We had the chance to meet Jeff Williams, Project Manager of the E.P.C.O.T "Progress City" model 2013 restoration. Here is this exclusive interview with Jeff, who restored with a lot passion this piece of E.P.C.O.T history with some pixie dust from Disney legends and from Walt Disney Imagineering...
- Can you just talk about your background and positions at Walt Disney Imagineering ?
At the time of the restoration, I was working as a Set Decorator in the Props Department at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI). It was my responsibility to plan and manage the project.
- What does the E.P.C.O.T model represents for you ?
The Progress City model really means a great deal to me. I was so excited to work on something that Walt himself had been personally involved in, and I feel that the spirit of the model (its message of progress and hope) is something that needs to be rekindled at WDI.
- What were the main challenges of the restoration ?
The biggest challenge on any project is funding. There is never enough money to do all the things we want to do. On the Progress City model, I had to pare down quite a few of the "extras" I had planned, and just stick to making it look good.
- What were the methods and material used during the restoration ?
The scope of the restoration project involved repairing the lighting systems and buildings, painting all of the ground cover, and replacing most of the cars, trees, and people. WDW Engineering Services hired an auto-detailer to come in and carefully clean the model, then I did an evaluation to determine what pieces might be salvaged and what might be replaced. We had a rotating crew of electricians from Buena Vista Construction Company working on the lights, Rebecca Carlton painted all of the terrain based on a blend of four or five colors I had selected, Brian Stuckey performed all of the repairs using plastics, cardstock, and foam (among other things), and I did all of the "prop" replacement (cars, trees, and people). There are about 1,500 new people, 400 new trees, and 100 new cars.
- How long was the process ?
While the restoration itself only took about five weeks, planning and coordination beforehand took several months. There was quite a bit of research to be done in order to make sure I was staying true to Walt's design intent. This meant watching all of the films that showcased E.P.C.O.T (the city), reading notes and memos from the project, and talking to people who were originally involved with the project. I was able to discuss some of the model-building techniques and hear stories about Walt's involvement from George Windrum. George was one of WED's model-makers, and is still living in Glendale. I also developed a friendship with Marty Sklar, who wrote and directed the E.P.C.O.T film and was Walt's "right-hand man" for many years.
- Are the Star Wars action figures still around ?
When I was first assigned to the restoration project, I made an appointment with Dave Ward to visit the model and talk about his involvement. Dave had been with WDW Decorating back in '03, and had done a "restoration" of his own. He is now with WDI, and very proudly showed me all of the Star Wars miniatures he had installed... and there were many, many more than anyone across the internet was ever aware. While, yes, it was funny, I don't believe it was appropriate to do that on Walt's model... especially since he didn't bother to clean or repair anything. He spent his budget on installing Star Wars figures and MicroMachine cars... that's it. I told him that I found that to be incredibly disrespectful to the history and heritage of the model and to the people who worked on it, not to mention Walt himself. I informed him that I would return all of his toys to him at the end of the project, and I did. I personally crawled through the model and removed each and every inappropriate toy, and placed them all in a cardboard box on Dave's desk.
- Did you have to make specific artistic choices for the restoration ?
There were many artistic choices to be made both during the planning and execution of the restoration. Firstly, any pieces that were planned to be repaired, but were no longer commercially available either had to be reproduced from scratch or replaced with something else. Also, replacing the trees and recoloring the ground meant a huge artistic change. When it came to the cars, I decided to pick styles of cars that would be true to the era in which the model was built, but also cars that had futuristic design elements in order to keep with the spirit of progress. I ended up using several '56 T-Birds in a variety of colors, as well as a few other similar models. Finally, there were the pieces that I wanted to completely change... namely the old railroad trains. In the original model, there were two railroad trains on old ground-level tracks running in and out of the city's core. Since the model now had no monorails encircling it, and railroads aren't exactly the "wave of the future", I consulted with Marty Sklar about replacing them. He was excited about the idea, and gave me permission to get rid of them, so I tore out all the old trains and track, and had Brian Stuckey construct a new, elevated system of monorail beams leading into the city. I then found an HO scale (1:87) monorail set similar to the Mark VI monorails used at WDW to install on the beams. I think they look great cruising over the new orange groves, too!
- What is the usual cycle for the model restoration ?
There is no "usual cycle" for the restoration. It was all we could do to get funding to do it this time. No one wants to claim ownership for the model, so it sits up there, ignored, until it looks so bad that someone has to do something about it. To my knowledge, in the 38 years it's been at Walt Disney World, it has only been touched twice.