An associate is hosting a dinner for a special group of Disney fans at Epcot’s Seas Pavilion.
The dinner will be an intimate affair in the private lounge created for the pavilion’s original sponsor, United Technologies.
I had a brief discussion with the host, and he asked me to come up with an unique gift for the guests.
As they are serious Disney fans and historians, I thought perhaps going back to the origins of the pavilion would be the key to finding treasure in this underwater wonderland.
Whenever I start a project, I like to try to reflect on how the project may affect me, and how viewers of the final piece will respond to the work.
As such, I like to ‘dive” into backstory on any project on hand.
Join me as I “wade” through the creative process in search of what I hope will be a piece that delights the guests.
In 1981, I spent a lot of time in the preview exhibit for the coming Epcot Center
The space was off Main Street, in the area next to Tony’s Time Square Restaurant.
Beyond running a 15-minute long film titled “The Dream Called EPCOT”, Disney Imagineers filled the space from floor to ceiling with concept drawings, renderings and models to explain the vision for the new park.
It was a mind boggling presentation that touched on the countries to be found in World Showcase and the pavilions of Future World.
It fueled fever dreams of imagination for me, and I could not wait to visit when it opened.
The Living Seas pavilion concept artwork was fantastic. It was an odd blend of underwater living mixed with a feel of space exploration via access in contained suits and underwater structures.
It did not hurt that the pavilion building had the John Hench and Sam Mckinson feel found in Space Mountain either.
I was so enthralled by the Seas Pavilion that I took polaroid pictures of the concept work and, back home, I would stare at them for hours, trying to figure out if I was going to be comfortable visiting underwater with no formal scuba training but hey, they had kids riding dolphins like horses, and I was all in.
History wise all though planned for open in 1982 The Living Seas pavilion, with SeaBase Alpha, was not added to Epcot until 1986 due to construction delays. At the time of opening on January 15th it housed the largest saltwater tank in the world holding 5.7 million US gallons of water.
While other pavilions immersed guests in the experience with well-themed (attractions that made them forget about the world outside, The Living Seas tried to convince guests that they were descending beneath the waves to SeaBase Alpha by the Hydrolators.
Guests would enter one of two theaters to watch a documentary called “The Seas”, a film that alternated between fascinating and frightening and included the infamous deluge sequence.
At the end of the film, guests were invited to enter the Hydrolators for a trip down to SeaBase Alpha on the ocean floor.
In reality, the Hydrolators were two-storey elevators to the first floor, with cleverly constructed moving walls, sound effects and a vibrating floor to give the sense of traveling a long way down.
At the end of the film, guests were invited to enter the Hydrolators for a trip down to SeaBase Alpha on the ocean floor.
Once the descent on the Hydrolators was completed, guests boarded OmniMover ride vehicles called Seacabs to make the final trek from the Hydrolators to SeaBase Alpha.
The Seacabs proved a relaxing ride through the center of the pavilion’s main tank through a tube that gave side and overhead views of aquatic life.
When the Seacabs ride ended, guests disembarked into the main exhibit area, where they could walk around and view marine observation tanks, explore multimedia displays and try out hands on exhibits.
Once their visit to SeaBase Alpha was over, guests would then board another Hydrolator to the surface which simulated upward motion.
With the success of Finding Nemo in 2003, Imagineering began to add theming elements from that film to the pavilion and, in November of 2004, the interactive film show Turtle Talk with Crush was added to the former Earth Systems Exhibit area.
The show proved so popular that the pavilion had a big spike in audiences, driving a push at Disney to re-theme the entire pavilion.
When the Seacabs ride ended, guests disembarked into the main exhibit area where they could walk about and view numerous marine observation tanks as well as interact with various multimedia displays and hands onexhibits
In 2005, the pavilion was closed so that The Living Seas could become The Seas with Nemo and Friends.
In December that year, a temporary entrance into the main viewing area of pavilion was opened up through the exit after the Hydrolators were removed.
All traces of the SeaBase Alpha decor, signage and scientific displays in the main visiting were replaced by Finding Nemo themed fixings and features.
In October 2016, the construction walls around the original entrance were taken down to reopen the original entrance as the way into the new Finding Nemo Attraction.
It is a vast reworking of the SeaBase Alpha journey track, with dark ride and projection scenes added to an expanded track. (In what way was it expanded?) All the Seacabs where converted to Clamobiles.
Outside along the the pavilion’s main facade, the original sea and sunset dimensional mural was altered and depictions of sea life from Finding Nemo were added.
Given all the reimagining and construction going on at Epcot just now, Disney is making an attempt to tie the past into what is coming in the future.
