Monday, July 17, 2017

Sydney Disneyland Park - Collaboration with WDW Magic Imagineering Forums

This post is a little different from normal because this project is not solely my work.

Instead, this is a collaboration with a group on the WDWMagic.com Imagineering Forum, who decided to collaboratively design a new resort. Though I was not heavily involved with coming up with the concept, I shared some ideas as it went along and then offered to make a park plan for them once it was all done.

That is this post. This thread on the forum most succinctly describes the concept and all the individual attractions they designed along the way: http://forums.wdwmagic.com/threads/sydney-disneyland-resort-a-project-by-club-32.928583/

But since my process of turning their concept into a map changed a few things, I am going to give a brief text walk through to supplement what they have there. 

This is a traditional castle style park to start off the resort but there are some different lands here than other Magic Kingdom parks.



Instead of Main Street, there is Fantasia Gardens. Fantasia to some extent is an overarching concept in this park.

The entrance to the park is actually through a "concert hall" where the score is playing, leading us into the world of the film. The town square analogue is a roman forum, echoing the Greco-Roman scenes of Fantasia, but there are references to all of the segments around. Ahead, the path splits to two gardens on either side of the main corridor. And at the center of the park is a small lagoon with a continuous fountain show to the sounds of Fantasia, with an organic Fantasia themed castle beyond with a stage at the base.



Going clockwise, the first land is Pacific Wharf, based on a turn of the century San Francisco.


The Tower of Terror with an original ghostly story is the icon, sitting on a cliff over the waters edge, and city spreads out below it. It includes a Fisherman's Wharf area at the north of the land, with a walk through Museum of the Weird and some unique food options, a Chinatown area with an exciting dark ride and restaurant, a Barbary Coast street area with unique retail and a saloon, and a wild Lombard Street coaster that takes you on a street race just as an earthquake starts to hit the city. The force perspective streetscape with Lomdard Street winding down the middle forms a back berm to the land. The train around the park also passing through the scenes of this coaster.

A ferryboat makes a loop around the last portion of this land, Convict Island, and then drops you off on its dock. Based on the idea of Alcatraz, the island is an explorable play area with a lot of escape themed games and challenges. A cable car also runs through the middle of the land, and an abaondoned cable car by the wharf side barn has been turned into a taco car.



Next is Frontierland, which is a large land with a couple of different zones.


Starting at the hub is New Orleans, which includes a Princess and the Frog dark ride, Tianas Palace restaurant, and plenty of themed retail. A paddleboat sits along the river, marking the end of New Orleans and the start of a more rustic bayou section of the land, where there is a new large Splash Mountain that is pretty unique. The attraction is divided on two sides of small river, with the load and final scenes on the path side, and the mountain and main showbuilding on a island. The flume takes us under the river to start and end the ride. The actual exterior of both sections is redesigned to fit a more bayou theme instead of the red clay Georgia look of the original, so that it fits adjacent to New Orleans. There is also an adjacent nature trail area that passes through a fort and looks out to the body of water.

The last area of the land is a frontier mining town, where a small collection of buildings sit in the rocky landscape. The land includes Big Thunder Railroad, canoes that loop the island with Splash Mountain, a saloon, a ship walkthrough, a train station, and more dining and retail. The biggest attraction is a new Western River Expedition which is actually not a boat ride. The suspended conveyance mining equipment of an abandoned mine has been turned into a hanging gondala system that is now used to transport people into the hills of the mine, right across the train tracks. Guests load into the hanging cars and are carried right into the showbuilding and a trip through the spirit of the old west.



Adventureland is next, and it is a smaller land compared to the rest in the park.



There are two areas, a Pirates fort and a Polynesian Village. The Spanish fort entrance to the Pirates ride includes a table service resturant and a lounge in the caves below the fort. There is also a kids play area with a pirates ship adjacent to the fort, which has a Peter Pan theme to transition to Storybookland just across the path.

The Polynesian Village area includes a Lilo and Stitch treehouse, a large Tiki Room dark ride with the traditional theater show as the preshow, dining and retail including Dole Whips, and a Moana themed show along the river. A force perspective volcano sits above the stage where a live presentation of the story of the show takes place a few times a day. Part of the show can take place on boats in the water as well.



