Eddie Sotto Talks About His Time as a Disney Imagineer and His Breakthrough COVID-19 Test on the Horizon – Monorail News

Gray Houser:
Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of magic time. I’m Gray Houser, and with me today is a very special guest, Eddie Sotto of Sotto Studios. He’s a former Disney Imagineer who came up with cool concepts like a hypothetical Tom Sawyer’s island refurbishment project, that would’ve had you enter a crypt and go under the river, and it would’ve just been really awesome. And then other things that did happen, like the Disneyland Paris Main Street, just the most beautiful Main Street that Disney’s ever done. And now he’s working on some really cool, really innovative COVID-19 testing ideas, and we’re going to get into all of that in just a few minutes. Eddie, how are you doing?

Eddie Sotto:
Great, great to be here.

Gray Houser:
It’s really always exciting when we can talk to imagineers, because you guys kind of have a unique way of looking at things, especially major challenges like COVID-19 that are really consuming every aspect of our life. But before we get to that, I just really wanted to ask you how’d you get into imagineering? Because I know your first job there was Main Street for Disneyland Paris.

Eddie Sotto:
Right, exactly. So like many people, it’s not a direct path. I actually started out at what was America’s number three theme park at the time, which was Knott’s Berry Farm. Excuse me. And after working there for several years, moved into another company called Landmark Entertainment, which Ward [Kimble 00:01:54] once called the poor man’s [wed 00:01:56] or the poor man’s imagineering. And then from there, Tony Baxter had seen some of the work, and Tony Baxter’s kind of a Disney legend, at least imagineering legend. And he’s seen some of my 19th century work, and Jules Verne’s submarines and things I’d been doing for others, and invited me which was a wonderful opportunity to be a part of imagineering and come in, sort of as an executive designer to kind of create this new Main Street that they wanted to do in Paris France.

Gray Houser:
Right, so Main Street’s been built obviously at this point two times prior… or yeah, two times prior with Disneyland, Disney World, and then they had the World Bazaar in Tokyo. So what made this Main Street different? Now I know that there was the early concept, which I really want to talk about, is the gangster Main Street.

Eddie Sotto:
The gangster Main Street. Is was really a 1920s theme, and I think probably the concept of gangster, which we really didn’t want to do, we were going to do… Keystone cops are a lot different than gangsters. You make something funny and light. You don’t do something that looks unsavory or violent. So one of the movies I always liked growing up was a movie called Some Like It Hot, with Marilyn Monroe. And the gangsters there were goofy, and they had speakeasies then. And the whole motivation for this wasn’t just to change Main Street. It was really to look at what Europeans at that time, what your audience in Europe was going to really understand or relate to about the United States. And the first time Europeans really looked in an envious way at what was going on across the sea was when jazz emerged. Wow, a new type of music. An excitement of 1920s. So we said, what if we could turn the clock forward just enough to access all that exciting music, and maybe to have a live show, sort of like the Golden Horseshoe in Frontierland is a live show.

Eddie Sotto:
Have a speakeasy, where you enter a funeral parlor or a flower shop or some front as they would call it, board a turntable, and you’re flipped, and there you are in all the action with the dancers and the music, and really make it a fun… kind of like a dinner show kind of a thing. So it would be the Disney version, just as much as larceny and looting is different than piracy in the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Gray Houser:
Right. So that sounds like a really awesome idea. And I just wonder how did it not happen?

Eddie Sotto:
That’s a good question. So really for me, I love to do creative, new things. I don’t want to repeat myself, or the prospect of standing at a photocopier and just building another Walt Disney World Main Street, or Tokyo Main Street, that just did not appeal to me. But this notion that Tony Baxter was as excited as I was about a 1920s theme, this gave me a license to be a designer again. So we kind of went crazy a little bit. We created an elevated train system, like you would find in Chicago. But beautifully done, more like a people mover, a Victorian people mover than a real, full-scale train. But people could wait underneath the tracks and watch the parade, it would be on the right-hand side of the street if you were facing the castle. So we had all kinds of attractions, and we really made Main Street into more of a land with lots to do more than the shopping center that some feel it is today.

Gray Houser:
Right, but what you guys did end up building the third time around of the 1899, 1900 Main Street, I think it’s the most beautiful rendition of that. Disneyland Paris is the most beautiful Disney castle park, especially up to that time. And I watched… go ahead.

Eddie Sotto:
No, it’s interesting you say that. To answer your question about why is it not there, why did we not do the 20s, A, it was very expensive. It was a land now, it was more than a shopping and dining area. It really had richness, and I think the audience would’ve related to it. We really pushed it. We did lots of exciting things in there that you’ve never seen in a Main Street. We even took American art like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting, which is a famous kind of 1920s painting of a diner. We were going to build the diner, so Europeans would look at this and go, “Wait a minute, was that that painting?” We were trying to do the cultural side of the United States that they would relate to. So we had all that. But to go to your point Gray, is gangster. I think what happened was Michael Eisner got the impression that what Europeans might get from this is that we had lost our innocence as a culture, and it would be a gangster place, kind of like The Untouchables, which was a popular movie at the time. I never got a chance to really present the final idea or even complete developing it. We were very close, we spent about a year on it. And I think had he seen the treatment, the Keystone Cops Laurel and Hardy treatment of it we wanted to do, it might’ve quelled his-

Gray Houser:
His fear.

