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Disneyland Main Street Forced Perspective

Forced perspective is one of those common photographic illusions.  Let’s say you go to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and position your spouse so that he/she is pretending to hold up the tower with their hand.  That’s forced perspective.

But another way that forced perspective is used is to give objects and buildings the illusion of height.

Our brains already know that as object recede in the distance, they get smaller.  So, what forced perspective does is pre-empt that by making those faraway objects even smaller.

Matterhorn’s Forced Perspective

Disneyland is famous for forced perspective.  At the Matterhorn, larger trees are placed lower down.  Farther up, the trees decrease in size.  Up to the “treeline” of the Matterhorn, two foot pinion trees from Arizon were planted.  This makes the 147-foot mountain look–if not 14,000 feet tall–at least something bigger than 147 feet.

Main Street Forced Perspective

On Disneyland’s Main Street, forced perspective means that each story farther up has smaller windows, smaller awnings, smaller cornices, and so on.

It’s not a complete illusion.  It never is.  But it does trick you subconscious mind at first glance.

Disneyland Main Street Drawing

One of the most prominent, yet ignored, features of Disneyland is its Main Street. Even though thousands of people walk through Main Street every day, it is vastly ignored.  Too bad, because Main Street is one of the best features of Disneyland.

The main elevations for Main Street were drawn up by a former art director at 20th Century Fox named Marvin Davis. In 1953, Davis produced drawings for the Main Street buildings that would eventually become the core of Disneyland. Most of these buildings are either two or three stories with mansard roofs and false fronts.  This is the architecture of many small towns from the turn of the 20th century.

Sources of Inspiration for Disneyland Main Street

Disneyland Main Street Drawing

It is often said that the Main Street of Disneyland, and perhaps the entire concept of hearkening back to some nostalgic idea of the past, is based on Walt Disney’s memories of growing up in Marceline, Missouri. While this may be true, it is worth noting that much of the inspiration came from other artists and art directors.

One of the Disney art directors, Harper Goff, contributed additional pencil drawings that expanded Main Street’s size and looked remarkably like the downtown of Ft. Collins, Colorado, where Goff had been raised. At the time that Disneyland opened in 1955, a 40-year-old adult bringing his or her child to the park would have been born in 1915. This grown-up visitor would have remembered this style from the town of his or her childhood. If not that, the visitor’s thoughts were imbued with this culture through films of the day, most notably Meet Me in St. Louis.

What is the Fate of Disney’s Main Street?

It is a style that is no longer part of contemporary visitors’ memories or their parents or possibly even grandparents. Yet it is such an integral part of Disneyland that it would be difficult for Disney to tear this out replace it with something else.