of The Walt Disney Family Museum is the breathtaking model of Disneyland. The model is officially named the "The Disneyland of Walt's Imagination," and represents the park with attractions that existed or were in development during Walt's lifetime. Guests celebrating Disneyland’s 56th birthday at The Walt Disney Family Museum were treated to a presentation on the model’s conception and construction by Kerner Optical’s model supervisor, Carol Bauman. 

In 2007, the Miller family decided that they wanted to include a model of Walt’s park in our museum. They wanted their model to be different from the more realistic architectural models of the park, such as the model on display in the Opera House in Disneyland. Veteran Imagineer, Bruce Gordon, came up with the first concept, a mechanical model with sections that would flip over to show the continued evolution of the park throughout the years. Ultimately, the concept was discarded due to mechanical maintenance concerns and the untimely death of Bruce Gordon. Imagineer Tony Baxter came up with the idea of creating a Fun Map-style model. Fun maps depicted the park as a colorful, cartoony collection of exciting destinations, highlighting each without regard to size or scale.

After building and presenting a model of Tom Sawyer Island, the Miller family selected Kerner Optical (once the model shop for Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic) for the project. Their past projects included landmark blockbusters from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films to Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films. Tony Baxter recommended artist Nina Rae Vaughn to assist Kerner Optical's designers. Nina, the former Director of Concept Design and Illustration for Walt Disney Imagineering, was responsible for the 40th and 50th anniversary Disneyland Fun Maps, and created original artwork specifically for the model. Using historic photographs, vintage paintings, sketches, and plan drawings, the model makers began building the different lands in puzzle like sections. The Miller family would visit the model shop once a month to see and critique the progress of the model. The Kerner model making team really looked forward to seeing the looks of delight on the faces of the Miller family members during these visits. After nine months of labor, the completed model was transported in sections from the Kerner model shop in San Rafael, and reassembled at the Museum in September of 2009. 

Here are just a few of the fascinating details that Carol shared about the model:

  • The team started with Frontierland, and worked counter clockwise ending with Tomorrowland.
  • The Rivers of America is shower door Plexiglas painted blue, and placed on a green base to create the illusion of depth.
  • The cannon that the pirate is sitting on in the Pirates of the Caribbean vignette was originally created for and used on a model ship in the second Pirates of the Caribbean film.
  • Skylights, foliage, and architectural details were added to flat roof areas to create interest to utilitarian areas.
  • All of the hand sculpted flags on the model are flying in the eastern direction, just as they do at Disneyland due to the westerly ocean breeze.
  • The model makers recreated Storybook Land’s buildings – miniatures within miniatures! 
  • The only structure not built by Kerner Optical was Sleeping Beauty Castle. It was created by Walt Disney Imagineering.
  • There are no hidden Mickeys on the model, but there are two Walts! (Spoiler Alert: He can be found walking with his daughter Diane behind the Castle and riding with her in a red Autopia car.)
  • The orange grove at the top of the model represents the land before Disneyland was built.

There are endless details to be found in the hundreds of buildings, rides, props, and miniature guests that populate the model. Thanks to Carol Bauman’s fantastic presentation, we can better appreciate the hard work of the talented model making team and look for some of the endless details that can be found in “The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination.”

Above images: 1) Photo by Cesar Rubio Photography, courtesy The Walt Disney Family Museum. 2) Diane Disney Miller checks out the model at Kerner Optical, June 2009. Photo courtesy of Kerner Optical.


Joseph Titizian
Volunteer at The Walt Disney Family Museum