Project: Fair Winds
by Jeremy Marx
At the close of the D23 Expo, as Todd Pierce and I were walking down Katella Avenue, we started talking about Disney's involvement in the 1964 World's Fair. We talked about Lincoln, the Magic Skyway then the Small World Pavilion. In front of the Small World Pavilion was the Tower of the Four Winds, a massive metal structure designed by Imagineer Rolly Crump. The tower was a system of wind-driven propellers and mobiles, a collection of circus animals and geometric shapes cut from metal. I posed this question: "Imagine being able to look up at the Tower, see it move and spin, just like it did at the Fair."
"That would be pretty cool," he said.
As I was born several years after the New York World's Fair, I never had the chance to see the Tower. I've seen photographs, postcards and film segments, all of them two-dimensional. I never had a chance to walk around it, and wrap my head around the artistry of this massive metal sculpture: the curves, pinwheels and animals.
I had the idea that I could recreate Rolly Crump's Tower inside of a 3D digital environment--though I wasn't yet entirely sure how to do that. Let me say this: from the start I was apprehensive to take on this project, as the Tower itself no longer existed (it had been cut up after the Fair) and I needed substantial reference material to recreate the Tower as a working digital model.
Another problem: the Tower was huge--utterly enormous. When a person photographed the structure, they had to stand way back-- so much of the detail was lost. Close-up images (with better detail) only included small sections of the Tower.
Now factor in this: the Tower was also a round, three dimensional object, meant to be admired from all angles. Wheels within wheels. Layers of movement. So that the Tower was constantly recreating its image.
At the end of November--when I had a little free time from work--I turned my attention to the Tower. I was not a 3D artist, and I had no formal training in app development. So I decided to put aside those problems and start with the research. There were a few items in the DHI archive's, and Paul recommended several sites rich with images.
This lead to several days gathering as many pictures from sites such as, gorillasdontblog.blogspot.com, billcotter.com, and of course, Paul Anderson's great article on the Tower's history at disneyhistoryinstitute.com. I started with 34 images, and maybe a minutes worth of film. Most images were grainy and small. A few better resolution images allowed me to zoom in without losing to much detail. Over the weeks that I worked on the model, I slowly unraveled the structural wonders of the Tower. More than once, I had moments of artistic revelation: "Seriously," I would say to myself, "where did that come from, and how did I miss it until now?"
Work progressed slowly. Perhaps the best way I can demonstrate the process is through these image captures that demonstrated architectural progress of my work.
|This image was at the end of the first day trying to get an idea of how the base looked--an image I pretty much tossed when I noticed I had the the wrong idea of the floor above the base.|
|The base was coming together, and finally curved the outside supports.|
The next few images show some basic details added. Spacing of the bars was a huge issue, as was the various ways that the model connected with itself. Here, you can see that the center pillar and the left arm were too long.
|This shows coloring and details being added to the Tower.|
|This is the Tower in a prototype, which was used to show the motion of the different rotating parts.|
So a few months ago, the Unreal Engine 4 was opened up for the masses to see what they would make, and I jumped in to see what the quality and frame rate would be for this project. UE4 also has a great system for creating videos of what is running in it.
|The Towers that you see in this image were static objects: nothing in them was yet programmed to move. But it did show me how the shadows would display.|
|One of the final images of the Tower before the video was made.|
This last image is something special for me. I have over twenty screenshots of one of the previous builds as my desktop background. They are set to change every thirty seconds and one came up. I stared at it and wondered why I had one of the reference photos in with the screenshots. It took a minute, but I realized that it was not real. This was the Tower that I built, and it fooled me. So I looked for the photo that I thought I was looking at, and put it next to my image. See if you can figure it out for yourself. One of the photos below is of the real Tower, the other is of the model. Can you guess?
And so, with this, I'd like to announce that the Tower of the Four Winds will soon live again, as a moving, dimensional object inside of a digital universe (In case you're still wondering which image is real, which is digital. The real Tower is on the left.)
And now it's time for all to see, The Tower of the Four Winds, as it was in 1965.