Friday, December 21, 2007

Tomorrow is Forever

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

-Alan Kay, Computer Scientist

In this technological age, it is not uncommon to find that "the latest thing" becomes ripe and falls of the techno tree in a very short period of time. That astounding gadget that gripped the media's attention yesterday already has a successor in heavy development for release the following season. Though I'm sure there are some technologies that have truly endured the test of time with little to no revision, I'm hard pressed to think of more then I can count on one hand.

Some would suggest that for this very reason, Tomorrowland and its big brother, Future World, face a terrible theming dilemma. They submit that technology is progressing faster then Imagineers can keep up; that by the time they implement a concept of tomorrow into the parks, tomorrow has already arrived. But are we really living in that rapidly developing a technological age? Are we living in such a technologically Utopian society that all we have to do is dream it, and it's suddenly here? And if so, does this mean Tomorrowland will perpetually be a victim of circumstance?

The Future is Nowadays
Does this line of reasoning make any sense to you? Depending on your way of thinking, it does. Close your eyes after reading this paragraph and imagine yourself in a place where the latest cutting edge technology is right at your fingertips. Around every corner you see things that are so new and pushing the limits of technology, that you can't help yourself. You want to touch, hear and experience as much as you can. Friendly people are all around and ready to explain to you the details of these wonders. You find yourself imagining what it would take for you to bring these wonders into your home or community. Will you have the money? Will it be out soon? Will your community or family invest in it? When, oh when, will this fantastical idea be a part of my life?

Now open your eyes. Look around. You were just in a Sharper Image.

Now lets imagine that same experience, only this time, we're walking though the avenues of classic Tomorrowland. The same experiences seize you. The wonder, the contemplation, the eagerness is all there and, naturally, you find yourself experiencing these things on a much higher level. But beyond the magnification of these experiences, there is something else that makes this different. It's no one thing. It's not the rockets or the People Mover or the Sky Lift or even Space Mountain that make this different from a day at a technology store. It's the fact that these concepts are far flung, perhaps so far flung into the future as to be even considered far-fetched. Your not just looking into a window of what will be, your looking into a dream of what could be.

What people often forget is the concepts and ideas presented at Tomorrowland and Future World had always been about far more then that which was just around the corner. It was also about what we could make the world be once we banked that corner. A trip to a technology store is little more then that; a preview of the latest gizmos and gadgets soon to be at your local Wal-Mart. But a trip through Disney's techno themed lands took you beyond the technology, and into optimistic views of what we could do with it. It dared to dream big, beautifully and ideally. It dared to think impractically, trading pragmatism for what at that time might even have been considered Science Fiction. But it did so, with the tenet that thinking this way will not only leave a good feeling in the hearts and minds of its Guests, but inspire them to dare dream as big, beautiful and ideally.

Somewhere along the way, this mentality slipped out of Future World and Tomorrowland design, and the inclination to make it a simple presentation of what's under development (a "Super Sharper Image", if you will) slipped in. This, I believe, is where both future themes falter.

A Chair is Still is a Chair. But a House is Nemo...
Another area where both Tomorrowlands and Future World fall short is in loose associative theming. Buzz Lightyear's fictional TV persona (which, interestingly, is fictional even within the Toy Story universe) is a cartoon about the future, so he was added to Tomorrowland on that basis alone. Star Wars, although supposed to have taken place "long ago" and in a galaxy "far, far away", is "futuristic" in appearance, so why not add it in too? The Living Seas was about the ocean, and Finding Nemo took place in the ocean, so even though there is no futuristic connection, there's the ocean connection, so why not? Soarin'...well, we fly over dirt, and food is grown in the dirt.... Monster's Inc.?... Need I go on?

At times this type of theming is biased in the connection wanting to be drawn between the latest Disney film project and the parks. Other times it's a blatant attempt to appeal to a younger demographic, forgetting that all kinds of people visit Disney parks, both young and old.

But that's not where Tomorrowland should be going. Why? Quite often when I make this argument, Disney's recent financial successes and the average park Guest's lack of knowledge about Disney history is sited to me as a valid reason for park management to think this way. But I consistently make this comment: The popularity of a thing is not tantamount to the success or correctness of a thing. Success isn't always measured in dollars and cents. It can also be measured in longevity, connectivity and lovability. Where one ride can make millions of kids drag their parents to a park, a solid theme can create unbreakable connections with millions of families for generations to come. You tell me which is more lucrative in the long run?

