An Interview with Artist Sam Carter

Sam Carter

Featured at this year’s Epcot International Festival of the Arts at Walt Disney World, is artist Sam Carter.  This may be Sam’s first experience at the Festival of the Arts but he’s no stranger to the guests. Sam is well known among Disney aficionados so it is no surprise that his artwork has been selling out.  Perhaps it’s because Sam is able to capture the feeling and nostalgia of the attractions in the Pop Art style he creates, which quickly draws in his audience’s attention.  Whether it be his “Crooning in the Tiki Room” piece depicting the birds brightly signing words from Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room attraction, or his “Progress” painting depicting the many eras in time the Father character John travels in the Carousel of Progress attraction, the art is captivating, purposeful, and just simply fun to look at.

I was able to meet with Sam over a brief Zoom session.  We talked about his love of Disney art, his long career at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California and how he became a WonderGround Gallery Artist creating memorable pieces of art.

Sam Meets The Master Illustrator

Sam: “Ever since I was a kid I was into Disney Gallery art.  I don’t know how many 10 year old kids knew artists names like I did, but there was an artist named Charles Boyer, who did a ton of artwork for Disney and my mom knew I was into art and that I liked him.  She found out that he was going to appear at the Disneyland Gallery and brought me to meet him.  He autographed a lithograph for me, to this day it still hangs in my room, and I absolutely adore it.  I think that’s what planted the seed, yep, that’s what I want to do.”

(Photo Credit: Sam Carter) 10 year old Sam Carter with Disney Legend Charles Boyer

Disney Legend Charles Boyer was Disneyland’s first full-time artist, and because of his 45 years with the resort, was known as Disneyland’s master illustrator.

Credit: Walt Disney Archives: Disney Legend Charles Boyer and two of his famous art pieces: “The Disney Evening Post” and “Partners.”

After Sam talked to Charles Boyer, just that one day was all it took for him to be inspired to study Boyer’s style.  Sam began to notice Boyer’s composition, how he placed things in certain areas in his paintings and how he would paint his characters because, as Sam explained, “There’s a difference in how you draw a character, are you drawing the character how it appears in a cartoon or do you draw Mickey how he looks in his costume in a parade?  You have to really decide what this is for and you have to be strategic, wondering who the audience is.”

Sam Becomes a Disneyland Cast Member

Many of Sam’s art pieces reflect the best of Disney’s in-Park Entertainment, it’s self-reflective as Sam spent a great many years working in the parades at the Disneyland Resort.

In 1995, Sam would begin to work at Disneyland in the Parades and Show Support Department.  He was hired as a float driver for the epic summer of when the best day and night parade of all time (in my humble opinion) ran together, The Lion King Celebration Parade by day and the Main Street Electrical Parade at night. In 1997, Sam would be inspired by another daytime parade he worked, the Hercules Victory Parade

Photo Credit: Sam Carter Hercules Victory Parade 1997

The entire time he was in the parade department, he was trying to get into the Art Department.  By 2005, ten years later, Sam shared with me that he was trying to get noticed and it just wasn’t happening.  Ten years had gone by and then he decided that he would paint a mural in the Parade building, located backstage.

Sam: “I painted the mural just for the fun of it (with permission of course).  I loved the history and I thought the parade performers needed to know what part of this legacy they’re all in.  Hey, you’re in a Disneyland parade!  This goes back to Walt’s days and now you’re a part of that and I thought that was cool to teach that lesson to everyone that walked down those hallways.”

Having worked with Sam in the Parade Department and seeing the beginnings of his mural take shape was perhaps one of the coolest things I had ever seen during my years in that department.  Sam had always been so gracious with his artistry.  He would create the designs for the cast parade t-shirts, create keepsakes for the Tink Crew (masters of flight that helped Tinkerbell fly, if she didn’t have enough Pixie Dust that is) and for me, well, he created a team logo shirt when I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1999.  It was just something he did.  To this day, if Sam created it, even if it was 25 years or more ago, we still have what he made for us.  We all saw the talent Sam had and we, as a tight-knit Cast Member family were always so proud of him. 

The building where the mural is located is occupied by all Cast Members required to pull off a parade, the performers, the float drivers, makeup artists, wig specialists, choreographers, and the like.  Every time someone walks down the hallway, they are reminded that they are a part of that legacy that started back when Walt Disney first opened his park in 1955.  It was another gift from Sam to his Parade family. 

No one can walk through the parade building without seeing Sam’s mural, which finally led to eyes being opened by those in Disney Creative Entertainment. It wouldn’t be too much longer until Sam was on their radar, and soon thereafter, Sam would be hired as an Art Specialist designing events of all sizes for the Disneyland Resort in Creative Entertainment.

The Santa Car and John Lasseter

As a Creative Event Designer, Sam created some epic unforgettable moments at the Disneyland Resort.  One in particular that came to Sam’s mind was the Cars Land Christmas Billboard Overlay. Which Sam described as “Super fun.”

Credit: Sam Carter

Sam: “I loved that.  It’s funny, because when I was drawing it, I had to check in with Pixar and send them my artwork for approvals.  Pixar was making sure it was how it should be, and it was a humongous file.  It kept crashing my computer!

Sam went on to tell me that he was bouncing off ideas with Dave Caranci, of Resort Enhancement, (who has since been promoted to Manager Creative Development at Walt Disney Imagineering) about the designs he wanted to create for the billboard.  Sam told Dave he wanted to add snowflakes to the billboard and that’s when Dave let Sam know that his team was making snowflakes out of wrenches to be placed throughout Cars Land, which gave Sam the idea for the snowflake wrenches that he would then add to his billboard design. 

