Category Archives: Interview

Interview: Dave Smith (Founder of the Walt Disney Archives)

Dave Smith, receiving Disney Legends Award
Dave Smith, receiving Disney Legends Award

Dave Smith founded the Walt Disney Archives in 1970, and continually developed the system for preserving Disney’s history and making it easily accessible.  Dave was a recognizable face and household name to Disney fans through his personal appearances at fan events, and his appearances on television programs and documentaries. He effectively gave the public access to the Archives through his priceless books, such as the Disney Encyclopedia A-Z, and his “Ask Dave” columns first in print magazines and later online.

As usual, I apologize for the quality as I never intended these to be heard. I originally was just posting text transcriptions of interviews.

AUDIO INDEX
2:57 Enjoying Disney when growing up; Before Disney he was a librarian and an intern at the Library of Congress

5:11 How he ended up working for Disney and forming the Walt Disney Archives; While at UCLA, Dave worked with the Disney Studios to create a Disney bibliography; Took a two-month leave of absence from UCLA to see what was available at Disney for the formation of an Archives

8:22 Dave began working as the Archivist in the 3H wing of the Animation Building; How he gathered materials; The purpose of the Archives and how it has grown; Collecting materials of Disney’s acquisitions; The types of materials the Archives keeps

14:02 The things Dave gets excited about finding; What Dave enjoys about the job; About The Disney Encyclopedia A-Z; How Dave gets the new facts about Disney

18:08 From the beginning, Dave hoped to make a career as the Disney Archivist; How Disney fans have changed since 1970; There was no organized Disney fan base yet; Favorite aspects of his job, meeting some of the Disney Legends; Inspiring others and mentoring those with a big interest in Disney

20:53 Favorite memories of working for Disney; Roy O. Disney hired Dave to compile the Disney genealogy and sent him around the country for it; Dave describes Roy; Roy told Dave that it was Roy’s idea, not Walt’s, to change the Disney Bros. Studio name to Walt Disney Productions

Interview: Miriam Nelson (Disneyland opening day choreographer)

Legendary dancer/choreographer Miriam Nelson
Legendary dancer/choreographer Miriam Nelson

Miriam Nelson was a legendary dancer/choreographer, working on numerous classic movies and television shows. She worked in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and on Broadway, and her work, and even choreographed a number for the Academy Awards. Miriam choreographed various shows for Disneyland over the years, including many of the dances on the televised opening day of Disneyland.

AUDIO INDEX

2:07 Enjoyed working with Ingrid Berman in “The Cactus Flower”; Taught Bette Davis the Can-Can; Worked on Art Linkletter’s Hollywood Talent Scouts; Choreographing “The Jolson Story” and doubling for Evelyn Keyes in the movie

8:08 Miriam was involved in the development of the traveling arena show Disney on Parade

12:17 Choreographing the live televised opening day of Disneyland; Producer Sherman Marks asked Miriam to choreograph a cast of hundreds; Choreographed the Davy Crockett number in Frontierland; Had to run from land to land for the opening; The same dancers were used in the various lands;

15:17 Dancers once got lost backstage during the Disneyland opening day event; Surprised when an unexpected number of kids entered Fantasyland; A small boy dancer was supposed to dance and was nowhere to be found; In Frontierland, Miriam was surprised when the ground was not paved as it was supposed to be

19:41 Miriam choreographed a lot of shows in Tomorrowland in following years; A note from Walt Disney; Directors were very frustrated and threatened to walk out; Was put up in a motel the night before the live broadcast
 

Interview: Marc Davis (Disneyland and Walt Disney Imagineering)

Disney Legends Alice and Marc Davis
Disney Legends Alice and Marc Davis

Walt Disney considered Marc Davis, one of his core animation team of “nine old men”!  Not only an animator, Marc designed many  characters such as Cruella De Vil and Tinker Bell, before moving on to WED, now known as Walt Disney Imagineering, where he designed many of the scenes for classic Disneyland attractions such as it’s a small world, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and Jungle Cruise.

