17 May 2009

Blaine Gibson – Capturing the Spirit

Cinderella Castle can be seen from just about everywhere within the Magic Kingdom. While it may be the most often photographed structure in the world, the Partners sculpture that adorns the Hub in front of the castle has gathered its own dedicated following in the years since its unveiling. The statue, which features Mickey and Walt Disney surveying the landscape, was originally created for and positioned at Disneyland in 1993 before being duplicated for the Florida property in June of 1995.

Designed and sculpted by Blaine Gibson, the Summer 1991 issue of Disney News featured an article on Blaine Gibson’s life and career, with a particular interest in his work with Partners. The article, Blaine Gibson – Capturing the Spirit, was written by Scott Elmore.

As you stand in the ‘hub’ of Disneyland – the circular park at the end of Main Street, U.S.A. – you can almost feel the presence of Walt Disney. Soon, you’ll actually be able to see him as well. Later this year, Disneyland will unveil a new tribute to its creator: a bronze statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse standing hand-in-hand, gazing down Main Street. To create this memorial, Walt Disney Imagineering selected renowned sculptor – a man who had developed a close working relationship with Walt during the building of Disneyland – Blaine Gibson.

Gibson started his career at the Disney Studios in 1939 as an apprentice animation artist. Beginning as an “inbetweener” for the cartoon short “Bone Trouble,” he soon worked his way up to the feature animated films.

“Walt was very informal at the Studio, always walking the halls,” Gibson remembers, “I had talked with him many times, but I really didn’t know him until we started working on Disneyland. Walt had noticed the sculptures in my office, ones I had done in my home, and he asked me if I would come over and sculpt for the Park.”

Gibson’s first sculptures for Disneyland included Indian chiefs and mermaids. Soon he found himself working on pirates and presidents.

“I had a chair in my studio at Imagineering,” he recalls, “and Walt used to come in all the time, sit down, and say, ‘What are you up to, Blaine?’ He was always interested in everything we did.

“That’s what impressed the most about him, his enthusiasm,” Gibson says. “For instance, when we were working on the bathing elephants scene for the Jungle Cruise, he acted out the part of the elephant up on the shore. Walt climbed up on a chair and even scooted his pants down a little to get that baggy elephant skin effect,” Gibson chuckles.

Blaine Gibson retired from Walt Disney Imagineering in 1983 and moved to Sedona, Arizona with his wife, Coral. However, he still does projects for Disney now and again, such as the statue of Walt and Mickey for Disneyland.

“I chose to depict Walt as he was in 1954,” he explains. “I think that was when Walt was in his prime. It was tough trying to match the media image of Walt Disney, the one the public knows, to the real Walt, the one we knew.

“I don’t like to leave a sculpture until it has a feeling of life,” he continues. “I had done a bust of Walt in terra cotta while he was alive, but it wasn’t right. I hope this time I’ve captured that magical spirit of his.”

The statue will be larger than life, to match Walt’s image, coming in at six feet, five inches. The base will be designed so that it will be easy for guests to get in close for their pictures. Facing towards Main Street, the bronze image will have the perfect backdrop – Sleeping Beauty Castle.

When asked what expression he was trying to achieve in Walt’s face, Blaine Gibson replied, “I think Walt is admiring the Park and saying, ‘Mickey, look what we’ve done.’”

1 comment:

Princess Fee said...

I love reading about Blaine Gibson - on my most recent Keys to the Kingdom tour, the tour guide really tried to get us to appreciate Blaine Gibson. She thought he was one of the most under-rated Imagineers. It's lovely to hear a bit more about him, so that we can truly appreciate his talent!