Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Mountain for Potterland

It was suggested that the Dragon Challenge Queue be themed as the stadium from the fourth Potter film.  It made sense, so that's what I did:

One of the trademark features of what I term “Tier II” theme parks (e.g., Busch Gardens or Sea World) is the naked steel mega coaster.  Sometimes these coasters feature elaborate, well-executed queues (e.g., Manta or Dueling Dragons) or trains, which is part of what separates Tier II parks from Tier III.  However, there is little else done to theme the actual coaster superstructure: 
Pic 1

I’m not deriding Tier II parks & theme-ing.  These places & rides are popular, and there is certainly a place for them, but my interests lie in the elaborate theatrical designs that mark Tier I: lands, attractions, or in this case, rollercoasters, that attempt to wholly sell another time & place throughout their design & execution.

The much-discussed Wizarding World of Harry Potter offers a juxtaposition of these two models (Tier I & Tier II).  Several of its areas & vistas (& flagship attraction) are contenders for best Tier I themed environment on the planet:
Pic 2

At the same time, the land’s eastern backdrop is a huge, naked steel coaster:
Pic 3

In addition, the Forbidden Journey’s enormous showbuilding is an eyesore from a number of places within the park:
Pic 4
Pic 5
This blog is all about idealizing the parks, so I created another birdseye illustration to show how the all parts of IOA’s Wizarding World might be brought to the Tier I level.

A note on mini-coasters:  I generally give lightly-themed mini(kiddie)-coasters (Flounder’s Flying Fish, Barnstormer, Flight of the Hippogriff, etc.) a pass because they are small enough not to overwhelm their surroundings. 

However the Dragon Challenge is no mini-coaster.  It is huge and shatters any illusion a visitor might have that he is in the Scottish highlands that surround Hogwarts… it states clearly and loudly: you are in an amusement park.  

So with this illustration, I imagined a very large mountain strewn with castle ruins and stunted pine trees that envelops the dueling coaster tracks.  The ride would pass through caverns, dungeons and other interior show spaces, sometimes emerging into the daylight for high inversions or near collisions.  In addition, the pylons supporting the outdoor track of this suspended coaster would be heavily themed to castle ruins, crumbling walls, old tree stumps.    The tracks would be painted a in a background blending scheme, so it might appear as the distant coasters are snake-like dragons flying around the mountain & ruins.  

It’s rare to achieve the “100% convincing” level in a theme park… and very difficult (and expensive) to make a huge suspended coaster work convincingly in a fantasy environment (never been done to my knowledge), so I think if you get 75-80% there, it can be called a success.

Other changes in the illustration include a raised, forested berm around the edge of the park and enough additional rockwork on the Forbidden Journey showbuilding to keep it concealed from any vantage point within the park (on the ground). 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Discovery Bay

This next entry in my Wishful-Thinking Birdseye Illustrations For Your Enjoyment series shows my own version of Tony Baxter’s & WDI’s legendary Discovery Bay concept for Disneyland.  I drew this based on one of my conceptual site plans for an expanded park:

My version has a lot in common with the WDI plan(s) upon which it was based, but also differs in many ways.  The setting of the place is vaguely Victorian (1850-1900) with an eclectic mix of architectural styles (Gold Rush/Barbary Coast S.F., Chinatown, “Age of Invention”)…  an American version of Port of Entry at IOA.

Island at the Top of the World: Flagship suspended dark ride based on the actual WDI plan.  If you're unfamiliar with what this ride was to be, some really  tantalizing descriptions can be found on the Web.

Lost Voyager: This is my own take on the boat ride of many names that was planned for DB at one point.  The version I've drawn is Jungle Cruise meets Dinosaur, featuring frightening encounters with mythical creatures in caverns and (temperate) forested locales.

Professor Marvel's Hall of Wonders: I imagined this being a fanciful Carousel of Progress-type presentation hosted by Dreamfinder's precursor (something similar to this was planned).

The Time Machine: This would be a steam-powered, riveted simulator adventure with in-cabin SFX.  The exterior would be a dilapidated Academy where a few mysterious inventors still linger.

Western Balloon Ascent: This would be a gentle balloon ride that "floats" over the mountain (covering the train and several showbuildings) along an inground track hidden below the baskets.

Other Features

There would be several unique dining facilities, a tented Gypsy Camp for live entertainment, "Streetmosphere" characters.  In my version, the Indian camp would be relocated to Tom Sawyer Island so it could still be experienced by Mark Twain & Columbia passengers.

Discovery Bay would have access to the four adjacent lands (tunnel to Toontown).  All the Captain Nemo/Nautilus stuff in the original DB plan would be reserved for another Resort Gate.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

MK - East Side Renewal

This next entry in my Birds-eye Series illustrates some big changes to eastern side of Magic Kingdom:

The 1994 re-do of MK’s Tomorrowland, intended to evoke 1920s/30s pulp Sci-Fi serials like Buck Rogers and Popular Science magazine, introduced a new design style to theme parks, sometimes referred to as ‘Deco-Tech’ (featuring riveted metal plates, glass domes, mechanical palm trees, extra-terrestrial rock formations, etc).   I think this re-do was well-conceived and generally well-executed, including the brilliant Avenue of Planets night lighting package, the Astro-Orbitor and one of the best-ever pre-shows featuring the perfectly-programmed and -voiced S.I.R.. 

