Magic And Memories: Farewell To Two ‘Old Friends’

This post is about change, moving forward, embracing the future and sadly, saying farewell to two of my most favorite and nostalgic attractions ever at The Walt Disney World Resort.

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photo by Mike Thomas Imagery 2017

Upon my second visit to Walt Disney World was in 1984, two years after EPCOT Center opened. Among the many rides and attractions, one that became my favorite: “The Universe Of Energy.” I thought it was THEE coolest ride ever. It was powered (and still was up until today – the final day of operation ever) by solar panels on the roof. It had moving theater cars that moved sections of an entire seated audience in and around the show / theater. The main focus was on energy, how and where it came from dating back to the dinosaur era. The attraction also contained many audio animatronic dinosaurs, too. All around very cool ride that in it’s day was so advanced and high tech. It remained a nostalgic favorite all through the years even through several changes spanning the 35 years of operation. Well, I believe it was George Harrison that used the line in one of his songs (or maybe it was an album title – don’t remember and it’s not really the point), “All things must pass.” The Universe Of Energy’s time has now come and gone. As of Sunday August 13th, 2017, the attraction loved by so many is no longer. The Walt Disney Company has decided to shutter the doors to make way for a brand new attraction. Exactly what and when that new ride will debut is not fully clear yet.

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Now, as if that weren’t enough to break this old heart today, another major attraction that opened with the (then) Disney / MGM Studios Theme Park in 1989, “The Great Movie Ride,” has also been closed permanently  by Disney in order to make room for another new attraction themed around none other than Mickey and Minnie Mouse. I coincidently was there for the grand opening of The Disney / MGM Studios Theme Park on May 1st, 1989. I didn’t plan it but it just happened to turn out that way. I was there as a Guest and not working oddly enough. To be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed AT FIRST with this park. About 3 years later after some major additions and expansions, it was a different story and my feelings changed. That park was now pretty darn cool! That being said, there was one attraction that I fell in love with the first time I rode it on May 1st, 1989. Yes, it was The Great Movie Ride. Disney had just introduced 3rd (I believe) generation audio animatronics. The characters in the ride (John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, James Cagney and more) were so life like with their moves it was almost creepy – but great! There was also a human interaction as the Disney Cast Member that ride with you in your theater car told a story as you travelled ‘through the movies’. At one point, the Cast Member would either get thrown off the ride at (fake) gun point and later, everyone got to experience some ‘magic’ as that Cast Member would reappear in another scene / portion of the ride. I could go on and on. But alas, The Great Movie Ride saw it’s final trip around the theater Sunday August 13th, 2017. 🙁

To all the Cast Members, technicians, Imagineers and everyone else that helped keep that attraction running and made us all feel like we were part of the movies, an incredible heartfelt THANK YOU! I get it when it comes to growth, progress, change etc… Walt Disney’s dying words to his brother Roy were, “Don’t let my parks become a museum … change, grow and update forever.” Nonetheless, it really does put a lump in my throat seeing these two classic attractions go away.

Here’s to the future – whatever it may bring all of us!

Peace – Mike T.

Pandora – The World Of Avatar

 

disney, animal kingdom, avatar, pandora, pandora-land of avatar, tree of life

So I’ve had quite a few emails & messages inquiring as to whether I have any pictures of the new, “Pandora – The World Of Avatar,” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Well, yes I do. But several points to be noted here. One, the new ‘land’ is beautiful for sure! But I’ve yet to capture (and I’m not sure I ever will in this specific case) the majesty, vastness and beauty of it all. It’s one of those rare ‘gotta be there’ type scenarios.

That being said, here are 4 photos I’ve managed to take thus far while visiting on my own the last week or two. Point two, the night time shots here are pretty but are some of thee most difficult and challenging shots I’ve ever taken.

They way to really shoot these is on a tripod (not hand held as this one is), long exposure and with nobody in the place. Hmmm? If only I could figure a way to do that one . We’ll see – perhaps a later post if I can arrange it all.

