Disney and magic are virtually synonymous. Not only in the ethereal sense, but also when it comes to the art of illusion as performed by stage magicians for centuries. Practical illusions have found their way into countless films, television programs, theme park attractions and — especially — theatrical stage productions. The very same illusion that leaves millions of annual visitors to the Haunted Mansion mystified is actually a centuries-old theatrical effect known as Pepper’s ghost. And while it’s easy enough to produce illusions in films and television outside the reaches of the camera frame, it takes a little bit more ingenuity to have Mary Poppins pull one impossibly large object after another from a small carpet bag on stage in front of a live audience.
Now, thanks to a new patent application just published, we may have a sense of what Disney has planned up its sleeve when it comes to the staged production of ‘Frozen,’ debuting next summer at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts prior to its Broadway premiere in 2018. While the technique relies more on technology than traditional magicians’ methods, it may end up soliciting just as many oohs and ahhs from its audiences.
United States Patent Application 20160174644, simply titled ‘Selectively Activated Color changing Hairpiece’ describes multiple methods in how a realistic wig can transform colors right before the audience’s eyes. Not unlike photochromic lenses or tshirts that can change color when exposed to the sun, the patent application describes how a photochromic layer can be painted on over the wig’s ‘natural color’ selectively so that when certain lights are cast upon it, they will change colors. It even describes how multiple frequencies or a wig prepared with its own lighting source can offer multiple colors or transitions, or even a glowing effect a la Rapunzel.
But where we see this coming into play the most is during ‘Frozen,’ after Anna is struck by Elsa and her hair progressively begins to turn white (before — spoiler alert — returning to normal at the end). While this would traditionally have to be done with changing wigs out of sight of the viewer, this technology will allow Anna’s hair color to turn to white right before your very own eyes.
This will also no doubt be the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to illusions employed by the new musical.
UPDATE: Much smarter people than I in the Frozen sub-reddit have even come to suggest that this color-changing technology when applied to clothing and perhaps even make-up (as patented by L’oreal) could be used to transition Anna to her completely frozen form during the climax.