World of Motion 
1982 - 1996

"Ride through the evolution of transportation and see just why
'it's 'fun to be free''
" -
1982 EPCOT Center Guide
  Look - it's the World of Motion sea serpent scene!
 
     


World of
Motion


Extinct Attraction

Location:
Future World,
EPCOT Center

Opened: October 1, 1982
Closed: January 2, 1996

Contributing Personnel:
Buddy Baker,
Claude Coats,
Marc Davis,
Ward Kimball,
Ken O'Connor

Narrator:
Gary Owens

Bibliography:
WDW Eyes & Ears
April 30, 1982
Realityland
by David Koenig, 2007 

Descendant of:
If You Had Wings
(1972-1987)

Location Later Became:
Test Track (1998-)

All images copyright
The Walt Disney Company.
Text 2011 by Mike Lee

I'd like to acknowledge the assistance of
Alice and Marc Davis,
Thomas Hance,
Kelly Norris
and
Ross Plesset
with their assistance on
WYW's World of Motion
research

Last Update to this page: December 30, 2011 (additional video and images added)

PART I - World Of Motion Overview 
PART II -  World Of Motion Images, Audio and Video
PART III -  Links to Other World Of Motion Resources & Sites

Part I - World Of Motion Overview

For thirteen years, General Motors' World of Motion contained within its circular walls some of the absolute best elements that EPCOT Center and Walt Disney World ever had to offer.  That included the largest cast of audio-animatronic figures (most counts put it at 140) ever used in a single Disney attraction combined with detailed sets, a massive array of projector effects, distinctively lighthearted music and the versatility of the Omnimover ride system to illustrate a comical history of man's quest to "travel from here to there" by increasingly efficient - and expedient - means.  When guests exited their ride vehicles, they passed through the TransCenter post-show which contained a variety of exhibits geared toward the future of automotive travel and mass-transit systems, back when that might have been something apart from everyone in 2069 wondering whatever happened to the Aero 2000 while they're still driving around in cars that look like they were designed in 2022.  Plus, no peoplemovers. 

A Transportation Pavilion was one of the earliest original planned elements of EPCOT Center, going back to 1975 when the concept for a "Future World Theme Center" was first floated out by WED Enterprises (Walt Disney Productions' design & engineering arm, later known as WDI) as a complement to the just-slightly-older plans for a "World Showcase."  By that time, the 1966 plans for EPCOT as an actual city had been definitively tabled by Card Walker, president of WDP, in favor of what was quickly becoming a two-parks-in-one approach.  The proliferation of the term pavilions in the company's descriptions of EPCOT was a solid indicator that this new development would be kickin' it World's Fair-style, as were the concept renderings and models being produced at WED.  After the work Disney had done for the Ford Motor Company, Pepsi-Cola, General Electric and the State of Illinois at the 1964 New York World's Fair, the men and women of WED were clearly familiar with what it took to make entertaining landmark attractions tailored to the needs of well-heeled sponsors.

This time they were going to make one for General Motors.  GM's involvement came about largely because of a chance meeting between WED's Bob Gurr and GM's head of design, Bill Mitchell, at a 1976 art school dedication in Los Angeles.  The "Big Three" automaker entered into discussions with Disney that year and signed a sponsorship agreement on the last business day of 1977, making GM the first official EPCOT Center participant.  At the 1964 World's Fair, GM had sponsored Futurama, the Fair's most popular exhibit.  This fact was not lost on WED Enterprises, whose four shows had been close runners-up, and they intended to deliver an even more compelling presentation for GM in Florida.  But whereas Futurama had focused on futuristic habitats on the moon, under the sea and in the jungle**, GM's EPCOT Center pavilion would be more squarely focused on the evolution of transportation and, before the experience was completed, tie that in directly with modern-day GM cars and prototypes.

 

Transporation Pavilion concept model depicted in Walt Disney Productions' 1978 Annual Report.  One can easily see the genesis of both the World of Motion as it was built in this version, as well as some Test Track foreshadowing.   

