Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cracking the Case of Shanghai Disney

Happy New Year!  First a Contest Update:  Thanks to those of you who entered the contest.  Upon first glance, all the ideas showed a lot of originality, and I'm excited to look at them in more detail over the coming days.  In about ten days, I will begin to share the results (haven't decided to begin with the winner or runners-up).  I will let the winner know beforehand.  But for now...

Cracking the Case of Shanghai Disney
By S.W. Wilson

Like many of you, I have been paying close attention to the development process of Shanghai Disney for several years.  It’s been both an exciting & frustrating project to follow.  Exciting because the (i) budget involved ($3.7 billion for the park and $0.7 billion for the facilities), (ii) early inside word and (iii) official concept art are all pointing to what will be a high-quality & unique take on the Magic Kingdom model.  And frustrating because it is going to take three or four more years to complete, and Disney has been reticent about revealing juicy details regarding the park.  After becoming impatient for the fog surrounding the park’s design to lift on its own, I went about uncovering the details myself.  

The Five Corroborating Clues:
Five visual clues have been released by Disney since last April.  When “layered” and analyzed, these pieces of media allowed me to draw a fairly accurate version of current Resort plan.  They are:
1.    Property Map.  This gives us the basic outline of the resort.  It matches the Massing Model very closely.
2.    Castle Video. The castle video shows a CG fly-around of the park centerpiece.  But what is of more interest to me is what’s visible in the background of the video… quite a bit of Fantasyland & Fantasy Gardens.
3.    Computer Model. A glimpse of this was shown during Tom Staggs’ D23 presentation.  It is a key piece that shows a detailed, three dimensional view of the center of the park.  It matches the Massing Model & Key Art.
4.    Key Art. This is the digital conceptual painting that shows a birds-eye version of the park.  It follows the other media closely, but not exactly (Tomorrowland seems different).
5.    Massing Model. This model, displayed at D23, was the most important piece in the process.  At first glance, it shows nothing but little green trees and wooden blocks representing vertical structures.  But what is important is that below these blocks & trees is the detailed site plan for the current iteration of Shanghai Disney.  If you look at hi-res pics of the model, particularly those from an elevated angle, this becomes clear.  I squinted at many, many pics of this model from all the various angles.  And, yes, my brain/eyes hurt after doing so.

Then there was the need for non-visual clues.  These came in three forms:
1.    Official information out of the mouths of Disney imagineers (e.g., 'There will be a Fantasyland riverboat ride that travels around FL & under the castle', or 'Pirates of the Caribbean will be present').
2.    Rumors/hints by trustworthy online sources + visual confirmation. (e.g., word on the net was that the Seven Dwarfs Coaster would be in Shanghai, and, sure enough, in the Computer Model, you can see it).
3.    Common-sense inferences based on visuals (e.g. There are clearly circular thatched huts(African village) in Adventureland and it is about the right size for a dining venue.).

So armed with all of these clues, I began to lay out the resort. 

DISCLOSURE: We know park plans can and do change & evolve.  My drawing - a rough interpretation based upon the previously-discussed sources - meant for fun & discussion.  But, unlike most of my site plans, this is not a work of fiction.  It is a 2-D translation of the 3-D massing model, and the rough placement of vertical structures & paths is fairly accurate.    The actual content (what kinds of attractions those structures contain), on the other hand, is more based on informed guesswork (with a few bits officially confirmed).  Still, as far as the physical layout of the resort is concerned, what follows may be the closest thing to a park map (of the current iteration of Shanghai) any of us outside WDI will ever see:

After disembarking the subway at the subterranean Metro Station, visitors take an escalator to the surface.  On the left is the Downtown Disney retail & dining area.  On the right is the Lake with the deluxe resort hotel sitting on the far bank.  Walking forward, visitors reach the central Resort Plaza area, and making a 90 degree turn to their left, face the large fountain and the ticket booths.  In the distance, beyond a lot of greenery, are the spires of Storybook Castle.

HOTELS: Two hotels will open with the park.  The deluxe hotel is lakeside and shown in my drawing.   It is connected to the Plaza by a curving promenade path (encircling the lake).  The layout of the Hotel does not suggest the “Mictorian” style of the flagship hotels of Paris, Hong Kong & Tokyo.  It has the rambling layout associated with WDW's Boardwalk Inn or Animal Kingdom Lodge or TDS' MiraCosta.  South Seas, American Coastal or Historical Chinese would all seem like possible themes for this hotel.   There is a large plot directly adjacent to the park & Adventureland which will likely house a future deluxe hotel.  The value resort is not shown (to the northwest of the parking lot), but its boxy layout suggests something like HK’s Hollywood Hotel or even the Art of Animation motel now being built in Orlando.

