According to Marty Sklar, former vice chairman and principal creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering, Walt had developed a walk-through pirates concept, and workers had already put in the steel for the modest attraction when the New York World's Fair made him rethink his plans. The 1964-65 fair featured four Disney projects, including It's a Small World. That attraction's runaway success and ability to move enormous numbers of guests through the experience motivated Walt to incorporate a similar ride system for Pirates. Besides, the boats worked well with the theme, and they allowed the story to unfold in a more controlled and linear fashion.
Another World's Fair attraction, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, moved audio-animatronics (Disney's name for its robotic characters) to another level. The president's realism engaged--even startled--audiences. Sklar says that Walt shot down Imagineers that wanted to create cartoon pirates and instead asked them to go for Lincoln's more natural look. "Walt had a belief in animatronic characters. He said, 'This is all about breathing life into these characters.' "
The fire was a little too realisticIt took a lot of Imagineers to breathe life into the Pirates. Once they completed the storyboards, the Disney team built miniature sets. Walt himself then cast and staged the animatronic performers by hiring 120 actors to serve as models. The Imagineers filmed the models acting out their scenes to use as a reference. They also took plaster casts of the models to design the animatronic characters
Blaine Gibson, an artist and sculptor with a background in animation, was in charge of developing the characters. "He had a total understanding about animatronics," Sklar says. "(Blaine) realized he only had a couple of seconds to communicate what a character is about. He made them slightly exaggerated. It's that subtle presentation that makes the attraction work."
Sklar says that he had a hand, albeit a small one, in designing Pirates. He worked with another noted Disney Imagineer, X. Atencio, in recording the narration. Atencio wrote the script, including the now-famous "Yo Ho" song lyrics.
Special effects master Yale Gracey created Pirates' fire scene. Sklar says that it was so realistic, the city of Anaheim didn't want to approve it at first. "They were afraid people would panic," he laughs. "We had to convince them it wasn't real."
Next page: Pirates Was a Bit of a Stretch