Claude Coats - a veteran Disney Studios artist and one of WYW's favorite WED heavyweights - did a large amount of design work on early versions of the Transportation Pavilion.  Former WED employee Kelly Norris said that Coats' work was accomplished but somewhat stoic, with GM reportedly wanting something a little more Disney i.e., a little more fun.  And this is where World of Motion's history hits a fork in the road.  If you would have spoken to anyone from Disney at the time of EPCOT Center's opening, they'd have told you that their longtime animator Ward Kimball was the loony genius who infused World of Motion with its requisite humor.  And if you had read any of the newspaper or magazine articles published about the park back then, you'd have come away with that same impression.  The only problem with that story - one I'd read and believed for seventeen years - is that it wasn't exactly true.  Kimball DID work on World of Motion, but he was not a one-stop-shopping maverick that brought the attraction around from its c. 1978 presentational origins to the gag-laden, dioramic banquet that opened to the public in 1982.  That credit belongs largely to Marc Davis.

Like Kimball, Davis was a key Disney animator with many iconic character designs (including Tinker Bell and Maleficent) under his belt.  He had joined WED in 1963 and in the ensuing ten years would be, along with Coats, one of the two artists most responsible for defining what constitutes a "classic" Disney attraction, namely the signature blend of humor, staging and animatronics found in Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion.  Davis
had retired from WED in 1978, but was approached by the company almost immediately afterward to provide material for the General Motors pavilion.  His notoriously prolific work ethic led to dozens of renderings for GM, among them were the above rendering of an octopus wrapped around a shipwreck, a vintage plane flying low over a farmer milking a cow (causing the cow to run away), a caveman carrying a bear on his back, an overcrowded streetcar and a man in a hot air balloon with birds swarming toward him.

That Davis would have come up with a lot of material is no surprise.  What's noteworthy is that much of his art was translated almost verbatim into an attraction for which Kimball was brought in to do further work, and for which Kimball received press coverage.  WOM's crocodiles ready to nip the toes of the man on the raft, the paintings of watercraft projected behind that scene, the Chinese man being pulled in a rickshaw, the bull holding up a steam coach ... all of these and many more find their genesis in Davis's work; some were used without revision.  I was fortunate enough to see a lot of this art during a 1999 interview with Davis, his wife Alice and Ross Plesset, which is how I learned of Davis's involvement with the ride.  Although not present in his notebook at the time, Davis said he had also conceived of the pavilion's showpiece scene, "the first traffic jam" - in which a motorist has shattered a horsedrawn produce cart on a busy city street and caused backups in all directions.  It's a piece that Marty Sklar, former vice-president of WDI, attributed to Ward Kimball according to Jeff Kurtti's 2008 book Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends.

Below is a poor reproduction of a piece of WOM concept art that was briefly on display at EPCOT's Innoventions in 2007.  It's definitely Marc Davis and anyone can see that it's a precursor to the final traffic jam scene that appeared in the ride (pictured to the right) with the key elements in place.  Having only seen some of Davis's work on WOM and none of Kimball's, for me the record suggests a possible Ken Anderson/Sam McKim/Haunted Mansion-style chicken or the egg situation** surrounding two very talented and extremely deceased individuals.  Davis's work on WOM did start coming to light publicly c. 2005 in some books and articles, while more recent accounts of Kimball's role have characterized him as a "consultant."***  As such, did he suggest the traffic jam scene's final configuration that moved the panicked horse to the foreground?  Were some of the ride's scenes entirely of Kimball's own doing?  And where is his WOM artwork hiding if we've seen that of Davis and other WED personnel such as Ken O'Connor?  I can't figure it out, but somebody else will; a 2010 blog post by Didier Ghez stated that someone had bought a box of Kimball's WOM artwork on ebay and might build a website around it.  That would certainly help answer some questions.

** This Futurama subject matter became the springboard for everything WED was to do with General Electric's EPCOT Center attraction, Horizons, with its colonies in space, underwater cities and desert farms.  Horizons ended up sitting right next to World of Motion in Future World East.  It's tempting to characterize that as irony, but it seems almost deliberate.

