1. I like the idea of a cat gnawing a Mickey Mouse-like plush toy instead of literally having them eat Mickey.
  2. It’s possible that we could have a Power Rangers-type show earlier considering that the idea had been explored since the 70’s.
 
It’s possible that we could have a Power Rangers-type show earlier considering that the idea had been explored since the 70’s.
And the 80s:
Maybe Triad could co-produce it with Saban as part of PFN's Saturday morning lineup.
 
I’d like to see more Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets on Sat morning TV - rather than the multi-series mess of OTL, however since Space Riders and such is early 80’s I think it’s before the POD.

However does not stop someone putting it all back together in a more coherent fashion during the Sat morning cartoon boom and BotP winning a new set of fans!
 
The book opens to one or another of the various illustrated poems, which is brought to life by animation. The running joke of the whole film is while the narrator might like to read the poems "as intended"
Adding onto this: the narrator is played by Patrick Stewart (Taking inspiration from later on in OTL, his performance would be reminiscent of his narrator role in Ted - a quintessentially British narrator out of a children's film with a dry, snarky edge).
 
Ascending the Summit
Chapter 3: Rebuilding the Kingdom
Excerpt from The Visionary and the Vizier, Jim Henson and Frank Wells at Disney, by Derek N. Dedominos, MBA.


For Frank Wells every day at Disney was like a new summit to climb. Walt Disney was unlike any company he’d ever worked at before. It was a place where the executives went by their first names with everyone, even the cleaning staff. It was a place where senior executives practically tried to race each other to be the first to pick up a piece of trash from the ground at the parks. It was a place where perfection wasn’t the goal, but the minimum requirement. On his first week with the company he’d even been sent to Disneyland for a crash-course in playing Goofy and then spent the day wandering the park as a walkaround. It was a true joy to receive that first hug from a tiny child meeting Goofy for the first time.

Every day was different thanks to the diversity of the Disney portfolio: on Monday he’d check on the progress of a Cannes-bound prestige drama. On Tuesday he’d check on an animated film about a mouse-version of Sherlock Holmes. On Wednesday he’d be in Florida checking on the installation of a new theme park ride. Thursday would see him breaking ground on a fancy new resort hotel. And Friday would see him in New York City following up on an Off-Off-Broadway musical. He was learning something new each day, never for a second in his comfort zone.

For a man who thrived on adversity and challenge, it was heaven. He was still amazed that he’d gotten the position over Michael Eisner.

He dove in headfirst. Each morning he’d take his early run with Stanley Gold, shower, put on a suit, and head to work at Walt Disney Entertainment before the sun was up. Many days he’d be the first one there. Other days Jim Henson would already be in the office. Some days Henson had been there all night. More than once he’d found Henson asleep in his chair, a note pad and pen on his chest.

Wells was gaining a soft spot for the gentle giant. The man was a boundless fountain of creativity. Sometimes the ideas were so outlandish that it wasn’t even possible within the realm of physics, much less finance, but the sheer audacity and frequency of the ideas impressed Wells. It was exactly the type of creativity and risk taking that the studio needed in his mind. Saying “no” to Jim was like disappointing a child, and Wells found it hard to do some days. Still, Henson seemed to take it all in stride. Before long, he and Henson established a rapport with one another. Henson and he would sit at the empty Round Table, a thousand sketches and spreadsheets strewn across it. Sometimes Ron Miller or Stan Kinsey joined them, but often it was just the two of them, the Visionary and the Vizier, the right and left hands of the Mouse. Together they would negotiate a strategic pathway that optimized vision versus economics. When the two factors aligned, as was the case with the new Grand Floridian, it was a glorious moment.

Ron Miller, the CEO, offered his own set of challenges for Wells. The big, burly ex-football player had the look one would associate with a CEO, but he didn’t really have the personality. He was, despite his appearance, a quiet and shy man with the “aw, shucks” personality of a Disney live action movie hero from the ‘60s, which was perhaps what Walt saw in the man. Miller managed by consensus, which was a plan only as good as those who worked for you. Thankfully, he had some top-notch folks like Henson and Kinsey. Miller tended to defer to Henson on creative decisions and Wells on fiscal ones, and instead focused on “big picture” things like movie release schedules or the new Disneyland in Europe or the rollout of new hotels or EPCOT pavilions.

Unfortunately, however, Miller’s indecisiveness during the hostile takeover attempt had stained his image with the board. Only the intervention by Henson and Gottesman had saved his job. Wells saw potential in the man. He was willing to take bold strategic risks and the recent departure of Card Walker from the board and Executive Committee had been like a weight lifted off of his broad shoulders. His strategic decisions were sound: Hyperion had been a huge success, for instance. On a tactical level, however, he lacked the attention to detail and specific fiscal experience daily operations required and needed someone there to manage such things. Wells was more than happy to fill that thankless role. Wells’ secret weapon there was Stan Kinsey, whom Miller had taken under his wing even before Wells had joined the company. Wells shared with Miller and Henson his desire to groom Kinsey for an executive position, in particular COO. The two shared his optimistic assessment. Whether Kinsey ever realized it or not, he was anointed.

