Disney's Backlot Underwater Tank

Okay, I’ll let you guess where this underwater photograph was taken. If you said, Disneyland, you’d be wrong. While this shot clearly looks like it was taken on a Disney attraction such as an undersea ride, I was nowhere near the park when I garnered this colorful shot. Believe it or not this photograph was taken on the backlot of the Walt Disney Studio.

It was the late fifties and if you know your Disney timeline you’ll know that we were just wrapping up the feature animated film, “Sleeping Beauty.” There’s a dearth of candid shots of that era because few people ever brought a camera to work. Very few people seemed to have an interest in photography and cameras were hardly encouraged in motion picture studios of that era anyway. Today, anyone can easily sneek a smartphone into a soundstage and not be spotted by security or a member of the crew. Such was not the case back in the days where even a 35mm camera was still pretty bulky and difficult to hide. I began by bringing my Polaroid Land Camera into the animation department because I could shoot black&white photos in very low light levels. In time, I purchase a small 35mm camera and I began to shoot in color. Kodak had begun selling a much faster film along with their standard Kodachrome. The faster film had a bit more grain, however, it did allow me to finally shoot color photographs in Disney’s animation department. I avoided shooting with a flash because I hated the way it tended to “flatten” the image.

As we wrapped production on “Sleeping Beauty,” a group of workmen began excavating the Disney back lot. Were they building a swimming pool, we wondered? No, the small space would eventually become a small pool where Disney special underwater effects could be tested. Should you be checking things out, you didn’t even have to go into the water. A area below grade, was ajacend to the pool. A large sheet of glass enabled the imagineers an underwater view without even going underwater. And, that’s how I got this particular shot. I simply walked down the stairs of the tank to gain this underwater view. The Imagineers would swap out various underwater props and environments to see how they would appear to the visitors enjoying the theme park ride. Keep in mind, the Disney Imagineers were always tweaking the Disneyland theme park attractions. Walt Disney was never satisfied and always wanted to make things better at his theme park. The Old Maestro was determined to give his guests the finest entertainment experience possible.

Now, you know how this particular underwater photograph was taken. I must confess the image still looks darn good considering this photograph was taken over sixty years ago. It was a very special time at Walt Disney’s magical company with much in store for all of us. In the next decade, Walt Disney would create several more animated masterpieces, participate in the New York City World’s Fair and plan a new theme park in Orlando Florida. 1960 was only months away, and all of us kids couldn’t wait to see what the new decade had in store for all of us.

 Believe it or not I'm underwater on the Walt Disney Studio backlot. Yes, Walt built a pool to test his underwater attractions back in the late fifties.

Believe it or not I'm underwater on the Walt Disney Studio backlot. Yes, Walt built a pool to test his underwater attractions back in the late fifties.