Point three, I semi-shamefully admit I’d never seen the movie, “Avatar,” – until last night that is. I bought it via iTunes. I was pleasantly surprised and very entertained by it all. Way better than I expected it to be. Point here being, now that I’ve seen it, SO MUCH MORE makes sense to me in this new ‘land’ at Animal Kingdom. I know: “DUH”!!! :).

Anyway, if you haven’t yet been able to go see Pandora – The Land Of Avatar at Walt Disney World yet, it’s definitely worth it, if for nothing else than the sheer beauty of it all both day and night!

Peace – Mike T.

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“Wishes” – Farewell Old Friend

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photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

It was late September, 2003. I was still a Walt Disney World Cast Member. My role at the time was documentation photographer for various Administrative Business Units. I was based out of The Magic Kingdom Park at the time. I had just received direction from a few of my Administrative and Executive Leaders to come in after park closing for a few select few upcoming nights and ‘scout out’ this new Night Time Spectacular pyrotechnics show – something they were calling, “Wishes.” The show was described to me and others as ‘A Stage In The Sky Show’. Sounded interesting but I couldn’t get my head around what they meant…. until I saw the first testing of it a few nights later. HOLY COW! It really was like a show presented on this ‘stage’ in the sky. Additionally, the 12 minute presentation told a story from beginning to end. Truly unbelievable! I’d never seen anything like this kind of fireworks display in my life. Now the problem or challenge (and I do mean CHALLENGE) was going to be how the heck to shoot this thing and have my photos tell a story and/or convey the emotion the show had within itself.

photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

I proposed a plan to my leaders that would encompass several nights of yours truly shooting the show in order to piece it together in the end. Reason being – photographically speaking – the change in the intensity and duration of the various pyrotechnics could never be captured in one single night of shooting. They agreed with no objection. So ….. I set out on the first full debut of this new show (October 9, 2003) and figure I’d have it in about 4-5 nights of shooting. I couldn’t have been more wrong! 🙁

photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

To accurately and artistically capture this show, it took me (get this) about 4 weeks of shooting every night that I was working (so 5 nights a week times 4 weeks – about 20 nights of shooting). Granted, I AM my own worst critic, so maybe I could’ve had it in a little less time. But after 4 weeks of shooting this beautiful new show, I had it!!!

photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

As “Wishes” bids a fond farewell tomorrow night (May 12th, 2017) after just short of a 14 year run, many Guests, Cast Members and myself have fond memories of this classic Disney show. But for me, it had a different & special meaning. “Wishes” was the night time pyrotechnics show that literally taught me how to be an expert (self proclaimed lol) on shooting fireworks, not just at The Magic Kingdom Park bit at any Disney Park or venue anywhere! Even today when I go to shoot any fireworks show, as I set up my cameras (yes, I usually use two cameras when I’m shooting any fireworks show), I automatically think back to the settings, lessons and mistakes I made 14 years earlier while learning to shoot “Wishes.”

photo by / copyright Mike Thomas

I’m excited to see the new show that will replace “Wishes.” But to me, it’s kind of like when you graduate high school: All those lessons and memories learned along the way will now take a back seat as my career (and life) continue in the only direction possible: FORWARD! Thanks to the designers, Imagineers, Technicians, Disney Entertainment Cast and so many more for making a never ending memory in all of our hearts including mine!

Oh by the way – all of these pictures herein this blog post were shot by yours truly. But on my own time. The Walt Disney Company has all those shots from the 4 weeks of shooting (and more). But I loved the show so much I used to come over and shoot it just for my own personal use or memories. Thought it was finally a good time to share some of these shots as the show leaves.

Peace – Mike T.

