Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sydney Summer: Disney Animation Studios

Part 2: Theme Park Overviews
Part 3: The Resort Outside the Parks
Part 4: Main Street and Fantasyland
Part 5: Adventureland
Part 6: Discoveryland
Part 7: New York Harbor
Part 8: Hollywood Boulevard

So based on the comments from last week and my opinion, we are going with option 2: a quicker look at the remaining areas with a little bit less content. So for the next 4 weeks, I will have a new post every Tuesday or so.

Today we focus on the northern half of the park: Disney Animation Studios.

Walking from Hollywood Gardens, guests pass through brick pillars on either side, one displaying the Disney Animation logo, the other the Pixar logo. This land equally represents both families of properties in a joined animation focused studio themed land. On the left, the architecture of golden age Hollywood slowly modernizes as it passes the logo pillar and begins to reflect the style of the Disney Animation building in Burbank.

A semicircular covered entry leads into the traditional animation space, which is centered around an interior animation courtyard. The two story atrium is formed of a hemispherical projection dome that holds a fanciful double decker carousel at its center, filled with animated characters. As the carousel spins, the projected environment constantly changes, featuring highlights from classic animated films. Portals from the atrium lead to a gift shop, a small Animator's Academy, a Turtle Talk with Crush theater, a meet and greet facility, and the entrance to a dark ride. These spaces are distributed over the two floors and all look back into the main atrium, adding to the kaleidoscopic kinetics of the space.

The ride is a classic slow moving dark ride through the world of Disney Animation, structured on the basic plot of Mickey's Philharmagic, though more directly tied into the Silly Symphony property. Guests follow Donald and Mickey as they travel through a series of animated world in search of the missing Sorcerer's Hat. The idea is to feature properties not already seen in the resort, so good choices would be Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, etc. This dark ride is also two stories.

The rest of the outdoor land is primarily Pixar, divided into two zones: the fantasy Toy Story Land and the urban Metropolis. The Toy Story Land is hidden behind dense vegetation and trees so as not to intrude on Hollywood Gardens. This was placed here because I needed this vegetation transition from the Garden. Also, I find the general aesthetic of the shrunken down Toy Story Lands very interesting and with alot of potential with the right attraction lineup. This small miniland includes a Slinky Dog spinner, a snack location set in a giant overturned snack box, and a brand new Toy Story dark ride. Like I have discussed before, I think the Toy Story environment would make a great ride if realized physically with animatronic figures and detailed sets in combination with digital effects. We enter into a opened toy box and board toy cars built of oversized Tinker Toys for a trip through the world of the toys. We travel through their outdoor camp before eventually making it into Andy's room.

The urban area of the land includes two more properties. Anchored by Carl's house, which is exploreable, is the Wilderness Explorer's Adventure Center. The building mixes rustic wood detailing with the modern brick building style of the area. Inside is a large two floor counter service location that serves world adventure inspired foods. The building also holds the entrance to Russel and Doug's Balloon Adventure, which is a Circumotion attraction from Falcons Treehouse. The attraction is a circular motion base theater inside of a large hemispherical projection dome. It is basically a full theater simulator in a fully immersive 3D digital projection space. Here, Russel guides us on a balloon adventure that includes more turbulence and adventure than expected.

The last major attraction of the land is The Incredibles Adventure, an LPS dark ride that follows the super family on a night out fighting crime. I have more fully developed the version of this attraction that is in my Hollywood Studios plan, and I will be showing you that soon. The ride sets us up as heroes in training to the family and we have been invited out on our first night of observation in specially designed Incredi-cars. We meet Mr. and Mrs. Incredible in animatronic form first, who brief us about our mission. Then we head out to the dark streets to save the world. Along the way, we encounter either the Underminer or Bomb Voyage in two alternate scenes, a massive building on fire, and an unexpected return of the Omnidroid, who threatens the entire city. We must team up the whole family to take down the full sized Omnidroid and save Metropolis.

Across the street is a small gazebo used for rotating meet and greets through the day. The entertainment for the land includes the characters and a small brass band that plays the iconic music from animated films.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sydney Summer: Hollywood Boulevard

Part 2: Theme Park Overviews
Part 3: The Resort Outside the Parks
Part 4: Main Street and Fantasyland
Part 5: Adventureland
Part 6: Discoveryland
Part 7: New York Harbor

Today, we look at the second park of the resort: Disney's Hollywood Adventure (aka what Hollywood Studios will probably become in the coming years.) Our walk through begins as we walk through the tunnel from the main Disney District area. This will cover the small entry land of the park. 

