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Fridays with Jim Korkis: The Seas with Nemo and Friends

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

The Living Seas pavilion that included what was at the time the largest saltwater aquarium tank in the world opened at Epcot in January 1986. The hydrolaters and Seacabs that took guests to Sea Base Alpha were closed in 2001, although the rest of the pavilion and its restaurant remained open.

Starting in 2004, the pavilion was re-themed to the popular Pixar animated feature film Finding Nemo (2003). Imagineer Jerre Kirk was assigned the dual role of project and construction management to oversee the four phases of transformation.

The first phase was the creation and installation of Nemo’s Garden outside the pavilion. The second phase was the installation of the theater showcasing Turtle Talk with Crush. And the third phase was the re-imagining of Sea Base.

Kirk said, “This third phase was a re-do of the circulation space, merchandise area and the aquarium outside the original ride.” This re-do entailed a new color scheme to the entire pavilion that had to be done while the Coral Reef Restaurant remained fully operational.

The fourth and final phase was the Nemo attraction that officially opened January 2007. Principal engineer Jerold Kaplan said the biggest challenge was adapting to the existing ride around the aquarium.

Kaplan said, “The portion of the old ride that ran around the fish tank is the existing ride system. We snipped track off where it went in and out of the fish tank. The 280 feet of track we added is in the space that used to be theaters and the hydrolaters that took guests to the Sea Cabs.”

The new attraction transports guests in Clamobiles through nine scenes.

“The coral in the first thee ride scenes is a new technique,” said Kaplan. “They are very thin castings of fiberglass that never have been done before.”

Principal Production Designer Ed Hanna worked with Senior Production Designer Eric Miller and Production Designer Gary Graham to refine the technique until it was just right for the coral. Art directors for paint Allen Jones and Julie Bilski added to the process.

The finale includes an entire cast of animated characters from the film singing In the Big Blue World that had been written originally for the Finding Nemo: A Musical stage show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom composed by Robert Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez that would open roughly two months later.

The animated characters appear to be inside the pavilion’s giant saltwater tank swimming with the real fish.

The projection technology in the finale scene was developed by R & D Designer Alfredo Ayala. He set up a demonstration that Imagineer Kathy Mangum said “really opened up the opportunity for us to create the finale. The technology really drove what the creative application could be.”

Imagineers had to tweak the animation and the projection to create the right effect. “Pixar was on site several times to go through the animation to get it right,” said Kaplan.

The anglerfish that chases Marlin in real life moves at incredible speeds and with great agility, so Imagineers had to find a way to make it look real. Making the anglerfish move the right way required extensive modifications of existing technology and lots of trial and error.

WDI vice president and project creative director Kathy Mangum said, “What’s so important about this attraction is that it revitalizes the whole pavilion for us.

“The aquarium is so stunning and this was our chance to take it, extend it and do the overlay using storytelling with classic Disney characters to introduce guests to the pavilion. Epcot is about exploring new places and it was a natural fit to tell the story by using these characters.”

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition, and Hidden Treasures of the Disney Cruise Line.


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