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Attraction History

Origin

The Tower of Terror has its origins 3000 miles away in Paris. Part of the original plans for Disneyland Paris was Geyser Mountain in Frontierland - just past Phantom Manor, next to the geyser that exists today (the only part actually built.) This would have been a mine train ride through a mountain, with a geyser bursting out from the tracks and catching your train from below... then pushing it up a chasm and out of the top of the mountain - and dropping you back down onto the tracks. The water jets would have hidden an elaborate free fall mechanism. Sound familiar?

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This attraction never got off the planning stage, but the idea stayed in Paris. Discovery Mountain was to be built soon after DLP opened in April 1992, being twice as large as the present Space Mountain. As well as housing the space rollercoaster, there was to be a Journey to the Center of the Earth attraction (all based on Jules Verne.) This was way before the DisneySea version (or indeed the MGM tram tour version) and had a free fall ride vehicle. At least 2 versions of this were looked at - one had a vehicle with a `drill` underneath it to plunge straight down into the floor (volcano), the other was a more elaborate steel rig where the ride would either start or finish with the passenger vehicle on its side in a curved spur off of the main drop shaft. Due to DLP`s financial issues, Discovery Mountain was shrunk into Space Mountain, and so the idea was mothballed again.

About this time (1990-1) TWDC were looking to expand the over popular studios. The Disney-MGM Studios was built as a half park a) to beat Universal and b) due to EPCOT Centers doubling of budget. The first major expansion was Sunset Blvd (to compliment Hollywood Blvd) and to add some much needed D or E rides to the park, and even out traffic flow away from the relative excitement of The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Star Tours and Muppetvision 3D.

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Sunset Blvd concept art.

All early plans for Sunsets attractions were scrapped - Mickeys Movieland was pretty much covered in the Animation tour, Roger Rabbits Hollywood was embroiled in copyright issues, and Dick Tracey had flopped at the cinema (plus the Crime stoppers attraction was scrapped since Eisner didn`t want guests shooting guns at `real` targets in the parks - how things change with Buzz Lightyear!!). What was needed was a major E Ride, and preferably one to act as a weenie, to move guests past (and through) the shops of Sunset. Space was reserved for future attractions on Sunset (Rock 'n Roller Coaster`s plot, Fantasmic!'s plot, the third plot between these two and the Farmers Market area - always planned to be a temporary structure.) Until these spaces were filled, the Disney-MGM Studios needed a must see at the end of Sunset. And out of the archives came the free fall ride.

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Construction of Sunset.

Early Development

Often Imagineers will bring into a team their ideas from other projects that were not implemented so ideas from Geyser Mountain as well as other Disneyland Paris projects found their way to the Studios when Marty Skylar, Head of Disney Imagineering told Disney Imagineer C. McNair Wilson to put a team together of his favorite people to talk about a new project.

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Mel Brooks

In the fall of 1989, Mel Brooks, Michael Eisner, Marty Skylar, C. McNair Wilson and the rest of the Imagineering group met together. The meeting was the beginning of an attempt by Eisner to bring Mel Brooks over to Disney to produce his films at the then brand new Disney-MGM Studios because he knew Mel and Mel's son Max were huge Disneyland fans and a joint collaboration between Brooks and Disney would be a good starting point for working together. Mel initially had to be sold on the idea of a theme park attraction after being explained that a theme park attraction has a lasting effect of being in place and seen every day of the week by about 20,000 people for anywhere from 10-20 years. Mel Brooks made about six trips to Imagineering and a number of telephone calls to work on the attraction. Disney Imagineers wanted to shoot for something scary and funny with Mel Brooks and at one point in the early development with Mel Brooks, what later became the Tower of Terror started out as "Castle Young Frankenstein" which would have featured a Bavarian village with winding streets to the castle with a drawbridge. The queue line would be towards the back of the "village" with a kind of indoor line that had the feel of Pirates of the Caribbean in the Magic Kingdom. The idea later changed to "Mel Brooks' Hollywood Horror Hotel".

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Disney Imagineer C. McNair Wilson

This idea lead to another idea of the Hollywood Hotel having one end being covered in ivy and had broken windows and was falling apart and when you went into the hotel, if you went down the hall to that section, it would say "closed" or "condemned" and that part would be the Hollywood Horror Hotel (The Mel Brooks attraction project commonly referred to by the Disney Imagineers as "Hotel Mel") so that it was literally two buildings but it would look like it was one large building. In fact, if you look at the Tower of Terror today, the backend looks like it could be extended to attach to another building right along side it.

