Has anyone ever heard of the Disney Design Center? Well if you enjoy all the amazing events and displays at Walt Disney World, you can thank this branch of the Disney Company. They are responsible for setting up and maintaining all the amazing props that make up almost all events, including EPCOT’s Food and Wine festival, Flower and Garden Show, and special event functions throughout property. Anytime you see displays made up from a special piece of Disneyana, they more than likely came from the enormous warehouse where these treasures are stored.
The history of this department started in 2000 when it was called “EPCOT Events”. In 2010 the Parks Events Operations went Global. Event Development then became the “Design and Display”. In addition to the installation of the above mentioned sets and props, they also fabricate props they might need and are responsible for locations and handle digital media. In a short time, they have become a major factor in creativity.
Another forte of the group is Food and Beverage set-ups. Any catered affair at the parks, corporate and Convention events receive their personal touch. If you have ever attended a Disney Press Event, and got a chance to see the amazing food displays, complete with perfectly matched props, or attended a Corporate function, thank the Design and Display.
What makes the Design and Display even more amazing is that it is staffed by just five Cast Members, all who must in addition to being masters of creativity, are graphic designers, sculptors, carpenters, painters, electricians, prop makers and interior designers. It is this talented group that is responsible for all the magic.
When we arrived at the Center, just a few miles north of Property, we were told that pictures were verboten in the warehouse, but we could take all the pics we wanted in the outer offices. The props and themed offices were breathtaking, giving the group a taste of things to come. I took a gaggle of pics and have some nice shots of the only area in the warehouse we were allowed to shoot. One eye-catching prop was a black and white rendition of Mickey’s “Plane Crazy” plane in a farm setting, complete with spinning prop, and extra barnyard black and white props. The tour began in the foyer where the colors used were to be only in the shades of black, white or a shade of grey. The offices of the Cast Member team were also themed to each ones particular interest. One team member is a big home improvement fan, and his office has an outdoor grill as a desk, sitting on a deck with outdoor paraphernalia all around. Another’s office is themed after Pirates of the Caribbean and our tour guide’s office is themed after the Nightmare before Christmas. In the rear of the office in a glass display is a city built by Tim Burton, which he used to sell the movie to the studio heads. Even the name signs on the offices have numbers on them after each name, each with a specific meaning. One office, themed after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, has of course the number seven. One member’s number is nine, his baseball number, and still another has number 99, the year he started. Really neat! *
The tour of the warehouse began. Stepping in this warehouse is like going down the rabbit hole. Every classic and imagined Disney props and ride pieces could be found here. In addition to being a storehouse, there are shops where fabrication takes place, and where the designs are made. It would be impossible to mention all of the props and ride vehicle pieces that we were privileged to see, but I will mention some of the more outstanding examples…There is a nose of a Monorail car, decommissioned 7 years ago. There is one of the last remaining ride vehicles from 20,000 leagues under the sea. It was just awesome to see the sub again! The last time it was used was for the Pin Celebration, one of the Design and Display’s biggest events.
Props from the Haunted Mansion and a Jungle Cruise boat were also exhibited. There is also several ride vehicles from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, figures of Mickey and Minnie, the rest of the fab five, Dumbo and more. In addition to these, there are numerous food and beverage set-up carts, all with different themes. Some props we saw was a table themed after the Haunted Mansion, which when activated, moves back and forth, giving diners at that event that the spirits are moving the table; nicely done! In fact, it would take a small novel to mention all the props here.
The group also toured the fabrication shops, were the props are made, repainted or re-purposed. One of the major goals that Disney has is that all of the props are re-purposed or used for a different theme, nothing is thrown away. It was explained that all of the props and displays are on wheels or special dollies, so that they can be moved efficiently and quickly to whatever functions or event needed. The one area we were allowed to take pics was in the corner of the warehouse, where a nostalgic display of Mr. Toads Wild Ride, complete with several original ride cars and background of the attraction awaited us. It was like stepping back in time.
Back at the fabrication shop, the group was shown several statues carved out of resin in various stages and how they are painted and made ready. Almost anything can be produced here for any themed event. Many of the props in the warehouse were made out of ordinary objects anyone can buy in a home center or craft store, all you need to add is creativity!
At the end of the tour, we learned some the logistics of running the world’s most prolific theme parks. There is just so much going on behind the scenes, and so many talented Cast Members who bring the magic to the guests. And this amazing tour of the Disney Design and Display Center certainly proved that. I wonder just how many other “unheralded” creative departments Disney has hidden away! Enjoy the pictures of this hidden gem!
*Due to certain restrictions, Cast Member names were not allowed to be used…
Note: The Disneyana Fan is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich legacy of Walt Disney. Their common goal is to provide Disneyana enthusiasts of all ages from around the world with news, information, and events that enhance their experience with, and love of, all things Disney. The local chapter of this international organization here in Florida is the “World Chapter”. Our chapter here hosts many such amazing tours and trips throughout Walt Disney World, and our Event Staff has even more surprises to come. Every Disney fan should be a member of this remarkable organization. For information, go to DISNEYANAFANCLUB.ORG.