“Show”ing Off Wdw Tech­nol­ogy

WDW Magazine - - Content - BY STEPHANIE SHUSTER

Dis­ney is truly the best in show when it comes to the theme park world. They put on an in­cred­i­ble num­ber of the­atri­cal, cin­e­matic, and py­rotech­nic per­for­mances each day – and Walt Dis­ney World is no ex­cep­tion.

With WDW, the idea of “the show” ex­tends be­yond those ex­pe­ri­ences when guests are seated in a theater watch­ing the ac­tion on stage or screen. Once you walk in the gates, you be­come a liv­ing, breath­ing part of the on­stage en­vi­ron­ment – where care­fully con­structed sets and ex­pertly trained Cast Mem­bers al­low guests to in­dulge in the world of yes­ter­day, to­mor­row, and fan­tasy – seam­lessly, and seem­ingly ef­fort­lessly.

Ever since the idea for Dis­ney­land came to Walt Dis­ney, his fo­cus was on cre­at­ing a place for fam­i­lies to es­cape re­al­ity for a while. How bet­ter to do that than by craft­ing spec­ta­cle, dis­trac­tion, and magic at every turn? That legacy has lived on at WDW and to­day more than ever, tech­nol­ogy is an es­sen­tial part of the equa­tion.


It makes sense that Dis­ney would in­cor­po­rate film-based at­trac­tions in the parks at WDW – af­ter all, the com­pany started out and still ex­cels in the film busi­ness.

While the video pre­sen­ta­tions in Ep­cot’s China, France, and Canada Pav­il­ions seem a bit dated, The Walt Dis­ney Com­pany was ac­tu­ally re­spon­si­ble for re­fin­ing and im­prov­ing Cir­cle-vi­sion 360° tech­nol­ogy from the ear­lier Ci­ne­o­rama and Cir­clo­rama tech­niques.

To­day, 3D tech­nol­ogy has be­come a pop­u­lar ad­di­tion to cin­e­matic at­trac­tions at WDW. Shows like Mickey’s Phil­har­magic, It’s Tough to Be A Bug, and Mup­pet*vi­sion 3D in­cor­po­rate three-di­men­sional films seen with the aid of spe­cial glasses. Go­ing a step further into the 4D

realm, some of these at­trac­tions heighten sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ences for guest be­yond in­cred­i­ble vi­su­als—by adding el­e­ments like sur­round sound, seat mo­tion, scents, and phys­i­cal ef­fects, like light­ing, fog, or bub­bles.

Videos are also used in many at­trac­tions to en­ter­tain guests while wait­ing in queues, or pro­vide crit­i­cal safety in­for­ma­tion prior to rid­ing.


It’s hard to imag­ine a live per­for­mance at WDW with­out some sort of an un­ex­pected “plus” to make the show that much more mem­o­rable.

In Voy­age of the Lit­tle Mer­maid at Dis­ney’s Hollywood Stu­dios, we see the use of black light tech­nol­ogy in the open­ing num­ber, ef­fects like bub­bles and light­ing to make the au­di­ence feel as though they are un­der wa­ter, and video com­bined with live per­for­mance and pup­petry. Across the park, in For The First Time In For­ever, a few per­form­ers ap­pear on a rather bare stage – which is brought to life with stun­ning scenic back­drops pro­jected on a screen be­hind them – this is a great use of video tech­nol­ogy en­hanc­ing a live show with back­drops and sets never be­fore pos­si­ble within the con­straints of a 30-minute theme park per­for­mance.

In the Magic King­dom, shows like Walt Dis­ney’s En­chanted Tiki Room and Carousel of Progress rely on Au­dio-animatronics for the bulk of their per­for­mance, but show tech­nol­ogy once again adds an ex­tra layer of magic – storm ef­fects and a ro­tat­ing theater, re­spec­tively!

Pa­rades are one type of show that Dis­ney is most fa­mous for – and Fes­ti­val of Fan­tasy cer­tainly meets the hype. These pa­rade floats re­ally “plus” the ex­pe­ri­ence for viewers – think spin­ning plat­forms, animatronics, sway­ing pen­du­lums, bub­bles and smoke, and a dragon that ac­tu­ally breathes fire. But that’s not the most im­pres­sive use of modern tech­nol­ogy. Many of the in­tri­cate head­pieces were ac­tu­ally cre­ated by 3D prin­ters!

