Behind the Scenes

Creating "It's A Small World"

To design an attraction, the Disney staff builds detailed scale models to study audience movement and the guest's eye-view of the entire adventure.
Detailed Scale Model

Walt Disney often refers to the diverse entertainment bearing his name as a "team" accomplishment.

The creative imagination, and the special skills, of this "team" have brought laughter and song, drama and adventure, to family audiences in a wide variety of entertainment ... ranging from motion pictures to television, and from Disneyland to the New York World's Fair.

Many attractions have blended these talents in ways so unusual that the entertainment you and your family see, the adventure you participate in, may truly be called unique. "It's a Small World" is such an attraction.

This adventure began when Pepsi-Cola asked Walt Disney to create a salute to children and UNICEF, to premiere at the New York World's Fair. The result is an international kaleidoscope: a changing, colorful world.

To accomplish this "salute to all the world's children" was a creative challenge, a symphony of many arts and crafts, a harmonic blending of diverse skills. The enthusiasm and dedication of many people made "It's a Small World" an entertaining reality. Among them were artists, art directors, model makers, engineers, musicians, costume designers, seamstresses, machinists, special effects men, animators, sculptors, architects, draftsmen, lighting experts, color stylists, sound specialists and many, many more artisans and craftsmen.

It is to these dozens and dozens of individuals, the "Disney team," that this book is dedicated. While it is impossible to show each one, or even more than a few on these pages, the photographs that follow are representative of the many people who translated sketches and models into an exciting adventure.

Here, behind the scenes, is a small part of this "imagineering" story ... depicting Walt Disney and his team creating "It's a Small World."

More than 250 "toys," each an original design, were hand-made for roles in this show. The "wild" reindeer at right has tail that wiggles, head that rocks, and eyes that roll.
Hand-made Toys

Japanese Boy with Kites

Model maker (right) and artist-craftsmen turn sketch into tiny figures and stylized setting of Japan. Models guide construction of the show.



Model Maker


The Toymakers

Once upon a time, in a little toy shop, 250 of the most original children's toys ever hand-made were coming to life. With 195 pounds of "glitter" and 57 gross of jewels, 320 big styrofoam blocks and 370 yards of braid, 28 dozen tassels and five gallons of glue (per week), the toymakers carved and sanded and painted everything from aerial acrobats to zany zebras.

Today the world's most unusual "toy shop" displays its wares before an audience of millions - children, adults and grandparents. Yet, not a single one of its laughing, twirling, flying works of art is for sale.

Recognizing the value of contrast, Walt Disney cast two completely different types of boys and girls as the stars of "It's a Small World." One is the round-contoured child-like figure that sings and dances attired in the beautiful costume of his native land. The second is the rough-textured "toy" dressed only in "flitter," feathers ... and even ostrich fluff. Each is literally a hand-crafted original, a one-of-a-kind design.

To make these animated, three-dimensional toys, the artisans depleted the costume jewelry market of Southern California, obtaining jewels, beads, crystal, sapphires and sequins. They shopped Los Angeles' famous Olvera Street for authentic baskets and sombreros of Mexico, and the stores of the city's Little Tokyo for colorful paper balloons and plastic fish.

And if the show girls of America noted a sudden shortage of exotic feathers, blame that on the "Small World" toymakers, too. For children's "hair" and animal "fur," they glued on marabou, ostrich plumes and fluff, goose feathers and pheasant tails.

Art directors discuss animation of high-wire acrobat. Danish drummer is in traditional colors, but most toys are painted as accents for each area.
Art Directors

Toy in Hot Air Balloon 
Drums of toy soldier band glitter with "glitter" and sparkle with "flutter." 260 pounds of shiny material was sprinkled on - about one pound per toy!
Creating Drummer's Drums

Royal drum and bugle corps is typical blending of real and fantasy worlds. Disney staff studied traditions, designed a stylized "Small World," and brought it to life with Audio-Animatronics.
Artisans bring "Small World" to Life

Ageless Arts and Space-Age Animation

To create the stars of this show, Walt Disney and his staff combined such ageless skills as sculpting and costuming with the electronic magic of the space age.

The children, animals and toys "come to life" through a new concept in entertainment called Audio-Animatronics. It is, literally, three-dimensional animation ... achieved by combining and synchronizing movement with voices, music and sound effects.

Disney "imagineers" have devised complex ways to "program" movements and record them - along with music, singing, dialogue and sounds - on a single, one-inch magnetic tape. In the "Small World" show, this tape has 32 "channels" that control more than 400 separate actions!

When the tape "plays back" the recorded animation and music, sound impulses activate air cylinders within the figure ... causing little children to dance the can-can, play the bagpipes or sing in their native language.

Costumes worn by the children present a "fashion show" of authentic attire. The wardrobe symbolizes the detailed research that precedes design of a Disney attraction.

