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That Mighty Microscope…

Ryman sketch for Adventures Thru Inner Space

In my most recent piece about Imagineer Herb Ryman, I mentioned how Ryman initially designed the “Mighty Microscope” of Monsanto’s Adventures Thru Inner Space to resemble an antique microscope that had belonged to his father. Ryman’s father, also named Herbert, had served as a local doctor before dying on the front in World War I. Another Imagineer who worked on the design of that famous giant microscope was George McGinnis, who sent in the following information:

Herb’s later concept of this antique brass microscope had portholes so the guest could see the shrunk AtomMobiles and people. I thought this was a great idea.

One day I was sketching an updated version on a napkin in the cafeteria. I wanted to have the idea “first reading” when the guest enters the load area. X. Atencio, (story director on the show) sat down to talk and he liked the idea and took my rough sketch to the model shop to have a model made.

This is an example of the close collaboration between the early team and the new kids on the block. It helped that WED Enterprises was at about 250 employees at the time. Only one small conference room and no executive cafeteria.

“The load area with the Mighty Microscope ‘swallowing’ the AtomMobiles…”
“…And what concerned those younger than five — being shrunk!”

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18 comments to That Mighty Microscope…

  • RO93461

    I believe the Kaiser Aluminum Telescope was also depicted by Ryman at some point and stood in the same vicinity. A decade ago for TDL, we proposed an homage to this idea of being “shrunk”. This time digitally to the size of a byte in a similar looking laser device for the Sci-Fi City coaster “Cybermyd”.

  • There is a story told by Tony Baxter, who worked as an attendant, of the woman who looked worried, as she waited by the “Mighty Microscope.” Tony asked if he could be of help. “I don’t know,” she said, “my son went in about fifteen minutes ago, and he was supposed to wave when he got to the small part…and I haven’t seen anybody waving yet.”

  • The phrase “Kaiser Aluminum Telescope” ranks second only to the phrase “Kaiser Aluminum Pig” for making me happy.

    I first became aware of ATIS in the 1980s thanks to Disney News and the old WWOC special “From Pirates of the Caribbean to Tomorrowland”. The only thing they’d ever show from the ride was the loading area and microscope, but I thought that it looked like the coolest ride *ever*. Back then, those constantly scrolling Omnimover vehicles were the guaranteed sign of quality.

    I was so upset when I found out that the ride had been replaced, and that I’d never get a chance to see it. I hate that I missed TL67 in its prime.

  • RO93461

    For those of you, like MC that missed this surreal attraction in person, here’s a link to a 3D version of the ride. It’s pretty great.

  • Another Voice

    Hey – I was ten years old at the time and I was still concerned about getting shrunk…

    The “shrunken guest” gag in the Mighty Microscope is one of the best that Disney ever pulled off. It caused you stop immediately; it was so well done you had to take a few moments to comprehend what exactly was happening. That split second of pure magic “they shrunk those people!” before your rationale mind took over is the core of what made Disney special.

    ‘Adventure Thru Inner Space’ was a brilliant ride because it was the complete experience – YOU were going on the adventure, not just sitting there watching characters have all the fun. The entire set-up is about two lines of dialogue, another great but lost example of true Disney storytelling. The effects – even in such a small space and limited budget – were brilliantly effective. They weren’t some inane movie you watched as hydraulics tossed your guts around, there were tangible and existed in your space. It was real. Descending through the massive pillars (snowflakes), the endless rows of glowing water molecules, the infinite interior of the atom with beating heart nucleuses…it was all so cool. It was made all the more cool because it didn’t take a ticket, it was a free ride you could on as many times as you wanted!!!!! Of course being free and dark, ‘Adventure’ also became the number one make-out spot in the park. A couple grad nights working the attraction…it was an early form of cable, let’s put it that way.

    The DVD that Mr. RO93461 mentioned is fantastic, an excellent recreation of the attraction and is highly recommended. There are sadly very few movies of the attraction but this CGI recreation is the very next best thing (well, after having the real ride back).

  • Omnispace

    I was younger than five the first time I went on ATIS and was convinced I was going to be shrunk down! I was anticipating looking back out at the queue area through that very cool glass tube!! I was also fascinated by the Atomobiles since it was the first time the Omnimover was used. Unlike later attractions, ATIS had a very dramatic track that had lots of grade changes. Because of the way the Atomobiles would remain level throughout the ride they would seem to “float” past all the wonderful sets which at that time were allowed to be dramatically close to the trackway. It’s unfortunate that this ride had to go since it was so unique. I would kept it over Mission to Mars and put Star Tours back there. -dean

  • RO93461

    When I was about 12, my friend an I got the Monsanto sales reps to give us 2 spare ATIS Molecule patches they wore on their Blue Blazers in the post show. We made our own official blazers and went to the park posing as the Reps! We donned the coats once in the show, hiding them on our arms until we were inside the park. My buddy got out of the ride and walked around inspecting the show, I was not as bold. He was later caught and de frocked in the employee cafeteria by DL Security. I love the fact that we as 12 year olds thought it was possible to pull that off.

