Saturday, November 19, 2016

D23 Event : Pandora: The World of Avatar Set to Open Summer 2017, New Renderings Released, Night View Concept-Art of DHS Star Wars Land, Epcot Overhaul, and more...

Yesterday at the D23’s Destination D: Amazing Adventures presentation, Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts unveiled a new rendering showing how Disney's Hollywood Studios Star Wars Land will look at night. The land will take on a whole new dimension after dark and feature adventures and surprises around each corner. 

He also revealed that a Star Tours update is also underway at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland park in Anaheim, California, to bring more stories from a galaxy, far, far away to life in the parks.

A new adventure to Star Tours – the Adventures Continue attraction will be added. Walt Disney Imagineering and Lucasfilm teams are currently in production to add an exciting new mission to the attraction based on elements from Star Wars Episode VIII. 

Let's move to Animal Kingdom and Pandora – The World of Avatar as Bob Chapek also gave a construction update about the new land which is now officially scheduled for an opening at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in summer 2017. Three renderings were also released showing new locations in Pandora : the World of Avatar. 

Pongu Pongu will be a special drink location with a design that is as eclectic as its Expat owner... 

Satu’li Canteen will be the main restaurant in Pandora – The World of Avatar and will feature Na’vi art and cultural items. 

At Windtraders, travelers will be able to find Na’vi cultural items, toys, science kits, and more.

He also shared a look at a recent construction milestone - scaffolding has just been removed from the entry bridge into the new land (near Tiffins restaurant), officially connecting the land with the rest of the park.

According to the storyline developed by Walt Disney Imagineering and Lightstorm Entertainment, this bridge was built during a time when a destructive company called the RDA came to Pandora. Now that they’re long gone, nature is breaking down evidence of their presence. This bridge will soon serve as an entry into the base camp of Alpha Centauri Expeditions, the eco-tour group that is preparing Pandora for future explorers and adventure seekers. 

The story of the bridge is just our first look inside this land, which fulfills the original mission of Disney’s Animal Kingdom of being a park that honors animals and natural environments “real, ancient and imagined.” 

The entire Pandora – The World of Avatar land will transport guests to a visually stunning world complete with floating mountains and bioluminescent plants. Here, guests will be able to experience two excursions that will truly push adventure to the next level. First, the family friendly Na’vi River Journey will send guests down a sacred river hidden within a bioluminescent rainforest. 

Their journey will end in an unforgettable encounter with a Na’vi Shaman, a figure who has a deep connection to the life force of Pandora. 

And second, the Avatar Flight of Passage excursion will offer the jaw-dropping experience of riding on a Banshee over the world of Pandora.

Last but not least, a good news for all Epcot fans as Bob Chapek at Destination D announced that an overhaul is in the plans for WDW Epcot! Chapek said that he asked WDI creative team to "dream big" about the upcoming transformations and that the park will become “more Disney, timeless, relevant, family-friendly” while staying faithful to Epcot original vision of an edutainment park. Well, let's give him the benefit of the doubt about that one, would we?

Pictures: copyright Disney

Friday, November 18, 2016

How Wanda CEO Wang Jianlin Prepares His Counterattack Against Shanghaî Disneyland

As you know Wanda's CEO Wang Jianlin - real estate tycoon and richest man in China - is self declared Disney's biggest foe and determined to make Shanghaî Disneyland a financial failure. His famous quote "One tiger is no match for a pack of wolves - Shanghaî has one Disney while Wanda, across the nation, will open 15 or 20 theme parks" is now famous and two theme parks built at the speed of light have already open in Hefei and Nanchang.

Now, Wang Jianlin did a series of announcements recently which shows that he's ready to spend an enourmous amount of money to win the battle, but this time things has changed a bit as he's apparently also learning from his mistakes - the park which opened in Wuhan in 2014 has closed just 19 months after its opening for "upgrades".  So, let's see what were Wang Jianlin different moves during the last weeks as it might give an idea of what he prepares for the future.

First, on October 15 we learned that Wanda hired Andrew Kam, previously at the head of Hong Kong Disneyland. Andrew Kam will serve as "vice president of Wanda’s Cultural Tourism Group, which is planning to build and operate a series of large-scale theme parks across China". Well, this first move is not necessarily a bad one as not only he hired someone who was at the head of a major theme park, but also a Disney one, which basically gives Wang Jianlin the knowledge of how his biggest competitor create theme parks, not to mention to learn what will be Disney's future projects in advance as Andrew Kam probably kept some connections inside the Mouse.

Then, a few days after, on October 26, Wang Jianlin and "his delegation" went to visit Shanghaî Disneyland. I suppose that Andrew Kam probably told him something like "well, you know, it might be a good idea that you'll go at Shanghaî Disneyland to see by your own eyes how Disney do it..." No surprise, Wang Jianlin declared during his visit: “The visit to Shanghai Disneyland is both an observation and study”. And there is a lot to study at SDL for Wang Jianlin if he wants to understand the secrets of what makes a Disney park unique.

Then, and for sure impressed by the quality of Shanghaî Disneyland rides Wang went back to his headquarter, probably gather his "war council", and a few days ago an official press release from Premier Rides announced that Wanda has signed a contract with them "to build one of the most cutting-edge attractions ever to be introduced to the theme park industry".

