Site design and maintenance: Kenneth Sundberg
Latest Update: September 10, 2012

The KenNetti Tribute - Secret Laboratory

In 1954 there wasn't time, space nor need for fancy titles or big egos among the creators of Disneyland. Especially the dark ride creations were result of devoted team work. The art directors and project supervisors didn't just sit in fancy offices, but were at the fieldcreating and building strong atmospheres from cheap plywood sets, getting dirty by mixing wondrous fluorescent paints and stylishly splashing them on the walls, figures and sets. As in the E-Ticket Magazine interview, published in 1992, the legendary Disney artist Ken Anderson said modestly: "We mostly just went down to Disneyland and built it." This is quite surely the reason why most of the credits of Snow White's Adventures are still shrouded by mystery.

In this Secret Laboratory, KenNetti tries to descend into the deepest vaults of Walt Disney Imagineering to bring together the team that actually concocted the "Scary Adventures Formula".

Concocting a Formula
The Creators of the Scary Adventure

It was probably Walter Elias Disney's very own idea that the original 1955 Fantasyland dark rides in Disneyland should individually represent three different moods: wonder, fun and fear. Wonder was provided by a flight with Peter Pan and the fun came in form of a wild ride with Mr. Toad (from the underrated Disney classic The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad). Even if the idea came from someone else at WED Enterpriseslater Walt Disney Imagineeringthe result was nonetheless clear: Snow White's Adventures was meant to be a "spook ride".

Even though the Snow White dark ride was the result of devoted team work, legendary Kenneth "Ken" Anderson can be summed up as the designer who was most responsible for creating the original ride. With architectural background Anderson became one of the art directors of the 1937 masterpiece Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, so he definitely knew the essence of the original movie. Having built scale models of the Seven Dwarfs' cottage already in the 1930s, the multitalented Anderson was an ideal selection to transform the animated classic into three-dimensional dark ride reality. He adapted the ride's "script" by selecting the scenes, and designed most of the ride's architecture and ended up painting many of the set realizations himself.

In addition to Snow White's Adventures, Ken Anderson worked on several other attractions including Peter Pan's Flight, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Storybook Land Canal Boats and the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea exhibit. With obvious talent in creating macabre visuals, Anderson was also one of the original creative forces behind the park's haunted housewhich eventually developed into The Haunted Mansion. Due to his extensive contributions to Walt's original park, many experts regard Ken Anderson as the real "Mr. Disneyland".

In an interview for the StoryboarD/The Art of Laughter magazine (Aug/Sept 1991) Ken Anderson reminisced about one of the very first Audio-Animatronics built by Ub Iwerks. It was a skeleton sitting on a table, opening his eyes and greeting whoever was looking at it. "The thing was talking to you", Anderson recalled, "I was actually very impressed." Perhaps this is the reason why the dungeons in Snow White's Adventures included a talking skeleton already in 1955.

Another architect, Bill Martin, devised the track layout for Snow White's Adventures. Martin had worked for the movie company Twentieth Century Fox as an art director and set designer, thus being an ideal choice for making sure that the Disney artists' fantastic creations would also function when realized in full height. Among his many duties, Martin created the conceptual track layout for the Peter Pan's Flight, as well as the plans for Autopia and Submarine Voyage.

Master painter Herbert Ryman contributed to the Snow White ride by creatingand realizingseveral of the interior backgrounds. Ryman is most known for creating the first detailed map of Disneyland and an endless amount of gorgeous conceptual artwork for countless Disney parks and attractions.

Original photos © Disney

Creation of the powerful ultraviolet painting technique for the 1955 dark rides has been credited to Ken Anderson and Claude Coats, who also painted many of the realizations himself. Like Anderson, the multitalented Coats had worked on the original 1937 movie, creating lush background paintings. Having obvious talent in creating strong atmospheres, stunning colours and three-dimensional realizations, Coats was to become an integral part in the creation of attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. His first assignment was building the scale model for the original Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Since their inception, fluorescent paints glowing under the rays of ultraviolet lighting (also known as black light) have been used in black theatres, dark rides and other atmospheric attractions. In Snow White's Adventures, the fluorescent paintings transformed the flat wooden cutout sets into beautiful three-dimensional reality. Claude Coats' expertise with colours and fluorescent paints became legendary. According to Randy Bright's book Disneyland: Inside Story (1987), Coats' magic touch of fluorescent colours lifted Disneyland's dark rides "far beyond anything that had ever before been achieved in the scenic medium."