This involves adding retro elements that harken back to the 1982 Epcot Center days, while the original pavilion logos have been popping up as graphics on construction walls and even making its way into merchandise.
I decided to start my explorations using the original logo designed for the Living Seas.
Quick pencil sketch to get points of the waves proper within logo circle.
A second sketch introducing some color and stronger lines trying to get some movement in the logo across.
I felt the dark lines where to much so did this third sketch where I introduce some white to simulate sea foam. I also noticed that the inner lines of the wave are similar to crescents which makes me wonder given the relationship between the tides and moon if this was intentional or a happy accident.
A fourth sketch thinking back to the underwater bubble structures in original pavilion concepts using some wax crayons and some mixture of whit and blue enamel paints to try a pearlescent effect.
I have not been filling in the waves and the horizon in the logo so here I explore that using a lighter blue but in the end I think this just gets to mountain snow looking.
More paint more color still not working for me.
Reversing the blues and whites from previous work but still find it is not working.
Started thinking about looking down at tidal pools, so I added some random background spirals (yes I still have my old spirograph set) to simulate shell fragments. Went with various blue hues using watercolor and a bunch of circular movement. Looks interesting when you view it down but straight on looks to much like space.
Did a watercolor underlay with a custom mix of heavy house paint over the logo trying to simulate looking through an aquarium window. Not really liking the end result.
In the end I went back to a mixed media piece using wax crayon, paint and water color but I’m not sure expanding on this work as the final solution is going to be the right direction for the final piece for the event.
Time to take a field trip over to Epcot and see if the pavilion speaks to me, you know “listen to the sea”…wait wrong pavilion : )
I was hoping that as I headed over to Epcot that given the construction going on there may be some new views of the pavilion because a back path has been opened up. Unfortunately even with the back path open there is just is no way to get a good full view of the pavilion. So I focused on the entrance and found a an out of the way nearby place to sit and do a quick pen and watercolor sketch to see if I could hit the essence of the building. A sketch like this is executed down and dirty. My main goal here is framing and getting early lines proper along with some base concepts. If I see something I like while working onsite I’ll do multiple sketches to get things right and may even execute a full drawing but lately I find i’m getting limited doing full work in the parks as it is hard to be out of the way, working smaller and with limited supplies on hand.
The entrance to the pavilion has a unique wrap reveal which I think was intended design wise to mimic a sea shell. I’m not to thrilled by the limited view of the pavilion due to the masking of the entrance by the rock work out front. Plus honestly I think doing a full realized piece from here is going to result in it being more about the rocks and plants which does not really speak “Seas” to me.
I move around to the other side of the pavilion where the entrance to the Coral Reef restaurant is. This side allows me to get back from the subject more. I’m finding I can get a better sense of the scale of the pavilion from this site line. As the monorail goes overhead I secretly wish I could somehow arrange for it to stop and I can sketch the pavilion from there.
While I like this view better as it shows more of the swoop and curves of the building I still feel it is not hitting the essence of the pavilion. As a sketch one thing that keeps happening is I keep going back to the painted wave swoop on the lower wall. It reminds me of the old Sunrise and Sunset mural on the original version of the Pavilion. A very cool abstract piece that had unique dimensionality to it via cut acrylic overlays.
I use my phone to find some reference pictures to the old entrance. I sort of smile to myself thinking all the way back to the 80s when Epcot promised a pocket sized communication device.
After running through a bunch of photos it strikes me that the calling card of the pavilion just may be the mural. I did not put much stock into the new mural as I sort of mourned the older one. I head over to the other side to really stop and kick the tires of the new mural.
I start to notice that the new mural which includes layered metal cutouts of various characters from Finding Nemo and Finding Dory has a lot of the same elements of the old Sunrise and Sunset Mural underneath it.
This gets me going and humming along on a new creative path. What if I painted a version of the mural in its old and new state. I start to look for a good vantage paint to encompass the mural but hit major roadblocks as there just are none due to the unique curving feature of the pavilions entrance.
A message pops on my phone from a contact regarding a mural project I have been commissioned to paint when the weather breaks up north. The contact asked me a detail about the concept I provided and circled the area in question on the artwork I provided. As I am looking at this it dawns on me that the mural to be up north wraps around two corners yet I provided the artwork flat.
This is a big revelation moment for me as I realize that I could render the mural flat if I just use the shape of the entrance wall. I’m so excited I walk right past the fast pass entrance and start stepping off the wall to get a quick dimension. The cast member at hand stops me for busting through the queue entrance. I apologize ten times to Tuesday and walk back and tap the fast pass tapstile. The cast member looks at me like I’m from outer space as I walk up down the wall heel to toe counting out loud.