Eddie Sotto:
His nervousness about doing, his fear, right. His fear of doing it. So with that in mind, we were a year behind and had to do a different Main Street. But still, we had to relate to the audience. And if you’re living in Paris, and I lived in Paris, it’s literally the most highly detailed, lush, immersive atmospheric city you could live in. Maybe other than Venice, Italy. It’s just incredible, right?

Gray Houser:
Right.

Eddie Sotto:
So how do you create something that Europeans would find pleasurable? Well, Europeans like to take their kids to museums and things like that. So we tried to put a lot of culture, richness, layers of history and story into the Main Street, so they walk in they’re not greeted with American merchandising. They’re greeted with culture. American art was something we hung onto. We licensed the artwork of Gibson and Leyendecker, and really tried to put American artists and illustrators as part of the work that we were doing. Even the manhole covers in the street, Gray, are Smithsonian artifacts from different periods of the cast iron designs that were beautiful in American cities. So we didn’t want to be political, but we wanted to be cultural, and sort of focus on the Americana and giving Europeans a very rich experience.

Gray Houser:
Right, and I know that you have the arcades, which I’m so jealous of. I wish we could have that in Florida. But you have the one that’s a liberty arcade, and it’s the history of the Statue of Liberty and the relationship between the United States and France, and then you have the other arcade on the other side of the street is all patent models.

Eddie Sotto:
Right, yeah. Those are the little treats. And we found out, one of the operations directors, I think it was Jim [Korra 00:08:59], said to me, I said, “So how do you think the park’s doing?” I think this was in the opening month or so. And he goes, “Do you know how long they spend in Main Street?” I go, “I have no idea, no. Why?” I go, “Why, is the train broken down? Why, is the horse cart slow?” And he said, “No, they’re reading all the plaques. They’re looking.” Europeans love museums, they’ve grown up with museums. It’s not something they run past. If there’s something interesting, they will stop and look at it, which is a great credit to the audience, and makes me feel good about putting all that extra effort that our team put into creating these little exhibits.

Gray Houser:
I mean, because you go to Walt Disney World here and people are literally running down the street like, “I’ve got to get to Space Mountain. Everybody out of my way.”

Eddie Sotto:
Right, right. Right.

Gray Houser:
And in Paris it’s like, “Oh look, a plaque.”

Eddie Sotto:
Well, and you have to live up to it. You have to put an artifact in there that really catches people’s interest, or something that’s worthy of your close inspection as they say. So the Statue of Liberty, when you think about it, it was a gift from an individual in France to the United States. And really, it’s a cultural gift from France. But Disneyland as a cultural icon, is probably the most extensive thing built on European soil in American history. So you really wanted to show that it’s more than Elvis and hamburgers and so forth. You want to go further and really show art and humanity, and color and design. And so we went to even using wall coverings that were American wall coverings, or importing light fixtures that we had to rewire that were examples of American antiques. Almost like you’re going to a case study of 19th century America, because Victorian started in England. Queen Victoria, right?

Gray Houser:
Well I was looking at a video that y’all put together. It was you, and there was another [inaudible 00:10:56] I saw was Tim Delaney. And it was put together by y’all for cast members. I think you really get a feeling for what the park was all about, and the detailing. And one of the things that you mentioned was at that time, you, the cashier wouldn’t handle change, that there would be this little elevator almost like thing that would send the box with the money upstairs, and then they would do the change up there and then it would come back down. And you even built those into the shops on Main Street. Even though they weren’t functional, but they looked like they were.

Eddie Sotto:
When the park opened, they did work and move, and the emporium features this, it’s called the Lamson system. It’s a famous sort of little baskets on cables, and it’s because the checkers at the counter were not allowed to make change then. They would put the money with a receipt in a basket, it would go upstairs where the money was kept in the department store, they would make the change and send it back. Some of them were pneumatic tubes. In our case, we use cables and reproduce the entire system. And really the reason was two things. One is story to show what a department store really was like back then. The second thing is kinetics. Having empty stores or streets with no vehicles, it’s dead. It feels boring. Every land, from Tomorrowland with moving vehicles, to Main Street with the horses and cars and buses. Lands need to have a heartbeat, they need to have life. So why not have the heartbeat inside the store as well as outside the store? Because people want to sense that there’s life when they’re walking into a space.

