Everything I hear about Mystic Manor, the new Haunted Mansion at Hong Kong Disneyland, makes me insane with desire to ride this thing. It's like something that sprang full-blown out of my fevered imagination and into a pile of landfill in the South China Sea. Case in point: this short doc on the ride's operation from Inside the Magic.
Making of Mystic Manor with Imagineers and executives at Hong Kong Disneyland
The Long Forgotten blog hits another one out of the park (Disneyland park, that is), with a thought-provoking post on the history of the color scheme for the Haunted Mansion, and the way that color is used to set and maintain the mood:
“For Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, we wanted to create an imposing Southern-style house that would look old, but not in ruins. So we painted it a cool off-white with dark, cold blue-gray accents in shadowed areas such as the porch ceilings and wrought-iron details. To accentuate the eerie, deserted feeling, I had the underside of exterior details painted the same dark color, creating exaggerated, unnaturally deep cast shadows. Since we associate dark shadows with things hidden, or half hidden, the shadow treatment enhanced the structure’s otherworldliness. The park maintenance painters like the haunted effect. I even received calls from guests who wanted to know the brand and swatch number of the paints so that they could use them on their own homes.”
. —John Hench, Designing Disney (NY: Disney Editions, 2003) 116.
These painting tricks are an example of signals sent from the Imagineers that are received unaware. It's extremely unlikely that guests consciously notice the artificial shadowing, but very likely that it affects them psychologically, be it ever so slightly. It's an interesting sort of interaction between artist and audience: An expression fully intentional, very carefully thought out, and yet by design much too subtle for the conscious mind to engage. I don't know. Sounds illegal to me.
What Hench does not mention is that a radically different color scheme for the Mansion exterior was being contemplated practically from the moment it was first built. You never hear about it, and were it not for the fact that a mysterious and unique document from those days survived and surfaced, it truly would be long forgotten.
Stroll Around the Grounds Until You Feel at Home, Part One
Universal Studios Florida is opening a Simpsons themed area this summer. It'll mostly consist of facades and restaurants serving food inspired by the horrible cuisine of Springfield, as well as a pair of rides:
The expansive, new area within Universal Studios will be anchored by the mega-attraction, The Simpsons Ride, and will allow guests to enter the world of The Simpsons like never before. It will be the only place in the world where guests can walk the streets of Springfield. It will include a brand-new outdoor attraction, places and foods pulled right from the show and two new Simpsons characters who will make their debut with the new area – Krusty the Clown and Sideshow Bob.
And yes – there will be Duff Beer, brewed exclusively for Universal Orlando.
For the first time ever – anywhere – fans will be able to walk down Fast Food Boulevard and visit the places that helped Springfield stake its claim as “Shelbyville by the Sea.” They will be able to grab a Krusty-certified meat sandwich at Krusty Burger, snatch the catch of the day at the Frying Dutchman, get a slice at Luigi’s Pizza, go nuts for donuts at Lard Lad, enjoy a “Taco Fresho” with Bumblebee Man and imbibe at Moe’s Tavern.
The new attraction – called Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl – will take “foolish humans” on an intergalactic spin designed to send them into orbit.
Springfield Comes to Life at Universal Orlando This Summer
Dark Roasted Blend has a beautiful gallery of Spreepark PlanterWald (originally called Kulturpark Planterwald) a Soviet-era abandoned themepark in central Berlin, which is gracefully rotting away. This is a Boing Boing/Cory Doctorow trifecta: abandoned themeparks, Soviet kitsch, and urban exploration. Yes, please!
When it opened in 1969 as Kulturpark Planterwald, it was the "only constant entertainment park in the GDR, and the only such park in either East or West Berlin". However, the Berlin Senate did not seem to have provided for enough parking space... which is quite silly, all things considered. Plus, the forest around the park was deemed to be doomed from the impact of visiting crowds. In any case, the socialist and then private owners were left with a bunch of debt and the place got suspended in limbo... But the story does not end there (read on).
Surreal Abandoned Amusement Park in Berlin [Avi Abrams/Dark Roasted Blend]
The always, always, always fantastic Passport to Dreams Old and New blog traces the history of the Snow White rides at the Disney parks around the world, with an emphasis on the horror motifs in the original film and how they made their way into the rides, only to be removed (and re-added) at various times throughout the years. The Snow White ride in Florida's Magic Kingdom was just shut down, and is due to be replaced by a roller-coaster. As Passport's Foxxfur notes, rollercoasters are nice, "...but will it satisfy on the level of the scary old dark ride?"