*** Kimball may have simply found himself in the strange position of being "trotted out" by WDP management looking to reinforce EPCOT Center's ties to the time of Walt and, by inference, lending the project additional credibility.  John Hench served a similar purpose at the time by virtue of not just having worked directly with, but also by resembling Walt Disney to a certain extent.  And if there's any one result WDP management was seeking from EPCOT Center in 1982, apart from people coming to see it, that was to convince the world that Walt's last/greatest dream was realized.  

  

Regardless of whose pen each flowed from, the concept sketches led to another of WED's magnificently intricate and fully-painted scale models, covering all of the attraction's 31 show scenes.  This was an art form that artists such as Harriet Burns, Fred Joerger and Ken O'Brien in the Model Shop had brought to miniature perfection in the 1960s.  Although the handcrafted artistry of modelmaking never lost its appeal or went away at WED, computer modeling and sheer economics made the dimensionality, scale, level of color and detail seen in those earlier models an increasingly scarce sight as later parks and attractions were developed.  The EPCOT Center models, fortunately, were well documented in pre-opening materials such as books and postcards.

Construction on World of Motion, as well as the sculpting process for its battalion of animatronics (most requiring entirely new production vs. re-use of old molds and tooling) began in 1979.  The statistics involved with the undertaking are impressive:

Building Dimensions: 55' height, 320' diameter
Ride System: Omnimover, 141 on 47 separate platforms - in groups of three vehicles per platform
Track Length: 1,750 feet
Ride Length: 14-1/2 minutes
Hourly Capacity:
3,240

World of Motion yielded great construction and in-development photos.  By May of 1982 the pavilion was nearing completion, according to the April 30, 1982 issue of WDW cast newsletter "Eyes and Ears," and the sight of immense props like railroad cars and classic automobiles being hoisted through the open sides of the building by crane had been published in The Orlando Sentinel, Orlando-Land magazine and several national periodicals.  Video footage of the man in the stagecoach poking his head in and out of the window was being shown virtually any time someone did a televised report on EC's progress.

World of Motion opened to the public on EPCOT Center's official opening date of October 1, 1982, but experienced operational problems such as the ride system starting and stopping repeatedly throughout the day.  The narration by Laugh-In announcer Gary Owens also dropped in and out of the ride vehicles, mid-sentence, for no apparent reason.  These problems were mostly resolved by month's end, however, and World of Motion became one of the most heavily-visited and popular attractions in the park.

Occupying the same southeastern quadrant of Future World as the Odyssey Restaurant and Communicore's EPCOT Poll, World of Motion was approached by guests from the north or west on main Future World pathways just as Test Track was still being accessed in 2011.  The glass-covered outer surfaces of the circular building constituted the near-whole of its exterior, framing the entry alcove which featured one central support pillar wrapped by the ride's first section of track.  Guests could clearly see that this was a slow-moving experience as they walked into the open space, with the blue Omnimover vehicles twisting clockwise from the ground floor up to the second level and entering a contoured hole in the red wall - where the ride's show scenes began*.  In the background, a sixteen-minute loop of instrumental music putting twists on the pavilion's theme song, It's Fun To Be Free by Buddy Baker and X. Atencio, echoed off the walls and blue tiled floor.  As with its predecessors like If You Had Wings and It's A Small World, the entire attraction featured variations on this upbeat theme, making it hard to pinpoint one version as the "official" take.  In this courtyard area, the arrangement was predominantly symphonic, with diversions into jazz, swing and country time signatures.

* This was the best pavilion entrance at EPCOT Center.  Seeing the ride track twist up through that open space was irresistible.  

  This model, built c. 1980, was on display in the lobby of WDW's Center Building (an employee services facility) in the late '80s. That's where I took this picture. It was under glass, hence the reflection. 

Once guests passed through the automatic glass doors below the track and entered the queue's proper holding area, they heard another sixteen-minute loop of music that took the song in other directions with sound effects punctuating the transitions.  The sound of a biplane carried across the room by a series of overhead speakers and was followed by a player piano rendition of the music, the sound of a hot rod preceded a vaguely Beach Boys version, etc.     

