He Built a Temple of Zoom : Picking up where Lucas and Spielberg left off, Tony Baxter is the mastermind behind Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure. It opens Friday, but you might want to get in line now.

David Kronke is a frequent contributor to Calendar

'Do not touch the pole," the sign reads; so naturally, you touch the pole. There's a creaking rumble, and that rickety ceiling above you almost collapses upon your head.

Unchastened, you trek deeper into the bowels of the ancient ruin and board a troop transport that takes you on an expedition to receive a blessing from a long-forgotten god.

Of course, these things never work out as planned, so you soon find your vehicle careening madly about the darkened temple, eluding explosions, tumbling rubble, vast, toothy serpents, gauzy webs filled with insect life and other impediments to a long, happy and, above all, mobile life.

If--no, we meant when --you make it back to home base safely, there stands Indiana Jones congratulating you on your survival skills with a reassuring smile and wave.

Yes, Indiana Jones is back, but this time, he's not brought to you courtesy of Steven Spielberg or Harrison Ford; even George Lucas is keeping a respectful distance. The intrepid archeologist has been given new life thanks to Tony Baxter.

And, yes, you're forgiven if you can't quite place the name. Baxter is a droll man with the rather dry title of senior vice president, creative development, Disneyland. What that actually means is he has helped design some of the coolest rides in the park. Past accomplishments include Splash Mountain and, with Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, Star Tours, the first major motion simulator ride. He also helped develop New Fantasyland and EuroDisney.

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But the Indiana Jones Adventure, a new ride--Baxter and his colleagues refer to it, not incorrectly, as a "show"--opening Friday, takes the concept of amusement park attraction to a new level. As Baxter himself says, with a smile acknowledging his understatement, "I like creating rides that don't relate to any other ride you've ever been on."

Michael Eisner, chairman and chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Co., is certainly a believer.

"It's always important to exceed guest expectations, to top ourselves each time out, and this time we've clearly done it," he says. "Tony is a fountain of ideas. He's a very creative guy, and I always enjoy working with him."

One tricky part in developing the new attraction, in fact, came in writing the disclaimer warning off pregnant moms, easily frightened kids and folks with weak hearts, bad backs and a predilection for calm.

"It's not a roller coaster, it's not like anything you've ever been on before," Baxter says. "Putting it into words is difficult."

Eventually, it was decided to compare the ride to an off-road vehicle journey. "If you were leaping off the edge of a riverbed, then running over cobblestones in a dried-up wash, then roaring over to the other side, that's exactly what it felt like," he says.

"This is kind of the first performance in this medium. It's a medium that hasn't been explored before. When you write a book or make a film or TV show, you kind of know the dynamics of the camera, or of writing, on whatever scale it may be. But here, you wonder, what is it that will make you wait three hours, two hours, whatever, and not feel like a fool?"

Yes, two to three hours is the projected length of the wait when the ride opens, and about 24,000 people are expected to go on the ride a day. After all, this is the teaming of two success stories: Disneyland and the Indiana Jones movies.

It was back in 1987 that the ride was first suggested. The slow birthing process was due to the fact that much of the technology did not exist until recently.

"You couldn't have built this five years ago," Baxter says. In fact, because of the technical challenges that delayed the Indiana Jones Adventure, Splash Mountain was opened in its stead in 1989.

Part of what makes the new ride--er, show--unique are the number of variations available. There are three ride paths, and in each path, each vehicle may do a number of things at different points. Plus, Indy's dialogue varies from ride to ride, so it's possible, in theory, to go through the ride dozens of times without ever having the exact same experience (although for those who ride that many times, their butts may become so bruised that such subtle differences will seem meaningless).

"If there's an explosion near your car, that may not happen to the car behind you," Baxter explains. "The point of all that was to make it unpredictable, so that the audience is constantly finding different things. If you were to compare the ride with the people riding behind you, you'd say, 'We saw a fountain of youth'; they'd say, 'Oh, really, we saw enormous wealth.' You'd say, 'Wasn't that neat when we broke down in that dark hall'; they'd say, 'We didn't break down.'

"There's a whole series of mechanical mishaps and devices we can do to devise a different kinetic experience. In the past, everything was in a very linear fashion, which kind of corresponded to popular culture," he says.

"What's happened in the computer generation is we've given away linear control and let people make up their own path, navigating their way through different media. A young crowd today is intrigued by non-linear events, finding and re-creating different things. There's a market out there weened on non-linear experiences. . . .

"In rides like (Pirates of the Caribbean), you're a passive observer to what's going on around you. The pirates are having a battle, but you're just drifting through as an observer, you're not in the show. Here, it's happening to you.

"On a roller coaster, once you've done it, you know, 'OK, we're going to go through the loop now.' The neat thing about this ride is you can see something coming up, but you have no idea how it's gonna react as you go through."

As Baxter walks through the ride, Disneyland employees who are getting a sneak peek clamor around him, congratulating him on the achievement. "You've made my day," exults one.

"I hope I've made your year," Baxter says with a smile. Later, he says, "Employees can be the most critical bunch, because they've seen it all and expect so much."

Baxter should know everything there is to know about Disneyland employees. At 48, he has been with the park long enough to qualify for a gold watch and a handshake from Mickey. He joined the staff as a teen-ager, sweeping up cigarette butts, scooping out ice cream and operating the rides--the latter of which had a more pronounced effect on him than anyone would imagine.

