This week the SATURDAY SIX Proudly Presents: The Theme Park Artwork of SonderQuest! For the month of February, the SAT SIX is going to spend each weekend spotlighting an artist in the community whose work we respect and admire. We’re going to kick everything off with an draughtsman you have seen before in this fine blog series: @SonderQuest. The very first time I saw SQ’s art on social media, I fell in love with it. The charming style was partly minimalist, but also detailed in a way that theme park fans can truly appreciate. Before we get to the drawings, let’s take a minute to hear from SQ himself…
SONDERQUEST: Last summer, in the middle of what some would put mildly as “a very bad year”, I was getting a deep feeling of Creative Cabin Fever. For the last 10 years, I’ve been primarily involved with filmmaking and photography to varying degrees of success. However, as the pandemic continued to prevent me from traveling, I decided to finally purchase an iPad and see if painting was a hobby that would help take my mind off of the chaos of 2020.
As someone who has been to Disney World consistently since I was 1 month old, my subject matter was locked in, but I don’t consider myself an artist. I can barely draw, let alone paint. So I needed to find a style & format that I could adapt on to the niche iconography from the theme parks I love. A large, consistent library of reference work to help me get hands-on learning. There was only one choice that came to mind, the brilliant painting series “The Great Showdowns” by Scott Campbell (aka “Scott C” @scottlava). In high school, Scott’s paintings depicting Movie/TV characters or sentient props were a constant source of joy that always lifted me out of a bad mood. The way Scott C gave every prop, building, etc. a smile was such a brilliant way of showcasing every element of a story was a character that always stood out to me.
In the middle of such a depressing year, I wanted to bring the same joy I felt in Scott C’s paintings to the theme park community. The stories and attractions we all love so deeply deserved to be highlighted and praised through these caricature portraits. Since August, I’ve made a few dozen digital paintings with an unbelievably supportive community pushing me to share my love for art and niche theme park reference. I can’t even begin to verbalize how grateful I am for the love and support I have been shown as I learn and grow in this art form. Recently I have even heard from Scott C himself, and thankfully got words of encouragement instead of a cease and desist, so as bad as 2020 was, 2021 is looking better than ever…
# 6 – Carousel of Progress
I figured SonderQuest’s Carousel of Progress paintings would be a good jumping off point for people to not only see the style of artwork, but also the work that goes into each one. The series of paintings also showcases what many in the theme park community love about SonderQuest’s artwork, his use of classic Disney attractions. Nothing is more iconic than one of the only things in Florida that Walt Disney himself personally had a hand in creating. Carousel of Progress was created for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, and was then moved over to Disneyland in California, where it stayed until 1973. In 1974, the attraction reopened in Florida, as it was physically moved across the country and put back together in Disney’s Magic Kingdom. There are several attractions in WDW that also exist in Disney that Walt Disney oversaw and had a hand in creating; such as Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and its a small world. However all of those rides were built from scratch in Florida, and several had significant changes from the vision Walt Disney had for them. Sure, there have been updates over the years, but Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland is the same Carousel of Progress that Walt was in charge of while he was alive, and there’s something special about that.
SQ: Step 1 – Sketch. After I decide which Attraction I want to paint, I create Layer Groups for each character that will be featured. Then, I search through my own photo library, ride through videos, and archive images for reference material. In this step I’ll draw rough minimalized outlines and key costume details, like – for the character John – his poinsettias apron or “975 Fahrenheit” on the stove. I find it fun trying to figure out where these props and buildings would have a face. After I clean the rough lines & adjust posture and scale, I can move to “Inking”. This part of the process generally takes 20 minutes to and hour and a half.