I do a quick sketch to get the wall shape and measurements down.
Seeing as I can not get exact measurements of the wall I figure it may be best to do a quick placement sketch for all the Finding Nemo and Finding Dory characters found on the wall. I figure I can use this to get the scale of the wall right and have it as a color reference later on. Finding Nemo came out when my kids where young and I am pretty sure our family viewed this film over 200 times so the character names are a breeze for me to remember.
At this point I decide to take a hard look at the metal character floating over the mural. I note that they are made of die cut layers and figure I would do some reference sketches so I can get a sense how to maybe repaint them later on.
At this point I have hunkered down on the ledge underneath the entrance artwork. As I am working on the Nemo and Marlin die cut Study a young boy walks up to me and says that what I am drawing is a horrible picture of Nemo and his dad. I’m not sure how to tell him what I am doing and see his parents cringe at the honesty of a child. I invite him to sit next to me as I bring out a new piece of paper and draw him a better Nemo. His parents like that there little guy has slowed for a bit and dad stays behind with us while mom goes off for a bathroom break with his sister.
When little sister returns with mom she is not to pleased her brother got a Nemo drawing so I have to do a Dory for her or the crying is just not going to stop. I have never been very good at drawing Dory so the pressure is on. Her eyes are totally wrong but hey it is a quick sketch and I made some new friends and got a hug from little sister.
At this point I feel like I may have a concept direction and I head back to my studio. Once there I sit down to try a few approaches at doing a rendering of the background of the wall.
Even with the best intentions sometimes things just don’t go well. I thought because of the varying line depths in the background in the piece I would be best suited going it using fine lines as my medium. Things did not go so well…
One has to keep swinging (or should I say just keep swimming) when going at a problem and having a sense of humor about yourself helps.
I decided at this point to switch from fine line markers and give colored pencils a whirl.
I like this a bit better but it is coming apparent that there is no way I am going to be able to bring properly get the varying widths of the curves right in water color and at this scale bringing in all the character die cuts is going to only work if I render the piece in a near 1 inch to 1 foot scale. Fine for a one piece but not very practical for an end piece that is going to replicated as a limited edition print.
I have run into a wall both figuratively and literally. I’m frustrated as I put in a lot of time at varying approaches and I still don’t have it figured out.
Creative wise I find if I force things it never works out well. Over time I have learned when there is a conflict with something (just like in real life) sometimes it best to walk away and clear your head. At this time I bundle everything up and put it to the side and switch my thinking and hands to a different project.
A few days later I was talking with a fellow artist about a sculpture project he was working on he said he was having a problem with the piece and wish he had made better slip molds for his base work.
The word mold trigged me a bit and later as I was thinking back about our conversation I expanded on theconcept of how a mold holds shape. Then it came to me what if I made individual masks to hold the shape of the lines in my water color attempt.
As I thought further I soon came to realize if the masks idea actually works I pretty much have the wave lines cut for the mural for both the original Living Seas Mural and the Newer Seas with Nemo and friends backgrounds.
If abandoned adding in the character die cuts (which probably was never going to work in a water color anyway) I could show the transition between the old and new which ties into the over archiving history of the pavilion and could make a pretty cool abstract set of watercolors.
I won’t bore you with individual shots of the masks I cut. But after cutting all the masks and using them to a bunch of tests. I came to realize full on water color was not going to work but a mix of a water color background combined with rendering the lines with Copic makers and then going back over them with an outlining ink line came out looking pretty solid.
The nice thing about having the mask is I could use them to experiment and do multiple attempts.
I moved on to cutting masks for the older Sunrise Sunset Mural and even tried laying it over some of the earlier Living Seas logo Studies I did.
I started to really like having something in the background to help fill in the big color area from such a narrow piece. The problem was the Older version of the Pavilion had a logo while the newer version does not have one, plus due to the shape of the wall the logo gets cut off.
As I was searching through my mind for a solution for a background subject for the new mural. I hit upon using the retro angled line shapes currently in use on all the construction fences at Epcot. I searched through my photos and found a reference.
After creating a few backgrounds like the above on larger pieces of arches water color paper. I went and created a very lose knock out mask and went outside and spray painted them white to create an open area around the outside. After these dried for awhile I went in and used my series of masks for the wall elements and lines across the various backgrounds to see what resulted.
The above is my favorite “pull” after about three attempts. I’m still not sure if the two walls should be stacked like this or not or presented individual. I’ll leave that up to the host of the event to decide while I hope he likes the final piece I created.