Tuesdays With Corey: Disney’s Tree of Life

At one time no vegetation would grow on Discovery Island at the Animal Kingdom. No tree, shrubs, flowers or plants. It was completely barren. One day a tiny ant planted a seed and made a wish. He wished for a tree to grow on the barren piece of land, a tree large enough to provide shelter for all of the animals. The ants’ wish came true and a tree began to grow.  It continued to grow until there was room beneath its limbs for all of the animals. As the tree continued to grow upwards, the images of all of the animals that took shelter beneath it appeared on the trunk, roots, and branches.

For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s the backstory to the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom. When Animal Kingdom was being developed Imagineers knew that they were going to need a central icon to represent the park.  One of the first concepts was a Noah’s Ark icon and another was a three leveled carousel featuring animals of the land, sea and sky. But the Tree of Live was the final choice. The early design for the tree only called for it to be 50 feet high and was going to have a playground for children to play in. But as the Imagineers kept throwing around ideas the tree began to evolve. Original concepts included a restaurant called Roots Restaurant to be located beneath the tree but this idea was abandoned in favor of a theatre to be placed beneath it. This still caused problems with engineering because the foundation needed to be able to withstand hurricane forced winds and a large room built beneath the tree. So the idea for the tree was put on hold.

But one day an Imagineer was watching a show about off shore oil drilling in the Gulf and immediately knew what could be used to build the Tree of Life that could withstand the winds it needed to. A oil drilling platform would be large enough to house a large room and a narrow center section that would be capable of supporting the branches.  The next problem was the branches. The Imagineers thought that the branches would have to be made of a rigid, non-flexible material. When the concept was loaded into a computer and the drawings were rendered, the tree looked like a dome because all of the branches would be mass-produced in identical sizes. The Imagineers came up with a flexible injection molded fiberglass to create the branches for the tree. The branches would vary in sizes just like branches of a real tree would.

After the tree was completed it stood 145 feet tall and 165 feet across. It had 12 primary branches, 45 secondary branches, 756 tertiary branches and 7,891 end branches.  The Imagineers worked to come up with a leaf that could withstand the climates of Florida like heat, cold and moisture and could resist the effects of UV light. 102,583 leaves cover the tree with each leaf over a foot long.

If the making of the tree wasn’t enough there are also over 320 animals carved into the tree. It took ten artists working full time for 12 months to complete all of the carvings.  One day during the building Jane Goodall visited the park and asked if there was a chimp on the tree. The team immediately added David Greybeard to the tree in the roots near the entrance to Tough to be a Bug. Disney also honored Goodall with a plaque at the Tree of Life.


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