Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Here is the awaited article about Tokyo Disneyland upcoming attraction Monsters Inc, Ride and Go Seek. First, i was supposed to write myself the article, but when i read Lee MacDonald's article in issue 10 of the "Tales from the Laughing Place" magazine, i knew Lee's article was so good that it was impossible to beat! So, i asked Lee who is a good friend the authorisation to publish it on Disney and more, and here it is, with renderings and new pictures of the TDL Monsters Inc building and attraction posters.
Those of you who love Audio-Animatronics should await particularly this new WDI attraction as "Monsters Inc" will have the biggest number of Audio-Animatronics - more than 70 - built by WDI for an attraction since DLP Pirates of Caribbean or TDS Sindbad Golden Voyages. The official cost of this new wonder is 10 Billion YEN - 107 Million $ - and the attraction is scheduled to open officially April 15, 2009, but i think we can expect some soft opening before that date.
I want to add for those of you who don't know the "Tales of the Laughing Place" magazine that it is simply and undeniably the best magazine about Disney theme parks, full of great interviews with WDI Imagineers or reports like the one you will read below . I will tell you more about this gorgeous magazine later this week, but in the meantime, you can discover more about it HERE.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it is with great pleasure that i introduce Lee MacDonald who will open the door for you on the secrets of Monsters Inc Ride and Go Seek!
“Meet the (Monster) World” by Lee Mac Donald
Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of interviewing Imagineering Ambassador Marty Sklar about the development and construction of EPCOT Center as part of our special EPCOT at 25 series that will be the centerpiece of our fall ’07 issue. EPCOT Center remains the largest engineering project ever undertaken by the Walt Disney Company and I remarked that I was astounded that the Company could execute both EPCOT Center and Tokyo Disneyland concurrently (the first international park opened little more than six months after the second park at Walt Disney World). Marty countered that Tokyo Disneyland (“TDL”) was a cakewalk compared to EPCOT Center as it was little more than a Magic Kingdom clone.
In short that is precisely what the park on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay was at the outset. TDL designers cherry-picked the most popular attractions from Florida’s first Disney theme park for the licensed park in Japan. In addition the park’s owner and operator Oriental Land Company (“OLC”) wanted a venue to house an attraction that was being developed for the Japan pavilion at EPCOT Center. Ultimately the attraction was dropped from the lineup of World Showcase but it did materialize on a neutral pad of land between TDL’s World Bazaar and Tomorrowland. Meet the World was a 19-minute multi-media show that traced the history of Japan from its volcanic origin to the present day. Our hosts were two young children (in the form of Audio-Animatronics) and an animated magical crane (a pertinent choice as Japanese society reveres the bird as a symbol of good health and long life) in a theater similar to that used in Carrousel of Progress (although at TDL the audience was seated in a rotating inner core that afforded a larger stage but less seats than its US counterparts). The attraction opened with the rest of the park (that included the truly original film presentation of Eternal Seas that also dealt with Nippon) and offered complimentary admission when TDL operated the ticket book system.
Ultimately Meet the World shuttered on June 30, 2002. Space is at a premium within TDL and OLC decided it could no longer support an attraction that was underutilized by guests whilst still occupying valuable real estate on one of the main spurs from World Bazaar. The race was on for Walt Disney Imagineering to find a suitable replacement for the Kingdom of Dreams and Magic.
“We considered a couple of different concepts for the replacement for Meet the World but the successful release of Monsters, Inc. in the fall of ’01 sparked our imagination about the possibility of bringing the world of Monstropolis to Tokyo Disneyland,” xxxx told Tales. “We really did go around the block though on how to present the story and characters to guests. We really liked the idea of interactivity but our partners, OLC, didn’t want the play element to be like Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters [which debuted at the park on April 15, 2004] so we went off in another direction. By the spring of ’05 we had hit upon the idea of flashlight tag which solved the puzzle for both us and OLC.”
Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek is the latest generation of dark rides that is currently under construction on that plot that originally hosted Meet the World. In early ’09 guests will join Boo and Sulley on a trip through the Monsters, Inc. factory and the streets of Monstropolis as they play hide and seek with flashlights. Along the way we will meet a host of familiar and new monsters who are equally keen to play with us but will only reveal themselves if tagged in a predominantly white-light environment.
