Oct 31, 2011

Look Who's Talking Now

Lately Disney has been testing a talking version of Mickey Mouse of in park meet-and-greets. Here's the latest sample:

The characters are already phenomenally good at interacting with guests silently. Adding a voice will add a whole new dimension of reality to them. Kids see them talking in movies and cartoons, why can't they talk in real life? I can't wait to see one of these myself someday.

Debating Declines

Image Courtesy {link}
I really hate the phrase "Declining by Degrees." It is odious to me. It encourages people to look for things that aren't done like they used to be done and label them a failure. It doesn't encourage critical thinking or analysis to determine if a change was for the better or not nor does it encourage research to discover the reason for a change. It encourages people to label without thought or discrimination.

I'll tell you what is declining by degrees though, the quality of the core Disney fandom. I'm more or less disgusted with so called fans who seem to do nothing but look for insignificant things to pick apart and look for "declines." The problem with setting out to look for something is you will find it. These people find more simple, insignificant, idiotic things to complain about than I can comprehend. They seem to genuinely believe that these sorts of declines, which they really aren't, actually cheapen or ruin the Disney experience for them.

Tonight's example of Declining by Degrees? Switching out the word passport for ticket or pass in reference to the park entrance media. I'm not really sure how, but apparently this makes it less of a genuine and true Disney experience. Simplification of terminology does not make things cheaper. That's like saying that AA is somehow less magical than Audio-Animatronic. I really just don't get some people.

Oct 28, 2011

A Glimpse Into the Future

Image Courtesy {link}

Boy what a difference a little careful thought can make. When Disney California Adventure first opened, it was readily apparent that there was very little concern for creating a unified feel for the entrance area. Sure it was themed to the idea of walking into a post card, but once you were into the turnstiles, that theme broke down. It really only worked as a view from a distance. The store fronts didn't even fit the surf style music playing in the area. It was just a mess with no real purpose other than to have shops.

Times are changing though and next summer a brand new entrance will be unveiled. Buena Vista Street is an entrance for which a great deal of thought is being taken and every effort poured into making sure that every detail is accurate to a specific theme. Music, buttons on costumes, paint colors, finish materials, all of them are being researched, purchased, recreated. It's pretty impressive. This is exactly the sort of thing that makes a Disney theme park work. It is what sets Disney apart from everyone else.

However, it isn't meant to be a realistic recreation. There will be things that are not 100% period accurate. That is by design. Disney parks aren't museums seeking faithful recreations. The Imagineers are going for an idealized recreation. They take themes apart and find the basic elements that make up that theme. The things that make it stick out in people's memories. The positives. They then build on those ideas and basic themes. They emphasize them. Often they over saturate colors to make it feel hyper-real.

Take a look at the amazing art-work being released for Buena Vista Street here. I am so excited to walk through the gates of the park and into this new area.

Comic Villains

Image Courtesy {link}

So Disney has been releasing more and more Villain related merchandise with a comic book theme. I love it. The comic book look really suits the villains and gives them a slightly edgier, more gritty feeling. You don't want your villain looking too cartoony, right? I look forward to more of this style merchandise around the parks and from the stores.

Oct 24, 2011

Disney Construction Adventure

Courtesy {link}

I've come across a couple posts on the internet lately making the suggestion that the construction walls at Disney California Adventure are in some way bad show.

Disney parks are designed as theatrical shows, with cast members, sets, etc. They are carefully designed to be as immersive as possible while still allowing for the needs of an operating theme park. They are not build to be realistic recreations. That distinction is important as many claims of bad show are simply a necessary evil of running an theme park.

Bad show is when a thematic element is breaking with the theme or causing a distraction. Based on this, you might say that the construction walls are definitely bad show as they are a huge distraction. Construction walls aren't part of the show though. Construction walls are part of the safety system to keep people out of construction areas and at Disney's parks, safety trumps theme. Period. It's actually in the Cast Member training and instructions. Safety wins over show always.

Some people seem to think the walls should be much taller to block out views better. Impractical for a number of reasons. Firstly, bracing. A wall that tall would require significant bracing to keep itself vertical under its own weight, the wind and people bumping it or leaning on it. The current walls require simple bracing that doesn't require a lot of space. Having a corridor of much taller walls would really feel claustrophobic as well. It would create a corridor effect that would be depressing beyond belief. There is a very real psychological reason the walls are not taller.

