Disney Patent Roundup: Articulated Character Heads, Smokeless Fireworks and Who Moved My Chair?

When it rains, it pours; now it’s raining cats and dogs and we just stepped in a poodle. Unfortunately there’s no web rim shot patent to share with you today, but out of several patent applications we came across from Disney Enterprises this morning, there’s a few we thought were worth sharing with you all. You can thank us later since there’s no patent here for instant gratuity either.

First up is a patent whose fruit will be very familiar to most of us by now as it played a part in the famous Talking Mickey Mouse episode although you may not recognize it at first.

Character Articulated Head System, Front and BackFrom inventors Tim Eck, William Wiedefeld, David Hynds, Jeffrey Schenck, William Brasher and Brendan MacDonald comes a new take on a new classic: the articulated character heads. This is not the original patent that covers the heads featured in the stage shows at the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks, but rather a newer type of head/system that makes the interactive character scenario more plausible.

Titled ‘Method and System for Articulated Character Head Actuation and Control,’ the patent application is two-fold. First, it attempts to seek out the first major problem with the now-antiquated heads: noise. According to the patent, even when the old heads weren’t actually moving, they were prone to generating an audible standby noise. It appears that by ‘simply’ upgrading the quality of the motors and servos et al, that the noise is minimized to a whisper-quiet level, allowing the heads to safely articulate even in close environments with audience members (guests).

The other area covered by the patent is the actual control of the movement of the head’s individual elements: eyelids, mouth, eyebrows, etc. In the current stage shows, the heads are controlled by the movements of the performer — the performer will bend a particular finger, resulting in a particular visual action, i.e., eyelids and/or mouths closing, only to open when the finger is straightened. While the patent considers this a shortcoming because it requires specially trained performers to sync with an audio track, it can  also be quite distracting to the casual viewer.

Instead, the patent introduces a ‘tri-modal’ system. One which does allow the performer to control the head manually if desired but also employs an addressable wireless system to allow the control of the heads (either manually or through a time coded digital track). The third mode would allow for the pre-recorded actions to be stored locally in the costume on a memory chip. The implementation can use any combination of the three, even allowing for the ability for manual control to be turned on and off remotely. This can help explain, as both sides have noted, that an interactive character can seem so dead-on with his physical actions at some times while lagging slightly at others.

Moving on, we’ve previously talked about a Disney patent which theoretically allows for large-scale indoor firework displays, but now we’re going back to a more traditional method with a twist. Murk Pieter van Rooijen and Rutger Webb of the Netherlands have devised a method to overcome shortcomings when attempting to launch fireworks using a smokeless powder as opposed to the traditional black gunpowder which results in a display teeming with smoke. The problem, the inventors say, is that there just isn’t enough pressure building up with the smokeless powders to reliably launch the projectiles. The solution, they say, is rather elementary: put a cover on the launching tube. Of course we’re dumbing it down a bit for our sake, but if you’re curious, you can read more about it in the patent application for a ‘Combustion Chamber for Launching Fireworks Projectiles.’

Finally, and dare we say fun-ally, comes a patent application for a ‘System, Method, or Apparatus Relating to a Reconfigurable Communal Space.’ This one comes from inventors Charles Flueck, Todd Camhill, Michael Walden and Anthony Driscoll.

You know how a single auditorium space can be used for multiple purposes? Music concerts, dances, plays and all that good cultural stuff? These events often require some kind of configuration change in the stage and/or seating to offer optimal audience viewing and use of the space. What if a production was bold enough to instruct the audience mid-performance to move or eliminate their seat? Sounds pretty annoying, doesn’t it? That may very well be why it doesn’t happen as often as one might thing it should. Enter the Reconfigurable Communal Space which offers an automated way to reconfigure seating (horizontal, vertical, whichever) during a show’s performance so that the audience’s vantage point is optimized for what they’re viewing. The patent application also provides for a means of making particular audience member(s) stand out should they become part of the show itself (it could just very well revolution ‘The Price is Right’ — John Smith, sit right there! You’re the next contestant..)

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