One remarkable aspect of Snow White's Adventures is how well it used very simple animation and motion gags to enormous effect: by concentrating on heavy atmosphere in place of constant character vignettes, nothing ever seemed crude or like it moved less than it should have. Many of the Witch's sudden appearances resulted entirely from the perspective of riders moving through the scenes; the figures themselves were often static props. Several, such as the crocodile logs which "chased" the cars in the Forest, could only ever be seen by a small number of riders. Additionally, even more than most "ghost train" style rides, the track layout here created a lot of the character of the ride; as seen above, it's obvious how the bus bar was laid in such a way to force cars to "leap" out of the way of each new threat, especially in the last third of the ride as the pursuit is really on. Few dark rides have ever been paced as tightly.
What is apparent is that at a certain point the ride simply abandoned even the abbreviated version of the narrative logic of its first half: even allowing for a certain degree of artistic license compressing the transformation of the Witch into the throne room scene, the ride was following the film up to a point: the wishing well, the transformation, making the poison apple, embarking on the boat through the woods, the arrival at the dwarfs' cottage. But the moment the cottage is breached the ride simply throws out the rule book more thoroughly than any other Disney attraction, building on riffs on abstract memories of moments from the film until the Witch literally goes on a murdeous rampage and kills you.
What do you do with a ride like that? In Fantasyland? Mere steps away from Cinderella Castle, with a facade that suggests something far cuddlier than what it is, which is even more of a comfortless horror fest than The Haunted Mansion? Snow White's Adventures and Rolly Crump's brilliant, adjacent Mr. Toad's Wild Ride held down the fort for nearly twenty years as strange, subversive pockets of irrationality and nightmare logic in Disney's orderly theme park world.
In a happy coincidence, the Long Forgotten Haunted Mansion blog has a new post tracing the connections between the Mansion and Snow White.
Through the Forest: Snow White's Adventures
This insane (Russian?) theme-park thrill ride nauseates me even at 320x240 11fps. I think if I was actually in its presence, I'd boot so hard that I'd open a wormhole to another dimension.
Amusement Level: Crazy
(via Danny's Land)
The Orange Bird, mascot of the Florida Citrus Growers and one-time Adventureland icon from the opening days of the park, has been relaunched at Walt Disney World after a campaign by Disney parks fans and their sympathizers in the park. A source close to the company says, "People had to REALLY fight the system to make this happen, and were almost laughed out of the company for wanting to try. A lot rides on the success of this line." Disney parks management is in a perpetual three-sided war between engaging with its trufans, maintaining margins, and trying to engage people who visit rarely, if at all.
Soon after his unveiling and introduction in Magic Kingdom, the Orange Bird was recognized nationwide through his association with Florida citrus growers. The character was seen on billboards, television advertisements, and a wide assortment of Orange Bird products that could be found throughout Walt Disney World and the Sunshine State.
But the Orange Bird’s permanent home was in Adventureland, where he swung from a branch of the fabled Sunshine Tree. For many years, park guests could pose for pictures with a strolling character, designed by Disney Legend Bill Justice. Sadly, in 1987, the Orange Bird left the Magic Kingdom when the Sunshine contract with the Florida Citrus Commission expired.
Today, after a quarter century away from his Magic Kingdom home, the Orange Bird has returned, allowing a whole new generation of guests to experience this classic Disney character. “With the 40th Anniversary for Walt Disney World, we thought this was a nice way to bring a slice of 1971 back to the park… bringing back the original figure is a great way to do that,” Jason said. In honor of this milestone, several teams within The Walt Disney Company have come together to celebrate the Orange Bird’s return. At Magic Kingdom Park, the original Citrus Swirl—along with new refreshing offerings—is available once again at the Sunshine Tree Terrace. A whole new array of adorable Orange Bird merchandise will roll out in the months ahead. And the Walt Disney Archives has dug deep to uncover rare documents, photos, and stories that illuminate the character’s origins.