Next, Sam wanted to add a Santa car with reindeer to his billboard.  He’d need to receive Pixar approval again, and that’s when he recounted an exciting moment.

Photo/Design Credit: Sam Carter

Sam: “I wanted a Santa car with reindeer.   Pixar got back to me and actually sent me a scanned sketch from (John) Lasseter with his writing saying what he always pictured a Santa car would look like.  I HAVE A SKETCH FROM JOHN LASSETER saying make it look like this!  The reindeer are jet skis and Santa is a big red Chrysler with a sled.  So, if you look closely at the artwork for Santa and the reindeer, that’s based off the artwork Lasseter had already envisioned and sent to me.”

The Buena Vista Street Christmas Tree

Design Credit: Sam Carter

I remembered Sam had also created something very special with the Christmas tree located on Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure Park and I asked him to explain to me more about the involvement of the design process. 

Sam: “Oh yes, the tree design at Disney California Adventure Park.  At Creative Entertainment, our offices are next door to Resort Enhancement and I became good friends with Dave Carranci.  We were talking about Christmas and he was bouncing ideas off of me, what should a tree look like in 1930’s Los Angeles?  We were brainstorming and thinking about it.  Then he asked me to help with ornaments. Back in the 1930’s, Walt Disney licensed and sold Christmas lights with characters on each light and on each light was a bell.  We both did research and we found pictures of what they looked like in the 1930’s. There’s this Clarabelle and Horace, Mickey and Minnie carrying a Christmas tree, and Goofy playing a flute.  I hand drew each drawing as it looked back then. They were then made (from Sam’s drawings) and so now the ornaments at Disney California Adventure are based on the ornaments from the 1930’s.  No one is going to know that, but what I’m hoping is, some grandma or grandpa is going to walk over there and see that and get a flashback, and think ‘I had that when I was a kid.’ I just hope one grandma or grandpa gets to see that.  That’s what I’m hoping for.  I haven’t heard of that happening yet, but it’s possible, right?”  

Photo Credit Sam Carter: 1930’s Mickey Mouse lights far left and Sam’s designed bells, artwork and design by Sam Carter

I don’t know if any grandparent has seen Sam’s ornaments and if, by doing so, it brought them back to a moment of joy from their childhood, but that continues to show how Sam creates his art.  Everything he puts into his artwork is intentional to provoke a feeling, a memory. 

“Fight on for ol’ SC…”

Sam would remain with Creative Art Entertainment at the Disneyland Resort for seven years until 2012, when he was handpicked and offered a job as Creative Director of Design at the University of Southern California.  It was an epic jump up for Sam.  Although it was a great career move, it lacked the Pixie dust Sam was used to.  But, the benefit of no longer being a Cast Member for the Walt Disney Company, meant that Sam could begin to consult for other theme parks and attractions, like at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Springfield land, where he created the Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck design and designed a light parade for Six Flags Magic Mountain, all the while maintain his position at USC.

Photo/Design Credit Sam Carter Creative

During this time, Sam also created an elevated North Pole fantasy voyage on the Queen Mary docked in Long Beach, California.  For this special event, Sam would single handedly create the concept down to instructing the employees working the event on how important it was that they, too, were in on the magical story that the ship was travelling to the North Pole. 

Photo/Design Credit Sam Carter Creative

Becoming a WonderGround Gallery Artist

Not working as a Cast Member had another benefit for Sam, he could now become a gallery artist, like Charles Boyer before him.  WonderGround Gallery had long wanted Sam’s art pieces in their showroom, but because Sam was a Cast Member, there was a conflict, and they could not show his pieces.  But by 2012, Sam was no longer an employee of the MOUSE, and so by 2013, Sam had his first art signing during his birthday weekend at WonderGround Gallery at Downtown Disney in Anaheim. 

Paintings by Sam Carter Art:

Sam: “It was a dream come true.  I had a signing at WonderGround.  I had 4 pieces in their gallery that 1st year.  Beauty and the Beast, Wreck it Ralph, Mulan and the Lion King.  After that show, I was trying to get in the show again, but it was taking a long time and I didn’t get back into the gallery until 2019.  It took 6 years after my first signing to get another group of art going and that’s when I did my Fantasmic! piece, because I keep trying to push the Entertainment side.  I also had the Country Bear Jamboree painting, which is one my most favorite things ever and those went crazy viral, people loved them and then WonderGround asked, ‘What more can you do? What else can you show us?’”  

Paintings by Sam Carter Art

Four More Pieces…next stop Epcot

Sam pitched to WonderGround the ideas he had for his next art pieces and several of his ideas were chosen.  Sam went on to tell me that these paintings became his quarantine projects and then he explained that while he calls his art paintings, they are digital art and he further explained his process,

Sam: “Ever since I started working at USC in L.A., I’d take the train there every day and I’d have my MacBook and digital drawing pad.  I was doing all my artwork on the train so that’s how I left the acrylic paint in the dust and started doing digital pixels, I still call it paint because I draw it first and then draw it again on a computer.”

By the beginning of 2020, right before the pandemic happened, Sam had taken a leap of faith and left his Directorship at USC to concentrate on his consulting business, Sam Carter Art, as well as his art pieces for WonderGround.

The artwork that the gallery had chosen were two more Country Bear pieces to flank the piece he had created back in 2013 (Big Al to be displayed one side while Henry is on the other side).  The Country Bear pieces ended up evolving into just Big Al for this year, but Sam is hoping he’ll create Henry for the other side in the future, as he has envisioned the three paintings being displayed together. 

Following Big Al, Sam was also approved to paint his Carousel of Progress piece, The Muses, (from the parade that Sam loved), and the Enchanting Tiki Room.