It wasn’t always a bed of roses, however. Dick Nunis, who ran the Recreation division, remained stubbornly set in the Old Disney mindset of “What Would Walt Do?” which was, ironically Wells felt, in reality “What Would Walker Do?” Nunis had resisted raising ticket prices at the parks and was loathe to admit that none of his worries about offending visitors had come true or that the move had tripled profits. Nunis was also openly ambitious and likely coveting Well’s position, though in Well’s mind he was woefully unprepared for it. Thankfully, Nunis had plenty to do to keep him busy with the constant updates to existing parks and ground about to be broken in Europe. New pavilions were rising at EPCOT and new hotels were rising at Disneyland and Disney World. And the self-effacing Wells was more than happy to give Nunis the credit for the turnaround in park profitability.

And then there was the entrenched bureaucracy. Layers of middle management permeated the company and Miller refused to let Wells just start handing out pink slips. He had other ways of doing things, however. Rubber-stamp middle-managers could be bypassed through corporate streamlining efforts. Once neutralized, the manager could be given an ultimatum: find something productive to do, or Wells would be happy to write them a letter of recommendation for their new career. Those who spent their entire afternoon at the executive spa soon found themselves having to schedule an appointment there, and in competition with the hundreds of low-level employees now authorized to visit the once-exclusive facility. Those who balked at the new ways of doing things found that their voices failed to carry the weight that they once did. Those who went to Miller or Watson received little more than friendly platitudes. Most soon found new employment.

And, finally, there was the Board of Directors. It was too big. Adding in new members from Arvida and Marriott without removing the old directors was unbalancing the board. The “Old” and “New” directors were constantly at loggerheads. Chairman Watson had been an effective cat-herder thanks to his knowledge of the directors and their peculiarities. Wells and Watson had spent many hours together discussing strategy and the politics of the board. Watson had, in his short tenure as Chairman, gotten a decent start on implementing the structural reforms and executive modernization Disney needed. Wells was aghast to learn that Watson had only created the first strategic plan for the company in 1983, leading Wells to believe that for the last several decades strategy had been ad hoc.

But Watson was on the way out by the end of the year and he wanted Wells to take over as Chairman. “Ron lost their respect,” he told Wells one day, referring to the board. Watson’s job had been to help groom Miller for the role, but it was a position that Miller didn’t particularly seem to want, and one that didn’t seem to particularly want him either. Wells knew that Miller would gladly pass the baton to him. He knew that Roy Disney would back his position thanks to his continued friendship with Stanley Gold. He knew both Marriott and Bass supported his ascension to the presidency from the start. And he knew that Henson and Gottesman backed him.

“I’d be honored to take the job,” said Wells. “But first I need your help in rebalancing the board.”


* * *​

Wells Replaces Watson as Disney Chairman
Wall Street Journal, December 3rd, 1985


Hello Elementary!, but goodbye, Dear Watson. Chairman of the Board for the Walt Disney Entertainment Company Ray Watson has announced that he is stepping aside from his position as Chairman on January 1st in favor of Disney President and COO Frank Wells. Watson was appointed Chairman in May of 1983 by then-outgoing Chairman E. Cardon Walker. Watson served through a tumultuous period in Disney history that included a hostile takeover attempt by Associated Communications Corporation and a headline-grabbing White Knight campaign. “I always saw myself as a temporary caretaker,” Watson told WSJ, “I am proud of my service to the company and I am sure that Frank Wells will be an excellent shepherd going forward.” Watson will continue to serve the Disney Board of Directors in an advisory capacity as Chairman Emeritus. He will be joined there by Caroline Ahmanson, who also announced her retirement, the latest in a shift in board membership from “Old Disney” to “New Disney” over the course of the year [1985]. The move is being seen on Wall Street as a vote of confidence by the “Old Guard” in the new Disney management paradigm as well as a move by inbound Chairman Frank Wells to streamline the board, which had grown considerably in the midst of the hostile takeover crisis.




* * *​

The Board of Directors for the Walt Disney Entertainment Company, Winter 1985/6:
Ronald “Ron” Miller, CEO
Frank Wells, Chairman, President, and COO
James M. “Jim” Henson, CCO, President, Walt Disney Studios
Richard “Dick” Nunis, President, Disney Recreation
Roy E. Disney, Vice President, Walt Disney Animation Studios (head of Shamrock Holdings)
Al Gottesman (President, Henson Arts Holdings)
Dianne Disney Miller (Partner, Retlaw Enterprises)
Peter Dailey (former US ambassador to Ireland and Roy Disney’s brother-in-law)
Charles Cobb (CEO of Arvida Corp.; representing the interests of Bass Brothers)
Alfred Attilio “Al” Checchi (representing Marriott International)


Advisory Board Members (non-voting, ad-hoc attendance):
E. Cardon “Card” Walker, Chairman Emeritus
Donn Tatum, Chairman Emeritus
Sid Bass (CEO of Bass Brothers Enterprises)
Steven Spielberg (Partner, Amblin Entertainment)
John Sculley (CEO & President of Apple Computer, Inc.) [1]
George Lucas (CEO of Lucasfilm, Ltd.)
J. Willard “Bill” Marriott, Jr. (CEO of Marriott International)
Ray Watson, Chairman Emeritus (former head of the Irvine Company)
Caroline Ahmanson (head and founder of Caroline Leonetti Ltd.)
Philip Hawley (Carter Hawley Hale)
Samuel Williamson (senior partner, Hufstedler, Miller, Carson, & Beardsley)