"I learned a lot," Baxter recalls. "Working this pirate ride, you have to get 24 people on the boat in 18 seconds, and be polite about it. You learn the challenge, the task there is to learning the ergonomics to getting people to move to allow that to happen."

He attended Long Beach State at the same time, he would (much) later discover, as Steven Spielberg. Baxter studied architecture and landscape architecture before getting his degree in theater design.

"Those three elements are exactly what we do here," he says. "It's the theater of the outdoors, combining landscaping and architecture, together with very theatrical sets that just happen to last longer than just a show run."

Filmmakers have it easy, Baxter says:

"It's one thing to do a movie effect. It runs once, you throw away the set. Here, every 18 seconds, you have to have another dynamic effect occur over and over from 8 in the morning until midnight. There's more ingenuity and design that goes into that end of it than just conceptualizing 'Well, we want an explosion here.' "

On the other hand, Baxter concedes that taking on Indiana Jones, Spielberg and Lucas' mayhem-heavy creation, and replicating that as a ride seemed a near-impossibility.

"Those movies are so kinetic, so inventive," he says. "We had to invent the type of device that was completely out of control and almost insane in the impact and in how quickly things were upon you."

Four years, Baxter says, were spent "just trying to figure out how we were going to do it." Then in 1991, a full-scale mock-up of the ride--just the essential bumps and spills, none of the tricky stuff or narrative devices--was built in a warehouse in Valencia. In early 1992, work began on the story points, which Baxter claims is the difference between sitting through a random bunch of jolts and a truly memorable amusement park experience.

Baxter does acknowledge one thing: He leaves the hard stuff to others. "I don't get stuck with the three years of engineering needed to figure out how to do it, I'm the one who demonstrates verbally or visually with a model what we'd like to try to do."

An example, he says, is the point in the ride in which rubble comes crashing from the ceiling and cascades into oblivion, a stunt that was his idea but designed by others.

Other technological breakthroughs: An effect featuring creepy, crawling bugs was partially lifted from the folks who did the wildebeests computer-animation sequence in "The Lion King," and the incredibly lifelike Indy animatrons that turn up throughout the ride were created in conjunction with the University of Utah, which was exploring ways to create more lifelike prosthetics for amputees.

A particularly impressive aspect of the ride won't even make itself know to passengers. At any given time, 14 cars will be traversing the peril-ridden temple; what no one will know is that the cars will each be "talking" to one another.

"We'll put you in a rat-infested room and break down your car and the vehicle behind you needs to know if that's on purpose, rather than a legitimate breakdown, because the car behind you needs to know what to do, to take care not to run into you.

"There's a constant dialogue of a mechanical nature going on--'I'm going in here, I'm stalling out to give them this illusion.' The car behind you says, 'OK, I'm coming in full throttle.' But if the car really broke down, it sends a signal, 'SOS, you guys better stop.' And when the cars come in, they tell the operators what they thought of their trip. 'I did well on that,' 'I need an adjustment.' So the operator knows what the car thought about its performance after a ride."

All that certainly sounds ambitious, and given that a chunk of the Disneyland parking lot was sacrificed for the Indiana Jones Adventure (the ride itself is an eighth of a mile from Adventureland, where the line begins queuing up), one wonders how much all this cost.

"It's no 'Waterworld,' " Baxter says, alluding to the upcoming Kevin Costner film, reported to cost $160 million. "I read the stats on that and said, 'Wow, this is cheap!' "

There does, however, seem to be one design flaw to the ride. The exit line is adjacent to the entry line, separated by the flimsiest of ropes. What's to keep joy-ride-happy youngsters from jumping the line?

Baxter points to the oppressive three-hour wait that has been built into the line. "I don't think anyone would be foolish enough to let you jump in front of them," he says.

Which sounds like Indiana Jones' world of thrill-seeking and fisticuffs may begin long before you ever board said ride. Bring your bullwhip.

* Indiana Jones Adventure, Disneyland, Ball Road at Santa Ana Freeway, Anaheim. Opens Friday. Park hours: today, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.-midnight; Saturday, 8 a.m.-midnight. Adults, $33; children 3-11, $25; senior citizens 60 and older, $27. (213) 626-8605, Ext. 4565, or (714) 999-4565.

Inside the Temple

A look at the Indiana Jones Adventure and its Temple of the Forbidden Eye as Disneyland prepares for Friday's opening:

Soundtrack: A fully synchronized on-board sound system gives each rider full stereo sound, with cued special effects added. The original John Williams score was recorded by a 90-piece orchestra.

Ride Technology: Uses a state-of-the-art enhanced motion system that was developed and patented by Walt Disney Imagineering. The Enhanced Motion Vehicle allows riders to experience a random, multiple-programmed show.

Unique Features

* With the offering of three separate gifts by the temple deity, this attraction represents the first time that guests will have variations in their show experience.

* Each on-board ride-control system contains myriad programmed cues. The adventure will never be the same twice, with nearly 160,000 possible combinations of show programming.

* Building on the variable programming and random selection of possible show experiences, the vehicles trigger programmed attraction responses including fireballs, a giant cobra, mummies and creepy crawlies.

Vehicles: Sixteen vehicles of 12 seats each, constructed as military troop transports, with a maximum of 15 cycling through the attraction at one time.

Length of Presentation: Three minutes, 20 seconds, with a new adventure dispatched every 18 seconds.

Capacity: 2,400 temple visitors each hour.

Source: Disneyland

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