AUDIO INDEX

4:46 After 101 Dalmatians, Marc was working on a concept for a film on Chanticleer, and in a strange meeting was told he couldn’t do that; After Chanticleer Walt asked Marc to work for WED and he started on the Mine Train attraction; Marc added some humor; He placed a fox shaking his head left and right next to a fox nodding his head up and down so they were looking at each other; Marc didn’t like the seat placement in the trains, feeling that people were looking at each other in the attraction rather that at the scenes, it was more important for people to see what was ahead, not what was behind you; Created a scene in the Mine Train which would be an earthquake, rocking the cars, but after some earthquakes he realized it would just scare people, the job wasn’t to scare people, but to entertain people

13:32 Adding humor to the Jungle Cruise including the elephant pool, the African veldt, later added the safari camp that the gorillas took over; Marc designed the trapped safari chased up the pole by the rhino because Walt wanted Marc to do things for the attractions that could be seen by the Disneyland Railroad, the safari was so good Walt wanted it in the ride; Walt was going to see a new elephant scene in the Jungle Cruise, a scene which didn’t work well for long; Tommy Walker was in charge of entertainment at the park and dressed in an elegant suit and played a practical joke on Walt in the elephant scene – Marc never saw Walt laugh like that

18:35 When Alice met Walt Disney at the Tam O’Shanter restaurant, and he told her he was going to hire her; The first job Alice did for Disney was making the costume live action costume for Briar Rose reference for Sleeping Beauty, she later worked on Toby Tyler, and then she was asked by request of Mary Blair to do the costumes for it’s a small world; designed the scenes for the attraction and met with the United Nations

23:28 Walt did not want a storyline in the Haunted Mansion; some artists were working on a storyline about a bride who was stood up at her wedding, but Walt didn’t want that; the appearance of Haunted Mansion exterior and Walt’s decision to keep “everything on the outside of these buildings should look neat and clean.” Bringing humor into Disneyland, and the trapped safari in the Jungle Cruise.

26:03 Marc Davis learned that Walt Disney wanted to do a Pirates of the Caribbean walk-through attraction; Alice Davis talks about creating the costumes for Pirates of the Caribbean; How realistic to be with pirates, and that the truth is that most died of venereal disease than in battles in bawdy houses. No characters were caricatures of Walt Disney, the staff or anybody except one who was a janitor.

34:20 Talking about the last show Marc worked on, America Sings

Interview: Tim Conway (Disney movies; Carol Burnett Show)

Tim Conway
Tim Conway

Tim Conway is not only a Hollywood Legend, but a comic genius. His work ranges from starring in the classic television series’ “McHale’s Navy,” and “The Carol Burnett Show” to playing the voice of Barnacle Boy on the animated series “Spongebob Squarepants.” He also appeared in a number of Disney films including, “The World’s Greatest Athlete,” “The Apple Dumpling Gang,” “The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again,” “Gus,” and “The Shaggy D.A.”

AUDIO INDEX
2:32 Tim’s start in comedy; He was interested in horse racing and wanted to be a jockey; Went to Bowling Green State University; Went into the army; Worked at a radio station and took over for performer Jack Riley, who had been writing promos; Tim got into acting in promotions and then directing television; Directed a morning show with host Ernie Anderson; Rose Marie discovered Tim’s work and brought it to Steve Allen; Tim worked on the Steve Allen show; Was offered the role of Ensign Parker on McHale’s Navy and ultimately took the role; Tim voices the role of Barnacle Boy with Ernest Borgnine of Spongebob Squarepants; Worked with Don Knotts a lot including some Disney movies

9:02 The Carol Burnett Show; Carol didn’t believe in incorporating political or religious humor so it always had wide appeal; Harvey Korman; Tim was a writer on the show and then performed something other than what he wrote

10:56 Working for Disney, starting with “The World’s Greatest Athlete,” and “The Shaggy D.A.”; Working on the Disney backlot; Getting pies in the face

13:20 Tim talks about Don Knotts and some of his comedy heroes; The Steve Allen show; Tim describes himself and reflects on his career

Interview: Marc Davis (Disney animation)

Two Disney Legends: Marc & Alice Davis
Two Disney Legends: Marc & Alice Davis

I’m so excited to share this interview with you, despite it’s poor quality. A 1997 conversation with the amazing Marc Davis, one of Walt Disney’s “nine old men”! Walt was so fond of Marc, whose work includes everything from designing characters such as Cruella De Vil and Tinker Bell to designing story and character concepts for such Disneyland attractions as it’s a small world, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and Jungle Cruise, Marc was a major part of Walt Disney’s success.