  • Another Voice

    You know what the greatest thing about ‘Adventure Thru Inner Space’ was?

    It never talked down to anyone.

    We didn’t have to follow a cartoon fish to cover-up “the boring science stuff”. There were no cutesy characters to explain things in a childish voice. No narration filled with pop references, self referential asides or “too cool for school” Hollywood Irony.

    Instead it was an adventure in science with facts explained so clearly that children could understand the basics, and illustrated so well that adults could see the deeper levels of meaning. The attraction took the cold facts of a lecture and turned them in to an amazing journey of learning. It truly was “imagination made real”.

    It was everything that EPCOT Center wanted to be.

    And it’s everything that today’s Disney seems unwilling – if not unable – to create anymore. And that’s a very, very thing to have to write.

  • All that AND a Paul Frees narration!

    I think a lot about how something like this could be done today; it’s a subject that we know so much more about and it could be so fascinating. You would have to retain some of the funky, lo-fi practical effects of the original but when combined with modern technology it could be spectacular. You *could* make it seem like you were passing through that plastic tunnel and looking at the gigantic loading area.

    I’m obsessed with the idea of having two attractions on either side of the Tomorrowland entryway – one focusing on inner space and one focusing on outer space (alternately, it could just be one larger attraction). I just like the idea of taking guests from the size of a quark to the scale of a galactic supercluster, or the known universe. That would be cool.

    There’s something so wonderfully comforting about those omnimover attractions, and I despair that we’ll never get another. There’s really no better feeling in the world than getting your group settled into an omnimover car, the door closing, and taking off on some adventure.

    Omni: You’re so right about the importance of having the ride track change grades. That’s something that never seems to happen anymore.

    Eddie: I love the moxie! That’s commitment, and it takes some stones to parade around backstage when you’re twelve.

    And I agree that the CGI re-creation linked above is fantastic – I finally learned what was lurking beyond that microscope!

  • Omnispace

    To combine the points made by Michael and Another Voice, the narration and tone of ‘Adventure Thru Inner Space” were essential to what made it successful — all that without pandering to it’s audience. It was very much a product of it’s time when Disney reached beyond being yet another entertainment company. Can you imagine what ATIS would have been like if it was updated in the early 90’s and remade as “Ellen’s Adventure Thru Inner Space”?… ..or “Honey, I Blew Up the Molecule!”?? It’s almost too painful to consider. . . -dean

  • epaddon

    “It was everything that EPCOT Center wanted to be.”

    Or rather, what EPCOT *was* for its first decade. Being an East Coaster, I never saw ATIS, but have come to respect and appreciate it thanks to the great recreation (sadly the only extant home videos, taken in the early 80s were done with cameras that just weren’t advanced enough to capture the interior successfully) that’s been mentioned and that kind of artistry from Disney that reached its peak in the early 80s before Eisner came along and began the progressive dumbing down of Disney attractions in general IMO.

  • Mark W

    “There’s something so wonderfully comforting about those omnimover attractions, and I despair that we’ll never get another.”

    Why are you so certain about this?

  • I guess I worded it poorly… I’m not certain at all, but I really do fear that we might not. I can’t imagine something as simple and pleasant as AITS (or even If You Had Wings) getting made today.

  • epaddon

    As one who was a big fan of IYHW, which one could say was for us WDW visitors of the 70s our ATIS, I have to unfortunately agree. Even though “Buzz Lightyear” uses the same track layout and vehicles that go back to IYHW and “Dreamflight”, it’s no longer an attraction designed to let the person “sit back and relax” and take in the experience. Now we have to be pro-active ourselves to such a degree that its totally distracting.

  • RO93461

    The Little Mermaid ride is to be an Omnimover. A true clamshell! So it will be back.

  • True! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. And you’re right – the clamshell is crucial! Ahh… new omnimover. The world is good.

  • Mark W

    Haha, that was exactly what I was thinking! But I just assumed that there was something I wasn’t aware of regarding TLM’s ride vehicle that prevented it from being considered a “true Omnimover.” Let’s hope TLM is able to live up to the Omnimover legacy of awesomeness…

  • Sorry, my brain hasn’t exactly been clicking on all cylinders lately :)

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