March 22, 2017, 10:58 AM ·
People who work at theme parks throw around the word "magic" a lot. And they should, because that's exactly what the best theme park designers create. Now, I'm not talking about the sappy popular meaning of the word "magic" — I'm talking about magic as an act of stagecraft. It's a visual con, designed to make you believe that you are seeing something that can't possibly be in our normal, natural world.
From the moment we're born, our experience on this planet teaches us what can and can't be in that world around us. We learn to accept norms about the way that stuff looks, acts, and moves. So whenever we're confronted with something that violates these expectations, our initial reaction is to reject it as impossible.
That disbelief is poison to creating themed environments. While a filmmaker might be able to get you to go along with some ridiculous sight on the screen, such as the folding streets in Doctor Strange, a theme park designer faces a much tougher challenge, because he or she actually must obey the laws of physics in creating a themed space. While people might be willing to go along with illusions while sitting in a darkened theater, walking around an expansive physical space reignites our innate sense of physical skepticism.
Enticing you to suspend your disbelief in that environment takes an enormous amount of work — all to create something that seems, so, well, natural, that you dismiss it as effortless "magic."
In its latest video on the development of Pandora - The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom, the creative team at Walt Disney Imagineering talks about how they worked with Disney's Animal Programs department to design a visual "ecosystem" for the fictional world of Pandora that would capture the fantasy of James Cameron's imagined environment from his film Avatar, while looking real enough that visitors would suspend their disbelief and accept it.
"The world of Pandora is meant to be real," creative director Joe Rohde said. "We're bringing that world forward, where you can look at every single tiny detail of that world as long as you want."
Did it work? We will find out when Pandora - The World of Avatar opens officially to the public on May 27.