The Disney Executive Committee:
Ronald “Ron” Miller, CEO
Frank Wells, Chairman, President and COO
James M. “Jim” Henson, CCO and President, Walt Disney Studios
Richard “Dick” Nunis, President, Disney Recreation
Thomas “Tom” Wilhite, President, Hyperion Studios
Carl Bongirno, President, Walt Disney Imagineering Workshop
Roy E. Disney, Vice President, Walt Disney Animation Studios



* * *​

Stocks at a Glance: Walt Disney Entertainment (DIS)
January 14th, 1986
Stock price: $145.67
Major Shareholders: Henson family (19.3%), Roy E. Disney (13.4%), Disney-Miller family (12.2%), Sid Bass (9.6%), Bill Marriott (6.3%), Amblin Entertainment (1.3%), Apple Comp. (0.7%), Lucasfilm Ltd. (0.42%), Suspected “Knights Errant” (4.6%)
Outstanding shares: 17.2 million (31.9%)



5-Year Financial Data, Walt Disney Entertainment (DIS)
Year​
Revenues​
Expenses*​
Net Income​
1980​
$1,335 M​
$1,283 M​
$52 M​
1981​
$1,563 M​
$1,424 M​
$139 M​
1982​
$1,463 M​
$1,377 M​
$86 M​
1983​
$1,543 M​
$1,308 M​
$235 M​
1984​
$1,936 M​
$1,628 M​
$308 M​
1985​
$2,102 M​
$1,728 M​
$374 M​
* Includes construction on Tokyo Disneyland and EPCOT and debt payments



[1] With Jobs leaving Apple Computers in 1985, Sculley took over his Associate Director slot with Disney. And yes, occasionally he and Jobs will cross paths in the halls of Disney and awkwardly ignore one another.
 
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Given Spielberg's friendship with Henson, there's an opportunity to get Cats made for Disney rather than running into the OTL difficulties at Amblimation. At the very least doing it at Disney lets you add some referential jokes like "A narrator in a picture book, really? What do I look like, a stuffed BEAR?!"
It'd also work as an in-joke since before Cats itself came about, Disney wanted to adapt TS Elliot's poems as an animated feature; Elliot's family refused because they feared it'd be too much like Pooh.

Also, referring to my earlier post about Patrick Stewart as the narrator, imagine him yelling this with all the outrage he could muster - it'd set the rather whimsical and humorous tone for the film incredibly well.
 
Congratulations Chairman Frank Wells - may your time at Disney be productive, and bring the company new heights.

Disney Europe indeed- wonder where. My money is in Barcelona. Great weather, and leaves space fir a more northern one (Denmark?) later.

I hope Jim Henson’s health is doing ok here. Long days/nights cannot be good for you.
 
Congratulations Chairman Frank Wells - may your time at Disney be productive, and bring the company new heights.

Disney Europe indeed- wonder where. My money is in Barcelona. Great weather, and leaves space fir a more northern one (Denmark?) later.

I hope Jim Henson’s health is doing ok here. Long days/nights cannot be good for you.

IRC a place seriously considerated was in the countryside of Ferrara (even to use Bologna as transport hub due to the extensive train link)
 
Honestly, now I'm wondering about a potential midwestern US park that services Middle America just as Disneyland kind of does for the west coast and WDW does for the east. Texas is the most obvious locale for this.
 
Honestly, now I'm wondering about a potential midwestern US park that services Middle America just as Disneyland kind of does for the west coast and WDW does for the east. Texas is the most obvious locale for this.
There were plans for an indoor theme park in St Louis that were sunk for a few reasons. Including August Busch Jr calling Disney crazy for thinking that the park would succeed without selling beer.

Though I do agree that Texas would probably be the best place in the region to have an outdoor theme park. Though personally, I'm looking forward to them starting plans on TTL's EuroDisney. Which I think should be in Italy since the Italians go gaga for Disney.
 
There were plans for an indoor theme park in St Louis that were sunk for a few reasons. Including August Busch Jr calling Disney crazy for thinking that the park would succeed without selling beer.

Though I do agree that Texas would probably be the best place in the region to have an outdoor theme park. Though personally, I'm looking forward to them starting plans on TTL's EuroDisney. Which I think should be in Italy since the Italians go gaga for Disney.
I did have that in mind righting my OP, but I wonder if it could be possible to be in a more northern state, like South Dakota or Minnesota. With the former you have the likes of Mt. Rushmore, Dinosaur Park, Corn Palace and others of their kind, and Minnesota has more people and its own fair share and more people. Though now that I think about it, Illinois would be much much better then both of them.
 
I did have that in mind righting my OP, but I wonder if it could be possible to be in a more northern state, like South Dakota or Minnesota. With the former you have the likes of Mt. Rushmore, Dinosaur Park, Corn Palace and others of their kind, and Minnesota has more people and its own fair share and more people. Though now that I think about it, Illinois would be much much better then both of them.
Mor than likely Disney would like a location that could potentially be open year round. Besides somewhere in Kansas would be more centrally located.
 