“Rivers Of Light”- New At Walt Disney World

We Are One” – The main thread through the new show, “Rivers Of Light” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

disney, rivers of light, animal kingdom, we are one, tree of life, walt disney world

After decades of seeing all kinds of extravagant shows at Walt Disney World, I really didn’t know exactly what to expect of this latest new show at Animal Kingdom. I’d seen bits & pieces of it online via YouTube videos and similar. I’d also read varying accounts and reviews about the show.

disney, rivers of light, animal kingdom, we are one, tree of life, walt disney world

I headed over to DAK (“Disney’s Animal Kingdom”) with a few cameras and 2-3 lenses in tow. I’d asked a few Cast Member friends of mine where would be the best, most accessible spot to view and shoot from. They suggested the Asia bridge (they were right by the way). There IS a whole new theater (similar to but smaller than the amphitheater at Fantastic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios). But I didn’t wanna be a pest to other guests with all my equipment. I also wouldn’t be guaranteed a front row center seat needed to do the type of photographing I wanted to do.

disney, rivers of light, animal kingdom, we are one, tree of life, walt disney world

Cut to the show. This particular show has no pyrotechnics due to the animals being in residence at the park and within close proximity to the show area. The whole performance is done via light, music, water and sensory effects (wild animal and nature sound effects etc…). The show is also not the usual whiz, bang, light up the sky type presentation. BUT –  what it is – is a beautiful, peaceful show with just enough energy so that it doesn’t fall short of all encompassing artistic beauty. The storytelling narration combined with the different music segments blend perfectly with what’s happening on the water and up in the trees (yes, up in the trees – with exquisite lighting effects). There’s also a ‘water screen’ where projections of various birds and animals give the show an additional dimension for sure. FYI – the music score is all original created just for the show. Its creator is the same person who did the music score for the movie, “Brother Bear.”

disney, rivers of light, animal kingdom, we are one, tree of life, walt disney world

 

All the floats / barges in the water are controlled via GPS remote Control. No cables. No wires. No drivers. The creatures depicted on the floats (see photos herein this blog post) change colors and also match the ‘scene’ happening around them at the time.

disney, rivers of light, animal kingdom, we are one, tree of life, walt disney world

Bottom line, this is a must see! If you hear from people that ‘there’s no story line’ or ‘it lacks pizzaz’, pay not attention. This show is NOT supposed to have all that pizzaz, fireworks, lasers etc… It’s a peaceful reminder that we are all one. We are all connected and that we must all work together as stewards of planet earth. Remember, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was created and built to deliver this type of message. DAK sort of became a theme park by default and some demand. But it IS all about life and the need for communion between all living things. “Rivers Of Light” manages to give all visitors a final reminder and message before they leave this park that ‘We Are One’ to hopefully make a difference and instill this important philosophy within the heart and soul upon departure.

disney, rivers of light, animal kingdom, we are one, tree of life, walt disney world

Last but not least, a HUGE congratulations and recognition to any and all persons who had anything to do with the creation of Rivers Of Light! Not only did y’all do an above and beyond excellent job, you managed to take and stir up a little Disney of old – you made learning entertaining. That was one of Walt Disney’s methods of mixing education with entertainment making it fun, interesting and for folks of all ages. Kudos!

Peace – Mike T.

Magic And Memories: Some Wild Sightings

There are so many pictures I shot at Disney’s Animal Kingdom while I was there these last few days I couldn’t just let them sit there and do nothing. So here are a few more shots I captured while strolling the park waiting to shoot the new nighttime spectacular, “Rivers Of Light” (a blog post on that one coming soon as well). The pictures speak for themselves. But I thought it might be a little humorous to add a caption or two ;). Enjoy!

bird, exotic birds, parrot, disney, animal kingdom, disney world, florida
“Do you really think I don’t see you? PA-LEEEEZE!”

 

timone, disney, near cat, animal kingdom, disney
“Pumba? Ehhhh, Pumba?”
gorilla, monkey, ape, disney, animal kingdom, nature, wild animals
“Hmmm? What shall I have for dinner?”
ape, monkey, gorilla, disney, animal kingdom, nature, wild life, wild animals
“Human, if you don’t put that camera down, I’ll have YOU for dinner!”
disney, animal kingdom, cow, sheep, wild animals, nature, wildlife
“How can you ignore this face … feed me. Please?”

Peace – Mike T.

