Saturday, January 4, 2014

Will Epcot World Showcase Become "Cartoon Showcase" ?

We saw in D&M yesterday's article that apparently Disney has plans to remove the Norway Pavilion Maelstrom ride and replace it by a Frozen ride. As i explained yesterday, although there is nothing official yet,  there are quite a lot of elements that push in favor of it. But is it really a good idea? For Frozen fans i'm sure it will be, but it seems that someone somewhere is forgetting what World Showcase really is, and why it was created. World Showcase is a place where different countries of the world are presented, introduced to Americans and international guests. A kind of World Expo that will never end. It did the job pretty well until now, even if some of the rides require to be updated. The movie about France, for instance, in the France pavilion always makes me laugh as it shows the "Douce France" of famous song writer Charles Trenet, but a France which no longer exist since a long time.

The problem is that little by little Disney seems to be no longer interested to preserve the original World Showcase concept. There might be another reason - a "money" reason"- why and it's may be because the countries are not willing to pay for new rides, as they did when Epcot opened 31 years ago. Anyway, a few years ago the first cartoon characters - the Three Caballeros - were introduced in the Mexican pavilion ride and now if this Frozen ride rumor is true it's another attraction based on Disney animated characters that will take the place of a ride which was originally totally based on a country history and myths. In the case of the Three Caballeros it was not so problematic as the new version called "Gran Fiesta Tour" still "showcase" the Mexico country itself  (if you've not seen the ride you have the video of it below ). But in the case of Frozen it's something totally different. Although the kingdom and landscape of Arendelle is inspired by Nordic regions it's not supposed to be "Norway". They probably can find a way in the post-show to have a link with Norway but it will be difficult to create a link with Norway in the ride itself...

The question is: if they bring a Frozen ride at World Showcase will they stop here or will they introduce more rides linked to animation characters in World Showcase? Knowing that Epcot is in need of new attractions they could be tempted to bring at the France pavilion the same Ratatouille ride that will open this summer at DLP Walt Disney Studios. After all,
"Impression de France", the France pavilion movie is showing such an idealized vision of France that it's getting old and what could push in favor of bringing the Ratatouille ride is that they won't even have to build a Paris quarter like they currently do at the WDS as it's already built at World Showcase. The Ratatouille ride needs a huge show building but, luckily for Epcot imagineers, they do have the room available backstage to build it as you can see on the Google Earth screen capture below.  The current french restaurant of the France pavilion could easily be transformed in a "Ratatouille" themed restaurant, and there we go!

To be honest, if they were building the Ratatouille ride at World Showcase - and i would be surprised if no one at Disney didn't already think about it - the theme of the ride will be closer to Paris and France cultural aspect - specially cooking - than a Frozen ride would be with Norway.

Still, they have to think about all this with cautious because if they don't, Epcot World Showcase might lose its original concept and quickly become "Cartoon Showcase"...

Friday, January 3, 2014

Will a Frozen Ride Replace Epcot's Maelstrom in World Showcase Norway Pavilion ?

A source of Screamscape informed Lance that "WDI has been given the initial nod to do a little Blue Sky dreaming to determine just how they could transform the Maelstrom ride in the Norway Pavilion into a new Frozen themed attraction concept."

Right now - and of course "IF" the info is right - WDI is only in Blue Sky phase and no mention of the budget the ride could have or even if they will keep the Maelstrom flume ride system or if they will create another kind of ride, so take it only as a rumor. BUT there are some elements which push in favor of it, and here is why:

1) Frozen is a huge success and so far even the biggest one of Walt Disney Animation since The Lion King 20 years ago! And we know that in terms of "Disney synergy" they like to create a ride inspired from a popular movie success.

2) Epcot's World Showcase needs desperately a new attraction! well as WDW to counter attack Universal Florida upcoming projects. Not to mention that the Maelstrom ride didn't aged terribly well, even if it's always fun.