Credit: Sam Carter Art

Sam:  “It’s the first time where I think that these 4 pieces are the best things I have ever done.  I can’t really say that about past artwork, I’m really picky with stuff I put out there.  I took a lot of critique classes at Cal State Fullerton and the critiques are really beaten into you, so I’m able to not take it personally.  I have a mindset of well, I make it perfect so no one can critique it.  I put that amount of time into it.  But, even if they do critique it, art is subjective, so they can have their own opinion, and that’s fine, but I make sure every detail I do, there’s a reason for it.  Whether it’s my gallery art or whether it’s a design for a theme park.  Nothing is done by accident, there’s a reason for everything and every piece is loaded with stuff. 

“Where the Birds Sing Words and the Flowers Croon…”

Sam Carter Art Original Piece

I asked Sam about his creative process in painting these 4 newest iconic pieces that premiered at the Festival of the Arts at Epcot this year.

Sam: “Well, while I work on each piece, I listen to the music for the attraction.  The Tiki Room is only 20 minutes long and it takes hours to make this painting, so I found on YouTube the Trader Sam’s background music so I listened to this cool music, and then I start to work on it.  The music is going and the kids walk in and say, ‘Oh Tiki Room, cool.’ They don’t know what I’m doing, but they’ll see something on my computer screen and then they go to Disneyland and they’ll see it on the wall and they are like, ‘Hey, that’s what you did at home.’  They are starting to put it together. They know we’re going to Walt Disney World for Daddy’s art show.  It’s pretty awesome.” 

Credit/Design: Carter Creative – Be sure to stop by the WonderGround tent in the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot to see Sam Carter through January 26th

What’s Next?

I asked Sam if he had any exciting projects on the horizon and he told me that he is helping out with the design of a video game.  He’s there to make sure that it has an elevated quality and style to it and he will also be doing the logos and branding.  He tells me that he never thought he’d be working on a video game, but this is a perfect time for him to be working on it, because he can create from home.  Though it won’t be out for another two years from now, Sam says he’s having a blast.

Sam also gave me an inside scoop and told me he designed the 50th anniversary popcorn buckets for Walt Disney World.

 Sam:  “I feel like Disneyland’s 50th anniversary was 10 minutes ago.  So to be working on the 50th at Walt Disney World is so cool.  I’m such a nerd for this kind of stuff.  I’ve had it finished since over the Christmas break, but nobody will get to see it until October 1st when the 50th anniversary celebration begins.   It’s so hard to work on stuff for a year or so and I can’t share it, I’m a chatty guy, I want to show it, but I can’t.  When you design for a popcorn bucket, it’s a Walt Disney popcorn bucket, not a Sam Carter Art piece, but I still know I did it and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”

It’s in the Blood

Sam Carter, a self-taught artist, credits his parents for the abilities he has today.  His mother would take Sam to Disneyland often and nurtured his artistic talent.  Sam is also a son of an aerospace engineer. His father was a brilliant man who would find joy in drawing caricatures for his friends at work. It wasn’t until after his father’s passing that Sam took a closer look at the art his father had created. Seeing his father’s art hit him differently than it had before. Sam discovered that his father wasn’t just a strategic left brain thinker. He discovered his dad did indeed have creative skills. Sam has since discovered within himself, that he’s more like his father than he thought, as Sam said, “I’ve found myself drifting to left brain design since my artwork is so thought out and meticulously detailed.” Methodical creativity must run strong in the blood of the Carter family.

Sam: “The thing that I need to pinch myself on is when I look back, to being that 10 year old kid and getting excited to see Charles Boyer, it’s what I get to do now.  So, whenever I get down on the dumps, I remind myself that I actually get to do what I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s not my full-time job, I do it for fun.”

Check out these fantastic short clips showing Sam creating some extra magic for 4 original pieces that can be purchased at Epcot during the Festival of the Arts.

Where you can find Sam: On Instagram @cartarsauce

On Twitter @cartarsauce

Website: Creative Art Services Request or to access his store and blog.

The Scenic Artist

If you’ve visited a Disney theme park, then you’ve most likely seen the detailed artistry of the talented scenic artist John Rayburn.  But who is John Rayburn and how was he able to paint some of the most iconic and beloved attractions and parade floats?  From Splash Mountain, to Abraham Lincoln’s hands, to the very popular Disneyland holiday overlays at both the Haunted Mansion and “it’s a small world,” it all came about with a bit of luck, a lot of talent, and the “Baroque Hoedown.” 

Photo Credit: John Rayburn Main Street Electrical Parade

  I first met John when I started at Disneyland as a float driver in the Main Street Electrical Parade back in 1992. John’s long career with the Mouse started 12 years prior in 1980 when he was cast as a performer in the same nighttime classic parade.  An amazing and talented performer with a seemingly unending amount of energy, John would continue to perform and entertain guests in various roles over the years until his final parade performance in the Christmas Fantasy Parade in 1998. 

 It was fun talking with John about his 18 years with Disneyland’s Parade Department and to reminisce about the time we were in the same unit for the “Cruisin’ the Kingdom Parade.” We had some good times during that parade, just don’t get him started on “Light Magic,” which John claims to still have vivid nightmares about.  I’ll definitely have to save that story for another time.   For today’s blog post, I want to share John Rayburn’s talent as an artist that began when he picked up a paint brush at the age of six. 

It Was a Game Changer

John Rayburn is a self-taught artist and has been painting nearly his whole life.  At the age of 12 years old, he was painting models so expertly that the Military Shop, a local model hobby shop, asked him to paint their display models.  He was too young to work for them, so instead, he was paid in merchandise.  Being able to choose whatever he wanted from the store, as payment, was a deal John gladly accepted.