Storybookland is the parallel to Fantasyland and has many similar attractions. It's the largest land in the park as well. 


Behind the castle, there are a few attractions in a castle courtyard village setting. There is a large Fantasia dark ride with the Sorcerer's Apprentice, a carousel with Fantasia animals, Dumbo, and an enchanted dining room restaurant. A small Peter Pan area is along the path, with a restaurant and a larger form of the attraction that exits out on the Adventureland side by the play area.

A forest themed area is on the north side of the land, and in the heavily wooded natural areas there is a Tangled trackless dark ride, a trackless Aquatopia style canal boats ride, a princess meet and greet chateau, a Mr. Toads Wild Ride attraction, and a Casey Jr. Train that travels around the land and passes through a few attractions. There is also a unique train station that is inside the Seven Dwarfs Mine, which Casey Jr. also passes through. Last is Belle's village, which is the entrance to a Beauty and the Beast carousel show that retells the movie.

The last area is a London town square with a large Mary Poppins dark ride, a Mary Poppins themed tea cups style ride, and retail and dining.



The Shadowlands is the partner to Storybookland and is the home of the Villains of the park.



It also has a London area, a Forest area, and a Village area, directly paralleling the adjacent land. The London area is a much darker and rougher and treeless street that includes a Cruela de Vil dark ride. The Village area includes a Villains meet and greet, a dark ride through the Villains Academy, and a pair of restaurants, Gaston's Tavern nearby to Belle's Village and Ratigan's Pub by the main square.

The Forest area features an abandoned castle at the base of a mountain that the Villains have taken over. A boat ride initially starts calm but then becomes a fast paced coaster as we try to escape Chernabog who lives at the top of the mountain.



Last is Tomorrowland, which is fairly traditional.



From the Hub, the path leads to the main plaza, with the Rocket Jets raised at the center and the Peoplemover running along the edges. The plaza is raised on the second level of the land with an organic vegetated landscape below. On the edges of the plaza is a large theater space with futuristic themed shows, Space Mountain, a robotics restaurant, and a Time Machine themed theater show. Straight behind the Rocket Jets and the Plaza is the main attraction inspired by Horizons. Starting in a domed theater preshow, the attraction takes us into the possibilities of the future.

Off the plaza and along the path to the north, there is also a restaurant and a Big Hero 6 dark ride. Across the path is the transportation hub, which includes the train station and a new electric form of the Autopia that winds its way through the trees and along the lower level under the plaza.



Other notes:

The parade route goes from the gate in Shadowlands, down to the hub, around the lagoon, then up through Frontierland and towards Adventureland, and ending at the gate between Adventureland and Fantasyland.

The park could have a standard night time fireworks/projections/fountains show at the hub. There's plenty of place for fountains in this version, so the show could be heavy on that effect. Something like World of Color in the central lagoon plus castle projections and low level fireworks. I tried to give plenty of viewing space in the center of the park, so hopefully it would be realistic.

There is so much more detail and thoughts in the forum post that I linked above, including detail about most of the attractions, so go read that if you are interested. It's long, but adds more to this design.



I am really happy with this plan and think there's some great ideas in it from everyone at WDWMagic. So thanks to them for the good ideas, and thanks for reading!

Let me know what you like and what you think about this somewhat different Magic Kingdom style park!

Also, I am thinking about returning to the Walt Disney World parks for some posts in the near future now that we have heard about all the additions coming soon. I am thinking about doing realistic 50th anniversary parks plus my idealized versions of the parks that include all the new stuff coming. Let me know if that is something you want to see!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Theme Parks as Art and How They Change

So odds are good you are aware of the news from this week.

Well specifically the Pirates of the Caribbean news. In Paris, California, and Florida, the classic Auction scene in Pirates of the Caribbean will be replaced with a new scene that turns the situation around and makes the Redhead a Pirate, leading a new auction of loot.