3) A Frozen attraction will fit perfectly with the Norway pavilion theme and the Frozen characters meet and greet at Epcot had currently excellent reactions from the guests.

4) The architecture in the movie of the kingdom of Arendelle has some similarity with the one of the Norway pavilion ( and for good reasons ). Below, a picture from the animated movie and one of the Norway pavilion as well as the WDI rendering.

5) WDI Imagineers will use very probably the facility existing for the Maelstrom ride which means there won't be any cost to build a new building. That saves a pretty lot of money, believe me.

6) If Disney wants something opening quickly they could use the flume ride currently existing and change "only" all the sets. That said, even if WDI was choosing this option, it'll take time to create something new and to do it fine, so don't expect a Frozen ride before two years from now, if not more.

7) WDI has the technology to create in the ride amazing "ice" effects like the one we can see in the movie when Elsa transforms anything in "ice"

8) There are even scenes already existing that obviously could be transformed in a Frozen one. Like the one when the Drakkar boat is going backwards and when guests see the giant polar bear Audio-Animatronic...

Now, imagine that, keeping the same boat backwards movement, instead of the bear they put at its place an Audio-Animatronic of the snow monster below. I know, it's almost too obvious. 

But, as Lance note in his Screamscape post that you can read HERE, if Disney gives to the Imagineers a big enough budget "the entire current ride structure could be demolished to make way for a new trackless ride system concept" and they could use the ice theme of Frozen to have a trackless ride "themed as a sleigh ride through the wilderness, scooting across the frozen landscape". Good idea indeed but this would certainly mean a bigger budget and we know that they have plenty of big projects awaiting the final green light, and even put on hold due to the higher than expected cost of My Magic + 

That said, for all the reasons listed above and although it's so far only a rumor i think you can reasonably put some of your bets on this one. One thing is sure: a Frozen ride would be perfect for the Norway pavilion and World Showcase.And if this is only a rumor with nothing real behind it, well, the Imagineers should think about the idea anyway because it is a good one!

Edited: Just saw on the Moviefone website that Jim Hill also talked recently in a webcast about the Frozen ride coming to Epcot's Norway. And according to Jim an opening is expected in 18 months with also a Frozen ride envisioned for Disneyland later. one more good reasons to place your bets on a Frozen ride!

Pictures: copyright Disney

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Editor's Note: I did a brand new and much enhanced version of one of Disney and more classic article about TDS Journey to the Center of the Earth. It's almost a new article and  include previous pictures in larger size, brand new pictures and a HD video of the full ride! Don't miss it!

The Making of Tokyo Disney Sea Journey to the Center of the Earth with WDI Ride Senior Designer Tom Thordarson

Here is great article and a tribute to Tom "Thor" Thordarson and his artwork for Tokyo Disney Sea Mysterious Island rides. After being Director of Attraction Development at MCA Universal Studios, Hollywood, Tom became a WDI Disney Imagineer with his role as a Director/Senior Concept Designer.

Among his many assignments at Disney was the task of the concept design for one of the main "E-ticket" rides for the new Tokyo Disney Sea theme park in Japan called, "Journey to the Center of the Earth" the top rated thrill ride of Tokyo Disney Sea. Tom was also a key team player in the early design phases of many other attractions for Disney Sea, especially 20000 Leagues under the Sea at Mysterious Island.

Those of you who had the luck to visit this gorgeous theme park and remember Mysterious Island rides will see below how important Tom Thordarson's contributions were to the design of these rides. And for those of you who never had the luck to visit Tokyo Disney Sea let's start by a video of the full Journey to the Center of the Earth ride.

Now that you've seen the ride let's have an in-depths look with tom Thordarson at how it was done, and first, i want to thank Tom very very much for the beautiful artwork and pictures he kindly provided to me for this article.