Some other ideas were tossed around, including an idea by the Kirk brothers (Tim and Steve Kirk were brothers who worked for Disney Imagineering) to have the hotel/attraction hybrid be self-contained and when you arrived at the Orlando Airport, you would be driven to the hotel in a 1938 Ford "Woody" station wagon and the curtains would be pulled down and you would be driven out to one location and be transported by another means of transportation somewhere else. Another idea to incorporate Mel Brooks into the Studios was to do a "comedy Haunted Mansion" that would feature Castle Young Frankenstein on the same grounds in case the elevator based attraction was scrapped.

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Concept Art for the Tower of Terror

Mel Brooks eventually left the project at the time Disney Imagineers had some firm ideas and brought in an idea to have a moving elevator off it's track and moving down hallways and crash out one side of the building and they had architects and engineers brought onto the project and Mel lost interest partially because Disney wasn't building on Mel's original idea anymore and partially because Mel went off to make the movie "Life Stinks".

Once Mel Brooks had left, Imagineers started to figure out what the new attraction would look like and budgets and so forth and played with it some more and with Mel leaving, Imagineers started leaning toward that Spanish-Renaissance/Riverside Mission Inn "look" because of the great architecture and because it would fit in with the eclectic store fronts on Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards. Disney felt the attraction needed a movie reference and eventually settled on the Twilight Zone theme after calling around and see what movie rights were available. In fact, the idea of a Twilight Zone attraction was tossed around for one of the opening day attractions at the Disney-MGM Studios at one of the attractions that featured multiple movie and television brands such as the Great Movie Ride and Superstar TV. The Twilight Zone theme was a fairly easy overlay for the Disney Imagineers and went through all the Twilight Zone episodes to pick elements from the series although the theme did not change the attraction much. The one element that was lost in all of this was the comedy aspect to it that Mel Brooks had wanted but with Mel gone, Imagineers focused on the eeriness and thrill of the attraction with a Twilight Zone theme to it.

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Concept Art for the Tower of Terror.

One of the initial ideas for the Tower of Terror attraction was incorporating Disney Cast Members who would be dressed as different members of the hotel staff, such as a hotel manager, desk clerk and of course bellhops and each would have something about them that was just a little bit off. One idea along those lines involved having bellhops walking through the line with arms full of luggage asking guests if anyone wants to check their luggage or telling a random guest "Mr. Eisner, you car is ready!". Another idea was to have a bench near the queue with a man sitting down, hunched over with a newspaper in his lap and cobwebs between him and the newspaper and he would slightly move his head to the left and right and when he would sense a guest starring at him, he would "come to life", revealing he is a live actor and start conversing with the guest. There was another idea of having audio-animatronics including a elevator repair man sleeping in the boiler room. But this and other ideas were eventually scrapped because they slowed the line down too much, also because the line barely was in the lobby where the theme and a bellhop would make the most sense and because Operations didn't want to commit more people than were necessary to make the attraction work and a hotel staff member carrying room service around wasn't viewed as necessary.

Design

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Concept Art for the Tower of Terror & Sunset Blvd

One problem - how can this fit into the Disney-MGM Studios? No volcanoes or Jules Verne in 1940, no western geysers.... it needs to be a TV or movie theme to tie in with the park. How about a hollywood hotel? A ghost train? Haunted House? The Twilight Zone? Aha! As the ideas started to come together, the plot revolved around a studio wrap party in a modern day hotel, where the owner started to kill the guests. Management knocked this back straight away due to the murder storyline. Next up was a narrated by Vincent Price (who had just recorded the original Disneyland Paris Phantom Manor narration.) with a part walk through, part ride about a group of movie stars staying in a hotel and who disappeared during a storm. As the walk through progressed, clues would tell the story bit by bit, until you enter an elevator and what happened becomes all to obvious - and its too late to get out.

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Eisner liked this story, but wanted the guests to be more involved. And so the Twilight Zone theme was worked in, with guests starring in their own `lost` episode (after all, this is a movie park.) The ride through portion of the attraction became the queue area - hence its great theming and little clues all around - and the boiler room holding area. Twilight Zone themes were worked into the attraction, but it became apparent the original free fall ride vehicle would have to do a lot more. Disney initially involved Otis elevators, who balked at the idea of a free fall car - they had spent 140 years making elevators feel like they were stationary. Disney now knew they would have to start from scratch!

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Design for the area was quite intense. In front of the Tower today looms two rather ominous stone structures. Their practical function is to house restrooms, but they are almost exact replicas of the monuments that act as gates at the end of Hollywood's Beachwood Drive.

