Tower of Terror Construction Hollywood Studios Florida

Contrary to what the attraction’s story might want you to believe, the Tower of Terror was not built in 1917. ūüôā ¬†Disney’s construction crew cleared the site and broke ground in 1992. Discovery of a sinkhole necessitated a slight relocation of the build site. Construction continued until the ride and Sunset Boulevard opened together on July 22nd, 1994. (Source: Wikipedia article)

Tower of Terror Construction Hollywood Studios Florida billboard advertising

Early 90s Tower of Terror billboard advertising the upcoming attraction. Photo credit: Jack Spence

Exterior Construction

This aerial shot of the Tower of Terror’s construction is the earliest one I’ve fond. ¬†It gives a good sense of the scale of the building – look at those tiny trucks! ¬†The gardens are just a pile of dirt, and the building itself is little more than a steel skeleton. ¬†This photo is particularly noteworthy because it offers a rare glimpse into the area between the back lift shafts and the front drop shafts.

aerial photo of Tower of Terror construction in Hollywood Studios Florida

Photo credit: Vintage Disney parks

This next photo is somewhat of a rarity among Florida Tower of Terror construction photos because it’s crystal clear!

This photo, depicting the building’s left side (which is the side guests enter and exit) was taken shortly after the previous photo – you can tell by the completed rooftops in the back and the addition of the “front building” at the building’s front.

Tower of Terror construction Hollywood Studios florida

Scaffolding surrounds the Tower during its construction in 1993/1994. Photo credit: Disney Parks Blog

This photo of the Tower’s construction depicts some roofing details on the structure’s front, details that appear to be missing from the previous shot. ¬†Few other differences are noticeable, suggesting this photo was taken around the same time as¬†the previous one.

Tower of Terror MGM original construction

The lightning-scarred facade becomes recognizable in this construction photo.

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Interior Construction

Taken just months before the attraction opened to the public in July, this May ’94 photo shows the hotel’s lobby midway through its own construction. ¬†The walls have been painted and textured, and the light fixtures added, but the floor tiles have yet to be grouted and none of the iconic dusty decor has shown up yet.

Tower of Terror construction hollywood studios Florida

The Tower’s hotel lobby under construction – May 1994. Photo credit: Disney Parks Blog

Cranking up the Thrills

Disney legend has it that a ride¬†designer rode an early version of the Tower and said, “If my tie doesn’t fly up in my face, it’s not good enough”. A descent at normal “freefall” speed wasn’t thrilling enough, so the ride’s design¬†eventually came to feature a “faster than gravity” pull. That’s right – you aren’t freefalling in the Tower, you’re being pulled down (at about 30 mph).

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Opening Day

The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror officially opened on July 22nd, 1994 featuring one gigantic drop. Reception was overwhelmingly positive, and the ride became an instant favorite for thrill-seekers and Disney fans. Over the following 20 years, the ride was reprogrammed a few times to add more drops, rumbles, and an element of randomization to differentiate repeat rides.

Disney soon started work on a second Tower of Terror…

Inside the Tower of Terror Construction: Motors, Brakes, and More!

Back in 2008, a German TV promo entitled “Disney Filmparade” presented an incredible 8-minute long behind-the-scenes tour of the final stages of the Tower of Terror’s construction. ¬†The video¬†is a¬†treasure trove¬†of Tower of Terror construction secrets, but there’s just one problem: it’s entirely in German and an English version is nowhere to be found… until now!

TowerSecrets is proud to present the translation of this behind the scenes look at the year-long+ construction of the Tower of Terror in Paris, France.

Get ready to geek out: this video shows us how they installed the elevator cars, what the engine room looks like, how the braking system works, the computer control room, and how the Tower was tested for safety before opening to the public in 2007.

Original German Video

Translation

Constructing the Tower’s Shell

tower_of_terror_filmparade_german_video1

In front of Hollywood Tower façade, Narrator Steven Gätjen speaks:

0:18 ¬†Welcome to the Disney Movie Parade, today with another report from Europe’s largest ghost hotel construction site in Disneyland Paris! ¬†This is where the Hollywood Tower Hotel is being built, in which very strange things happen.

(switch to TV screen, Gätjen continues:)

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0:32 ¬†And this has already happened.¬†In one of the most exciting episodes of the cult TV show ‚ÄúThe Twilight Zone‚ÄĚ, a whole family disappears in a hotel elevator.

(scene switches to Walt Disney Studios Park, Gätjen continues:)

0:44  The guests of the Walt Disney Studio Park will soon be able to experience that for themselves.

(time lapse of tower construction as Gätjen continues:)

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0:48  The shell  construction of the Hollywood Tower Hotel was built in one week in 2006.

(interior shot, Gätjen continues:)

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0:53  The rest of it will take a little longer.

(prop shots, Gätjen continues:)

0:55  These ceilings and floors were built in grueling manual labor.

0:58  More than 5,000 props were purchased from all over the world to make the rooms of the legendary hotel look like in 1939, the year of the disaster.