Here is Tom, in his own words, remembering his work on Mysterious Island and Journey to the center of the Earth:

"When I was first invited to be part of the TDS team, it was truly a project that I cannot recall being more excited about. Mysterious Island, with it's magical energy full of classic adventure was where everyone knew I belonged focusing upon, though I played with concepts for Port Discovery as well. They basically said: "This is based on the Jules Verne book in general, but give us your take on it." Disney had explored it loosely as a studio tour designed by Scott Sinclair, but I was allowed to use or scrap any past ideas as to the content of this story as it would become a ride.

I watched the movie with Pat Boone and read the book. I sat in my office at Imagineering for close to a year creating this ride in countless drawings, storyboards and paintings. I presented this ride again and again and was told by staff that my sound effects and enthusiastic body gestures were a "hard act to follow". lol! Michael Eisner was chuckling and well entertained repeatedly at my performances, I recall well. One Corporate Exec. stated, as I finished the very first presentation with my story boards, "Is it HOT in here..or is it me?

I truly lived this ride...over and over and by the time it was in show model form, I felt I had ridden the thing a thousand times. Every rock form, creature and sound was something I had to describe to the team in drawings and verbal dramatizations."

Before we go further here are some of the artwork that guests can see in the queue - pre-show decor.

The first paintings below are Tom's artworks for "Journey to the Center of the Earth", Mysterious Island's feature ride. They are presented here in the chronological order of the attraction (If I'm not mistaking!) and also with some pictures that were shot before the opening, all from Tom's personal collection.

Here is Tom's design for the "Terravator" - the lift which "carries" the guests "deep down" to the load area.

...and an artwork display in the queue decor showing guests how deep under Earth goes the Terravator.

This next artwork is Tom's painting for "Journey" load area. Long before it was built.

All the decor of "Journey to the Center of the Earth" is, of course a "subterranean" decor. So, as it is often the case at WDI, Tom and his early team went exploring caves for references for Journey's design. Tom is on the bottom right of the second picture. Tom says, "I could go on forever telling everyone about the details. I have included pictures of one of my early research trips into actual caves where i took countless photos. We had rangers take me deep into the caverns below where most people have ventured in tours. But I had to make all this bigger than life. I had to learn from real nature, but then project a sci-fi logic to the rest."

The painting below shows the entrance of the vehicle inside the "crystal scene".

Tom did a scale section drawings to help WDI set designers translate his illustrations...

...and also pictures of the model of the crystals scene, where Tom placed every Crystal in miniature. All translated accurately into the final ride.

Tom now explains more about this scene and how he designed these "crystal vortex's".
"I placed ever single crystal in the model for the rockwork department to chart and blow up to scale in the actual ride precisely. The way this looks is all out of my head...not anything real. I designed this "Vortex" of crystals as an idea where there was a "swirling energy" in the earth that caused these a magnetic tunnel. All the rock formations from the beginning to the end, I designed to have a psychological effect. In the beginning, the forms are friendly shapes like swirls and circles and crystals. As we move into the more dangerous and dramatic areas, I designed the look to be sharper and actually look like the rock shapes are "pulling you" or forcing you towards the creature and out the volcano's eruption. Again, when I design a ride or even just a painting, every form tells a story. Rock...seems simple but it is a stage and opportunity to tell a story...that can allow us to control our audience's emotions, depending on how we stage it."

Here are two rare pictures of the real set decor shoot before the park's opening...

...And a picture of the crystals with the show vehicle.

Tom also did all the storyboard sketches for the ride like this one below. As you will note in the early concept, Imagineers envisioned a kind of "train" of three vehicles together.

Here are two storyboards for the "mushrooms forest scene"...

...Two "fabrication drawings" for the mushrooms of the mushrooms forest scene. Tom had to draw all these details for construction.

And one painting for the same scene.

Did you note these little animals with their back colour red on the painting above? Well, Tom did this next artwork to describe how these life forms should look with a "phosphorescent" back.