Getting My Fix
The overall theme of Tomorrowland and Future World is broken, but could be "easily" fixed. A former Imagineer once used an interesting term with regard to Walt's creation of Disneyland. "Entertainment Balance." And what an elegant and functional tenet that is. What is wrong with current future thematic is that their out of balance, not out of date. What we need less of is the drive to pull in young ones and make connections to feature films, and more drive to balance out the "lands" so that they offer something for everyone. And ironically, sticking to their theme can do just that. How so? Let's consider the perfect balance that existed in classic Tomorrowland.

The People Mover was an easygoing, straightforward imagining of futuristic transportation, that in addition to accommodating Guests with any kind of physical limitation, also served to keep Tomorrowland crowds down with its high capacity and short, almost non-existent lines. It catered to no one in particular, but created an opportunity for both the aggressive ride-everything Guests and the casual take-your-time Guests to relax and wind down for the day. It provided an escape from all the usual park hubbub into something peaceful, yet also interesting and thoughtful.

Space Mountain served two functions: sating the appetites of all those speed lovers and thrill seekers out there, and at the same time, playing upon the excitement and adventure that the Tomorrowland theme brings, perhaps even generating it. While most of the land's rides where not genuine pulse pounders, Space Mountain provided that release for those that needed it. It also served as a point of triumph for some. It's interesting to note the number of people who don't like coasters, but each time they approach Space Mountain check their resolve to see if that's changed. The testament to its designers is that Space Mountain is so unique and enigmatic, from its architecture to its queue to the on load, that even those fearful of the ride will either attempt to build up courage to try it this time around, or be gradually lured in by its powerful theming.

The Rocket Jets, another straightforward, but classic attraction, set the tone and ambiance for classic Tomorrowland. The eye catching familiar shape of space age vehicles rounding a even larger rocket ship set the stage for the future thematic you were entering. It wasn't intended to be a complex or fantastical ride. But in its own way, it served more theming functionality then any of the structures around it. Rather then being a static or lifeless rotating sculpture, the Rocket Jets were alive with people, making it a very organic "weenie" and different from the often austere portrayals of what the future might be. In addition, a seeming traditional ride was given subtle "edge" by being so far off the ground as to create the illusion of flying. That subtle twist greatly demarcated it from it's Dumbo counterpart, which was precisely the same technology, to where it could actually be considered a preference over Dumbo. Somewhere between the thrills of a coaster and the freedom of the People Mover, the Rocket Jets provided a kind of escapism in its freedom for those too timid for Space Mountains thrills, but wanting a little more juice then the easygoing People Mover could provide.

Autopia, originally, was intended to foreshadow the multilane highways of the future. While that theme shifted over the decades, the actual charm of the ride remained. Now, not only did we have another easygoing, laid back attraction, but we also had the first example of an interactive Disney attraction. It wasn't just another ride through with automation at the wheel. This time YOU were the one in control. Of course, limitations were necessary for safety reasons, but you still were very much the driver of your very own ride. Interestingly, no other current attraction at Disney Theme Parks can make that claim.

The Disneyland Monorail System was the perfect complement to the escapism of the Tomorrowland thematic. Originally just a way to tour the park, the track was eventually lengthened to carry Guests to and from the Disneyland Hotel. This significantly altered the functionality of the vehicles and the impression it gave to Tomorrowland. Rather then just a glorified People Mover, the Monorail was now a practical, functional operating system of the park. Becoming a part of park operations made it more the just futuristic eye candy. It was the future incarnate, working for the enjoyment and in the service of the park and its Guests.

Adventure Thru Inner Space went one step beyond practical application of future technology and took us on an adventure we never knew we wanted to go on. The Omnimover (which I have always personally felt should be standard at least one time in any land or pavilion) took us into those realms in a way that we had not imagined we could, and in a way that even future generation may never actually do. It forewent technical practicality, developing technologies and current movie tie-ins with the simple prospect of going somewhere we had never gone before. And it took it seriously enough that Guests never felt they were simply being "taken for a ride".

Tomorrowland was an example of a perfectly balanced theme park within a theme park. Careful consideration for the thematic created seamless integration of the land experience; it all fit together and complimented each other. But that consideration also created an unspoken set of rules that required all the attractions to be distinctive, and thereby expanding the land's overall appeal. If you stick to your theme, you have to be broader in your attraction design, otherwise your just creating the same thing over and over again. Failure to consider the theme is why we've lately seen ideas creeping into the parks that just seem like rehashes and forced fits of recent cartoons and movies.