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(switch to bare boiler room, Gätjen continues:)

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1:08 ¬†This bare room was changed into an old boiler room from which the visitors will start their trip into the Fifth Dimension. (note: G√§tjen actually says ‚ÄúFourth Dimension‚ÄĚ, but the Twilight Zone series traditionally refers to the Fifth Dimension)

(Scene change to outside construction, Gätjen continues:)

1:18  But first, there is still a lot to do.

The Elevator Cabins Arrive

1:27  Today, the elevator cabins are arriving.

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1:30 ¬†They have a long trip behind them because they were produced abroad.¬†That’s why they are so well-packaged.

1:39  Then they are transported to the loading ramp from which the are transported directly to the basement of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.

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(Scene change to elevator cabin interior, Gätjen continues:)

1:50  So this is the ride of horror.

(Scene change to bottom of shaft, Gätjen continues:)

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At the Bottom of the Elevator Shaft

1:54  And this is the bottom of the elevator shaft with its enormous shock absorbers in case anything really does go wrong.

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2:03  Tom is showing us the shaft from below.

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tower_of_terror_empty_elevator_shaft_behind_the_scenes

2:06¬† Now we understand why the hotel is also called ‚ÄúTower of Terror‚ÄĚ.

(Shot up the shaft with Tom in foreground. Tom:)

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2:16 ¬†You actually drop faster than free fall ‚Äst you are pulled down.¬†At 13.6 meters per second.

(Shot through steel cable opening, Gätjen continues:)

2:25  This is what it looks like through the opening for the steel cable.

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The Tower of Terror’s Machine Room

(Shot of steel cable drum, Gätjen continues:)

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2:31  And this is the steel cable.

2:35  The machine room is an engineering marvel.

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tower_of_terror_machine_room_left

(Shot of Merie Quick explaining drums. Merie:)

2:41  The basic mechanical portion of it is right here.

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2:46  Every single motor operates according to the same principle.

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2:49  The motor drives the first cable drum, and that goes on and pulls the second drum.

2:53  On the first drum has wire ropes that raise and lower the cab that the guest rides.

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3:01  The second drum has cables, wire ropes, that go down to a counterweight.

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(Scene change to Danny De Leeuw standing in front of a cable drum. Danny:)

3:10 ¬†A locomotive has approximately 5,000 PS ‚Äď but these engines are almost twice as powerful.

(Scene changes back to Merie Quick. Merie:)

3:17  That part that stops it and makes it safe, are these large brakes.

3:22  There are four sets of brakes for every machine.

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3:23  Of course, there’s three machines because there are three elevator shafts with the guests in it.

Power for the Tower

(Scene change to power generation building. Gätjen continues:)

3:30  The electricity for the motors comes out of this building.

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(Scene change to interior with Tom explaining power cables. Tom:)

3:35  Those are the two power lines that come from the power station.

3:40  From here, we go to the high-voltage equipment up top,

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3:47  These transformer transform 20,000 volts of high voltage are turned into 600 volts.

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3:52  That powers the motors.  There is one transformer for each motor, so we have three.

4:02  This is a waterproof floor to collect the ten cubic meters of cooling liquid.

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4:07   That is 10,000 liters of oil.

4:10  Each transformer weighs 13 tons.

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Tower of Terror’s Computer Control Room

(Scene change to tower exterior. Gätjen continues:)

4:15 ¬†And this is where the journey in to the Fifth Dimension is¬† controlled ‚Äď

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(Scene change to computer control room interior)

4:20 ¬†from the Tower of Terror’s computer control room, and these are the experts.

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(Unnamed computer control room official explains:)

4:26  The cabins behind me store show data.

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4:31  Here is where all light, audio, and mechanical equipment which takes the visitor into another world stored.

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4:37 ¬†Everything that happens in this building that “isn‚Äôt right” is controlled by these cabinets back here.

(Scene change with camera following power cable bundles. Gätjen continues:)

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4:47  That requires more than one hundred kilometers of cable and several hundred computers. But what is happening here?

tower_of_terror_computer_cabins

The “Wave Goodbye” Screen

(Scene change to Aslam Amiani in the basement. Aslam:)

4:59  Because of the way the building is set up, there are three ride shafts, we call them.

tower_of_terror_aslam_amiani_show_program_manager

5:05  And the elevator doors open up on several different levels, and the visitor are looking at and interacting with the show.

(Scene change to trick pane. Gätjen continues:)

5:13 ¬†For example, they look through this pane, behind which there is a so-called magic mirror in which he can see himself and the other guests … and disappears in it.

tower_of_terror_wave_goodbye_window_pane

5:24  Only the empty cabin is left behind.  All necessary tricks and effects are being installed by specialists from all over Europe.

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Setting up the Hallway Scene

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(Scene change to hotel hall floor. Aslam:)

5:40  This is one of the floors where the guests who disappear are now haunting this building.

5:45  And you will see them walking the halls of the hotel in here.

tower_of_terror_hallway_ghosts

(Workers fade in. Gätjen continues:)

5:51  For that to happen, different spirits have to animate the hall.

