Yale Gracey joined the Disney Company in 1939 as a layout artist. He worked on “Pinocchio,” “Fantasia” and “the Three Caballeros.” In 1959, Walt Disney set Gracey up with Rolly Crump and gave them a large room on the second floor of the animation building. They were instructed to come up with effects for the Haunted Mansion.
As the son of an American Consul, Gracey grew up in various places and had to learn to entertain himself. He filled his days with “Popular Mechanics’ and the book set called “Boy Mechanic.” He also practiced magic.
Gracey had no formal training in special effects, but his curiosity often led to him building miniatures to see if he could get an effect to work. According to Bob Gurr (Kurtti, p. 72), Gracey was given the time and space to tinker without deadlines, and Walt was fine with whatever new thing Gracey invented.
Gracey projected the face of the Magic Mirror on everything in the room one day. It led to the development of the Madame Leota effect (Kurtti, p. 73). Gracey also put the Pepper’s Ghost effect to use in the Haunted Mansion to create the Ballroom scene. Gracey died under mysterious circumstances in 1983.
Gracey tried to do new things. He tinkered, and he followed his curiosity. You can do the same thing. Follow your curiosity and create something new.
Sources: “The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic” by Jason Surrell.
“Walt Disney’s Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park” by Jeff Kurtti.
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