It was at this hobby shop in Lakewood, California where he met an employee named Jim Murphy.  John likes to make the objects he paints look real and credits Jim with his first breakthrough into doing just that.  John told me that the painting techniques Jim taught him, like which colors to look at for shading, were a game changer that would inevitably end up giving him a career.

Art and the Disneyland Connection

In the late 1970’s, John’s older sister worked in the Parade Department.   He said some of her friends from the parades would come over to the house and one of those friends was a guy named Richard Ferrin.  John told me that Richard would always make a point to look at John’s models when he came over. At that time, Richard was not only a ride design Imagineer for the Walt Disney Company, he also moonlit as a performer in the Main Street Electrical Parade. 

John reconnected with Richard Ferrin in 1980, when John was finally old enough to work as a parade performer at Disneyland.  Richard let John know that he was leaving Imagineering to start his own company with his friend Rick Bastrup called R&R Creative Amusement Designs, Inc. (R&R).  As a ride engineer, Richard explained to John that he would need people to build architectural study models and asked John if he’d be interested in creating and painting the models.  John jumped at the chance and started to work for R&R in Anaheim, California.

Photo Credit: R & R Creative Amusement Designs

After approval of one of John’s completed architectural model builds and paint samples for a job, John shared with me a conversation he had with Richard.  It was a brief conversation that would further propel John on his career path:

Richard: “What if you did that a bit bigger?”

John: “What do you mean?”

Richard: “You’ve already done the paint finish that we wanted, it’s approved, and now it needs to be done on the job site.  Why can’t you paint it bigger?  Instead of using a small brush (like the ones used on models) get bigger ones.  Instead of a small air brush, get a larger one.”

It was not an outrageous suggestion, but it would take Richard in that moment to illuminate John’s mind to the possibility of taking on a new endeavor and hone new full-scale artistry skills. From that moment, John’s life as a model builder and painter would forever change, he was now a full-scale scenic artist. 

Living Close to the Castle Has Its Advantages

Richard started to send John on various job sites where he would meet folks from Disney who would end up pulling him in on various projects.  Plus, folks from Disney knew Richard from Imagineering and would ask if he knew anyone local that can paint finishes fast and Richard would always recommend John as he could fix and match paint faster than anyone, plus he was a local and could get to the park faster than someone from Los Angeles.  That’s how, as John says he, “got the in” at Disneyland.

At first Disney would use John to produce quick paint finishes, as well as paint repairs and paint blending for attractions including, Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, and the Jungle Cruise. 

You May Get Wet at This “Laughing Place”

Photo Credit: John Rayburn Consulting

Paint repairing on existing attractions to perfection undoubtedly proved to Disney that John was up for his first big job at Disneyland.  For this project, John was assigned to scenic paint a new attraction, one that would be billed by Disney as the “Tallest, fastest, thrillingest attraction this side of Star Tours,” and that of course is none other than Splash Mountain, based on Disney’s 1946 film, “Song of the South.” 

John, along with an estimated 10 to 12 other scenic artists, age and grain artists and as John said, “a ton of general painters,” all contributed to the painting of the exterior and interior parts of the mountain. For any scenic elements that were added to the attraction after it opened, however, John became the sole scenic artist.

Splash Mountain would open the summer of 1989, after a few months of delays, but in the minds of many guests, it was certainly an attraction that was well worth the wait. 

The Work Keeps Coming

John would continue to work on several more projects for Disneyland throughout the years, including painting the brand new Mickey’s Toontown, which opened to guests on January 24, 1993.  John was also made the sole scenic artist the year after it opened,  tasked with maintaining the land’s vivid hues as well as painting any and all upgrades.

1993 Toontown Photos Credit: John Rayburn Consulting


By 2001, John was a proven scenic artist.  So much so that he was assigned as a scenic artist for the brand new, yet to open, Disney California Adventure Park. John would work on the initial paint for the Park all the way up until the February 8, 2001, opening date. He was also the only scenic artist approved to be in the Park the full day prior to opening, as he was tasked specifically by Chris Runco, Concept Designer at Walt Disney Imagineering, to touch up paint at surrounding restaurants and the iconic Grizzly Mountain.

John shared with me about an incident that I had all but forgotten until he brought it up, which I thought was quite humorous. 

By 2001, I was now working mostly in the TV Productions/Broadcast Services Department at the Disneyland Resort and was working on a commercial film shoot for the new Disney theme park.  We were supposed to film Grizzly River Rapids, but we couldn’t get a clean shot because there was a man painting on the mountain.  Turns out, that man was John.

John was given a mandate from Imagineering that he had full run of the entire park for 24 hours, allowing John to scan the park for needed touch ups.  He had until 8AM on opening day February 8th , to complete the job. What John thought would be a relaxing day of just him and his paint brush, turned into something quite different.

John told me, “I was doing a lot of touch up work on Grizzly for Chris (Runco) and I caused a big problem.  There were about 300 people, all over the mountain. They were going to film a commercial but failed to ask Imagineering if they could have permission to do it.  Runco’s answer was no, they couldn’t have permission because little old me needed to do a bunch of paint in the waterways.  The film crew was furious with me! They had to remove their cameras and proceeded to stare at me for an hour and a half until I was finished.”

We were both able to laugh at it now, and it was certainly a good thing the film crew waited, not that we had a choice, but because of John’s extra touch of paint on Grizzly Peak mountain and it’s River Run waterways, it made for even more gorgeous scenery, not only for the crew to film, but for the guests who would be introduced to the park for their very first time once Disney California Adventure Park opened the next day.

