We meet just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, about 30 yards from Hollywood
and less than half a mile from the Matterhorn. Lurking here somewhere
is a mouse with large ears.
we walk inside, through the turnstiles, I am struck by a huge, golden-orange
metallic sculpture. It is the Sun Icon, Barry Braverman 69 explains,
and it remains lighted throughout the day, as long as there is even a
sliver of sun in the sky; in other words, if the sun shines on California,
it is reflected here.
We make an immediate left and saunter nonchalantly into the Hollywood
Pictures Backlot. As we step onto the set that is not a set, I notice
there has been a seamless change of scene. When I mention this, Bravermans
face curves into a smile. That was the goal, he says, to make sure there
are as few contradictions in the layout of Disneys California Adventure
as possible. Each part is designed to serve the story, and the story is
the thing that holds a theme park together.
He ought to know. He designed the place.
Along this street, which plays like a mirror image of a mirror image,
sits Disney Animationnot the place where the animated movies are
made, but a place where they are unmade. Here, the building blocks of
Walt Disneys success are revealed: from the moment a whistling mouse
guided his little steamboat across a motion picture screen, Disney wound
itself into the American fabric with a promise that, for a few moments
at least, our world could be transformed into a happy place.
The path from the street into the auditorium is a windy one. Inside, scenes
from some of Disneys best-known animated features are projected
alongside original drawings from the same films. Braverman says the aim
is to give guests a glimpse of the artistry and craft behind the movies.
These animated films are ingrained in us, he says. They
are part of our culture.
Through another zigzagging passage, we enter one of the interactive rooms.
Two youths crouch over strips of paper. Each strip has six cells in which
to draw a sequence of pictures that will become ones personal cartoon.
One of the boys finishes his drawing and places it inside the zoetrope.
Braverman watches intently as the harmless little monster that the boy
has created draws back behind a wall over and over as the zeotrope
What this is is just drawing and motion, Braverman says as
we hurry on to Ursulas Grotto, a room that gives an oddly eerie
feeling of being sucked inside a sea serpent. There, three dark-haired
girls crowd around a karaoke-type machine to lend their voices to a scene
from The Little Mermaid. They pay us little mind as we pass
through to the Sorcerers Workshop. We watch as a boy discovers his
cartoon doppelganger is the candlestick from Beauty and the Beast.
He looks disappointed, but if he wanted something tougher he should have
chosen eat your friends for dinner rather than
invite your friends to dinner.
Braverman is pleased with the engagement these young people show. The
former teacher has spent much of his career with Disney working on projects
that not only entertain but also inform.
All of a sudden I realize that the room has been subtly changing character,
turning from bright to dark, warm browns to moody purples, welcoming to
all about transformation, he says as we continue back outside.
That word, transformation, will follow us throughout the visit, like when
he reminds me we are standing on what used to be Disneylands parking
lotan interesting plot twist.
It is also a word that resounds in Bravermans life.
He was born in Pittsburgh, but his formative years were spent in Southern
California, first in Woodland Hills and later in Tustin. It was a time
before suburban sprawl, when Southern California still had small places.
Like most boys, Braverman was drawn to Disneyland with its promise of
wild and fantastic rides. As he grew older, it became a destination for
dating. He remembers going there on cool evenings and listening to the
big jazz bands of the day like Count Basies Orchestra.
Disney was not the center of Bravermans world, however. It was entertainment,
a place to go to and go home from. He never considered it might offer
him a career.
Braverman was the oldest of three boys. Unlike his brothers, who tinkered
with electrical and mechanical equipment in the garage, Braverman was
drawn to exploring the world through reading and television.
I was always a dreamer, he says.
When he left for Pomona College, the dream included law school and, if
all went well, a run for the United States Senate. He majored in economics
and English, but a confluence of self-discovery and the times changed
the course of his life.
a junior, I began to understand the right side of my brain, he says.
Braverman was also very much a part of the counterculture
of the late 60s. He drifted from his original plan and by the end
of his college career was more interested in his creative writing and
ceramics classes than plotting for the U.S. Senate.
When he graduated in 1969, the prospect of being drafted for Vietnam kept
him from loafing. He followed his wife-to-be, Paula Richardson, to San
Francisco and followed his mother into the teaching profession. I
decided I was going to change the world one student at a time, he
He taught sixth graders for four years in Ukiah. During this time, he
developed a passion for learning how children learn. He rejected the working
theory that they are empty vessels to be filled with information. I
was a radical teacher. I refused to give grades, I created my own curriculum
made it harder for myself, but it was a great growth time for me.
