Theme Parks

D23 Expo 2015

I'm sure Comic Con is cool but D23 Expo is more my speed.

D23 Expo is a 3-day biennial convention put on by The Walt Disney Company to showcase just about every aspect of the company, preview things to come, and let you peer behind the curtain where ever possible. Not being particular well-versed in the happenings of a pop culture convention of this size, the D23 Expo app proved to be an invaluable resource for marking which panels I planned to hit and which booths I wanted to see. 

There was a ton to see this year so I'm going to run down my list, with my reactions:

Show Floor

John Lasseter's Hawaiian Shirt Collection

I've long admired John's Hawaiian shirts but the prohibitively high prices they regularly seek on eBay has kept me from getting any, so to actually see them up close and person was pretty neat. Not much else to say about this one, though this was billed as shirts coming directly from John's collection, I heard that a few were in fact from a certain Pixar archivist's closet.

Walt Disney Animation/Pixar

 Greg Dykstra, sculptor at Pixar

Greg Dykstra, sculptor at Pixar

This was probably my favorite booth on the floor but not for the reasons you'd expect. Several walls in this booth were lined with maquettes from the recently released Inside Out while The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory and a handful of other films. On top of all this though, the Animation booth had a small intimate demonstration area seating about 50 or so people where Disney Animation and Pixar employees gave talks on a wide variety of topics. My favorites of those talks being a few given by a few folks at Pixar. The first was by Danielle Feinberg and Michael Fredrickson, called "Lights, Camera, Coding". It gave a sort of 5000ft view of some of the ways coding (Python) is used while creating a movie at Pixar. The best part was a little reel Michael showed of programmatic mistakes made across a few productions. These clips included a particularly hilarious sequence where young Carl from Up had a slowly elongating neck and his facial expressions matched up with the glitch perfectly. My second favorite talk was given by Greg Dykstra, a sculptor at Pixar. In his demonstration, Greg walked you through his process of physically sculpting a maquette of Butch, a t-rex voiced by Sam Elliot in the upcoming film The Good Dinosaur. He started with an example of a armature, then moved to a rough sculpt that he actually put some clay on and showed how he would block in pieces of the sculpt. Finally, he pulled out a copy of the final sculpt of Butch which he had completed over the course of early production on the film. I'm not someone who is particularly good with my hand so to see how someone takes raw clay and transforms it into the essentially perfect looking 3d representation of something that only existed as sketches on paper was seriously impressive. 

 Me and Nathan Greno

Me and Nathan Greno

Oh and I also met Nathan Greno, co-director of Tangled and director of the recently announced Gigantic, here.

Walt Disney Imagineering

 Me, a Na'vi bust, and Joe Rohde

Me, a Na'vi bust, and Joe Rohde

First thing Saturday morning I rushed over to the Avatar exhibit to get a peak at the upcoming "Pandora - The World of Avatar" land coming to Animal Kingdom, the line had been substantially long on Friday. The model of the land that they brought was gorgeous, I just wish we could have walked all the way around it instead of just seeing it from one angle. But what was at the end of this exhibit really stole the show, Joe FREAKING Rohde was hanging out talking to people as they exited. Joe Rhode is to a level at Walt Disney Imagineering where you would think they would just wheel him out on stage at the Parks and Resorts presentation and once he was done he'd go back to his Imagineering duties, but no I walked by on a few occasions and there he was just hanging out by the exit of the booth chatting with people.

On top of this Walt Disney Imagineering also brought a whole slew of artwork and maquettes from Shanghai Disneyland, which is opening sometime next year. The concept artwork and designs here were really impressive (I want that Tron coaster) but I didn't spend all that much time in this exhibit.

Disneyland 60th Anniversary Archives Exhibit

 1955 Disneyland Entrance and Attraction tickets

1955 Disneyland Entrance and Attraction tickets

There really isn't all that much to say about this one, it was phenomenal.