“We built an early interior model that proofed out our concepts and the storyboards that had been worked up. That model allowed us to justified our specifications to OLC and help us understand their criteria. OLC have a great understanding of Japanese culture and what their guests expect from the attractions at Tokyo Disney Resort. OLC wanted an attraction that was highly repeatable as the average guest tends to visit the park often,” Mark explains. “Buzz is a fun attraction but we didn’t need another ion blaster game at the park. Also we didn’t want guests to focus on getting the highest score which can become a fixation for some in that particular ride. The design challenge was to combine the playability of Astro Blasters without overselling the scoring aspect. We hit upon the flashlight tag concept early in the design phase and it works as so many people will have played the game as a kid ensuring that the gameplay is intuitive and doesn’t require a complex initial set-up. The whole reaction and counter-reaction to the tag is the center of the gags we have written and the characters lend themselves to cute gags. Instead of needing to tally up a score and look for a totals board we hope guests will exit the attraction saying “I got Claws!” or “I tagged Milton!” That differentiation was critical to the attraction being green-lighted.”
“However the interactivity quality cannot dominate the storytelling. Ultimately we need to meld the two together. We really looked at the more recent dark ride like Astro Blaster, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and Roger Rabbit Cartoon Spin to see what works best and transfer those elements into the monster space,” Mark continues. “However I think the overall look of the interiors is hyper-real as opposed to the cartoony look of something Pooh or Roger Rabbit. Our desire was that Ride and Go Seek! would be a great experience with rich storytelling for anyone that opts not to take part in the gameplay.”
Courtesy of a fully realized 1:50 scale painted model imagineers have recreated the exterior of the Monsters, Inc. factory as envisaged by the movie’s co-production designer Harley Jessup. As the model on the previous page demonstrates the giant signature M-shaped vault has been recreated in physical form for the attraction.
Guests will enter the building through the same doors as the monsters as Walt Disney Imagineering have been exacting in the replication of the Pixar designs. The first room is the circular lobby where guests will see Celia’s desk and even the murals within the domed structure to be as true to director Pete Docter’s original intent as possible.
The conceit is an extension of the movie’s conclusion where Mike and Sulley discover that laughter is a more powerful source of energy than screams and Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek! leads off from that point. “The front of the building will have “It is Laughter We Are After” rather than “We Scare Because We Care!” to set-up the storyline as early as possible,” Mark says. “We have been invited back to the Monsters, Inc. factory and Monstropolis along with Boo to play flashlight tag with the monsters.
After the load/unload area we meet Boo and Sulley in the simulation room. We see that Boo is anxious to get started but Sulley cautions that we aren’t quite ready to play as it is still daytime. However in the next scene we see Mike at the main power switch for the entire city. We discover it is now time to play and with a flick of the switch both the factory and the city turn to darkness. One of our secondary monsters is hiding in a toolbox and as the city powers down he zaps Mike in the eyeball as the first tag.”
“Our first big scene is the locker room and our flashlights are engaged as we enter the room. Lockers are on both side of the room and we can hear monsters rattling behind the locker doors saying things like “We can’t catch me!” Guests will be able to engage the monsters by pointing their flashlights on the activated lockers which will cause the doors to open and reveal the monster to tag,” Mark explains. “One of the neat things about this attraction is the ride vehicle. Guests will board maintenance vehicles as we are visiting the factory after-hours. Each train of vehicles features three cars that each seat two passengers. We can independently rotate each car which gives us total control over the view of each guest. The train can also be programmed to proceed at different speeds throughout the show building. I believe it is also the first time we have ever built a dark ride with a canopy over the vehicles which will prevent guests from focusing on the ceiling or grid work inside the space.”
“Guests will be able to feel the warmth of Boo and Sulley playing hide and seek and feel that they are able to participate themselves. Before we leave that first play scene we will see that Randall is watching the events unfolding that hints that he will want to disrupt proceedings at some point,” Mark continues. “Our next scene will be Roz at her booth and her shutter will snap closed if we try to zap her. She will tell us that she’s “not playing so move along!”
As Mark took me through the storyboards I noticed that one monster in a hard-hat had a recurring theme throughout the attraction. “That is a good catch as we have added a tertiary character that is the hard-hat monster from the movie,” Mark exclaims. “We have called this little friend Rocky and he appears five times throughout the attraction and has been entirely designed for the hard-core repeat guests who will hopefully try to find as many Rockys as possible! I’m not going to tell you where he appears but like all the monsters he will vibrate or wiggle when he can be tagged and revealed. For our purposes there is no such thing as a magic flashlight. If you shine your light on a door it won’t necessarily do anything. The reveals are only possible when the indicator is present. This could be a wiggling hat or socks sticking out of a door. Just some hint that you might want to try and trigger that object. There are no “Z” targets in this attraction [referring to the top-scoring hidden targets in Astro Blasters] and guests will need to pay more attention. The cues are obvious enough that you will see what to do and with five other people in the scene at any one time you will be able to play of off each other.”
