Friday, December 7, 2012

EPCOT Center Renewed

I have a great nostalgia/love for the EPCOT Center of my early childhood, especially Future World.  I was fortunate that my early visits were to an EPCOT not much different than originally designed, and I was of the right age, curiosity and disposition that this was to be my formative and most endearing theme park experience.  I was enthralled with attractions like Horizons, The Living Seas, the World of Motion and Spaceship Earth and would lobby to spend as much of our family WDW vacations as possible at or near the park.  

With this conceptual piece, I won’t attempt to pontificate too much on the changes that transformed the place from EPCOT Center to today’s EPCOT, but show a vision of what I think could be done to resuscitate the energy, coherence, relevance and awe-inspiring nature the park once boasted:

To make sense, EPCOT Center again requires a guiding set of principles on place or theme.  This existed in the beginning, but the park has lost much of it.   And to make sense among the three other WDW parks, similar guidelines ought to apply.   The idea is that by giving each park a strong, unique identity, the resort as a whole thrives and is more interesting and attractive to a wider audience.    When TWDC makes Jack Sparrow, Pixies, Nemo, Mermaid, etc. available across multiple parks in multiple attractions and meet & greets, it dilutes the theme/atmosphere of each and makes these places less compelling, especially to the potentially large market that are interested in things other than Disney characters/IP.    It isn’t completely communicated in this site plan, but I would generally remove most characters and toons from the EPCOT's attractions and spaces.    EPCOT was born as a more sophisticated, less kid-oriented park and the version I’ve drafted returns to those roots.  At the same time I’ve added some kid-friendly attractions that promote the park’s wider mission.  (One day, maybe I’ll draft a version in the opposite direction, where every pavilion/country is converted to represent a Disney-Pixar brand (e.g. Ratatouille’s Paris, Wall-E’s Mission Space), but not today).

The theme of this park is… EPCOT Center.  It is a one-of-a-kind concept... a permanent Worlds Fair, with one half providing cultural/historical representations of countries from around the globe, and the other half show-casing the story of Science, Technology & Humanity as they have evolved over centuries and where they are heading. 

By far the easier challenge (of how to develop the two areas) was World Showcase.  For the most part, I have made sure that each pavilion has at least one attraction of significance.    Otherwise, it is just a nicely-themed - and very expensive - outdoor mall.   I left a number of the original expansion pads empty because (i) I think the ‘forested’ separation between pavilions benefits this area of the Park, (ii) with all the additions this EPCOT Center as a whole is easily a 2-3 day park, so additional countries (aside from the one I’ve added) are not necessary.

I think well-themed and integrated KidCOT stations would be fine as long as the content is relevant to those countries’ cultures, not to Disney IP (e.g. no Aladdin in Morocco, Ratatouille in France, etc).   I like the idea of an international spy-themed interactive game that triggers physical effects around the Lagoon, but I don’t care for the tv toon tie-ins, so the version here would be original and live-action based.

--Brazil was a pretty easy  choice for the 12th country, given its rising prominence, the lack of South American representation, the popularity of WDW among Brazilians and that other candidates like India and Africa are already represented in Animal Kingdom.  Brazil would feature an outdoor Amazon Rainforest boat ride featuring the anthropological and biological denizens of that forest.  There would be a Brazilian steakhouse as well.

--Germany gets the indoor folklore boat ride, but unlike Rhine River Cruise, this one has a small drop element akin to Maelstrom. 
--Italy, which currently represents mostly Venice, gets an exploratory trail passing through Imperial Roman ruins and into a crumbling Amphitheater (based on the Coliseum) where performances could take place or exhibits featured.
--Japan gets an omnimover, using mostly the existing castle, that presents AA scenes reviewing Japanese history (in the classic EPCOT style)
--The winding alleyways of Morocco lead past Marrakesh to a fortress courtyard, marking the entrance to an adventure ride.
--UK has two attractions added: a rotating AA show based on Dickens’ greatest works and a large indoor arcade and showspace themed to London’s classical facades.  This would house a ride-tour of Britain’s history/lands.