Shopping

 The Cyclops Print Works Booth

The Cyclops Print Works Booth

So, um, Disney fans really really like to buy things and as you would expect the lines to get into the stores to buy things were extraordinarily long, the Disney Store, where I hear much of the limited edition merchandise was on sale, regularly had a 4+ hour long line. I like buying things too, but not quite that much. Sunday morning, as soon as the doors opened, I quickly queued up for Mickey's of Glendale (a store typically only open for Cast Members) to snag up some Walt Disney Imagineering merchandise. I ended up waiting something like 45 mins and walked out of the store with a few t-shirts and a handful of pins, which I don't even collect but they were too cool to pass on.

I am a clinically diagnosed poster addict, so it should come as no surprise that my favorite place to spend money on the show floor was at Cyclops Print Works, a division of Disney Fine Art. For the expo, Cyclops released 7 full-sized prints from a bunch of artists (Tom Whalen, Dave Perillo, Mark Englert, JC Richard, etc) based on a variety of Disney Properties (Fantastia, Inside Out, Beauty and the Beast, etc) as well as over a dozen smaller handbills. They also did a bit of a scavenger hunt on social media where they were giving out free handbills based on the Disney Animation Shorts. If you collected the handbills for all 12 shorts, you got a free uncut sheet of them as well and I managed to get the job done.

Presentations

Disney Animation

Having seen it in the afternoon of the first day, this presentation set a pretty extraordinarily high bar of everything else I was going to see. You've probably read about most of the stuff announced here a week ago, so I'll just stick to my opinion on everything.

Zootopia

This movie looks funny as I'm sure you've probably already heard but unlike some of the other people I've read it's certainly not my favorite of the bunch shown here and the some of the sequences seemed to stay on the same bit for too long. That all said, Nick Wilde's son, is going to be everywhere once this film is released. Him in the elephant costume may be the cutest thing Disney has every created.

Gignatic

A new take on Jack and the Beanstalk, and with the twists the revealed, I'm in. Nathan Greno is directing this and I just so happened to meet him and get a sketch, a few days after this presentation.

Moana

A big fan of the South Pacific and Lilo and Stitch, I was really intrigued by this movie when they released some concept art a while back. The clips and musical performance they showed has bumped up my excitement even more. One specific clip, where they explained that the Pacific Ocean will be an integral character to the story, had me fighting back tears. It was visually beautiful, the way they made the ocean interacted with a young Moana, but it was just as emotionally striking having known nothing about the character.

I never really got into professional wrestling, but I totally get why the Rock was so huge in the 90s that got is damn good on the mic. Oh and he's also voicing a character/god named Maui in the movie.

Inside Out: Riley's First Date?

Pixar announced a new short was accompanying the DVD/Blu-ray release of Inside Out and they showed it to us in it's entirety. It is just as charming and entertaining as the movie and the subject matter is very funny.

The Good Dinosaur

Having gone through so many production woes, I haven't had much excitement for Pixar's next release The Good Dinosaur. These concerns have vanished after seeing a few clips of the movie and crying during one. Based on the clips shown, this movie reminds me a lot of Finding Nemo, as we follow the two main characters on an epic adventure with the heart of the first act of Up thrown in (hence my crying). It's also worth noting the visual style of the movie. The characters are more simplistic and stylized while the background are super-detailed and highly-rendered. This reminds me a lot of Sleeping Beauty and Earle's very detailed backgrounds against those simple characters.

Finding Dory

I used to have a tropical reef aquarium because of what I saw in Finding Nemo, so I'm totally in on Finding Dory plus the voice cast is phenomenal.

Coco

Out of all the announcements at D23 Expo, including Star Wars Land, this is the one I am most excited about. I love the brightly colored Dia de los Muertos look and the 'diorama' (an early sequence meant to showcase the look and feel of the film) that director Lee Unkrich showed knocked my socks off. It had this Skeleton Dance mixed with a 'dark ride', because of the continuously moving forward camera, that I adored. How awesome would a Dia de los Muertos dark ride in Disney World(I'd say Epcot but I'd probably get in trouble for that) be?