If you are in any way involved with an online Disney community, and since you are here, you likely are, then you have seen the complicated and passionate reactions. Twitter has exploded in debate, taking both sides. The Disney Parks Blog comment section is quite frustrated. And I don't even dare check the thread on the WDWMagic Forums. That's probably not a fun place right now.

There's a lot to talk about in relation to this. Why the change now? Is the new scene as good? What about all the changes Pirates has already endured over the years? Is this ruining a great attraction? Why should Pirates be politically correct? What will they change next?

I am going to talk about none of those.



I am really only interested in the debate that has come up about Theme Parks as an Art Form and what the rules are about changing that Art.

I was going to just comment on this news with some tweets, but I realized I had more to say after reading a really good blog post about this at Disney Tourist Blog. In his commentary about this news, he talks about how art doesn't change and should be "confronted on the terms of its day". I left a comment there, which I then felt I wanted to expand on, and that leads to where we are now.

The below might be a little rambly, because I am trying to assemble a complicated set of ideas into an overall argument, but it makes the point I want to share. Overall, I try to identify the characteristics of Theme Parks that make them an art for and then present my personal opinion about how that Art Form can change.



Are Theme Parks Art?

Well simple answer is yes, of course it is. Its a designed creation that is enjoyed by patrons, inspires emotional and mental reactions, and can be interpreted by the observer to understand its meaning. 

But what kind of art is the more complex question. I've seen many comparisons to paintings and movies so far. But to me, that is a too simplistic view.

Though so many of the traditional Theme Park design metaphors are based on filmmaking, there's just as much a case for theme parks relating to theater. Both in the design and how the two art forms are meant to be experienced.

A painting or a movie may be really intended to be experienced in a specific setting with a specific audience, but it can be observed as a primary document anywhere, anytime, with anyone. You can see a picture of the art or a copy of the film, and it really is the same thing however you experience it. Yes, real fine art vs a picture is different in how you can appreciate it, but the form of experience doesn't change. 

But with theater, and Theme Parks, the experience of the art has to take place in the moment, at the particular location, in the world that the artists intends. Its a live medium. Any other way you appreciate it - pictures, videos, recordings - are secondary sources of the art. A reduction in both quality and experience. This also explains why Theme Parks are so special for so many of us, regardless of how many times we've been or how many videos we've seen. The personal moment of experience is by far the most rewarding way to experience a theme park. You just have to be there.

To an extent, the metaphor also means that the effect the creation has on you is the art and the element to be appreciated, not the actual physical characteristics of the production. I don't think this is quite true for Theme Parks, because we can definitely appreciate the production design, architecture, and visual design as an art. But the effect the story has on us is just as important. 

This theater metaphor works for me to begin describing the art of parks. Really Theme Parks are their own completely unique art form but this is a good enough jumping off point. The main difference in my view is the interactive nature of the parks, but really some forms of theater do that as well. So its a solid comparison in my view. A Theme Park is like a perpetual work of theater, with the same physical elements creating a new production for new guests every day. 


Can Art Change?

This is more complicated. I've seen many jump quickly to saying that no, art is permanent and should never change. Comparisons are often made to paintings being changed or a movie being re-edited, which shouldn't really happen. I definitely agree there. However theater changes a lot and it is completely accepted. If were going with theater as the closest Theme Park analogue, then let's talk about that. 

The core elements of theater is the story and the meaning that the story is intended to convey. Originally, a production is created with an assemblage of design elements to create this meaning. These designed pieces, all themselves works of art, are put together to be understood by the cultural context of the audience for that production so that the story and meaning come through clearly.

But productions do not run forever, they close and maybe eventually are revived. It's still the same story and the same meaning, but as it is revived and readapted over the years, basically everything else is subject to change. Sets, costumes, casting decisions, even the music and order of songs and script. These changes are made to translate the original design into how the new audience understands the meaning. Or even to add new dimensions to the the process by which the audience interprets the work. Things change so that the story has the same impact for the new audience.


So if this is acceptable for theater, is it acceptable for theme parks?

