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Walt Disney, technologist [UPDATED]

June 25, 2009 |  5:36 pm
Walt Disney
Walt Disney (front) in his backyard on a model train that he designed and named the Lilly Belle. The train will be part of the new Disney museum. Credit: Walt Disney Family Foundation.

Walt Disney — the man, not the company — was known for his imagination, his artistry and even his business acumen. But it turns out he also had a huge appetite for technology.

He pushed the envelope at his own firm, developing new gadgets to help in the making of his movies. He had a passion for the future, promoting ideas through places like his Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla. And he often engaged with engineers from other companies, such as Ford Motor Co. and General Electric Co., particularly as he developed exhibits for the New York World’s Fair of 1964.

The geeky side of Disney is one of the elements that will be on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco when it opens in October.

Museum organizers — particularly Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, and his grandson and namesake, Walter E. Disney Miller — gave the press a preview today, showing off the state-of-the-art $110-million facility in San Francisco’s Presidio National Park.

The museum itself makes heavy use of modern processing power, from admissions to displays. To keep tight control of the number of visitors, the museum will sell tickets on the Web for specific times. One could just show up and buy a ticket, “but I wouldn’t recommend it,” executive director Richard Benefield said.

Inside, what Benefield called “every kind of monitor known to man” will be on the walls. And curators have taken advantage of 19 hours of recordings of Disney’s voice to provide a guided tour through his life — his childhood, his early work as a bankrupt cartoonist in Kansas City, Mo., and his most notable achievements, including the creation of Mickey Mouse, “Snow White” and “Fantasia” and his television and theme park operations.

Also on view will be a two-story multiplane camera that Disney used for such effects as rooftop shots in “Pinocchio” and an optical printer used to blend real-life characters with animation in “Mary Poppins.”

Although the museum is not formally affiliated with Walt Disney Co., the company has provided many artifacts and may even provide some technical expertise. After all, its Pixar animation unit is based right across the bay in Emeryville, and a Disney executive told Benefield that the company is stepping up volunteer efforts by employees.

The company even offered to help the museum teach animation classes, Benefield said.

A 110-seat theater in the museum’s lower reaches will open with a three-week screening of “Fantasia.” Later, for the 50th anniversary of "Sleeping Beauty," Disney plans to re-release the film, “and we’ll be showing it in Blu-Ray in our theater,” Benefield said.

Corrected 10:30 a.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Snow White's 50th anniversary would be celebrated this year. In fact, it will be Sleeping Beauty who will be celebrating her 50th anniversary in November.

-- Dan Fost

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