We know, we haven’t said much about the new Test Track aside from a few tweets. We’re working on a fairly in-depth report comparing the old, the new, and even Radiator Springs Racers as a comparison point. We’re at Disneyland this weekend to accomplish that goal.No worries, you’ll get our full report soon. Until then, here’s the GM and WDI people talking about the design of the new attraction:
Just a quick note on the ever popular topic of Test Track’s closure: while the guest calendar is shrinking the length of the refurbishment to a mere month in June (and pretty much everyone is certain this wrong and someone’s big dumb mistake) the internal calendars given to operations is listing the pavilion as under renovation until the end of November.
That means that the original projections and estimates of having Test Track reopened by Epcot’s 30th anniversary seem to be a mere hopeful thought of the past. Much like the Spaceship Earth renovation that happened around the 25th anniversary, it just doesn’t seem like there’s going to be enough time to finish this project before October 1st.
Perhaps things will go faster than planned though – we’ve heard rumors that a large part of why this project is so hush-hush is that GM’s own design team up in the chilly confines of Warren, MI is keeping things under lock and key (in particular, those new vehicles). A tighter ship than WDI might be able to keep the project on a stricter timeline – but then again, they might simply establish a more realistic timeline from the start.
Disney has updated some of their calendars over at the Disneyland resort and things aren’t looking good for fans of swing dancing on Saturday nights at the Plaza Garden Stage. As of April 30th, the Plaza Gardens Stage will be closed for the transformation into the new Fantasy Faire princess themed area.
If it’s closed and under construction, you obviously can’t dance in the middle of it. Well, we suppose you could try, but it just doesn’t seem terribly feasible. The construction on the project is expected to last through Winter 2013. Here’s a picture of a ridiculous maypole to make you feel slightly better about it – remembering that they’ve tried to put a maypole in nearly every theme park they’ve ever built (Why? We don’t really know.. WDI is weird like that.)
We’ll preface this article by saying it is grouped under our satellite operations – as we’re once again stepping outside the bounds of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow – but Disney has announced that Disney’s California Adventure will debut Carsland and Buena Vista Street on June 15, 2012.
Along with that announcement, they’ve rolled out a bunch of fun media to promote the “Grand Re-Opening” of the park set to happen on that day. We’re looking into airfare to be there to cover the events, but like you we’re not invited to the “media day” on the 14th, when the park will be closed to day guests. So we’re just as excited to see all these special bits behind the walls as you are.
Now, the big focus for a lot of people is Carsland and the Radiator Springs Racers attraction, and we’ll get to that in a moment, but really the big step for California Adventure as a park is the Buena Vista Street overhaul. You see, when DCA opened it met a lot of negative publicity for not ‘looking the part’ of a Disney theme park. The entry corridor was a huge homogenous concrete slab that funneled guest past blocky uninspired modern building designs. Lets not forget the atrocious murals either – those blights upon the retinas of the world were crafted as part of a tit-for-tat agreement inside Imagineering. Rather than really searching for the best of the best for the job, as Imagineering claims to do, the project-design-head of the original park entry area along with the lead sculptor at WDI hired in their friends who ran a small custom “mosaic” company.
And we use the term mosaic loosely – typically a mosaic is made from uniform tiles or random pieces of broken tiles and glass. These installations were like giant paint-by-numbers where imagery was decided first and then the couple would craft glass pieces to fit. And no, not small pieces, but if they wanted to depict a whale, by golly they’d craft an entire colored and shaded whale as a single “piece” of the mosaic. Again, we use the term very loosely when referring to these “works of art.”
Cue the announcement that DCA is getting as aesthetic overhauled and suddenly the online community is in an uproar as “good people” from WDI are quickly disposed.. the project-head, the lead sculptor, and the couple who fabricated the murals. It wasn’t hard to see those walls were coming down – and they did, to the delight of many, us included. And now, after many months hiding behind refurbishment walls Buena Vista Street is starting to show itself (note the actual mosaic artistry in the tile work! Tone, color! Nothing ironic nor hip!)
Gone also is the sculptural Sun Icon, commonly referred to as an ugly hub cap, replaced with a loving recreation of the Carthay Circle Theater. To say that DCA 1.0 was a series of artistic blunders is an understatement, but the park really becoming a real place worth visiting and worthy of the Disney name.
Now, we’re not going to give the blanket statement that everything is wonderful in DCA 2.0, there have already been a few missteps – the Little Mermaid ride building is at best “uninspired”, and the Red Car Trolly is a pet project of WDI’s train-geeks costing WAY TOO MUCH – but the overall result is so much better than what the park had before “project sparkle” was initiated.