We emerge from the large tunnel pathway into a different time and place, right in the middle of the golden age of Hollywood. The streamline modern  buildings flanking the tunnel hold the guest relations spaces. The very sleek and minimal entry turnstile ahead reveal a direct view through the park and into the first land, Hollywood Boulevard.

Just inside is the Crossroads of the World, just like in DHS. Because of the dimensions of the available land, there is not really an entry street like nearly all other parks. It is minimized and flattened into a facade on either side of a 40' wide street. This street is only about 60' long and then opens up to Hollywood Gardens, the Hub of the park. These two buildings hold all the entry retail and food of the park, so they utilize both floors for public space. The north building holds retail, a counter service location on the ground floor, and a table service location on the top floor. The south building holds retail and a bar on the top floor as well as a theater based attraction.

The architecture here is an idealized take on golden age Hollywood so is a mix of sleek mid century modern, Spanish Mission revival, and beautiful Art Deco. Like Main Street in the other park, it is meant to be highly detailed and lived in, though here the facades reflect that the public space extends to the second floor. Windows show guest movement on both floors to explain the scale of the public space.

The ground floor counter service location, Hollywood and Vine, is themed as an modern lunch counter where the guests may be able to mingle with the stars of cinema. It is an extremely large location and serves a selection of American classics. The upstairs Brown Derby is an upscale luxury dining room for the elite of Hollywood. It is also oversized because it is one of only two sit down locations in the park. It also has the best views of the night time show, so would be popular for dinner and extra price events. Each have a separate kitchen because of their scale. The Overlook Bar on the other building is a secret hangout of the Hollywood insiders, so also has a great view of Hollywood Gardens and the show.

The tree lined street of Hollywood Gardens is beyond these facades. Planters are on either side of the road but tall Hollywood palm trees are only on the outer ring to not block views. In the gardens are statues of Disney and Hollywood icons. The center of the garden is a pool in front of the Chinese Theater with a central raised stage. Stairs and ramps on the sides lead up to the stage, which is accessible to guests during the day. Recessed lighting towers are on either side, hidden below ornamental statues.Inside the Chinese Theater is Cinemagic, based on the version in Paris. However, the film is made of multiple sections that can be changed so that several versions of the show can be shown each day. Repeatability is a big goal of every attraction in this park, so this strategy is going to be used multiple times.

The other attraction of the land, in the south building, is a live production stage where guests can participate in an interactive recording of a Hollywood production. It features a few segments, including the Foley recording of radio drama, a light comedy TV show scene, and a high action Hollywood finale. Again, scenes are partially randomized through the day so guests can participate in a variety of situations.

The street through the Garden connects all of the lands. Disney Animation Studios is to the north and Marvel City and Star Wars Spaceport are to the south. Each of these three lands will get another post.

The entertainment of the land is obviously Streetmosphere characters like DHS. Likely the most successful attempt at integrating entertainment into placemaking, this is an obvious choice for the park. The land also holds the night time show based on the stage in front of the Chinese Theater. To the south of the Theater is storage and dressing rooms for the show.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Walt Disney Family Museum and More!

For the break week between Sydney Summer posts, I decided to give you a little bonus post review of my travels last week to the Walt Disney Family Museum and more. 

Between the summer and fall semesters of my thesis, I took a trip to San Diego for a school conference and expanded my trip up to San Francisco to go to the Museum. (No trip to Disneyland this time, but probably going back later in the year.) Though the Museum was the main theme park draw for the trip, I discovered a few other things I wanted to mention that pertain to theme park design in some way.

First: Balboa Park in San Diego. Balboa Park is an extremely large cultural park near downtown that was the site of the 1915-16 Panama California Exposition and 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition. Like other World's Fair grounds, it left an impressive environment of architectural and cultural landmarks. San Diego took advantage of this by bringing a dozen or more public museums into the park to fill the existing architecture. Today, it is one of the more popular areas of the city for locals and tourists alike and it was packed with families on a late Sunday afternoon. 

As soon as I discovered the World's Fair history of the park, I knew this would be a great park to visit, even just for the beautiful Spanish Colonial architecture. Once there, I was shocked at how complete and enveloping the themed environment was. It really felt like more than just a group of museums. After walking around for a few minutes, I began to think of this as a cultural theme park and started to find some comparisons. 