The effects, tricks and gags of Snow White's Adventures were very simple. Based on bending or rotating movements, these kinds of effects have been very common in amusement park spook rides. However, in the hands of the talented Imagineers these simple tricks were enhanced with dramatic staging and storytelling style. Although the very simple plywood cutout sets and decorations were used due to a minimal budget and a tight schedule, similar two-dimensional sets continued appearing in every reincarnation of the Snow White rideexactly because they were a huge part of the magical, otherworldly experience.

As most traditional dark rides, also the ride system of Snow White's Adventures used an electrical single rail guide track. The thirteen original vehicles of the ride were designed by WED Enterprises but manufactured by Arrow Development. The original vehicles contained only a single bench – but thanks to the fact that all Disneyland seats were patterned after the husky and broad Bruce Bushman, even the first Snow White vehicles were able to seat three teenagers. The elaborate vehicle design, incidentally by Bushman, was not used on the rather simplified final vehicles, although they did feature a Dwarf's name "carved" on the front panel.

By the late 1960s, the original vehicles had been replaced by double-bench versions. Both vehicle versions have been called as "mine-carts" in various official Disney publications. In Jeff Kurtti's 2008 book Imagineering Legends, architect Bill Martin said more specifically: "I think it was Walt [who] chose the specific ride concepts from his movies. These themes had to include something that could be used as a ride vehicle. Snow White, for instance, had those carved wood cars. They weren't exactly mine cars, but they were something like that."

The 1955-1981 original Disneyland ride is, however, the only Snow White ride version in which the vehicles' theming as minecarts is supported by the ride itself. The adventure started at the Diamond Mine and almost half of the ride was spent inside the mineshafts. However, since the 1937 original movie features the Dwarfs' names carved on their beds, many people have regarded the ride vehicles as beds – particularly the more elaborate 1983 two-bench vehicles for California's Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland. The 1983 vehicle design (which was probably based on the 1971 WDW ride's vehicle design) was slightly simplified for the larger, three-bench vehicles created for the 1992 Disneyland Paris ride. The last-mentioned vehicles were also used in the 1994 WDW ride version. So, at least since 1983, all the Snow White ride vehicles have had definite similarities to the Dwarfs' beds in the 1937 movie. (The scary eyes, as seen below, point strongly towards the extensive eye motif of the 1971 WDW ride version).

From 1959 to 1965 significant improvements were made into the Snow White's Adventures ride, including new mechanical Wicked Witch figures, individual lighting for the trees of the Dark Forest, several repainted sets, and sound effects for many elements of the adventure, including a new Witch voice. Effect wizards Yale Gracey and Roland "Rolly" Crump were responsible of many of the visual and artistic improvements. As the dynamite duo who later created the ghosts of The Haunted Mansion, Gracey and Crump were exactly what the Snow White ride needed. One of their major 1959 inventions was the original effect of swarming sinister eyes floating above the monster trees of the Dark Forest (inspired by the powerful montage of the original 1937 movie). The original effect was realized with "kinetic mobiles" which hang from the ceiling. In the 1983 ride creation for Tokyo Disneyland this floating eye effect reached quite phantasmal heights.

Master sculptor Blaine Gibson's involvement with the original 1955 Snow White's Adventures is completely shrouded in mystery. Gibson sculpted at least the original little devils for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. In 1961 Blaine Gibson became director of sculpture for WED Enterprises, supervising the entire dimensional design and execution area with model builder Jack Ferges. Thus Gibson and Ferges have at least had their hands on the 1960s improvements of the Snow White ride.

Original photos © Disney

Despite of the improvements, Snow White's Adventures stayed virtually unchanged in the audience's eyes until the extensive remodeling of 1982-1983. The remodeling was lead by Tony Baxter who brought Ken Anderson back from retirement to keep an eye on the project. Baxter's first major project had been the creation of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. As a young kid, Baxter had fallen in love with the ultraviolet illumination and fluorescent colours in Disneyland's original dark rides. His love actually shows in the 1983 Snow White's Scary Adventures creation; even the horrors of the ride are breathtakingly beautiful!

The team who created the 1971 very scary Snow White dark ride for Walt Disney World's (WDW) Magic Kingdom included the young Tony Baxter, who revealed to the author Didier Ghez in 1995 that the ride was his first project with Claude Coats. Coats may have been responsible for supervising most of the attractions for WDW's Fantasyland, including the 1971 Snow White ride's adaptation and design. Official sources, however, (such as Jeff Kurtti's 2008 book Imagineering Legends) don't mention Coats as the supervising WDW Fantasyland designer at all.