And the big headliner is of course Radiator Springs Racers. Carsland is getting three attractions, but the big one is of course the zippy ride based on the same technology as Test Track at Epcot. It’s a bit ironic that all these years we’ve accused Test Track of being not-so-futuristic and not fitting with Epcot’s theme, when in reality it turned out to actually be a prototype for future attractions. Who knew?
But Radiator Springs Racers goes beyond what Test Track offered with two tracks and nicely revamped vehicles. Improved sound systems, more comfortable seating, and a much sleeker overall design really makes the ride system shine beyond the boxy “test vehicles” of yore. And the scenery isn’t half bad either – the massive Cadillac Range blocks out the horrors of SoCal (seriously, SoCal is uggo) from the rear of the park to create a more fully realized immersive environment. Again, there are some reservations – the ride it seems will have a top speed well below that of Test Track – and the nearby Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree doesn’t seem like the best use of funds, but overall the land looks like a winning addition.
Now, as always Disney’s gotta tack something onto this whole project. Something that doesn’t fit but is their flavor of the week to promote. We give you, the Mad T Party.
Now, we’ll give Disney credit for at least not hanging onto the Tron themed well beyond its useful life. You see, when Disney launched World of Color they had a distinct lack of capacity in the show’s viewing areas. Thus they had to run three shows a night to accommodate the interested park goers – and along with that, a lack of decent attractions in the park meant the guests waiting for the two later shows had nothing to do. Thus, a nighttime street party full of booze, DJs, and dancers on pedestals was born. The first iteration was passable at best, but then to promote the coming Tron movie it became ElecTRONica and it seemed Disney hit it right out of the park with guest satisfaction surveys.
It just couldn’t go on forever. Tron is now very much something of the past in the minds of most park goers – the movie franchise just doesn’t have real legs – and so we’re transitioning to the Mad T Party. It’s odd, strangely stylized, and no one is really sure how it’s going to be received. In contrast to Tron’s icy blue aesthetic, the Mad T Party seems to be going with neon reds and pinks. It has the ability to look good, but basing the night time spectacle on an overly-hip-and-trendy version of Alice in Wonderful seems to be a step backwards, a step toward the old hip-and-trendy atmosphere that ruined DCA 1.0 – so we shall see.
Regardless, it’ll be an interesting summer out at the Disneyland resort. We’ll hopefully be there, accrued airline miles permitting, and of course if any of our “media” friends wants to sneak us in, we’d quite delighted to join them! Otherwise, we’ll see you in the parks and hopefully be bringing you fresh photo updates shortly after it opens.
If you’ve seen Disney publicity blitz for their new “attraction” then you know Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom officially opens on February 22nd. For the unaware, it’s a game where you run around the park going to “portals” (read: TVs) in the windows of buildings and wave a card at it to cast “spells” against villains.
Most folks who have had a chance to test the experience have passed it off a as relatively mundane but mostly harmless addition to the Magic Kingdom. You just waggle a card at a screen and the story otherwise plays out without any challenge or much reaction to what you do. Yet another thing for the hardcore pin collectors to get into once they’re bored with Duffy outfits and Vinylmation it seems.
Though this tidbit hidden in a recent press release makes one wonder where all the time and money went:
Imagineers spent more than four years creating and perfecting this unique experience, which can be played in 15- to 20-minute segments throughout guests’ visits to the Magic kingdom, or continuously for up to three to four hours. More than 95 minutes of original animation was created for Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom – the equivalent of a full-length animated film.
We’ll point out that the animation is choppy and the gameplay, as lauded in the same press release as being the brainchild of trading card game experts, is at best almost non-existent. There’s no challenge and just stand at a screen holding a card.Even a brain-dead Venus flytrap could finish this game on “Hard” mode with ease. That is, assuming someone was willing to carry it from portal to portal and put a card in it’s jaw.
You don’t even have to try to find the screens – you’re given a map with their exact locations. So it’s not a scavenger hunt and it’s not really a card game with strategy. Four years kids, and this is what WDI cranked out. At least you can collect the 70 cards. 5 per day – 14 visits.. yeah, can you see yourself doing it 14 times? Not to mention it’s supposed to take 15-20 minutes each time and there’s only 95 minutes of animation – you’ll be seeing a lot of the same exact scenes over and over and over again.
Here’s a Woozle for your trouble..
And this is the part where we point out that Heffalumps and Woozles are two different creatures – a detail the folks working on this “attractions” for four years obviously missed. Sadly its one of many such oversights. On a positive note: finding the mistakes is actually more entertaining than the game itself. 4 out of 5 brain-dead Venus flytraps agree.