--Finally, I always thought the outstanding water features, rockwork and canyon paths of Canada were wasted on something as mundane as Circlevision travelogue.  Here, they are integrated in a significant mountain coaster – based on Canada’s Yukon.  The mountain also serves to block the sight of Soarin’s showbuilding from much of World Showcase. 

To signify a sea-change and re-birth, Future World Central loses all of its original structures in the entrance plaza and core (save Spaceship Earth), many of which which have not aged overly well.  Gone are:
-Earth Station (now housing that JibJab Project Tomorrow thing), while keeping a new smaller version as the necessary load/un-load station for Spaceship Earth
-Innoventions/Communicore East & West buildings
-The former Odyssey restaurant
-All the entrance logistical buildings, ticket booths and walkway covers
-The original monorail station.
-The current Fountain of Nations
-All the clutter, DVC kiosks, Cool Stations and outdoor vending carts.
-The Port of Entry shops in World Showacase get new buildings.

The new strucutres are lighter, cleaner, simpler Calatrava-like forms that curve and flow organically, from the new Monorail Station, to the canopied path, to the Life & Tech dining venues that embrace the new central fountain plaza, replacing Innoventions (taking up a small portion of its former footprint).   The replacement of Innoventions allows more greenery and cleaner views of the park’s natural and man-made elements.  Paths lead directly from Spaceship Earth both east and west, allowing easy navigation and traffic flow to Future World’s pavilions.  A new, high-powered central fountain puts on periodic shows with Spaceship Earth as the backdrop (with viewing tiers & seating built into planters).  The Life & Tech dining venues have elevated al fresca patios for full view of the fountain.  

Between the turnstyles and Spaceship Earth (which would have a new script & new descent sequence; no Jib-Jab) are seven large granite discs with water flowing smoothly over them: each represents one of the seven pavilions (I did some quick alterations to Energy’s symbol to represent Space):

I wanted to give a natural symmetry & balance to the park (feng shui), so I decided on three pavilions for each side that harken back the iconography & purpose of the originals.   Rather than tackle narrow subjects (like a present-day automotive testing ground or present-day space training), each represents a wide area of science & tech.  World of Motion would be Transportation and encompass The SimTrack (whith an enclosed outdoor portion, circuling a massive, highly-detailed blacklit City of Tomorrow model), emphasizing the centrality and future of the automobile to the world we live in.   Visual clutter is the enemy in this version of the park, so the awning over the entrance goes.    WoM would also include a version of Aquatopia (replacing the old Odyssey restaurant) that could showcase eco-friendly, water travel in a fun ride for small kids.

Journeys in Space covers Space Exploration & Resources.  As a kid I loved The Living Seas, and it was fun imagining the Hydrolators were descending hundreds of feet underwater, even if I knew it was an illusion.  With Journeys in Space, I think simulating an ‘actual’ trip to an offworld space station, while far less believable, is also more imaginitive and more fun than just acknowledging a type of training astronauts go through.  In this EPCOT, the centrifuge ride now deposits the visitor to a futuristic Space Station (built into an asteroid or on Mars).  The station is the old Wonders of Life building which is connected and re-themed to meld with the current Space building.  The dome of Wonders would be “glass” looking out into the galaxy of stars (or the Martian sky). The main concourse of Station Brava has a restaurant and is the access point to additional Space attractions – adaptively re-using the facilities once used by WoL.

As a kid, Energy and The Land were the two Future World pavilions I was okay with skipping.  Naturally, they’re the least altered today.   Here, the still impressive Energy pavilion exterior is kept, but the interior is gutted and a new version of Horizons is built witin.  The idea is not to re-build the original ride: I want to pay homage to what was great in the past and move forward on the path those designers set.  None of the show-scenes here would be the same.  The idea is to create a 21st Century Horizons (with a light thrill element) that has the same sort of feel & message (with maybe the same narrators and re-orchestrated score) as the original.  In 2013, you may see an attraction layout for such a re-purposed UoE/New Horizons on IdealBuildout.  It would cover future Energy sources, as a nod to the lost energy pavilion.

