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Talk of the bay

Disney ride artists divulge a few secrets

Published May 16, 2005

Walt Disney World officials rarely talk about how they create their attractions, partly out of fear of unraveling their storytelling illusions.

"It takes a lot of work to get people to suspend their disbelief," said Joe Rohde, chief design director of Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Nonetheless, Disney engineers and artists lifted the curtain some in a recent series of interviews.

* The interiors of the Opels used in a 40-vehicle stunt show at Disney MGM Studios were gutted to reduce the car weight to 1,300 pounds. Motorcycle engines were installed so the lightweight cars accelerate faster. One of the most difficult driver skills turned out to be learning how to burn enough rubber to make the show exciting without enveloping the show in an acrid cloud. Disney also installed lots of fans.

* Golden fiberglass sculptures of Disney characters were added to embellish Cinderella's castle at the Magic Kingdom. Attaching them was not a problem since the castle is made of fiberglass, not stone. But making life-sized statues of Disney characters can be tricky for flat-screen cartoon characters that only recently were fleshed out for 3-D films. To get the angles of a flying Peter Pan and Wendy right, Disney sculptor Joni Van Buren used photos of her 11-year-old nephew doing a bellyflop into a ball pit at McDonald's as a guide.

* Expedition Everest, a roller coaster that opens next summer, will run forward and backward at speeds up to 50 mph while an angry Yeti chases it around a 200-foot-tall mountain. Each of the three elements needs its own superstructure. That's because the roller coaster frame shakes, the fake Yeti's actuators produce forces equal to the engines of a Boeing 747, and the concrete mountain would shatter if it moved under all that rattling.

"The three superstructures are interwoven, but they cannot touch anywhere," Rohde said.

[Last modified May 14, 2005, 00:58:02]

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