It’s been a while since anyone has heard much of anything about any progress for Epcot’s Norway pavilion – November 2011, actually, if our archives don’t deceive us.
The Norway pavilion, the last new country added to the World Showcase, has had a long and hard road in attempting to get funding for updates and modernization. The ride itself has always been buggy and never worked as intended and the film at the ride’s exit has been downright outdated and awful for a good decade. It’s to the point where the Norwegians working the pavilion feel quite embarrassed to show the film.
It all got this way due to Epcot’s policy of corporate sponsorships footing the bill for nearly everything in the park with Disney only contributing small sums of cash. The best way to describe it is to say Disney got Epcot for less than the cost of the original DCA due to corporate sponsorship. A consortium of Norwegian businesses and the Norwegian government actually sponsored the pavilion when it first opened – but this was short lived, and though the Norwegian government held out longer than the businesses, they too were gone by the turn of the century. A full history of how that all played out can be found in the Epcot Explorer’s Encyclopedia.
Then in 2011 the unhappiness of Norwegians with their pavilion as it presented – not updated or taken care of for years – really began to make waves. The Norwegian press picked up the story and really began to hammer the message home – the pavilion needed to be updated. According to the press, Disney even agreed. However, there was again the matter of cost.WDI and Norway began to argue over the costs – with Imagineering even refusing to use a publicity film that Norway had already produced.
It seemed the negotiations were going nowhere, but then government representatives in Norway brought the issue of the pavilion’s funding before the parliament. After much deliberation a verdict was rendered.. but while using many words it never really said much at all. The final note was that Disney was demanding $100-150k million to even plan a “pre-project” to even consider updating the pavilion. And there it sat as of November – money was needed and no one wanted to pay for it.
Well, today there’s good news. Wheels are finally turning and things are starting to happen. Aside from the small bevy of permits Disney has recently filed to re-roof, repairs, and gussy up several of the buildings at the Norway pavilion there has been progress behind the scenes. Real live human beings are now working to make “the Norway Pavilion a better and more in-and-on-the-time place” (awkward English phrasing courtesy real-live Norwegians.)
Kevin Yee provided this video from over the weekend showing the Splash Mountain showboat scene at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom park almost entirely inoperable and nonfunctional.
The problem is, this wasn’t a freak occurrence. The ride operated most of the day with the scene in the current state of disrepair and we’ve heard reports that there’s no urgency to fix it anytime soon. “The maitenance staff is waiting for parts” is the standard reply.
The BIGGER problem is that this is not how th Walt Disney World parks and resorts should be operating – even per their own guidelines. No, instead a group of cost-cutting MBA’s has instituted “good enough” show quality standards that allow for scenes like this to be seen all around the resort. It was not always like this – and was far from acceptable conditions to operate an attraction in the recent past.
To explain further, attractions come with guides made by engineering, WDI, and operations that tell the people operating them what is supposed to be working. Since the frontline Cast Members are the most likely to see or hear reports of what exactly is broken at any given time, they are given a list of “if/then” scenarios. This includes what to do if certain show elements break or a series of show elements break.
A show failure such as the showboat scene in Splash Mountain would by any previous measure constitute a “major” failure and be reason to cycle-down the attraction to be closed and await repairs. This explicitly does not mean to emergency stop the attraction and have to go through the risky evacuation process, but rather to stop loading guests, drop the waiting line, and tell everyone to check back later that day. These guidelines were contained, in print, in large binders at the operations consoles and the cast members were expected to know the guidelines and follow them explicitly. They would then report the closure to management and call for maintenance assistance.
And other attractions have done this and did this for years – literally decades. The parks weren’t unable to cope with the loss of capacity and maintenance wasn’t so thinly stretched that this was impossible. It’s still not, but no one wants to pay for expedient repairs. This particular blogger has, in fact, spent entire operational day at an attraction telling guests “Sorry, check back later” because one key animatronic needed one part machined by hand at the shop. The ride could easily be run without the show scene – but look horrible, exactly what Walt Disney World’s operational management is now choosing to do. How recently was this? 2003.
After 2001 and September 11th the Walt Disney World resort went into a reactionary cycle of trying to cut costs to preserve themselves in a sudden downturn of tourism.The problem was that even as the economy got better, the company continued to focus on cost cutting as a means of profit and growth. Epcot even did a dismal experiment where it removed all of its greeter positions at all attractions to try and cut staff costs. This lasted all of 3 days and all of the “laid off” cast was called back to work because of several guest injuries and major show malfunctions and shut down caused by this bone headed mistake. That statement is not speculation or hearsay – it was witnessed in person.