Gray Houser:
Right, and it’s really, really funny, because obviously Disneyland is like the classic, and Walt Disney World feels more ornate. And same thing kind of holds for Tokyo. But then if Walt Disney World is so much more ornate compared to Disneyland, Disneyland Paris is like 10 times that compared to Walt Disney World, right?

Eddie Sotto:
Yeah, you know what’s funny about that Gray is that I had to go to our team and say… because we have a wonderful interior team from the movie industry and so forth. I said, “Let’s don’t just put moldings and drapes in to be more ornate, because Paris is ornate. That’s boring to Europeans. They live in a world of ornate. What we have to do is every time you make something, if it’s not worth taking a picture of, we shouldn’t have built it. So it has to be ornate with a story. And you seem to remember the cable system in the emporium, the Lamson system. Or we did candy columns in the candy store that were glass with candies in them. These are the things that people remember that they can only find at Disneyland, and we always have to remember that. Because Paris is its own theme park, isn’t it?

Gray Houser:
Right. I have to confess I’ve never been to Paris, this is purely based on photos I’ve seen.

Eddie Sotto:
It’s amazing, trust me.

Gray Houser:
Which goes to show you what a good liar I am. Because if you heard the beginning of this podcast, you would assume I’d been there. And now I’m just lying to you. I’ve never been there. It could be awful. I mean, it’s not, but it could be, and I would tell you it’s great.

Eddie Sotto:
Well, I think the funny thing Gray is that Paris is iconic as a city. The sleeping beauty castle of paris of course is the Eiffel Tower. If you look at the way it’s laid out, it’s just an incredible city and it’s so immersive. And it’s survived over the centuries because it’s kept its romance. It holds together as a place. There’s a lot of lessons in theme park design from going to a place like Paris. And living in it, and being immersed in it, taught me what I had to do as a designer to make Disneyland better. One of them was putting pavers instead of asphalt down Main Street, and working with operations to come up with a way of doing brick pavers like they used to in real streets. Why? Because Paris has cobblestones. It’s still a period place. Why would you pay to come into Disneyland and find what’s supposed to be 1890 and it’s got modern asphalt in it like we have in our other parks? Well, now the other parks have actually changed. A lot of this stuff we brought back from Europe found its way into the other Main Streets.

Gray Houser:
Right, and it’s kind of clear that that Disneyland Paris isn’t awful, and we have Eddie here and Tim here as proof that it’s not, right? And I think you can tell that, because it’s even rubbed off on people like me who haven’t been, who’ve just heard it being so awesome. We’ve seen the YouTube videos and whatnot, and we can talk about it like we’ve been there but we haven’t. I’ve never been to the park in Shanghai but I know it’s amazing.

Eddie Sotto:
Right. I’ve not been to Shanghai myself.

Gray Houser:
So moving back home, to the place I actually have been, Disneyland park in California. During the Paul [Pressler 00:16:01] age, it was kind of the dark age. He was like, “All right guys. The raft to Tom Sawyer’s island, they cost way too much money. We have to get rid of it and maybe the whole island.” And then you were on vacation in Hawaii, and really came up with this magical solution.

Eddie Sotto:
Well, it’s kind of funny that there was a very… there were some dark times. The pendulum swings both ways. When attendance goes down, sometimes you have to save operating costs and things. So there’s always proposals out there from management. Well, what if we got rid of this ride? Actually, they took the skyway out. That was a high labor cost, and would’ve been expensive to upgrade for modern codes and so forth. So some of these rides, they just leave, because they kept adding operating costs. And so I got to learn frankly more about the business side of these theme parks by being down at Disneyland after coming home from Paris. But to answer your question, so I go to Hawaii and one of the things I’d always sort of dreamed of and felt was that we don’t have… we used to have more historical reference in the parks, like the Columbia sailing ship isn’t based on any movie, it’s upon the first American ship to circumnavigate the world.

Eddie Sotto:
So if you look at that, I always thought that it was interesting that at the Pirates of the Caribbean, when you board your boat, if you look up you’ll see a sign that says, “Lafitte’s Landing.” There’s even a Lafitte’s anchor sitting out there. I thought John Lafitte is an interesting character, so I went and I bought his memoirs, at least his disputed memoirs, his controversial memoirs, and read them, and was fascinated by this man’s history. And also some other history books about Andrew Jackson, and how Lafitte worked with the United States government. It was just interesting things. I thought well, here’s a great little fact. Right across from New Orleans, Lafitte used to operate an island called Barataria, and that was sort of a thieves market. Imagine a big flea market of stolen stuff from Spanish ships, and you could go over there and buy things. So, “Hey, what do you want to do tonight? Let’s don’t go to the mall. Let’s go to the real pirate swap meet going on over here,” and people would get in boats, wealthy people, and go across to this island where Lafitte and his group would sell kind of merchandise over there a little bit.