My theater examples are extreme. You shouldn't redesign all the sets of a ride just because styles have changed. But at the same time, if there is an element in a ride that no longer speaks to the guest in the same way and therefore hurts the understanding of the overall meaning of the story, why not fix it. It makes a better guest experience. 

So my answer is that your shouldn't change the art of a theme park just to change it, but when change is needed to preserve the overall artistic expression of the story. The bigger art concept is more important than the elements that get you there.

Funny enough, Joe Rhode posted something about this on instagram just this week. He says that the boomboxes in the queue of Kali River Rapids were intended to show that the residents were living contemporary lives with real technology. Now it says the opposite, so they really should be replaced eventually to maintain the original concept. Even though that's a small example, that is how I feel about changing the art of Theme Parks. Do it when necessary to better the guest experience.

And the guest experience that needs to be prioritized is obviously the in person experience, not the secondary reproduction of the experience that shows up in pictures or videos or books. It's only about what you experience in the moment, not what you think you should see or what you've seen before. The normal guest does not experience an attraction with the full contextual knowledge of the attraction's history or a detailed description of how they are supposed to feel about something. Its just about what they see in the moment and what that means to them. The history element is more impactful on the secondary form of the experience, plus those of us who do know everything and ride knowing the background information.

Overall, change to theme parks attractions is going to happen because the world around us changes as well. Culture changes, norms change, and generally what guests want to see changes.

Really this has been happening for years and years, but this is the largest and most high profile case, leading to this debate. Flight to the Moon was changed to Mission to Mars because advances in the space program meant that guests no longer could understand the futuristic concept. Carousel of Progress updated its last scene for the same reason. And somewhat similarly, the original Fantasyland dark rides were all changed so that guests better understood their stories. All case where change improved the guest experience.



I want to say though that this is not me falling into the all change is good group. Definitely not. Changes made with good intentions to better the guest experience can significantly hurt the themed design concept, which as a designer, I obviously believe is crucial. Changes for the guests sake can fundamentally change the overall artistic concept, which is against everything I wrote above.

Getting specific, the rumors of what would happen to EPCOT, which maybe making guests happier quickly because of more IPs, would change the whole artistic concept of EPCOT.

Changing tower to Guardians changes the artistic concept of Hollywood Land.

But personally, changing the Auction scene does not change the concept of Pirates of Caribbean. So that's why I can accept it.



Finally, even though I said I would not talk about the specifics of this situation, some comments.

I'm not entirely sure that the change had to be made, but I am not opposed to the change because of what I said above. It's not something that exactly bothered me in the past, but I understand how it could bother others. It's still Pirates of the Caribbean to me.

Yes, its a little unfortunate that its such a recognizable scene is pretty much the most classic and historic attraction in the parks. Nostalgia is a powerful reason to be frustrated about this change and I understand it. But the parks are not stagnant representations of history like I discusses above.

The main argument though for keeping it is that the Pirates are supposed to be bad people and you are supposed to understand that in the attraction. The Auction scene is supposed to be just another example of their faults. The issue with this is that, even if this was the original intent, that's really not obvious now. We've had 5 movies now that show the Pirate life and make them the heroes of the story, guests can learn to be a pirate hourly outside the attraction, the entire gift shop sells Pirate accessories, and the general Pirate concept has been glorified throughout the parks and resorts.

Guests don't come out of that attraction wanting to be the soldiers in the fort or the noble townspeople. We all want to be Pirates. Pirates who do bad things. So in my view, this is just removing the most problematic of the bad things and leaving intact the more culturally acceptable vices and the ones that are most closely aligned with what we imagine as the Pirates life.

I look forward to seeing what the replacement scene ends up being and continuing to enjoy the classic attraction.



I know you may have a different opinion. Maybe you see all of this completely differently. If you have a different idea of the Art Theory Concept or how attractions should change, leave a comment below and lets discuss. 

Thanks for reading. Back with a design post soon.




Sunday, June 11, 2017

Beastly Kingdom

Every time I have asked for suggestions on what to work on for future posts, I inevitably get the suggestion from multiple readers for Beastly Kingdom.

