Creating Realistic Rock Formations

Can anyone share how Disney creates the realistic likeness of rocks and boulders throughout the World? I am fascinated by the authentic look and feel of these rocks at the theme parks and resorts. I’m sure it is a very simple technique but I would like to recreate some of these myself in the same manner or “recipe” that Disney does.

Thanks –



I’m Jeff Burton, and I spent 14 years with WDI as a project manager on projects for Epcot Center, Disney MGM Studios, and Disneyland Paris. Right now, I am a Producer for ITEC Entertainment in Orlando, Florida.

There are basically five methods for creating rockwork.

1. Real rock is used, either as a stand alone rock or in traditional veneer applications.

2. Rebar cage rockwork is created by first building a cage of reinforcing steel in the general shape of the rock. The cage is attached to a steel support structure, and then covered by metal lath. To the lath is applied cement plaster in several layers, following the contours of the rock. The final layer is expertly carved with the details of the chosen type of rock.

3. GFRC rockwork panels. These large panels are made of glass fiber reinforced concrete placed into a form or mold. The details for the mold are created by pouring liquid latex over real rock formations, letting it gel, and using the detail obtained to form the shape of the mold. This process yields very realistic detail.

4. Cast stone and rock. Individual stones, rock veneer and rocks may be cast as individual pieces using forms. The smaller pieces may be used for stone faces on towers and walls of buildings. The materials usually are a lightweight form of concrete so they are easy to handle and, in the case of veneers, can be readily attached to other wall surfaces with normal mortar mixes. Detail is usually realistic.

5. Occasionally a combination of methods is used on one rock formation, depending on size and need. An example is the use of rebar cage rockwork with GFRC panels. Panels do not normally fit exactly, but usually appear as a puzzle with some pieces missing. The missing area is filled with rebar, lath and plaster, and the plaster carved or impressed with a latex detail sheet to obtain the realistic look desired.

In all cases, the rockwork is painted, usually with a base coat followed by several themed paint applications to simulate the multi-colored appearance of natural rock or stone.

Jeff Burton
Creative Director
ITEC Entertainment Corporation – Theme Park Design

Creating Realistic Rock Formations

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