Eddie Sotto:
So I thought, “Wow, that’s interesting. We have an island right across from New Orleans square.” So I thought, well, if you call it Lafitte’s island, and you did get rid of the rafts because they wanted to do that, what would you do? So I thought, well, what if we created a great tunnel? And in Paris, I had been to the catacombs. And literally, this is an underground series of tunnels where skulls and bones were stored, frankly, from people that died during the revolution, the French revolution. And they put them down there. And I thought what if you actually entered a crypt over by the haunted mansion, which was Lafitte’s crypt? And you went down a mysterious staircase, and it was dark and dank. And you could see the grave robbers had already broken down the wooden walls, and they’d removed stones. So something had been looted here in the past. But as you get deeper and deeper, it gets wetter and damper. And finally you see the Empire De La Mar, the empire of the dead. And there they are, all the skulls from all the different crews and ships that had been sacked.

Eddie Sotto:
And as you work your way deeper and deeper and deeper, you find yourself in the hold of his ship, and you realize you’re actually in a buried ship. And when you come up the steps, now the bright sunlight blinds you because you’re on an island. You’ve actually gone under the river, you never realized it. Now you’re in that secret world of Jean Lafitte, with all kinds of exciting and fun things to do, and caves. And you would do a lot of the treatment they’ve done today. But anyway, that was just a pitch with some sketches and designs and things like that. So it was kind of fun, I guess I got carried away there.

Gray Houser:
It’s taken on a life of its own. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Offhand Disney on YouTube.

Eddie Sotto:
Sure. I’ve seen the video.

Gray Houser:
And how much of that is accurate? Can I go message him and be like, “Dude, you’re right. I just talked to Eddie, and he told me that you’re right.” How much of that is wishful thinking, and how much of that is… could possibly be true if we indulge a little bit?

Eddie Sotto:
Well the way I look at it is if it’s not true, it should be. But anyway, I feel that when I had just done the attraction design, it was primarily restricted to the island and the tunnels, and putting the Lafitte crypt across from the mansion because that was the right location for it to cross the river. So I did that, but I sort of acknowledged that there was the anchor, there was a few other things that were there. But it’s funny, I didn’t really think through the fact that Andrew Jackson was a mannequin over on the Tom Sawyer island. The fans themselves kind of, which I actually appreciate, take the story and run with it and they go further and further and further. Of course it does connect all these attractions together, but I think people made much deeper and more dramatic connections than I probably ever could have. But I think the idea of a meta-theme, or this idea that you can have stories that link lands together, or bind attractions together, is fascinating. And I don’t know. If I had the opportunity, I’d probably do an augmented reality app of Lafitte for the park. I think that would be really fun.

Gray Houser:
Stop giving me ideas about things that aren’t going to happen, okay? Like that’s the best idea I’ve ever heard.

Eddie Sotto:
I don’t know, Sotto Studios. We’re making lots of things happen over here. We’re making lots of kind of super cool secret stuff. So who knows, who knows.

Gray Houser:
Super cool secret stuff? Oh.

Eddie Sotto:
Yeah, we’re always doing something kind of secret. We work for a lot of secret clients.

Gray Houser:
Secret clients, and now you have this idea about COVID testing. And I was telling a friend who’s a medical laboratory scientist. He’s like, “I don’t see it, man. How’s this going to work?” And let’s kind of talk about it, and then maybe we can delve deeper and you can possibly address some of the criticisms. I’ve just been talking to people in the field. This is the kind of guy who’s going to actually read all the peer reviewed papers before he takes the vaccine. This is the guy.

Eddie Sotto:
Well, you should. Frankly you should.

Gray Houser:
It’s hard to convince him. But maybe we can work on him a little bit in this podcast episode. So just kind of give me the brief overview, and then we can delve deep.

Eddie Sotto:
The brief overview is this. Distancing and masks, and killing off fireworks and parades and all the moments that people pay a fortune to come for theme parks for, and stadiums, to be at a concert and hold your lighter up for an encore or be with the home team fans screaming, with the fans, your friends from your community that are total strangers for your favorite team, all of that is an endangered species when you make every venue including Disneyland into a hospital. When you make these places into hospitals and everyone’s wearing masks and they’re wary of each other, that is not fun. You can’t watch your kid, you can’t even see your child smile when they’re hugging a character, because they’re not even allowed to hug the character. And if you take away fireworks and parades and all that, you’re really ruining the value proposition of a park, and you’ve hurt the capacity, because you can’t put enough people through it. So simply put, it’s a death spiral. It is a death spiral for the business of running the park, and for the guest that wants to enjoy it.

Eddie Sotto:
And I’m not going to sit down and watch Walt Disney’s or any… the stadium, the field of dreams, any… I’m not going to let any of that go without a fight. And so I believe in something really simple. Get rid of the hospital inside of theme parks, and treat the theme park more like an airport, where you walk through security, and then once you’re through security and you’re considered to be safe, then you’re carefree. You’re not worried about a bomb in some lady’s purse. You’re not worried about any of those things. So what that means is you’ve got to do the greatest COVID test known to man at the front door, and make it fun. Make it hassle free so people will actually come to the park. But we have to get rid of the masks. And so we’re working with different technical firms now that actually have COVID tests in the lab that are less than 60 seconds, with an insanely high accuracy rate. I’m talking this is in the high 90% accuracy rates, and can move enough people through in a short enough period of time. That is what we need.