All of the main characters that are integral to the storytelling will be recognizable to guests as being lifted from the movie itself. All of the secondary characters, most of which are involved in playing tag with us, have been developed by WDI for the attraction. Mark was quick to stress that Pete Docter and his team at Pixar were involved in the design process to ensure that all of the new characters were on-model and in-character whilst being unique to the attraction. All of the original Japanese voice talent from the movie has been assembled for the character voices and the background music is based on Randy Newman’s score that has been specially orchestrated for the attraction.
Next the ride vehicles enter the Laugh Floor. Co-production designer Bob Pauley came up with the concept of the former Scare Floor being akin to a bowling alley as he saw the function as being similar in a row of monsters all doing the same thing in a line. The concept is evident in the final design for the movie and has been replicated by WDI for the TDL attraction. Mike will be in a pickle as he is being stretched between two moving doors with Smitty and Needleman trying to help out. Again Randall will be attempting to interfere with the harmless game but Sulley is there is protect his playmate.
“Following the Laugh Floor the vehicles transport guests on to the streets of the city. This is our biggest scene and it is contained within the giant M-shaped vault that is visible from the outside,” Mark reveals. “The facades are as tall as the building of Disneyland’s Main Street and are all fully dimensional and rendered. We were fortunate enough to be able to mock up a full-sized version in our North Hollywood facility. That enabled us to work out the pacing and monster locations but it also allowed us to deal with the sound issues that were troubling our engineers. They were worried that the combination of the ride vehicles, background music and monster voiceovers would lead to a cacophony of sound with little detail reaching the participants. We ended up creating facades that absorbed sound. In short the dummy set answered a lot of questions that was a useful learning tool for the entire design team.”
Much like the attraction at Disney’s California Adventure (“DCA”) park imagineers have recreated the Harryhausen’s restaurant where guests will see the sushi chef playing with Boo (using Chinese food boxes) and catch Mike trying to find the precocious tyke by lifting up a bench that dumps his date Celia in water. Upon exiting the scene the train of cars will take guests back through the cityscape on the opposite side of the road which increased the interactivity as guests will be able to see another train playing the game as they had done just moments before themselves.
“Up until now Sulley has always known where Boo was but as we arrive in the basement of Monsters, Inc. he loses her and you will see the sense of panic that overcomes him,” Mark explains. “However we will know that Boo is still playing hide and seek but she doesn’t realize that Randall is directly behind her. Mike will pop up and zap her with his flashlight exclaiming “Got you! Game over!” and he accidentally pushes Randall down the garbage chute. The flashlights are switched off but we need to complete the storytelling. We will see a live-action Randall getting trashed, thrashed and crunched in the compactor and we have the funny gag of a cube of Randall garbage popping off the end.”
“Finally we find ourselves back in the simulation room but Boo isn’t ready for bed and escapes,” Mark reveals. “She says “Goodnight” to our hard-hat monster that pops up and says “Goodbye” in this funny deep voice. The ultimate scene is where guests can interact with Roz. We have actually lengthened the scene by three times from that at DCA to encourage more communication from Roz to the riders and back. We hope to get some banter going which should be fun.”
Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek! is approximately four minutes in length but due to the richness and sheer volume of visual eye candy in each scene I can imagine it will feel like a longer experience. All of the monsters are rendered three-dimensionally in Audio-Animatronic form and in total there are over seventy figures and props of this kind. “This attraction is what OLC felt they needed in this park – a high-end interactive dark ride experience,” Mark concludes. “OLC get the marketability of a new attraction and guests will discover something new each time they go back. We hope that guests will find it as great on the first visit as the thirty-first. All of us at WDI are very excited about this project due to the warmth of the characters, the compellent storytelling and the concept of flashlight tag.”
Interactivity appears to have become the plat du jour for WDI of late with recent unveilings under the Living Character Program like Muppet Mobile Lab and Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor at Magic Kingdom and the parallel construction of the 3D CGI-based Toy Story Mania! at DCA and Disney-MGM Studios. Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek! also continue the Pixar domination of WDI product of late that has many people frothing at the mouth. However the overriding commitment by WDI is to irresistible stories and appealing characters. Sadly Walt Disney Feature Animation has failed to produce either in recent years. Personally I would take an attraction about the enduring friendship between an adorable bundle of energy and her gentle giant of a scarer. Monsters, Inc. is a tale we can all relate to and the opportunity to join Boo in Monstropolis is both alluring and overwhelming. There is little doubt in my mind that the chance to play with Boo and Sulley will be infinitely more popular than an aged Disney-skewed history lesson.
Text: copyright Tales of a Laughing Place - Lee MacDonald
My biggest thanks to Lee!
Photos: copyright Disney and Paul Hsu
Artwork: copyright Walt Disney enterprises and Pixar