Thursday, October 11, 2012

New Book Explores 50-plus Years of Disney Poster Art

Cover of Poster Art of the Disney Parks
© Disney
Have you ever looked at a poster at a Disney theme park? I mean really looked at it.

You may have given one or two a quick glance as you hurried through the tunnel underneath the Main Street train station, eager to get to your first attraction. It's okay if you did. The best posters are designed to tell their stories on the fly, to get your attention in a flash with a compelling graphic design and a minimal amount of words. If all you do is make a brief mental note that, oh yeah, you need to ride Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion or It's a Small World later, then the poster has done its job.

But, take a few minutes to stop and study a Disney attraction poster, to appreciate both its simplicity and complexity, its use of shapes and colors, its ability to tell a story, and you discover a unique and beautiful art form unto itself.

If you're an old guy like me, the Disneyland posters created in the 1950s and 1960s stir up a wealth of childhood memories. Even more so than in the entrance tunnels, I remember the attraction posters that adorned the posts supporting the Monorail track outside the main gate: Dumbo, the Rivers of America, the Swiss Family Treehouse, Alice in Wonderland and many others. After spotting the Matterhorn and the uppermost spires of Sleeping Beauty Castle on the drive in through Anaheim, these posters, visible once you entered Disneyland's parking lot, were the next best delightful teasers of what was to come.

Authors and Imagineers Vanessa Hunt and Danny Handke
Disney Editions has released a compilation of the best of over 55 years of Disney Parks posters in the beautiful new coffee table book Poster Art of the Disney Parks. Not just a collection of artwork, it's a visual history of Disneyland, Walt Disney World and all the international parks as seen through the eyes of very gifted artists, graphic designers and Imagineers. The book spans the vivid silk-screened layouts of Bjorn Aronson and Paul Hartley during Disneyland's early days to the more recent retro-cool designs of Greg Maletic for Disney California Adventure's massive face lift and expansion.

Poster Art of the Disney Parks was written by Danny Handke and Vanessa Hunt, who both grew up with a passion for Disney that ultimately landed them their dream jobs at Walt Disney Imagineering. By e-mail, they were kind enough to answer some questions for me about their new book.

Peter Pan's Flight
by Bjorn Aronson (1955)
© Disney
Tim: In the book's Acknowledgements, you both mention your love and appreciation of all things Disney. Where did that love start?

Vanessa Hunt: My love for Disney started when I was very young and would watch all of the animated films. My love for Disney Parks started when I was six years old and my parents took me to Disneyland for the first time. They had to take me once a year every year after that!

Danny Handke: It’s funny because my story is very similar to Vanessa’s. My love for Disney started at a young age watching all the animated classics and going to Disneyland once or twice a year with my family. I knew I wanted to work for Disney at either Walt Disney Imagineering or the Animation Studios. My passion for Imagineering peaked when I worked at Disneyland as a ride operator after college.

Tim: When and where did you start working for Disney? How did you end up at Imagineering?

VH: I started working for Disney in 2001 at my local Disney Store. In 2007 I interviewed for an internship at the Art Library and have been here ever since.

DH: My Disney career started in 2002 at my local Disney Store in Scottsdale, AZ. Then I worked at Disneyland, followed by Mickey’s of Glendale (the employee store at Walt Disney Imagineering). In 2009 I landed my dream job in WDI Creative as an associate show producer.

Mickey's Fun Wheel
by Greg Maletic (2010)
© Disney
Tim: Where did the idea to write Poster Art of the Disney Parks come from?

VH: This is what happens when two book and attraction poster fans get to talking. Danny wanted to do an attraction poster book for our Imagineering store and I said it had to be a really nice “art of” coffee table book. [Disney author and historian] Jeff Kurtti is a regular in the Art Library so I took the idea to him, he took it to Disney Editions, and you know the rest of the story!

Tim: You credited Jeff Kurtti for his "influence and guidance" in completing the book. What type of support did he provide?

VH: I had never co-authored a book before, so Jeff was there for me throughout the entire four years. Anytime I had a question or wanted feedback, I would ask Jeff. He has done so many amazing books, is very knowledgeable about Disney, and is a very good friend. So having his support meant the world to me.

Tim: Vanessa, you're credited as the book's designer while Danny, you're named as the writer. How much did the two of you collaborate on the text?

VH: Danny and I both conducted interviews for the book. So that and providing artist and date information from the Art Library database was my contribution. We didn't have all of that information, so Danny and I tracked down what we didn't have during our interviews and research. I would say that Disney Editions had the most input on his text but I’ll let him elaborate on that.