It was always a treat to receive the Christmas cards Marc drew
It was always a treat to receive the Christmas cards Marc drew

AUDIO INDEX

3:11 Marc taught life drawing at Chouinard Art Institute for 17 years; Alice Davis was one of Marc’s students in the class and started going out together

4:33 Started working for Disney on December 2, 1935, due to his knowledge of animals and anatomy; Began working as an assistant animator for Grim Natwick on the character of Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; With his knowledge of animals and anatomy, Marc became part of the story team on Bambi; Moved from studio on Hyperion to a studio on Seward St. in Hollywood; Marc was part of the first creative group to move to the new Burbank Disney Studios; Walt was so intrigued with Marc’s drawings of the Bambi character that Walt said he wants Marc to animate; Story director Perce Pearce would say “Man is in the Forest” to indicate that Walt was coming down the hall

8:47 Marc remembers Walt Disney, “What a tremendous man he was”

10:53 As a treat for the assistant animator, Marc got to animate on Snow White, the scene with Dopey dancing on top of Sneezy

11:46 On Bambi, Marc worked on the design of the characters, Bambi, Thumper and Flower, animated a lot on the film as well; Marc did a photographic study of human babies and put those expressions into young Bambi

12:49 Walt Disney had relied on his foreign revenues from the worldwide distribution of his films, probably more than any other studio, and during World War II, he suddenly was not able to access his money, from England in particular. Walt was asked by the United States government to do films that would help the war effort and Marc worked on some of those and those films helped Disney survive the wartime; Marc worked Alexander P. de Seversky’s Victory Through Air Power, for Disney, despite being overlooked on screen credit; Marc ran in to Seversky at the New York World’s Fair that Disney had attractions in

17:42 Due to the war, Disney could not do full-length feature films so they did short subjects that they would tie together; Cinderella was the first full-length animated feature Disney did after the war; Marc animated the first sequence on Song of the South and also worked on story on it; Disney wasn’t capable of doing a full-length animated film which is why the film was live-action with only some animation; Marc and Alice attended the 30th anniversary of Song of the South After the war Marc worked on some of the films such as Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians; Walt like that Marc could do anything – Alice tells a story of when Walt called Marc a genius

23:52 Marc designed Tinker Bell and animated the close-up scenes with her; Peter Pan was written as a stage play, not a book, and in it, Tinker Bell was only a spot of light so Marc had to develop the character, and some people complained about his version

QUIZ- So you think you know Walt Disney World?

HOPE YOU ENJOY THE QUIZ AND MY PHOTOS!

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Interview: John “Doc” Anello (Disneyland band leader and educator)

John "Doc" Anello leads his band "Doc Anello and the Swing Machine" at Carnation Plaza Gardens in Disneyland
John “Doc” Anello leads his band “Doc Anello and the Swing Machine” at Carnation Plaza Gardens in Disneyland

John “Doc” Anello started working at Disneyland in 1975. After a brief stint filling in for talent booker Sonny Anderson, John became the park’s production manager, ensuring Disney quality at all entertainment venues. He later became the manager of Disneyland entertainment’s education department.  For several years after retiring he would conduct his own big band, “Doc Anello and the Swing Machine” at at Carnation Plaza Gardens in Disneyland.  (See below for more photos and audio index)

Larry Billman (also hear my interview with Larry) and John Anello work on the Disneyland "Fun with Music" show
Larry Billman (also hear my interview with Larry) and John Anello work on the Disneyland “Fun with Music” show
Doc Anello and the Swing Machine
Doc Anello and the Swing Machine