Lately when buildings get refurbs, they have been wrapping them in tarps with the building printed on them. This has also been made as a suggestion. A problem with this idea is that in DCA, the buildings aren't there yet. The Carthay Circle Theater is sort of there, but they don't want people to see what it looks like till they are dong building it. In future, if it needs work, they will almost certainly wrap it in a painted tarp. But for now, that is inappropriate. With the Buena Vista Street buildings, it is even more impractical as they are still putting up heavy steel and need room for lifts and cranes.

DCAs walls are already improved over walls from past projects as we'll see shortly. They are themed and provide a glimpse of the future without getting too in the way of either the guests or the construction. They are a happy medium while being a necessary evil. Work has to get done or things would decay and rot away and when work is happening, they need to keep the guests safe. That is good show.

To end, let's take a brief look back at Construction Walls of the Past...

Tomorrowland Construction in 1967
Both courtesy {link}
In the upper photo, the walls were candy stripped and a little taller than the average construction worker. Plus, they appear to have put standard construction sawhorse barricades up around the edges of the walls. In the second picture, the walls are now about waist high and bright red/orange giving perfectly clear views of heavy construction equipment.

New Orleans Square 1964
Courtesy {link}
These walls look identical to what Disney uses today. Same color, same height. The even appear to have some posters on them.

It is important to note that both of these projects were happening while Walt was still alive. Walls of this type, a bit taller than a person, have been used in the parks for decades.

Oct 23, 2011

Rumors, now in 3D!

Images Courtesy {link} and {link}
Another day, another rumor. This time about a potential World of Color Halloween show. It is beginning to make some rounds that it was going to happen this year but did not because management wanted the show to be in 3D and charge an upsell price for use of 3D glasses.

There are some issues with this rumor, right off the bat. 3D relies on aligning a pair of images pretty precisely so that when they are seen by the viewer, at a certain distance, they combine to give the depth. Projecting on water, which is itself a three dimensional surface, any 3D effect would be plagued by "wobbles" as the "chunkiness" of the water screen affected the depth. Not to mention that as amazingly crisp as these water projections are, they are no where near crisp enough for 3D to look any sort of good at all.

Technically, there are 2 ways to do 3D. Side by side projectors, each projecting the same image, shifted a little for your left vs. right eyes. This would mean doubling the already large number of very expensive projectors for World of Color. The lighthouses that hold the projectors don't have any more room, and it would mean doubling up on the waterproof housings on the platform itself where there are additional projectors.

The other method is to have a really high refresh rate and alternate between the images with a single projector. In movie theaters, this is done at about 480 times per second. I don't know the exact specs of the projects used in World of Color, but this is technically a possibility. However, because of the quality issues listed above, I don't actually foresee this as ever happening.

What is far more troubling about the rumor is the upsell notion. This does seem to be something that Disney likes to do. Several years ago Disney premiered the wildly popular Halloween Screams fireworks. People packed into Main Street and surrounding areas to watch. Someone got the bright idea to make the fireworks only available to those people paying for admission to the special Halloween event. I can absolutely see management trying to find a way to charge extra for a special version of the show tied to a holiday. This is a troubling trend and a slippery slope. It leads to being charged for day use of the park, then having to pay extra to see the nighttime shows that have always been an included attraction in the ticket price. Where does it stop? Does Christmas become an additional pay event? The 4th of July?

If they want to do special stuff for Halloween, that's fine by me. The trick-or-treating, character meets, etc make sense as a special additional pay event. But Halloweentime is for everyone, even the regular park guests. Fireworks on nights when they are not doing the Halloween parties should be the Halloween Screams show. This aspect of the rumor worry me because they seem to suggest that management is trying to find more ways to package and sell special versions of things. It kind of goes against the grain of what Disneyland was about.

Time will tell if this rumor has any truth to it at all.

Oct 20, 2011

Hi-yo Silver! Away!

Courtesy {link}
Jerry Bruckheimer has spoken on the status of production on the Lone Ranger film. {full article}

With the budget ballooning the way it was, cuts had to be made and they have now gone through the script and removed sequences or altered them to bring the cost of the film in line with what Disney was willing to pay for it. Luckily the train sequences, described as the most elaborate every put to film, have remained almost completely intact. I've been looking forward to those. The last train sequence that really got me excited was Back to the Future III. Gone also are some supernatural elements (coyotes) that would cost a pretty penny to animate effectively. Another cost saving measure has been to scale back the number of locations for the film. Current budget? $215 million down from $260 million. Still a huge budget film.