SQ: Step 2 – Inking. Here is where I’ll trace most sketch lines, add any color patterns or details I don’t want do on the next layer (“Paint”,) and think about key details for the fans to catch. I love to use dark brown for nearly all characters. (20min-45min)
SQ: Step 3 – Paint. For the colors, I try to stick to real life accuracy as much as possible or at least a stylized equivalent. On John, I didn’t find any reference for what kind of pants he wears (I can’t even definitively say he’s even wearing any pants) so I chose a generic khaki. The trick on this step is giving dimension by adding shading under the chin and on the side of the oven. (35min-50min)
SQ Step 4 – Shadow & Final touches. Next I’ll paint a dark grey line under the characters to give them positioning in their blank void and add any effects, such as 975F’s glow. (3 min-10min)
SQ: Final step – Signature & Export. Finally, I sign the piece with a color that’s pulled from a character or matches the theme. I’ll then export the whole painting and several close-ups of each character individually for a variety of uses later. Then I’ll probably realize I drew one part of the outfits wrong so I’ll have to go BACK TO STEP ONE.
Here is a look at how SonderQuest uses reference material as a guideline while drawing.
For me, the genius of SonderQuest’s work is that not only are their references to the past, but also nods to the audience of today. Take the newspaper Orville is reading in the tub, the picture at the top of the paper is a small version of John and burning stove. To the right of that is the headline “Buzzy found.” This is referencing the crazy story that had DisTwitter abuzz for over a year that involved the audio-animatronic Buzzy from the now retired Cranium Command attraction in EPCOT. The main picture on the newspaper is a reference to the social media account of @TheDisneyDelete (whose avatar is a mashup of the time Cinderella Castle was themed like a giant birthday cake and the bizarre Goof Ball.) “Now is the time,” is of course referencing the Sherman Brothers’ “The Best Time Of Your Life” song, which replaced “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” in Carousel of Progress when the attraction moved to Florida. In 1996, Carousel of Progress went back to its original song.
Here are all the various Carousel of Progress character paintings.
Which would then be combined for one larger picture.
# 5 – Universal Orlando Resort
This week the Blue Man Group announced that they would be ending their run in Orlando. The Blue Man Group’s theater was in Universal CityWalk, and directly between Universal’s two theme parks. Like Cirque du Soleil in Downtown Disney/Disney Springs, I thought Blue Man Group was an amazing show to see in person that was almost impossible to describe to someone who had never seen it. “Just go,” would be my normal recommendation to friends and family, all of which who loved the experience. After the announcement, SonderQuest got to drawing….
While SonderQuest’s theme park drawings are mostly related to Disney, he has drawn a pair of characters that any fan of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights will immediately recognize.
SonderQuest also did an amazing series of paintings dedicated to Islands of Adventure, including the park’s Pharos Lighthouse icon.
Ride vehicle and a memorable moment from The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man attraction.
Green Eggs and Ham restaurant along with one of the bent palm trees from Seuss Landing.
Even a tribute to the old Dueling Dragons roller coaster!
# 4 – Current Disney Attractions
Not many artists can drawn Disney attractions as “characters,” but with the small addition of a face suddenly something like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad becomes one. Here we have Big Thunder’s iconic rockwork shape next to the beloved goat from the ride. This may be the most well known goat in the world, and you may remember when Disney released a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad comic book back in 2015, they also used the goat on a fan-friendly variant cover.
The Forbidden Mountain of Expedition Everest along with imagineer Joe Rohde and the infamous non-working Yeti.
Despite being shrunk down in the picture above, here is the amount of detail which went into the Joe Rohde drawing. Note the attention to detail with Disney name tag, earring, and sandals.
Disneyland’s it’s a small world.
Mickey’s PhilharMagic, which of course features Donald Duck taking Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat for a trip through many Disney animated films.
One of the most memorable parts of PhilharMagic is Donald crashing through a wall at the very end of the attraciton.
How great is this?!
One of the most quoted pre-shows this side of The Haunted Mansion is over at Soarin’ in EPCOT.
A memorable moment in the pre-show video is chief flight attendant Patrick asking guests to store all their carry-on items in the underseat compartments, including “these little beauties” referring to a man’s Mickey ear hat.
The man then takes off his Mickey ear hat to stow underneath his seat.
“Nice work, pal.”