In California, the mountains directly above these gates are home to the famed Hollywood sign, originally built to advertise a real-estate development called Hollywoodland.

The gates mark the entrance to this hillside collection of homes and cottages. A metal sign on the smaller, left hand gate proclaims, "Hollywoodland, Est. 1923." Disney-MGM Studios designers copied this L.A. landmark down to the last detail - almost. At the Studios, the metal sign reads, "Hollywood Hills Estates," a fictional housing development.

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Concept Art for the Tower of Terror

The Fifth Dimension idea played a strong part of the story from the beginning - and it became the ideal transition from Ride shaft to drop shaft (early plans called for the 5th Dimension floor to be in the basement, having descended from the corridor scene, and then to rise to the top of the building and move into the drop shaft without a show scene.) To maximize capacity without duplicating everything it was decided to have 4 ride shafts but only 2 drop shafts. This, and the 5th Dimension transition, called for a new type of ride vehicle. Imagineering had to have an elevator car, but one that could also move horizontally.

The answer? The AGV, or Autonomous Guided Vehicle. A self controlling self contained ride vehicle, that could move without track. Although the 5th Dimension floor has guideways for traction, the vehicle itself runs on its own wheels along the floor. Such a vehicle needed to have onboard power, with fast charging. Inductive power coupling was designed for EPCOT Centers Universe of Energy traveling theatre cars by Inductran Corp, and can recharge onboard batteries without a physical connection. This technology was refined for Tower of Terror, and also used later in Tokyo Disneyland`s Poohs Honey Hunt. Onboard computers follow a pre programmed ride path, and `talk` to the RCS (Ride Control System) via RF (a wireless frequency). A secondary tracking system follows a wire embedded in the floor to keep track of the AGV`s location (again, like the Universe of Energy`s original tracking system), and these can easily trigger a 101 (ride shutdown) if a carelessly discarded park map comes between it and the underside of the AGV.

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Concept Art for the Tower of Terror.

But how can a machine like the AGV fall faster than terminal velocity? Have a second ride vehicle! As the AGV guides itself into the ride shaft to ascend to the boiler room (load) level, it slots into a larger `elevator` - the VVC, or Vertical Vehicle Conveyance. This is an elevator car in the true sense, complete with cables and wheels, albeit with wire mesh for walls. It is this that lifts the AGV up through the corridor scene, and to the 5th Dimension level. As the AGV transfers horizontally, the VVC returns to the basement level to receive the next AGV that is unloading its guests. For the drop shaft, a beefed up VVC is employed - enough to take the rigors of accelerated free fall, and with a pulley system not just on its roof to lift it like a conventional elevator, but a complete loop of cable that also pulls the entire carriage downwards as well as up - hence faster than gravity.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror WDW HD Ultimate Tribute01:01:52

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror WDW HD Ultimate Tribute

View a video highlighting what goes on beyond the scenes from construction to today at the Tower of Terror by Martin Smith, Manchester, UK.

Construction

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Click for more construction pictures.

With the plans finalized, construction of the Tower of Terror began promptly.

On July 22, 1994, the brand new attraction opened it's doors to the public.

When the 5th Dimension doors open, the first lights that come on simulate looking down a lift shaft; the idea was to disorientate guests into thinking they were lying face down at the top of a lift shaft.

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Opening

On July 22, 1994, the brand new attraction opened it's doors to the public.

When the 5th Dimension doors open, the first lights that come on simulate looking down a lift shaft; the idea was to disorientate guests into thinking they were lying face down at the top of a lift shaft.

As for the drops, the opening is at a height of 157 feet up (but it only drops 130, or 13 stories down from there). The first smaller drop in darkness is about 8 stories, then back to the top for the 13 story plunge doubled. In case you were also wondering, the speed of the drop is about 39 MPH, and the drop itself only lasts for around 2 ½ seconds, though it seems a lot longer! 

Since its opening, not much has changed. The post ride video (at the base of the drop shafts) has been changed, new projection systems were fitted to the corridor floors, the audio has been upgraded, seat belts introduced, the 5th Dimension eyeball no longer shows your ride vehicle, just a generic one, and of course the 2,3 and 4th drop profiles were introduced: 

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The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ (second show enhancement- double drop) May, 1996.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™: Fear Every Drop! (third show enhancement) March 1, 1999.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (fourth show enhancement - new drop sequence places the computers in control of the ride experience, making each ride sequence random) December 31, 2002. Today, the Tower of Terror continues to amaze (and frighten) guests of all ages everyday and is one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World.

