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The Horizons Story, Part II: Robert McCall

The 1983 General Electric promotional booklet for Horizons contains a brief feature about artist Robert McCall. McCall, a renowned illustrator of science fiction and science fact, was a constant presence in space-related publications during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. His highly-detailed work helped define the look of futurism in that period, so it was only natural that he be involved in the EPCOT Center project. For Horizons, he painted what has become one of the most iconic pieces of artwork in the park’s history, The Prologue and the Promise – a massive, 19-by-60 foot mural that occupied the pavilion’s exit area for a few short years. Perhaps it’s a tribute to McCall’s piece that it’s so well remembered today, when it only existed for a brief time before being removed to make room for a new display that more directly referenced sponsor General Electric.

The Man Of Many Worlds

"The Prologue and the Promise mural as it appears in the Horizons pavilion at Walt Disney's EPCOT Center. McCall painted himself and his family into the mural. On the hill holding hands are daughter Linda, her husband, children and dog, while just in front of them are McCall and his wife, Louise. Below the Washington Monument lifting her child in the air is daughter Cathy and her husband."

The Prologue and the Promise mural, which adorns the exit of the Horizons pavilion, is the work of Bob McCall, the science artist who has covered almost every NASA space launch, who speaks the language of the astronauts, who worked on the film 2001: A Space Odyssey and collaborated with writer Isaac Asimov on the book Our World in Space.

A man of many worlds, McCall spent close to 10 months planning and then painting the Horizons mural on a 19-by-60-foot canvas.

“It took about three months to develop the concept for the mural at my studio in Paradise Valley, Arizona,” McCall says. “The second phase, the actual painting, took more than six months. It was done at the Disney studios in Burbank, California. With the help of my wife Louise, a fine artist in her own right, I finished the mural in March.”

The Prologue and the Promise, according to the artist, represents the “flow of civilized man from the past into the present and toward the future.”

A detailed painting, it depicts most of the earth’s nationalities, cultures and religions. And it also depicts the McCall family.

“That’s right,” says McCall, ”my family is in the mural. If you look close enough, you’ll see my daughters, Cathy and Linda, their husbands and my four grandchildren as well as Louise and myself. And, oh yes, you’ll also see Linda’s pet dog.”

"With help from his wife, Louise, McCall was able to complete the mural in 10 months."

"Among McCall's futuristic ideas is this "floating city" which he painted in 1971."

As long as he can remember, McCall has wanted to be an artist. In the 1960s, he talked Life magazine into assigning him to cover the launching of America’s manned space program as an illustrator. He has since covered almost every space launch.

He has done conceptual paintings for a number of films, including The Black Hole, Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and worked with Asimov on a space book. McCall conceived the idea for the book and then Asimov wrote the story around the artwork.

"Fusing the past with the future is a recurring theme in McCall's work, as this scene of Egyptian obelisks and classical columns amid spaceships attests."

“I got top billing in the book because I told Isaac that he had written hundreds of books and this was my first,” says McCall.

Despite his preoccupation with space, history also holds a fascination for McCall. “For an artist trying to guess what the future holds,” he points out, “the study of history becomes very important.”

McCall has been greatly influenced by the painters of the Napoleonic Wars. “They painted heroic battle scenes-full of pageantry, romance and drama,” he says. “The paintings are powerful.”

When working on a mural, such as the one at the Horizons pavilion, McCall starts with a sketch and then draws a 10-foot master which he sections off into one-inch grids. Slides taken of each grid are then projected onto the mural canvas, allowing McCall to sketch a perfectly scaled final version.

One of his murals, The Space Mural: A Cosmic View, is on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. It’s nearly twice the size of The Prologue and the Promise.

“Everyone should experience the thrill of learning about our universe,” comments this man of many worlds. “It gives us a sense of where we are, where we’re going. I’m convinced man’s destiny lies in the stars.”

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36 comments to The Horizons Story, Part II: Robert McCall

  • Andrew Horberry

    I just want to cry. This work of art connects so beautifully to the original EPCOT promise, and the current epilogue of Reflections of Earth (“I can see a new horizon, built on all that we have done”), that it reminds me of the original, “joined-up” promise of the more-than-a-theme-park.

  • This is a wonderful piece of artwork, and a wonderful piece of Disney history. I want to paint my walls in my room like this!

