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DIMENSIONAL COLLECTIONS

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When The Walt Disney Studios closed its wardrobe and prop department in 2006, the Walt Disney Archives spent months reviewing its collection of nearly 15,000 costumes, props, models, and set decorations. Many of the items no longer bore labels, but the archivists’ familiarity with every Disney film and project enabled them to identify for preservation key assets with historical value. As the Archives expanded its dimensional collection, Disney Parks and Resorts from around the globe began offering items from their own holding areas for long-term historical preservation.

Today, the Walt Disney Archives manages six main dimensional storage facilities, with catalog records documenting more than 100,000 individual objects. These include framed artwork, glass matte and background paintings from animated and live-action films dating from the late 1920s through the 1990s, merchandise items, and Audio-Animatronics® figures and ride vehicles from beloved Disney Parks attractions. There are props and set décor from films, attractions, and Company special events and television shows, along with a fleet of iconic motion picture vehicles. These historical objects range in size––they can be as small as lapel pins and eyeglasses, and as big as Herbie, the Love Bug! We even have an imposing Abominable Snowman from Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction, and a 26’ long, 23’ tall filming model of the Black Pearl from the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Fragile original props and models are often placed in custom enclosures made of archival-safe materials to protect them from damage and to help safely transport them between department and exhibit sites.

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There are nearly 6,500 catalogued costumes, most with multiple pieces (such as hats, gloves, scarves, pants, jackets, shoes and boots, and jewelry). Costumes are carefully hung in muslin costume bags, or tucked in acid-fee boxes. When preparing costumes for exhibitions like this one, we reference special wardrobe books from the films to make sure the presentation accurately reflects the costumes as they appeared on screen. If necessary, we even consult with the original costume designer for additional guidance. The oldest costumes in our collections are for Snow White (over 80 years old) and Pinocchio (over 70 years old), used during production for live-action reference.

The Walt Disney Archives is thrilled to share with you a stellar sampling of some of our favorites from our dimensional collection of historic props, costumes, and memorabilia. 

Prop and Set Décor Collection

The process of acquiring props and set décor by the Walt Disney Archives usually begins with the acquisition of said material directly from a television, film, or theatrical production as soon as it wraps. Props are defined as any object handled by talent and seen on screen in both television and film productions. They can be as simple as a pencil or as intricate as a hand-crafted weapon. Set décor is anything used to “dress” a created space – from furniture and paintings to architectural details – all types of decorative and functional objects can be used, and viewed, in this way. Props and set décor are sometimes sourced from previous and existing objects or created by amazing craftsman hired to help shape the world being presented on screen. The Archives selects props and set décor to bring into the collection with the idea that they are only to choose the most significant and important pieces that are crucial to the plot of the story, to a character arc’s, a nod to a previous adaptation of the work, or a beautiful creation that is unique and identifiable to the world of the story. Once an object has been selected, the Archives catalogs, records the object’s conditions, measures, and packs it away for storage until it is called upon for study or exhibit use. When needed, it is then pulled out from storage and condition re-assessed. If there are any usage concerns with the material in question, a conservator is sometimes contacted for their expertise on the best way to display, handle and preserve the object. Archival and historical objects can be shown in museums, for publicity events, within books, on television and in film, and for research. Even though the practical use of the object’s life has ended, it begins an all new one in the Archives as a piece of history that brings and keeps awareness in the public’s eye for the studio’s past film and television projects.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Chronosphere

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Nikki Nguyen
Archival Collections Manager


Although this intricate gold sphere is small in size, it served an important role in Alice through the Looking Glass (2016).  This prop is the Chronosphere – the source that fuels the Grand Clock of All Time. Through its power, Alice is able to return to the past to try to save her friend the Hatter before time runs out. When I first cataloged this item for our records I was so excited to see the exquisite detail, with astrometric symbols and inner layers that move independently.  I was also delighted to discover that there are multiple versions of this prop: the one on display in this exhibit, and others made from various materials with different levels of detail. It is not uncommon for multiple versions of a prop to be made for production - one of heavier materials or more intricate parts that is often used for close-up shots, and some that are lighter and less fragile so they can be more easily handled by actors. 