Germans would lose their shit with an oversized Frontier Land located in Southern Germany
I still don't know why anyone thought France was the ideal site for EuroDisney.
I think the main logic behind putting it in France was its central location in western Europe. There was also the issue with some of the Spanish sites allegedly having sinkholes.
 
none the [much] less
Oops, you've done it again.
And then there was the entrenched bureaucracy. Layers of middle management permeated the company and Miller refused to let Wells just start handing out pink slips. He had other ways of doing things, however. Rubber-stamp middle-managers could be bypassed through corporate streamlining efforts. Once neutralized, the manager could be given an ultimatum: find something productive to do, or Wells would be happy to write them a letter of recommendation for their new career. Those who spent their entire afternoon at the executive spa soon found themselves having to schedule an appointment there, and in competition with the hundreds of low-level employees now authorized to visit the once-exclusive facility. Those who balked at the new ways of doing things found that their voices failed to carry the weight that they once did. Those who went to Miller or Watson received little more than friendly platitudes. Most soon found new employment.
A very nice soft exit for those unwilling or unable to match the demands of the studio, putting the weight of the company behind the 'working parts' of the whole brand. I very much like this timeline's way of threading the needle: it's never all sunshine and flowers but this version of Disney is doing its best to avoid those pitfalls that should have been clear at the time (as opposed to only becoming obvious in hindsight), with small changes here and there adding up to to make Disney a stronger creative force and not just a stronger corporate force.

I'd be interested to see Disney pass on a few films that become huge hits from other studios, after Ghostbusters and Back to the Future were both Disney hits in TTL I think it'd be neat to see a movie by Disney in OTL done even better elsewhere.

Also, will there be another open call for television ideas for the upcoming '90s? I've got something ambitious in mind for the Disney Television Animation department.
 
I'd be interested to see Disney pass on a few films that become huge hits from other studios, after Ghostbusters and Back to the Future were both Disney hits in TTL I think it'd be neat to see a movie by Disney in OTL done even better elsewhere.

Also, will there be another open call for television ideas for the upcoming '90s? I've got something ambitious in mind for the Disney Television Animation department.
Might I suggest making Armageddon a Columbia Pictures film, and turning Sister Act into a Warner Bros. release? Just spitballing from the OTL Touchstone Pictures catalog here if you're hungry for ideas like that.

You heard me at "something ambitious in mind". You kept me interested when you said that it was for Disney Television Animation.
 
Jump the game a little, we still have about seven years until Sister Act and thirteen for Armageddon. By this that time the butterflies many eliminate these movies.
Well, if the butterflies somehow manage to keep themselves away from those titles, and since Touchstone was used as an alias for Disney to make more adult features, I decided to exploit the loophole of "a movie by Disney in OTL" for suggestions to his request.
 
Computers III: Game Changers
Radicals, Resurrections, and Random Encounters
Excerpt from Computer Wars! by Calvin Threadmaker


The Quickening of 1984 sent the whole industry into a tailspin. Before 1985 was over Steve Jobs was out at Apple and had moved on to Disney Imagineering, IBM was now a bit player for selling their own PC design, and Warner Communications had offloaded the struggling Atari on British serial entrepreneur Richard Branson of Virgin[1] for an undisclosed, but reportedly paltry, sum.

In Branson, a new and unpredictable warrior had entered the field of battle. The buy was a typical Branson whim-made-manifest, with him reportedly getting frustrated while using a Macintosh in mid-1984 even as he loved the cutting-edge design. He decided on the spot that he should buy a computer company. As it turned out, Warner Communications was in a hurry to unload Atari, since the once-mighty company was still struggling to recover from the Crash of ’83. Branson immediately flew to Sunnyvale and toured his new facility. While there he viewed such top-secret projects as “Project Shakti" and the 16-bit “Project Sierra”. The engineers excitedly showed him all of the technical features, which he made little effort to understand. His thoughts were succinct: “they’re hideous.”


The “Beauty” of Project Sierra

Branson was even less impressed by the committee assembled to produce these computer monstrosities. His first act as new CEO of Atari was to bring in a council of management consultants to massively reorganize and streamline the company. He broke down the stovepipe organizational model that kept the arcade, home console, and home computer divisions artificially separated. He instituted small, flexible company structures and tried to inject a sense of urgency and professionality into the notoriously disorganized company even as he allowed for the freewheeling company “hippie” culture to continue to some degree. He also immediately hired French postmodernist industrial designer Philippe Starck to give the newly-branded Virgin Computers line its unique sleek appearance[2] (author’s note: they were still branded as “Atari” in North America due to brand recognition and the negative associations between computers, “nerds”, and virginity).

The Virgin/Atari 2000X computer, a closed architecture system featuring a custom SNOW Windowing GUI OS, would stand out not only for its sleek case design, but for its bright red stripe. Intended for the high-end professional and academics market, the 2000X’s combination of top-quality sound and graphics and compatibility with many high-end graphics and CAD programs made it a favorite of design studios, architectural firms, engineering firms, and academic facilities, both for engineering and fine arts.

