Marc Davis – Disney Imagineering Legend!

by on May.03, 2011, under Haunted Houses, Haunting Ideas

Marc Davis – Disney Imagineering legend!

When thinking of key figures in Halloween and horror history, it is often easy to overlook someone like Walt Disney legend Marc Davis. A key figure in the rich heritage of Disney films, Davis began his career in 1935 as an apprentice animator on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. He quickly moved on to working on such Disney classics as “Cinderella”, “Song of the South”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “101 Dalmations”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Peter Pan” and “Bambi” (his character designs here are considered by many to be some of the finest examples of animal studies ever created at Disney Studios). Many may know him as simply an imaginative designer responsible for iconic animation characters.

Yet beyond his animated film work, Marc Davis was an early Imagineering pioneer who also contributed story and character concepts for such Disneyland attractions as “The Enchanted Tiki Room”, “It’s a Small World”,”Pirates of the Caribbean”, “The Jungle Cruise”, and – of course – “The Haunted Mansion”. Davis’ whimsical, stylized designs include such popular Mansion characters as the Caretaker, the Hitchhiking Ghosts, the Bride in the Attic, the Singing Busts, many of the characters in the Grand Ballroom, and most of the set pieces in the graveyard. Probably the most famous of Davis’ Haunted Mansion contributions are the changing portraits that hang in the attraction. These eerie and entertaining stretching paintings (or is the room actually sinking?) have become a beloved part of one of Disneyland’s most enduring properties (award-winning filmmaker Gullermo del Toro is currently helming a theatrical film based of the ride, focusing on the enigmatic Hatbox Ghost, designed by Davis).

Striving to make the Mansion somewhat lighthearted and inviting while retaining a decidely dark atmosphere, Davis is largely responsible for transforming the attraction from the originally-proposed storytelling adventure into a series of set pieces and gags with narration used to tie everything together. His style is instantlyrecognizable and his mastery of character design has rarely been matched (I recently had an opportunity to see firsthand an original drawing of Captain Hook by Davis, and it was truly a wonder to behold – it simply resonated with a charm and personality that is difficult to capture in 2D).

Marc Davis passed away in 2000, but his amazing legacy of shaping the aesthetic of Disney’s films and parks will live on for many, many years. Here is a small sampling of the designs and drawings he created for the Haunted Mansion. For more detailed information regarding the development of the Haunted Mansion and other Disney theme park attractions, you may want to look into a couple of wonderful books on the subject:

Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real

Walt Disney’s Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park

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