  • This is one of my favorite pieces of artwork ever. I love Bob McCall’s art; the floating cities, the futuristic vehicles. As a kid I spent hours poring over his Nova Cite painting as reprinted in Richard Beard’s EPCOT Center book and imagining myself there.

    In my book, a Bob McCall original is way more priceless than a Michelangelo original. I don’t care what the art critics think.

  • Omnispace

    I was fortunate enough to see an exhibition of McCall paintings at The Tech museum in San Jose, CA. They were incredible to view so I can only imagine what it was like to see this one at the exit to Horizons.

    Does anyone know the whereabouts of this painting? A 19′x60′ painting is not exactly something you can tuck away somewhere. Does Disney still own it?

    -dean

  • beaglelady

    I, too, would like to know what happened to the painting.

  • As a kid who grew up on the futurism of the early 80s, McCall’s art is burned into my mind. It screams EPCOT/Air and Space Museum/OMNI Magazine. I wish they sold prints of this piece.

    For Future World Horizons was much like Lebowski’s rug – it really tied the room together.

    As of yet, no one knows what happened to the mural. It’s one of those great mysteries. We hope it wasn’t destroyed, but no one yet has been able to account for what happened to it.

  • Kai

    Wasn’t the mural also featured on an early 1980s Disney Annual Report fold-out cover?

  • Yes! It was the wraparound cover of the 1983 Walt Disney Productions annual report. Now that was inspiring!

  • RO93461

    I was told it was stolen/missing. Where was the original painted? I have this really foggy memory of seeing it in production.

  • RO93461

    Duh. In his studio. Sorry. It must have been a mirage.

  • George McGnnis

    I was surprised when I presented the post show concept to Jack Welch, heir apparent to the GE Chairmanship, he stated it was “too commercial”. When Horizons Pavilion opened in 1983,without a postshow, exit polls indicated guests did not know who the sponsored the pavilion. We added GE logos to the shows technical equipment but this was not sufficient apparently. Then a new team decided to extend the exit corridor, eliminating the Bob McCall mural, ending with a large static electricity “light bulb” displaying the GE Logo.

  • George McGnnis

    I was surprised when I presented the concept to Jack Welch, heir apparent to the GE Chairmanship, he stated it was “too commercial”. When Horizons Pavilion opened in 1983, exit polls indicated guests did not know who the sponsored the pavilion. We added GE logos to the shows technical equipment but this was not sufficient apparently. Then a new team led by John Hench decided to extend the exit corridor, eliminating the Bob McCall mural, ending with a large static electricity “light bulb” displaying the GE Logo. Jack also rejected space in Communicore Disney provided for a preshow and also didn’t accept five more years of sponsorship in 1999.

  • George McGnnis

    I was surprised when I presented the concept to Jack Welch, heir apparent to the GE Chairmanship, he stated it was “too commercial”. When Horizons Pavilion opened in 1983, exit polls indicated guests did not know who the sponsored the pavilion. We added GE logos to the shows technical equipment but this was not sufficient apparently. Then a new team led by John Hench decided to extend the exit corridor, eliminating the Bob McCall mural, ending with a large static electricity “light bulb” displaying the GE Logo.

  • beaglelady

    At least we can still re-live this great attraction via YouTube.

  • RO93461

    Thanks for filling us in George! You are the MAN!

  • BetaMike

    I still stop for a few moments to look upon the Robert McCall painting that still hangs in the rotunda of the American Adventure. It’s one of the last places on Disney property to get a good look at an original.

  • George McGinnis

    Sorry for redundant posts. Thougt the problem was not having a website. Revised the second one. Don’t know how the third one got through. Honored to end up Project Show Designer on Horizons. GE Should have taken psrt in Communicore as other FutureWorld sponsors did. I believe an updated Horizons would still be with us today. George McGinnis

  • Omnispace

    George, I’ve seen your sketch for the Horizons Post Show. It looks like it would have been pretty fantastic! If GE didn’t want it with the pavilion it would have made a great addition to Communicore. -dean

  • George McGinnis

    Thanks Dean,
    I did the first concept for the post Show of GM’s World of Motion Pavilion. I called the show “Land,Sea and Air”. I presented it to Chairman Roger Smith and his one comment, “Not enough cars !” A week later we received their concept. Disney Management said, “Too many cars !” The project was given to former employee, Bob Rogers of BCR Imagination Arts in Burbank. After his show’s success, Bob came to me and thanked me for my contributions to his show. His words were, “We used a lot of your ideas.” Meet Bob Rogers, a greatly talented entrepreneur :
    http://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/200901/1024/