One thing that has always vexed me about the 1994 re-do, however, is that once you pass Rockettower Plaza, New Tomorrowland comes to an awkward end, and you’re back in Old Tomorrowland (clearly the land-wide alteration must have seen budget-slashing).  There are a few adornments around Cosmic Ray’s (including Sonny Eclipse), but most of the major visual elements (Space Mountain, the majority of the Peoplemover track, Carousel of Progress, the Speedway) remain mostly in the old 1970s style.

Themed lands are like orchestras, and while each section has different instruments making different sounds, they need to be in pitch in order to deliver a pleasing end result.  These two styles (Deco-Tech and 1970s Saarinenesque) do not harmonize:

So the first thing I did in this illustration of an improved Tomorrowland was apply the Deco-Tech architectural styling to the entire land (excepting the iconic Space Mountain).  For instance, I added metallic fins to the rear 2/3 of the Peoplemover.  I also added new spires, domes and other ornamentation to the land’s buildings


All of the attractions and dining facilities have been re-worked to make Tomorrowland a more coherent world.  For example, the Carousel of Progress and Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor contain subject matter can’t be easily reconciled with this pulp sci-fi Spaceport, so they are changed out.   Laugh Floor remains a comedy club but is populated by intergalactic comedians.  CoP remains a rotating AA theater, but showcases retro-futuristic vignettes.   I mentioned my affinity for S.I.R., so he returns to a new iteration of Alien Encounter (Stitch gets the boot).  Space Ranger Spin remains but is given a new, grander marquee.  Tomorrowland Terrace is re-tooled into a Deco-Tech restaurant (table service in evenings) based on retro-astronomy (as was originally planned).

It goes without saying that in this imagined version of TL, Space Mountain, grand-daddy of Disney thrill rides, gets the heavy duty rehab that was deserved, planned and then scrapped a couple years ago (all-new tracks, vehicles, FX, on-board audio, darkness, etc.), but that can’t be shown in this illustration.  What can be shown is the new approach to Space Mountain.   

One building that never sat well with me was the barrel-vaulted arcade plopped in front of the Mountain in 1994.   It’s not so much the structure itself, which is okay in isolation, but its oversized-ness and placement.  Space Mountain should provide a larger-than-life backdrop to the land and be made to look even bigger than it is (forced perspective).  Attaching a large, out-of-scale building to SM’s front side damages that perspective:
In my version, shorter, more-detailed deco-tech facades mark the entrance to SM.  There is a large fountain and two reflecting pools in the plaza, befitting a flagship attraction of the park.  (Note the WDW Railroad passes through alien rocks like those found at the entry, bringing visual cohesiveness to the land).

When DisneySea created new bathrooms in its New York section, they looked like this:
When MK changed the old Skyway station into Tomorrowland bathrooms, they ended up with this:
As brilliant as the latter’s theming is, I thought this would be a good opportunity to put in some SFX water-features.  The roof of the bathrooms would hold giant glass spheres overflowing with colored liquid which also runs through pipes and out of the building into the ground below.  These kind of touches add up to be big differentiators in theme parks.
The large parking lot behind Main Street becomes home to a new epic E-ticket (kuka/EMV) based on an original story & characters in tune with the land’s setting.  Among the visual motifs that connect Tomorrowland are spheres, spires and mocha alien rockwork.  Here all these elements combine in what appears to be an ancient alien temple/mysterious structure and a giant spherical artifact that holds the secret to saving or destroying the galaxy. 

The Speedway is gone, ridding the area of fumes, noise and an attraction that is the antithesis of Tomorrow.   Most of the land is taken up by a new E-ticket ride for Fantasyland.  But the Tomorrowland portion holds The Customs House (dining, retail, etc.) for intergalactic travelers (arriving from Space Mountain).   The restaurant would be something akin to the Star Wars cantina with the Peoplemover open to diners below.

Wonderland becomes the fourth sub-land to Fantasyland (joining Storybook Circus, Fantasy Forest & the Walled Town).   The major alteration to existing structures is the conversion of Cosmic Ray’s to a restaurant based on the Tokyo DL’s Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall:
 If you’re not familiar with this excellent piece of themed design, check it out on Flickr.  This change eliminates the last of the incongruous architecture from Tomorrowland and creates a unified entry point to Fantasyland (as opposed to the confluence that is currently there).  Note the wavy bridge.