For me personally, the original Soarin’ at EPCOT was one of my all-time favorite rides at EPCOT and I will defend it to the death. Many theme park rides have Cast Members and Team Members who attempt to get guests to “clap” at the end of the attraction, but Soarin’ is the only ride I have ever been on where the guests spontaneously applauded after every single ride. This doesn’t happen anywhere else at Disney or Universal, even during attractions based in a theater-like setting where we’ve all been trained to applaud after shows back in the Real World. However, we Soarin’ got refurbed into the “New and Improved” Soarin’ Around the World, I personally find it unrideable and will only go on the attraction if I’m with someone visiting who wants to go on.
There are several reasons why I’m not a fan of the new Soarin experience, but the biggest offender is the ridiculous way many of the buildings and structures will bend or warp as you’re “flying” by. It boggles my mind that after testing this ride who-knows-how-many-times, Disney was like, “that’s good enough.”
So here we have SonderQuest’s drawing the Leaning Tower of
Pisa Paris. Chief flight attendant Patrick has been repurposed for this piece.
Another video at Disney which is beloved by pretty much everyone is the Must Do Disney featuring Stacey J Aswad. If you’re like me, you’ve kept this video playing on a loop in your Disney hotel room for hours. At one point in the video, Stacey visits EPCOT and stops by Germany for “pretzel und beer.”
# 3 – Classic EPCOT
When it comes to the theme parks, there’s not much general consensus on anything except for the fact that EPCOT Used To Be Much Better. When it originally opened, EPCOT Center’s use of attractions meant to educate and inspire as well as entertain were like a unicorn. However, everything was so exceptionally well done, that despite many of the attractions being closed for decades, guests still have fond memories of them. Think of how many times people will mention Horizons, the hydrolators in the Living Seas, or the original Journey Into Imagination compared to If You Had Wings or Delta Dreamflight at the Magic Kingdom. The original EPCOT connected with guests in a a special way, and SonderQuest has many drawings dedicated to this era.
The Wonders of Life Pavilion.
The Wonders of Life series also included several drawings dedicated to attractions in the Pavilion, including Buzzy and General Knowledge of Cranium Command.
Characters from The Making of Me, including a… well, you know.
Dr. Lair and a splinter from Body Wars.
Let’s check out some classic EPCOT Pavilion logos, starting off with Wonders of Life.
The Living Seas.
The Land Pavilion.
In The Land Pavilion, before the days of Soarin’, was the Food Rocks attraction. Fūd Wrapper (pronounced “food wrapper”) and Pita Gabriel. This was a show which essentially did song parodies of popular music to promote healthy eating. For example, the Peter Gabriel song “Sledgehammer” was reworked into “Pita” Gabriel (get it?) singing “High Fiber.” It was next level bonkers, but in a the best way possible.
Here’s two members of The Kitchen Krackpots band, which played in Kitchen Kabaret, the show which pre-dated Food Rocks.
# 2 – Theme Park Turkeys of the Year Winners
Readers of this fine blog series may recall that we reached out to SonderQuest last year for drawings based on the 2020 Theme Park Turkey of Year awards. When I approached SonderQuest, I was hoping he would have time in his schedule for just one drawing. Imagine my surprise and appreciation when he wrote back saying he would do one for each of the main stories in the article!
I love this drawing of “influencers” taking a selfie in the middle of World Drive. The smile on the phone, the spirit jerseys, the Loungefly backpack, the stopping in front of the No Stopping sign… but one fun thing in this drawing is a detail most do not know about. When I’m working with artists for drawings that will be featured in the SATURDAY SIX, oftentimes I will see if they can draw characters based on my friends or people in the theme park community. In this case, the two “Influencers” were based on @JLap64 and @KathleenMHill.
When you want to eat at Disney Springs but don’t want to spend money at any of the 100 restaurants…
For the paint-by-numbers castle story, SonderQuest appropriately threw in a Bob Ross.