5:56  Head designer David Fando and one of his co-workers arrange everything so that the hotel looks like it was actually inhabited, just like in 1939.

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tower_of_terror_hallway_decorating_shoes_newspaper

6:07  This was also carefully planned in advance.

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6:11  Now it is ready to go.

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Testing the Tower

(Scene change to computer control room. Unnamed computer control official continues:)

6:16 ¬†We‚Äôre just about finished with our safety tests, and we’ll do some mechanical safety tests through the last week of June.

tower_of_terror_computer_control_room

(Scene change to rolling elevator cabin. Gätjen continues:)

6:21  The elevator cab is slid into the real cab by means of a special mechanism to disconcert visitors.

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tower_of_terror_backwards_rider_car_water_test

 

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6:31  Then the doors are closed.

(Scene change to computer control room. Unnamed computer control official continues:)

6.36  A lot of rides we use sandbags to simulate the weight of our guests.  However, they would burst because of the tremendous acceleration and sand would be thrown all over shaft, so we are using water dummies, which are a lot less messy.

tower_of_terror_computer_engineer_describes_testing_process

(Scene change to water dummies. Gätjen continues:)

6:50  They look like this and really have to stand extreme conditions.

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6:56¬† It starts quite harmlessly, and you think that it’s not that big of a deal ‚Äď if had known that earlier, I could have saved myself a lot of anxiety.

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7:08  Tower of Terror.

7:13  That can only be an exaggeration.

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7:16¬† But then…

(Scene change to Theron Skees outside the base of the tower. Theron:)

7:20  I know I’m going to be on the ride. I love rides. I’m a huge ride fan.

7:23 ¬†When we built the Tower of Terror in Florida, I rode that attraction for three hours straight try to figure out all the profiles and everything, so I can’t wait to get on this attraction.

tower_of_terror_art_director_theoron_skees

(Scene change to elevator drop sequence. Gätjen continues:)

07:38 ¬†This was our second visit in Europe’s largest ghost hotel construction site.

07:42 In a few weeks

tower_of_terror_exterior_construction

07:45 the Hollywood Tower Hotel will be opened for guests.

07:49  The elevator is waiting for you.

07:53  But for now: Have a lot of fun watching our Disney film. See you soon! Bye bye!

tower_of_terror_paris_opening_soon_goodbye_for_now

 

More Disney Imagineering

If you made it this far, you’d probably enjoy these books about Disney’s design and engineering processes!

Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real

This 200+ page book is packed with¬†hundreds of sketches, paintings, and plans¬†for many of the¬†Disney parks. It reads like a history of Disney, and it’s¬†awesome to see how much of what’s in these early drawings is still present in the parks today.¬†I thought I was a Disney expert, then I read this book… wow! It’s pretty picture-heavy, so it’s great for all ages.

(This book is very park-development focused. If¬†you’re looking for something more attractions-focused, scroll down this list a bit to this book’s follow-up.)

walt_disney_imagineering_book

“Herbie, I just want it to look like nothing else in the world. And it should be surrounded by a train.” – Walt Disney

The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion

Speaking of spooky, mysterious rides… this meticulously researched guide to Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction is one of the coolest Disney book I’ve ever read. Jeff Baham (of doombuggies.com) is an absolute expert on this ride¬†and this book is full of fascinating facts about the history of the Haunted Mansion, how the effects work, and a step by step walkthrough of the ride. There’s even a Kindle version, so you can read it while you wait line for your Doom Buggy. ūüėÄ

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“Well, your artwork was effective. The effect was that Walt doesn’t want it to look anything like that. He said we’re going to let the ghosts do all that stuff on the inside.” – Sam McKim

Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making MORE Magic Real

This book is a follow-up to the first one in the list. Where the first book is about the parks and their development, this one focuses more heavily on attractions and modern design challenges. It covers:¬†refurbishments to classics such as the Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World, how the team brought the Tower of Terror to Japan, Cars Land, and more. This is a big fat 200 page book, like the first one, but it’s not just an update, it’s a whole new book.

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Attractions-focused and updated to include rides built or refurbished during¬†the 2000’s

 

Imagineering Field Guides

The Imagineering Field Guide series is really cool – each one is¬†a¬†pocket-sized¬†guide for a single¬†Disney parks, broken down by “land”.¬†Each book includes trivia about attraction¬†development, park maintenance, and the how’s and why’s of little details throughout the park. These books pack a lot into their 100+ pages, but the books are still small enough to carry around in the park and enjoy¬†while scarfing down a corn dog.

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Perfect for mega-fans and repeat visitors who love trivia and Disney factoids!

Note to readers:¬†Links from TowerSecrets¬†to Amazon.com are affiliate links, meaning this site earns a tiny % of your purchase price (if you make one) at no cost to you. The occasional Amazon sale keeps this site up and running for the 500+ people who visit it every day. ūüôā As always, you should shop around for the best deal!