I always have said that I am putting it on the list, and I'll get to it when some inspiration comes to me. The truth is that I wasn't all that sure if I would ever really get to it because I was hesitant to make an attempt at something so iconic and frankly I wasn't sure how to do it and not seem like I was just copying the original design. I didn't have the mental strategy for how to design my own Beastly Kingdom instead of just redesigning the unbuilt plans. That was always a much less interesting challenge for me, so I wasn't sure how or if I would ever get to it.

But recently, I decided that this would be a good time for it now that Pandora is open, so I sat down to really think about what I wanted out of this land to see if I could make progress.

And, as you can see by this post, I figured something out. The key for me was when I thought about the hypothetical lands relationship to the core values of Animal Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom may be essentially a park about animals, but the deeper message is one of conservation by way of animals. This is emphasized in all the original lands and even more in Pandora, where they could have gone in a completely different direction but doubled down on what makes Animal Kingdom. That was something I knew I needed to do here as well.

So now I faced the question of how to make mythical creatures fit the idea of conservation. Its not a clear solution at first, but when looking at lists of mythical creatures, I realized there was a path by what animals I included. I decided to exclusively focus on mythical animals that were thought to be real but were actually based on misunderstandings of real animals. That way, the land can tie into how we understand and mythologize the animals we have, and how the animals we fail to protect become a part of legend.

That list of legendary creatures helped me figure out a design strategy that made sense to me, and the land quickly came together. Ironically, its still a little similar to the original design, but I reached that point by way of my own process, so I see that as ok, and maybe a sign that the original would have followed a similar concept.



The land developed into two halves, though not the light vs dark concept of the original, but a geographic split between Medieval Europe and Ancient Greece, two of the common mythical settings.

Some thoughts about the attraction mix before I start. Because of the huge variety of subjects I could use, I wanted to do multiple attractions for each area. I also wanted to include an animal trail to complement the existing ones in other lands. I don't know if they would still build new animal trails now, but I like them and wanted to try to make them work. And I also wanted to try to include an IP in the same way as Lion King in Africa: in theme and with realistic detail on the outside, and true to the IP on the inside. And most of all, I wanted to make sure I didn't just do exactly what the original plan had.





The land begins with the bridge crossing the river, the existing dragon rocks to the right, foreshadowing whats coming. Through the trees, we can see a medieval castle straight ahead, up on a rocky base. We walk along a raised stone pathway through the forest, and if we look down, there is a moat of crocodiles below to the left. As we come closer to the castle though, we notice that is it not intact. Sections are crumbling and burnt away and constantly smoking, and most startlingly, there is an occasional small blast of flame and smoke coming out of an upper cave opening below the castle. The stone castle walls continue beyond, built up into the mountain side, which grows to be a small range in the distance. This is the central icon of the land and the main element of the medieval area, which has the bulk of the attractions.

First, just after crossing the main bridge, on the right is the entrance to the animal trail. The path slopes down and runs along the river, down to a lower level below the main path. The idea for the animals in this trail is to focus on animals that were either once thought to be a myth, animals that were the inspiration for mythical creatures, or animals that are just bizarre. Each exhibit includes educational information about the history of the animal and its mythical relationship plus conservation information. First is a Reptile house, themed as a stone lodge in the forest, which has a collection of odd snakes and reptiles. Next is a small habitat for the Platypus, which was thought to be a myth for many years. Following that is a large pool for a small group of Manatees, the original mermaids, which spills over into the river beyond. The adjacent stone building is used for animal care for the Manatees. The path then leads under the main walkway of the land and finds the pool of Crocodiles, a possible dragon inspiration. Next is a small grove of Okapi, another once mythical real animal. Finally, there is a habitat for Komodo Dragons along the rocky cliff side by the castle. The path leads out at the base of the castle after passing through the dragons cave.