Tom also did artwork showing some subterranean animals like this "caped skenk"...

This next one is a "Moss Plucking Skenk". They were both ideas...but the one below became the final design.

Tom also designed this "Winged Nudibranch", a drawing for the production team.

The two next pictures are rare photos of the real decor, also shot before the park's opening.

Tom recalls, "In the Giant mushroom forest, I made it all up on my own. The movie was really fake and unimpressive. So, I researched real glowing fungi and mushroom species'. I created a world where light came from the natural bio luminescent mosses and plants and the water was full of phosphorus plankton. This thinking made me believe in my story and so I could paint it and describe it to others like it was a place that really existed. The creatures were my creations that I believed could really have evolve. The team was VERY amused by the names I gave them like the "Moss plucking Skenk", "flying nudibranch" and "leaping tri-pedal beetle". You should have seen the figure animation department trying to say the names when they were building the creatures. The meetings were a real hoot! The creatures have parts that glow because..well, they eat the phosphorus and glowing vegetation, of course."

Here are other storyboard sketches. A few ideas never made it to the finished ride...

This next one shows the vehicle entering inside one of the cavern scenes where guests can see the Lava monster's giant egg sacks.

The next picture is a photo of the model Tom Art Directed inspired by his renderings .

The photo below was shoot by Tom at WDI: "This is the "Test" in full scale using concrete that the WDI rockwork department did to show me. They wanted to see if they could duplicate my designs in the rack sculptures."

This next painting Tom created is one of my favorite and absolutely gorgeous. It shows the scene of the "Storm upon the subterranean sea" at the center of the Earth!

Tom states, "I did take certain key scenes from the book, like the idea of a "subterranean sea". Here is a rendering that shows the way I pictured such a place. A cavern so huge it had it's own weather and atmosphere inside. I wanted it to feel very phosphorescent and electrical and that those were the only sources of light so deep below the surface."

Of course there is the climax scene of the attraction, the encounter with the Lava Beast - in the ride, one of the biggest audio-animatronic ever built by WDI. Here is Tom's early concept for the Lava Creature.

...Tom's storyboards of the attack by the Lava Beast...

...and the spectacular final painting of the scene!

Here is a picture of the Lava creature, in "real".

Tom recalls, "I liked a few elements from the studio tour but things like the creature being a worm was not as exciting for me. I wanted to be scientific in how I made this ride believable. The creature, in my mind was a prehistoric life form that, because we were in a lava tube peppered caldera of rock, had to look like it could have evolved to withstand incredible heat and yet move through tunnels with great speed. If you look at the first drawing of the lava creature, it is almost like a crustacean, hard exoskeleton amour to insulate it from the heat. However, it could swim out into the undersea tunnels too, to the open sea. Even when I deal with fantasy..I like to believe it could be possible in some way."

Right after the attack, the ride vehicle is going up at full speed, escaping from the creature and the center of the Earth. Tom did some storyboard proposals for this sequence and here they are. The first one shows people as the vehicle is launched in his fun storyboard, but in reality, it's exactly how your face is looking in this high-speed scene!

The next one is a "leaping idea in the final run". For technical reasons the vehicle couldn't actually jump over a gap, but the final effect is almost the same.

Tom did also a concept for the car landing in a "lava tube" after the above "flight".

Tom has great memories about the design of that scene. He elaborates, "Then came to the part in the ride where the vehicle accelerates and we are sucked into the erupting lava tube. Just before we almost get eaten by the lava creature, we are blasted out the top of the volcano. I wanted it to feel like we are suddenly air-borne and maybe feel zero gravity for a short moment. Well...they said,"Ummmm, for how long are we at zero g's?". I was busy painting a key frame at the time and said,..."Ohhh, I dunno, 10 seconds or something". Well..that taught me a lesson in being careful what you ask for as a show designer at WDI. Two days later they take me to a private pilot in Malibu. He was told to take me up in his small plane and test what 10 seconds feels like in zero gravity. He had said he could fly small parabolic arcs like the big planes do for NASA to train the astronauts. So....this we did!"

