Disneyland Staff Shop Cast Member
Steve Fink is a true "Mansionologist," having studied the Mansion's inner workings closely. He is also an emmy-award winning special effects artist (for The X-Files) who got his start animating Gumby and Pokey shorts and is currently working on feature films. Steve also had a stint with Disney's "Staff Shop," the department in charge of molds, sculpting and maintenance of the park environment. In the interview below, Steve shares some of the secrets he learned while working behind the scenes doing repair and maintenance in the Mansion. He's also proud of the work he did sculpting tombstones in the pet cemetery.
DoomBuggies.com: You obviously have a great love for the Haunted Mansion. How has this interest developed?
Steve Fink: I have always loved creepy movies and monsters and all. I visited Disneyland for the first time when I was seven, and was terrified with the Haunted Mansion, but instantly fascinated with Pirates. My interest led to a hobby of making props and monsters, which led to a career in the film industry doing the same. Now living in Southern California, I was able to go to Disneyland often, and I ended up going about once a month for a while. Sometimes I only really went there to ride the Mansion. I was obsessed! During a slow period (for work) in 1992 I decided to follow my passion and attempt to get hired on at Disneyland. With much good fortune, I got into the Mold Shop and eventually onto an outside maintenance crew for the mold (staff) shop. I've been through every ride in the park (at that time), and through the Mansion literally hundreds of times. While the ride was down for rehab, I could go in and just sit down somewhere and have lunch! I was there for a few years, then moved on when outside work was booming.
So you worked in Disneyland's "Staff Shop" for a number of years. First of all, what exactly is the "Staff Shop?"
The Staff Shop is, first and foremost, the mold and sculpture department at Disneyland. When not actively involved with molds, the department must stay "in business," so they would bid on various other jobs to keep things running, like manufacturing all the different bumpers, handles, roll bars, and some of the seats in the ride vehicles, plus any plexiglass in the park, any fiberglass, drywall, tile, concrete, certain hot melt skins, character heads repair, non-skid surfacing... just about all of the odd stuff like that is now done by the Staff Shop. It can be a nice variety, but replacing broken tile behind a toilet somewhere is something I'd rather do without. The attractions which I remember needing the most work were the boats for Pirates, replacing bumpers and such; Splash Mountain log bumpers and seats; Matterhorn caverns (a big rehab a couple times a year); and a lot of stuff all over Toon Town. But there was (and is) work all over the park. I think I've worked, at one time or another, on almost every attraction at the park.
So how did the Staff Shop fit into the Mansion's maintenance plans?
You know, the Haunted Mansion seemed to be one of the few attractions that rarely needed much maintenance attention from the Staff Shop. Even when it did, it was usually only for minor case-by-case things like non-skid "carbo-gritting" a backstage access walkway or something generally un-creative. Once, in 1995 during an annual rehab, it was decided to add to the outside queue line, so the new (overdone) pet cemetery was installed. I was actually involved with that a little. I did a little (greenfoam) carving on some of the tombstones, and helped install a few of them.
But regarding the "annual rehab:" The (usually) annual rehab for the Haunted Mansion took place for about four or five weeks, usually around the months of September - October (I always thought it was strange to have the Mansion closed around Halloween time!...). This gave all the various departments easy access to the attraction for full days at a time, if need be. The list of work which was scheduled to be done was made by the area supervisors and attraction "lead." So, whichever department was scheduled to do maintenance on those lists was who went in during those times. All of the attractions generally work this way. But that's not the only time maintenance can be done, just the easiest. Otherwise, a department receives work orders (called S.W.R's ... Specific Work Request) for specific "fix it" problems, and eventually dispatches a small crew to make repairs after the park closes... unless it is a big problem and forces an attraction to go "101" (an immediate temporary closure during an operating day), in which case there's no time for an S.W.R. Area supervisors immediately contact the departments needed to bring the attraction back up (code "104"), and a crew is deployed. The way the budget works around there, when an attraction has to be closed like this, those departments who have to come out to fix their particular problem basically have to pay for the time that it's down... kind of as if "this is the type of work your department does, so if it needs fixing, it's your fault, so you have to pay for it." And the dollar amount per minute that the ride is down is quite high, especially if you're talking about one of the big rides like Pirates or Mansion. The cost would certainly be several thousand dollars, even for a short period of time. That money comes out of each particular area's budget, so it can ultimately lead to eventual layoffs if it becomes a common occurrence!