AUDIO INDEX

3:07 John had a band before working for Disney; He started working for Disney in 1975 as production manager for entertainment; Took over the All-American College Program from 1976 until 1980; Taught at College of the Desert in Palm Desert from 1980 until 1988; He had a performing group that traveled all over the United States; He started his band again in 1989; Stan Freese was working at Disneyland and hired him in 1991 to play at least once a month at Disneyland; Moved to Florida to help write a book with Ron Logan (who headed Disney live entertainment for the whole company)

4:48 Working on a Disney intern program which would have been similar to “Dancing with the Stars,” but years before that show was created

6:48 Started his band again and played at Disneyland, but first played in a band at the age of 15 in New Jersey; Also had a trio and quartet he performed with outside of Disney; About John’s band, the Doc Anello and the Swing Machine, and some of the band members;

8:27 John was discovered by Disney talent booker Sonny Anderson when he was performing at the Disneyland Hotel with bandleader, Bernie Bernard, who often performed there and Sonny, who was playing the drums; Director of entertainment Bob Jani hired John as a temporary talent booker when Sonny Anderson was ill; Went on leave of absence from where he was teaching to work for Disney; About Bob Jani

11:47 John became in charge of the All American College Program, which original was the All American College Band and the All American Singers and Dancers for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World; From 1977 through 1980 he would travel the country auditioning talent for the program

16:02 John went back to teaching college and leading a group of talented students

Interview: Jim Adams & Don Payne (Disneyland entertainers)

Disneyland entertainers Jim Adams and Don Payne
Disneyland entertainers Jim Adams and Don Payne

Jim Adams and Don Payne entertained thousands of guests at Disneyland and toured the country for Disney in the 1970s.

Together and individually Jim and Don were involved in performing, writing and directing many of Disneyland’s events such as “The Baby Animal Show” at Carnation Plaza Gardens, the “Fun with Music” show at the Fantasyland Theater, “The Great Annual Easter Walking Race” and much more. Jim and Don both also starred in Disneyland’s historic “Golden Horseshoe Revue,” alternating with Disney Legend Wally Boag. (See more photos and audio index below)

Jim Adams delights an audience member during the "Golden Horseshoe Revue"
Jim Adams delights an audience member during the “Golden Horseshoe Revue”
Don Payne entertains in the "Golden Horseshoe Revue"
Don Payne entertains in the “Golden Horseshoe Revue”
Jim Adams hosts "The Baby Animal Show" with Goofy and a live duckling
Jim Adams hosts “The Baby Animal Show” with Goofy and a live duckling
As puppeteer, Don Payne takes a break during a television appearance to promote Disney's "101 Dalmatians"
As puppeteer, Don Payne takes a break during a television appearance to promote Disney’s “101 Dalmatians”
Jim Adams shares a laugh with Disney Legend Fulton Burley in a bicentennial-themed version of the "Golden Horseshoe Revue"
Jim Adams shares a laugh with Disney Legend Fulton Burley in a bicentennial-themed version of the “Golden Horseshoe Revue”

AUDIO INDEX

2:56 Jim’s start in entertainment at Disneyland; Began in the Christmas parade; Meeting Wally Boag for the first time; Wally enlisted Jim to perform in the Disneyland Drama Workshop including “Chicken Ranching for Fun and Profit” and “Tail of the West”; Intended for internal performances, “Chicken Ranching” was eventually seen by the public; Jim started performing in the “Golden Horseshoe Revue”

11:10 Jim toured the country promoting Disneyland and Disney’s latest film releases; Did television and radio shows, live shows at malls and hospital visits

13:06 Remembering Disney Legend Fulton Burley; Fulton was always entertaining people, both on and off stage; Fulton even entertained in the bathroom!; Working with Fulton in the “Golden Horseshoe Revue”