DH: It was very much a collaborative effort, especially when it came to the order and groupings of the posters. We probably iterated the copy and the layout dozens of times based on the story we wanted to tell. Disney Editions had the most input on the text. They wanted to make sure the book had broad appeal. Vanessa and I were fine with this approach knowing that the posters are self-explanatory. I’m especially happy with Chapter One, which goes into the history and the people behind the posters.

Tim: What type of look were you trying to achieve in the overall design of the book?

VH: I wanted it to showcase the artwork entirely. I didn't want anything to distract readers from these amazing posters, which is why it is a very clean layout with minimal text and somewhat small captions. Part of the attraction posters’ job is to tell a story, so I wanted to allow them to do so.

Grand Canyon Diorama
by Paul Hartley (1958)
© Disney
Tim: Were there any surprises as you put the book together? Posters/concepts that you weren't aware of? Stories/insights from people you interviewed?

VH: We learned a LOT while putting this book together. One of the biggest surprises came while we were looking at some original silk-screened posters in the Art Library Vault. We noticed an archival storage box labeled “Attraction Posters” and decided to open it up. It contained a handful of concepts that we had never seen before. Turns out they were not cataloged yet, so only some of my Art Library co-workers had seen them before now!

DH: Learning about the screen printing process was fascinating for me. I didn't realize the tremendous amount of effort, time and passion the screen print artisans put into producing these attraction posters until after we interviewed several of the Imagineers.

Tim: How was the condition of some of the earlier 1950s and '60s-era Disneyland posters? What were the challenges of digitally cleaning up the poster scans for publication?

VH: Most of them are in really good shape considering their age and the fact that some of them may have been displayed in the Park. First, I had to be sure we had a high resolution, color accurate scan of the original silk-screened poster. Once we have that, we look at the file and see what needs to be done. We want the posters to look how they would have looked when they were brand new. That means tears, blemishes, dirt, scratches, spots, etc. have to be edited out digitally. That process can take anywhere from an hour to several days! Luckily, everyone in the Art Library is highly trained in digitally cleaning art and we were able to get every poster looking perfect.

Tim: It's probably an unfair question, but do you have a favorite Disney Parks poster? A favorite poster artist?

VH: I love all of the '50s and '60s Disneyland posters, but if I had to choose one, it’s the Grand Canyon Diorama poster. I love the color palette used and that train is just amazing!

Turtle Talk by Chuck Ballew
and Will Eyerman (2009)
© Disney
As for a favorite poster artist, there are so many great ones. But I would have to say Bjorn Aronson and Paul Hartley are a couple of my favorites.

DH: Every day I have a new favorite poster because there are so many to choose from! Today, my favorite poster is the Turtle Talk poster from Tokyo DisneySea. Chuck Ballew and Will Eyerman did an amazing job stylizing the poster to make it appropriate to the time period of American Waterfront (a land in Tokyo DisneySea set in 1912 New York).

In addition to Bjorn and Paul, I would say Jim Michaelson is another favorite poster artist of mine. His ornate “window box” posters defined a whole new generation of attraction posters in the late 1970s through the opening of Disneyland Paris. Greg Maletic is one of my favorite modern poster designers. His digital art for the Disney California Adventure and Hong Kong Disneyland posters capture the essence of the original 1950s and 1960s posters for a whole new generation.

Tim: What do you think has been the biggest change in the appearance of Disney poster art over the years? What has remained the same?

VH: There has been a lot of change over the years. I think the biggest jump was when they became more like illustrations with the “window box” style in the 70s. That was a huge difference from the more simple posters of the '50s and '60s.

Disneyland Railroad
by Jim Michaelson (1977)
© Disney
What has remained the same though is their purpose. [Imagineer] Tony Baxter said the posters were a way to educate and entice you into experiencing the attractions. The first posters and many of the ones following were always drawn from the perspective of your being engaged in the attraction. “You were in the vantage point of the family looking at the giant squid, you were on the jungle boat with an elephant out there, you were flying in the Skyway bucket.”

I think that great attraction posters still have that same effect on you when you see them; you look at them and immediately know that that is something you want to experience for yourself.

Tim: What do you think is the significance of poster art to the Disney Parks?

VH: In the beginning, the posters would educate people on what this brand new place was. Now that people are much more familiar with what a “Disney Park” is, I think they have become more decorative. Although, every day there are people coming to a Disney Park for the very first time, so I’m hoping that the posters are still educating and enticing those guests!

DH: In addition to what Vanessa said, I think attraction posters are now considered a Disney Parks tradition. Take Disney California Adventure for example—the poster program that launched a few years ago helped redefine the park as a distinctly Disney experience.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful! I know what is going on my Christmas list for this year!