NAMEVirgin/Atari 2000X
MANUFACTURERVirgin/Atari
TYPEProfessional Design Workstation
ORIGINU.S.A.
YEAR1985-1988
CPUMIPS R2000+MIPS R2010 FPU, 9 MHz
CLOCK SPEED1.785/5.35 MHz (NTSC), 1.773/5:32 MHz (PAL and SECAM)
RAM1 MB, Expandable to 4 MB
VIDEO RAM1 MB, Expandable to 4 MB
GPUHEATHER (Display Controller/Video Data Selector) + VIVIAN (Video MMU/DMA) + x2 SILVER (Display Object Generator) Capable of displaying a maximum of 2794 Colors on screen out of a master palette of 44704
SOUND CPUSynertek 65010 (65816 with 3 16-bit data busses)
SOUND CHIPSQuadPOKEY, Yamaha YM2412 (Custom FM Synthesis Chip, 4 channels 4 operators each)+YM3012 DAC
I/O PORTSx4 21 (7, 7, 7) Pin Mouse/Joystick jacks, 8-pin radial keyboard port (not compatible with PC/XT or PS/2 keyboard jack) RF, A/V Multiout, Coaxial Cable TV, 40+10 Digital/Analog Monitor Port, X2 540K 5.25" Floppy Drive, x3 3.5 mm speaker jack, 72 Pin Hard Drive Port, 72 Pin (inverted alignment) Printer Port x4 Expansion Slots
OSATX, BSD Kernel Based, C and Bourne Shells, SNOW GUI
FORM FACTORUpright horizontal, separate keyboard (Resembles the Steel Series APEX A300)
MSRP$1950

Virgin also entered into the PC market with the Virgin/Atari PC 1X Series of PC Clones, with CPUs ranging from the NEC V20 (X11) to NEC V50 (X18), each priced to be competitive with Tandy and Commodore home products, each featuring the sleek postmodern Starck design and Virgin red stripe.

The Virgin/Atari 2000X and PC 1X lines all sold well. The 2000X offered a direct challenge to the high-end IBM, Macintosh, and Commodore 640 lines in the professional setting and also became a status symbol for the wealthy to own, a Computer for the Classes, as Jack Tramiel would dismissively put it. The PC 1X line took a bite out of sales of the Tandy 1000 and 500. With these lines, computer industry virgin Branson would make a name for himself as the latest warrior to enter the fray, and make all tremble in fear of the almighty Virgin.


Nintendo Famicon and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Virgin/Atari also stuck to its roots in the home gaming console world, releasing the 8-bit Atari 1400 XL and 1450 EXL in direct competition with the Nintendo Famicon and Sega III/Master System in Japan and Europe. The one place that they were not marketing the 1400 series was, ironically, the United States, where they were produced. The aftershocks of the Crash of ’83 lingered and no toy marketer in the US was willing to gamble on video games again. This all changed when Nintendo released a modified version of the Famicon in New York City in late 1985 called the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which came co-packed with a gun and a double-cassette of Duck Hunt and the breakout hit Super Mario Brothers. The NES sold well enough in the limited distribution to justify a national distribution, where it became a breakout success. With such big sales numbers, Branson authorized US distribution of the 1400 series, named the “Lynx” and co-packed with a port of Hogan’s Alley and the Super Mario-like side-scroller Pitfall Ultra.

NAMEAtari 1400 XL/1450 EXL "Lynx"
MANUFACTURERVirgin/Atari
TYPEHome Game Console
ORIGINU.S.A.
YEAR1985-1989
CPUSynertek 65C402 (Based on Western Design Center 65C02, but with SALLY interrupt and I/O instructions)
CLOCK SPEED1.785/5.35 MHz (NTSC), 1.773/5:32 MHz (PAL and SECAM)
RAM128K, Upgradable to 768K. FREDDIE MMU/DMA can address up to 4MB via bankswitching
VIDEO RAMIncorporated into main memory map
GPUGIANT (ANTIC+GTIA)+ MARIA Capable of displaying 8 "player," (8 Color) 24 "Missile,"(2 color) and 128 (3 or 4 color) General purpose sprites. All previous display modes of Atari 8-bit hardware, plus 320x192 with 256 maximum colors onscreen out of a master palette of 512 (256 in PAL and SECAM markets)
SOUND CPUQuadPOKEY (16 channels of geometry synthesis, several possible waveforms and filters+ channels can be combined for new sounds, also operates keyboard and I/O)
SOUND CHIPSQuadPOKEY, Yamaha YM2412+YM3012 DAC, AMY (8 Channels Additive Synthesis, 8 Operators each), DOC (32 Channels 8-bit Wavetable Synthesis, 19Khz maximum sampling rate)[3]
I/O PORTSAll of previous Atari XL Series + Coaxial Cable TV (NTSC) or SCART(PAL/SECAM), x2 Atari 800 "Big Cartridge" Slots, x2 Atari Serial I/O and x2 540K 5.25" Floppy Disc Drive (1450 EXL Only)
MSRP$115 (1400) $195 (1450 EXL)

While Pitfall Ultra wasn’t going to compete with Super Mario Brothers to capture the public imagination (Indiana Jones expy Pitfall Harry lacked Mario’s inherent charm), the backwards-compatibility with earlier Atari games and various ports of popular arcade lines, now actually representative of the original cabinets thanks to the 8-bit graphics, put Atari back into the home console game. An upswell of Japanophobia in the mid ‘80s and pride for “Made in America” added a political/cultural dimension, leading to sales of “American Made” Atari (just ignore the British ownership!) as a “Patriotic” move. The Lynx did well against the NES and Sega III/Master System with home gaming consoles soon becoming a three-way competition in North America.