Side note regarding the use of actors/voice-over talent: the use of present-day, recognizable celebrities in any attractions (e.g. Martin Short, Ellen or that dude from Born on the 4th of July) should be avoided - it immediately dates the experience.

While FW East is tech-driven and features straight, angular paths, FW West is more nature-based and features curving paths and water features.   Strangely, for someone who loves the original EPCOT, I can’t remember the original Imagination ride very well (although ImageWorks and the Serpentine fountains are strong, fond memories).  From what I’ve read, the current version of the ride could use replacing.   I came across the excellent site, where a talented designer created this idea for a future Imagination pavilion (link), so that’s what I labeled as going here.

The Land gets some additional front façade work (which I’ve always found underwhelming).  Just as Space would feature a futuristic cosmos base, and Seas features and marine base of tomorrow, I think The Land central interior space could reflect a sort of “Terra Base Alpha” – an ecology & agriculture biodome or an Earth Monitoring Center.  The symbiosis theater would be transformed into a biome/ecology lab or exhibits, the boat ride would remain largely the same, and Soarin’ would take on the theme of an aerial survey of the Earth’s lands and ecosystems (flying over the Serengeti, Borneo, Great Barrier Reef, Boreal forest, sustainable farms, ruined lands, etc.)  This would be a specially-dedicated film (not shared with DCA).   

 The Seas loses any and all cartoon fish/turtles.    Its façade is expanded/mirrored for a much larger experience.  The original film stated “the sea is the engine that drives all the world’s weather.”  As such, the new elements accessible via the re-designed Sea Base could focus on weather and feature a thrilling new E-ticket to draw crowds.

Finally, a new monorail spur heads past World of Motion to other WDW destinations (e.g. a monorail going from the TTC to DHS or DTD would veer off, while one arriving at EPCOT would do the full loop and stop at the station as it does today).


MortimerMouse said...

Have you considered what an ultimate buildout resort-wide monorail system would consist of?

comics101 said...

This is really wonderful, thanks so much for sharing!
I can't even begin wondering what type of thrill element could be added to Horizons, I'm looking foward to seeing that site plan in the future.
I am bummed by the loss of the Dinosaur segment of Energy (nostalgia reasons), but I do think it's the right pavilion to drop.
I like how you did away with the Innoventions buildings, they really are becoming an eyesore. Would new Communicore-esque exhibits be located in the unlabeled buildings? Actually, I've always thought Carousel of Progress is the perfect attraction for this area, with an updated finale about what life would have been like in Walt's EPCOT.
Great site plan though. This is exactly what Epcot needs.

ProjectTurtle said...

Great Job as usual. I love the fact that World Showcase gets high quality attractions and pixar gets packed and shipped out. Simtrack sounds awesome. Do you know if WDI is thinking about renewing or expanding EPCOT?

Anonymous said...

This is a great proposal and exactly the kind of attention the park needs. Nothing you laid out seems far fetched or unreasonable. Are you paying attention Disney?

SWW said...

Thanks for leaving a comment.

Mortimer, I have and at some point I will draw and post it.

Comics, since the 1990s there has been a new popular conception of how dinosaurs looked (e.g. T-Rex's or Allisaurs didn't stand upright with there tails resting on the ground, but pivoted on their hips), and I feel the dino AAs in Energy look really antiquated. Better ones are found in Animal Kingdom's dark ride.

I thought the two Core cafes could be themed to their respective sides - one to the life sciences such as ecology and marine biology (West) and the other to the tech sciences of Space travel, transportation, energy, etc.

Turtle, I don't know but from the recent past EPCOT development seems pretty dependent on sponsorship (i.e. if Brazil was willing to pay, there'd be a pavilion).

Anonymous said...

Excellent! I've always found Epcot to be both the most intriguing and simultaneously disappointing park at WDW. This would laregely rectify those issues, especially because - as you put it - the World Showcase is no longer an expensive mall. Middle-Earth park coming up next?

comics101 said...