It had a theme as defined by the architectural design, in this case a grand Spanish Colonial park.

It had clear circulation and even had a "weenie" icon anchoring one side of the dominant linear pathway. 

It had defined "attractions", as in the museums and gardens. 

It had entertainment and what you could even consider "characters".

And most importantly it was full of activity and felt alive. 

This was a theme park. One that was free and filled with museums, but still a highly designed place for relaxation and entertainment. 

This just makes it clearer to me how close the relationship is between World's Fairs and theme parks in the sense that they share common urban planning philosophies. 

Not all theme parks are like this, but some areas, like EPCOT and some lands of Disneyland style parks, feel just like a World's Fair. There is an overarching thematic structure that self acknowledges that its is an artificial collection of attractions and exhibits. It isn't pretending to be an organically real place, like Adventureland for example. It's almost like the World's Fair design model balances the fakeness of its organization with the thematic realness of the contents. And I think it makes a super successful themed environment.

I find this super interesting and hope I can look into this more later. I would love to get to some more former World's Fair grounds soon. 

Next: Musee Mechanique in San Francisco, near Fisherman's Wharf. This is a free museum/arcade full of antique arcade machines and musical instruments. I definitely stumbled upon this late one evening and am so glad that I did. This place was filled with old games and mechanical dioramas that I can only image are like those that inspired early Disney attractions and figures. 

What amazed me about visiting was how simple the arcade machines were but how popular they were with all ages. While there, there were equal numbers of kids playing games or the first time and adults reminiscing about games of the past. Nothing digital, no complicated interactive systems, just simple mechanics that created compelling and interesting games that everyone wanted to play. Good reminder for theme park design that it doesn't always have to be complicated. Sometimes simple is just as popular and successful. Plus maybe antique arcades could still be successful in a modern park. 

Last: the Walt Disney Family Museum, the reason for the trip up to San Francisco. Located in the Presidio area of the city, the Museum is currently featuring an exhibit called Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination along with the standard galleries on the history of Walt's life. I spent about 4 hours there and could have spent a whole day. I'll just share some highlights and general thoughts. 

First, the Disney and Dali exhibit was fantastic. Unfortunately no pictures inside. It was structured as a timeline through both of their lives, comparing their childhoods and early careers and tracking the moments their careers intersect. 

I found most interesting the discussion about how their childhood homes influenced their later work. There was a great video with shots of Walt in Marceline and it was very clear that Disneyland as a whole is just an expansion of his childhood memories of home. Shots of him walking through town or along a creek on his farm could easily be mistaken for Disneyland. Really interesting how the origin of Disneyland is so directly tied to the experiences of a single place and single time yet now have become a universal statement of Americana. 

Then to the main gallery where pictures were allowed. It was an overwhelmingly complete look at the life of Walt Disney, filled with more artifacts and information than I imagined. It went step by step from his childhood, to his beginnings in animation and move to Hollywood, through to the start of what we now know as the Disney Company. There was a lot of focus on the parts of his life that modern Disney ignores, like his Laugh-o-Gram cartoons and Alice live action shorts. In fact, Snow White wasn't until halfway through the Museum. This was really interesting to me, because I really didn't know how important his career was before Disney Studios. Being younger and indoctrinated directly by the modern Disney, a lot of this was new information for me. I really understand the point of the Museum now.

Here's some highlights through this section. 

Cases of dozens of awards that Walt won

Original sketch of Oswalt

The first known sketch of Mickey

Case of Walt's miniature collection

I am primarily a parks fan, so I was most looking forward to the last room that featured Disneyland. The highlight here was the large model of an idealized Disneyland. As you can see, it does not represent the park as it ever was or will be but is instead a compilation of the history and unrealized plans for the park. Its a stunning piece of art that I stayed at much too long. Highlight of the Museum. 

The Walt Disney Family Museum was definitely worth the trip as it is a comprehensive look at the reality of the whole career of Walt Disney. As a parks fan, I just wish it was bigger so as to showcase more of his impact on themed design. I still stand by my blue sky idea that the Carousel of Progress should be moved here when it inevitably is evicted. Add a new wing with the CoP shows scenes, exhibit space on the World's Fair and EPCOT, and a presentation of his legacy to theme parks, and I would be really happy. But even now, the Museum is pretty perfect and worth a visit!

The plan is to start again on Sydney Summer next Tuesday, now looking at the Hollywood Adventure park! Thanks for reading along.