"From His Armchair, He Exclaimed..."
I would submit to Imagineering that restoring that entertainment balance to Tomorrowland, and even to the parks in general, would fix all the problems with its design and functionality. In addition, it would enhance its popularity, giving it longevity, rather then just making it fanciful for the decade.

The future that Walt Disney dreamed about is here in many ways. Robot servants and pets are already items available on the market, as are trips to the outer reaches of our atmosphere. People are already living in space for months at a time in permanent orbital space stations. And computers are as much a part of daily life for most of us as the refrigerator or the electric oven. With that vision of tomorrow so very much resolved or negated, it's time to look with that same farsightedness, ingenuity and optimism into our new future. We can use current technology to better demonstrate and theorize what that dream is, but we shouldn't be displaying the technology like a presentation at an Apple convention. It's time to think one to twelve steps beyond Steve Jobs and into those realms that even Science Fiction isn't really considering anymore.

Whatever happened to the research on matter/energy conversion as a form of transportation and shipping? We've been to the moon, and sent probes to Mars. Why don't we find out what's on the other end of that Black Hole? We have computers in the dashboard of our cars that are light years ahead of what was in the Apollo lunar modules. What would it be like when computers one thousand times more powerful as ours can fit on the head of pin? What about the day when computers become obsolete? What could possible replace them? What kind of world can we make if we really could build a better place?

These ideas are not anachronisms. They are the inherent evolution of thoughts that come to bear in the minds of every generation. Perhaps we're a bit more cynical then our 1950's counterparts, and perhaps we're a bit more sophisticated and want a little more "edge" to our experience. That doesn't mean Tomorrowland cannot be optimistic or fire the imagination. And that certainly doesn't mean that we need a celebrity, a cartoon or a movie persona to satisfy that edge. It simply means that a new Tomorrowland would need to be smarter, bigger and better then it was before. And I have every confidence that, given the freedom to do so, Imagineering could make it happen.

To say Tomorrowland and Future World are dated concepts is to say that tomorrow is dated. Only the vision changes, but not the intent. Even a cynical generation hopes for the best, and Tomorrowland and Future World should be the flagships of that hope. With the spirit of the originals in mind, the cutting edge technology of today and the creative genius that helped build or was inspired by the original, I believe all the Disney parks can return to that special kind of greatness they once had. Stick to that theme, and the entertainment balance becomes a necessity. Balance the entertainment, and you create a feeling in your Guests that brings them back to the parks for reasons of nostalgia and not marketing. Help to restore the dream and help our critics, the ones who complain about the complainers, see exactly what it is they've been missing all this time. Remind them that Tomorrow is forever, and that dreams are eternal. And as Walt Disney once said, be curious, as curiousity will keep leading you down new paths.

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

-Eleanor Roosevelt

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Captain EO 2.0

Plot Synopsis

The Great-Great-Granddaughter of the original Captain EO has been trying to live up to her Grandfather's legacy her whole life. Having failed to live up to the expectations of the Corp and her family, EO abruptly resigns and takes her vessel to a remote sector of the Cosmos to live out her life, if not fulfilled, then at least in peace. Little does she know, a tiny friend has stowed away on her vessel. A former furry member of her crew named Flit.

Not having really charted a definitive course, Captain EO finds herself and Flit in a dangerous, uncharted region of the Cosmos known as the Badlands. A red, nebulous glowing cloud quickly consumes them and her ship crash lands on a desolate desert-like world with three suns.

While looking for supplies, EO stumbles upon another set of wreckage, clearly older and weathered by the harsh desert suns, and bearing a striking resemblance to her Great-Great-Grandfather's legendary starship. Upon further investigation, she finds someone has been living in the wreckage for many years; a small blue pachyderm-like creature named Captain Hooter.

Hooter, a little bit older, but just as clumsy (and hungry), immediately recognizes his former captain's progeny and begins to tell her of the ancient evil that cruelly governs the life forms of this planet. It's during the course of his story that he realizes that EO has the ability to administer the "Gift". He excitedly jumps up and runs to what looks like a scrap heap, but is actually a powered down Major Domo (and Minor Domo), a robot who is more then thrilled to meet a descendant of his old captain.

The two try in vain to convince Captain EO to go to Capital City and administer the "Gift" to the evil creature that rules this planet. But before EO can formerly say no, three shark-like creatures burrow out of the sand and capture them all, except Flit, who flies to safety.