ENTERING THE PARK.  The opening land’s thematic style is still somewhat of a mystery.  It’s been stated officially that the park will not have a Victorian Main Street, U.S.A., however there is something akin to Town Square and Main Street that will doubtless house things like Guest Relations, lockers, retail & dining.  But if not themed to Americana, what will it be?  One possibility is it will be Disney Fantasy-themed (although, including Fantasyland proper, that would make for a possible overload of Fantasy-themed buildings in the park).  Another possibility is Disney “Whimsical” – entertainment architecture not based on a specific time or place (although this style seems likely for the Downtown Disney district).   Maybe this area will have an emphasis on Old London.  If you look closely at the Overview Painting the dormers are reminiscent of London townhouses featured in numerous Disney films (Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, Mary Poppins, Bedknobs & Broomsticks, etc.), which would provide lots of film tie-in opportunities that Disney loves.   A London setting would also mesh with the very extensive gardens & carousel (Poppins) that comprise the core of the park.

ADVENTURELAND. The jungles of Adventureland await on the eastern side of the park.  Like Paris’ AL, this one seems to have distinct geographies, the first being Africa with its thatched roof eatery (likely themed to Lion King).  A major attraction nearby is the River Rapids ride.  The fake mountain backdrop for these rapids will be based on the famous Chinese mountain spires (with pine trees clinging), as can be seen in the Key Art.  I believe BlueSky Disney reported that this would be called Lost World Rapids and include AA dinosaurs.  Sounds great, if true (even though Universal Singapore already does this), but I don’t know for certain.  What can be inferred is that it will be a circular raft ride with a nod to Chinese geography.

The next geographic area (moving clockwise) is based on Meso-America, with its Mayan temple.  I don’t know if this area will host a ride, show or restaurant, but the building does not look to be the right shape or size to house the Indiana Jones Adventure (I also think Disney is reluctant to include any licensed properties in this venture).

Moving north, taking up the largest part of Adventureland (reported online as a sub-land) is the Pirates Cove area.  A pirate ship will be anchored on the Lagoon (likely Black Pearl) and the headline attraction will be an all-new version of Pirates - heavily film-based - with possible linear induction acceleration.  I’ve also read rumors of a pirate stunt show and the key art would seem to corroborate this.  

FANTASYLAND.  The castle is very large and will host a restaurant, a princess meet & greet, and, in the sub-level, the final show scene for the Riverboat Ride.  Speaking of which, the entire center of the land is taken up by the riverboat attraction which seems to be a “Storybook Land Canal Boats”, maybe with FX to make it closer to Jungle Cruise in scale.  There is a labyrinth (likely Wonderland-themed) adjacent to the eastern side of the Castle and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in the 3 o’ clock position.

In the north-east of Fantasyland lies what I am guessing is a Hundred Acre Wood sub-section with a Pooh darkride and tea-cup spinner.  This guess is based on a number of factors, including (i) Pooh being the most popular & well-known Disney property in China, (ii) Key Art which shows “roof mountains” in the same style as Tokyo’s Pooh (although the showbuilding doesn't appear to be big enough for Hunny Hunt), (iii) the 3-D model which shows a Christopher-Robin-like cottage, and (iv) the fact that “Pooh Teacups” is an attraction that has appeared on early plans for HKDL (we know that ideas never die at WDI).  In the massing model there is a circular block which indicates a spinner ride (same size as other spinners).

The biggest mystery of the park is what the large attraction in the northwest corner of Fantasyland is.  It has a big showbuilding – on the scale of Small World or Indiana Jones.   I can’t tell, but it may have a tall spire which could indicate a Tangled-based E-ticket.  Other tantalizing possibilities include a Fantasyland version of Haunted Mansion or “Once upon a Time” (a best-of darkride that would cover many animated fairytales).  Maybe it is just Small World, although it is my hope that Shanghai will differentiate itself from HKDL, cloning very little of the first Chinese park. 

The final piece of Fantasyland is a large block of buildings with Fantasy-themed exteriors that form the western wall of the land.  These likely include dining & retail and – potentially - small darkrides (if the park takes the route of individual film-based rides).

TOMORROWLAND.  There is a long, isolated pathway that connects the back of Tomorrowland to the back of Fantasyland.  The Massing Model & 3-D Model both seem to corroborate the rumored Tron coaster, which would be a launched Vekoma motorbike coaster into a large showbox (like RocknRollercoaster).  There is the ever-present Orbitron, but I’ve read rumors that Shanghai’s version could be a jetpack type.  I believe Disney filed patents for this system.   

There is one more large showbuilding that could accommodate a ride.  I’ve read a rumor that the upcoming "Soarin’ over the World" simulator may find its way to Shanghai and it could fit in this building in Tomorrowland.   Or it could be something else entirely.  There also appears to be a covered amphitheater in the Key Art, 3-D Model & Massing Model, and Disney has stated that they want to have live venues in the park to celebrate Chinese occasions. 