The entrance to the main ride of the land is also just next to this, and enters into the north side of the castle mountain. The queue leads through the dungeons and caves of the destroyed castle and leads to a castle dock where we board large boats for a trip through the forest and caves. This is the same system as Pirates in Shanghai. The large and long ride takes us through a dark and mysterious but magical forest, passing unicorns (inspired by rhinoceros horns), centaurs (based on horses), and griffins (inspired by dinosaur bones), and eventually leading back into the castle caves where we meet the huge dragon who has destroyed and then taken over the castle. This would be a large figure that would shoot flames at us for daring to approach it, sending us back over a waterfall drop and the conclusion of the ride.

The ride exits on the south side of the castle, where there is also an entrance to an interior counter service restaurant, set in the burnt away great hall of the castle. Logically, this should serve grilled and roasted meats, right?

Next to the castle is a second walking trail attraction, but without real animals. This would be pretty similar to the unicorn trail from the original plan, just not as a maze. The idea is a exploration area where guests can learn about and find some real mythical creatures. The path includes a look into the show building forest, a close up encounter with a unicorn that you can greet and touch, a herd of centaurs in a clearing, and a finale exploration of the cave of a pair of griffins.

The next area and attraction is a bit of a transition between the two stylistic areas. From the path by the castle and the bridge over the lagoon, guests attention is drawn to a focal waterfall along he opposite side of the water. In front of this waterfall is an occasional eruption of splashes and bubbles, as if something large is swimming just underneath. The entrance to the attraction is just by the castle, by a small boathouse, and leads down to the waters edge and behind the waterfall. The attraction inside is a dry for wet suspended dark ride through the world of the sea, just like the attraction at Tokyo Disney Sea. Guests board primitive submersible vehicles, made of wood and leather, and journey underwater, passing mermaids (based on manatees), a fleet of hippocampuses (literally seahorses), many other exotic plants and fish, and finally the kraken (based on the giant squid). The ride exits on the Greek side of the lagoon.

The Ancient Greece area is smaller and has two attractions. Standing at the base of the castle and looking west, the most visible thing is two large stone feet, ruins of a an even larger statue that has fallen away. Behind is a low range of rock, water flowing down to a small pool that feeds into the main lagoon and river. But more iconically, right behind is the huge head of the statue, crashed into the stone. This is the home of Philoctetes, the trainer of Hercules, and the entrance to a Hercules dark ride. Like I said, the exterior and queue is fully real and in theme to this mythic world while the actual attraction has the more lighthearted cartoon style. This would be a classic dark ride through the trials of the hero, narrated by the Muses, and focusing on his interactions with mythical creatures, such as Pegasus, Phil, and the Hydra.

The rest of the area holds one final original attraction. This is a coaster on the scale of Big Thunder Mountain that explores a mountain inhabited by a cyclops group (which were inspired by dwarf elephant skulls). Very loosely based on the story of the Greek Hero Odysseus and his encounter with a cyclops, the coaster winds through the Greek hills before first encountering and then escaping from the huge creature. After an interior portion where this happens, the cars are launched straight out of the cave towards the river beyond and then wind their way back through the rockwork.

Beyond the attraction, along the river, is a large Greek boat, docked along the path. Also nearby is a Greek ruins shack that is a snack and drink location.

As for retail overall in the land, the main location is at the exit of the castle ride, plus a very small area in the caves of the underwater attraction and fully themed retail carts outside of the exits for Hercules and the Cyclops coaster.



The land would be able to transform a bit at night, focusing on the ruined castle. At night, by way of special lighting and other effects, it could be permanently ignited, glowing from the remaining embers of the fire created by the dragon inside. The water effects in the lagoon could also be joined by a variety of moving light sources under the water, showing creatures moving about.



This version of Beastly Kingdom is definitely different that what we know of the original, but I hope it has the same spirit and style plus a compatible tone with the rest of the park. After a year of not thinking I would be able to make something that I was happy with, this quite suddenly came to being and I think it is a success. 

That's not to say that what we got instead isn't also great for the park. Can't wait to see Pandora as it looks incredible and appears to fit in the park so well. So either way, I think Animal Kingdom is doing all right. 

So. Let me know your thoughts about Beastly Kingdom, this version and the original. What attractions from the original do you still wish I had included? Leave a comment and lets discuss what could have been great about the original, what you like about this concept, and even your thoughts about the land we got instead.