The creature that controls the planet is an ancient, weathered old giant, that looks like he hasn't moved in thousands of years, his skin is a cross between cracked stone and centuries old tree bark. He appears to have no appendages, other then what look like large roots buried into the earth. He is essentially a mountain with allusions of a face.

The creatures speaks to the three captives in a deep, booming voice that knocks Hooter over. He accuses EO of trespassing and mistakenly believes she's been sent here by the Corp to overthrow his rule.

EO tries to explain what really happened and how she's not with the Corps anymore, but Hooter can't seem to accept what's she's said (or didn't hear her) and begins going into an awkward, but familiar, spiel about how beautiful the creature is and how he only needs the key to unlock. He then queues Major and Minor Domo, who begin transforming into a series of instruments and a beat starts playing. Hooter, who seems to be carefully watching his steps, grabs a guitar and expectantly tells EO: "Let's Go!"

EO is completely taken aback, and looks around confused and unsure what to do. She keeps telling Hooter that she can't do it. That she just doesn't have what it takes. At this point, the creature groans loudly knocking everyone and their instruments over , and more shark-like creatures rise from the ground in response to his cry. They surround EO, seize Hooter and begin trying to disassemble the Domos, who are more then a little resistant to the whole idea. It's then that EO's little friend, Flit, soars down from the rafters, making a familiar triumphant noise and sweeps up Hooter's guitar. Flit carries it up to the rafters and locks eyes with the stunned Captain EO. The look he gives her is resolute and he jams on the guitar that sends a beam of energy directly into her body. EO is, again, taken aback and regards her hand as energy dances about her fingertips. She smiles at Flit, realizing for the first time that there are people that not only depend on her, but believe in her. At this moment she's piled upon by the sand-shark guards.

Flit and the rest all gasp as EO disappears under the pile, fearing the worst. Until suddenly, a huge burst of light sends the guards flying in all directions. When the flashpoint clears, we see EO standing, legs in a wide stance, with one hand in the air and a determined, confident look on her face that we had not seen before. She turns to her "crew" and calls out in an echoing voice: "Gimme a beat!"

The opening to We Are Here to Change the World begins playing and EO begins dealing with with the returning shark guards. We are treated to a single rotating camera shot of her zapping the guards, sometime while their in mid-jump, and transforming them one-by-one into handsome male and female dancers. The dancers all gather behind her as she approaches the creature (who is clearly disturbed by the whole course of events) and thrusts her palms out to the sand all around them, blasting it with beams of radiant energy. The sand superheats and becomes a shimmering, strobing tiled glassy surface, or more accurately, dancefloor. That's when the dancing begins.

After a few seconds of synchronized dancing, EO begins her song, much to the chagrin of the clearly displeased rock creature:
In Case You Forgot
We're on a mission
In the everlasting light that shines
A revelation
Of the truth in chapters of our minds

(So long, bad times)
We're gonna shake it up and break it up
We're sharing light brighter than the sun
(Hello , good times)
We're here to simulate, eliminate
An' congregate, illuminate

(We are here to change the world)
Gonna change the world, Hee
(We are here to change the world)
Gonna change the world, Ooo

So do surrender
'Cause the power's deep inside my soul
Sing it

(We are here to change the world)
Gonna change the world, Sing it
(We are here to change the world)
Hee, Gonna change the world, Ooo
The creature is clearly irritated by what's transpiring, and a terrible overpowering groan rattles the ground and jars everyone off their balance. Even more terrifying, he begins to rear his entire mass back and forth as if maneuvering his unseen arms under the earth. Then suddenly, root like tentacles burst from under the dancefloor and begin wreaking havoc among the dancers and crew. EO is struggling to maintain her balance, when a tentacle bursts from the ground below her and in one rapid motion grabs her and jerks her violently skyward.

Her crew gasps as EO is swung about helplessly in the tentacle's powerful grip. Flit tries bravely to help EO, but the grip of the creature is too strong and he's bumped aside. That's when Hooter grabs a shattered piece of dancefloor and begins hacking at the tentacle. It's not enough to distract the creature, but Flit and the Domos begin to realize it could be, and they grab sharpened fragments and begin joining in. The hacking doesn't appear to do much damage, but it must be enough of an irritant to warrant another tentacle bursting from the ground to sweep them all side. In the meantime, the minor distraction allows EO to wriggle free both her arms. She places both hands on the tentacle and begins sending energy into it.