Finally, I’ve read rumors about a PeopleMover ride for Shanghai.  Then I saw Scot Drake’s presentation at D23 where he showed several pieces of concept art (potentially early work for Shanghai).  Among these were PeopleMover-like cabs.  I’ve also read Scot is the lead designer for Tomorrowland in Shanghai.  Then I looked at the 3-D model and saw these odd geometric curves and circles, which led me to wonder if these could be indicators of the PeopleMover’s track path.

THOUGHTS ON PIXAR, MARVEL, PARK SIZE & EXPANSION.  I would be very pleased if something like the park I’ve drawn (with at least 4 original E-ticket rides) opened in 2016.  However, I must remind myself of the initial plans for Hong Kong Disneyland which opened with about 50% of the attractions (and fewer lands) than were announced at the pre-construction stages (along with a totally different layout).   Assuming the park does open as something close to the current plan, I think it will have just enough to fill a Chinese family’s day and leave them wanting to return.  

The current Shanghai park plan also includes a lot of room for future expansion.  Each land has dedicated expansion pads and there are even larger areas between the lands which could accommodate mini-lands (e.g A Bug’s Land or Mystic Point). 

One thing that strikes me as odd is that in all the deducing & analyzing I’ve done to put this site plan together, I can’t find any locations where Pixar properties would fit naturally (possibly a Wall-E attraction in the Tomorrowland showbuilding).  This seems counter intuitive as I know how Disney loves to put Pixar in its parks these days.  Same goes for Marvel (although it is possible some Marvel properties could be wedged into Tomorrowland, like an Iron Man orbitron).  Maybe the first additions post-opening in the expansion pads will feature Pixar and Marvel.

It will be very interesting to see if an official conceptual site plan or model for the park becomes available in 2012 and how close my interpretation is to it.

I hope you've enjoyed my work in investigating the mystery of SDL.  If you can add, correct or clarify anything (substantiated with visual evidence or solid info), I would like to hear your thoughts.


kermitdefrog said...

I never knew anybody could piece things together that fast. Wow.

Anonymous said...

Aww, no Space Mountain....

J. Jeff Kober said...

Your efforts toward this have my total respect...but more total imagination!

Fantastic job, no matter what the outcome from Disney may be. They will certainly need to match what you've said. Anything less now would be disappointing at this point.


J. Jeff Kober

Mark Hickson said...

Aloha Sam!
Alain Littaye told me about you story. An excellent investigation into the most secret park Disney has ever announced! Funny that they had a groundbreaking already without all the deals signed. It has been a bit frustrating for all of us not knowing what the park program is, What the attraction mix will be, what the in-park capacity will be and the Disney resorts capacity. I shared my frustration at D23 where no one would describe the model. Here is my post on it:

Keep up the good work and keep us informed on the latest goings-on.
Mark Hickson

Magic Lamp said...

I've been trying to come up with a word to describe your effort, but I can't think of any.

It would be curious to see how accurate you are to the original plan considering how well you seem to spot the details in a fuzzy photograph/concept design.

Very early when SDL was announced you made your own speculative park with a lagoon in the middle - not the one you posted on this blog. Any chance of reposting that one day?

Disney-O-Rama said...

Do you have a larger version of your blueprint? Would love to do a feature story on this and of course link back to your site as original source.

SWW said...


Thanks for the comments.

Jeff, Thanks. Look forward to checking out your site.

Mark, Aloha. I used the two close-ups you took of the model (among many other) on your site as part of the research for this. Glad you enjoyed this research project. I think your site it fantastic and visit it regularly.

ML, That post its is still up.

It makes for a very interesting comparison, as I drew that one based on the Key Art alone and used a lot of imagination to reach "build-out". Quite a bit has changed (Dumbo & Carousel are reversed) but there are similarities as well.

Disney-O-Rama, if you right-click on the site plan and open in a new window/tab, it gives you a pretty big version (where you can easily read all the text).

SWW said...

And David (Disney-O-Rama), I'm sure you were planning on this, but if you do do a feature story, I'd appreciate it if you give a brief synopsis of my work (or your own opinions of it) and a small version of the site plan, and then link back to this article/blog for the in-depth analysis and full-size plan.



Nicholas Tucker said...

Great research!

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blahblahblah said...

I'm always very excited for future Disney designs. I would love to see this come to reality, just like this. "G3" would be a great place for another hotel. Apparently, in the future there is supposed to be a total of 3 parks. I would love to see a water park. The only Disney water parks are at Disney world, and the shanghai Disney area looks like the next best thing

blahblahblah said...

It would also be very nice for all things in the park to be connected by a water body - like at Universal Orlando Resort. I would love to see this in a Disney Resort - you could go anywhere by boat!

Muhammad Amjad said...

Great research! I would love to see this come to reality.....Hotel Design