He started researching and writing about cognitive and early childhood
development. As he developed curricula, he began looking at how technology
could offer different types of learning experiences.
I wanted to produce, to put together artists and technologies,
he says. This was my bridge to Disney.
While seeking teaching materials and ideas from a Walt Disney imagineer,
he left such an impression that in 1977 he was asked to work on a project
at Walt Disney Worlds EPCOT Center. He decided to take the job.
Braverman would eventually help develop a number of interactive attractions
there and was soon named executive director of design. He spent 17 years
at EPCOT, taking off for a few years in the mid-1980s to start his own
his success in Florida, he returned to Southern California and was chosen
to lead a second team of designers to develop a new theme park in Anaheim.
It took almost six years to bring Disneys California Adventure from
germ to reality. Braverman first proposed the conceptthe California
experience during a 1995 summit in Aspen, Colorado. The goal was
to expand Disneyland and create a West Coast counterpart to Disney World,
There were obvious constraints, he notes, considering the urban landscape
that surrounds the park. When Disneyland was built in the 1950s, it was
cut out of an orange grove, but Anaheim grew in the intervening years.
This made planning a much more difficult task than anything he faced in
While creating the park, Braverman says he and his team at Walt Disney
Imagineering in Glendale, which recently celebrated its 50th year, used
some of the most advanced computer imaging systems around. Four-dimensional
models (the fourth dimension being time) were created using state-of-the-art
computer technology that allowed the team to construct and deconstruct
the park layout without building a thing. They could make instantaneous
corrections for safety, space or convenience, and plan for continuity
both in the way people move around the park and in making seamless transitions.
It was all done with an eye toward the story line, Braverman
says. We wanted everything to serve the story.
Braverman called the cutting-edge technology a virtual build area.
It was licensed to architect Frank Gehry for his design of the new Disney
Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Its all about creativity through technology, Braverman
says, adding, I love always being on the learning curve. Imagineering
really gives me that.
Of course, a good design is good design, regardless of technology. While
standing in line for Soarin Over California, the orange-scented
fly-by of Californias major outdoor attractions, a young man asked
Braverman if it was true the ride was designed on an erector set. Braverman
acknowledged that it was.
Soarin is located in the Condor Flats, the section of the park is
meant to reflect the states high desert history with aircraft development
and experimentation. When we enter, we find ourselves walking down the
middle of a runway. The flats are designed to elicit George and Edwards
Air Force Basesa replica of a Bell experimental jet, similar to
the one used by Chuck Yeager to break the speed of sound, bursts out of
one of the buildings.
As the ticket taker at Soarin asks how many in our flight, I remember
that Braverman said his father was an aerospace engineer.
Once we are strapped in, we are scooped about six stories into the air.
It is an airborne Omnimax, Braverman tells me. Staring straight
ahead at a white screen, I begin to feel an intense sense of motion. The
screen has dissolved into clouds and we are sailing through them. We descend
over the Golden Gate, then wind along a Northern California river, circle
Yosemite Valley, crest the Tahoe range, drop back down to the desert where
a pair of jet fighters scream by, skim an orange grove in the Central
Valley, sweep around Malibu bay and then drop in to Disneyland for fireworks.
(By the way, that mouses picture was on a golf ball that sailed
past us in Palm Springs.)
Pictures and motion, Braverman explains again. In all seriousness, it
is a moving experience.
After our adventure, we sit down in Napa and sip California wine while
looking out over Cannery Row. I like that there are places you can
kick back a little. I dont want the whole park to be frenetic,
He tells me that his immediate plan is to bring Californias cultural
heritage into DCA. He admits this will take a lot of careful research
and sensitivity, but says it is an integral part of the California experience.
I look at what I do as my work, and I take it very seriously,
Braverman reflects. When Im not at work, Im not Disney.
I can bring more to my job if I can feed my soul and mind with a real
diversity of inputs. I try to get as much stimulus as I can so when I
come back to work, I have new ideas.
He still reads a lot, plays guitar and spends time with his two teenage
kids, Lily and Ben. I love traveling, I love the diversity of life.
I love to see real stuff, real people doing work. It fascinates me to
He also credits his experiences at Pomona for his creative prowess: I
am a firm believer in a liberal arts education. I was exposed to philosophy,
history, literature, writingit enables me to bring a lot of depth
and breadth to what I do.
For the next few years, Braverman says he will continue to work on evolving
the Anaheim resort. This includes some renovation and preservation of
Disneyland and further development of DCA. Other than that, he is not
sure whats next.
I love my job. Its never the same; its always starting
Gary Scott is a reporter for
the Pasadena Star-News and
a frequent contributor to PCM.
Photos by David Zaitz.