The effect is nominal and she calls out to her crew, telling them she needs their help. A bit shaken, Hooter, the Domos and Flit gather themselves together and begin playing again, sending a bright beam of energy her way. The energy strobes in EOs eyes and she channels one long powerful burst down the length of the tentacle, directly to the heart of the giant creature.

The creature rocks and cries out and an earthquake again shakes the ground, but the band stays steadfast and keeps playing. The creatures eyes being glowing and shaley layers begin to fall off like slag. As sections fall of, enormous beams of light burst from the openings and the creature continues to crumble. His mass begins to quickly get smaller and smaller and he begins to gradually take on a more humanoid form. With a massive burst of light, the remaining form and the tentacles crumble. EO, still emanating power, angelically floats to the ground with a satisfied, confident look on her face.

There's a glow that takes a moment to fade around where the creature had been rooted. As it does, we see a silhouette of a man slowly take shape. He's bald and bowing down on one knee. He rises, his clothing Romanesque and regal, and stands proud and tall. He smiles at Captain EO with finely chiseled features as his subjects gather all around him. He gives a slow and approving nod to her, and she returns the gesture.

Proud of herself and her crew, with her unscheduled mission accomplished, EO gathers her new crew singing a different song and leaving behind a celebratory new Capital City. Flit flies close to you, acknowledging the audience for the first time, and says goodbye.

As we see EO's ship leave the planet's atmosphere, we also see the desert world behind them gradually being overtaken by a lush green and/or aquatic surface. We're treated to another view of the planet from far as the final transformation takes place and the planet takes on a more hospitable appearance. The red nebula that concealed it is now dispersing and a set of sparkling rings are also taking shape around the planet.

The song continues as we fade to black and credits.


Cast & Crew

Janet JacksonCaptain EO: For the role of our Main Character were going to cast someone, who at least in my mind, is the most obvious choice. Janet Jackson (Poetic Justice, Nutty Professor II, Why Did I Get Married?) can easily reprise the spirit of the character without all the fuss Disney and others would likely make over Micheal's return to the role. She's got a great look and the necessary moves that many youngsters over the last ten years have been trying to duplicate, but never quite capture. Her relevance is non-important, she is a cultural icon at this point. She is a name without being a name. She's good at what she does, and fits the bill because of that, not because she's "what's hot" at any given moment. Plus, we get one more heroine to add the pantheon of Disney females. And an ethnic one, at that.

Paul SchafferHooter: While an updated version of Hooter would no doubt be computer generated, the route we need to take is Motion Capture. Put Paul Shaffer (Blues Brothers 2000) in that bulbous suit with all the motion sensors and let him have at Hooter's futuristic keyboard. Paul will not only give Hooter that necessary sense of ridiculousness, but also the musical edge and realism he'll need while on the keys. Shaffer is one of those sideline characters who doesn't get a lot of different things to do besides music, but when he does, he does it well. He's also one of the most talented musicians out there having contributed to America's musical heritage in many ways the general public isn't aware of. He would make a fantastic consultant or music producer for the project.

Ian McKellanMajor Domo: Easily comparable to Tic Toc from the Ozma of Oz novels, Domo needs the voice of a refined Englishman. And you don't get much more refined, or English, then Ian McKellan (X-Men movies, Lord of the Rings Trilogy). I don't know why, but quips are much funnier when their said with an British accent.

Fuzzball/FlitFlit: No doubt about it, Flit should be the CGI version of the original Fuzzball. But not too reminiscent. We want Flit to be his replacement "in spirit". While retaining the values of the original, we can utilize today's technology to expand upon the concept. While I can't seem to find the voice of the original Fuzzball, it makes sense to me to bring him/her back for that added touch of nostalgia that Disney Imagineers like to work into every project.

Micheal IronsideThe Creature: For our unnamed living lump of shale, we need a voice that's going to be big and scary. You don't get a much bigger or scarier voice over actor then Micheal Ironside (Starship Troopers, Total Recall and the upcoming Ice Planet), the man who gave the Superman and Justice League animated series' Darksied his chilling timber. (He also did the caped crusader's voice for the Batman: The Animated Series version of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns)

Christian BaleThe King: And for the creature's chiseled featured alter-ego, you don't get much more chiseled then Christian Bale (American Psycho, Equilibrium, Batman Begins and the upcoming The Dark Knight). Much like Angelica Huston's brief, but memorable role, Christian's appearance in the film will be one or two shots only, with his only "line" being a simple and approving nod. But the look is definitely what we need barring a few minutes alone with Britney Spears and an electric razor.

