Although the D23 Expo doesn’t officially kick off until tomorrow morning, a private media event was held earlier this evening at the Disney Parks / Walt Disney Imagineering Pavilion. The most notable takeaway from the pavilion, which gives unprecedented looks at how Disney Parks attractions are and have been designed, from concept to realization, is that two hours just wasn’t enough to experience it all.
The second takeaway is that subtle hints at upcoming projects involving Star Wars and Avatar didn’t seem all that subtle — assuming what I saw was what I thought it was.
Upon entering the pavilion (after a spectacular preshow that surrounds the guests), one of the first things one might spot is a series of crates, the most front and center one emulating the Star Wars logo and reading ‘Orange Harvest: Speculation Beyond Imagination.’ Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan, but I knew enough (thanks mostly to ‘Family Guy’) that Blue Harvest was famously the false name that Return of the Jedi was shot under as to avoid suspicion that it was actually a Star Wars film. Thus I immediately made the connection, also semi-consciously assuming that the Orange was tied to the Walt Disney World Resort (though the fact is both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts are in Orange County in their respective states, so that could simply be assuming too much).
While the other crates were loaded with inside jokes about the Star Wars films and its characters (my favorite being the warning on C-3PO’s — Caution: Contents may panic during transit, it was the blueprints inside the crate that got my attention. This photo of the blueprints do in fact tie them to Return of the Jedi and appears to possibly show a speeder bike, which is a long rumored attraction potentially in development. If one were to subscribe to conspiracy theaters, one might also notice that the ‘Speculation Beyond Imagination’ could be abbreviated as SBI — Speeder Bike I???? perhaps?
A couple of newer technologies actively being worked on by Walt Disney Imagineering tickled my fancy, enough so that I simply had to check them out and investigate further — this time with video.
Inside the Special Effects portion of the pavilion, I noticed what appeared to be blinking eyes under a large poster of Lightning McQueen from Radiator Springs Racers. Since I have always been captivated by the use of expressive eyes in many audio animatronics as of late, I asked the Imagineer on call if this blinking eye effect being demonstrated was the same that was used in Radiator Springs Racers — and I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As it turns out, the technology demonstrated by the prototype seen here was developed after Radiator Springs Racers, but he would not give up much more information, asserting (repeatedly) he was only able to pull the strings to get the prototype here if he was extra careful with what he had to say about it. What he did confirm however was that it was being developed with a specific attraction in mind and that the attraction was based on known intellectual property, but refused to answer when I tried to distinguish between Disney’s own IP or another IP — namely Avatar.
Also being demonstrated in another section of the pavilion is Disney Research’s ‘Botanicus Interacticus,‘ which I immediately recognized. When Disney Research first released its discoveries which involve sending a small electrical charge through a live plant and getting the plant to react to human touch (such as like a smart phone screen), it seemed a natural fit for a Pandora environment in Avatarland. Thus seeing the technology demonstrated in the WDI/Disney Parks pavilion definitely raised an eyebrow or two.
Although no specific project was said to be in mind, Walt Disney Imagineering is definitely looking at how this technology could find a place inside Disney Parks. Plants wouldn’t necessarily have to play music either, this is just an easy to understand basic implementation of what can be achieved if one desired to have plants physically react to a human’s touch. In fact in this particular implementation, the plants were tuned to react to a much larger area to the point where touch wasn’t even necessary.