 

Magic And Memories: Details, Details, Details

disney, animal kingdom, tree of life, florida, theme parks, details, tough to be a bug, bugs life

I, myself, used to be guilty of overlooking a lot of the hidden treasures and beauty at The Walt Disney World Theme Parks. Even after sooooooo many years at the parks, I still manage to miss, and then fortunately realize some of that beauty undiscovered. Here’s a prime example in a photo I captured the other day while strolling through Disney’s Animal Kingdom waiting to shoot the new, “Rivers Of Light” nighttime spectacular (a blog post on that coming very soon). On the west side (+/-) of The Tree Of Life, these carved details are for the most part over shadowed by the majesty of the tree itself. But just look close at the fine detailing embedded within the trunk portion of The Tree Of Life. Beautiful!

Peace – Mike T.

“Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike” – Happy Hump Day!

So I grabbed this shot at the Morocco Pavilion in Epcot at Walt Disney World last week after I’d completed my “work” for the day. I was really just looking for different angles of stuff I had never shot before. But when I got home and saw this, all I could think was that silly camel in that TV commercial talking about “Hump Day.” 🙂

Happy Hump Day – Enjoy!

Peace – Mike T.

Some Test Shots With A New (18mm) Lens

 

 

WAIT! So how did I get a night time sky with the subject matter all lit up? HA! The beauty of old fashioned filters and black & white photography. And that’s all I have to say about that (can’t give away trade secrets or I’d be outa business lol).

For various reasons, I ended up needing a single, small, prime lens. Specifically, an 18mm. Those reasons have to do with work related stuff more than just fun, games & pleasure – although creativity does come into play there a bit. So I picked up a good deal 😉 this lightweight, tack sharp beautiful lens. I needed to go out and test it to make sure it was gonna do what I needed it to do. Happy to say, IT DOES – and does it very well. Tomorrow and/or Thursday, I plan on heading out and doing either some street photography or landscapes, putting the new lens through further tests. But for today (Tuesday January 31st, 2017), I did the testing over at Disney World – specifically, Epcot.

Unless you have a good eye or you’re a photographer yourself, you might not notice the difference or beauty of this lens itself. Along with an A/B comparison with a few other lenses, I had some free time left (since I was there on my own time and not shooting for Disney today), I strolled around World Showcase Lagoon and tried a little artistic, creative shooting. The link below will take you to several of those shots (like the two atop this blog post page).

Click HERE to view more NEW pictures from yours truly.

Enjoy and thanks for stoppin’ by!

Peace – Mike T.

The Tree Of Life In The Early Morn’

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“The Tree Of Life” – Disney’s Animal Kingdom (photo by Mike Thomas)

I don’t often post many “Disney” shots anymore – especially of the Disney Icons that everyone and their brother posts on Social Media daily. Nothing against Disney or anything like that. I’ve just spent so many years there shooting that I ended up having more desire and feel the need to be more creative and profound with shots I take out in the wilds of Florida (and elsewhere ;)). BUT – I was at Disney’s Animal Kingdom this morning doing a very early morning shoot for Disney. After I finished up with that work, I was strolling by The Tree Of Life as I headed out. It was just one of those quick, inspirational moments where the lighting was just great (sun still on the rise even though the park had opened to early morning Guests), the (blue) lights inside the tree were still on from the night before and the sky had mostly blue color but with streaks of clouds running across it. All this added up to and produced a wonderfully detailed and colorful photograph. Enough words – the photo speaks for itself. I’ve said it before but – I wish they were all this easy :).

Peace – Mike T.

Illuminations: Reflections Of Earth

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Illuminations: Reflections Of Earth – Grand Finale

So I found myself at Walt Disney World / Epcot again last night (gee, what a surprise 😉 ) doing another test shoot for something a little down the road. After I finished the work (if you can call what I do work – PA-LEEEEE!ZE! 🙂 ), I met up with a working compadre of mine who led me down to a sort of special place usually reserved just for Guests. But he told me there weren’t very few Guests at this location and asked if I’d like to make some pictures of, “Illuminations: Reflections Of Earth” – Epcot’s night time spectacular. I hadn’t shot that show in a LONG time and I had a little spare time on my hands so I said, “sure.”

disney, epcot, illuminations, reflections of earth, fireworks, pyrotechnics, lasers
Illuminations: Reflections Of Earth

These photos were just two of several that I managed to capture decently. I love photographing pyrotechnics and lasers!!! 🙂

Peace – Mike T

Disney Announces The 2016 Eat To The Beat Concerts Series Schedule

DSCF5025Greetings all,

This is from the Disney Parks Blog but I thought I’d post it here for those interested and perhaps not aware it’s on the Disney Parks Blog.