John WilliamsScore: John Williams has been doing some amazing compositions since long before the Internet was a gleam in Al Gore's eye. The 75 year old composer is responsible for such memorable movie themes like Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jurassic Park. (Themes that are a big part of the Theme Park experience already) John has still got some great years ahead of him, let's give him a project that will further enhance his legacy.

Director: Who to get for this particular extravaganza? While George Lucas is probably one of the most likely suspects, I think we should partner him with one of his longtime partners in cryme, Stephen Spielberg. Putting prejudices aside, they've proven they can make magic whenever they work together, and I still have a great deal of faith in their ability to do it again.

George LucasStephen Spielberg

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Re-Imagining Imagination

With all due respect to Professor Nigel Channing, the Imagination Pavilion is one in desperate need of re-imagination. My initial visit to the pavilion in the early eighties was one of complete and utter disbelief. No one had ever seen anything like it. The sights, the sounds, the interactivity was one of complete and total immersion into a fantasy world of wonder and technology. There were no movie tie-ins, no recognizable Disney characterizations, no ride.

What you did have were interactivities that, while somewhat antiquated by today's standards, were immensely addictive, intriguingly compelling, and significantly different from any interactive playground out there (not that there were many to compete with). The luminescent rainbow tunnel that reacted to those who traversed it, blue screen movie sets that put you in the center of a wild west film, virtual orchestra pits with touch sensitive instruments that let you be the conductor and a stirring 3D motion picture were all part of a series of activities that, while today may seem mundane, were new and innovative for the time. And a welcome variation on the traditional milieu you would find in a theme park. The addition of the Journey into Imagination ride was only the icing on the cake for this already outstanding pavilion, as you now had the pavilion's two memorable representatives take you on a one of kind journey that featured some of the most elaborate set designs of any Dark Ride in EPCOT Center.

Captain EO, while certainly an attempt to capitalize on celebrity affiliation (both in Micheal Jackson's and George Lucas' case), was a unique and outstanding achievement in visual storytelling, and certainly a step up from the original Magic Journeys, which, after so many views, would quickly begin to loose it's luster. Captain EO proved to be an addition that could hold its popularity even over the test of time (albeit a much shorter time compared to some classic Disney attractions).

So what happened?

Well, Journey into Imagination was "renovated" and neutered to become Journey into YOUR Imagination, a decidedly less imaginative, abbreviated and economized version of the original. Though little of the original remained. The entire floor where ImageWorks featured most of those outstanding interactive stations was closed down and the bottom floor's interactivities became largely a giant commercial for the pavilion's sponsor. Once again, your filtered through another "themed" gift shop upon exiting the building. And Captain EO was replaced with a definitive movie tie-in that was destined to loose it's luster after its progenitor's first couple of sequels.

The whole purpose behind the Imagination Pavilion was to foment the notion of creativity and imagination, but it was sundered in favor of simpler, cheaper effects and a movie overlay. While the pavilion once kept you so engaged that you had to tear yourself away so you wouldn't miss out on seeing the rest of the park on your no doubt limited vacation day, it's now a sad and seldom visited feature of the park, that patrons rarely spend more then a half hour in.

So how do we fix it?

I'm glad I asked. MiceAge posted a remarkable article on the new technologies that Disney may be considering utilizing in their theme parks in the near future (as of this post anyway). One of the fantastic ideas they featured, is a new technology being developed by Microsoft called surface computing:

This should be a no-brainer. The potential implementations for this technology expands far beyond use in the Imagination Pavilion alone, but into countless other aspects of the park experience. For now, lets focus and theorize on where we could go in the Imagination Pavilion.

A fantastic implementation of this technology is a throw back to one of the old ImageWorks stations from the 80s. In this old imagination station, you could manipulate photos using touch screen technology and an interface very similar to Microsoft Paint. In an updated version, Guests could snap pictures of themselves and apply pre-designated image effects to their photo. Options could include the typical Paint/Photoshop-like interface, as well as a series of filter effects, backgrounds and scenes for folks to play around in and imaginate. In addition, Guest could be given the option of placing their phone/device on the screen and "magically" moving the image to their phone using the technology's wireless interface (standard messaging rates apply) or even integrating the feature with Disney's existing Photopass system. Conversely, Guest's could be given the option of uploading their own images from their phone to the station for manipulation. The possibilities for these are endless.

