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The Ryman Centennial: Working With Herb

As part of our look back at the life of Disney artist Herbert Ryman, I’ve asked a few people who knew Herb to say a few words about his work or about working with him. After all, isn’t it better to hear from people who were actually there?

The artist at work at Walt Disney Imagineering, 1988

Our first look back comes courtesy of Imagineer Eddie Sotto, who spent thirteen years at Disney before working his way up to Senior Vice President, Concept Design, and then leaving the company in 1999. He is currently the head of his own design firm, Sotto Studios, and is one of the partners behind the Riviera Restaurant in Los Angeles.

Eddie worked with Herb Ryman at the end of the senior Imagineer’s career, when they were both working on designs for the Euro Disney project. Sotto was the show producer for the park’s Main Street area, and was working on some incredible designs for a Main Street based on urban America in the 1920s. Says Eddie:

Herb Ryman would sit and paint while looking at you. This to me was a great display of his instinctive talent. He would take the most unlikely color and then dab it on the canvas in a single gesture guided by his gut. And it worked. Look at some of his color choices. He was led by emotion and only gave you enough information to move you in the way he was moved. “Specifically vague”, he’d say. His favorite artists were Sargent and Degas. Like Hitchcock and his passion for previsualization, Ryman was just committing his immense catalog of people and places to a tangible medium.

“A very patient teacher and fun guy. He’s telling me how to use markers on tracing paper.”

Funny story. One day I was working on a resort idea for the Paris park and thought that combining the lesser hotels into a more impressive central “Progress City” like core could be progressive and magical. But what shape? I’d seen Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and recalled the central building in that film. Herb walked in after lunch with the fan clutch from his Mercedes Benz that had been replaced at the dealer and I thought it was the perfect model for the new hotel. The idea of building a monolithic German car part in the French countryside would be the ultimate inside joke. It actually was the shape from the film and would have been awesome. Herb loved the idea too. Here’s an image of us together with the fan clutch on the board.

“The infamous Mercedes fan clutch is in his hand as he is explaining our little inside plot to the photographer. I had done a thumbnail of it as a hotel on the board just below it. You can see the sketches of the speakeasy club on the storyboards. Must have been 1988?”

The Speakeasy that Eddie mentions was one of the ideas for the 1920s-inspired Main Street area for Euro Disneyland; the secretive Prohibition-era facility would have featured a hidden Cotton Club style jazz venue.

What’s funny about the Mercedes part is that it really does look like the building in Metropolis. Imagine what all the French elites who cried foul at the “cultural Chernobyl” would have said about that!

Special thanks to Eddie Sotto for sharing this story and the pictures above. We’ll have more of Herb’s art for the Euro Disney project in a later story. If any of our readers worked with Herb and would like to contribute a memory or some thoughts about his art, feel free to drop me an email.

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5 comments to The Ryman Centennial: Working With Herb

  • Fantastic!

    WordPress told me that my comment was too short. I hope the additional two sentences make it long enough!

  • I met Eddie Sotto in December of 1985, just prior to his years at Imagineering, when he was working for another design studio. “Eddie,” Herbert said, in introduction, “can do a perfect impression of Abraham Lincoln.” Sotto started in with a “Four score…” before I could only interrupt, “But, how do we know what Lincoln sounded like?” I remember the room suddenly going still, with this realization. It was like an oil painting.

    Importantly, Eddie would be by to see Herb, in his final days, and entertain with that Abe, and others in repertoire…alleviating pain with laughter, for which I will always be appreciative. Herbert had high regard for the artistic ability, and work ethic of Eddie Sotto, and would have been proud to have seen his success.

  • Haha… I love how most Disney fans won’t even think twice about what Lincoln sounds like – we know what he sounds like! I was thinking about this when I saw the new Hall of Presidents in Florida. It was so bizarre to hear Washington speak, and I thought “wow, I’ve never heard George Washington talk before.” It was then that I realized that obviously I haven’t heard Lincoln’s voice either, and how amazing it is that Walt (and Dano, nautrally) was successful in inserting Lincoln into the American subconscious.

    Great story!

  • RO93461

    Lincoln. Herbie always asked me to do that. It was the 60′s AA Royal Dano version. It’s funny that Herb used to complain that Walt would introduce him to his celeb guests as “Herb Ryman, who traveled with the Circus”. And yet, he did the same thing to me as he’d take me to the Dinosaur lunch and say to these legends… “Here’s my friend Eddie Sotto, he’s does Abe Lincoln!”. They’d just stare and then down their Scotch.

  • Hehe they should have been more impressed!

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