Walt Disney World (FL)

Samland Visits the Studios: Echo Lake and Pixar Place

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Samland continues his tour of the public realm at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Today he visits Echo Lake and Pixar Place. This time he features a photo of the largest ever Hidden Mickey courtesy of Studios Central.


Once upon a time, the world’s largest hidden Mickey included Echo Lake (originally known as Lakeside Circle). The lake was one ear, the large circular plaza in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater was the head, and there was a matching circular plaza to the east. You can see it in old aerial photos. The addition of Sunset Boulevard and Mickey’s hat destroyed this bit of fun.

The real Echo Lake is a man-made lake near downtown Los Angeles and served as the background for many early silent film comedies. Just like Hollywood Boulevard, the buildings that surround Echo Lake are historic impressions of real facades from Los Angeles. Hollywood & Vine is modeled after a cafeteria that was within walking distance of all the movie-making action. The building was converted into the Hollywood Branch Post Office and finally burnt down in 1980. The 50s Prime Time Café is influenced by residential buildings by Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Pierre Koenig. The Streamline Moderne theater and adjacent buildings that house the American Idol Experience is based on NBC Radio City (1938) and CBS Columbia Square (1938).

Los Angeles was filled with what is known interchangeably as programmatic architecture, California Crazy or a “duck.” A building of this type, as defined by architect Robert Venturi, is one whose “exterior is in the shape of the everyday object they relate to” and it is “a building in which the architecture is subordinate to the overall symbolic form.” The boat is a tribute to a 1930 film called Min and Bill that won Marie Dressler an Academy Award. The dinosaur is Gertie an animated character who toured along with Winsor McCay on the vaudeville circuit in 1914. His hand painted film was a huge influence on Walt Disney.

As you walk away from Echo Lake you also move away from the architectural history lesson of Los Angeles and move into a studio back lot. Things become less real. The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular is just a backdrop. The Star Tours façade is reproduction of the Ewok Village movie set with no pretension of being anything other than a stage set. Of course there are partying Ewoks at night. Even The Backlot Express is a prop storage area.

The idea for this park was launched in 1985 and for the first time a Disney theme park was opened merely to fit a business need. It would be a model of controlled growth in reaction to anticipated demand. At the time, this half-day park was designed to compliment a visit to Typhoon Lagoon and Pleasure Island. Just as important was dual function of being a real production studio with three sound stages, production offices, and a postproduction audio and video facility; its own wardrobe, property, camera, and lighting departments. The production facilities featured glass walls so that visitors could peek inside a working movie-making facility. Projects shot on the back lot include Honey, I Blew Up the Kids, Passenger 57 and TV shows like The Mickey Mouse Club and Wheel of Fortune.

The building facades use a cinematic trick known as forced perspective. This technique is used throughout Walt Disney world. Legendary Imagineer John Hench defines forced perspective as “a form of one-point linear perspective in which receding space is compressed by exaggerating the proximity of the implied vanishing point to the viewer.” Forced perspective is the design pattern that gives buildings the appearance of greater height and scale. It is why the castle looks so grand and Everest looks so tall. In the back lot area, it allows the designers to fit in the New York or San Francisco skylines in such a small space.

Playing with scale is also a feature of the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set. Realizing there wasn’t enough to do for small children, the Imagineers worked in record time to design and fabricate the attraction. This type of stage area is an example of another cinematic trick used in Disney films.


Welcome to the world of Pixar. Pixar animation studios are headquartered in Emeryville, California and the architecture of the studio is legendary. The Studio was designed in a very specific way to maximize the creativity and productivity of its employees.

The major design criterion was bringing a piece of California to Florida and to match the materials of the California studio. The gateway is a scale model of the one at the studio. All of the bricks were hand-kilned from the same factory to match the look, texture, and color of the ones in California. Characters from Toy Story decorate the corridor and play with your perception of scale. If you want to see how the puzzle is put together look for and check out Andy’s instruction hanging on a wall.

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Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennaway is an Urban Planner who runs the fantastic SamLand’s Disney Adventures blog. Sam visits Disneyland on a frequent basis and toured with the Unofficial Guide team on our recent Disneyland Trip.

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