It is strongly suggested, but not a confirmed fact, that the original Tokyo Disneyland version of Snow White's Adventures was developed simultaneously with the remodeled 1983 California version. The two rides share several identical scenes, sets, figures, elegance and atmosphere. It is quite illogical that the Tokyo ridewith very strong roots in the 1971 WDW ridewould have been designed later than the superior 1983 California creation, which could have been just copied for the Tokyo park and actually was copied for the Paris park in 1992despite that "Unlike their Japanese counterparts, French officials weren't interested in a wholesale reproduction of Disney's American parks", as Jason Surrell told in his book The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (2003/2009).

Original photo © Disney

"I'm somewhat sure that Tony Baxter didn't lead the Tokyo team in their Snow White", told ex-Imagineer Chris Merritt exclusively to KenNetti. "I think that may have been Brock Thoman." As this is definitely not an official fact, the creation and design team of the 1983 Tokyo version of Snow White's Adventures remain shrouded by mystery.

It should be noted about Ken Anderson that his official Imagineering career took place between 1951 and 1957, and after his retirement from 1978 to mid-1980s. During the making of The Sword in the Stone, apparently in the early 1960s, Anderson "underwent a debilitating health crisis, suffering a massive stroke at the age of fifty-two", told Jeff Kurtti in the Imagineering Legends book. "The stroke had left him blind and unable to move." However, Anderson made a remarkable recovery and returned to the Disney studios to work on The Jungle Book. Anderson's stroke can be one of the reasons why other people at WED Enterprises took over the development of Disneyland's original Snow White's Adventures as well as The Haunted Mansion attraction, on which Anderson had worked extensively during the late 1950s. Officially, Ken Anderson did not return to WED Enterprises until after his retirement in 1978.

Of the things standing out in his career with Disney, Ken Anderson told to the StoryboarD/The Art of Laughter magazine: "I enjoyed working on all the pictures, but Snow White was the best by far." To the same question about Disneyland, Anderson had this to answer: "I think Fantasyland stands out in my mind, those great attractions we built. It was a tremendous accomplishment."

KenNetti whole-heartedly agrees.

The Ride That Never Was
Astounding Snow White Ride Artwork

Interviewed by the E-Ticket Magazine in early 1990s, Ken Anderson stated: "There wasn't a lot of pre-planning and artwork done on this ride."

It may be relative what is called "a lot" because in recent years Disneyland aficionados have managed to dig up a wealth of artwork for the 1955 Snow White's Adventures, including a layout that was eventually not used in building the ride. Many of these gems were from Anderson's paintbrush.

For the StoryboarD/The Art of Laughter magazine (Aug/Sept 1991) Anderson revealed that many of his Snow White ride paintings were actually color code guides for the ride maintenance. "There is a book full of small ones I used for color, because things had never been color coded", told Ken Anderson, "and it was a wild new technique working with this fluorescent paint on the dark rides. I thought every one of these dark rides is going to have preventative follow up to keep the thing going. They're going to have to know what I had in mind on how they looked, so I made a painting of every one."

With this statement Anderson slightly implied that he may have created some of the artwork after the scenes had already been built into the 1955 ride.

Continuing with the colour code issue, Anderson also revealed why the original Snow White's Adventures gained ultimately the reputation of unimpressive character figures wearing mops as hair among badly painted cardboard sets.

"I had a color scheme that went all through Snow White, all the way through Peter Pan, all the way through every dark ride, and they all disappeared. George Smith, the head of background, he lost them", Anderson explained to the StoryboarD/The Art of Laughter magazine. "They give the painters a paint can and they would paint in there, but, they didn't have any idea what they were supposed to be painting. They were slopping over the whole thing. You didn't know what you were looking at. It just didn't look right. I got all upset and we finally redid it."

Anderson's statement also explains why the original loading & unloading area mural had so many color changes throughout the ride's 27 years.

In January 1955 the McCalls magazine promoted the upcoming Disneyland park. On a double page spread, among some preliminary sketches for ride versions that were never seen in the park, the magazine published a full layout for the Snow White ride (above). This plan, presumably drawn by Bill Martin, was not used as the final layout for the ride. Actually, the published plan was very different, presenting a more spectacular, dimensional and epic interpretation of the 1937 movie, including a gorgeous "Happy Ending". The very bare and bleak opening scene through a torture chamber (!) foreshadowed the 1971 ride version for Walt Disney World. (The torture chamber issue will be dealt more thoroughly on the Dungeons page).

