By Ken Storey
R.A. Pedersen ( Twitter | facebook) is one of the leading voices in the EPCOT fan community. His tweets have sometimes caused outrage from those holding differing views of The Walt Disney Company. When his 2011 book, The Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia, was first published, it quickly became one of the top go-to sources for any Disney historian or fan. His extensive knowledge of EPCOT has gained a following even from within the Disney company itself. This has led to him becoming one of the leading sources for those seeking to know what is next for the sixth busiest theme park in the world.
Recently, he lit up social media by revealing exclusive details about the Imagination pavilion. According to Pedersen, the Imagination pavilion, including the ride, ImageWorks, and the Captain EO show, will be closing January 2, 2014. What comes in its place is still unknown, but those who follow these types of things closely expect a new ride of some sort and the permanent closure of the 3D film Captain EO.
While social media and fan sites have been filled with speculation on what the new pavilion will become, we thought it best to go to the original source to find out more.
TDC- First, tell our readers about why you are so interested in EPCOT.
RP- Suppose you’re in a hole and ignorant of all the world outside it. You live, you work, you go through life. At night you look up and you see the stars and marvel at their beauty. You think, “Gee, that’s nice” and go back about communing with your worm friends and maybe make a new bureau of mud. The star is not really a star though. It’s a man in a ship in the sky looking down on your hole and the beauty of the rest of the world that surrounds it. It’s not so impossible to get from that hole to the stars, but you need to know there is a world outside the hole to get started. If there’s nothing to aspire for, why aspire at all? Epcot shows us the world and its possibilities in their full grandeur and seeks to keep us from returning to that hole alone again. It is a unique monument to humanity and mankind that needs careful curation to keep the mud of ignorant holes off it.
|The Imagination Pavilion is definitely one of EPCOT's most picturesque, Test Track has nothing on this.|
RP- While I don’t know the specifics of what is planned I can tell you the sky is the limit. However, somewhere beneath the sky is a barrier known as the budget. In theory Disney’s people could choose to raze the pavilion and start from scratch like they did going from Horizons to Mission: SPACE, but the reality of this project will probably keep the main building. It should be noted that the main building is really a large rectangular warehouse on which the glass pyramids are an aesthetic feature that could be removed or replaced easily. When constructing the original attraction the warehouse was built first and the ride systems were put into place while the pyramids were later erected on top.
|The Imagination Pavilion has some strange places after its remodel. And why the wet floor sign on the carpet?|
RP- The Wonders of Life would need a new building from the ground up. The dome has been a problem since it opened – it’s an aesthetic structure. If there’s a tornado in Epcot the Wonders dome is to be evacuated into the sub-buildings that housed Body Wars and Cranium Command. It’s simply not a big sturdy block building the way other theme park rides and shows are. It also makes a decent amount of money hosting special events throughout the year.
Then over at the Universe of Energy you have a ride system that ages well – it has no track, you simply upkeep the vehicles. People talk about the millions of rumored reasons that Horizons closed when the sad fact is that the ride system was at the end of its intended useable life. A major reinvestment to rebuild it partially would have been needed to keep it and Disney chose to go in a new direction. It also doesn’t hurt that Energy generally regarded positively by the public and still garners moderate crowds. Imagination as it exists does not and is a net negative in guest feedback surveys. Mathematically the entire park is better off with it closed than if a guest wanders into it. Also as you mentioned, Wonders is closed, which is right next door to Energy. If removed from Future World East there would be no broadly age accessible attraction in that half of the park. Imagination is near the Seas with Nemo and Land pavilions which offer an array of guest experiences.
|There's no denying Figment is big for EPCOT|
RP- I’d like to think Figment will stay but there’s no guarantee. Dreamfinder I’d love to see return, but he was removed because the powers that be felt young people didn’t relate to him. Considering most ardent Epcot fans are roughly the age of the park itself, visited when they were young and utterly adore Dreamfinder, this supposition by Disney has proven very much incorrect.
|Is this enough Figments to please the fan community?|
RP- Figment has always been in the ride through all the versions. He had numerous cameos in the awful second iteration. He was brought back in response to guest feedback about the second version – there not being enough Figment. Not to mention he sells a lot of plush merchandise. Bit of an Orange Bird in that respect. Also he was fairly easy to add rather than tear down and rethink the ride from scratch. There was no going back to the original at that point so something had to be made of the mess that existed. Figment animatronics were mostly stored away or put into display vitrines backstage at Walt Disney World. Low cost and easy to insert into Orrin Shively’s expensive but boring special effect based set pieces. I’ve been told if you want to go far in Imagineering you have to be creative working with very little budget. Kathy Mangum went from this project to currently being a head of Walt Disney World’s creative portfolio.
|Will Phineas and Ferb replace Captain EO?|
RP- Untrained individuals generally don’t know how to read concept art. They in some fashion don’t understand what they are seeing and fill in the blanks with what seems logical to them. Whereas in reality concept art is full of meaningless space-filler and intentionally vague ideas that are to be changed or replaced later in the creative process which a trained eye can spot easily. A piece of artwork surfaced showing a Phineas and Ferb area at the Imagination pavilion. It was depicting the old Kodak camera shop located between the ride and the theater. This space was considered as one of the starting points for the Phineas and Ferb World showcase Adventure attraction. As you know, other locations in the park were instead used as the base camp for the parkwide attraction. People simply misinterpreted what they saw.
TDC- Why is Imagination its own pavilion? Isn't it a function of the brain and the brain a part of the body thus making it more logically a part of defunct Wonders of Life pavilion?
RP- Because Kodak was willing to pay for Imagination and Metropolitan Life was willing to pay for Wonders. Sponsors want what they want. The pyramids come from the Land pavilion concepts which had a sponsor earlier in process and changed the aesthetics a few times leaving some spares for other possible sponsors to “try on” so to speak. Overall as a concept the pavilion was seen as a way to humanize things in Future World. Technology was hard, cold, and sort of scary to people back then. EPCOT Center spent a lot of time putting pretty colors, natural fibers, and smiling faces on sharp metal objects and steely cold circuit boards. Future World is all about “what mankind can do” and Imagination was to be the lighter and less industrial side of things. Also, the “Life and Health” pavilion (the original name) was sponsored by a life insurance company. They wanted to talk to you about ways to avoid having to pay for your cardiac surgery, with no interest in selling cameras and film to capture pretty pictures.
|This stairway used to lead to an interactive play area, now it just sits unused and forgotten about.|
RP- Sponsored attractions at Epcot open with an expected closure date. Either some sponsor will reinvest or the ride is going to close. Instances where Disney took over operation and forked out the money for upkeep are the exceptions, not the rule. By that alone a good portion of Future World looks to be a different park in 10 years. In 5 years? Less certain. A ride usually takes 3-5 years to develop and be built from the ground up. There’s not a mass of creative interest in Epcot internally. Imagineering is based in Southern California and draws artists locally.
Epcot isn’t like any other park in the world. A Disneyland ride can move into the Magic Kingdom. Hollywood Studios attractions can be dumped into California Adventure. If a concept isn’t specifically designed for Epcot is sticks out and it shows. Even Soarin is a tough fit thematically as it stands. To make the transition from California Adventure to Epcot make sense they forced a whole world biome “Land as seen from the sky” aspect onto the entire Land pavilion. This was later thrown out – few of the design elements from 2005 that explicitly depict it remain – and now they’re looking at other modifications to Soarin to make it thematically fit Epcot.
|The photo lab in ImageWorks also sits empty these days|