Another possibility that shows great potential, is an interactive wall with a series of informational and entertaining activities for Guests to simply approach and start playing around with. Here, Imagineers creative juices should soar thinking of the possibilities. Imagine a wall of water where sea life responds to your touch commands, even being able to resize the fish, and as you do, they change to something completely different and alien in appearance. Imagine a wall with geographical locations that Guests can approach and seek out their home town or visit far off lands. Imagine a room, with walls of fluttering spectrums of light, that warp and dance according to a Guest's touch and manipulation. Imagine what an Imagineer could imagine, that I couldn't.

Photos could also come into play here, as Guests could place their devices on interactive cash registers and have them developed or have their content saved to DVDs. A "magical" way to maintain a merchandising venue, keep it applicable with the business of the sponsors, without sacrificing the spirit of the attraction.

To throw one more idea into the pot, I also envision a floating photo wall. Imagine an animated wall where hundreds of Guests' photos gently float like clouds across the screen. Guests simply place their device against the wall and their pictures seemingly fly out of the device into the sea of pictures for anyone to view for the rest of that day. Other Guests can approach the wall and "grab" your photos, resize them, twist and turn them and even flick them to the side just for fun. Videos are also amongst the floating pics and other Guests can view your videos with the touch of a Play arrow. What a great way to get Guests to share and be interested about their fellow Guests' experiences.

Lastly, I'll leave you with the videos below. This technology is right in line with the spirit of the original attraction, giving you an opportunity to just play, act silly and not think too hard about it. Yet your imagination will still keep you captivated for far longer then you'll realize. Hopefully, with the changes going on internally at the Disney company, the folks with the creative and intuitive sensibilities will restore the Imagination Pavilion's original principles, and bring us new technologies that help us Find our Dreams and stir the Figments of our Imaginations.

Re: Disney

It occurred to me recently that I don't really have a venue for my thoughts on Walt Disney World, other then the obvious connection Alternate Realities has to it. But I find myself again and again coming up with article ideas for Realities, only to realize that I'm just doing what a hundred Disney-related blogs out there already do. Hence the reason I don't post as much at Realities as I would like.

But Alternate Realities was not intended to be a Disney blog. It was intended to be a place for me to cultivate ideas for my own themed entertainment area. Naturally, Disney would be a repetitive subject and motivation, but my outright ideas on Disney World had no real place there and would only detract from the overall point of the blog.

So, after much consternation, and inspiration from some other outstanding Disney related blogs out there, I decided to throw my hat in the pundit ring. Maybe folks will read it. Maybe folks wont. But the therapeutic aspects of it aside, some one may see it and be inspired to big things as well. It is my hope you will visit all my blogs and enjoy.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Concepts in Imagineering: Bodies in Motion

"Concepts in Imagineering" (CII) is a special series of posts about entertainment and creative concepts from around the world. They posit that the tradition of Imagineers using innovative, creative and scientific concepts to enhance yesterday's theme parks is just as feasible for today's Imagineers. If they just look in the right places. Today's CII is:

Bodies in Motion

Sadly I cannot find any information on the remarkably talented performers of these two strikingly similar commercial ads. Neither Akbank (a Turkish Bank) nor TalkTalk (a British Broadband provider) include anything about the commercials themselves on their respective websites, though Akbank includes a free QuickTime download of this performance and TalkTalk incorporates the "bodies in motion" as graphical art and the graphical theme of their website. As a result, I’ll have to make my presumptions on the performances based on observation of these two commercials alone.

Though similar, there are striking differences between these two productions, both of which contain practical applications into a themed environment. We'll examine both of those and theorize on the practical application of the concept in an ongoing park attraction.

Comparative Analysis
Akbank is certainly the grandest and most ambitious of the two. The performers, all dressed in neutral garb, mostly form complex animation sequences which require large numbers. In the simplest of sequences you can freeze the video and count nearly 100 cast members working in unison to make the overall performance fluid. From gears grinding in a machine to a rushing river to birds flying away from and perching in a large tree, each formation is more complex and elaborate then the last. And since they are so complex and require the precision of so many performers, the formations have to be speed up to compensate for the restrictions placed upon air time, and to move the sequences along for the audience.