  • Omnispace

    Interesting article on Bob Rodgers. I’ve always been impressed with his Mystery Lodge at Knott’s. It has the right mix of storytelling, emotion, and “how did they do that?” even though I understand the main illusion. My only letdown is the un-themed theater. Still, I never leave there without getting emotionally caught-up in the story. -dean

  • RO93461

    That McGinnis is a one of a kind, underrated guy. So many Imagineers are not the brand names you see in fanboy blogdom, but they really worked hard, did their homework and made a difference. George is one of them. Gil Keppler, Eddie Johnson and Chris Runco are others I revere. Like the flag erectors at Iwo Gima, I want to see an “unsung heroes of WED” story in the city.

    Eddie Sotto

  • George McGinnis

    Quoting Eddie Satto and he is correct. “So many Imagineers are not the brand names you see I fanboy blogdom.” I will tell you the reason, I learned it my first day at WED in interviewing with Dick Irvine,WED President. Walt Disney hade invited me to work at Wed after viewing my Senior Project at the Art Center School.(When it was on 3rd Street in Los Angeles)

    Dick told me too sign all art work on the back, for it may be used in advertising and could interfere this purpose. He also said, “I don’t have any thing against a designer claiming to have designed an attraction.” If he worked on it he can claim it.

    Windows on Main Street was intended to be a solution to the “pride of authorship” problem. Creative contributors would share a “window” (or a movie screen credit). This way there are no stars — it is a collaborative effort at Disney.

    Getting around the dictate to “not sign art work” was easy hide your name in the painting, as many did. Until Ed Martinez, painter of the Lincoln mural signed his work and refused to remove it. This caused a big flap with one upper management person saying “Pride of Authorship is Disney’s biggest problem.”

    Better heads prevailed and decided that artists could sign their work. They knew that the public never believed that Walt Disney designed everything with his name on it.

    So this was settled amicably and and I imagine Dick Irvine had a part in the decision. He was very good man.

    By the way, if you want more info on Ed Satto, here is a link:

    http://imagineeringdisney.blogspot.com/2009/05/wwed-armchair-imagineering-with-eddie.html

  • George McGinnis

    Sorry Ed Sotto for misspelling your name in my last post.
    My nervousness makes typing difficult.
    And thanks for your post
    George

  • George McGinnis

    As an example of Disney giving recognition to its creative people, I direct you to Walt Disney World’s Main Street, and a window over the Penny Arcade.

    “The Big Wheel Co.”
    “One-of-A-Kind”
    “Unicycles – Horseless Carriages”
    “Dave Gengenbach”
    “Bob Gurr”
    “George McGinnis”
    “Bill Watkins”

    There are several windows pictured at:
    http://www.mouseplanet.com/7097/Windows_on_Main_Street_Part_3

  • George McGinnis

    If you want to join a Disney fan club I recommend

    http://disneyanafanclub.org/

    They make Legends of people Eddie Sotto mentioned in his above comment.
    George

  • RO93461

    It’s funny about signing artwork, in my experience it solved the problems you mention, but also had a side effects.

    We all worked for a name bigger than our own and we were a team in that regard. I was proud the “channel” the Disney ethos into experiences with people smarter than I. BUT….Once the artists signed their own work on the front it became their expression and was “art” to them and less of a tool in service of a project. Renderings are used to sell or explain an environment, not being an expression. I used to have problems getting other artists to make a store look like a store as it was their “art” and they made it dark and moody, not at all what was planned. In the end, the merchandise folks did not want art, they wanted to know what the shop was really going to be like and killed it. this happened many times. I guess my point is that once ego became a part of the work it became “theirs” instead of being Disney’s. I signed my stuff on the back and am happy it is at least recorded!

    Here’s to you George for many great years of talent.

    Eddie Sotto

  • George McGinnis

    Hi Ed Sotto,
    I enjoy your chiming in on the other side of the “Pride of Authorship debate.”

    Quoting you in your letter:

    “Renderings are used to sell or explain an environment, not being an expression. I used to have problems getting other artists to make a store look like a store as it was their “art” and they made it dark and moody, not at all what was planned.”

    I disagreed with my former boss, writing from retirement during the debate, “Pride of authorship is WED’s biggest problem” (Paraphrasing)

    I countered, “managing” pride of authorship is the problem, the not pride of the artist.