Commemorative opening day ticket

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Towers Around The World

Disney California Adventure

Next came Disneyland's California Adventure, not a favorite of many Disney fans despite the fact it features a few exceptional rides even though the park itself is not as successful as people thought. When people really began ranting and hating DCA imagineers began brainstorming and trying to find a way to help the park get back on its feet. The answer? Another ground-breaking pulse thrill ride. Tower of Terror was to experience a rebirthing as it would now make its way to a park that desperately needed something new and good.

But imagineers like always never create the exact same ride twice (i.e. Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones) and Tower of Terror was to become no exception. With the location being California in a park about California Imagineers knew that they needed to make a building that would defenately be well...California.

Pueblo Deco decor was used to create the Hotel. This also gave imagineers the opportunity to do what they accomplished with MGM's Tower: Try something new. Now that imagineers had better experience with the technology they could now create a new riding experience unique to the rest of the world. But to avoid the possible downtime headache that CAN occur in the MGM version, Imagineers removed the 5th Dimension scene. Imagineers were never happy with the execution of that scene, from day one. But as imagineers always do, they find a grand way to make up for it. So it was eliminated and replaced, with a much more simple, yet still amazing effect. Instead of slowly progressing to the fifth Dimension guests enter it right after boarding the elevator. The entire journey itself is within the fifth dimension so that produced the same quality of MGM just in a different manner. And imagineers also added the new camera-involved trick with the mirror that seemed to "ooh and ahh" guests more than journey to the fifth dimension sequence. Lastly the drop was added and once again the accomplishment of something great finally made its way to California.

Disneyland Paris

Because Tower of Terror in Disneyland helped sagging attendance

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levels, Disney wanted to bring Tower of Terror to Disneyland Paris, which was suffering with low attendance and financial trouble of it's own. With the Tower of Terror opening soon in Disneyland Paris, attendance in that park is expected to jump much like it did at Disney's California Adventure.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Walt Disney Studios Park is identical in every way to the version at Disney's California Adventure. The ride is currently under construction in the central area of the park, behind the "La Terrasse" seating area. The Paris version is being constructed using concrete rather than steel, but it will be identical to the Californian version upon completion.

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Tokyo DisneySea

But Disney knew that foreign parks would soon show interest. Tokyo DisneySea is one of the greatest Disney theme parks ever built and as if it couldn't get any better Disney decided to give it its own Tower of Terror. "The Twilight Zone" is well known in Japan. Tokyo Disney Sea is not directly owned by Disney. It is owned by the Oriental Land Company, which controls both Tokyo Disney Sea and Tokyo Disneyland. In order to license their tower as "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror," Oriental Land Company would have to pay license fees to BOTH Disney and CBS per the CBS/Disney agreements, and then a second time to CBS per a CBS/Oriental Land Company agreement.

Business negotiations broke down, and the Oriental Land Company decided not to go with the Twilight Zone theme, thereby saving tens of millions of dollars in license fees over the next ten years. Some would argue that Japan has already dumped near 100 million dollars into constructing their Tower, so why not just pay the fees? Because the fees could wind up costing OLC half a billion dollars over the next decade, and with Tokyo Disney Sea's attendance records not as high as execs at OLC and Disney had hoped, they need to save money where they can get it.

However Japan has different beliefs and customs related to ghosts and supernatural than America associate so a new storyline and meaning had to be produced in order to suit the needs of the Asian market. And since there was no Hollywood section in Tokyo DisneySea, the entire story changed and it was placed in the next best thing instead of Hollywood; New York! but not just any New York. The old elegant early 1900's New York. With a new storyline Disney Imagineering could even feel safe using the cheaper DCA system now that they more and better experience with the technology. The rest will soon be revealed to us on opening day of Tokyo's Tower.

On September 4, 2006 the Tower of Terror in Tokyo opened. The ride portion consisted of the elevator darkening and moving backwards. A pair of green eyes in front appears above the vehicle. The elevator rises slowly and stops. The disappearance scene is next with Hightower standing next to the idol. The idol's eyes flash and zaps away Hightower, and he disappears. The elevator goes up further and guests see their reflections on a large mirror. Then the "morphing" effect takes place. Idol appears again and flashes its eyes towards the guests. The elevator races up, until it is at the top and the doors open. The view is high above the Park and guests can even see Tokyo on a clear day. The photo is then taken. The first drop is a short quick drop down one floor and guest then see the outside again. Then the second drop, all the way to the bottom. The car goes up to the lower opened doors. Final drop, all the way down. Idol's green eyes appear once more. The ride ends and elevator doors open.

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