Saturday, November 02, 2013

Sunrise Over the Polynesian

Here's a somewhat dispiriting paradox for you: the Walt Disney World theme parks are at their most beautiful when nobody can see them.

This isn't really by design, mind you. Once the last guests roll out of the park at night and the various facilities power down and turn their work lights on, and bit by bit as third shift rolls in, the "show lights" which make places like Magic Kingdom and EPCOT so beautiful at night turn off. Trucks and cars replace pedestrians. Even the street lights turn off, and the theme parks become dark, even beautifully sinister places. Many third shift employees bring their own stereos, and a patchwork of FM radios and CDs replaces the familiar peppy background music. Electrical generators create pools of light for projects amid the stark darkness, and sidewalks are hosed down. The parks become dark and dripping places.

Pre-Dawn sky, 2005
Then, gradually, the sky turns midnight blue and this strange place begins to turn back into the place we know, and that's when it happens. The open Florida pre-dawn sky gives way to a beautiful, indirect yelllow sunlight, somewhat like the light Disneyland gets out West in the first part of their day, and pockets of humidity become a gentle ground fog that settles over bodies of water. If the parks ever open at 7 am or 8 am around Christmas, some of the very end of this may be observed. By 10:00 am the air gets hot and humid and the light turns that Florida white-hot and the day truly has begun.

Pre-Opening Sunlight
As a Cast Member I savored these hours before the madness truly descended. Seeing the parks so clean and so empty and so lovely was a reward that made up for the pathetic monetary compensation, and I could see it whenever I wanted. I wish I could get there so easily still, but the parks are not open to those who don't work there in those morning hours, meaning I mostly have my memories and a handful of photos to guide me.

But, you know, you can go to the resorts whenever you want, and late last month I did just that. The Polynesian Village hasn't changed much since 1980 but appears to be next up on the block for Disney Vacation Club expansion, the same fate which brought us a huge tower sitting beside the Contemporary. Although hopefully the Polynesian iteration will be less destructive to original design elements than others have been - they have, after all, nearly no space to work with - it felt imperative to capture something of the feel of this easterly portion of the resort on the eve of the start of construction. Working steadily for about 45 minutes, I was able to capture a mostly unbroken sunrise over the Old Polynesian.

This is the edited version. Compared to some of my other videos, I've done very little to this footage - no music to accompany it, no reshuffling of shots - I did abridge certain shots with fades, but allowing for the fact that this condenses an hour of material into six minutes, it's as close to a real-time sunrise as you can get without being there.

I like the unedited feel of it - the true look and sound of a remarkable place coming online. My overall goal in these videos is to capture that dimension that motion pictures are capable of but photos aren't always - that sense of place and time and, like the Lumiere shots of Parisian street scenes, I've found that the camera plunked down somewhere and allowed to simply record can capture pools of magic. Listen carefully here, and you can hear the Walt Disney World Railroad being brought on the tracks across the lagoon, deliveries being made at the Polynesian, and more.

It's not quite like going into Magic Kingdom on your off day to watch the sun rise over Cinderella Castle, but it's close.

And check out my YouTube page for more videos, including unedited single-shots and some shorter edited sequences.