    George

  • George McGinnis

    Hi Ed Sotto,
    Your original comment, August 22,11 about the “underrated guys” at WED. quote, “So many Imagineers are not the brand names you see in fanboy blogdom”. I don’t catch such sites, but I could believe some WDI people are talented verbal spokesmen for their creations.

    I don’t feel “underrated” for Marty Sklar not only raised me to Project Show Designer on the Horizons Pavilion, but suggested me for “Legend” status with Disnyana fan site when it NFFC National Fantasy Fan Club. http://disneyanafanclub.org/
    They’ve interviewed about seventy five designers and other talents at WED/WDI over the years.

    A long with Profit sharing set up by Walt before I came to Disney, I feel rewarded for my work in retirement. Disney rewards it’s workers adequately without making “Heroes” in a truly cooperative staff. There are no “unsung heros” at Disney. Walt planeed it this way. Of course much has changed since Walt’s passing. Project management has introduced much more oversite of Show Design. And Michael Eisner’s doing California Adventure on the cheap didn’t help. But I believe there will always be a return to Walt’s ways, because they were right and profitable.

    As to Gil Keppler, Eddie Johnson and Chris Runco which you refer. I agree they have notable success stories, I hope they regard their career’s at WED/WDI as I do and I think they do.

    George

  • Thanks for the great discussion, guys. I apologize for not having been around, but for the last month or so I’ve been on the move and haven’t had my computer set up until today.

    The authorship issue is very interesting, especially considering the Imagineer-as-celebrity phenomenon that has emerged since Walt’s death. Then again, Walt featured Imagineers on his own TV specials – I think of Hench, Marc Davis and Rolly Crump on the Disneyland 10th anniversary show. Mary Blair, too. Maybe Walt softened his stance over the years? It’s interesting that this was something that Irvine was already discussing when George joined WED.

    George, any idea why GE didn’t use the space offered in Communicore? That seems unusual. Were there any plans for an exhibit or did it never get that far into design?

    I also didn’t know George had worked on the Transportation post-show before Bob Rogers took over. That’s great information!

    Thanks again for the great comments, everyone…

  • George McGinnis

    Hi Michael,
    Welcome back. Hope you had a productive month or relaxing vacation which ever is the case.

    You asked, “any idea why GE didn’t use the space offered in Communicore?” Were there any plans for an exhibit or did it never get that far into design?

    My post show concept was meant to be included in the main building and was designed before the first pavilion layout concept was completed. I believe it was the right decision for its cost to not take away from the ride/show length. But wrong to not have it in Communicore.

    I heard the Post Show estimated cost was $28,000,000, nearly half the $60,000,000 GE would pay for sponsorship. John Hench smiled over Jack Welch’s “no commercial” remark. I wondered what he was thinking.

    Part of the mystery is revealed in Ned Landon’s interview with himself:

    “We hope that our guests will be extremely impressed by the Horizons experience. They will know that they are guests of General Electric…” It didn’t happen. Exit poling revealed guests didn’t know who sponsored this wonderful Ride/show.

    Ned was head of the GE Team assigned to work with WDI Imagineers. In his “interview with himself” on your Horizons Part 3, Ned states “we didn’t want a trade show.” Was Ned reacting to Jack Welch saying the McGinnis Post Show concept was “too commercial?”

    Was “Bird and Robot Show” in GM’s Post Show “too commercial”? Ward Kimball remarked to me, “It is the best show in Epcot.”

    In the rejected Post Show concept, I had the “traveling screen” along a moving walkway, to show GE’s advanced products. When “Story Team” made the Omnimax Screens the “Present” part of the story, I had intended it to be the end. Marty Sklar came to me and asked me to come up with a new “end experience.”

    I used the same traveling screen technology for the Horizons “Choose Your Future” that was in my Post Show concept. As Marc Davis said to me, “Good ideas never die.” I guess Jack Welch didn’t understand “info-tainment.”

    You mentioned the Pride of Authorship issue. Walt surely recognized pride and boosted it, as you said, “Walt featured Imagineers on his own TV specials.” He managed their pride skillfully. One of Walt’s animators told me a story: One day an artist had a negative critique from Walt and the artist responded, “That is one man’s opinion.” The animator told me the artist was gone very shortly.

