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Happy Birthday, George!

John Hench, Tori Atencio, Kathy Knutson and George McGinnis in HorizonsGeorge McGinnis (R) inspects the newly-installed Nova Cite show scene for Horizons with fellow Imagineers John Hench, Tori Atencio and Kathy Knutson

Today marks the birthday of someone near and dear to the hearts of all Disney fans, even if you might not know his name. George McGinnis is perhaps best known as Show Designer for the legendary EPCOT attraction Horizons, but his resume features an astounding list of accomplishments from three decades of work with Imagineering.

An industrial designer by training, George came to WED Enterprises in 1966; when you consider that his first assignment was designing transportation systems for the Progress City model, you start to realize why he’s close to our hearts here. Some of his other early work included the famous Mighty Microscope from Disneyland’s Adventures Thru Inner Space, the Rocket Jets for 1967′s New Tomorrowland and 1971′s Magic Kingdom, the trains for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Walt Disney World’s WEDway PeopleMover cars, and the submarines for the Magic Kingdom’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

If that’s not enough, he also developed the design of Space Mountain and created the robots for 1979′s The Black Hole; his design of that film’s villainous Maximillian was one of the most successful elements of that film and remains a cult favorite.

In 1979, George was named the Industrial Design Manager for the EPCOT project. Before becoming Show Designer for Horizons, which opened in 1983, he contributed to design concepts for Spaceship Earth, Universe of Energy, Communicore, World of Motion, and World Showcase. He designed the Astuter Computer Revue and yet another iconic robot – the interactive SMRT-1.

After his EPCOT work, George designed both the Mark V and Mark VI Disney monorails. He also helped with the design of Delta’s Dreamflight in the Magic Kingdom. What did he do then? Well, if you’re ever ridden in any of these ride vehicles, you have George to thank: the Splash Mountain logs, the backstage tour trams at the Disney-MGM Studios, the jeeps of Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure as well as the Time Rovers in Florida’s Countdown to Extinction, and the rockets from Disneyland Paris’s Space Mountain. If you’ve been to Florida’s Animal Kingdom park, you can thank him if you enjoyed your ride on the Kilimanjaro Safari jeeps, the Wildlife Express steam trains, or the Kali River Rapids rafts.

Do you start to see how important George’s work has been?

George retired from WDI in 1995, but has continued to consult with the company on several projects since. He also has remained an active part of the online Disney community, always willing to engage with fans and to answer any question you might throw his way.

Here at Progress City, we have a healthy roster of people who leave comments fairly frequently; we also have many hundreds of people who visit every day but never chime in. I’d like to ask that everyone who comes across this article take a moment and, if you’ve ever appreciated the fruits of his labor, leave George a birthday message in the comments below. I’ll make sure he sees them!

In any case, a very happy birthday, George – I can never thank you enough for bringing to reality my absolute favorite attraction of all time. Many of us can dream it, but you did it!

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12 comments to Happy Birthday, George!

  • Mr. McGinnis, you’ve had a hand in many of my best Disney memories (not the least of which is Horizons…the day there’s a full fledged VR simulation of that attraction is the day I disengage from the real world). Happiest of birthdays to you, and thank you for all you’ve given us Disney fans.

  • android.dreamer

    Happy Birthday, George!

    Thanks for all your hard work, but I have a few problems with some of your vehicles:

    — Splash Mountain logs —
    -no safety bar
    -my legs get squished
    -seats are uncomfortable
    -I can’t remove water on them before I sit down and people step on the seat to get in tracking in mud where I am going to sit down.

    — the Backstage Tour trams —
    -no sun protection
    -tram can be noisy and take away from the scenery
    -I can’t see well from middle seats

    — Time Rovers in Dinosaur —
    -too jerky and mechanical
    -passengers constantly have problems with the seatbelts
    -no dials, speed gages, etc. that should be seen

    — Kilimanjaro Safari jeeps –
    -very poor suspension
    -speaker system is inaudible

  • Nancy Rumbarger

    George, A very happy birthday to you. I am so proud of you….all your accomplishments and the good person you are. I am very proud to be your step sister.
    Love, Nancy

  • Happy belated George! Thank you for inspiring a legion of future lovin’ / Disney lovin’ geeks like me!!!