A change in release date has also happened, and I have to say, I have no idea why the original Dec 2012 date was even picked. Going up against Peter Jackson and The Hobbit is not a smart move for an action/adventure film. Add to that mix World War Z and much of your primary audience for Lone Ranger has 3 movies to choose from, and frankly, the other two are VERY hotly anticipated films. Opening in May puts them in at the start of the blockbuster season and gives them some breathing room between Superman and Fast and the Furious.

Hopefully with the budgetary issues resolved filming can proceed without further holdups. A Lone Ranger film should be a lot of fun to watch, especially with Gore and Jerry heading it up. I can't wait to get some production art, or still shots from this one as they progress.

Oct 18, 2011

Of Mice and Frogs

Courtesy {link}
One of the films I am very excited for this year is The Muppets. It's been 7 years since Disney acquired the rights to the Muppets and I think they may finally have figured out how to use them. The Muppets are very different from Disney. Disney films need to end with the villain gone, everything good and everyone happy. The Muppets aren't necessarily that way. For the Muppets the only thing that matters is that they are together in the end. Bittersweet is an option with Muppet films that Disney films don't get.

From the trailers and talk of this film, I think that the teams involved in the film have been allowed the freedom to make an actual Muppet movie that will be true to the Muppet character (ha!). It looks to have plenty of humor for kids and adults, goofy songs, at least one tender moment and a couple instances of breaking the fourth wall.

Thanksgiving can't get here soon enough.

Oct 11, 2011

The Avengers Trailer

Courtesy {link}

Marvel Studios released the first trailer for The Avengers this morning. You can view it {here}.

I've been excited for this film since I first heard they were going to make it. Things got even more exciting when I heard Joss Whedon would be directing it. As details built up and photos of filming leaked, things got better and better. This looked to have all the makings of a truly fun, really well told action film.

This morning's trailer didn't disappoint. It also kept a whole lot back, as it should. I am really going to enjoy watching this one. I like "coming together" style movies where a group is first being formed. Gone in 60 Seconds had that feeling; Star Trek in 2009 had it. The trust issues as different people try to work together for the first time, ego clashes, the quips and wit that are exchanged all make for really enjoyable cinema. Seeing Tony Stark heckle Bruce Banner was just awesome.

The action sequences look to be very large in scope. At the same time they don't appear to be CGI-heavy. As good as CG is getting these days, nothing yet comes close to real footage of something real. It also makes for far more believable acting when there is something physical and real to react to or interact with. I think using as many practical effects as possible was a crucially right decision here.

This is one of my most anticipated films of 2012. Everything looks like it is being done with the utmost care and respect for the source material and characters. There are some really incredible comic book characters and if their stories could all be told like this, there would be no shortage of amazing films in the action genre.

Oct 10, 2011

No Monorail for California Adventure

A frequent question I see around the internet is, "Why don't they put a monorail stop in Disney California Adventure?" Responses to this question are almost always exclusively aimed at the ticketing/park entry issues this would cause. However, there is a much simpler, more practical reason. Space.

Not space in the park, though that is an issue, as is theme. No, space on the monorail beam itself is the issue.

The monorail has a collision avoidance system called MAPO (short for MAry POppins, the film that provided the funding for it). It is what is known as a Moving Block System. In other words there are safe zones (blocks) around each monorail train. These blocks move with the trains. A console in the cab of each monorail shows the safety zones. The entire monorail beam is divided into 18 sections called zones. Zone 1 begins immediately after the Tomorrowland station. The Downtown Disney station is in Zone 7. You can see all of the zones on this image:

Courtesy The Monorail Society {link}
When the monorail opened in 1959, Zone 1 was a hard left turn that joined Zone 13 and the entire track was the curvy sections over Tomorrowland. With the addition of the Disneyland Hotel stop and multiple trains came the collision avoidance system, patented in 1976. View the patent {here}.