    Artistic pride is not the problem, it is to be expected and appreciated. I don’t know if I signed the rendering used in the Epcot film Walt showed to Florida’s governor in October 1966.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9M3pKsrcc8

    The rendering was of the Epcot “International Area” with the larger WEDway Walt had asked me to design and the Monorail in the distance. In the foreground there were Scottish dancers and bagpipers in front of the Tam O’Shanter. I had no problem signing on the back. If I had signed it on the front, I would with pride have signed on the lower right corner. ( Rendering 14 minutes into the film)

    The filming started above the corner and panned from right to left as Walt narrated. Who would have looked for the signature? Probably me and me only. The camera can easily crop a signature as it’s surely done today with Disney artists free to sign their work. I believe the plan to have artists sign on the back of their work came out of the advertising department.

    Thanks for writing a comment. It’s been a long time.
    George McGinnis

  • A wonderful meeting of minds in here. Of interest, several mentioned also did work for Knotts. eddie, always loved your work on the Soap Box Racers. Rolly Crump did the Knotts Beary Tales ride with the theme music by the Sherman brothers. Mystery Lodge is Bob’s bailiwick. Great to read all of ya!

  • For those of you wondering about George’s post-show concept for Horizons, he was kind enough to let us post artwork of it a few years ago:

    http://progresscityusa.com/2009/01/22/lost-horizons/

    Thanks for the stories, George. Interesting that Ward Kimball said that about “Bird and the Robot”. That was a fun show.

    I had forgotten that you’d put the Tam O’Shanter in the International Area painting! Now that I’ve actually been to the Tam, I appreciate it that much more. Excellent.

    Antonio – Thanks for chiming in! I always hate that I never experienced Knotts in its heyday. Only in recent years did I discover that it had been an honest-to-gosh theme park instead of just a coaster park. I would have loved to have seen those rides!

  • George McGinnis

    Hi all,
    I have written a four part story of my design experience as Project Show Designer for Horizons on mouseplanet.com.

    http://www.mouseplanet.com/index.php

    Click “Articles” and then “George McGinnis”

    I hope you enjoy them, Horizons was my longest project at Walt Disney Imagineering in my over 30 year career.

    George

    GE was late in signing up for sponsorship, but ended up with the best people to create Horizons ride/show — those retained after the layoffs when Epcot opened.

    George

  • SWW

    George, I’d like to express my gratitude to you for creating Horizons.

    It was hands-down my favorite attraction as a kid and remains so. Thankfully, it lives on not only in my memory but via the audio soundtrack (which I have on my ipod) and a number of videos. And there is always the possibility that those who loved Horizons as kids may become the upper echelon Imagineers or executives at Disney… hoping for a day when a new Horizons goes into production.

  • George McGinnis

    SWW,
    Thank you for your comment of Horizons being your favorite attraction when a kid and still is. It was my favorite project in over thirty years at WED/WDI. It took may hands to create an Epcot pavilion. The sponsors had to be onboard with Walt’s Epcot purpose. Artists, engineers, sculptors, set designers, story persons are some of the people I worked with on a daily basis.

    I believe with Disneyland, Walt Disney helped to cultivate the enormous number of professions that are founded on the arts today. He was an artist, but his main strength was story, which I hope continues to motivate management. As a show designer I was given an idea, say a “Space Mountain.” Working with a track engineer I laid out a concept on paper along with scale models for management to approve. My show concept would develop through the many departments involved until the projects opening day. If I could still recognize my contribution on opening day, I would be satisfied.

    Some projects start over at times. Even Walt started over on the New Orleans Square and the Pirate Ride. They didn’t have Project Management keeping watch on the budget in that day. That came along with Epcot design and construction in the 80′s. I hope the person that leads the Epcot design team in the days ahead has a good sense of story.
    John Lasseter would be my choice.
    George McGinnis

  • Ernest Heinz

    Thank you so Much George for sharing your story
    John Lasseter would be my choice as well.

    I just want everyone to know I started a page on Facebook dedicated to Imagineer Art.

    Its a site that I hope
    puts to rest the “whatever happed to it” thought of artwork when it left the park

    I was a kid that grew up with Horizons and hold it close to my heart

    So for my first Report: I aim to answer a lot of questions about
    “The Prologue and the Promise”

    Questions Like:
    Where is the Original?
    Was the one that sold at the old Mouse Surplus the original?
    What happened to the 60 foot Mural?
    Were there numbered duplicates made?
    Was there a 30 foot mural made?

    I will be posting updates and sharing my collection of Imagineer Art

    I welcome people to join and share there stories and artwork as well

    Ernest Heinz
    Imagineer Art (On Facebook)

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