23:16 Don’s start at Disneyland; Began in the Christmas Parade, with his first performance on December 15, 1966, the day Walt Disney died; Don remembers snow at Disneyland that night; Don joins the character department and then becomes a performer in the “Golden Horseshoe Revue”

28:34 Jim begins performing the Mountain Man character as the “Golden Horseshoe Revue” pre-show, and Don takes over the Mountain Man pre-show when Jim was in the main show

Interview: Kathleen Mitts Micalizzi (1993 Disneyland Ambassador to the World)

Kathleen after being named Disneyland Ambassador 1993
Kathleen after being named Disneyland Ambassador 1993

Kathleen Mitts Micalizzi was the 1993 Disneyland Ambassador to the World. (More photos and audio index below)

As part of the press, we were notified moments before the winner was announced so we could focus in on her
As part of the press, we were notified moments before the winner was announced so we could focus in on her
Kathleen and Pluto in the Hollywood Christmas Parade
Kathleen and Pluto in the Hollywood Christmas Parade

Kathleen in the 1993 Tournament of Roses parade

Kathleen in the 1993 Tournament of Roses parade

Kathleen in the Space Mountain attraction safety video
Kathleen in the Space Mountain attraction safety video

AUDIO INDEX

1:38 How Kathleen came to appear in the Space Mountain safety video

2:49 Kathleen got her start at Disneyland performing in parades and shows including the Main Street Electrical Parade, Party Gras, Main Street Hop and Fantasmic!

5:07 After three attempts, Kathleen was finally chosen as Disneyland Ambassador to the World for 1993. Everything immediately changed for Kathleen as soon as she was selected; A funny memory of her first day as Ambassador

7:32 A lot of traveling was involved, representing Disney throughout the United States; About the Mickey’s Toontown promotional tour, and making television and radio appearances as well as hospital visits for sick children

9:03 The opening of Mickey’s Toontown, dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony

9:34 Traveling to Tokyo Disneyland for their 10th anniversary with all Disney Ambassadors, and visiting Paris

11:46 Appearing in the Hollywood Christmas Parade and the Tournament of Roses; Receiving gifts as Ambassador

15:53 Summing up her Ambassador year

Interview: Alyja Kalinich (Costume designer for Disney parks)

Disney costume designer Alyja Kalinich
Disney costume designer Alyja Kalinich

For decades, Alyja Kalinich was a costume designer for Disney, and her work has been seen all over the world! Her costumes include many characters, overdressing for characters, and an almost unimaginable array of designs for Disney’s many parades and shows at Disney theme parks here and abroad.  Alyja has done costume design for Disney on Ice, the New York City Ambassador Theatre, and Radio City Music Hall. She had to take so much into consideration when designing, such as where to place the battery packs and LED lights for the costumes she designed for Tokyo Disneyland’s Electrical Parade Dreamlights. In fact, an update to that parade in 2015, including lighted Rapunzel and Flynn costumes, would be her last designs before retiring.  From Roger Rabbit, Aladdin and the Genie, to dancing seaweed, dancing film strips, insects, cheetahs and gazelle – the thousands of costumes Alyja has designed has brought joy to millions of people.

Scott Wolf: How did you get into designing costumes?

Alyja Kalinich: I went to art school. I majored in fine art at St. John’s University and then transferred to Parsons School of Design in New York. I studied illustration, and that was going to be my career… to illustrate.
When I finished there, I came to California on a vacation and loved it so much.

Before that, I started working for Oleg Cassini, who was a designer in New York, and doing his illustrations because a lot of designers can’t really draw very well – they do stick figures. I happened to have a saleable way of drawing, so they would use me to do their sketches, and some of them don’t have time, so I would do them.
Then I went on vacation to California and loved it and said goodbye to all my friends in New York and goodbye to Oleg Cassini. I decided to start a new life in California, and he actually came out two weeks later to do a film and he asked me to be his assistant designer on the film. So it worked out that I got into that and kind of saw the designer’s actual working, not just the sketch.

After that finished, I went looking around and found Disneyland and I thought, Well, okay, I’ll go by and check it out and see if there’s any design with sketching involved of any kind, because I could do interiors and all that.

