This Disney Alumnus is an Oscar Winner
by Mark Eades
If you’ve seen the Disney Park attractions Magic Journeys, Captain EO, or Honey, I Shrunk the Audience; you’ve seen his work. The same goes for many of the films that debuted at EPCOT Center on its opening day in October 1982. Even several shows at Universal Studios, such as T2-3D or the current King Kong 360 3-D on the backlot tour, bear his touch. Who is he? He’s Peter Anderson, and he’s a Disney Alumni.
This year, 2014, Peter received the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, an honorary Oscar, in recognition of his work. Given by the Academy’s Board of Governors, it honors “technological contributions that have brought credit to the industry.”
But Peter is no technician. He’s a cinematographer (billed as director of photography in film credits), a special visual effects supervisor from the era when they were done with miniatures, blue screen, and optical printers, and 3D film expert. “It makes me proud of all I have accomplished,” Peter said about receiving the award.
One of the first films Peter worked on was "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," for which he filmed models. From there he was hired to work on visual effects for The China Syndrome. Noticed by executives at Universal Studios, he was soon hired as the Visual Effects Supervisor on the television shows Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica. He also did the same for the theatrical release The Concorde…Airport ’79.
Then Disney called.
As planned, EPCOT Center was going to break new ground in the use of film and new film formats. Some of the new formats were in the Universe of Energy, while others would utilize film in innovative ways, as in American Adventure. Even more ambitious was the 3D film planned for the Imagination Pavilion, Magic Journeys. Leadership for those films was going to come from Disney’s special photo effects team in the department known as the Process Lab, located at the north end of the building complex that housed Ink and Paint, Animation Camera, and Cutting.
When the head of the department, Visual Effects Supervisor and Oscar winner Art Cruikshank became critically ill during development of EPCOT Center, Disney made an agreement with Universal Studios to loan them Peter, who was still working on Battlestar Galactica and other Universal effects oriented television and film projects.
Peter ended up helping design the camera rigs used in the filming of Magic Journeys, which became a standard in live action 3D cinematography. He also helped with the design of the unique 70mm 3-camera rig used in the filming of live action for the Universe of Energy. In fact, Peter was involved in nearly every film that debuted at EPCOT Center on opening day, as the entire project was pushing the film envelope throughout the park.
In American Adventure, the 70mm film is sometimes the backdrop for the stage show, and at other times it is the main part of the show. But it is projected in a way that had never been done before, on a huge rear-projected screen. Accomplishing this presented some unique challenges, including calculating the math for a specially made lens that would provide an even lighting field across the wide, nearly 80-foot expanse. It also meant taking information about how fast the sets in the show would move up and down, so that the filmed backdrops could match the scene. Those scenes were shot using Disney’s computer controlled ACES (Automated Camera Effects System) camera, also used in shooting the special effects for The Black Hole.
Meanwhile, on Magic Journeys it meant combining a wide variety of live action shots to make the child, whose journey the story is centered around, look like he’s a giant behind a circus ring full of clowns; or helping to create groundbreaking (at the time) computer animated scenes of a large human eye, or lightning extending from a witch’s hands. “We had all kinds of people doing amazing things for EPCOT,” Peter said.
After EPCOT opened, Peter worked on several other Disney projects, including American Journeys, Captain EO, Muppet*Vision 3D and more. Recently, Peter was involved in the King Kong 360 3D experience at Universal Studios in California. He worked out the layout that ended up using 16 digital projectors that run at 60 frames per second, projecting onto two 285-foot long screens to make it seem to tram riders that they are in the middle of the action as King Kong battles a dinosaur.
Of all those films and theme park projects, Peter said he enjoyed working on the 3D film Magic Journeys the best. “At that time no one thought we could make that film and we ended up doing it,” he said. For this particular Alumni Club member, Disney life has been about making theme park film history.
Editor's note: Mark Eades, the author of this article, was the post-production supervisor for all the film efforts for the EPCOT Center project at Walt Disney Productions, which was producing all the films for the theme park.
This profile is part of a series featuring former Disney Cast Members being written for the Disneyland Alumni Club. These stories reveal the role working for Disney has played over the years in shaping the lives of the people who help "make the dream a reality," as Walt would say.
In honor of the 60th anniversary year of Disneyland in 2015, the Disneyland Alumni Club is reaching out to former employees, whether retired or younger, who may not be aware of the organization. The Club was started in 1983 by Disneyland executives Van France and Dick Nunis as a way to help Cast Members stay in touch after moving on to other careers. Is that you? If so and you'd like to take part in the Club's private celebration next August—or participate in their many other activities and benefits, please visit www.disneylandalumni.org and join today.
Here are some previous stories about Disneyland Alumni:
This article and photographs are copyright 2014 by Mark Eades, all rights reserved. Used by permission. Photographs supplied by subjects are used by permission, all rights reserved.