Posts tagged: tower of terror

More on Egypt

I just thought I would show some additional detail segments on this very wide mural of Egypt.  As the guests walk though the queueing area, making their way to the actual ride, they can see various collections of artifacts that Harrison Hightower has stored in the Hotel.  Some of these have been incorporated into the decor and furnishings of the hotel, and others are stored in the basement.  I was told that somewhere along this journey was a lamp that was fashioned from an Egyptian statue of a winged sphinx.  So I made sure to include that tied to the side of the hot air balloon.

egyptian staue

Photo of the statue that would be used at the hotel.

sphinx tied to basket

It's small, but it's there.

They also recreated other artifacts like sarcophagi and mummies.

Disney imagineers making replicas of Egyptian mumies.

The replicas being prepared in the Disney Warehouse.

Hightower with his Egyptian booty.

These sarcophagi and mummy were intended to be the same as the guests would see in the Tower of Terror hotel.

You’ll notice that Smelding gets no help form Hightower, as usual, as he tries to control the balloon and the overly friendly mummy.

Finally, a section from the middle of the mural.  Almost all of the pictures revealed that Hightower wasn’t exactly welcome to remove his finds.  This ones shows the small group of Egyptians that angrily discover Hightower’s early morning departure with the valued treasures.

angry arabs

Too late to stop Hightower!

Next we will look into the small painting of Greece.

Tower of Terror Mural, Egypt

Since it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything about the Tower of Terror project, let me review.  Disney found great success with the original Tower of Terror ride at the Disney-MGM Studios theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida.  Developing the concept and engineering for such a ride is very costly and time consuming, so when they find one that works well and is popular, they will repeat the ride at other parks.  A Tower of Terror attraction was subsequently built at Disney parks in Paris, California, and Japan.

The original theme was based on the old TV series “The Twilight Zone”.  But they wanted a different theme for the ride in Tokyo.  They came up with an original story line about a wealthy hotel magnet at the turn of the century (1900) who had a habit of touring the world and collecting rare and ancient artifacts.  Harrison Hightower was his name.  One day he came back with a voodoo type image from Africa that had a curse on it.  When he got into the elevator in his grand New York hotel, the enchanted voodoo god zapped him and the elevator fell to the basement.  Hightower was never seen or heard from again.

tokyo disney sea tower of terror poster

Photo of the marque poster in site.

So when it came to explaining this back-story, they wanted to fill the lobby of the hotel, which is actually the queueing area for the ride, with murals that depicted the exploits of Harrison Hightower and his personal assistant and valet, Smelding.  I was commissioned to paint these murals (11) that would tell this story.  They showed Hightower in various parts of the world.  I painted them with oil paints on panels that were one third the size they would appear at the attraction.  These murals were reproduced, enlarged and installed on location in the lobby area of the hotel.

queueing area

a snap shot of the lobby area

The murals were different sizes and appear above doorways throughout the lobby.  The Egypt mural was one of the widest pieces.

Egypt mural

The full Egypt mural

This is a snap shot of how it looks on location.

tower of terror lobby mural, egypt

Notice how it arches over a doorway.

Hightower and Smelding are floating away in the early morning with various artifacts tied to their hot air balloon.

tower of terror mural detail, egypt

We're taking mummy for a little ride

Abu Simbel is actually many miles away from the great pyramids.  We’ll call this artistic license.

Abu Simbel

Detail from the other side of the mural painting.

Next, I’ll show some of the preliminary work that goes into this kind of work.


Come back soon.

Tower of Terror, Easter Island Mural

In Japan, Tokyo, to be exact, The Oriental Land  Company teamed up with Disney to create the japanese version of Disneyland.  The first park was called Tokyo DisneyLand, and the second was Tokyo DisneySea.  In the DisneySea park there is a waterfront area that is themed after the New York City waterfront.  This is where the Tower of Terror is located.

The attraction is themed as a hotel.  The guests go inside the lobby and wind up riding the elevator for the thrill.  As Disney attractions tend to do so well, the whole experience is themed with a backstory that is entertaining in and of itself.  This particular attraction has the reputation of being one of the best overall themed attractions that Disney has done in any of it’s parks worldwide.  It was an honor and pleasure to be a part of it.

I created the artwork that appears in the lobby as murals telling the story of Harrison Hightower and his travels across the globe to acquire rare and precious artifacts.

Let me show you the Easter Island Mural.

Easter Island-Tower of Terror

Hightower and Smelding set sail

Here’s a photo of the mural in the lobby.

Tower of Terror lobby mural

a snap shot in the lobby of the Hightower hotel

I was given this ruff color sketch to work from.

initial sketch

Rendered by Chuck Ballew, a Disney imagineer

Hightower is shown in some of the other murals as having to escape an angry mob.  He basically has stolen something from them and they are upset.  In this location however, it appears that the natives, at least for the time being are happy to part with their treasure.  In this case, they seem to be satisfied with a barter involving a victrola.

tribal chief with his part of the deal

We're not sure what it is, but it sure seemed like powerful magic when they made it make sound!