The second half of the former speedway is occupied by an E-ticket LPS attraction (Hunny Hunt) based on Through the Looking Glass (Carroll’s sequel to Alice in Wonderland), rendered in the Disney animated style.  This is so as to avoid a book-report ride on the animated film and create an original, further-adventures-of attraction.  The queue/façade/exit of this attraction are the grounds of a fanciful English manor home and a forest of giant mushrooms.  These are positioned to block sightlines to the back of the queue building of the new Dumbo.

The new Northern Gateway to Tomorrowland has two ‘Waterfalls of Light’, an homage to original spires that once stood at the hub entry of TL during the MK’s opening.


Thoughts on these changes?  Improvements you would make?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


For the next entry in my Wishful-Thinking-Birds-Eye-Illustration series (previous entry Tokyo Fantasyland viewable below), I decided to tackle Animal Kingdom’s Dinoland.  This is an area with great potential but in need of some serious work (IMO) to fulfill it.  Here is my illustration of a Dinoland Reborn:

The most visible change is the replacement of DinoRama with an area dedicated to the Pleistocene and featuring a glacial lake and giant jagged rock formations.  The major experience here is Mammoth Falls.  Designed to both educate & thrill (and experience-driven rather than plot-driven), this E-ticket flume extends the “Extinct Animals” section of DAK beyond dinosaurs.  Guests travel back to a meticulously recreated North America of 10,000 years ago: an age when primitive man co-existed with giant mammals.   

The experience begins in the queue, a soggy pine & birch forest, at the close of the Ice Age.  Entering a cavern, adventurers hear the sounds of giant beasts and come upon a large room covered in cave paintings (Lascaux).  The paintings become animated as a Shaman-like voice describes the natural world of this era.

Boarding giant tree snags (at least 4-riders wide, with four or five rows), guests then experience scene after scene of pre-historic wonders… escalating in scale, detail and terror, until the climactic 50-foot plunge.   The ride portion starts with peaceful mastodons and a family of American Lions, then passes a Dire Wolf attack on a Giant Elk, a Mammoth herd, giant ground sloths, etc.  As the boats rise to the final drop, guests pass the new apex predator – man – as a primitive hunting party plans an attack on a weary mammoth.  The final scene reflects the extinction of the megafauna and their replacement with mid-sized mammals we know today (deer, black bear, etc.).

The Triceratop Spin is re-themed to compliment Mammoth Falls: an aerial spinner based on the giant extinct birds (like the predecessor to the California condor).  Its queue is within the rocky cave-nest of such a bird.

The final major change is to Dinosaur.  Any connections to the Dinosaur film are discarded, including the ride name (note the removal of Aladar and return of the original Styracosaurus statue to the plaza).  

I feel Period is always easier to sell and maintain in themed design than Present (and often more compelling), so this attraction (and the land as a whole) is set in mid-20th century America (Golden Age of Palentology?).

Gone is the mundane, postmodern, low-rise Dino Institute (and signage) that exists now.  It is replaced with a gothic, multi-turreted, brick museum building intended to evoke a stuffy Smithsonian or AMNH.  

Inside are dusty, old-fashioned dinosaur exhibits, and the pre-show would take place in the fossil preparation laboratory.  Secret book-case doors (because who doesn’t love those) would then open leading to the Time Travel sub-level, full of 1950’s style scientific equipment and re-designed rovers for a re-designed adventure (following the same path).



Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tokyo Fantasyland

For all of the superlatives Tokyo Disneyland rightly deserves, it has maybe the least aesthetically-pleasing Fantasyland (and Tomorrowland) of all the parks.  While some parts of TDL’s Fantasyland are very nicely-designed (specifically, the area right behind the castle, the two newer areas: Hunny Hunt and Queen of Hearts/Teacups), a significant portion of the land suffers from the plastic “tournament tent” façade dressings and wide open, oddly-flat areas with few trees or visual breaks.   There is also the presence of the Hudson Valley version of Haunted Mansion, which is really-nicely themed, but ill-placed).

 If you are not familiar with Tokyo’s Fantasyland, here it is:

Images from Jack Spence Article:

 So I drew a birds-eye illustration of what I thought a reasonable re-vamp of Fantasyland could look like:

Gone are all the fiberglass tournament facades, replaced by a diverse fairytale village (the one tall tower is meant to recall Rapunzel, though not directly based on “Tangled”).    

I narrowed the pathways by expanding the landscape areas, adding lots of trees, particularly around the Carousel and Dumbo (which are desert-like in their current state), making the land feel a more forested & cozy.   Dumbo receives an updated centerpiece & queue cover and is now surrounded by a lush sunken stream, giving the land some much-needed topography (something similar is done in Paris). 

The most expensive part of this proposal would be to change not only the façade of Haunted Mansion so it becomes a medieval European manor (befitting Fantasyland), but also the ride itself (in the same way Phantom Manor is a Western take on the HM).

A best-in-class park like TDL ought to have all of its environments excellently-rendered, and Fantasyland - in its entirety - is not at that level.   I had hoped that when Philharmagic was being installed the opportunity would be used to continue moving the land's design in such a direction.  

Maybe one day.