    Android — did you really just criticize the guy’s work on a blog post wishing him a happy birthday? That’s pretty low man. Pretty low indeed.

  • Peter

    Happy Belated Birthday, George! The fruits of your labor have brightened and enlightened the lives of millions over the years. Absolutely loved Horizons and can’t wait to ride the newly renovated Space Mountain just to get to the post-show!

  • Gary

    Thanks, George, for Horizons and all the rest. You’ve contributed so much to my enjoyment of Walt Disney World and Disneyland over the years. You have my heartfelt and eternal gratitude. Happy Birthday.

  • android.dreamer

    @cousin orville

    Hey, I was on Splash Mountain and it got stuck for ten minutes right on the part where the rabbit is tied up and about to go down. I had to ponder that if the brake went lose, I would have slammed a ~30 ft. drop hitting the car behind me at the bottom. With no support holding me, even with an emergency brake, and being squished in the seat, I could have had whip lash at the least. Little kids that go on that ride could have been launched out of the vehicle and broken their necks. There were stairs nearby and I was the only one sitting in my row, so at the time, I had to think if I should sit perpendicular and jump out onto the stairs if the ride started to fall backwards. And if I was sitting perpendicular, how safe would I be in that position if the ride all of the sudden jeered forward and fell down the falls. Now, it is unlikely because of the safety precautions on the ride track. But why aren’t there safety precautions on the actually car? I know it might be unlikely to have problems given that the ride reacts as planned. But I don’t know how much thought went into the idea behind the car malfunctioning, or as it has been common at Disney, kids riding the ride that are clearly under the minimum height, standing on the seat during the ride, or facing backwards. A simple safety restraint could have prevented a lot of irrational behavior and kept people safe.

    There was a report that an elderly woman fell as she tried to exit her boat at the load area. Another report said that a man died on the ride: http://archives.cnn.com/2000/US/11/05/disney.death/index.html

    Now, I hope George has a nice birthday, but if I got two seconds of his time, I’d like to have an answer.

  • Aw Shucks

    Mise as well close the parks now then.

  • android.dreamer

    @Aw Shucks

    No, of course not! Compare that to Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. In 2000, a 40-year-old woman was injured on the last drop, when she was propelled out of the seat and slammed back down hard. The ride was actually stopped for a few hours and she was taken off of the ride by paramedics. She sustained a fractured coccyx, herniated cervical discs and other injuries. Because of the numerous injuries that followed, in 2007, they installed a buzz (lap safety) bar on the ride. I couldn’t find a single incident report since. Now, the ride is nowhere as good as Splash Mountain, but a little extra safety makes all the difference in the world and the ride runs fine. There are guides on the side of the logs, and they slip into guides on the coaster track on the main drop. It keeps the log slightly above the water trough, so that there is no hydroplaning or resistance – thus, the log can attain maximum speed. This is why if there is downtime, because of the coaster wheels underneath the water on the log, the ride can actually operate without water on the jumps. It could also come off of the hill if all conditions were right (wind, angle, water, etc). This also means if the brakes fail, it could easily hit the car in front since the modern flume ride is more like a roller coaster. Since it is nearly unheard of to not have restraints on roller coaster cars, why not on flume rides with roller coaster tracks? When people started to expect log flumes to become more like “shoot-the-chutes”, it should have occurred to George and other Imagineers that they weren’t building WRE, but something with a lot more thrills. In fact, because of a death at Knott’s Berry Farm, Perilous Plunge now has a 4-point harness system.

  • android.dreamer

    @cousin orville

    ha, ha! Yeah. I guess I’m a bit of a Tony Baxter when it comes to other people’s marvels of engineering.

  • Brian

    Thanks George. My love of Disney Parks (ugh) came from the transportation systems. I often lament the lack of transport in the new parks or even the 8 or 9 layers of transort that used to give kinetics to Tomorrowland. EPCOT especially lacks transport and the guest pay in time and foot pain.

    I wish some of your designs would be added even now. Or at least a people mover here or there in the new parks.

    I know Walt was fascinated by transport and so you are one of his greatest legacies. Blessings!

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