These two loops of music suggest that the indoor and outdoor queue areas were probably expected to facilitate a 30-minute wait between the two of them, and the line did on some occasions even exceed that duration and alloted space.  That was mainly during the park's early years and peak seasons, however, as more of us remember walking right in and hopping on, more often than not, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  My most memorable time spent in that line was with a surly Amy Jones, in the summer of 1985, when we spotted Bill Wadhams of Animotion a few minutes ahead of us in line and played a round of "does anyone else know who that guy is?"  We concluded that no one else knew who that guy was.

The holding area was fairly stark in terms of visual details, with attention drawn to the elevated Load platform at the top of a ramp constituting the end leg of the queue.  The unending stream of Omnimover vehicles could be seen departing the Load point and exiting the room to make the upward spiral in the courtyard beyond.  Along the opposite (northwest) side of the room, a series of vertical silver panels were mounted on the curved blue wall, each with a series of vertical groooves - most parallel, a few tilted.  Nowhere in EPCOT Center was there to be found a queue, holding area or pre-show rivalling the Magic Kingdom's best (such as Pirates, Space Mountain, If You Had Wings or even Mission To Mars), and WOM presented a good example of that.  Early EPCOT Center's most interesting waiting areas were those for The American Adventure and Kitchen Kabaret, which isn't saying much, and World of Motion's would have been almost unbearable were it not for the sight of Load ahead.   Fortunately, the line moved pretty fast.

Guests were directed onto a Speedramp by a host or hostess and stepped into one of the ride's blue Omnimover cars, which of course never stopped unless there was an operational problem, that rolled westward toward a ramp that led up and outside to the aforementioned spiral.  Once seated, the vehicle doors closed autmatically and the voice of narrator Gary Owens was heard through onboard speakers: "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the wonderful World of Motion.  General Motors now invites you to travel the open road, to discover that when it comes to transportation, it's always fun to be free."

During the climb, riders could see Communicore, Spaceship Earth, Universe of Energy and Horizons in the near-distance.  Then they entered the hole in the red wall, which led into a cave, and the narration of actual show scenes began with Owens stating, "Throughout the ages, we have searched for freedom to move from one place to another.  In the beginning of course, there was foot power.  But with our first wandering steps, we quickly discovered the need to improve our basic transportation."  The impressions of feet lit up against the stone walls* and the cars turned left to face a cavewoman and caveman sitting on rocks, fanning and blowing on their hot, red, blistered feet.  A sleeping cavebaby lay next to them, swaddled in a pelt-and-stick baby carrier.

*Precursors to the glowing footsteps added to WDW's Haunted Mansion in 2007.

Sign from World of Motion entrance alcove wall photographed by me in 1995    Sign from World of Motion entrance alcove wall photographed by me in 1995


This first vignette established the tone for the rest of the ride with its humor and in situ dynamic; Benjamin Franklin may have been walking across the floor over at The American Adventure, but World of Motion's cast were more likely to be lamenting side effects of transit, demonstrating an inability to get started or pretending to move when in truth they just weren't going anywhere.  Robida's flats in Horizons got more traction than WOM's would-be travellers.  The scene also indicated something about EPCOT Center that was (to me) kind of problematic i.e., TWO Future World rides starting with cavepeople?  TWO films in the park that made it look like you're skiing off the edge of a snowy cliff?  TWO attractions depicting a space shuttle launch?  TWO boat rides that took you through a speakeasy where a hundred gangster kids covered in custard sang a Paul Williams song?*  I know they had different Imagineers working on different pavilions, but come on!

"After years of stumbling around, we launch a new idea: our first safe highway, water."

Through reeds lining the shore of an Egyptian river, guests saw a man reclining on a singled-masted wooden raft, seemingly asleep with a smile on his face, legs crossed and a foot dangling out, inches from the open mouth of a crocodile.  Two other crocs watched to see what would happen.  On the horizon line were those projections of watercraft that Davis had painted.  A
papyrus boat rested on the bank to the right.   

