Since last season, guests at both Disney resorts in the United States have been able to enjoy an attraction that blurs the boundaries between dark ride and midway game. Toy Story Mania! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida and Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim raises the bar for interactive rides. Park World talks exclusively to one of the Imagineers who helped create it.
Donning 3D glasses, guests enter the world of Woody, Buzz and other Toy Story characters as they take aim at a series of animated targets that trigger fun surprises throughout the ride. Toy Story Mania!, like the Toy Story films, takes its inspiration from the fact that all the toys in schoolboy Andy’s room spring to life whenever he is away.
Upon entering the attraction, guests are welcomed by an animatronic Mr Potato Head, more than 5ft tall, who encourages them to “step right up” for the immersive carnival experience that follows.
The ride vehicles, which turn round throughout the ride so passengers are always facing the game booth in front of them, add a huge amount of fun to the experience. Full of twists and turns, the ride’s route takes guests through Andy’s bedroom filled with oversized murals and toys. Each game booth is high-tech yet rooted to classic midway games of skill. Sat in pairs, guests take aim at an ever-changing variety of 3D animated targets using an on-board spring-action shooter.
As they play, guests can see the “virtual” objects they’ve launched leave the shooters in front of them and hit (or miss) the targets on screen. And thanks to 4D effects technology, they may sense objects whirring past them as they pop out of the 3D scenes. In total there are five games, plus an introductory practice round and a bonus round. Along the way players are given encouragement by the Toy Story cast characters.
First comes the “Pie Throw” practice round in which players try splattering targets with virtual pies. Next, a “Hamm & Eggs” booth lets players launch virtual plastic eggs at various barnyard targets. “Bo Peep’s Baaa-loon Pop” presents a landscape full of balloon sheep, trees and other objects at which players launch virtual darts. But they had better be careful! A popped water balloon might add an additional 4D wet dimension to the game!
Next it’s on to “Green Army Men Shoot Camp” where the challenge is to break plates with virtual baseballs. “Buzz Lightyear’s Flying Tossers” is a ring-toss game hosted by everyone’s favourite space ranger, with Little Green Aliens as the targets. For the grand finale players ride through Wild West scenes launching suction darts at targets in “Woody’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Shootin’ Gallery.” A final “Woody’s Bonus Roundup” encourages guests to fire their spring-action shooters as rapidly as possible at one last super target for extra points.
No matter how many times guests return to ride and play, they can be sure every ride-through Toy Story Mania! will seem different.
Concept designers for Toy Story Mania! were Walt Disney Imagineers Kevin Rafferty and Robert Coltrin. A third Imagineer, John Noonan, the technical director of show control systems for Walt Disney Imagineering, is responsible for the design and installation of the very complex systems which operate all of the “show” elements for attractions in Disney parks worldwide. On Toy Story Mania! he acted as lead engineer.
Park World sought out Kevin Rafferty at the Imagineers’ lair in Glendale, California. The ride’s senior concept writer has spent the last 30 years developing concepts for Walt Disney Imagineering and turning them into three-dimensional storytelling experiences for Disney park guests. As a member of Imagineering’s “Blue Sky” group, he is currently working on concepts for new attractions at Disney parks around the globe. Our first question for Kevin Rafferty was simple…
Is Toy Story Mania a dark ride or a game? How is it different from similar attractions?
Toy Story Mania! is our latest, interactive ride and game experience. Each time an individual plays the game, the experience will be different based on their abilities. And for the first time on a Disney ride, guests wear 3D glasses and experience 4D effects.
Why do people enjoy it?
Guests tell us they love the quick pace and challenge and find the experience very repeatable. As with all Disney attractions, Toy Story Mania! starts with a story. Our guests tell us how much they enjoy interacting with our Disney/Pixar characters – and this attraction gives guests the opportunity to actually play a game with them!
Does Toy Story Mania embody new technology, or is it comprised of existing technology used in a new application?
A little bit of both. We’ve used existing technology and computer power in new ways to create the games, plus invented some elements of the “spring action shooter” that enhance the play of the game.
Describe the technology. What makes it work?
This is one of the most technologically complex attractions Walt Disney Imagineering has created. It takes 154 computers to run the game, each with a specific set of tasks, and they all must stay very tightly synchronised. To communicate with the vehicles, we use a secure wireless network that is much more reliable and secure than your typical wireless network. The real-time animation is possible because the spring-action shooters communicate with the animating computers at a rate of 60 times per second. This allows you to see the targets you hit react in real time, just like it would happen at a midway game at a county fair.
Will we see this technology applied to future Disney attractions?
We will continue developing more interactive, customised and personalised attractions Every time we create a new way to apply technology, that process becomes part of the Disney Imagineering tool kit for the next generation of attractions. I’m sure you’ll see pieces and parts of this in the future, though I have no specifics to share right now.
Is this technology available from others? Do you expect to see non-Disney variations of this eventually in other parks?
We develop attractions like this based on invented and innovative technology created or adapted by our Imagineering teams.
What do you, as Imagineers, enjoy most about Toy Story Mania?
Our Imagineering team just loves this attraction – we’re still enjoying challenging each other to see who can get the highest scores! The best part of experiencing an attraction we’ve created is to see and hear the expressions on the faces of our guests – they love it!!
What other plans are there for the Pixar area at Disney’s Hollywood Studios?
We’re always working on something new – so stay tuned.
Toy Story Mania! will open at Tokyo DisneySea, Japan, in 2012. A version of the game is also available for the Nintendo Wii courtesy of Disney Interactive Studios.