An­i­mal King­dom has some of the most elab­o­rate shows at WDW. In Fes­ti­val of the Lion King, the warthog, gi­raffe, ele­phant, and lion floats are ac­tu­ally re­pur­posed from their orig­i­nal use in The Lion King Cel­e­bra­tion pa­rade at Dis­ney­land. What makes these so re­mark­able is that they mark the first use of Pup­petron­ics in a pa­rade – this tech­nol­ogy com­bines tra­di­tional pup­petry with an­i­ma­tronic el­e­ments, giving pup­peteers a greater range and con­trol over their per­for­mance.

Find­ing Nemo – The Mu­si­cal also re­lies heav­ily on tech­nol­ogy. When the show opened, the the­atre was up­graded with state-of-the-art sound and light­ing tech­nol­ogy – and it was en­closed (pre­vi­ously Theater in the Wild was an open air venue). Michael Curry (who was the lead pup­pet and pro­duc­tion de­signer for The Lion King on Broad­way) was brought in to cre­ate elab­o­rate pup­pets – some as big as cars! Video back­grounds, a fly sys­tem, bub­bles, and more add to the tech­nol­ogy used to make this show a must-see at An­i­mal King­dom!


Walt Dis­ney World comes alive af­ter dark, and while its night­time spec­tac­u­lars are fa­mous, they’re not the only rea­son. Great care is taken to ap­ply spe­cial light­ing to every land that stays in keep­ing with the theme of the area, al­low­ing enough light for guest safety, and trans­form­ing the park into a whole new world to ex­plore. Spe­cial­ized light­ing fix­tures through­out An­i­mal King­dom’s Asia, up-light­ing on the Beast’s Cas­tle, or even ef­fects like the

fiber op­tic pave­ment in Fu­ture World leave end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties to ex­plore. It’s im­pos­si­ble to think of WDW’S four headliners as a “half-day park” when there’s so much to see once the sun goes down.

An­i­mal King­dom has ex­tended the idea of spe­cialty area light­ing even further with their use of tech­nol­ogy to cre­ate an “eter­nal sun­set” ef­fect on Kil­i­man­jaro Sa­faris, which used to close at sun­down. Now, guests can ride the at­trac­tion well into the night, ob­serv­ing the noc­tur­nal be­hav­iors of many an­i­mals. While the strate­gi­cally placed light­ing has re­ceived mixed re­views, and some scenes lend them­selves bet­ter to this al­tered light­ing, it’s def­i­nitely an in­no­va­tive so­lu­tion, and hope­fully one that will evolve over time for a bet­ter guest ex­pe­ri­ence.

Along with the ex­pan­sion of night­time op­er­a­tion hours for An­i­mal King­dom, a breath­tak­ing show on the Tree of Life has been added to the mix. Four dif­fer­ent vi­gnettes are shown through­out the night us­ing pro­jec­tion map­ping tech­nol­ogy to play il­lus­trated videos.

Of course, this is not the first use of pro­jec­tion map­ping at WDW. For years, Dis­ney has put

on a nightly pro­jec­tion show on Cin­derella Cas­tle, un­der var­i­ous names (cur­rently, Once Upon a Time). The most re­cent it­er­a­tion also uses search­lights, lasers, fire, and even some fire­works dur­ing the 19-minute show. Star Wars: A Ga­lac­tic Spec­tac­u­lar and the hol­i­day show Jin­gle Bell Jin­gle BAM at Dis­ney’s Hollywood Stu­dios use the same pro­jec­tion map­ping tech­nol­ogy on the Chi­nese Theater, along with lasers and some fire­works.