There are also several other details in this first layout that can be seen inspiring for the later ride versions. However, no Snow White dark ride has ever tried to be as epic as this particular plan aimed for – with scenes like the Dwarfs marching on a fallen tree trunk above the vehicle, and an entire room with a forced perspective forest with miniature Dwarfs' cottage in the middle. Even though a "Happy Ending" scene has been built twice into the Snow White dark rides, neither version has captured the wonderful epic quality that this specific 1954 layout aimed for.

Why then such an amazing plan wasn't used? The many answers are some of the easiest to come up with. First of all, preliminary artwork is always preliminary. Changes can happen – and in this case, they happened extensively. Reasons can be found in budget, time, available space, differing opinions, Walt's many moods, and not forgetting a particularly nasty opening scene which the layout depicted. It is totally understandable that Walt chose an extended Diamond Mine scene instead of dark torture chamber for the first scene of the ride.

But why on earth was this particular plan published as a "teaser"? Easiest answer is that the final decisions had not yet been made on Snow White ride when the McCalls' article was prepared. This answer is supported by the fact that the double page spread also featured preliminary artwork for the Dumbo Flying Elephants and "Monstro the Whale" rides that were scrapped nearly entirely.

However, there's also another explanation. Several later Disney parks have been promoted with preliminary artwork, too – and in some cases, the promotional images have had very little to do with the end result offerings. The Walt Disney Productions' publicity department may have found already in 1954-55 very good use for the park's unused preliminary artwork. (For more recent examples of this kind of publicity, please visit the Dark Forest page).

Also the following Imagineers
have /
may have contributed to the creation
and development of the Snow White
dark rides (1955-1994)

Ub Iwerks (animatronics & mechanics)
Harriet Burns (three-dimensional realization)

Fred Joerger (three-dimensional realization)
Wathel Rogers (animatronics & mechanics)
Roger Broggie (animatronics & mechanics)
Bill Justice (animatronics & mechanics)
F. Xavier Atencio (script & show)
Bob Gurr (vehicle development)
Morgan "Bill" Evans (horticulture)
Sam McKim (conceptual art)
Richard F. Irvine (executive)
Bill Cottrell (executive)
John Hench (show producer)
Marvin Davis (architecture)
Marc Davis (character & conceptual art)
Buddy Baker (musical supervision)
Ward Kimball (script & show)
Bill Walsh (show producer)
James Algar (show producer)
Suzanne Rattigan (paint elevations)
Kim Irvine (paint elevations)
Brock Thoman (show producer)
Adolfo Procopio (sculptor)

Secret Laboratory
n o t - u p d a t e d - y e t

The KenNetti Tribute for Snow White's Scary Adventures strives for presenting at least some of the essence of the actual enchantment and atmosphere found in the Snow White dark rides. This is why most of our exclusively enhanced & expanded photos are not as glaringly revealing as most dark ride images on the internet. We ask you to notice, however, that some of these expanded and/or enhanced photos may not show things (sets, lighting and character design) exactly like they appear / or have appeared in the rides.

Most images and photos are specially processed for this KenNetti appearance. Originals can be found at the websites of the image providers or copyright holders. Whenever a provider or copyright holder other than Disney has been indicated in these images and photos, the originals have been used with permission in this KenNetti Snow White's Scary Adventures Tribute. KenNetti doesn't always have the exact source of the original images and photos provided by several different people, so these originals are usually copyrighted to the providers of the images.

Art by Ken Anderson
The Dwarfs at Work
"Beware the Witch" (Dopey's Sign)

Other Stuff
Early Ride Vehicle Sketch
Monster Trees ('83?) Sketch
The Mysterious '70s Snow White
Harriet Burns & 1971 "Revue" Dwarfs
From "Revue" to "Celebration" - Compare
Mickey Mouse Revue '71 - Snow White
Mickey Mouse Revue '71 - Dwarfs

Research, analyse, text,
design and image processing
by Kenneth Sundberg

All original artwork © Disney

Next Page

To Entrance Hall
(The Tribute's Main Index
and Full Credits)


KenNetti is a totally non-commercial website by Kenneth Sundberg to pay tribute and to honour the work of the talented people behind some of the most wonderful things found on this planet. All the material is gathered here only to inform, to promote things that need to be noticed, and to entertain people all over the world. KenNetti and Kenneth Sundberg are not affiliated to any of the companies, theme parks, movies, people, ghosts or other things appearing on this site. No rights of reproduction have been granted to KenNetti or Kenneth Sundberg, except where indicated. If You feel that some image or material whatsoever should not appear on this site, please CONTACT Kenneth Sundberg so that we can quickly resolve the problem.