Costume Collection

New additions to the costume collection begins with an archivist viewing Disney produced movies and television shows, and creating a list of the most desired costume elements to add to the collection. The costume designers and their team create these costumes to explore the evolution of the characters’ journey throughout the film or television show. The archivist will choose costumes worn by main and supporting characters. Once a costume is selected, the list will be given to the production asset manager and it will either be delivered to the Archives, or the Archives staff will go and bring it back themselves. The costume is then cataloged, its condition is assessed, and the finally stored away in one of the Archives’ storage facilities where it can be called upon in the future. Museums, marketing departments, researchers and even future productions are usually interested in borrowing or looking at these costumes. When the costume is pulled from storage, the costume’s condition is reassessed and if there is any significant damage, either structurally or aesthetically, the costume can be sent out to a textile conservator to be expertly repaired or stabilized. Once the costume is deemed to be structurally sound and in good condition it will then be placed on display or shown for research.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Rocketeer

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Chris Rexroad
Associate Curator


The Rocketeer (1991) starring Bill Campbell and Jennifer Connelly, has always been one of my favorite Disney films due to its sense of adventure and exploration, with a bit of comedy sprinkled throughout. Ten variations of the title character’s rocket pack exist within the Walt Disney Archives collection, including one that produces real flames. Two of these are fabricated from metal, while and the eight other rocket packs are crafted from plastic, rubber, or fiberglass.   While none of these can actually propel you through the sky, they are aesthetically stunning next to the more functional versions produced by engineers and inventors of the mid 20th century – themselves the inspiration for the design you see here today.

Parks and Resorts Collection

The parks and resorts collection is comprised of props, costumes, merchandise, ephemera, and set pieces from Disney Parks and Resorts around the world. When an attraction, entertainment offering, Disney cruise ship, or an entire themed land is slated to change, one of the department’s archivists will visit the site to survey what can be preserved in the Archives based on current acquisition policy. The archivist also takes into consideration the size and number of objects to bring in to the collection, keeping in mind available storage space. The archivist will choose items such as attraction vehicles, costumes worn by performers or Audio-Animatronics® figures, and signage.  Items like these will then be transported to the Archives’ storage facility where they will be kept until they are requested for use. The pieces are cataloged and their condition reported – noting any damage on the object – and placed in custom made boxes and crates.

DID YOU KNOW?

Haunted Mansion

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Kimi Thompson
Specialist, Operations & Programs


Storytelling is one of the most important elements to consider when creating books, television shows, films, and even Disney Park attractions. Before I started working at the Walt Disney Archives I was a Tour Guide at Disneyland, and would often talk about the history of the park and the stories about how the attractions were designed.

When the Haunted Mansion was being created for Disneyland, Walt Disney asked Imagineer known as X Atencio to help write a storyline for the attraction. He even wrote the now-famous lyrics to the iconic theme song “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” As a fun homage to the Imagineers who helped create the Haunted Mansion, X wrote the epitaphs on all the tombstones outside in the queue area – including one for himself that uses his full name: Francis Xavier Atencio.

When the attraction later opened in the Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort, the tombstones were again created using the same molds as their Disneyland counterparts. Years later, the original fiberglass tombstones were replaced with real stone versions—leaving the original tombstones to be proudly preserved by the Walt Disney Archives.

Vehicles Collection

Flying cars, carriages, and futuristic light cycles are just a few examples of the impressive collection of vehicles under the care of the Walt Disney Archives.  Many of these conveyances are just as famous ––if not more!–– as the actors and stunt performers who drive them or the productions they appear in. For most film and television projects, the archivist would make their selections for what should be archived based on production availability and narrative importance. Vehicles are typically delivered to the Archives’ storage facility where they are cataloged and inspected. At this point, it is important to see what degradation has occurred due to time and production use – the Archives staff will assess if further action needs to be taken to stabilize, or repair the vehicle. When requested for exhibition, either in a museum or for a marketing and publicity event, vehicles will also get a new condition report. Occasionally, an automotive expert will be called upon for their expertise if any repair or stabilizing work needs to be completed before the vehicle is loaned out for display. Sometimes referred to as “picture cars,” these historical vehicles are some of the largest, and most complex, holdings in the Archives’ collection.

DID YOU KNOW?

Bicycle Piano

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Rick Lorentz
Acquisitions Manager


Some of the most memorable assets in the Walt Disney Archives are those that come from unexpected places.

In October 2018, the Archives received an email from a granddaughter of Disney Legend Ed Wynn. She owned a unique invention of her grandfather’s – a bicycle piano! She was looking for a permanent home for the piece and thought that the Walt Disney Archives was the perfect spot. Walt Disney always considered Ed Wynn a personal friend and an important part of the film studio’s history.

Ed had designed this one-of-kind traveling instrument for use in many of his public performances. One of those appearances included a 1962 episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. The show was recorded live at the Golden Horseshoe in Disneyland Park. Being a well-known Disney actor, Ed Wynn brought his special kind of humor – and his bicycle piano - to the broadcast episode. Appearing with the seasoned vaudevillian was the talented Disney Legend, Betty Taylor. Ed rode the bicycle and played, while Betty sang. Together, they performed the nostalgic “Tea For Two.”

With its appearance in “The Golden Horseshoe Revue”, the clever thespian’s and his piano bicycle became one of the few Archives assets to represent three distinct Disney mediums at the same time – film, television and parks!

©DISNEY

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