Fan­tas­mic! is an­other spec­tac­u­lar em­ploy­ing a bevy of ef­fects. Live per­form­ers, wa­ter ef­fects, pro­jec­tion on mist screens, fog, fire, lasers, pup­petry, animatronics, mu­sic, LED fix­tures, light­ing ef­fects, boats, and stunts com­bine in Mickey’s dream about the forces of good and evil. The Hollywood Hills Am­phithe­atre at Dis­ney’s Hollywood Stu­dios was built with the ex­press pur­pose of hous­ing Fan­tas­mic! and the nec­es­sary tech­nol­ogy to run the show, in­clud­ing in­take pipes for mist noz­zles and the fog sys­tem, nat­u­ral gas lines and flame throw­ers, py­rotech­nics launch ar­eas, a multi-tower light­ing sys­tem, sur­round sound, and hy­draulic lifts.

At Ep­cot, Il­lu­mi­na­tions: Re­flec­tions of Earth uses an award-win­ning com­bi­na­tion of py­rotech­nics, light­ing, and com­puter tech­nol­ogy. The show re­quired sev­eral spe­cial tech­nolo­gies to be built, in­clud­ing a barge hold­ing a 28-foot globe wrapped in 15,600 LED clus­ters to play as a video dis­play, an in­ferno barge fea­tur­ing a liq­uid propane sys­tem and an air-launch fire­works sys­tem, foun­tain and fire­works barges, state-of-the-art lasers, and pro­gram­mable mov­ing search­lights, called Syn­chro­lights. Wire­less Eth­er­net, multi-core ca­bles, and over 65 com­put­ers are used to con­trol this show each night.

Dis­ney’s premier nightly fire­works dis­play (not to men­tion, the one that is the most fire­works-cen­tric, with limited ad­di­tional ef­fects) is Magic King­dom’s Wishes: A Mag­i­cal Gath­er­ing of Dis­ney Dreams (in the fall you can also see Happy Hal­low­ishes and Hol­i­day

Wishes). While still con­trolled by a com­put­er­ized sys­tem, this is ac­tu­ally the least tech­no­log­i­cally so­phis­ti­cated fire­works show at WDW!

Fun fact: both Wishes and Fan­tas­mic! al­low guests to use Glow with the Show and Made with Magic accessories, like wands and Mickey or Min­nie ears, to match the color of the ac­tion in the per­for­mance us­ing in­frared tech­nol­ogy.

Per­haps point­ing the way to fu­ture uses of af­ter-dark tech­nol­ogy, this Christ­mas, In­tel, and Dis­ney col­lab­o­rated on Star­bright Hol­i­days at Dis­ney Springs – a light show com­bin­ing 300 drones fly­ing in for­ma­tion to cre­ate shapes in the sky. If that’s where tech­nol­ogy is tak­ing us in the not-so-dis­tant fu­ture, I can’t wait to see what Dis­ney comes up with next!


Other “show” ef­fects are ap­plied through­out the parks, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing spe­cial events or sea­sons. Snow falls on Main Street, U.S.A. dur­ing Mickey’s Very Merry Christ­mas Party. Spe­cial ef­fects make the Haunted Man­sion ex­tra spooky dur­ing Mickey’s Not So Scary Hal­loween Party. Space­ship Earth has been trans­formed into the Death Star.

Magic Bands en­able Cast Mem­bers to greet you by name – and limited edi­tion Magic Bands have van­ity taps that use color and light ef­fects for a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence.

Even the back­ground mu­sic of the parks sub­tly changes as you move be­tween at­trac­tions and lands, en­hanc­ing the emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence of guests.


There’s no telling what show tech­nol­ogy make come into play as WDW un­veils Star Wars, Toy Story, and Avatar-in­spired lands over the next few years. Tech­nol­ogy is ad­vanc­ing more rapidly than ever, and up­grades to Wishes and Il­lu­mi­na­tions are ru­mored – as well as spec­u­la­tion over a new night­time pa­rade for Magic King­dom. With im­mer­sive show tech­nol­ogy, like in Shanghai’s Pi­rates of the Caribbean or in­ter­ac­tive “paint­ing” tech­nol­ogy in Hong Kong’s ver­sion of Paint the Night, there are end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties to what Walt Dis­ney World Imag­i­neers may be plan­ning to de­light guests in the fu­ture!

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