Meanwhile, Jay Miner of Hi-Toro Labs was making a splash in the PC world[4]. He and his crew made contact with individuals from the Sord Corporation at the 1984 International Solid State Circuits Conference, setting the stage for future partnership. Sord was duly impressed by what they saw from Hi-Toro, and in 1985, shortly after being bought by Toshiba, they approached Hi-Toro with a proposal. From this came the Toshiba TOPS AX68K, ready to take on the NEC PC93/98, Fujitsu FM 77, Canon CAT, and Sony NEWS at home in Japan, the IBM PC/AT and clones, Apple Mac, and Commodore 640 in America, and the BBC Master, Acorn ABC Workstation, Sinclair QL, Amstrad BCPC series, Exetel Excelvision, Thompson TO9, and Phillips Diamond in Europe.

The TOPS AX68K (often called the “Tops-68” or “Ax-68” by US users) and TOPS AX68K Pro were introduced in February 1985, and the AX68K EL[5] in June 1985 at the Summer CES. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and soon Toshiba was eyeing the Hi-Toro Ranger Chipset for their next line of computers.

Tandy, meanwhile, released the GIME-based TRS-80 Tandy Color Computer 3, or “CoCo 3”, after a long and twisted origin story. It all began when an engineer in Tandy's R&D department was on travel in Tokyo in late 1983 and saw a commercial for the Fujitsu FM-7, including footage of Galaga running at near arcade quality. The equivalent port on the CoCo ran at half that resolution, and roughly one third the frame rate. So, the day of his return trip, he took a side trip to the Akibara district, bought an FM-7, and had it air-freighted to Tandy R&D for reverse-engineering. The R&D department discovered that, aside from a Japanese character bitmap that they simply didn't need, the biggest difference was a bunch of extra I/O, and an extra Motorola 6809, which together would have tacked on an extra $650 to production costs. This was deemed not worth the cost for what would have been an Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64 competitor.

Fast forward to late 1984. The Commodore 256 had just come out, changing the home game. Spencer F. Katt of PC Week reported on the Fujitsu FM-77, which featured built-in floppy drives, a 640×400 video mode, and a whole palette of 4096 colors at an astounding 320x200 resolution! As even the cachet of Radio Shack might not be enough to fight Commodore's latest, a new trip to Land of the Rising Sun was in order. An FM-77 was acquired and dissected. It was discovered that the new video board used a series of AMD 2900 bit slices and 7400 series logic chips, all based around a Motorola 6847.Tandy sent the computer to Chips and Technologies and asked them to see if they could consolidate the video on hardware other than the other 6809. Meanwhile, the Hitachi 6309 had just entered fabrication. A CMOS clone of the 6809 which could run at up to 6 Mhz due to its 3-micron process, it featured several minor improvements like extra registers, 16-bit data overflow for extra precision, and best of all, DRAM refresh hardware. It was also far cheaper, at $45 each compared to the $125 price tag of the 6809.

Chips and Technologies managed to deliver a consolidated takeout in May 1985, fabricated by Microchip Technologies. The risk lots came back positive and showed promise for tradeshow prototypes and development kits alike, and there was just enough time to ramp up production for Fall COMDEX and the Christmas Season. There were thankfully no major bugs to squash in the next production run, but this effort did ultimately delay C&T's own debut retail product, a perfectly reverse engineered IBM PC/AT bus and CGA chipset, until February 1986.

The resulting CoCo 3 with its low price, excellent video quality, but lack of a windowing GUI, became a favorite of home gamers, starving graphic artists, and shoestring startups. It generally could not compete head-to-head with the Virgin/Atari 2000X and PC 1X lines, the Macintosh, or the Commodore 256/640 for those who could afford them, but the CoCo 3 managed to carve out a good market segment for Tandy/Radio Shack as a go-to low cost alternative, even as it was derided by computer snobs as the “Trash-80”. Even so, the low price and ability to run lots of software made it the computer of choice for many underfunded public schools. As such, the CoCo 3 was many consumers’ first experience with a computer, leading to a whole generation who looked nostalgically back on the “Trash-80”, a name they use as a term of endearment.


TRS-80 Color Computer 3 (“CoCo 3” or “Trash-80 3”)

And when Fujitsu got wind of these developments…well, more on this later.

Steve Jobs, meanwhile, was like Achilles in his tent, angered by his exile, but far from idle. He was settling into his position on the Disney Imagineering board of directors, growing fascinated by the sheer variety of what the Imagineers were doing with computers. Jobs grew enthralled as Jim Henson, John Hench, and Marty Sklar showed him the controls behind the audio-animatronics figures at the parks, the animatronic effects behind some of the big blockbuster movies, and the cutting-edge vector graphics of the custom Pixar Engines at the Disney Digital Division (3D). He quickly surmised based upon this what the Apple Lisa was missing: a central mission.