The MAPO system requires 3 blocks (zones) of space between any two monorails.  This gives the pilot a green light on their console. If there are only 2 zones, the light turns yellow and the pilot must stop before the next hold point. Hold points are the lines between zones on the track. If they pass this hold point there will be only a single zone between the trains and the emergency brakes immediately activate, stopping the train. Pilots are allowed only three of these overruns before being fired. These signals are shown on the left console in the photo below. In the center of that screen you will see a three light system that looks like traffic signals do.
Courtesy The Monorail Society {link}
Now, looking back at the zone map, the Downtown Disney station is in zone 7 and Tomorrowland station is zone 18. To be 3 zones away from Downtown Disney, a stop would have to be located in zone 3. This is the graceful right turn from Harbor into California Adventure. However, this is one zone too close to Tomorrowland station (only 2 zones between here and Tomorrowland). This means that there is no viable zone in the California Adventure segment of beam on which to construct a stop.

The only way to add a monorail stop for DCA would be to extend the monorail track around the park. Monorail beam is very expensive to build because of the type of concrete that must be used and the reinforcing as well as the power systems that have to go in. Looking at Google Earth we can see that any addition that went around DCA (only viable way to do this) would be pretty close to 1 mile or over.
Red = current track, Yellow = outline of park
It is mainly for these reasons that a monorail stop in DCA will not happen. Ticketing is an issue, but much more easily overcome than the safety/space issues and their associated costs.

Oct 7, 2011

Bob Iger to be Replaced

Image Courtesy: {link}

It has been announced by The Walt Disney Company (DIS) that CEO Bob Iger will end his tenure in March of 2015. He will stay on as chairman of the board through June 2016. A successor will be name upon his exiting the role.

"I'm privileged and grateful to lead The Walt Disney Company and our talented, dedicated team at this exciting time. i'm committed to increasing long-term value for shareholders and am confident we will continue to do so through the successful execution of our core strategic priorities: the creation of high quality, branded content and experiences, the use of technology, and creating growth in numerous and exciting international markets." 

Official press release here: News Release

Oct 6, 2011

DCA's Debutante

Image Courtesy: {link}

Well, it was only a matter of time, but Disney has put up walls along the monorail bridge through DCA effectively blocking views of Buena Vista Street construction. As much as I would love to watch the progression of this part of the park from version 1.0, to dirt and steel all the way up to Buena Vista Street, I understand why they are doing this. If there is one thing that Disney has learned from this whole makeover project, it is that the rabid fan community has no understanding of the concept of "ongoing process." Often times photos would surface of some new thing placed in an area under construction and various sites would begin tearing into Disney for an obviously horrible decision. Days later, another coat of paint, or further work would appear on said item and its appearance or position would change and suddenly make more sense.

Just because something is painted or placed in an area does not mean that it is the final placement or look. Until the area opens (and sometimes even after that), they are not done. Things can, and do, change. Many times Disney will put in an item and paint it to look brand new. Then they will go to work aging it in a process that can take days or weeks. Ageing in this way allows for layers of ageing that make it so much more believable than if they just painted it old to start with.

With the walls blocking the views from the monorail and there really being no other good locations to see this area from, what we will get will be a grand reveal when they are all done and we won't have seen the individual elements get built up. There won't have been complaint about this tree or that tree or the color of tiles before they were done, or paint on walls. There will just be amazement at the finished product.

Oct 3, 2011

A Fifth of Disney World?

Rumors are always going around about Disney parks. A persistent rumor is the "next park gate" rumor. It applies to Disneyland and Walt Disney World especially. Right now a rumor is making the rounds that the WDW 40th celebration wasn't very big because Disney wants to save it for the 50th in 2021 when they can celebrate with all 5 parks.

I really don't see this happening. Team Disney Orlando opens their purse strings so infrequently that this is really hard to believe. They routinely balk at cost-sharing research deals with other parks on new attractions. They have opted to clone attractions from around the world rather than invest in something new and unique or original. Just look at Disneyland's 50th celebration for evidence of this. What did WDW do? They brought Cinderellabration from Tokyo to the Magic Kingdom and Soarin' from California Adventure to Epcot. Really original. Minimal cost seems to be the mantra at Team Disney Orlando.

Coupled with the economic future looking as uncertain as it does at the moment this rumor begins to look even more ridiculous. Were things on a steady and strong improvement, that might be a bit different, but it's anyone's guess right now when things will show marked and steady improvement. Without a steady predictor of growth and attendance it would be pretty hard to justify the expense of a 5th gate.

Granted, we could all be surprised on this one, but the odds are not in favor of betting on a 5th WDW gate.