Harper Goff Disney Legend at the Disney Legends Plaza
Image by Loren Javier
Harper Goff (Film & Imagineering)
Artist Harper Goff first met Walt Disney in 1951 at the Bassett-Lowke Ltd. Shop in London; they were both interested in purchasing the same model train set. Harper later recalled that meeting, "He turned to me and said, ‘I’m Walt Disney. Are you the man that wanted to buy this engine?’ Well, I almost fell over. He asked me what I do for a living and I told him that I was an artist. He said, ‘When you get back to America, come and talk to me.’" Ultimately, Walt bought the locomotive, while Harper embarked on an exciting journey developing motion picture and Imagineering projects for The Walt Disney Company.
Among them, Harper designed the shark-like Nautilus submarine, complete with plush Victorian interiors, for the film "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea." He also developed conceptual ideas for Disneyland, including Main Street U.S.A. and the Jungle Cruise, and worked closely with Walt throughout the design and construction phases of the Park.
Born on March 16, 1911, in Ft. Collins, Colorado, Harper later moved with his family to Santa Ana, California. He attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and lived in New York for a time, working as a magazine illustrator for publications including "Colliers," "Esquire," and "National Geographic."
He returned to the West Coast to work as a set designer for Warner Bros. on such films as "Sergeant York," "Casablanca," "Charge of the Light Brigade" and the Errol Flynn classic "Captain Blood." Later, he served as associate producer and art director for "The Vikings," starring Kirk Douglas, and as art director for "Pete Kelly’s Blues" and "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."
Initially, Walt hired Harper to sketch storyboards for a True-Life Adventure short, called "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Instead, Harper designed sketches for a potential feature film he envisioned, based on the Jules Verne novel by the same title. After Walt studied the eight 4 x 8 storyboards that Harper had filled with imaginative designs, The Walt Disney Studios produced its first all live-action film made in the United States. In 1955, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" won two Oscars® for art direction and special effects.
In his spare time, when not tinkering with his model trains, Harper was also a banjo player with the "Firehouse Five Plus Two" Dixieland jazz band, made up of Disney artists including fellow legends, Ward Kimball and Frank Thomas. In 1975, Harper also contributed to EPCOT Center, designing the layout of the World Showcase, and designing concepts for the Japan, Italy, and United Kingdom pavilions.
Harper Goff died on March 3, 1993, in Los Angeles.
The bio comes from the Official Disney Legends Home Page – legends.disney.go.com/legends/index