Land of the Rising Mickey
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In the history of themed entertainment, very few people have been as influential as Eddie Sotto.
At the urging of his wife, who suggested he should do something productive with his hobby of creating models and storyboards of theme park attractions, Eddie began his design career in 1979 at Knott's Berry Farm. It's an experience he describes as "design boot camp". The crowd pleasing (but no longer with us) "Soap Box Racer" was his first project. After spending three years with Knott's Berry Farm, he then continued honing his skills for three years at Landmark Entertainment. There Eddie worked on numerous projects, ranging from toy design for Matel to attraction design for Six Flags Parks. His time with Landmark came to a close when, after seeing his "Laboratory of Scientific Wonders" walk-through attraction, Vice President of Design for Walt Disney Imagineering, Tony Baxter, hired him as a Show Producer/Designer for Disneyland, Paris. In Paris, Eddie was highly influential in the design of Main Street U.S.A. and was the first to suggest a hotel for the main entrance (the first in-park hotel). After Paris, he went on to work at Disneyland. Among other accomplishments there, he was a member (with George Lucas) of the original concept team behind "Indiana Jones Adventure" and worked closely with guitarist Dick Dale on the addition of a musical soundtrack to "Space Mountain".
You might recognize his voice, too. When you hear, "Launch Sequence Engaged" and "We Have Ignition" at the beginning of your ride on Space Mountain, you're hearing Eddie. Among many other places, his voice can also be heard coming from some of the upstairs windows on the Main Streets in Anaheim and Paris, and as "lovable" Shrunken Ned in Disneyland's Adventureland Bazaar.
Marty Sklar (President of Walt Disney Imagineering) supported Eddie in creating a think tank called the "Concept Development Studio". The group's mission was to explore Imagineering's possibilities inside, as well as outside, the traditional theme park environment. Notable results include the popular Encounter Restaurant at Los Angeles International Airport, the groundbreaking "Media as Architecture" ABC Times Square Studios, and EPCOT's upcoming attraction, Mission:Space.
In 1999, after 13 years with Walt Disney Imagineering, Eddie moved on to explore new possibilities.
He is now Chief Creative Officer at Progress City. The company's name is a tip of the hat to Walt Disney and his early vision of a future city, which was represented by a model displayed at the Carrousel of Progress attraction at Disneyland. Eddie's Progress City is a forward thinking design firm which was created by software developer and San Diego Padres owner John Moores, specifically to allow Eddie to bring his idea's to life. With such prestigious clients as Kennedy Space Center, Kodak, and his former employer, Walt Disney Imagineering, Progress City is at the forefront when it comes to designing what the future will look like.
In upcoming interviews, Eddie will share his thoughts on many of his accomplishments mentioned above. But my column focuses on Disney in Japan, so it seems like the perfect place to start. As Executive Designer of Tokyo Disneyland, Eddie Sotto was, among many other things, the man behind the innovative and very popular attraction - Pooh's Hunny Hunt...
This interview was conducted through
e-mail correspondence during the last week of March, 2001. The majority of Eddie Sotto's
comments were written from the Santa Monica offices of Progress City and the majority of
Marc Borrelli's were written from a laptop computer in Tokyo Disneyland.
Conversations with Eddie Sotto:
The Tokyo Disney Resort - Part 1
Marc: Thank you for taking the time out to share your thoughts with us, Eddie.
Eddie: My pleasure..
Marc: You were Executive Designer of Tokyo Disneyland. How long did you hold that position and, come to think of it, what does it mean?
Eddie: From about 1997 to 1999.
At the time, WDI (Walt Disney Imagineering) had a creative VP responsible for the on going direction and master planning of each park. When I returned from Paris, I reported to Tony Baxter as Executive Designer for Disneyland (master planning, concept development on Indy, new Adventureland, Space Mountain music, Aladdin's Oasis, etc.) I did that through the opening of Indy. Then we relocated from Orange County to West Los Angeles and I was asked by Marty Sklar to be involved in Tokyo Disneyland. Tired of the commuting and the limited upcoming creative menu for Anaheim, TDL sounded like a good opportunity.
Marc: Are you glad you took that opportunity?
Eddie: Yes, I'm very glad. At the time, the creative "windows" at Disneyland were closing and those in Tokyo were opening up. I was up for a challenge and I knew that we could afford to do more and perhaps raise the bar. I think we did that too. Within WDI, TDL (Tokyo Disneyland) wasn't looked at as the leading edge park, inheriting attractions after they are proven elsewhere. My personal mission was to get them into new, exciting things and change that. I'm hoping that TDL is one of the places WDI now looks to for content to import back to the West.
Marc: What are some of the things involved in master planning and concept development? I mean, what were the some of things you did from day to day?
Eddie : Master planning a park involves a diverse team (Attractions, OLC, etc.) as you plan each year and develop attractions to target markets, attendance goals, and even an overall redevelopment of the park as creative renewal. This was also contexted to the upcoming TDS (Tokyo DisneySea) park. Tomorrowland and Fantasyland were the focus at the time. Pooh, Bon Voyage, and Tiki were outgrowths of OLC's requests and our concepts. I was also involved in running my own "Concept Development Studio" within WDI, creating the "Mission:Space" Attraction for EPCOT and the ABC Times Square Studios. My day was pretty full, but I had lots of great help.