Eddie Sotto:
And so to me, let’s say There’s a breathalyzer. And when you breath through the little breathalyzer, the computer can see the virus, Gray. It can see that you’re contagious or not. It sees it electronically. So either it’s there or it’s not. So imagine we make it fun. We don’t put you in some kiosk and have a line down the block. We walk you into some kind of a magic cave, and there’s this giant machine inside. And people are distanced around this machine, and they’re given a little device and they blow through that into the machine. And as they blow, they can see on the screen this bubble getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger. And they know they’ve blown enough, and now you can see on the screen what is in inside your breath for real. It’s this sparkling, weird thing. And then pretty soon, these bubbles come out of the machine and lead you down the path inside this cave, and they start disappearing as you’re being cleared. So within 60 seconds, as you realize there’s no bubbles left around you, you’re safe. You’re good to go.

Eddie Sotto:
You look over, and your handbag or your parcel you’ve dropped off for security, that’s been looked at while you’re busy doing that, so you don’t even have to worry about it. You grab that, your kid looks at you and he goes, “Dad, that was so fun. I want to do that again. I love that bubble thing.” Cool. Let’s go do it, and they walk right into the park. Make, if it’s a sports game it’s the mascot of the team that leads you through it. But make it fun, make it hassle free. Walt Disney would not just put a bunch of kiosks in front of a park. So I’m just looking at this and saying, how do you aim higher? How do we go for the highest level, because human life is the most valuable thing there is. We’re not going to compromise for money or anything else, or a junky test, or letting… we’re only going to allow well people into the best experience they fell in love with, and that’s the end of the story.

Gray Houser:
Right. So I was watching, I think it was on NBC. And it was a bit about the breathalyzer test. And I saw they had the prototype thing there that’s being shipped to San Diego, and being shipped to places in London and all these different places. And something about how it can detect the gases that are coming out in your breath that are in your lungs. And obviously it’s way over my head. I’m not a doctor. I couldn’t really tell you how those things work. But let’s say the breathalyzer thing doesn’t work out. Do we have backup plans?

Eddie Sotto:
Well we’re actually… what we do for clients Gray is we look at several different technologies. Because there’s several different types of testing that you could do, so you only pick the right one with the highest level of capacity, at the same time as the highest accuracy and cost per person, time and so forth. So it was kind of an equation that you want to work out for each one. Now, it so happens, there’s two different companies where we talked to the professors. I have a physicist as part of our team, that myth busts all of this. Because you can imagine the gold rush of snake oil ideas out there, because it’s chasing investment. So there’s all these claims out there, and what happens is companies make claims of high test results, but it’s in the lab. It’s not what happens in the theme park when there’s a little old lady in the wheelchair that’s not tall enough to hit the machine. There’s all those things that kind of happen that people like me are used to and understand, and we put my experience with the scientists and the physicists, and we find the very best possible solution.

Eddie Sotto:
Now, it so happens, the breathalyzer is going before… there’s a lot of different breathalyzers. The one we’re looking at uses a special electronic wave that senses the virus. And frankly, if it dictates and finds other viruses, it actually catalogs those for future pandemics. Could you imagine that? So people say to me all the time, I’m surprised you haven’t jumped up and said it yet, “Well Eddie when there’s a vaccine you won’t need any of this.” Well the fact of the matter is, we’re still getting checked at airports with the lowest terror level in years, because people don’t want to fly in a plane and worry about a bomb. The same thing is true. This is the 45th anniversary of Jaws, and that was a rubber shark and people still won’t go back in the water. So we have to reassure people psychologically, we have to give them the highest medical result possible. And if you came out and one member of your party looked like they weren’t going to pass, we would put them into an even stricter test to make sure this wasn’t our fault, or they would test at home and they would come out and we’d just verify it at the front door so no one’s turned away.

Eddie Sotto:
So there’s a lot of wonderful thinking we’ve been putting into this, but I think the difference is we’re not a bunch of doctors handing catalog tear sheets to operators. We’re imagineers. We’re coming in and saying, “How do you make this a good experience for people? How do you manage it in a way that it is medical, and yet it’s also considerate of how people actually act in social situations?” And that testing really hasn’t gone on for most of these things we see on the news. Every night there’s another test of, “Oh, it’s got a high result.” Well what happens in the real world? It could be testing against a perfect viral sample, but not, like you just said Gray, when all these gases come out of your breath, the virus is in a cloud as it’s going by the breathalyzer. Well, these systems actually, almost like sampling a compact disk in an electronic computer, it over samples. We look at it many many times before a decision’s made. So I’m not a physicist myself, but I’m a myth buster person, because I don’t want my own reputation frankly to be tied up with things that don’t work.