D23 Tweet Meet Reveals the Return of the Orange Bird to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World
In this 1945 Mechanix Illustrated article, Harold S. Kahm sets out the facts for any would-be ride-designers looking to hit the jackpot with a new high-speed thrill. Starting with the origin story of the bumper car (a WWI munitions plant worker built a miniature truck for hauling parts, the plant workers went crazy riding it, so he covered it with bumpers and turned it into a carny ride), he moves onto the holy grail of 1945 amusement parks: a portable ride. The best thing about this article are the diagrams on the second and third pages. Woah. Charlie at the Modern Mechanix blog has them up at a generous 1800px wide, perfect for clip-art harvesting.
As a matter of fact, hundreds of new ideas for rides flow into the offices of ride manufacturers in a steady stream, but not one in a hundred is even worth consideration, simply because the average inventor has no understanding of the technical requirements of the industry; he doesn’t, in fact, seem to know anything about anything—if you can believe the expert ride men. So if you think you’d like to try your luck in this fabulously successful field, which is certainly one of the best in the world for the amateur inventor, here are the facts you should know: The average successful ride is easily portable; it can be set up or dismantled in a few hours, and conveniently loaded into one or two trucks. If it is not portable, in this manner, it will be of no use to the richest and biggest ride market—the travelling carnival. A portable ride, on the other hand, is just as saleable to permanent amusement parks. In other words, you can sell a portable ride to any ride operator, but if it isn’t portable your market is limited to parks alone.
If you can figure out a way to make permanent park rides portable—such as the roller coaster—you’ve got yourself a million dollars; every big carnival company in existence would buy one, and wouldn’t hesitate to pay $50,000.00 for it. A coaster in a good location can make that much in a season. But on the other hand, just design a new and better type of coaster for parks and you’ll do all right, too; $5,000.00 royalty per coaster is considered a reasonable payment, and there might be 200 park owners scrambling for the new design.
WANTED – A MILLION-DOLLAR RIDE (Jun, 1945)
Read the rest
FoxxFur, the brilliant, pseudonymous design critic and scholar of Disney themeparks, is back again, with the first post in a series of long analyses of the use of lighting fixtures in the design of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom park. FoxxFur matches the attention-to-detail of the original Imagineers, unearthing a design sensibility that is incredibly subtle, and making a strong case that this subtlety isn't wasted -- rather, it all contributes to an overall sense of consistency and immersion that is the secret of the Disney park success.
One of the best light poles in the entire park, these tall lamps manage to represent Main Street, Adventureland and the Hub all at once. They span the bridge leading from the Crystal Palace to the gateway to Adventureland.
The Hub features much more utilitarian lamps overall, very similar to those seen outside the train station amidst the turnstiles. I think these were selected to create a garden-like atmosphere throughout the Hub, which benefits in Florida greatly from her meandering waterways, sloping lawns, and expansive flowerbeds, recalling the European gardens which inspired Disneyland. Their frosted globes link the entry area, Main Street, and the Hub in a single unified organically flowing movement.
Our tall lamps, above, are unique and occur only at the Crystal Palace bridge. While their tall shape mimics the castle and their frosted globes remind us of Main Street, notice the details of leaves, fronds, and lion heads - hinting at what will be seen nearby in Adventureland.
All the Lights of the Kingdom: Part One
On The Disney Blog, John Frost describes the upcoming rule-tightening for FastPasses in Walt Disney World. FastPass is a ride reservation system: park visitors visit a ride, feed their entry ticket to a kiosk, and it spits out a coupon that can be redeemed later in the day for admission via a shorter queue. Until now, FastPass expiry times were not enforced (that is, the pass might say it was good for 3-4PM, but you could use it any time after 3), which led people like me to collect FastPasses all morning (you can get one every hour or so) when the lines were short, and then use them all in a bunch in the afternoon when the lines got longer.
Frost says the rule change is a precursor to a much more dramatic change, a FastPass replacement (?) called xPass, which allows visitors to reserve their ride-times far in advance, over the Web, simultaneous with their other bookings -- dining, hotel, etc. This feels like it would suck a lot of spontaneity out of Disney World visits, though for certain very slow-loading/long-queueing rides, it would be nice to guarantee a ride in advance.
Meanwhile, Frost has some excellent suggestions for ways to fine-tune the new FastPass system:
Here are a few tweaks I would like Disney to do to improve the FastPass system a bit.
* More surprise fastpasses. Standby queue dropping below 15 minutes? Send a digital fastpass to guests on their mobile phones.
* Shorten the wait time required to get an additional fast pass later in the day.