Tom continues... "I held a chalk eraser in my hand as I was loosely belted in the back seat of this flying Volkswagen of a plane...and the pilot, at 10,000 feet over Malibu began zero gravity manoeuvres. When the eraser floated from my hand, we were at zero G's and he held that speed and arc as long as he could...well, 10 seconds is an eternity at no gravity for the average person!! In the end, we never do zero in the ride as the ride was built...just about .1 or .2 for a couple seconds when you first blast out and down. was a fun memory."

This last concept-art shows the unload area of "Journey to the Center of the Earth".

But there is more inside Tokyo Disney Sea Mysterious Island, starting by Captain Nemo's Nautilus floating in the lagoon...

...and we will now see Tom's artwork for the 20000 Leagues under the sea attraction.

Tom states, "Here are a few of the storyboards I did for the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride. In the beginning, I was developing ideas for both rides. These storyboards and the familiar shot below of the first mini sub design showing the giant squid attack was my pass. It was the first image the press saw in the project announcements in the beginning of TDS. The ride was turned over to other art directors from there and I focused on journey through the finished models and drawing package."

The next painting below is showing some Atlantis clues...

And this one is a "view of Atlantis".

The next painting shows the 20000 Leagues ship graveyard...

And this one the "sunken ship hull".

This last "20,000 Leagues" painting is of course showing the giant squid attack as Tom saw it.

Creating a land or an attraction is never the work of a sole person of course, but considering the obvious contribution of Tom's design to Mysterious Island attractions, I think it's fair to say that he fully deserves the tribute I'm doing today, and I'm quite sure you agree with me. So, it's with pleasure that I let Tom conclude this article.

Tom agrees and states, in his own words, "With all my passion for these rides, they would never have made it to being built without all the amazing team I worked with at Imagineering. It definitely does take a team of minds to make it all a reality. I would like to personally acknowledge the talent of Imagineer, Greg Combs who was so instrumental in his leading the show/set effort that brought all this craziness into working drawings and reality. Also, to Imagineer, Gwynn Ballantyne, who took the baton into the field and saw that all this and her own creative contributions would be become something we could all step into as the ride it is today. Thanks so much Gwynn. Lastly, to fellow show designer and Imagineer, Dave Durand. He was the creator and Art Director of the Crystal Skull, Indiana Jones ride for TDS and I recall many a day when we had lunches in the courtyard there at WDI and inspired each other with our passion for making magic and adventure we believed Walt would be so proud of today!

Magic and regards, Tom (THOR)

You can watch a great Youtube video of Journey to the center of the Earth HERE and of 20000 Leagues under the sea HERE

I would like also to remember you that Tom Thordarson have his own web site and a gallery in Hawaii - more precisely on the Island of Oahu - where you'll be able to find his beautiful Tiki and Hawaian artwork, including the Tiki idols series. Some of them are on sale, and whether it is the originals or very affordable prints, any Tiki lover will find his happiness! Also, if you're a fan of Tom's artwork and want to contact him, feel free to do it through his MySpace page.

Tom have also a new gallery in Honolulu, Hawaii, in the U.S. Navy Exchange Mall. It's the "THOR STOR" in the NEX Mall. Most of his underwater and diver paintings are there now. Below is a painting he just finished, and you can see how his Disney Sea past influenced his work today.

Please have a look to the previous article to discover Tom Thordarson Tiki and Pirates artwork.

All artwork by Tom Thordarson and copyright Disney and WED Enterprises

Last picture "Tentacle Difficulties" copyright Tom Thordarson

Video: copyright Emil Sixh

Discover the fantastic Tokyo Disney Sea Application for the iPhone - iPad with more than hundred high-res pictures! $1.99 only on the iTunes Store!