My Visit to the Walt Disney Studios (Part 1)
For my birthday last week, I had a very Disney Day. It started early as we made our way up to Burbank from Orange County. It was an extra treat that MacSparky and our kids got to join me, too. We were on our way to the Walt Disney Studios for a private tour.
I took a lot of photos and got a lot of information so I am going to break up my trip and share over several posts. It was really exciting to go and walk onto a place where so much Disney history happened.
Upon arriving, we were given clearance and received our badges for the day. We entered the Zorro parking structure. It is named for the 1950s television series, Zorro, that was shot on this particular piece of land located on the studio lot. The parking structure was built in 1992. They have already outgrown it so they are building another parking area. The area behind these there was construction fences will also be able to hold production trucks and trailers.
The Walt Disney Studios is a working studio with several sound stages on its property. It is pretty small compared to neighboring studios like Warner Bros or Universal. The bigger studios offer paid tours where guests can purchase a ticket and take a tour of the studio lot. I was very lucky to have a dear friend offer to give me a private tour on my birthday.
Finally getting to walk onto the lot, our special tour guide told us a little about the history of the studios. First, the Walt Disney Studio was established in 1928. With the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Walt purchased the land for his growing studio in 1938. Think about how much a movie ticket in 1937 would cost and that Snow White earned $7.8 million in its original run. That's a lot of tickets! That movie paid for the studio that would allow Walt to continue pursuing his dreams.
Our tour guide pointed out the iconic water tower. Most water towers have four legs, there are six legs on this tower because Roy O. Disney felt it was more aesthetically pleasing. While it no longer holds water, it stands proudly in an area that is visible from every corner of the studio lot. It is actually almost shorter than the Matterhorn at Disneyland by almost 12 feet. Here are several views we had of it during our day.
Next we got to walk around some of the sound stages and learn a little more about each one. If the walls could really talk, they would say much about Disney history. Stage 1 was where Leopold Stokowski would film scenes for Fantasia. It is the oldest sound stage on the lot. It would later become the original stage for The Mickey Mouse Club. In 2013, it would be renamed and dedicated to Annette Funicello.
NOTE: During our visit, we were introduced to Mike Funicello, Annette's younger brother. He has been working for the Walt Disney Studios for 41 years. He kindly took a couple minutes to tell us a story. Mike told us how he would go to Disneyland with his sister while she worked. He would go ride the steam trains all day. What a great memory of Disneyland. I jokingly told my kids that they were now one or two handshakes away from many Disney legends.
Stage 5 is currently being used for the new ABC show, 'Black.-ish. They weren't shooting that day but they had the doors open so you could see some of the sets. It was also home to the sitcom, Home Improvement.
Stage 2 is pretty special. It was where Mary Poppins was filmed. Later, The Princess Diaries would also be filmed in Stage 2. So it is only right that it is named after Julie Andrews. It is one of the bigger sound stages on the lot. Due to the space, WDI built and assembled many Disneyland attractions on this stage, too.
There are several more smaller sound stages that are used on the lot. Masterchef occupied a sound stage. You could see all the pots, pans, and food containers through an open door. It is interesting to think of a cooking competition show housed in a huge sound stage. Some serious lighting on top of heating issues in an enclosed building can be a challenge. Our tour guide also let us know that The Voice also comes uses one of the sound stages when their seasons overlap.
I learned a lot about a working studio. I learned that sound stages are in high demand and production companies work with many different studios to find space. It was a Friday when we went so the lot was fairly quiet.