I was hired by Bob Phelps and Tom Peirce. I believe Tom Peirce and Jack Muhs were the very first designers there, and they hired me as their sketch artist and I would do their sketches. They would of course have to present their designs and their ideas to the producer of the show and all that, so their idea would go with my sketch and they would talk it through and so on.

I did that for a number of years and then they needed a designer so they put me as an assistant designer first.

Larry Billman helped me actually helped me. It was serendipitous. Life is so serendipitous really. You can plan all you want, but it just takes you where it goes if you don’t say no. Larry rushed down to me, and he said, “Jack isn’t here, I need a design for Bob Jani,” who was at that time the big entertainment guru there. So I did a sketch and he took it from me and presented it to Bob Jani and Bob liked it, so it became my turn to actually art direct it, too. So that was my first thing. I remember it was kind of a bland look but I learned a lot from my very first experience and I owe it to Larry Billman, and the fact that Jack wasn’t there.

Then they put me on to other things and it came on and on and then I did parades. “The Lion King” parade, I did that one.

SW: That had spectacular costumes. Which ones did you work on for that?

AK: I did all the costumes for the parade.

Alyja's costumes from the "Lion King Celebration" in Disneyland
Alyja’s costumes from the “Lion King Celebration” in Disneyland

SW: The gazelles and and cheetahs and zebras? Those were a very unique style. Just beautiful. Was that the first time that Disney did kind of an artsy kind of animal like that?

AK: Yes, it was the very first time. The whole parade was a little bit of an abstraction. That was told to us by the producer/director so that was their input to us, the set designer and the costume designer. Then we, inspired by their thought, stepped away a little bit from reality. It was great fun.

SW: Did you have to do any kind of research for those costumes?

AK: Always. Before you begin a project, you kind of ruminate what goes on in your head through the days as you do your regular stuff, it’s in the back of your mind. Then I have tear sheets, every time I look at a magazine I always pull stuff out and put it away, and all of that stays in your mind and the act of seeing and that recognizing what you’ve seen that it could be like a hook to something. Taking and saving, all of that is a constant process in the life of a designer, I would think. A constant process, life is never dull.

Alyja designed all the '50s costumes and overdressings for this Tokyo Disneyland show from Minnie's poodle skirt to Dale's slicked back hair
Alyja designed all the ’50s costumes and overdressings for this Tokyo Disneyland show, from Minnie’s poodle skirt to Dale’s slicked back hair

SW: So you were no longer the assistant by the time you did “Lion King”?

AK: Right. I was a designer then.

SW: Were you working strictly for Disneyland at that time?

AK: Yes, I was on staff for 20 years. When I was an assistant, I did go to Walt Disney World for awhile when it opened. My name is on one of the store fronts in Disney World! It’s my maiden name, Alyja Paskevicius! I couldn’t believe it! It’s there still!

Alyja in a 1971 newspaper article for the opening of Walt Disney World
Alyja in a 1971 newspaper article for the opening of Walt Disney World

SW: That’s awesome! So you were there for the opening of Magic Kingdom?

AK: Yes.

SW: What kinds of costumes did you do back then in the ‘70s?

AK: That was the beginning of the park so there were a lot of operational costumes that I did drawings for Tom Peirce.

SW: What do you mean by “operational”? Is that like shops and restaurants and things?

AK: Yes, like what your wife wore (when she worked serving food) at Carnation.

SW: So you were working on a lot more than just shows and parades.

AK: I did both for Tom Peirce who did operational and for Jack Muhs who did entertainment. Tom Peirce is such a part of Disney history, and Jack Muhs, too, he’s passed away. He did the costumes for the Golden Horseshoe and then I redid them toward the end.

Film reel costumes "Disney on Parade at Tokyo Disneyland"
Film reel costumes “Disney on Parade at Tokyo Disneyland”

SW: What was the process when you would start designing, like a parade?