See y’all at the shows! 🙂

Peace – Mike T.

  • Sept. 14-15 – Wang Chung NEW! “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”
  • Sept. 16-18 – STARSHIP featuring Mickey Thomas “We Built This City”
  • Sept. 19-20 – Air Supply “All Out of Love”
  • Sept. 21-23 – BoDeans NEW! “Closer to Free”
  • Sept. 24-25 – Fuel “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)”
  • Sept. 26-28 – Sugar Ray “Fly”
  • Sept. 29-30 – Los Lobos “La Bamba”
  • Oct. 1-2 – David Cook “Light On”
  • Oct. 3-4 – Wilson Phillips “Hold On”
  • Oct. 5-6 – Blues Traveler “Run-Around”
  • Oct. 7-9 – Plain White T’s NEW! “Hey There Delilah”
  • Oct. 10-11 – 38 Special “Hold On Loosely”
  • Oct. 12-13 – Jeffrey Osborne NEW! “On the Wings of Love”
  • Oct. 14-16 – Tiffany “I Think We’re Alone Now”
  • Oct. 17-19 – Dennis DeYoung: The Music of Styx “Lady”
  • Oct. 20-21 – Christopher Cross “Sailing”
  • Oct. 22-23 – Toad The Wet Sprocket NEW! “Walk on the Ocean”
  • Oct. 24-25 – Chaka Khan “I Feel for You”
  • Oct. 26-27 – Billy Ocean “Caribbean Queen”
  • Oct. 28-29 – Living Colour NEW! “Cult of Personality”
  • Oct. 30-Nov. 1 – Hanson “Get the Girl Back”
  • Nov. 2-3 – Soul Asylum NEW! “Runaway Train”
  • Nov. 4-6 – Delta Rae NEW! “Bottom of the River”
  • Nov. 7-9 – Boyz II Men “Motownphilly”
  • Nov. 10-11 – Sister Hazel “All For You”
  • Nov. 12-14 – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy “Go Daddy-O”

“Bruce Springsteen.” Do I Have Your Attention Yet?

bruce springsteen, epcot, disney, american gardens theater,
“Bruce In The USA” Tribute Band

Sorry for the cheesy headline. But I wanted any and all Bruce Springsteen fans to take a quick look. If you ARE a Springsteen fan of any degree and are around the Orlando / Walt Disney World area (Epcot in particular), you really oughta come out and catch one of the new tribute bands at Epcot’s, “Sounds Like Summer Concert Series’ shows. The band is called, “Bruce In The USA.” I base how good a tribute act is by closing my eyes and listening. If it sounds like as well assignees a little rush of excitement or a quick chill, then they’re GOOD! This band surpasses that. They are GREAT – in particular “Bruce” looks, acts, moves, sounds like Bruce Springsteen! No kidding here. I’ll go out on a limb and say these guys are one of thee best, if not THEE BEST tribute acts I’ve seen anywhere, not just at Disney.

I stayed beyond my ‘work time’ just to catch another show and to take some pictures for myself (hence where the pic within this post came from). I just watched and listened in amazement thankful for being ‘Born In The USA’, reliving some ‘Glory Days’ as I watched this ‘On Fire’ act. They were just ‘Born To Run’ on 12 cylinders down ‘Thunder Road’. From the time they hit the stage there was just ‘No Retreat, No Surrender’. And to think, I was fortunate enough to see them as they visited ‘My Hometown’! They left nothing to question – no “Brilliant Disguise’ or any kind and no one left with a ‘Hungry Heart’ for sure. I still have chills. Quick, somebody ‘Cover Me’.

OK, I’ll stop for now :).  Go check `em out if you can. You won’t be disappointed!

bruce springsteen, epcot, disney, american gardens theater,
“Bruce In The USA” Tribute Band

Peace – Mike T.