When fans think of animation in the Disney theme parks, we'd bet they typically think of Disney's Audio Animatronics. Walt Disney and his team worked on animatronics in the early 1960s as a "real world" form of animation that could perform in three-dimensional physical space. Disney created singing birds for Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room and a speaking Abraham Lincoln for the 1964 New York Fair. An animatronic bird even made it into Disney's feature film Mary Poppins.
Ultimately, computer generated imagery [CGI] supplanted the use of animatronics and other physical props in most commercial filmmaking. But animatronics endured within the theme parks, evolving over time to exhibit a wider range of more fluid motion, as well as more finely detailed expressions. Mr. Lincoln's changed many times over the years, as have other iconic animatronics, including the auctioneer in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Still, CGI has made its way into the parks, too. Universal has employed computer-driven animation in several wildly successful attractions, including The Amazing Adventure of Spider-Man and Transformers: The Ride 3D. Even Disney started using computer-animated version of its classic characters in the Mickey's Philharmagic show.
In 2014, Disney took another step toward bringing animatronics and CGI together by introducing several new projects that blended practical and image-based animation. In the Magic Kingdom's new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Disney's Imagineers used projections to animate the faces of the animatronic dwarfs in the gem mine. Here's a look at the process, from Disney:
And here's the finished product, from our on-ride video of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train:
Disney used some of the same techniques in its refurbishment of the Alice in Wonderland ride at Disneyland, which reopened this year with a more dynamic look than in its past versions. The word inside WDI in Glendale is that we should expect to see similar changes coming to the rest of the Fantasyland dark rides as they come up for refurbishment over the next several years. Here's a look at the newly revamped dark ride:
Finally, it didn't involve character animation, but Disney's Imagineers did some nifty new things in animating an "explosive" new climax on the "C" lift of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Disneyland, an enhancement that we hope soon will make its way to all the other Thunders around the world.
What do you think about these projects... and the future of animated effects in theme parks?Tweet
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