12 January 2008

You will see many familiar inhabitants

Disneyland’s Tomorrowland was just the beginning for George McGinnis. When the East Coast called, he answered, giving us attractions that are, even today, considered unique experiences and second to none. New technologies were implemented, familiar attractions were revitalized, and new boundaries were breached.

After work had been completed on the EPCOT Film, George McGinnis found his plate very full with the Walt Disney World Project beginning to take shape. Three projects stand out among the rest, the WEDway Peoplemover, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and, an attraction created for both coasts simultaneously, Space Mountain.

At Walt Disney’s prompting, George McGinnis designed a model of the WEDway that could be used in the city of EPCOT. Unfortunately, the city would never be built as Walt had envisioned, but the dream of the PeopleMover lived on. Disneyland’s PeopleMover, with its rubber wheels, was able to make grade changes. That is, it could climb small hills and descend from them as well. The linear induction motor, used in Walt Disney World’s WEDway PeopleMover, had no such luxury. Though it was a marvel of engineering, the track was required to maintain the same grade throughout the entirety of the attraction, due to the close gap that had to be preserved. Yet, when the dust had settled from both Disneyland’s and the Magic Kingdom’s revamping of Tomorrowland, only one PeopleMover, under the guise of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, remained.

Along with the development of the PeopleMovers George McGinnis also worked on the design of the Magic Kingdom’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas. Though the attraction would again be similar to its California counterpart, the design of the submarines used could not have been more different. Taking inspiration from the film starring Kirk Douglas and James Mason, George McGinnis crafted the designs of what the subs should look like and sent them on to Bob Gurr in Tampa, Florida, where the subs were being constructed.

Skipping ahead a few years, for the moment, another marquee attraction became the focus of McGinnis’ work, Space Mountain. Alongside legends like Marty Sklar, John Hench, Claude Coats, and Bill Watkins, George McGinnis became part of a team that dusted off the plans for a darkened space roller coaster, original planned for Disneyland in the 1960s, and gave the project a new star to follow in Florida. George McGinnis, the project’s concept designer, worked on the pre, and post shows, as well as other effects, such as the strobe tunnel.

Bill Watkins, who had worked on the track design for the Magic Kingdom, and George McGinnis were given the keys to Disneyland’s Space Mountain. McGinnis’ designs caused headaches for the actually engineers who had to implement his designs. These designs included a few effects that did not see the light of day, or rather the darkness of space, until the refurbishment of Disneyland’s Space Mountain in 2005. During the refurbishment McGinnis’ rotating tunnel finally got spinning, creating the effect that guests, and their vehicles, were actually turning over. Additionally, during the 2005 refurbishment, the ride vehicles were also redesigned, George McGinnis was again at the helm of these design changes. If the Disney Mountains are the Legends of attractions, then assisting in the creation of both Space Mountains surely warrants one man the status of Legend.

To work on Space Mountain George had had to move from Engineering to Show Design. But, his days of designing transportation were not yet over. Next time, with one foot in the past and one foot in the future, much like most of McGinnis’ designs, we’ll take a look at all the ways George McGinnis moved people. Until then, for those of us endeavoring for Disney to acknowledge George McGinnis as a Legend, let me share this little fact with you. Lillian and Edna Disney, Walt and Roy’s wives, respectfully, were not inducted as Disney Legends until 2003.

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