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'Behind the Attraction' director: Disney parks are 'the nuts and bolts of magic'

It's a Small World is profiled in the Disney+ series Behind the Attraction. Photo courtesy of Disney
"It's a Small World" is profiled in the Disney+ series "Behind the Attraction." Photo courtesy of Disney

LOS ANGELES, July 20 (UPI) -- Behind the Attraction director Brian Volk-Weiss said the Disney+ docuseries, which launches Wednesday, shows how Disney Imagineers make magic within their theme parks.

"It's the nuts and bolts of magic," Volk-Weiss told UPI in a phone interview. "You see the Imagineers doing what they do, and you're like, 'Oh, this is the closest I'll ever be to magic.'"

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Volk-Weiss previously created the Netflix series The Toys That Made Us and The Movies That Made Us. Behind the Attraction Season 1 includes 10 episodes, each chronicling the development of a specific Disneyland or Disney World attraction.

The Walt Disney Co. calls the designers of their attractions Imagineers, a combination of imagination and engineer. Volk-Weiss said the Imagineers behind Star Tours, It's a Small World, Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror and more make magic by crafting immersive experiences.

In Star Tours, park guests enter a spacecraft and fly around the Star Wars universe, as the motion simulator shakes the ship in sync with a movie playing on the front screen. The Behind the Attraction episode of Star Tours shows how Imagineers adapted a military grade hydraulic flight simulator to simulate space flight.

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"It was more advanced than anything else that existed on the planet by far at its time," Volk-Weiss said. "Three or four Imagineers flew to England, got off the plane, went to this warehouse near the airport and tried the simulator because they had heard about how crazy it was."

An episode on the Hall of Presidents profiles the development of the animatronic Abraham Lincoln robot that speaks the Gettysburg Address. Imagineers in the '60s had to troubleshoot many glitches just to get Lincoln to stand up and speak.

Volk-Weiss said his team saw the new Spider-Man robot for the Avengers Campus stunt show more than a year before Imagineers unveiled it in June. Volk-Weiss said the leap in technology from Lincoln standing up to Spider-Man swinging from a crane rendered him speechless.

"Imagine seeing that in a warehouse, not knowing what you're going to be seeing until you're looking at it," Volk-Weiss said. "Nobody was talking. We literally couldn't believe what we saw."

The magic extended beyond the rides themselves. In researching Disneyland trams, trains and monorails, and the nearby hotels, Volk-Weiss said he discovered magic in surprising places.

"I didn't wake up when the show was greenlit and say, 'Woo, I want to do an episode about Disney hotels,'" Volk-Weiss said. "If people like this show, hopefully they'll trust us and try these episodes out."

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For example, the Trams, Trains and Monorails episode includes the Disneyland train, whose steam engines create a unique smell for riders. Walt Disney asked Matterhorn and Autopia Imagineer Bob Gurr to design the Tomorrowland monorail, the first monorail in the United States.

Much of the magic is the work of people park guests never see, Volk-Weiss said. While producing the series, he was able to witness what keeps Disneyland and Disney World running after-hours.

Volk-Weiss and his team took a third-shift tour to see how the parks work from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. That includes crews preparing them to close between 10 p.m. and midnight, and preparing to open between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.

"There are 12 people whose full time job is to go over one attraction every night to make sure it's safe for the next day," Volk-Weiss said. "If anybody knew how this actually works, nobody would believe it."

Many of the episodes show how Disney attractions evolve over time. Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror became Guardians of the Galaxy -- Mission: Breakout and Space Mountain had a Tron overhaul after 2010's Tron: Legacy came out.

Volk-Weiss said that a magical bond forms when kids experience a memorable theme park attraction. For Volk-Weiss, it was his grandfather taking him on Mission to Mars before it closed in 1992.

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"No matter how the technology changes, no matter what the sign out front says it is, it's the emotional connection you have to the attraction," Volk-Weiss said. "That's what you have with you your whole life."

Behind the Attraction premieres Wednesday on Disney+.

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