Patent Reveals Disney Had ‘Talking Mickey’ Technology for Almost 20 Years

Patent drawing for voice transformation used in a theme park characterWhat could be more surprising than walking into a room and having Mickey Mouse talk to you? How about the fact that Disney has been sitting on the technology for well over a decade?

There was little surprise yesterday about how quickly the YouTube video of a Talking Mickey character test at Disneyland garnered attention, turning just a few dozen views from when we first reported it to tens of thousands less than a day later, but realizing that there would have to at least be a patent application somewhere before the technology was debuted, we set out to find the source of the marveling magic.

But nothing could have prepared us for the shock when we discovered that not only was there an application in place, but an actual patent had in fact been granted — in 1994. Yes, while everyone you knew was at the movies watching The Lion King, inventors Michael I. Savic, Seow-Hwee Tan and Il-Hyun Nam had created something still portrayed in film and television as sci-fi future tech and had already trained their sights on the world’s most beloved character and the voice of his creator.

‘In 1928 Mickey Mouse was introduced to the public… Walt Disney, who created Mickey Mouse, was also the voice of Mickey Mouse,’ the patent begins. ‘Consequently, when Walt Disney died in 1966 the world lost a creative genius and Mickey Mouse lost his voice.’

Perhaps encouraged by the loss of another creative visionary, Mel Blanc (a.k.a the man of a thousand voices) in 1989, Savic, Tan and Nam created the very thing we got out first look at this past week: a walking, talking theme park character which could — in real time — perfectly replicate the characteristics of any existing voice by transforming it on the fly.

The patent continues: ‘A need thus exists for a high quality voice transformation system that can convincingly transform the voice of any given source speaker to the voice of a target speaker. In addition to its use for motion picture and television productions, a voice transformation system would have great entertainment value. People of all ages could take great delight in having their voices transformed to those of characters such as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck or even to the voice of their favorite actress or actor. Alternatively, an actor dressed in the costume of a character and imitating a character could be even more entertaining if he or she could speak the voice of the character.

Of course this leads to dozens of other questions. Why now? Why only this? Could it have been that Disney was simply waiting on the additional technology being used to come into its own? Or does the recent appointment of Bret Iwan as Wayne Allwine’s successor indicate that there was some initial hesitance on someone’s part to already make use of the technology in other areas? Can and should voice actors ever really be faithfully replaced by others who don’t possess or even need those same talents?

For your reading pleasure (if you enjoy reading code that is), we have attached U.S. Patent 5,327,521 here.

And speaking of patents and meet & greets, don’t forget how we took a look at another that may very well be used for a future Disney Fairies meet  greet as part of the Fantasyland reboot.

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One thought on “Patent Reveals Disney Had ‘Talking Mickey’ Technology for Almost 20 Years

  1. Wow, stunning new development. Why now? Was this Disney waiting or the patent owners? And with that why now – if Disney's has this, why are they not getting it into the parks? We've all wondered what Disney would do as Harry Potter stepped into reality – have we just seen it? Give life to the boy wizard – give life to Mickey Mouse? Interesting…

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