Oh, cool. That's actually a really good idea for the cafe's, and one I never would have thought of. I was talking about the buildings just above them though, the ones closest to Motion and Imagination.

You do make a really good point with the Dinosaurs. Like I said, I think it's easily the most dated pavilion in Epcot today, and it probably does need to go. I just love the old school dark ride feel of that attraction, it's something that's missing from Dinoland. I've never really been one for thrills and tricks...I'd much rather be immersed in an environment. I think that's why I prefer energy to CTX.

SWW said...

^Maybe retail extensions of the two Core dining venues... I originally had them as one building each, like a mini-CommuniCore, but wanted the feel of the new central plaza to be a significant break from the current EPCOT, so I cut them off into distinct buildings, opening up vistas along the Y-axis.

We both agree Dinoland needs a slower-moving attraction that features next-gen AA prehistoric creatures... like the flume birds-eye I once posted here.

I'm working on an illustrative version of the American Experience park so look for that to be posted in the future...

Anonymous said...

Agree with almost everything you've done here.

Regarding Future World - agree almost 100%, including decision not to include Universe of Energy and not to bring back Wonders of Life. Only difference perhaps - I want to bring back the old Journey Into Imagination essentially just as it was before, but with a few refreshings here and there (for example, the "science" room could be given a more contemporary look).

Regarding World Showcase - again agree with almost everything, though I feel Animal Kingdom's representation of Africa and South Asia do not do justice to human cultural aspects of those places. In addition to Brazil, I would love to see a sub-Saharan African country (Ethiopia perhaps?), India, Egypt and perhaps Russia for more truly "world showcase".

For me, in a more idealized version of Walt Disney World, I would move the America Pavilion and rebuilt it directly across the lagoon (near the entrace from Future World) along the lines of the Ellis Island look seen in the concept art for "Disney's America". Tbis architectural change would help distinguish the theme from that in Liberty Square. On the spot where the America Pavilion currently stands, I would rebuild Small World with a proper facade, like at Disneyland. I think of World Showcase as an even more appropriate location for this ride than Fantasyland. Where Small World currently stands in the MK, space could be freed up for another major ride.

- Tasman

protojimbo said...

I like these ideas! America as a gateway to the world and Smallworld to tie it together-brilliant! I would even trade in USA, Mex & Canada for your more exotic locales. It could be argued that American is already represented well in the resort by MK (main st, frontierland, liberty sq) and DHS.
Just got back from DL resort. Buena Vista st. Feels a lot more like Main st now - quite nice.
Happy Holidays to our host, SWW and all his followers!

Anonymous said...

^^^ Thanks protojimbo,and happy holidays to everyone as well. I was DCA and DL myself a couple of weeks. Walking from the entrance to Radiator Springs Racers, it's very easy to imagine that one is in a full-fledged "Tier 1" park (to use SWW terminology). The cheap elements of the park are not really visible along that particular walk. Changes one's first impression of the park in a major, major way. But for me it can't be soon enough that they get rid of the remaining cheap theming, particularly in Paradise Pier and Hollywoodland.

- Tasman

ProjectTurtle said...

Yea Smallworld was genius as an addition to world showcase really smart plan

SWW said...

Thanks for the Holiday wishes... Merry Christmas to all. Interesting idea about IASW in WS.

Anonymous said...

how come all your maps are small size? it must be a site glitch; hope it gets fixed soon cause i love seeing the details on your maps

Anonymous said...

See, I don't feel the need to have every pavilion in World Showcase with a ride. Japan works because it's nice and quiet as you walk through its gardens, a thrill ride would wreck that aspect. Same with Italy and Morrocco, being quiet is better, I don't think a major ride to each is the way to go.

Anonymous said...

^^^ Major or not... one attraction per pavilion would be nice ... otherwise IMO they are just glorified shopping malls.

In Japan I would love to see a Miyazaki dark ride ... something uniquely Japanese, but yet with a Disney connection.

- Tasman

Anonymous said...

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