Once again the design starting point was the contrast between "toys" and childlike figures. To stand out among the highly stylized toys, children's outfits had to be realistic and authentic. In "Small World," the authenticity includes the very materials used for the red-black plaid of a Scottish bagpiper.

Seamstress gathered petticoats, pleated wool skirts and sewed every stitch of clothing -- from ponchos to little girls' panties. Even shoes were hand-made. And each child's wardrobe has several identical changes.

Costuming a Clown
Finishing Child Plaster Mould

Costumers at Work

Applying Make-up to Indian Girl
Putting Finishing Touches on Cleopatra
Few stage shows or movies ever presented their stars in costumes more colorful ... or make-up more flawless. After each child is "cast" from a plaster mould (upper left), authentic costuming and facial features create personality and nationality. Lace tatting and intricate embroidery are seen in dresses of Scandinavian girls (upper right). Cleopatra, beguiling even in childhood, gets final wardrobe check while reclining on her gold-trimmed chaise (lower left). Indian dancer (above) receives detailed painted "make-up," from eye-shadow to cheek rouge. Note the round, smooth children's faces and the contrasting rough-textured toys (above.)

Tape machine which keeps children singing and dancing is used on atomic submarines!
Artisan with Tape Machine

Singer's lace and braid trimmings typify costume detail. Coronet is handmade too.
Child with a Coronet

When fixing a belt in the African veldt, costuming was "hazardous." Detailed research preceded design, making every costume authentic.
Adjusting the African Veldt Scene

Monkeys Swinging from Trees 

Even the hairdresser's art played a vital role. Each child's hair was made from yarn or nylon, and "set" in proper style, from braids to bobs. The figures above are early prototypes.


Moods achieved through color required coordination of background and foreground elements. Costumes, toys and animals (like this South American jaguar) provide the accent colors (right).

Hairdresser with Prototypes



Color Styling

The Disney staff refers to a ride-adventure taking place "indoors," under controlled lighting, as a "dark ride." But "It's a Small World" may change all that. For color has never played a more important part in a "dark ride."

The set painter's brush and motion picture lighting techniques combine to interpret designs by the color stylist. In "Small Word," simplicity of color, achieved by balancing and contrasting darks and lights, instantly changes the mood as your boat sails 'round the world.

Many colors have been used to provide a "big splash" for the opening section, Europe. The sensation of brilliant sunshine, a visual expression of Middle Eastern and Asian "hot countries," is achieved with a one-color scheme ... basically yellow.

For immediate contrast, the cool blues and greens of "Small World's" Africa change the mood from day to night. In Latin America, another hot land, strong, pure colors represent naive arts and crafts. And for dramatic effect, the bright colors of a Central American market place have been intensified ... as a contrast to the whites and slivers that follow in the "big fancy party," the Grand Finale.

Against these varied background, children's costumes provide accent colors ... "cool" blues and greens in sunlit Asia, "warm" oranges and reds in the night mood of Africa.

Color Stylist with Model
Placing Hyena Model Painting Hyena  
Sculpting Hyena
Artist paints cut-out of bird for model of South American tropical rainforest.
Painting Bird Model
"Laugh, and The (Small) World Laughs With You"

The happy hyena pictured above has been laughing through the multiple stages of its "birth" ever since his role in the "Small World" show was created by a storyman, sketched by an artist and placed in position on the scale model of Africa (upper left photo).

After the model is finalized in meetings with Walt Disney, an animation sketch - showing the figure's movements - is made to guide the many craftsmen who create the "character." Then the figure is sculpted (above) in plastilene clay.

To permanently preserve the clay sculpture as accurately as possible, it is cast in plaster as a "master pattern." Then the final figure, made from a special hot melt vinyl, is cast at temperatures over 300 degrees. Springs, pistons and air cylinders, made by machinists to achieve animation, are installed inside this vinyl "skin."

Finally (upper right photo), using photographs of hyenas as their guide, artist-craftsmen paint on the proper colors ... dabbing on a bit of fantasy, too.

"Flying carpet pilot" arrives for show. It was tested on stage at Disney Studio.
Flying Carpet Pilot






Child Dangling from Balloon

Applying Yarn Hair to Child

 Working on the Model

Applying Finishing Touch to Leprechaun

Paintings or rough sketches serve as catalysts to the imagination of the "team." If the idea is accepted, art directors and model makers locate the action on a scale model (center), studying its relationship to other animation, and viewing the entire scene in miniature as boat passengers will see it. The "toy" youngster (upper right) is the translation of the sketch.

The individual attention each member of the cast receives is typified by hand painting of an Irish leprechaun (center).

And finally, hi ho, it's off they go ... not to work just yet, but to the machine shop. They're smiling now, but the script calls for geese to sing, or at least squawk. So it's time for electrical wiring and a whiff of air - the combination that brings these performers to life.

Geese Headed for Ride Placement

SOURCE: It's A Small World - Complete Souvenir Guide and Behind the Scenes Story © 1964 Walt Disney Productions. All rights reserved throughout the world.

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