Gray Houser:
Right, that’s totally, totally understandable. And what I was thinking about is that it is a psychological thing, right? I’m not sure if, when this thing is over, let’s pray the president’s right and we can get a vaccine at least beginning to be manufactured by the end of the year, by early next year. Let’s assume we get this vaccine in the hands of most people by the end of this next year. I’m not so sure that people will want to go back to life as it was in 2019. Right? Are we going to be hyper-conscious of hygiene? Are we going to be like Asia, where they do wear masks even if you have the flu, right? Are we coming into a new normal that is going to change the way we live and the way we experience these things, and then what can people like you do to make us a little less worried about that when we do go on vacation and we go to Walt Disney World or Universal or wherever we’re going?

Eddie Sotto:
Right. Well I think the proof is in the evidence. This is like life safety on a theme park attraction. To me, that’s a very serious thing. You design an attraction, it’s got to be safe. You have double redundancy, which means that if one thing fails there’s a backup to it. Well, the same thing would be true with this testing and everything else we’re doing. And I feel like people want transparency, they don’t want you to just tell them that it’s good. And frankly, I think the worst thing that’s ever been done is temperature testing where people take your temperature and then they go, “Oh okay, you’re all right,” and then you have to wear a mask and they treat you like you’re sick for the rest of the day. Well, then what did the temperature test do? Is that just people at death’s door? What did that really mean? Well it’s sort of true, I find that to be really ridiculous. So maybe you combine several technologies. So at one point inside the park we’re using cameras, you’re monitoring temperature. You’re always looking at things.

Eddie Sotto:
The deal is if you can convince people that Disneyland’s the happiest place on earth, or a theme park, why can’t you also convince them it’s the safest place? And you show it by the way you maintain it, how you treat people, and the way that the entry sequence is done. And maybe it shows you visually, you can see what the microscope saw when it was looking at your breath, and it turns green to show you you’re all right, and you’re like, “Wow.” As a matter of fact, it’s not even me that I care about. I care about that person that looks like they haven’t bathed in a month that just walked through. I want to make sure that person’s not sick, and you see the green thing go on over them, good. I’m glad they tested that person. I’m glad every person had an equal test, and that every person has been tested.

Gray Houser:
Right. So this is not… my friend who’s a medical laboratory scientist was concerned that you would, “All right, we’re going to test everybody when they come in the door, and then we’re going to do nothing else for the rest of the day.” This would be one component of a multifaceted thing?

Eddie Sotto:
Well remember though, there’s a lot of science here. And if you are not contagious, if germs are not coming out of your mouth, and the machine triple checks you for that, you really shouldn’t have to do a lot of other things, because nobody turns contagious within a few hours. It takes longer than that. To me, I put the trust in the gate. And of course you could monitor things from time to time, but I don’t think that people that would go be like, going back to the temperature thing where everyone has to wear a mask, either it works or it doesn’t. And you hold the bar, because we value human life. That’s the most valuable thing of all. So we’re going to go for the highest possible result imaginable. Not be satisfied with contagious people around maybe. Frankly, that’s what erodes trust in people. When you budge, and you go, “Well, no. We’re not really sure if you’re sick or not,” well I don’t want to be in that environment. I want to sit next to people… it’s like the TSA. Is it impossible to get a bomb through there? I don’t know. But I do know that there’s enough diligence there that I feel good enough to fly, and the terrorism level and things are very low. They’ve done a good job.

Gray Houser:
Right, like you suggested maybe you’d have cameras that can do, the temperature that you would just have, the guest wouldn’t even be aware was going on but that you could do behind the scenes. Just-

Eddie Sotto:
You could certainly do that, and you could track people in a variety of different ways. But I guess what I would love to see is doing a test that’s so good that you don’t need to do that. I’m just saying, I want it to be… I’m not going to settle for the 40% accuracy. “Oh, well now we’re going to…” I don’t think people want that. They want to go to Disneyland, they’re paying a lot of money. Or they’re going to Universal, they’re going to a concert. They want to be completely forgetting about the idea that they could get sick from a particular disease. The other idea is once these things are weaponized in the minds of bad actors, you want to protect against future pandemics.

Gray Houser:
Right, so your idea would be that you would keep doing this even after we have a vaccine for COVID, to keep people feeling confident and to be kind of a bulwark against future pandemics?

Eddie Sotto:
Well absolutely, because look at, if you’re insuring an event like a concert, you want that stadium to have a very high degree of safety, because it protects you against lawsuits. It helps your insurance and everything else. So this particular system we’re looking at that uses waves, basically catalogs other viruses. So it’s basically building a library the longer it’s in existence. So by the time you’re at the next pandemic, they can switch over and say, “Okay, now we want you looking for this. COVID’s pretty much gone now, but now we want you to add this to the list. We want you looking for that.” How great would that be?