John Meets Garner Holt

Photo Credit: Garner Holt Productions

John was introduced to Garner Holt by Richard and Rick of R&R. They would work together on various projects, like the MGM theme park in Las Vegas.  Garner would build the animatronics and John would paint the set pieces. 

During the 1990’s Garner had been trying to get his foot in the door with Disney to get some jobs going.  But that proved difficult as Disney was using mostly internal staff and only a few outsourced vendors.  Since John was working on projects with Disney, he was able to take some of Garner’s products to Lloyd Bressler, who was in charge of Imagineering Construction, and suggested that he should really take a look at Garner Holt because he was doing some amazing things with audio-animatronics.

Garner’s first breakthrough with Disney was the creation of the puppetronic character Phil for the “Hercules’ Victory Parade” in 1996.

Who’s This Garner Holt and Rayburn Fellow? 

Garner Holt Productions was now beginning to work more frequently on jobs with the Walt Disney Company, from parade float builds for Disneyland to set pieces for Tokyo DisneySea. But it wasn’t until after John Rayburn and Garner got into the Great Moment’s with Mr. Lincoln Theater that Garner Holt Production’s reputation was solidified.    

John said, “Redoing Lincoln Theater caused some nervous moments because it was something that Walt worked on.  You had people on the internet wondering who was doing this stuff and who is this Garner Holt Company?  Who’s this John Rayburn guy doing the paint?  What are they doing and are they going to wreck this attraction?”

Brad Kay, Imagineering Art Director, would assign John with the solo job of painting one of Walt Disney’s most beloved attractions.  John painted the entire theater.  He even painted Lincoln’s chair and touched up Lincoln’s hands.

Photo Credit: John Rayburn Consulting

The rehab was a great success for both John and Garner Holt.  So much so, that they were both hired on for one more project of that year.

One More Job For 2001 

While working on Lincoln Theater, John shared that Brad Kay had told him that there was something coming up in the works for both he and Garner, but, he couldn’t tell John what it was.  John persisted, and all Brad would say was that, “It’s going to be a very haunted overlay.”

John said, “So I thought cool, it might be an overlay for the Haunted Mansion. I didn’t think too much of it. Then it came down from Brian Sandahl, Senior Art Director at the Disneyland Resort, to hire Garner Holt Productions for the overlay and Brad said I should paint it. So we ended up doing the overlay.”

This last big project of the year for John would prove difficult, painful, but oh so memorable.  I am of course talking about the Haunted Mansion Holiday which is themed after Tim Burton’s film, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”


Contrary to popular belief, the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay at Disneyland was not dreamed up nor produced by Walt Disney Imagineering, rather, it was a collaboration between Disneyland’s Creative Director Steven Davison (who has since been promoted to Creative Director/ Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment) and Senior Designer Brian Sandahl, (who has since been promoted to Senior Designer/Show Development and Producer at Disney Entertainment Productions).  

After the success of “it’s a small world” Holiday, which opened in 1997, Davison’s next idea for an attraction overlay would be for the Haunted Mansion.  Davison, along with Senior Writer Carolyn Gardner, would rewrite the classic poem, “‘Twas the Night before Christmas” for the attraction overlay.”

Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Holiday

Once guests enter into the foyer of the Haunted Mansion, the Ghost Host begins to recite the following “‘Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas poem:”

 ‘Twas a long time ago (now longer than it seems).
 In a place that perhaps, you have seen in your dreams.
 For the story that you are about to be told
 Began in the holiday worlds of old.
 I know you’re curious to see what’s inside.
 It’s what happens when two holidays collide! 

(Guests now enter the stretching room and the poem continues)

 Welcome, my friends, to our Christmas delight.
 Come witness a ghoulishly glorious sight.
 It’s time for our holiday tale to begin.
 There’s no turning back now-please, come all the way in.
  Our holiday tale is a tale that’s quite charming.
 But during this season, it’s sometimes alarming.
 So relax and reflect, feel free to take pause,
 While we tell you a tale about dear Sandy Claws.
 ‘Twas the nightmare before Christmas,
 And all through the house,
 Not a creature was peaceful-not even a mouse
 The stockings, all hung by the chimney with care,
 When opened that morning would cause such a scare.
 The children, nestled all snug in their beds
 Would nightmares of monsters and skeleton heads! 

Blacklight Paint, Blood, and More Blacklight Paint

John shared with me that the installation of the overlay was a huge build out.  There were a lot of unknowns for them because nothing had ever been taken into the ride since it’s opening on August 9, 1969, especially as an overlay.

“The Install was horrendous. It was crazy.  They had to get these big giant pieces back into places that had no access. The piece that really comes to mind that was really hard to bring in was the pumpkin mountain.” John said.

John explained to me that the famous pumpkin mountain, which is made up of “3 to 4” pieces that stack on top of each other, are built within a metal frame.  The problem was they had to get the mountain, piece by piece, to where it sits for the overlay, which is located behind the statues in the graveyard scene.  There was no way to get the mountain into that area without having to tie ropes to each one of the pieces.  The crew would then have to get up to the catwalks that are located high above the tracks of the attraction to be able to lift the pieces up on pulleys.

John describes it as such, “The pieces had to all be swung over like Tarzan while crew were up on the high catwalks.  Then they’d have to get the piece into position to bring it down in front of where the statutes are located because you can’t just slide it over. Below the statues is about a 15 foot drop down to the projectors below. It all had to be lowered in there, piece by piece.” 

By the time the pumpkin mountain was Tarzan swung below the catwalk and put into place, it had been chipped up pretty bad, so John had to spend several weeks to repaint and repair it.  The problem with the mountain, was, it’s situated in the pit where the projectors are.  The tallest ladder they had that would fit in that area only got John halfway up the mountain, so he’d need to get a 15 foot pole to attach his paint brush to so that he would then be able to paint the areas located at the top half of the mountain.

