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Disney takes a new approach with Audio Animatronics on its Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

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Published: April 29, 2014 at 10:03 AM

Walt Disney Imagineering released a new video today, detailing the new-look Audio Animatronics that it is installing on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

It's a "new look" because the Dwarfs on the Mine Train won't be the purely practical animatronics we've seen until now on so many Disney theme park attractions, with sculpted features driven by mechanical processes. On the Mine Train, the Dwarf animatronics will blend mechanical features with 3D computer animation, apparently projected upon the mechanical animatronics themselves.

Inside the Mine Train
A Disney Imagineer works with one of the new computer animation Audio Animatronics on the Mine Train. Photo courtesy Disney.

From what some insiders have said privately, it's getting these animatronics timed just right that's been keeping the park from getting the attraction ready to open to the public, rather than an issue with the ride system itself. But as the movie industry long ago moved to CGI (computer generated imagery) to get the widest range of detailed effects in film, perhaps it's appropriate that Disney's now turning to CGI-style elements to make its signature animatronics appear even more lifelike.

Insiders also report that once Disney nails down these effects on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, it will might begin adding these "CGI animatronics" on other attractions, starting with the Fantasyland dark rides.

Readers' Opinions

From James Rao on April 29, 2014 at 10:47 AM
Looks great. Interesting to see that final bit of footage contrasting yesterday's animatronics with today's. An impressive step forward for an attraction that may end up being the sleeper hit of the summer.
From O T on April 29, 2014 at 10:51 AM
I think the end result looks very convincing but with Disney's shoddy track record in maintaining complex AA's I'm afraid it's another great accomplishment that will stop working between 3 month and a year after opening.
To have this working in a lab is one thing but in a building connected to the outside with coaster trains going trough it carrying moist, hot and cold air, dust and more trough it and the need to be on for at least 12 hours a day or more I'm sceptic.
From Robert Niles on April 29, 2014 at 11:06 AM
As readers on Twitter have mentioned, Disney's done projection faces on animatronics before, on Buzz Lightyear in his shooter attractions, and on Lightning McQueen and Mater in Radiators Springs Racers. But these animatronics appear more advanced than those, with not just faces animated, but also ears, arms and hands. Disney's also projecting here onto multiple moving elements at once, which, if it works, could create an even more convincing lifelike effect.
From 75.69.20.247 on April 29, 2014 at 1:08 PM
WILD SPECULATION

I suspect that reliability of these will, in fact, be higher than the average animatronic.

These AAs can depend on projection instead of moving parts of the face/mouths of all these AAs. This should reduce mechanical issues and increase the reliability.

I also suspect they are able to use a bank of high power LEDs in the projectors powering these AAs. In the past a high wattage bulb with high temperature and resulting low lifetime was required. These possible LEDs should provide a high degree of reliability as a single LED outage does not cause an outage.

Just throwing out some ideas of where technology is today, and how it might impact this ride.

From Rod Whitenack on April 29, 2014 at 1:51 PM
I think it looks super cool! The combination of traditional animatronics and CGI animation hits the sweet spot for both three dimensional reality and cartoon realism. I'm also concerned about how long these figures will hold up under 12 hour a day conditions, as I don't get to the parks as often as most readers here. I never got to experience the working Yeti. I also hope that this isn't just one room that lasts 10 seconds in a ride that barely lasts over a minute.
From TH Creative on April 29, 2014 at 5:46 PM
I think the end result looks very convincing! And with Disney's extraordinary track record in maintaining complex AA's I've no doubt that it's another great accomplishment that will entertain Magic Kingdom guests for years and years to come.
From 98.85.94.120 on April 29, 2014 at 11:45 PM
A projection faced animatronic seems like something Universal would do. I hate screen based robots
From Russell Meyer on April 30, 2014 at 9:51 AM
"And with Disney's extraordinary track record in maintaining complex AA's"

I hope that was sarcastic TH...Disco Yeti anyone?

I think the figures presented in the promo video look great. It certainly shows what can be done with the technology, and could provide an excellent advancement for existing attractions, especially in terms of better seeing and understanding what characters are doing in terms of the narrative.

However, it does nothing to bolster the impression that Disney is falling behind in terms of delivering attractions in a time sensitive manner. Many understand the need for doing something right, but there's something to be said for a pretty small roller coaster that takes over 3 years to build.

From Ringmaster A on April 30, 2014 at 1:01 PM
Guys, it didn't take that long to build. We all know that it was a last minute change to drop the princess cottages to the mine train. Think about it, Mermaid and Belle could start long before anything else because they had to move the Pooh tree and finish the design of the mine train that probably wasn't done because it wasn't supposed to be built. On top of that, the mine train is close to the tunnels underground which made construction hard and building something with landscaping of the kind 360 on top of a building takes longer than the boxes Universal tends to build.

I'm more impressed with mixing projections with animation than Universal making everything based on film with screens. A movie projection will always be a projection on a screen, never anything more convincing than that. But animating on top of moving figures is pretty mind-blowing.

From N B on April 30, 2014 at 1:26 PM
That is pretty amazing... hats off to Disney Imagineers.
From N B on April 30, 2014 at 1:37 PM
To be fair, Ringmaster, you should watch the video of how all of the 3D film on Universal's rides had to be done. Spidey, Transformers and FJ all use this motion perspective that had to be invented (in the late 90's).

Yes, Universal relies heavily on 3D screens, but man, they sure know what they are doing. The final 2D screen of FJ where everyone is cheering your return, looks 3D without the use of glasses.

From Russell Meyer on April 30, 2014 at 2:06 PM
@Ringmaster - They started foundational work and site prep for this in the fall of 2010. That's an incredibly long time to build a single attraction. They started laying steel in spring 2012, so even by that measure, it's taken over 2 years to go from vertical construction to opening. Universal built an entire land (including an indoor roller coaster) in less time that it took Disney to build one mini coaster/dark ride.

I'm sorry. Disney doesn't get any slack on this, and they need to get on the ball, because there are a lot of guests out there that are growing frustrated with the extremely slow pace of construction and development at WDW. Disney does do a lot of unconventional stuff, and keeps a number of items in house that others would typically subcontract. However, that is no excuse for taking years to develop announced projects and then another 3-5 years to build them. Rome wasn't built in a day, but it shouldn't take 3 years to build a kiddie coaster, no matter how detailed the theming or complexity of the animatronics.

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