The “David and Derek” series is one of my favorite things to do, mostly because I can make the “Derek” character the most awful person in the world. When Busch Gardens Tampa put out a tone-deaf shirt on thrill park rides being “essential” during the middle of a world wide pandemic, SonderQuest and I knew there was only one person who would immediately want a shirt like that.
An Osprey taking over Univeral’s VelociCoaster will be a story 10 years from now people just won’t believe actually happened.
SonderQuest has also done several other drawings for the SATURDAY SIX or based on SAT 6 articles. We’ve been checking out the Disney Sing Along Series, and one of the most mind-blowing bonus features I’ve ever seen on any DVD was discovering that the French language version of Disneyland Fun was a shot-for-shot remake based entirely in Disneyland Paris. In the Disneyland Paris edition, kids were eating a Mickey shaped pizza that would probably cause indegestion, if not nightmares.
For our annual In Memoriam article looking back at what the theme park world lost in 2020, SonderQuest had this brilliant painting of not just the Creepy Clown Pool at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort, but one of the even creepier Nanny Chairs you’ll find inside the lobby.
Also featured in our In Memoriam article was the incredible story of @drunkatdisney being suspended from Twitter. For this drawing, SonderQuest referenced a famous scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, and used Bacini – the official dog of DisTwitter – as the dog holding the keys with “Drunky” locked behind the bars.
Speaking of niche, if you peel back the onion of theme park fandom, you’ll discover the story of Hoot and Chief, and their escapades at the Horizons attraction in EPCOT. This is probably one of the reasons theme park attractions have a million sensors now that will detect when anyone gets off the ride. As we saw in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way…” and Gran Fiesta Tour recently had to install barriers to stop guests from jumping out of the boats before the end of the atttraction.
Hoot & Chief along with the robot butler from Horizons.
For me personally, I think there is a big difference between guests just having fun, and guests actively destroying and/or taking things. We mentioned the story of “Buzzy” from Cranium Command earlier, and the drawing below references the articles of clothing that were taken from the attraction by a person who went by the name “Backdoor Disney” on social media.
Well, we can’t end on this section on that goof, so let’s have some pure happiness instead with the Li’l Orange Bird and a Citrus Swirl!
# 1 – The Incredible, Bizarre, Almost Unbelievable But-This-Actually-Happened Story of the Three Caballero AA’s at Gran Fiesta Tour
Normally, we could just present the drawing below of the Three Caballeros as “Gran Fiesta Tour” in our section above focusing on Current Attractions. Unfortunately, this story is about to get weird….really weird.
As we saw in the Theme Park Turkey of the Year awards, in 2020 the Jose Carioca character fell flat on its face.
Instead of just closing the ride, Disney instead placed a bunch of stuff on the stage which appeared to be straight from the nearby Mexico Pavilion gift shops.
SonderQuest of course made a drawing for this occasion. This is where the story should have ended, but Nay Nay…
Earlier this year, the Donald Duck character had some problems, so instead of closing the ride Disney did this….
So, SonderQuest naturally updated his drawing. So NOW the story is over right? NAY NAY…
Then THIS happened…
HONORABLE MENTION – COMING SOON…
SonderQuest has some exciting work coming later in 2021, including an ambitious project based on Superstar Limo to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Disney’s California Advneture.
SonderQuest is also going to recreate an INCREDIBLE drawing of Walt Disney World that was originally drawn by Disney artist Don “Ducky” Williams. Here is the original penciled art. Look at everything there and what a snapshot of WDW it was at the time!! The giant pineapple of Bongo’s Cuban Cafe in Downtown Disney… tents in Fort Wilderness… the pool area at Coronado Springs… just so many great details!
Below is SonderQuest’s inked re-creation of the original drawing.
Later this month the drawing should be fully colored and completed. Be sure to follow @SonderQuest for updates!
So there you have it: SATURDAY SIX Presents – The Theme Park Artwork of SonderQuest! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles covering the latest from the Disney Outlet Stores. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, artist @SonderQuest, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.