Gray Houser:
That would be amazing.

Eddie Sotto:
That would be amazing. And so we’re not talking about blue smoke or wouldn’t it be nice. There’s people right now testing these technologies, and we’re about to take these into the public area and start doing… what I’m more interested in is well, how does this work in a real world environment? How reliable are the machines? And all those kinds of things that guys like me have to worry about.

Gray Houser:
Right, and this is like me being totally superficial. I’m the kind of guy who I want the metal detectors to be themed, right? I don’t like… I want-

Eddie Sotto:
I do too.

Gray Houser:
… all of it to be… if you’re coming in through Main Street, I want even the security section to feel like it belongs in that world, right? So your testing apparatus, maybe won’t necessarily have to be a cave. It could be taken and be done to be like-

Eddie Sotto:
It could be anything. That was just an idea, that was just a suggestion. People could never understand what are you going to do to make it fun, so I had to have some kind of an example of what it could be as a fun process. So it could be, like you said, it could be anything. Main gates are usually thematically neutral, they’re styled versus being in a particular period, right down to the… but I think there’s a fine line too, Gray, because what you want to do is you want to show something that doesn’t look like a carnival. It also has to be trustworthy. So I think at some point, you would actually see the real data of what your condition is. So people would go, “Wow, wow. Look at that, that’s better than a blood test. I didn’t know that about myself. That’s amazing.” And so people know that something real happened, that we really look at every guest, you know?

Gray Houser:
So I know obviously we don’t know exactly when this is going to become mainstream, but when am I going to open the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times or USA Today and see, “Eddie Sotto has the solution.” When, how far off are we?

Eddie Sotto:
You’ll see an article this Friday in the USA Today I believe, I was interviewed for that. But it doesn’t give a date. I’m super duper careful, I don’t want to get caught up in the snake oil medicine show of COVID where people are just making announcements and then they’re retracting the results. I’m not going to put myself, it’s not worth it to put myself in that position. I’d rather wait, get real data with video of people entering and going through turnstiles and showing how it works, and really having hard, hard evidence that can withstand scrutiny before we go too much further. Now, we’re looking right now at using some testing methods very, very soon to be able to help stadiums do limited things. Because we need to learn. We all, everyone needs to learn what can go wrong at the door. And I’m not talking about people getting sick, I’m just talking about operationally understanding the very best way to administer a test, to make sure it’s done properly, to how fast you can get results. There’s a lot of new learning to be done just by beta testing. So that’s kind of where we are right now.

Eddie Sotto:
Very exciting. As a designer, I would love to see people go back to work. And everything from stadiums to houses of worship, all kinds of various places. Airports. To be safe for people, wouldn’t that be nice, wouldn’t that be great? Yeah that would be…

Gray Houser:
Certainly. It’s like that song, (singing). Okay, [inaudible 00:40:03] sing. But it reminds you… by The Beach Boys?

Eddie Sotto:
Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

Gray Houser:
Yes, it’s that song. I can hear it going in my head right now.

Eddie Sotto:
[crosstalk 00:40:15]. Yeah. Pardon?

Gray Houser:
I can hear it going in my head right now. So you’re working on that. I noticed that you did some work outside of Disney, you did the Porsche store, and-

Eddie Sotto:
You know what’s funny? Yeah, we work with a lot of high end brands. Ferrari and Porsche, Aston Martin, and Embraer Aircraft, and just different ones, and a couple secret ones right now, and it’s so fun. And basically, we look at something and reimagine it, like a business. And one of our clients said, “How could you reimagine a Porsche dealership to make it a destination, something people would drive out for?” And the building they were going to use, or at least the location, had a basement. And so discussing it with the client, said, “Why don’t we put a glass floor here, and we’ll kind of create the wonder ground. This fabulous Porsche museum of Porsche heritage underneath the new cars.” So they built it. It’s in Santa Clarita California. It’s run by Galpin Motors, which are the premier, absolutely the best dealership you could work with. And so they’ve applied their operational expertise to something that’s truly going to turn on any Porsche fanatic. I think the most valuable Porsche of all time right now is under the glass floor. You see it on a turntable as you walk in the door. You’re standing and you look down, and there is number 46, the very first Porsche to ever race in Le Mans.

Gray Houser:
Oh, wow.

Eddie Sotto:
I think it’s a priceless car. I’m not sure what it got at auction, but it’s like they would borrow some of those cars and have them there. But some of the cars will be in the museum and be for sale, so you’re like, “Wow. I wish I could have that,” and they go, “Well, you can. Do you want to go take it out?” “Really?” Yeah, the only museum you can buy the cars in the museum, so how fun is that? Especially to a [crosstalk 00:42:02] fan.