Jobs took advantage of his numerous industry connections to forge a new partnership, initially called Project Honeydew after the Muppet Labs professor/Beaker tormentor. Jobs brought in Virgin/Atari and several domestic music and sound companies like Moog, Korg, Peavey, Esoniq, and Sight and Sound, and eventually brought Dolby Labs on board. Jobs hired some of the biggest names in the semiconductor world, like Chuck Peddle, Scott Foster, and Steve Saunders. Disney provided engineers from the Disney Softworks and 3D divisions. Jobs set out to create what was for the time the ultimate advanced graphics and sound machine ever constructed, a machine that would revolutionize the visual and audio effects industry. The group, incorporated under the shell company “Imagine, Inc.”, was initially formed to provide custom silicon for Imagineering and Disney Studios audio/video post-production and audio-animatronics, before branching out into digital signal processors and Video CODECS.

But Jobs saw a bigger market beyond Disney, and thus the Disney Imagination Station, Mark I, was born, featuring the latest in Atari experimental sound and video chips born out of Project OMNI.

NAMEDisney Imagination Station, Mark I
MANUFACTURERImagine, Inc.
TYPEProfessional Audio/Video Computer Workstation
ORIGINU.S.A.
YEAR1986-1988
CPUMIPS R2000+MIPS R2010 FPU, 15 MHz
RAM4 MB, Expandable to 16 MB
VIDEO RAM4 MB, Expandable to 16 MB
GPUHEATHER (Display Controller/Video Data Selector) + VIVIAN (Video MMU/DMA) + X2 PENNY (Sprite Generator and 3D Spatial Processor) + x3 SILVER (Display Object Generator) Capable of displaying a maximum of 2794 Colors on screen out of a master palette of 44704
SOUND CPUSynertek 65010 (65816 with 3 16-bit data busses)
SOUND CHIPSQuadPOKEY, Yamaha YM2412+YM3012 DAC, AMY (8 Channels Additive Synthesis, 8 Operators each), DOC (32 Channels 8-bit Wavetable Synthesis, 19Khz maximum sampling rate)[6]
OTHER CHIPS3rd AMD Am29101 (I/O Controller), AMD Am29114 (Keyboard, Joystick, and Mouse Interface), x2 AMD Am29982 4x4 bus exchangers (MIT NUBUS based), x4 Fujitsu MB89352A (SCSI controllers)
I/O PORTSx4 21 Pin Mouse/Joystick jacks, 8 pin radial keyboard port, RF, A/V Multiout, Coaxial Cable TV, x3 3.5mm Speaker Jack, 40+10 Digital/Analog Monitor Port, X2 5.25" 540K Floppy Drive, X3 20 MB Seagate Hard Drive, 72 Pin (inverted alignment) Printer Port, x8 expansion slots
OSATX, BSD Kernel based, C and Bourne Shells, SNOW GUI
FORM FACTORFull Tower, separate mechanical keyboard (Resembles the Steel Series APEX A800)
MSRP$4650

The Mark I Disney Imagination Station (referred to by users as the DIS-I, “Dismark-I”, or “Otto the 1st”) was a machine by audio-video-graphics professionals for audio-video-graphics professionals. It featured advanced vector graphics software based upon the 3D “Pixar” engine, advanced sound editing software, and advanced video effects software built from custom 3D work, ultimately resulting in such now famous software lines as the “Pixargraphix” vector graphics program, the “Luxo” lighting system, and the “Beaker” stereo sound synth and editing program[7]. The DIS-I quickly became the industry standard both in pro shops like Imagineering and ILM and for the many small effects and graphics startups. Video game development companies in the US, Europe, and Japan used them to great effect in videogame development. The DIS-I turned a fairly good profit for Disney within this specialized market, but in terms of prestige value it was priceless.

But Jobs and Imagine, Inc., weren’t finished. The biggest technical limitations to computer animation and graphics according to Ed Catmull were the massive storage and processing required for the sheer number of vector objects that needed to be compiled. The computer-generated owl developed for the Labyrinth credits, for example, required a Cray II running overnight to compile, all for about 30 seconds of a single owl flying. Cray computers were expensive specialty items and Disney generally leased time from MAGI for an incredibly high cost per minute. However, Catmull and Jobs did some calculations and determined that having a dedicated Cray II on site would pay itself back in a matter of months, particularly with the heavy use of computers on the upcoming Where the Wild Things Are. He used the figures to convince Frank Wells to clear the $13 million purchase of a Cray II, which soon became known as The Beast. They painted it solid black.


Cray 2 Supercomputer

The Beast performed well, but it was just the start. With the completion of the DIS Mark I, Jobs and the 3D team added a DIS-I to The Beast, which they naturally named “Beauty”. “Beauty” and “The Beast” were highly customized until the point where the overall system, with custom compiling and brute force number-crunching power, was a machine specifically created to process and compile massive amounts of vector data. It was an all-new system. Catmull, inspired by the “Night on Bald Mountain” piece from Fantasia, called the new Beauty/Beast custom system Compiling Hardware and Element Rendering Numerical Algorithms for Bio-Organic Graphics, or CHERNABOG.

