Saturday, March 12, 2011

Disney Books: Building A Better Mouse

I finished my read of Steve Alcorn's and David Green's Building A Better Mouse - The Story of the Electronic Imagineers Who Designed Epcot last night. I've mentioned before that I thought it was a little pricey at $19.95 when it clocks in at 130 pages or so. I suppose you can chalk this up to the fact that it's published in limited numbers by ThemePerks Press - I know that doing these sorts of books in this manner results in a higher-than-it-should-be unit price. (I remember having the opportunity to read Tim Pratt's Bone Shop, an urban fantasy novel that he was self publishing, and balking at the price tag of $19.00. I ended up buying it for the Kindle for $5.00. Well worth it at that price!)

Cost notwithstanding, I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It's a series of anecdotes about the construction process of the unique theme park known as EPCOT or EPCOT Center or simply Epcot, whatever you prefer. It focuses a lot on the processes at The American Adventure, where Alcorn seemed to spend most of his time and energy.

We know something of Steve Alcorn's work through his book Theme Park Design; he is an electrical engineer if I read it right. David Green is less familiar to me - his bio on the back cover states that he is the president of Monteverdi Creative, Inc, a company that provides creative and technical design services. It seems David worked as a "wirelister" at EPCOT, though I am not entirely clear on what that is exactly.

It's amazing that these young engineers put forth the effort and the imagination they needed to put forth, all on short and irregular sleep hours and for not much pay. It seems like the engineers certainly enjoyed the perks of the job provided by Disney - merchandise, access to the parks, free lodging that tourists/guests were paying big bucks for. But they had a lot to contend with - not the least of which was union employees who had an interest in dragging out the job as long as possible instead of finishing on time or (God forbid!) early. Plus, the union rules required that union employees do all the wiring, even of sophisticated electronic circuit boards with which many of them had no experience or training. Mistakes were often made. And some of them were perhaps not mistakes but actual malicious actions in order to keep things from working right for whatever reason.

I didn't mean to recap the work, but it's a lot of fun to read and I'm glad I own it, even at the somewhat higher cost. I'd love to take Alcorn's class on Theme Park Design and learn even more about his experiences.

One somewhat depressing side effect of reading the book: the realization of the actual cost of doing a world class theme park. EPCOT was budgeted at 400 million dollars around 1980. It actually cost 1.2 BILLION to build it. Three times the original estimate. What would it cost today to do something like that? Probably 4 billion or so. Maybe more. That's sort of daunting. (Okay, more than "sort of"...) Who possibly could finance something like that? Anyone who could is going to want total control of such a project. There goes my plans! ;-)


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