TalkTalk strikes me as being the most practical to apply of the two. There are far fewer performers and the resultant distance of the camera from the formations is much closer. The performers in this act are more specific to each animated sequence. Instead of same colored body suits, these people appear to be dressed in regular street clothes. In addition, the tops of each performer are specific to the formations they compose (the opening red hearts sequence and the pink dress of the “couple” for example). I’m particular impressed with the family playing ball. The two ladies in pink shirts fluidly convey the motion of a moving ball without requiring the benefit of time-lapsed photography. The TalkTalk performers also utilize a “prop” in one their formations, cleverly turning a crop into one man’s "crop".

Practical Application
Important elements of both show styles would be important to executing a successful themed attraction based of this performance concept. While it is entirely possible to exclude the Akbank performance altogether, there are pros to that grand performance that should not be ignored. Conversely, the TalkTalk performance has the greater charm and practical elements to keep the show running on a consistent basis.

The strongest elements of the Akbank commercial are the uniformed neutral garb of the performers. The plain white allows them to switch from formation to formation without great pauses in between. There’s no need for actors and actresses to leave the stage for a costume change allowing them to move uninterrupted into the next formation, thereby creating seamless transitions between each formation for both the cast and the audience. A fluid uninterrupted show with only one required group of performers to be on stage at all times also allows for greater precision of the act, particularly when the same show is being put on repeatedly throughout the day, throughout the week.

TalkTalk’s greatest attribute lies in its charm. Your more personally involved with the animation sequences because your closer to the performers and the casual garb and color suggest a more laid back, incidental approach to the routine. Where Akbank conveys a sense of careful and artful precision, TalkTalk conveys an unfussy presentation with players dressed in regular street clothes and the hues and tones applied giving the formations that natural, everyday feel of “life”. You get the sense with TalkTalk’s presentation that you could get together with your friends and camera and do the same thing from the roof of your house.

Another strong element of the TalkTalk act is the use of props in their formations. Carefully placed props on a stage or set could enhance the show being given to the audience, especially if the props have been sitting in plain site since before the show started. The sense of the everyday "magically" transformed into something new is a plus to the performance, provided it isn't done to drastically.

There are several amalgams to these two performances that I can see as being successful themed attraction. By utilizing smaller numbers you can create quicker transitions between formations and thereby make benefit to whatever score is composed for the act. Slightly larger numbers, perhaps a set of two groups, could take the performance in brighter more colorful directions, as teams can now flow on and off the stage taking advantage of the principles of both theories. In my estimation, the potential in creative and innovative outlet with such a performance is endless and simply waiting for the right person with the right credentials to seize it and make it a reality.

The question now rises, how exactly would we get the audience to view such a performance without the benefit of cranes and well placed cameras? Two possibilities come to mind.

The first would be the obvious placement of reflective, angled surfaces just above a high set stage. This would obviously be the most practical and cost effective, also giving the audience a first person view of the cast and crew from an eye level perspective. But somehow, cost effective doesn’t seem the most “magical” way to go about it.

A second possibility would be the construction of a carefully designed auditorium where Guests could observe the performance from an actual bird’s eye view above the stage. This provides engineers a opportunity to design something architecturally unique to the themed environment. The first time catwalks and auditorium seating would be one and the same. This would also prevent the audience from being distracted by the surface performances on a traditional stage ignoring the performance their supposed to be paying attention to in mirrored panels. With removal of the mirrored panels altogether the audience can focus their attention on the performance and not the performers.

Safety Concerns
For both the Guests and Cast no doubt there would be safety concerns. My first thought would be the obvious hazard of objects dropping from the audience onto an unsuspecting Cast Member. A simple solution to this problem would be a thin, durable netting, large enough to catch something as small as a digital camera, and strong enough to support the weight of a overly curious Guest who leans too far over the railings.

Architecturally, there are ways to limit the degree to which a Guest could lean over a railing, both by the use of narrow vantage points (the head can pear over, but the shoulders cannot) and by carefully set railings (you can only view the stage below if your in your seat, and not standing.) Seating could also be carefully designed to accommodate differing heights and ages by simply being adjustable.

Another elegant and foolproof solution to safety would be the addition of sensor equipped seat belts that MUST be buckled before any performance will begin, similar to the manner in which most thrill ride restraints are enforced, only less obtrusive and easy to get out of in the event of an emergency. With sensors in place, Cast Members can easily divert their attention to that seat or section in the event there is an emergency, or someone is just goofing off.

Alternate Thoughts
I think this is viable resource here and I intend to develop a more detailed conceptualization for my personal archives, complete with sketches, music and formation ideas. Maybe one day, in the not too distant future I will be able to share with you my thoughts. Until then, I bid you adieu and remind you to keep scaling those heights.