"On land, our animal friends give us new freedom, and we test drive many new models."

Spinning back across the track to the right, the cars turned to face a congregation of beasts and their riders backed up at the walled entrance to an ancient middle-eastern city.  At the head of the line, an old man in rags tried to manage enough coin from a burlap pouch to gain passage while the gatekeeper in his toll booth shook his head in disapproval.  The old man was leading, by rope, a burro who was one pant away from collapsing beneath the oppressive weight of sacks, baskets, bundles, gourds and a big woman whose face was hidden beneath a blue veil.   Just next to the burro, a man struggled in vain to raise the posterior of an similarly burdened and now-fallen zebra, whose extended tongue, rolled back eyes and back laden with rope-bound parcels spoke to a wearying journey.  A little further back, a worried man riding an ostrich pulled a basket of fruit back from the hungry face of his conveyance ... not yet aware that the camel behind him, whose master lay back contentedly between humps, was already partaking of grapes.  Behind the camel, a man and woman riding an elephant waited their turn patiently.  A boy riding a water buffalo, wooden sled in tow, occupied the foreground next to the zebra.  Above it all, a turbaned man floated blissfully on a magic carpet with some kind of mystical orb in his lap.

This was the first WOM scene that, as a child, not only got my attention but kind of blew my mind.  It rivalled the Pirates auction scene for LSGO** and set high expectations for what was yet to come.  So much to like and so little time to take it in!  It was the first and last time I've seen an animatronic ostrich, for example, or a camel.  And that zebra ... I felt so bad for him even though I knew he wasn't real.  Same for the donkey.     

* I may have this particular item confused with something I saw on HBO after a trip to EPCOT Center.

** Levels of S#!& Going On.  Use the phrase in daily conversation to win friends and influence people.

    

Then the vehicles passed through the city wall into the throne room of an Assyrian (I guess) palace, where a crowned and bearded high potentate had summoned inventors to present their concepts for "the wheel." 


Your Attention Please - WYW's World of Motion page will expand into this space during a future update.   Isn't that an exciting thought?

    

Even though the Speed Rooms could be construed as a kind of budgetary cop-out - something to fill long stretches of track that might have otherwise contained more amazing animatronic scenery - we give WED no grief for them because Speed Rooms and TRON footage are cool in their own right.  It's just that the juxtaposition of those rooms with the detail and humor that was prevalent during the ride's first ten minutes made three Speed Rooms in a row feel kind of weird, whereas in If You Had Wings seeing more film projections at the end of a mainly film-driven experience made sense. 

CenterCore, the ride's finale, is where WED got really strange on WOM.  After leaving the third Speed Room, vehicles rounded a corner in complete darkness.  Gary Owens' voice rejoined riders: "Yes our world has indeed become a world of motion.  We have engineered marvels that take us swiftly over land and sea, through the air and into space itself.  And still bolder and better ideas are yet to come, ideas that will fulfill our age-old dream to be free; free in mind, free in spirit, free to follow the distant star of our ancestors to a brighter tomorrow."*

The ride vehicles entered a half-circle loop through the middle of the building, where they all faced a large model of a future city at night; hovering vehicles slowly spun through open spaces or navigated the gaps between starkly vertical buildings illuminated in twinkling lights as an ethereal version of the ride's theme echoed throughout the room.  You already knew from the narration that there wasn't a lot of conceptual meat on this particular bone, but is this really where Disney or GM thought our motion-obsessed species was heading?  All that wacky travel stuff went down for thousands of years and we have this to look forward to ... a disembodied, almost foreboding panorama devoid of verve or mayhem?  No way!  What about a rocket traffic jam?  Martians holding up an intergalactic train?  A spaceman on an asteroid, blowing to cool down his overheated jet boots?  It was like a version of the Haunted Mansion where, instead of all kinds of spooky hell is breaking loose in the graveyard, you just see a landscape of pretty tombstones bathed in blue light with an occasional distant spirit flitting through the sky.

Of course some people may have thought CenterCore was the best part of WOM because in spite of what it wasn't, it was futuristic.  And it was, without question, a pretty thing to look at.  It was just, in addition to those two things, a misfit ending for this particular ride**.