* Let guests pick their return window. Maybe just morning, afternoon, or night. But at least that way you have an option if you arrive at a fastpass machine only to find out you have an restaurant reservation scheduled for that same time.
* Allow locals to get a digital fast pass for one ride from home the night before. Make it for afternoon or peak dining times only. This solves the having to show up at the crack of dawn problem.
* Rides with a through-put of more than 2000 guests an hour should not have fastpass. Instead move those machines to spinners and other low capacity attractions.
* Display publicly the number of fastpasses that can be redeemed an hour. Perhaps as a % of the standby queue. This will help guests decide if they need to get a Fastpass for the attraction or not.
* Limit the number of Fastpass that can be issued before 11AM to 50% of the day’s fastpasses. This saves some Fastpass capacity for guests who arrive later in the day
Fastpass Changes Coming to Walt Disney World
(Image: Rockin Rollercoaster Fastpass Walt Disney Hollywood Studios, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from kathika's photostream)
Here's a fascinating history of Frank Stuart's Mechanical Elephants, a line of life-sized, rideable elephant automata that were sold to department stores and amusement parks in America in the 1950s. "Cybernetic animal and early robot" historian Reuben Hoggett has collected early print mentions of the Stuart elephants and traced their destiny through the rest of the century.
The Billboard 21 Jan 1956
WORKLOAD STILL HEAVY FOR SEARCHLIGHT FIRM
NEW YORK. Jan 14.- The huge mechanical elephant owned by Publicity Searchlight Company will earn a raft of publicity for the firm during the next two months, and possibly a $10,000 plum as well, if the plan of Macy's department store works out as envisioned.
Macy's gimmick campaign is to advertise the gasoline-powered contraption as the world's largest and most expensive toy, with a $10,000 price tag. A six-week program is chartered, and any $10,000 bids received will go to owner George Wendelken, who has a second mechanical elephant if the first one is bought up.
The elephants are one of Wendelken's two publicity elements which he leases or sells as the occasion demands (the market for mechanical elephants has been pretty slow in recent years). The backbone of the company is its fleet of 70 searchlights of which 20 are truck-mounted and the rest trailer-mounted......
1951 – Mechanical Elephants by Frank Stuart in America
Long Forgotten, the world-beatingly insightful blog on the history and design of the Haunted Mansion rides at Disneyland, Walt Disney World and other parks, has a new lavishly illustrated post up, this one on the contribution of background artist Claude Coats. HBG2, the site's author, makes a compelling case for Coats' draftsmanship and sense of depth and detail being the clinching element of the Mansion's design, the thing that makes it seem so much bigger and realer than it has any right to be. I once read FoxxFur, the blogger at the equally awesome Passport2Dreams Old and New describe the Mansion as a series of scenes in a giant, empty box (contrasting with the Pirates of the Caribbean, which is really a series of towns and scenes that fill the whole ride-space -- but the Mansion feels like it goes on and on, like you could jump out of your vehicle and get lost in its depths.
Coats was one of the artists Walt pulled out of the studio to work on Disneyland as it neared completion. He had studied architecture as well as painting, and he seemed a natural pick for designing the interiors of dark rides, starting with Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Among other things, Coats had a knack for squeezing an amazing amount of ride into a ridiculously small space. He and Ken Anderson must be given the lion's share of credit for Toad. The precise extent of Coats's contributions to the other two 1955 originals, Snow White and Peter Pan, is less clear, but there seems to be little doubt that he participated. Later dark rides in which he was heavily involved include Alice in Wonderland and Adventure Thru Inner Space (which was practically all Coats; notice that there are no characters in ATIS)...
Besides the sheer scale, another difference in this work was the mixture of 2D and 3D. Coats was now doing background paintings with bulges, a sort of bas-relief. He quickly showed himself a master of this technique. This Peter Pan shot is modern (hat tip Daveland), but it preserves the illusioneering Coats and Anderson pioneered at Disney, layering shallow, three-dimensional models against flat paintings...
Every time you feel that strange urge to wander into the labyrinthian depths of the Haunted Mansion and be lost (the pull is especially strong in the first half), that's Claude Coats the background painter, leaving your very self to supply the missing character cell.
We tend to think of immersive environments (especially the Disney ones) as being all about the robotics, character design, sound and ride systems, but the backgrounds are what really make the experience.
Long-Forgotten: Claude Coats: The Art of Deception and the Deception of Art