Gray Houser:
I remember in your video about Disneyland Paris that y’all were considering selling cars in the park at the automobile dealer on Main Street, which is like-

Eddie Sotto:
Which is exactly what we were doing. We have three cars for sale. Main Street Motors. Good memory, good memory Gray. Yeah, Main Street Motors. I’m like, why can’t you just see the car, and it’s not a prop at Disneyland. Main Street should be where it’s real. You just point at it and go, “You know what, I want to drive it.” And anyone that bought the car, I don’t think anyone bought one because they made it more of a merchandise location fairly soon. But anyone who bought the car, the idea was they would be able to drive it out in sort of a parade moment down Main Street. How fun would that be?

Gray Houser:
Oh, wow. That’s nuts.

Eddie Sotto:
[crosstalk 00:42:45] one, and then resold it just for the fun of having the Main Street parade.

Gray Houser:
I could see that, I could totally see that.

Eddie Sotto:
That would be fun.

Gray Houser:
And that is one of those cases where they’re like, “Cars decrease in value 30% when you take them off the lot.” Well, once you drive it down Main Street then… but it’s fun. It’s more fun than driving a car off a regular car lot, right? If it has to happen it has to happen, and you might as well get a parade out of it.

Eddie Sotto:
Exactly.

Gray Houser:
So you’re doing [inaudible 00:43:21] clients.

Eddie Sotto:
I do.

Gray Houser:
You’re doing a really cool sports stadium at the, sorry, San Diego baseball field, the score tower thing.

Eddie Sotto:
We have so many fun things. If you go to sottostudios.com, S-O-T-T-O Studios, we have lots of different exciting projects you can look at, from Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, there’s like you say, there’s some sports concepts out there. There’s all kinds of interesting things. A lot of them are private aircraft if you like airplanes. We did a flying yacht, which was kind of fun, called the Sky Yacht One. We’re actually in production right now on a project working with a vendor on Surf Force One, a gentleman who has a Falcon aircraft, loves flying around and surfing and wanted his own Malibu sort of inspired aircraft. So it’s probably got the most beautiful blue galley you’ve ever seen, and we’re putting 50,000 year carbon dated wood as his tray tables. And so it’ll be 40,000 year wood at 40,000 feet. So that’ll be kind of fun. Yeah, [crosstalk 00:44:28].

Gray Houser:
Go ahead, sorry.

Eddie Sotto:
No no, I’m just going to say all the projects are very different. There’s always something new and different to do.

Gray Houser:
And then you also do voice acting. And we were talking a couple days ago, and you can do the monorail voice.

Eddie Sotto:
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the Disneyland [inaudible 00:44:46] Monorail System, the first daily operating monorail system in the western hemisphere, introduced right here in Disneyland in 1959. So there you go. But [crosstalk 00:44:56] recorded a lot of those [inaudible 00:44:58]. Had a lot of fun with it. And so yeah, it’s funny. So I do a lot of different voices. I think a lot of them are still at Disneyland. [inaudible 00:45:07] shrunken Ned, the jungle’s only self-service witch doctor. So there’s all sorts of fun little discoveries in Anaheim. So that was fun. My goodness, what a great opportunity to get to be a Disney character a little bit.

Gray Houser:
Oh yeah, I mean that voice lives on forever.

Eddie Sotto:
Well, some of them they change and they do other things with, as you would expect. But yeah, it’s been exciting. It’s been fun. I get to be the dentist on Main Street, and the voice of Space Mountain. We have ignition, you know. [inaudible 00:45:38] tower, launch sequence engaged. So that was fun. Those are all very very fun things to do. Imagine if you were a Disney fan, which I was as a kid. That’s kind of a dream come true, right?

Gray Houser:
[inaudible 00:45:50] dream come true, let’s be real.

Eddie Sotto:
Sure.

Gray Houser:
Eddie, you’re just awesome. Where can people find you on social media? We already talked about your website, but do you have Twitter or Instagram?

Eddie Sotto:
Oh sure, several. Boss_angeles on Twitter, boss_angeles, and then there’s sottostudios.com. We have our airplane and bespoke luxury site, which is sottoluxury.com. And then I just launched yesterday, because the very first ride I was ever be involved with, which was called the Wacky Soapbox Racers from Knott’s Berry Farm. So there’s a lot of interest, it’s 40 years old this year. And so there’s wackysoapboxracers.com, and if you’re a fan of that ride or remember it, it’s a gravity based ride where people compete with their leaning and so forth. Very fun ride, very popular ride. It lasted til 1996. And so that attraction, I just thought it would be fun to put a bunch of the old photos. I have a lot of making of stuff, and kind of built a little site around it, and there’s a book in process that someone’s doing on it. So it’s kind of cool.

Gray Houser:
Fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on. For all of you listening, you can follow me @grayhouser on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can follow us @MonorailNews on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And you keep in touch with monorailnews.com for all of your Disney parks news. I know we just posted a story today about how Disney is extending their 30% off merchandise offer for annual pass holders at Walt Disney World. There are more awesome stories like that every day at Monorail News. Check it out, give us a look. Bye bye.

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