Disclaimer: I DO NOT recommend that you attempt to sneak into The Image Works! As you’ll read below, there are obviously Cast Members patrolling the area at all hours, and it is highly likely that you will get caught and possibly arrested!
I had a list of various adventures I wanted to complete during my recent visit to Walt Disney World, and a tour of the abandoned Image Works area in the Imagination pavilion was right about at the top of that list. For those who don’t know, this was an area on the 2nd floor of the pavilion where there were a bunch of kick-ass hands-on exhibits. I remember spending hours up there, walking through the Rainbow Tunnel, waving my hand under the pin tables, and jumping on the musical light tiles like a maniac.
Unfortunately, this area was closed off, gutted, and left abandoned when the pavilion was “renovated” (i.e., seriously fucked up beyond any rational belief) in 1998. A few of the exhibits were moved downstairs into the gift shop area, which is a complete and total clusterfuck and a very unpleasant place to spend any amount of time. But as for the rest…. Nobody really seemed to know, and the videos and photos I’d been able to track down were either old or limited in scope. I really wanted a definitive account of the state of the place, to see what remained (if anything) of the upstairs area that had been the setting of so many fond childhood memories.
For what it’s worth, I’d tried to visit Image Works via legitimate channels by taking the “Undiscovered Future World” tour last year. But contrary to online trip reports, and much to my chagrin, we were not brought up there. That further stoked my curiosity, because I figured the place must be in really poor shape if they wouldn’t even take tours up there anymore. And I was right.
So, at about 7PM one evening, armed with my fancy new HD camera with hybrid motion stabilization, Draven Star, Pentakis Dodecahedron, and I went to the Imagination pavilion and rode the shitty ride, which continues to rape my childhood. We were unceremoniously dumped into the gift shop, where I’d previously noticed the stairway up to the 2nd floor was located, fully accessible (the elevator, on the other hand, is locked up tight). The stairway is, in theory, in the direct line of sight of the CM working the register at the gift store. But on this visit I noticed they’d placed some sort of tall rotating sales rack near the register such that this view was mostly blocked. Aside from that, the gift shop was insanely crowded and definitely understaffed, so the CM at the register wasn’t up for doubling as a low-rent security guard. Just to be safe, I told Draven and Pentakis to look sexy and distract the CM if they started looking towards the stairway as I walked up there.
I was ready, I was pumped, I had an adrenaline rush going on big-time. I strode resolutely towards the stairs, determined not to turn back like a complete wuss. Just as I reached the stairway I slammed smack-dab into a kid who had darted in front of me, way below my sight line. The little girl fell face first on the hard tile of the gift shop, stood up and started screaming her fucking head off. I tried to get her to shut up, to stop drawing attention to me, but she wasn’t having it. I literally picked this kid up and handed her back to her parents, apologizing profusely while really thinking that these parents needed to keep a better eye on their snot-nosed spawn.
“Fuck,” I thought, “that’s the end of that. No way I’m going undetected up those stairs now.”
Walking over to Draven, I told her as much.
“What are you talking about? I didn’t notice anything,” she said.
“How did you not notice?! The kid was screaming like someone had torn her limbs off!”
“Dude, every kid in this place is screaming like that.”
I looked around. I listened. It was true. The place was a complete madhouse. I looked at the CM, who was frantically trying to keep up with an increasingly lengthy line of customers. The little girl I’d smashed into was already wreaking havoc at the antenna topper display, smiling as she stuffed two of them in her mouth.
So, I decided to try again. I opened the camera, once more strode resolutely (I like to be resolute when I stride) to the stairway, and walked up the stairs. When I got to the top, it was absolutely gorgeous. The blue pavilion lighting shone through the glass ceiling, and it was just as magical a space as I’d remembered. But I couldn’t linger – I had to document the entire floor, so I moved on towards what used to be an area where you used big plastic brushes to shoot color at sculptures on the wall. Except what I found was that even though the big sculptures were still intact, the entire center area had been gutted. No more paintbrushes. Exposed wires protruded from the ground, and from there on, shit just got weird.
The Rainbow tunnel was no longer rainbow-y. It was now lit with white fluorescent lights. Coming out of the tunnel, plywood was randomly stacked against black walls. At certain points the path became pitch black, and I couldn’t see where the next doorway was located. I was starting to get creeped out. By the time I was done winding through the maze of Image Works, the whole time worried I was going to get a nail through the foot or get electrocuted by an exposed wire, I was well and good freaked. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there.
But apparently the Ghosts of Image Works Past wanted to punish me for my indiscretions! Just as I was reaching the stairway a CM walked by. Busted! I was already freaked, full of too much adrenaline, and now I was getting busted? Seriously?! So instead of trying to talk my way out of it with some creative excuse, I nonchalantly closed the camera viewscreen (leaving it rolling, of course), and just fell back into the “stupid guest” routine, which is old hat for me. You know the one: “No, I have no idea where I am! I’m not supposed to be up here? Are you sure? But it’s really nice up here!” All the while walking towards the steps, exactly where the CM wanted me to go, so they would feel like they were in complete control of the situation. “My managers will not be happy,” the CM said, which got me moving a little faster down those steps. But by the end of it, after I’d apologized, the CM responded with “Oh, that’s okay!” almost like they felt bad for me, just a stupid guest getting lost and confused as stupid guests are wont to do.
I rushed down the steps and high-tailed it out of the gift shop, nudging Pentakis on the way out, as if to say “Code Red!” I was really afraid that the CM was going to talk to their manager and soon a whole squad of DisPolice would track me down and I’d be banned for life like fucking dumbass Newmeyer. But I made it out of the pavilion safely, huffing and puffing like a fat kid halfway through a pull-up.
Turning back I expected to see Draven and Pentakis right behind me, but they were nowhere to be found. WTF? Had they been captured?! So I waited. And waited some more. I went and took a piss. Came back, no Draven or Pentakis. Shit. I was going to have to go back into the pavilion to see what had happened to them. I slowly walked to the gift shop exit, fully expecting that when I turned the corner I’d peer through the sliding glass doors and see DisCops surrounding the two girls.
Instead, I turned the corner and saw them shopping, giggling like schoolgirls as Draven tried on Figment ears. What. The. Fuck. I’m seconds away from getting hunted down and banned from the parks, and they’re shopping like nothing had happened?!?! Way to have my back, ladies! Oooh, I was pissed! I ran in there, grabbed them both, pulled them out of the gift shop, and ran through the rose garden pathway and into World Showcase until we blended into the massive Food and Wine crowd. Only then did I feel semi-safe. After much yelling and apologizing on both sides (me apologizing for yelling, them apologizing for being the worst lookouts ever), we downed some booze, watched Richard Marx, and then moved on to more debauchery, including hacking the elevator at The Land to get into the VIP lounge. But that’s another story….
I’ve put together two videos of this adventure. The first is the entire walk-thru, from start to finish. I’ve blurred the CM’s face and changed their voice so they won’t get in trouble for letting me go scott-free, but other than that, what you see is exactly what happened.
The next version is the walk-thru cut together with clips from Martin Smith’s excellent 48 minute documentary, “Imagination 82 – The Original Imageworks”. I put this together so you can compare how things used to look with how they look now. Please check out Martin’s site for the full video and for many other awesome WDW documentaries: www.martinsvids.net