AK: The producer and the director come to you, the designer. Usually the director comes and says we’re doing this parade or this show, and they give you the script or they give you the number of units in a parade, the general idea of the whole thing and the number of people, the number of men and women. They give you a lot of the technical details plus the general feeling and an inspirational talk as to what the story is, and what the music will be like. Then you go back to that little room or wherever, and you come up with your concepts. Then you have a meeting and you present the concepts.

I tend to like to do the whole parade rather than one costume at a time, because then you get a general overview in your mind’s eye. So you present that to usually the director and the producer, and they’ll say, “This looks good, this looks good, let’s change this, let’s do this different,” or whatever. It’s a very malleable process and you just stay flexible. It’s a group thing, but you have your own contribution. Then the set designer comes in and he has the same process. Then we all come together and we look at all the work together. The music comes in and we get approval on what to begin with and then we go to the prototype costume first.

A bug character from the Disney Silly Symphony "Flowers and Trees"
A bug character from the Disney Silly Symphony “Flowers and Trees”

What I would do then is take my sketch that has been finally approved by the show director and the producer. Take it to a costume house, which is sort of like how an architect would have a contractor. The architect goes to the contractor and says, “I would like this built, how would you do it? Let’s talk about what the materials would be,” and so on, so in that sense I go to a costume house and I would say, “Let’s talk about this. I would like this, this big, maybe a cage,” or whatever thoughts I may have and then listening to their experience. I need them badly because they’re the people with a lot of good thoughts, so I welcome everything. That’s where you really have to communicate. Communication is pretty big in this process, and then to inspire them to really get the essence of it, of that elephant or whatever you’re doing, the essence of it so that they would understand it and be excited to do it.

SW: When you set out to design something, do you have to worry about limitations, like is it even possible to do something like this, or do you shoot for the moon and see what the costume house can do?

An array of bugs from "A Bug's Life"
An array of bugs from “A Bug’s Life”

AK: I know what can be done. I know that I can’t have someone fly in the air without wires or that I need a harness if they’re up in the air. I know that from experience. So I do take that into account already. But if there’s new materials, plastic materials say, new types of fabric that I haven’t seen out there yet that they may know about, I welcome all those new ideas. I welcome everything from them. But I do know my limitations, and also the budgetary limitations and the time. The clock is always ticking behind me.

SW: Out of everything you’ve worked on, do you have a favorite project?

Alyja's costume designs for the Jim Henson show "Here Come the Muppets" in Disney-MGM Studios
Alyja’s costume designs for the Jim Henson show “Here Come the Muppets” in Disney-MGM Studios

AK: I guess “The Lion King” parade. That to me is everything, because of the music, too, it makes me kind of get a tear in my eye, but I love a lot of the stuff I did for Japan, and I love some of the Muppet stuff I did in 3-D, for the characters in Walt Disney World. I learned a lot about their quality of work because their art is softer and Disney art is more hard-edged. The Muppets have a lot of soft flowing things. I learned a lot from going from one kind of discipline to another, I was very fortunate.

SW: Did Jim Henson have to approve your work?

AK: Yes, but he died right then. It was just so horrible, and then someone else had to approve it, but he was such a nice guy. Such a tragedy.

One of Alyja's costumes for the Party Gras parade in Disneyland
One of Alyja’s costumes for the Party Gras parade in Disneyland

SW: I know you worked on my favorite parade Party Gras, I saw the photo of the banana character in your other room.

AK: Most of the parade was done by Jack Muhs and I just contributed the new characters. That’s how it worked. That was assigned to me because I like to do little new characters or think them up.

SW: I saw you designed a seaweed costume. What’s the strangest costume you’ve done?

AK: Maybe the elephants for Radio City Music Hall.

SW: Was that the live Magical World of Disney show?

AK: Yes, the elephants, we did sort of a black light elephant dream sequence from “Dumbo” and we had them stretch and jump around. It was a good effect.

SW: What was that Magic World of Disney show?