John tells me, “What sticks with me, is, it’s a lot of long hours, and you’re in the dark a long time and you kind of lose perspective. Is it day? Is it night? Everyone’s tired, and all of a sudden I begin to see these blotches going up the mountain.  I was thinking, what is going on?  I’m wearing socks, because I don’t want to leave shoeprints on it (blacklight paint picks up everything).  I’m in my socks and so dust my socks off and climb back up the mountain but I keep seeing these big giant black blotches of something.  I’m tired, my feet hurt really badly for some reason, and it’s cold! WHAT IS THIS STUFF?! I’m trying to wipe it off, I don’t have any regular latex paint on here, what have I got on this thing?!  I’m trying to clean it off, but it’s semi dried. I didn’t know what was going on, so I had to start to paint over it, but see that it’s coming through the paint…and…OH MY GOSH, it’s going from bad to worse!”

Then John Realized…

Those black splotches he saw all up and down the mountain was blood!  John’s feet were bleeding!  Located down below in that area are dead broken Manzanita branches used for scenery.  Those branches were slicing up John’s feet as he was going up and down the mountain, leaving a trail of blood. Seems rather fitting, being the Haunted Mansion and all, but poor John.  He tells me he had to get peroxide to clean up the mountain to get it pristine again so that he would be able to reapply the blacklight paint.  He tells me, “IT WAS CRAZY!”  Every time I go past Pumpkin Mountain now, I’ll forever think of John leaving his trail of blood.

Photo Credit: Garner Holt Productions

John would paint all the lettering on the signs for the attraction, he’d paint the Jack Skellington and Zero animatronics that Garner Holt created, he’d paint the wreaths and design their snake like eyes in the stretching room, as well as paint the singing Venus Flytraps, and so much more.  An installation that was supposed to last 3 years, has gone on to be an 18 year tradition (due to park closure the attraction did not run in 2020).

Photo Credit: John Rayburn Consulting

With a Disneyland Entertainment Art budget, Art Director Brian Sandahl did not have enough in his budget for an animatronic Sally for the 2001 opening, which he so desperately wanted.  He would eventually get a Sally several years later…but not until Tokyo Disneyland got their’s first.

Chris Crump, Larry Nikolai and Tokyo Disneyland Open Their Haunted Mansion Holiday with Multiple Animatronic Versions of Sally in 2004

Shortly after the success of the Mansion’s holiday overlay, John was back at Garner Holt Productions working on something else when he gets paged to go to the phone and it’s to talk to Larry Nikolai, an Artist and now former Art Director/Producer at Imagineering.  Larry asked John if he had any paint left over from when he painted the Haunted Mansion Holiday. John let him know he that he did. Larry then immediately told John that he’d meet him at Garner’s the next day.

John continued to tell me, “The next day both Larry and Chris Crump (former Principal Show Production Designer at Walt Disney Imagineering, and son of Disney Legend Rolly Crump) walked into the shop at Garner Holt Productions.  Larry introduced me to Chris. He’s a great guy that likes to have fun, he’s always laughing and is a very sharp designer.  So they walk in and asked if I could produce all new paint samples, exactly as I had done it before for the mansion’s holiday overlay.  I asked why, what’s going on?” 

The build for Tokyo Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Holiday went quite smoothly. John painted everything the exact same way he had done for Disneyland.  The banners requiring lettering were all done the same way, same lettering, same colors, as he was able to use the original artwork as reference. He said all that was simple, the only difficult part was getting Sally’s lip color perfect.

“The only colors that I had to do differently were for Sally.  Larry came down for the day, he wanted to make sure Sally was perfect.  He said ‘I want a perfect red. Once you get it, I’ll go home.’ I got the specific skin tone color he wanted, he signed off on that.  But the lip color was his big thing, reds are extremely hard to mix.  If you go one way a little bit, it’s wrecked.  You have to throw it out and start all over again.  You can’t add any black that’ll make it go too dark, because then it turns grey.  You have to bring the color down to the purples and magentas.  It’s a very fine line you have to walk.  If you put just a tiny drip, it changes everything and it could go too brown, and then you have to throw that out and try again.

I can mix color really fast.  I can go into Splash Mountain and they would say the ride is opening in an hour and we’ll need you out of here; I can field mix it and it’s done.  It’s fast. But reds are really hard to mix.  Even spectrometers, if you go to a hardware store, and ask if they can mix a specific red… (John laughs) GOOD LUCK because spectrometers can’t do it either. But, I finally got it set and Larry approved it.  I saved the colors and have the documents Larry signed approving the colors in case Magic Kingdom or another Disney park ever wanted to add the holiday overlay. (Did you hear that Walt Disney World?!)”

John now had the colors and painted all the Sallys.  The only exception, was he did not paint her pupils.  Larry wasn’t sure where she would be positioned exactly at the Haunted mansion in Japan, so instructed John to not paint her pupils.  Chris Crump would end up painting her pupils once she was installed into her positions at the mansion. 

All of the set pieces would be delivered to a facility called the “Airport” where Imagineering had a hangar for the staging and packing of items to be shipped overseas.  John would met Chris Crump at the “Airport” for one last minute touch up and to provide him with a paint kit before their overseas departure. 

It was at this time that Chris shared some fun tidbits with John about his father Rolly Crump, retired Imagineer and Disney Legend who worked on the design of the original Haunted Mansion.

One of these fun tidbits was a story Chris would go on to recount about the ballroom dancers in the Haunted Mansion.  He told John that as a little kid, he was walking through the mansion with his dad and the other Imagineers when he noticed something in the ballroom scene. 

