May 11, 2014

Unusual Screens: Disney Imagineers are always hard at work . . .

Unusual Screens

by Katie Leary

Disney Imagineers are always hard at work developing new ways to entertain us. During my spring break visit to Disney World in Florida I took note of the many ways Disney manipulates moving images to create unique viewing experiences. There were two "screenings" in particular  that are worth thinking about further.

Within Epcot Attractions, Soarin' is a ride that originated in the west coast park Disney California Adventure.  Taking up the language of the movie theater, the movie is a montage of the diverse landscapes of California presented in IMAX format.  The auditorium shape and seating diverges drastically from a traditional movie theater. The seating is neither the familiar stadium nor standard theater seating.  Viewers are strapped into rows of  seats that hang from an apparatus which lifts audiences to the center of a domed/ convex screen.  As the moving image plays, the theater adapts to emphasize it. The seats tilt, cool air blows, and scents of oranges are pumped in.

In this example, the physical theater is an integral part of the experience of the movie. I have seen other IMAX films before, both the science museum programs and Hollywood blockbusters. I can easily conceive of watching these films in other formats, such as home viewing or academic screenings, without a great loss to the experience. However, if the moving image aspect of Soarin' were removed from the ride, it would be changed completely. Thinking about Soarin' has reminded me how important the space of viewing is important to the experience of reception.

The second example of unique screening tactics is the pre-fireworks moving image projection on Cinderella Castle, a production an announcer's voice says is entitled Celebrate the Magic. I have seen a variation of this technology during an earlier visit, but the most recent incarnation was particularly fascinating. Instead of a flat (or at minimum smooth screen), the 'screen' is a 3-dimensional building.

A sequence of vignettes related to Disney properties (characters, movies, stories) are projected. There is a main projection on the façade of the building, and there are two additional, but slightly truncated, projections centered on the corners of the building. Viewers standing anywhere in the front of the park can experience the show. At times the projections highlight the existing architecture, which is then manipulated based on the actions of the characters on screen. For example, Wreck-It Ralph breaks off castle bricks like an old-school video game. The experience is truly magical.

Here's one spectator's ten-minute home video recording of it:

"Disney Magic Kingdom NEW!! Lights Castle Show 2013 Cindirella [sic] Castle," ("Film by Josh"), posted Jan. 20, 2013, by Mr121brian121,

Why bring these up in relation to curating? While I was enjoying spring break in the sun, I found myself thinking about how these experiences can be archived. Can they be curated in the future? These are extreme examples, but it really makes me think about how can we, as curators, ever recreate an experience. Further, with advances in technology including integration of moving images into other forms of public experience, what new challenges will curators be facing?

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