AK: Similar to what Barnette Ricci usually does in the time I was there she would combine all the Disney music and all that, and all the characters and bring them all out and times. We had the giant brooms from “Fantasia” and the Rockettes had to get inside of them and they were not happy. They were not happy with me because they weren’t seen. I felt so bad, because when the performer is not happy, it’s not pleasant, but they did get to show themselves later. It was just a moment. I said, “It was just a moment when you’re a broom.”

SW: Was that the biggest show you’ve done?

AK: I did an Ambassador Theatre one for the premiere of “Hercules.” That was a big show as well. Every one of them is pretty detailed. Most of my projects have over a hundred people in them.

SW: Were you working for Disneyland when you were asked to do the Radio City show?

AK: Yes, it was all Disney, through Barnette. Barnette came to ask me. She was on staff in entertainment at Disneyland, so we were all kind of a group.

SW: Which “Disney On Ice” shows did you work on?

AK: “Pocahontas,” and a lot of the characters for the other shows, overdressings for like Mickey and Minnie and stuff like that.

SW: Overdressings are like the character’s “wardrobe,” right?

Dale wear one of Alyja's overdressings for the Disney Dreams on Parade in Tokyo Disneyland
Dale wears one of Alyja’s overdressings for the Disney Dreams on Parade in Tokyo Disneyland

AK: Yes. It changes the look of the character. The character still remains Mickey and Minnie but maybe has a raincoat on instead of the little dress that Minnie’s wearing. That’s an overdressing.

SW: When you design for ice shows, is it different than a stage show or a Disney parade?

Mickey and Minnie overdressings designed by Alyja for Tokyo Disneyland
Mickey and Minnie overdressings designed by Alyja for Tokyo Disneyland

AK: Oh yes, it’s a whole different venue and different needs for the person. They have to move quite a bit. It’s quite another world.

Also, if you are doing an indoor show, it’s a whole other world than an outdoor entertainment because outside it’s very unforgiving. There’s no lights to hide behind. The lighting designer can help you with your costume, make them look more mysterious, the moodiness. You have to create that mood right there in the sunshine and it’s a strange little world, outdoor entertainment. You also have to have that costume be a focal point as you’re looking at it because behind that costume there are myriads of people, taking your attention away from what’s going on in the parade. There’s all kinds of faces, colors, and all of that. You have to keep that in mind and you have to make sure that when the person sees the costume up close that it looks like a well-made piece and that it has the quality of the thing that you’re trying to portray up close. It’s very unforgiving. It’s not very easy. I think theatrical design is easier because you’re in the dark, you can collaborate with the lighting person and determine color – it’s a lot more forgiving.

SW: You mentioned the lighting people a moment ago. What other people would you deal with?

AK: On every production it’s the director, the set designer, the lighting designer and the costume designer, working together, and the choreographer as well.

SW: Why would the choreographer work with you?

AK: If for some reason the person can’t move properly with the costume I’ve done, that I’d need to fix. That’s my problem unless we collaborate and they do a little less choreography and I do a little fixing on the costume. It’s very collaborative.

SW: Some characters have extravagant makeup, like some of your costumes for parades, flowers for example, also have flowery makeup on their face. Are you involved in that?

AK: Yes, I approve the makeup during dress rehearsal. We work out every problem that we can work out at dress rehearsal. We usually have a few dress before we do the final dress, and by the final dress all problems should be worked out and makeup should be the way it would be on the opening day. So yes, makeup is part of my thing, and also hair.

It is a hard job and it requires a lot of people cooperating and coming together and working with a lot of different personalities and a lot of different time frames, the money, all of that. But the final happy time is when you see the people looking at it and you can see the faces and you can tell there’s something in them that’s lifted up a little or taken away from their cares of the day by something visual and something musical. Those two things. Those two things can transport you to a much different world than the world you’re in. So I could see that.

And then I look at the things I could have done better and then I look at things I like, too, so I bask in that, I don’t negate that, but then I think, “Next time this…” but it’s the reaction of the people.

Alyja holds dolls wearing her costumes she designed for a parade. These were sold in Tokyo Disneyland.
Alyja holds dolls wearing her costumes she designed for a parade. These were sold in Tokyo Disneyland.