Chris said to his dad, “Why are the women leading the men?”

Rolly looks at everyone and shouts, “SEE! Even my kid sees it!” 

What had happened was the figures were set up with the men leading the women in the first room, but, when their image is reflected back into the ballroom, for the Pepper’s Ghost Optical Illusion, their image is reversed, so it appears as though the women are leading the men in the ballroom dance scene.  Next time you go on the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, make sure you look at the dancers, the women are leading the men! 

John went on to tell me that the Nightmare Before Christmas project for Tokyo Disneyland was all the fun from the first show, but without any of the problems they had originally encountered. No blood trails were left by John this go around!  John said they could all relax and have fun while working on Tokyo Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Holiday, that’s why John said it was one of his all-time favorite projects at Disney to date.

Brian Gets His Sally!

PhotoCredit Thank you magic.through.a.lens!

And as for Brian Sandahl and his dream of a Sally at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Holiday, well he would get one, eventually.  Brian had always intended to have a Sally, but Disneyland Entertainment Art and Imagineering are two different beasts with two vastly different budgets to work with.  Now that Garner had the molds, because he created them for Tokyo Disneyland, and John saved all the color information for her skin color and lips, the dream of a Sally at Disneyland was becoming a closer reality for Sandahl, but, it would take 15 more years from the time the holiday overlay first began for Brian’s dream to come to fruition.  In 2016, Sally finally made it into the Holiday Mansion Overlay. After being painted to perfection by John Rayburn, she now resides in the graveyard scene, lovingly looking at Jack Skellington.


Garner Holt Productions was the first outside company Disney has ever used to create an animatronic character for one if its attractions.  Since then they have created more than 400 figures for Disney and its theme parks around the world and now are the world’s largest manufacture of Animatronics and Animatronic figures, parade floats, and so much more.  When Disney shut down its Walt Disney Imagineering’s MAPO division, back in 2012, they turned over all the manufacturing of the attractions to Garner Holt Productions.  In a statement made by Disney Legend Bob Gurr, he said, “Garner inherits all of Imagineering’s historic animation and show production designs and tooling.”

And as for the Scenic Artist?  John Rayburn has never been busier. His scenic artistry can be seen on Mount Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, throughout Tokyo DisneySea and Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Shanghai Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland, and of course Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park.

Photo Credit: John Rayburn Consulting

John works on many projects outside of Disney too.  His top two favorite projects he’s ever painted were painting both the Timber Mountain Log Ride and the Calico Mine Ride at Knott’s Berry Farm, a theme park located just 7 miles from Disneyland. 

John Rayburn has his own business and you can find him on Facebook at John Rayburn Consulting.  He paints themed paint, Trompe L’oeil, Faux Finishes, Glazes, Artistic Refinishing, Portraits, Aging, Graining, and Marbling. 

John has a diverse clientele, whatever you can dream up, John will be able to create it. From adorable nurseries to dental offices, to even backyard scenic artistry, like the famous Orange County backyard of architect David Sheegog.  Imagine having a model of Splash Mountain in your backyard painted by THE GUY that painted the original Splash Mountain.

 I’ll be writing more about John in future. This blog post is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Baking Jack-Jack’s Cookie Num Nums From Home

Our favorite treat on Pixar Pier

My son and I have a tradition when we visit Disney California Adventure Park. The very first thing we do after we enter through the gate is head to Pixar Pier.

Pic by @magicmadebydisney

As soon as Pixar Pier is in our sights we become excited and our casual walk becomes more brisk in its pace as we head with great anticipation to the Incredicoaster.

My kiddo riding the Incredicoaster

After experiencing the highspeed thrills of the Incredicoaster, we exit the attraction and head to a small food cart located around the corner. This cart sells assorted milk and cookies. But not just any cookies, this cart sells Jack-Jack’s num nums! The cookie we purchase, and perhaps the real reason we head to Pixar Pier in the first place, is the ooey gooey Jack-Jack Chocolate Chip Cookie Num Num.

Now that the Disney Parks are closed, I am truly missing all the Disney snacks and treats, including this very special and delicious cookie.

Thanks to Pixar Pastry Chef Marylou Jaso, we can now bake Jack-Jack Num Num cookies from home!

Pixar has gifted us the recipe.


*1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, 1 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 egg AND 1 egg yolk, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 2 1/4 cup flour, and 1 cup chocolate chips.

The Ingredients
Thanks to Pixar for sharing the recipe on Instagram and Twitter

First step is to brown your butter

When the directions called for me to brown my butter, I was a bit baffled, I had never browned butter before. Sure, get it to room temperature, maybe even cheat a little and stick it in the microwave, but to take out a pan and cook down the butter was a whole new experience for me. I’m glad I didn’t cheat on this step. It’s so important you don’t either as it truly adds depth to the cookie’s flavor. Once it’s been melted down, let it cool until it begins to solidify.

Next, grab your mixer (or a fork with a strong hand) and a mixing bowl to cream together your butter, sugars and salt. Make sure it’s mixed until light and fluffy.

My children enjoy taking turns mixing the batter.

Next, add one egg PLUS one yolk and the vanilla.

Continue to mix until smooth.

Now add your dry ingredients
(flour, salt and baking soda) to the smooth batter,

Next comes the fun part. Add in the chocolate chips.

Now the difficult part… the waiting

After forming these cookies into round balls, you’ll need to refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight, which is what I chose to do, which was the difficult part for the kids having to wait.

It’s now the next day

Preheat your oven to 350°. Once heated, open up your fridge and take those beautiful round balls of chocolate chip goodness out of your fridge. You might notice, like I did, that a ball or two will not be as round as you had once formed them. In my case, that was due to my two little chef helpers who apparently couldn’t help themselves.