"Ladies and gentlemen, General Motors now invites you to share the challenge of the future.  We need you to help us shape tomorrow's mobility.  Just ahead is General Motors' exciting TransCenter.  Join us behind the scenes, where we are working to ensure that tomorrow's world will continue to be a world of motion."   

Speaking of The Haunted Mansion, WED dipped one last time into their Omnimover grab bag for a WOM coda ... guests as hitchhiking ghosts.  In a reversal of what WDW visitors already knew from the Magic Kingdom, a few seconds after leaving CenterCore guests saw themselves reflected in a window to their left, riding inside "futuristic vehicles" that were moving on an independent track behind the glass, lit up just enough to be transparent.  And then a GM concept vehicle followed them home.

The final portion of the ride was the approach to Unload and its Speedramp (belt moving the same speed as your vehicles).  Guests stepping off the belt and could see the pathway to the Transcenter post-show ahead, beginning with blue neon letters against a black stripe on the wall that proclaimed, "the future of transportation is here."  The neon cut across a large metallic silhouette of a human head, in the center of which was a circular projection screen depicting concepts for possible vehicles.   

* That was Owen's lead-in to this scene for the majority of WOM's operational years.  His first version fit the scene even less appropriately and can be heard in the live 1983 recording in the Audio section below.

** Again, the original Spaceship Earth had already covered the caveman angle and the "let's picture a future that's in the dark and not exactly joyful" angle.

   
    

The conceit here was that TransCenter was more than just a display area - it fronted a little bit as a laboratory-type environment where a guest might expect to see GM engineers collaborating on ideas for more aerodynamic cars and more fuel-efficient mass transit systems.  The truth, of course, was that the only GM employees to be found were those distributing promotional literature for the company's current line of cars on display in the showroom that constituted the last section of TransCenter.  Everything in between the ride and those cars was good, clean, we-have-no-actual-plans-to-build-any-of-this-crazy-stuff fun.  Which is not to say that my mother-in-law's 2010 Prius doesn't look a little bit like the Aero 2000.  As for the Lean Machine and other concept vehicles, though, not so much.

Your Attention Please - WYW's World of Motion page will expand into this space during a future update.   Will you come back for more?

    

As the links section in Part III will indicate, there were solid World of Motion testimonials online for years (the same is true of Horizons) before I started writing this page, which tries not to duplicate the efforts of those who provided their own tributes.  In truth, Widen Your World's coverage of early EPCOT Center was slim for so long in part because of those other sites and a pronounced online presence on the part of original Future World fans*.  And then there's the simple fact that few people really care what I have to say about World of Motion!  But they might like seeing more pictures.  So having said that, and having said everything else, it's high time to retreat into darkness and listen to live theme park recordings. 

*  Including Hitler, strangely enough, who had a soft spot for Dreamfinder. 

 

Part II - World of Motion Images, Audio & Video

IMAGES - click on any of the thumbnails below for larger images

Concept art by Ken O'Connor for World of Motion. I'm not sure what this wheel was made of.  The goat wants to eat it, so it's probably not camel dung.  Still - it's probably a good thing that this scene didn't make it to the ride.    World of Motion traffic jam scene photographed c. 1983 by Mike Lee 
 
AUDIO - click on the LP icons or track names below to hear or download audio files



World of Motion Live Ride-through with Alternate Gary Owens Dialogue
1983, mp3 file, 13mb, 13:47, a WYW original!  It's the CenterCore lead-in dialogue that changed in later years.


"It's Fun To Be Free" - Greek Scene version
1982, mp3 file, 4.7mb, 3:59

VIDEO - the selections below can also be found on WYW's YouTube Channel (click here to visit)
     

     

    

 
Part III - Links to other World of Motion Sites & Resources
 
World of Motion Memorial Website

World of Motion Illustrated Essay By Steve Burns

Lost EPCOT's World of Motion Page

 
First draft of page posted June 30, 2011
Updated December 30, 2011 (additional images and video)