I understand that you've spent lots of energy studying the Mansion. What can you tell us about the original artwork that decorates the walls of the Haunted Mansion?
To my knowledge, Marc Davis created all of the original 2-D art inside the Mansion. Which includes the stretching portraits, the changing portraits, and earlier versions of the changing portraits. Supposedly, he did not paint the "dueling portraits" in the Grand Hall, though. Some of Marc Davis' original paintings were used and some weren't. The final changing portraits we see today were designed by Marc Davis, then repainted by another artist, and then used. The stretching portraits get changed every year or so, but for the longest time (several years) the actual original Marc Davis stretching portraits were used in that scene! They're old now, but still in excellent shape; stored in the archives... They pulled them out of the attraction before they were destroyed. The originals were painted in oil, but the subsequent ones are in acrylic.
As for other art in the Mansion: the full body "Hatchet Ghost" in the "corridor of doors" was an original concept of Marc Davis that was finally painted by Joe Denton and installed in the attraction in the mid-seventies. By the way, in "Pirates:" Did you know that that painting of the pirate girl above the piano (near the drunken skeletons) is an original Marc Davis? I checked it out personally! (Ed.note: Since this interview was published, the Marc Davis original in "Pirates" has been replaced with a reproduction.)
Who might your favorite Haunted Mansion character be?
The "Hatbox Ghost." Yes, he's my favorite character. I can tell you much about this figure, but it is best summed up by Tony Baxter of Imagineering, in the back of issue # 18, of The "E" Ticket. By the way, the head of the "Hatbox Ghost" is used as a pop-up head in two locations of the graveyard to this day... The very first head (in front of the spooky musicians), and the last head (in front of the self-bricking crypt). It is redressed horribly, but I guarantee that that's him!
So when the Mansion does undergo a "rehab," what might generally be done? Are there "back-ups" of the various props, in case they're needed?
Well, to attempt to reply to your question about the prop backlog: I can't give you a definite answer, but maybe a likely one, anyway... The only things that get replaced on a regular basis in the Mansion, now, are the stretching portraits... about every year or so. I asked a guy in the facilities "sign shop" (which is where they do that kind of stuff) once how they retain accuracy when they replace these types of things and he told me that they have volumes of binders full of color photos of the very first, original paintings; and accompanying them are color swatches of all the paints (colors) used, and a kind of "paint by numbers" tracing of the pieces to use when blocking out the general forms. But I've never actually seen any of these binders. Sometimes they have to replace the urethane rubber "breathing" door, in the hallway; but not as often as the portraits. As far as things like the bronze plaque nameplate at the entrance to the queue, I'm sure there are master copies over at WDI, and probably a master mold, too. Even for things like the door handles and door knockers. But I doubt they have a stockpile of anything like that. The portraits in the "Corridor of Doors" are actual photographs of charcters created at WDI. The corpse portraits in the "Corridor of Doors" are actual photos of dressed up figures. They have negatives for that stuff.
In some cases, after an original piece was created, no functional mold existed. So, if it broke, or if they needed a duplicate, for whatever reason, we, the Staff (mold) Shop had to take the existing part and make sure it was fixed up enough to mold, and we'd make the actual mold ourselves. This happened A LOT for Toon Town, for instance. Most of that stuff was original... meaning it was carved out of green foam, coated with fiberglass and sanded, painted and installed (any way they could install it... which was usually kind of permanent, so removing it to fix was extremely difficult). Whenever we had to pour new hot melt skins for figures, such as elephants and the like, we'd have to "order" the molds from the WDI mold storage facility (up in the San Fernando Valley) weeks in advance, and have them shipped down. Most of those molds are still the originals... 30+ years old, and they look it... all cracked up, funky casting plaster molds. The way things went, we received an order for parts and then made them as needed. So, overall, I guess that is probably your answer.
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