Into the oven they go.

Bake the cookies at 350° for 7 to 10 minutes. You’ll want the cookies to have a golden brown edge, but still soft in the center.

It’s Time!

Once 7 to 10 minutes pass, take out those gorgeous Jack-Jack Chocolate Chip cookie Num Nums! They taste great out of the oven nice and warm. Enjoy!!

I’d love to hear how your cookies turned out.

Lunar New Year Celebration at Disney California Adventure Park

Mickey and Minnie at Disney California Adventure Park

The Lunar New Year Celebration is in full swing at Disney California Adventure Park. Now through February 9, 2020, you too, with paid admission, can welcome the “Year of the Mouse” at this multicultural celebration, which pays tribute to the Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean cultures.

It’s certainly a fun and festive event. As a homeschool parent to a 5th grader, we had a wonderful time learning about the beauty of the three diverse cultures and immersing ourselves with all the sights, sounds, and tastes the Lunar New Year Celebration had to offer.

Mulan’s Lunar New Year Procession

We started our day by viewing Mulan’s Lunar New Year Procession. It was beautifully performed. A narration could be heard educating the guests about the performers and what they or their prop symbolized.

After, being educated by the beautiful procession, we took it upon ourselves to taste some of the seasonal food that was offered.

Sip and Savor your way through Lunar New Year

Sip and Savor Pass

The Sip & Savor Pass is available for purchase at this event. With it, you’ll be able to explore a variety of Disney inspired Asian-fushion menus highlighting Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese cuisine at a slightly discounted price.
The pass is a commemorative credential keepsake that has 6 coupons attached to it which are redeemable for food and beverage offerings (not including alcohol).

Each Marketplace booth offers two Disney Inspired meal choices, one inventive dessert, as well as alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages.

Paradise Garden Grill is also taking part in the festive food offering. Here I tried my favorite dish, the Pork Belly Banh Mi, and it wasn’t my favorite just because it had a hidden Mickey.

Paradise Gardens at Disney California Adventure Park

Paradise Gardens is decorated beautifully. The bright and vibrant hues of red and gold great guests and welcome you to discover the celebration of Lunar New Year and what is means to the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese families.

Make a Wish

Lucky Wishing Wall at the Lunar New Year Celebration

Special Character Greetings

My child and I had the most wonderful time celebrating the “Year of the Mouse.” We colored our pearls for the dragon, listened to the beautiful music performed by Melody of China. We made a wish for the New Year, tried new food, and played with Pluto, just to name a few of our highlights. We had such a lovely time. Do you celebrate Lunar New Year? If so, I’d love to hear about your tradition.

It’s Refurbishment time at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park

The end of the holiday season at the Disneyland Resort means only one thing…it’s refurbishment time! Because of this, both Disneyand and Disney California Adventure will have a few closures. Many are routine, like “it’s a small world” Holiday and Haunted Mansion Holiday are being transformed back to their classic state.

There are also unexpected closures like Snow White’s Scary Adventures. But this closure is for such an exciting reason, as this attraction is just one of a few that will turn 65 this year and I couldn’t think anything better than the Snow White attraction receiving a reimagining for its birthday.

Following is a list of attractions at Disneyland that are scheduled to be closed.

“it’s a small world” Holiday

*”it’s a small world” is down just a few more days, it’s set to reopen January 17

*The Mark Twain Riverboat is down now through January 31st.

Haunted Mansion Holiday

*The Haunted Mansion Holiday goes down January 21st until Spring (I was informed it’ll be about a 3 month refurbishment). But good news is that you still have one more week to see Jack Skellington!

*King Arthur’s Carrousel is down beginning January 21st until late May, this 98 year old antique always needs a little extra special care.

*Snow White’s Scary Adventures is down now through summer. “Why so long?” you might ask. As one of the original park’s attractions celebrating its 65 years this year, it will receive a whole new reimagining! Gosh I love that word, don’t you? For this classic attraction, Imagineers are implementing state-of-the-art audio and visual technology throughout the attraction. It will include new music, LED black lighting in some areas, laser projections, brand new scenes, a new ending and a new animation system!! I cannot wait!!! The exterior of the attraction will also receive a new coat of paint to match the nearby Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

*The Sailing Ship Columbia will go down briefly for its routine maintenance from February 4 to 6, reopening on the 7th.

Following is a list of attractions, stores and restaurants that are scheduled to go down at Disney California Adventure Park.

*The Red Car Trolley is now down, most likely returning late Spring or early summer as construction is underway for the Avengers Campus. The trolley’s gate entrance will be blocked as Imagineers are getting ready to create this new and exciting land.

*Both the Carthay Circle Restaurant and its Lounge are currently down for refurbishments and both are set to return on January 31st.
*The Bakery Tour, located on the Pacific Wharf, is scheduled to close for refurbishments on January 21, returning on Feb 11th.

*Both Grizzly River Run and it’s neighboring store, Rushin’ River Outfitters, are also set to go down for refurbishments on January 21st, returning on February 14, just in time to celebrate getting soaked with a loved one on Valentine’s Day🥰

*Feb 24 Jessie’s Critter Carousel is set to go down briefly for routine maintenance.

*I will continue to update my blog with closures in hopes it’ll help you to enjoy your day at the Disney parks without any surprises. So check back often as I will continue to update my site.

Even though there are a few attractions down right now, it’s still a great time of year to attend the parks. Crowds are fewer, and with Luna New Year beginning this Friday, January 17th at Disney California Adventure, there’s still plenty of magical experiences to be had.

I’d love to know, when’s your favorite time to visit the Disneyland Resort?