D23 Expo 2019: Immersive Worlds: Bringing Films to Life in Disney Parks

D23 Expo 2019: Immersive Worlds: Bringing Films to Life in Disney Parks

Walt Disney Imagineering took part in a panel to take us behind the scenes to discover how these worlds come to life. On hand were greats like Joe Rohde (EPCOT, Pandora), Jeanette Lomboy (Disneyland, Aulani), Luc Mayrand (Shanghai Disneyland) and Scott Trowbridge (Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge). Find out how cinematic experiences based on films in Disney Parks take shape and form in this panel recap!

  • Jeanette Lonboy on immersing people in a real-world experience of Hawaii. Wanted to help tell the Hawaiian story. “Disney is the blank canvas and the native culture is the paint. It’s not a replica of a Hawaiian village.” They want people to learn about the real past and look to its future. Move it away from the conception of the place in the past from pop culture.
  • Luc Mayrand “Immersion is all about extending the story. In Treasure Cove its about embracing new experiences” in Pirate lore
  • Joe Rohde talks that Avatar has a purpose in “coloring the world. In each case, the world that is presented is for an underlying purpose”. James Cameron’s film is about conservation and that is the driving force of the narrative of the land.
  • Park Goers are invited to go “Through a transformative experience move them to a place we want them to go. A goal to better understand a real culture like in Aulani or in Galaxy’s Edge, have them feel empowered to become a hero to impact the lives of those around them” Scott Trowbridge shared.
  • “Stories are expressed not just by words. It’s embedded in everything we do.” Lomboy discusses that engagement is key to have visitors ask questions to discover more about where they go. “The more you find out about Hawaii, the more you know you didn’t know anything about it at all”
  • Luc Mayrand’s research for Treasure Cove involved finding ways to get visitors to get engaged quickly. “How do I know pirates have taken over?” is what they want folks to ask. They use visual queues and animatronics, all humourous ways to invite into a fun world that leads them to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. They meet Jack Sparrow who draws them in by enticing them with an adventure in the search of treasure.
  • The team behind Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge wanted visitors to feel they’re an environment that unfolds and that you can’t see all at once. “It’s intended to invite exploration and discovery. It’s meant to make you feel like you’re having your own Star Wars experience.” While there you determine your pacing and narrative–they just create the elements that are your tools to get involved and learn more.
  • “The stories come to life because you’re looking” Luc Maynard described as they all agreed that the best part for them is to create more and more ways for folks to participate and seek answers that speak to the participatory experience shared.
  • The Fab Five are in Hawaii having fun on vacation learning with you in Aulani. Minnie learns to Luau, the castmembers are Islanders who are teaching about their culture while you’re visiting.
  • Scott Trowbridge asked if we’re embracing the option to co-create the experience to cheers in the house. They hope to keep doing more of that in places like Galaxy’s Edge. The land envelops you in a realm between the awareness of it not being real and living a real experience in knowing you can be a character in the story more than just a spectator. They like making a space where things can be real and funny when you’re a part of it but pushing it to more scary and real when you’ve been safely secured on the rides. “You’re not really worried about being kidnapped or getting a job there” Trowbridge laughed about creating the clear boundaries of where you can play along. Move into reasons to believe in a story from the park’s history of tools to pretend.
  • It’s an invitation in all the experience at Disney Parks and Resorts. “Not everyone wants to engage on the same level. We need to give people the freedom to engage and talk to the characters or just go hang out in the cantina and watch the space world go by–that’s gotta be totally fine as well” he said about giving options to everyone so it doesn’t feel like you’re obligated to go missions. You can be a part of the Resistance or First Order or just watch things unfold while enjoying a Ronto Wrap.
  • With Avatar it’s more of a “Seduction” shared Rohde in regards to having a mix of real things and fictional things to emotionally immerse you in a hypnotic world. Some weird plants in Pandora are real and it keeps guests guessing. They need to find their level of engagement.
  • It’s theatrical presentations that are meant to have guests look at one another to make memories not look at a thing in front of them necessarily. Families and friends making memories and learning.
  • In the Lightsaber experience from Galaxy’s Edge, rowing boats in Treasure Cove–“it’s an envelope we’re putting people in” In Avatar there are environments above you, in Galaxy’s Edge there are sounds. They only dial it back for restrooms or refreshers as they’re called in Galaxy’s Edge.
  • “In Shanghai, the only language is Mandarin. There’s thematic language in English in the shows that are easy to recognize. It’s accessibility. It’s a choice we had to make to make everything clear.” Luc Mayrand shared about creating the show culture for mainland China.
  • Rohde asked about the physical challenges of getting lands done. Trowbridge jumped in, “We’re representing the work of designers, textile designers, lighting designers. Imagineering is a place where we can tap into different sets of expertise.” Star Wars has its own design language. It’s distinct from Avatar and Pirates is that Star Wars had a strong DNA of reality in it. “You had to go to the Redwood Forrest, to the desert and bring Star Wars to it. We had to build the base layer of a real-world with history to make it feel consistent the Star Wars language we see in the films.”
  • In China, they found sculptors who adapted the language of the Disney design and created what attendees see in the parks there.
  • “When we started with Avatar, it’s a CG movie–we found that we went to work we realized there wasn’t enough detail to make the world seem real.” Rohde on how WDW found how they wanted to bring the land to life from the photo-real worlds we really only caught sweeping glimpses of behind the Naavi.
  • In the third act of Flight of Passage in Pandora, the team discovered that the crosshairs of the land that can “sweep you up emotionally that makes you feel upbeat and weepy.” lived in the big scene where you’re flying alongside the others over the waters of Pandora.
  • “Our work is never done,” Trowbridge said and talked about a little boy who believed he was in the story after meeting Chewbacca. To them moments like that is all they could hope for.

Visit Aulani in Hawaii, Pandora at Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Treasure Cove at Disneyland Shanghai, and Galaxy’s Edge at WDW and Disneyland in California.


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