Monday, November 25, 2013

My Top Tens - special effects

Continuing with my "Top Tens" series.  Next up, special effects at Walt Disney World.  Disney uses special effects on its attractions to enhance the guests experience and make you feel like you are part of the attraction itself.  This immersion into the storyline is something that Disney is extremely good at.  The special effects below range from the simple to the complex, but each creates a unique experience that always leaves me saying "Wow!", even if I know how they do it.

10 - Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom) Space Warp.  A simple effect of using lights and sound to feel like you are being accelerated at warp speed into deep space.

9 - Space Ship Earth (Epcot) Infinite Stars.  Towards the end of the attraction, you reach a show scene which is pitch black except for the twinkle of an infinite number of starts.  The illusion of endless stars is created with mirrors and pinpoints of lights.

8 - Voyage of the Little Mermaid (Hollywood Studio) under the sea effect.  Using a spray of water from above, coupled with fog effects, and the laser lights give the impression that you're truly below the waves.

7 - Pirates of the Caribbean (Magic Kingdom) Davy Jones image in the waterfall.  Davy Jones invites guests to proceed if "they be brave or fool enough to face a pirate's curse". The riders pass beneath the waterfall and emerge into the next scene seemingly dry.  The waterfall is really a curtain of mist projected with Jone's image.

6 - Honey, I Shrunk the Audience (Epcot), Now Captain EO, moving theater.  In both attractions, the theater feels like it's being moved.  The effect is so much better in Honey, I Shrunk the Audience when Dr. Solinsky's son picks up the box the audience, after being shrunk, is in.  The slight movements in the floor really give the guest the perception that the theater is being picked up by a child.  In EO, the effect is used for the crash landing of the ship and fighting scenes.

5 - Tower of Terror (Hollywood Studios) The First Ascent Scene - After the first ascent of the elevator car, the doors open to reveal a long, dimly-lit hotel corridor with a single window at the opposite end. A violent thunderstorm is raging and lightning flashes outside the window. Ghostly images of the five doomed guests from 1939 appear for a moment, then vanish in a burst of electricity. (These ghostly images, while thought to be holograms, are actually a classic example of a Pepper's ghost effect. Other Pepper's ghost effects at the Walt Disney World Resort include ones inside the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom). The guests disappear in a burst of lightning. The corridor then fades away, but the window remains and morphs into a creepier black-and-white version and shatters in the now star-filled hallway, like in the opening segment of each episode.

4 - Turtle Talk with Crush (Epcot) Interactive Crush - The show is a cutting-edge blend of sophisticated computer graphic techniques, image projection, and live, interactive, quick-witted improvisation.  The "Window to the Pacific" is in reality a large rear-projection screen portraying an animated undersea environment. The image of Crush is a digital puppet controlled by a backstage actor/puppeteer whose performance is translated in real time into 3D computer animation. Crush's movements and voice-activated lip synch are rendered realtime and are projected at 60 frames per second, so that the turtle's mouth moves in synchronization with the actor's words.  Digital puppetry techniques allow the puppeteer's movements to control the body motions of the projected turtle, enabling Crush to maneuver about naturalistically with real-time human control. This technology enables every show to be different than the one before as Crush responds uniquely to each individual audience.  Thanks to a system of hidden cameras, the invisible actor is able to see the audience, and respond particular questioners, as well as their location in the theatre.  But I like the alternate theory, that you are really talking with Crush.

3 - Journey into Imagination (Epcot) Disappearing Butterfly.  As your omnimover passes through the sight lab, you will see a caged butterfly that disappears before your eyes.  Magic?  No, there is a simple answer.  There's only half a butterfly held right up against a mirror. As you approach you are looking at it and the mirror, giving you a whole butterfly. As you pass by you are looking at the other side of the mirror which is reflecting the empty cage.

2 - The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Magic Kingdom) floating Pooh.   The floating Pooh is seen after the Tigger bounce scene where Tigger tells an impressionable Pooh about Heffalumps and Woozles.  Once in Pooh's house, Pooh falls asleep, and magically floats up into the sky, as the room blackens (Pooh's floating is achieved with a Pepper's Ghost illusion).

1 - The Haunted Mansion (Magic Kingdom) Ghostly Ballroom Scene - It has long been rumored that the ballroom scene, which features multiple ghosts merrily carousing, was created with holograms. This is not the case. In fact, the Ballroom uses a visual trick developed in the 1860s to show realistic ghosts in theatrical productions called Pepper's Ghost.  In the Pepper's Ghost illusion, there are two identical rooms separated by clear glass. One is kept dark and is not visible to the audience, but it contains the item which is to appear in a ghostly manner in the visible room. When it is illuminated, the item will be reflected in the glass and will "appear" in the visible room. The audience sees only the reflection, which can interact with whatever is in the visible room.

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