Toy Story 4

People are worried about this, but I have faith and Lasseter is directing, what could go wrong? 

Randy Newman closed out the presentation performing "You've Got A Friend In Me". I love Randy Newman. 

Disney Animation Shorts

A panel of people involved in the Disney Animation shorts were on hand to discuss their associated shorts and how important doing shorts has become to the company. Clips were shown, things were said, just nothing particularly insightful.

Pixar Living Archives

Christine Freeman, lead archivist and historian at Pixar discussed the work that the Pixar archives does and how they serve as essentially a reference library for Pixar employees as well as preserving the company's history

Thoughts on the next D23 Expo

I will 100% be at the next D23 Expo, I just may be paying substantially more money to get it. The Sorcerer's Pass, a VIP pass, gets you reserved seats at every presentation, early entry, special shopping times and more. To my eyes, bypassing all the lines and being able to get into every presentation is worth the $2000 they are asking.

Next time I'd love to see something akin to Animation stage but exclusively for Imagineering. The number of Imagineering presentation was supremely lacking. I want to see engineers discussing designing ride systems. Fireworks people discussing how they put on a nightly fireworks show. Sculptors discussing how they create fake rocks. You get the idea.

All in all, if you are a Disney fan I can not recommend D23 Expo enough.

Universal Orlando using iBeacon

Just got home from a trip to Orlando, doing the whole Disney and Universal deal and one of the things I was most excited to try was Disney's new MyMagic+. The ability for me to use my phone and accompanying wristband to unlock my room, get in the parks, charge purchases, link ride photos amongst many other things is something my nerd self loves. This experience worked just about flawlessly with a hiccup here and there. The thing that makes it all the more impressive is going from Disney to Universal, where there is a card or piece of paper for just about everything (room key, park ticket, Express Pass, and if you are on the dinning plan, a separate card per person per day). Every day I had 4 cards or pieces of paper in a lanyard around my neck. (Side note: why is it that the park ticket is regular old paper and not plastic like your customized room key?)

Just a few days before I departed for Orlando, Universal Orlando released their official iPhone app and I jumped on it right away as it offered real-time wait times. Fast forward a couple days, I'm walking around Islands of Adventure and curious of a ride time, I pop open the app and I'm greeted with a Location Accuracy popup that stated "Turning on Bluetooth will improve location accuracy".

Knowing my Apple technology my immediate thought was iBeacon and a quick google search verified my assumption and brought me to the Terms and Use at UniversalOrlando.com which explicitly mentions 'Apple iBeacon' under (d) Location-Based Features:

... This data may be retained by NBCUniversal and may be used for, but is not limited to, internal and analytical purposes to ensure the integrity of the wireless network and Apple iBeacon system, to identify wait times and visitation trends for rides, shows and attractions, and to improve your experience within our resort destination. We may use aggregate information to better understand guest behavior and make improvements to the guest experience (e.g., managing queue line wait times and improving traffic flow).
— Universal Orlando Terms of Service

In my travels around the parks I didn't notice any iBeacons like Estimote's, so this could be something they are just starting to roll out but they could just as easily be very well hidden. Technology-wise these are essentially the same thing as Disney's implementation except instead of wearing the 'dumb' device around your wrist, it will be mounted on a wall in a shop or in a queue and your phone will see it and notify you via your Bluetooth-equipped phone phone of any pertinent information.

Personally, I'm all for anything that will make the park experience more enjoyable whether it by tracking or any other means but there are some who aren't a fan of being watched, so just remember in order for any of this tracking to happen you have to install the Universal Orlando app other wise you're all safe and the eye in the Universal Orlando sky has no clue where you are.

It will be interesting to see what Universal can do with this, surely managers in the soon to open Diagon Alley will happily take as much crowd information as they can get. That being said, I'm not sure it can completely match the functionality of something like Disney's MagicBands but it's certainly nice to see them taking a step in the right direction.