Similarly, in 2003-2004 the use of those binders of guidelines was changed to try and cut the amount of downtime at attractions. It was in part also because the “Operational Guidelines” or OG’s for short, were leaving a paper-trail of what “should” be done every time an attraction breaks down or malfunctions (and disregarding these OG’s were sometimes the cause of guest or cast injuries – the monorail accident for examples: having a CM verify monorail position during reversals was in the OG, despite Disney saying it wasn’t a normal position and one they “added to increase safety” after the accident.)
Instead of the cast member at the operations console making a decision based on the printed guidelines then making phone calls to inform other areas, all closures are now “authorized” by operations management. A cast member can be reprimanded and terminated for shutting down an attraction for serious show failures. Previously such a shut down was encourage to maintain the quality of the guest experience, but now many a pencil-pusher decided “It’s not that bad, and we have a long line, let it go.” Time and time again things are “let go” and they get worse over time. Splash Mountain has had multiple reports of non-functional animatronics and bad show quality from guests riding the attraction. Instead of being able to shut down and await repairs the cast is forced to run the attraction.
An why? To save a few dollars, because management at Walt Disney World really thinks you wont notice. Again, these changes are as recent as 2003-2004, this is not how the Walt Disney World resort was designed to operate and there is printed proof – in those lovely operation guidelines – blatantly contrary to any nonsense the current management of the resort will try to feed you.
This job posting pretty much speaks for itself… we’ll just cut and paste it for your reading enjoyment. Our commentary? “It’s nice to know the person who used to do this.. you know, responsible for things up until now… got fired.”
Stumbled across this quote on the internet, and I think it deserves a broader audience overall. I think it adds some much needed perspective to what some folks have deemed unwarranted “trolling” of the Disney company, and in particular their efforts at the Walt Disney World resort.
What I have been able to witness that most have not had the opportunity to see for themselves is the blatant disrespect toward WDW’s customers and the purposeful cheapening of the product by TDO during the design/build process for projects initiated since 1998. Before that time management cared about the quality of the product. Recently I have seen the exact opposite in most cases. Yes there are a few exceptions but those instances are rare. I’m sure it would be a real eye opener to many on this board to hear some of the comments made by budgeteeers and upper managment during design reviews and scope meetings. Some slightly paraphrased examples off the top of my head: “we don’t need to use more than two or three functions on those animatronics they’ll never know the difference,” and “They have been satisfied so far why do we need to make it any more lavish,” and “what’s the difference what color we use they’ll never no the difference,” and “we have been getting away with the less expensive materials for years now why rock the boat,” and “video will be cheaper and easier and they won’t care,” ad infinitum.
Do you see why every little inch we allow them to take toward the cheap and compromising diminishes the product for years to come? Those that excuse TDO for this behavior are a big part of the problem. Magagement uses the silence of their customer base as a license to continue the dumbing down and reduction of quality standards. There is a marked difference in attitude between TDO and other management teams I have worked with. All projects have limitations but other teams seem to care about the end result in terms of qualtiy. All TDO seems to care about is getting it done under budget whatever it takes. There are times when more global project teams take precedence and TDO doesn’t have as much say.
Many times poor decisions dictated by TDO are a result of ignorance more than puposeful quality reduction. Most of them are not familiar with what it takes to produce a quality Disney attraction because they were hired as interns from some business school or were hired form some other industry. I’ve mentioned before that I had a boss several years back that didn’t even know Walt Disney was a real man.
Other issues that I have touched on previously include the general quality of talent being hired at WDI, the ridiculous governement regulations (something we all deal with directly or indirectly), and the insane quantity of useless managers.
In general there is nothing wrong with being a “fanboi,” after all I consider myself one, but I wish we all would hold Disney to their own standards and stop excusing the company for their status quo mentality.
Taking that into consideration, perhaps those who vehemently oppose any criticism of Disney can take pause. Now might be a good time for them to ask themselves why they keep asking for lower standards? Why do they want and accept less in return for their money spent?
There is a direct cause and effect relationship here.
In 1999 guests at Epcot could visit the Living Seas pavilion and meet DRU – the Dolphin Robotic Unit. Here’s a video form his creator that showcases how it was used in the pavilion for educational shows.
Here’s a excerpt from the blog of one of the WDI folks on the short-lived project:
In the late-90s, Imagineering Research & Development was starting to think about new ways to use technology to present characters in the parks in a natural, realistic way. Audio-Animatronics had been around since the 1960s, and while there had been many advances over the years, they were still restricted to performing in a specific area within an attraction or show.
One of the first projects designed to break the ties of traditional Audio-Animatronics was a dolphin, created in partnership between R&D and a motion picture effects firm and designed to be puppeteered in real time in an aquatic environment.