Smelding is as usual doing all the work, as Hightower strikes another pose.

Harrison Hightower

Tally forth there Smelding!

Easter Island detail

Smelding the coxswain

Here is some detail of the ocean waves.


The ocean waves of Oceana.

Next time we’ll look at the Egypt mural.

tower of terror mural -Egypt

snap shot for lobby mural, Egypt

Tower of Terror -Tokyo DisneySea cont’d

When I was a youngster, an old sage told me that as I grew older I would learn about nations and about peoples.  That has turned out to be true.  Working on the Tower of Terror -Tokyo mural project gave me a tremendous opportunity to learn about nations and peoples.

Let me tell you about the Japan mural since it is the host nation of the attraction in Tokyo, Japan.

preliminary design sketch

Preliminary design sketch for the mural concept

Harrison Hightower and his trusty assistant, the ever calm Smelding, apparently absconded in the middle of the night with this Samurai warlord’s armor, weapons, and colors.  I would assume that they had entered as guests, perhaps even welcomed.  But when all others had retired for the evening, the two world traveling collectors dispatched the guards at the door with a generous offering of saki and made off into the night with their prize.

saki effect

no resistance here

Smelding of course is dutifully pulling the rickshaw, while Hightower admires the fine workmanship of his new samurai sword.  It will make an excellent addition to the collection back in New York.

over the bridge

another clean get-away

The warlord has been alerted and desperately attempts to recover his belongings, but in vain.

they've got my stuff!

Too little too late to catch our "heroes"

The process of creating these paintings involves gathering reference material and making preliminary sketches to design the best possible image.  The following are samples of the various items of reference and different stages of the painting.

ricksahw reference

Badden Powell in a rickshaw.

samurai reference

Samurai armor used for reference

castle reference

The himeji castle that I used for reference

the castle

the mural version

Early painting

They all have to start somewhere.

progress is happening

The painting progresses

finished version

all done

The paintings were painted at one third the size that they would appear in the lobby of the attraction hotel.  This painting was about 30 inches wide, and 13 inches tall.  The mural installed would be printed at 95 inches wide and 45 inches tall.

Tune in for my next installment…Easter Island.

Schmelding at Easter Island

Reed boats, and giant stone heads!

The Tower of Terror at Tokyo DisneySea

Come, let me tell you a tale of adventure and intrigue, of foreign lands and exotic places, of danger and mystery.  Let me tell you the story of the greatest mural project I have had the pleasure to create.

It all begins in Orlando Florida, at Walt Disney World.  To be exact, the Disney MGM Studios theme park (as it was called then).  In 1994, a brand new ride was introduced to the theme park public.  The Tower of Terror.  I remember watching the progress in the years and months leading up to it’s grand opening.  I was working at the Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios which were located at the MGM Studio Theme park, right next door to the Tower of Terror.

The Tower of Terror attraction in Tokyo

That ride has become very popular and has since been recreated in Disney parks around the world.  The Tokyo Disney-Seas attraction opened in 2006.  It needed a different back-story since the Japanese were not interested in using the story line from the american TV series, “The Twilight Zone” on which the ride was based in the US.  I was commissioned to paint eleven murals that would help tell the story to the guests that arrived at the Tokyo “Hotel” attraction.

One description explains it like this:

“Guests then enter the lobby, a very elaborate and well-decorated room filled with lush furniture and beautiful art. Across each arch near the ceiling is a mural of Hightower* on one of his adventures. If one looks closely, they will notice that he is actually escaping the people in some way with a valuable artifact or item in his possession. At the end of the lobby are the elevator doors, broken open slightly and held in place by a plank of wood. The broken cable is visible inside. Guests are then ushered into a room filled with many pictures of Hightower, his expeditions, and his hotel.”

* Harrison Hightower is the main character in the story line, a wealthy New York hotel baron that travels the world collecting rare artifacts and antiquities.

You can see the ad for the attraction on YouTube.

My task was to paint murals in a victorian style that depicted Harrison Hightower and his travels.  He was always accompanied by his trusted assistant and valet, Smelding.

Hightower and Schmelding in Egypt.

Egyptian treasures.

These treasures were always brought back to the grand Hightower Hotel, located on the waterfront in late 17th century New York City.

Unloading the goods.

Unloading at New York's Waterfront.

In future installments, I shall describe the grand exploits of  Hightower in places such as Mesopotamia, Japan, Transylvania, and Africa.


In a small dugout canoe, Hightower transports his discovery.


The show poster that was used for the grand opening in Tokyo, 2006.