Herb Ryman’s work on EPCOT City for Walt Disney ended well before Walt Disney World’s debut in 1971. Ryman departed WED Enterprises that year, and set off on another round of world travels. He returned to the halls of Imagineering in 1976, though, in order to assist in the massive task of making EPCOT Center come to life.
Ryman’s paintings were an essential tool in selling the park’s concept to potential corporate sponsors, as well as in helping Walt Disney Productions figure out exactly what this unprecedented new project was going to be. He worked on ideas for EPCOT’s entrance, on the layout and atmosphere of World Showcase, and on individual pavilions for both Future World and World Showcase. His globetrotting experiences helped in this regard; his fascination with both Africa and the Orient led to his involvement with the China and Equatorial Africa pavilions.
This intriguing and rare sketch by Ryman, which I estimate to be from early 1977, shows a little-seen configuration for the park. World Showcase retains its original design concept that dated back to at least 1973 but which would be replaced some time in 1977 by a layout similar to the one we know today. Spaceship Earth has sprouted in Future World, replacing the spires. I’ve never seen any “official” Disney renderings featuring this particular configuration.
Other things of note include the WEDway train passing overhead – it was meant to encircle the lagoon. The “cruise ship” sketched on the lagoon resembles a similar craft that would appear in Harper Goff’s renderings of World Showcase a year later.
Ryman’s time spent in China and other Asian nations during the 1930s helped inspire his design work on the China pavilion. Herb would return to the Orient a few years after EPCOT’s debut; he made a special trip to see Tokyo Disneyland, for which he also did design work.
Ryman was also enthusiastic about the Equatorial Africa pavilion slated for inclusion in World Showcase. Asking to join Ken Anderson on the design team for the attraction, Ryman painted a number of inspirational paintings for the project. Along the way he befriended Roots author Alex Haley – a consultant on the pavilion. They would remain friends for the rest of Ryman’s life.
Herb’s work on the Equatorial Africa pavilion, much like his work on The Good Earth almost fifty years prior, inspired his desire to check out “the real thing” and so, in his early seventies, he set out on safari. This was an artistic safari, however, and Ryman would have a series of high adventures in Africa.
Ryman worked for several years on The American Adventure; various designers were asked to do treatments for different aspects of the attraction, and Herb was assigned the task of depicting “the multitudes”. So it was that many of his paintings showed the masses of people that have streamed into America over the years, and evoked the sense of “the melting pot.”
Ryman seemed to be proud of his work on EPCOT; he speaks fondly of it in A Brush With Disney. But I found this quote fascinating and, looking at the park today, somewhat sad:
These pavilions are all confined as little pieces of pie along the lagoon. I think it’s very interesting to envision that we’ve got room for many other nations to squeeze in between these pieces of the pie. If the imagination is still working, there can be lots of nations along there.
If only, Herb… if only!