To stress test and prove the capabilities of the system, Catmull and Lasseter used it to compile a digital recreation of the scene from "Night on Bald Mountain" where Chernabog waves his arms past the dozens of ghosts flying in a spiral around him, each ghost an individually rendered multi-vector object. CHERNABOG handled it all with barely a twitch. CHERNABOG worked so well for accelerating the compilation of vector data, and thus reducing animation time and costs, that Wells cleared the creation of a second one in 1987.


The scene in particular (Image source “awn.com”)

Disney demonstrated CHERNABOG’s capabilities at various computer industry conventions and trade shows, and even made a short documentary about it for World of Magic. Pretty soon, Jobs was getting approached by various industry and government organizations who wanted a CHERNABOG of their own! After all, though created specifically for vector graphics, vectors are just mathematical arrays of numbers and can represent just about anything. As such, CHERNABOGs could be used for just about any application where massive amounts of data processing were required. Jobs and Imagine, Inc., immediately partnered with Cray and they set out to create a commercial model with a direct-sales price of $19.5 million.

Steve Jobs introduced the DIS mark II and CHERNABOG at the Fall ’87 COMDEX with typical Jobs theatricality and hyperbole in the now-famous speech written by Marty Sklar. “For almost 65 years Disney has made virtual magic, from the big screen to the small screen to the Imagineering of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Today, we transcend the bounds of illusion and enter into the world of performing actual magic.”

George Lucas bought the very first commercial CHERNABOG, based on a DIS mark II, for ILM in early 1988 (his engineers named the Cray “Vader” and the DIS-II “Luke”). IBM and other tech giants followed suit. NASA bought 3: one for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for simulation, one for Cape Canaveral for mission planning and operations,and one for the Ames Space Center for processing research for satellite images and aerodynamics research. The Air Force bought one for tracking satellites and spacecraft in an increasingly crowded orbit. The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) bought one as did the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The National Weather Service officially bought three for storm prediction and tracking, taking advantage of the massive vector handling to manage the complex and dynamic “vector fields” of a storm system. One of these systems ended up at the NIST facility in Boulder, Colorado, for exactly this purpose, but the other two vanished, becoming the subject of rumors. Eventually, a Freedom of Information request in the 2010s would reveal their fate: one ended up at NORAD for strategic defense[8] and the other at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, for purposes that remain classified. Brian Henson, upon learning this, said sardonically, “CHERNABOG working for the CIA? Makes sense.”

Later models of CHERNABOG would appear over the years until the speed of processors and the appearance of advanced signal processing software made them obsolete (the Intelliphone in your hand has more processing power than CHERNABOG!). Still, thanks to the DIS series and the CHERNABOG line, Stan Kinsey’s little “DATA” project not only paid for itself in the long run, but made Disney a substantial profit and marked Disney as a real player in the world of computers.

Steve Jobs, the great early warrior of the Home Computer world, was rising again. Jack Tramiel, at the urging of his son Leonard, offered Jobs an executive position at Commodore. Richard Branson did likewise, offering Jobs the presidency of Virgin Computers. Jobs turned them both down and instead spun up his own computer company, Beacon Computers[9], determined to do for academic and institutional computing what the DIS-I and CHERNABOG did for audio-video and graphics. He brought on board former Apple employees like Joanna Hoffman, Bud Tribble, George Crow, Rich Page, Susan Barnes, Susan Kare, and Dan'l Lewin, and once again tapped Frog Design to envision the case, ultimately coming up with the “seamless black cube” look of the Beacon Cube.


The Beacon Cube (Image source “oldcomputers.net”)

It is unknown whether or not Jobs ever seriously considered the offers from Tramiel and Branson, though many industry analysts are sure that either partnership would have ended in disaster when the Great Minds/Great Egos of these great cyberwarriors inevitably clashed. Whatever his inner thoughts at the time, following his experiences with John Sculley, Jobs ultimately decided that he could only work for one man: Steve Jobs.



* * *​

“They named their computers ‘DIS’, ‘The Beast’, and ‘CHERNABOG’? They’re not even trying to hide their infernal allegiance, are they?” – Variously attributed to Rev. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or Robert Tilton.



[1] As M. Night Shyamalan would say (at least according to Robot Chicken): “twist!”

[2] Think of the monitor as vaguely resembling this chair:


[3] Based the Ensoniq ES550 from our timeline

[4] Seriously @marathag, were you spying on Kalvan and me? 😊

[5] The AX68K is equivalent to the Amiga 1000 from our timeline and the AX68K EL equivalent to the Amiga 500.

[6] Based the Ensoniq ES550 from our timeline

[7] Startup sound effect: “Mee-mee-MEEEEE!!”

[8] Would you like to play a game?

[9] Effectively our timeline’s NeXT Computer. Here Jobs was influenced by the dreamy, symbolic, and nostalgic imagery of Disney Design, and thus the logo is a stylized lighthouse with an illuminating beam of light.
 
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