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Lost Horizons

Concept rendering for Horizons post-show. Click to enlarge.

Happy New Year, everyone. For my first substantive post of 2009 I have something really special to share – a piece of never-before-seen concept art for the defunct yet beloved EPCOT Center attraction Horizons. The rendering dates to 1980, when the attraction was still known under its working title, Century III.

The sketch depicts the proposed post-show exhibit area that was originally slated to be built adjacent to the attraction’s unload area. The exhibits were designed to spotlight the various technologies then being marketed by General Electric, who was the original sponsor of the Horizons pavilion. The technologies would overlap thematically with the scenes within the ride, which depicted future life on land, under sea, and in space. Highlights included:

- Medical Systems: Diagnostic Imaging, Patient Monitoring, Demonstrate CT Scanner & Data Camera

- “International Theater” (Inverted Dome Theater): Helicopter views of Mining, Hydropower, G.E. Powered Ships, Construction Operations

- “Free Enterprise” & “Community”: Puppet or film shows that travel with the guest as he steps on circular moving sidewalk – traveling sound overhead

- G.E. Information Services: Mark III Computer Network, Mobile Radio Operations (Guest quizzes voice-activated data bank)

- Guest operated “Magnetic Levitation Vehicle”

- “Kaleidoscope Theater” (Film projection framed with angled mirrors creates giant sphere): Science & technology presented with kaleidoscopic views of computer chips, crystal growth, man-made diamonds, etc.

- “Simulators”: High speed vehicle experience – race car, helicopter, boat

- Research & Development: Aircraft Engines, New Materials, Energy Systems, Plastics

While the post show concept, dubbed “FutureFair” by Imagineers, was eventually scuttled, a couple of these concepts still saw the light of day. The “Kaleidoscope Theater” was retained by Imagineers and used in the queue area to highlight some of the attraction’s fantastic conceptual art by painter Robert McCall, and the moving theater concept for the “Free Enterprise” and “Community” segments was incorporated into the attraction itself as the show’s finale.

One of Robert McCall’s Horizons renderings, used as part of the “Kaleidoscope Theater” in the attraction’s queue

Why then was this exhibit not part of the final attraction? You might be surprised. When Imagineers were presenting the attraction’s designs to G.E. management, the company’s then-C.E.O. Jack Welch rejected the post-show as – brace yourselves – “too commercial”. No kidding. Wrap your brain around that one, and then imagine some executive today saying that. These days we’d be lucky to get the post-show and no attraction.

What’s interesting is that, although the post-show was commercial and the ride benefited from its absence, it would have been a really cool exhibit in CommuniCore. It certainly wouldn’t have seemed out of place. Also notable is that many of the concepts and issues explored in the exhibits are still very relevant today.

The above sketch comes courtesy of George McGinnis, former Imagineer and one of WDI’s greats. George came to Disney in 1966 and subsequently worked on, among other attractions, Adventures Thru Inner Space, Space Mountain and the WEDway PeopleMover. For EPCOT Center, he designed SMRT-1 and the Astuter Computer Revue for CommuniCore, and served as Show Designer for Horizons. George retired from Disney in 1995, having worked on attractions for Tokyo Disneyland and Animal Kingdom, but continued to serve as a consultant to the company afterwards. I’d like to thank him for sharing the fascinating piece of EPCOT history.

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