Guests can play games as they wait to board the train and race through the bejeweled mine.
WALT DISNEY WORLD – Walt Disney Imagineers are making the most of technology and are being influenced by video games more than ever as they design new attractions. Case in point is the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. The hybrid family coaster and dark ride, which opens May 28, features touch-screen HD monitors built into 15-foot long wooden troughs in the line so guests can sort jewels virtually by color and shape to pass the time away.
Anyone who’s played Bejeweled on a smartphone, tablet or PC will see what influenced the Imagineers who designed these Jewel Sorting tables. Smartphones are prevalent in Disney queues these days, helping families stay entertained while waiting to get on a ride. Imagineers like Jon Georges, who is the executive producer of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, have been heavily influenced by other Imagineers that come from the video game world like Jonathan Ackley, who designed the interactive card battle game, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.
“As we craft any new experience, we bring in a lot of different Imagineers with different points of view from various disciplines,” said Georges. “Having somebody like Jonathan around has been very helpful just to bring that video game perspective and to think about the ways interactivity can play a larger role in some of the new experiences that we’re developing.”
The key is to seamlessly translate these interactive experiences into the storytelling that goes into designing a ride like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The gems and diamonds from the mine connect directly with the seven dwarfs’ story. The new ride lets fans of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs experience a new angle to the story from the perspective of the seven miners. Audio-animatronics bring the seven dwarfs to life (and these high-tech creations were actually built using 3D computers and came to life via 3D printers) throughout the ride, which includes a few slower dark ride elements to progress the story forward.
Back outside of the welcoming air conditioning of the mine, the Imagineers designed a second interactive experience for guests in line. Right next to the Jewel Sorting tables and their multiplayer offerings is a Jewel Washing area where guests can grab a musical water spigot and start cleaning to the tune of Disney music. There are 12 spigots, corresponding to the notes of the musical scale, and guests can make music as they work.
Rounding out the interactivity is an indoor vault that features seven wooden barrels filled with glowing stones. By turning each barrel the ceiling above is transformed into a series of animated images featuring Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The trick here is to spin all seven simultaneously to get Snow White. (She also makes a cameo at the end of the mine train ride.)
“We know that guests are big fans of video games, so we’re always looking at ways to bring that level of interactivity into our parks,” said Georges. “While we are not in the video game business, we know that guests now bring a level of expectation about how to interact with our characters and stories. So we’re always trying to find new ways to bring that to life in the theme parks.”
In some ways, Imagineers now design rides like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train similar to the way game makers like Disney Interactive Studios and Avalanche Software create games like Disney Infinity. The creative process is now completely digital. Imagineers have 3D virtual reality technology called DISH at their California headquarters which allows them to build out a working 3D ride that they can experience before construction has even begun. Every detail of the final ride is designed and edited in the virtual world to ensure that everything works in the real world.
In the case of Seven Dwarfs Mine Cart, everything was designed digitally for the first time in any attraction at the park. Imagineers were even able to use tablets during construction to maintain the exact specifications of the mountain and every twist and turn of the track.
When designing Snow White’s cottage, Imagineers referenced the film in order to plan details as intricate as the color combination of roof shingles, the slope of the roof’s eaves, the shape of a lantern, and especially the etched woodland creatures that decorate the house. Props – including lanterns, ropes, pulleys and buckets of shiny jewels – were inspired by items found in the mine scenes of the film.
The individual mine cars that make up the train were designed to reflect similar vehicles that appear in the film, handmade of wood by the Dwarfs, shaped with an ax, and used to haul rocks and jewels. Hand-hammered metal bands and nails are used to bind the wood. In the film, the mine cars sit in a cradle that allows them to be tipped to unload their contents. Here, the cradle design allows the cars to swing back and forth as they carry riders along the winding track. Each train consists of five cars that hold four people each. The innovative, patented ride system for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is an original design developed at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Creativity remains the key to building new attractions at the Disney Parks, but technology has come a long way in helping Imagineers stay true to the original concepts. These days, that concept originates in digital form and remains digital for the duration of the project, even as the real world incarnation is built up from scratch. In this case, the mountains were made, the track was laid and the interactive queues were stationed; all to the exact digital specifications that came from Disney’s brightest minds. Minds that are being influenced, more and more, by video games.