Here is the full press release in case you missed it: The Wanda Group has awarded Premier Rides a major contract to design and build one of the most cutting-edge attractions ever to be introduced to the theme park industry. The first-of-its-kind attraction will set a new standard for technical innovation and will reinforce Wanda’s stated goal to be the leader in China’s themed entertainment industry. The project will represent the most significant investment to date by Wanda on a single attraction and will introduce stunning new technologies that are sure to impress Wanda’s millions of fans.

Jim Seay, President of Premier Rides commented on the award stating “Premier Rides is incredibly respectful of Wanda’s commitment to build the best, world-class attractions and world-class theme parks throughout China and beyond. Their dedication to providing high-end thrilling immersive experiences is very impressive and we are honored to be a part of their vision for success. The Wanda team is very focused and works hard to ensure the best possible product. Premier has great synergy with Wanda.”

Premier Rides is known for focusing on large, technically complex projects that incorporate the newest technologies and has provided the ride equipment for award-winning attractions like The Revenge of the Mummy™ at Universal Studios and Full Throttle at Six Flags Magic Mountain. The project with Wanda takes ride technology to the next level and will raise the bar on expectations throughout the industry. Cloaked in a high level of secrecy, details of the project are being kept very quiet.

Seay added “We are honored to be part of Wanda’s team which is absolutely focused on providing the newest and most exciting rides to the entertainment industry. The contract with Wanda is one of the largest ever for Premier Rides and we are very grateful for the trust placed in us. The themed entertainment business is very strong right now and Premier is in a growth phase to meet the industry needs. We are highly focused on the Asian market as its expansion continues to lead the industry and it has become the focus for the best the industry can imagine.”

So, so far, Wanda has hired Andrew Kam former head of HKDL, signed a contract with the folks of Premier Rides who know what a good ride mean, and tour Shanghaî Disneyland for inspiration... And then, came the BIG announcement ten days ago: the Wanda Group will invest $15 Billion to compete with Disney in China. Yes, you've read it well: 15 BILLION Dollars, i.e THREE times the cost of Shanghaî Disneyland. Actually, to be fair, Wanda signed an agreement with the municipal government of Changsha in China’s Hunan province to spend more than $7,3 billion on a Wanda City theme park in that city, plus another $7 billion on 15 shopping plazas throughout the province. It still makes $7,3B for one theme park only, 50% more than what Disney has spent on the whole Shanghaî Disney Resort, including SDL Hotels.

But wait, there is more as two days ago Wanda unveiled its second $15 billion development project in one week, pledging to build a major theme park in China's historic Xi'an Province for 50 billion yuan ( always $7.3 billion ). The rest of the investment will go into various developments across the region, including 19 commercial plazas. When someone announces in less than ten days two $15 billion projects including two theme parks for a cost of $7,3 billion each either you consider it's pure madness or that the guy is serious and you start to have a closer look at "what the hell is happening". And i don't mention that Wang Jianlin also bought two weeks ago Dick Clark Productions - who organize the Golden Globes, the American Music Awards, and more, for about one billion dollars, adding to Wanda's portfolio that includes the AMC theater chain and film-production company Legendary Entertainment ( more about that one in a moment ). Wanda's empire is also expanding on the movie production front as a huge "Movie Metropolis" is under completion in the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao, where Wanda hopes to lure foreign productions to its massive soundstages. And Wanda also announced the creation of a multi-billion dollars investment fund to invest in all six Hollywood Studios. At first Wang Jianlin wanted to buy one of Hollywood "majors" studios and until recently he had some views on Paramount Pictures but, there, it started to raise an alert and 16 U.S Congressmen urged that Hollywood Studios should be consider among "national security" saying that "any Chinese company that benefits from “illegal subsidies” could pose a strategic, if not overt, national security threat as there have been “growing concerns about China’s efforts to censor topics and exert propaganda controls on American media”. Apparently Wang Jianlin got the message and decided instead to create this investment fund. Last but not least, let's not forget the $3.3 billion investment in the Europa City project near Paris announced last February, which will include a theme park.

From any angle you look at all this, you know that Wanda prepares something big and that Wang Jianlin is decided to spend billions and up to his last yuan to win the battle with Disney. Yes, BUT sometime billions are not enough. Sure, with $7,3B spent on each park you can create truly amazing theme parks IF you have the right creative people - he might hire plenty of SDL Imagineers that Disney fired recently after the park opened - the right rides manufacturers - Premier Rides is a good start and a deal with Dynamic Attractions could be a good move, too - and also a serious budget for rides and parks maintenance over the years, generally the weak point in China. But here is the problem: even with all this, if there is no emotional connection for the guests it won't "work" as well as when there is one. Think about Disneyland Indiana Jones adventure, for instance. IJA is undoubtedly one of the best rides ever created but would you enjoy the attraction as much if it was not linked to Indiana Jones but to an unknown hero that you've never heard about? It still will remain a great ride, but as much enjoyable emotionally speaking? Probably not. And that's what Wanda is missing, characters beloved by millions and characters to whom people can identify. Someone once said that each Disney's animated classics were trailers for the Disney theme parks, and it's not totally wrong, even if it was not the primary intention. And that's where the purchase of Legendary Entertainment can be of some help for Wanda. Legendary Pictures produce among dozens of others Pacific Rim, the latest Godzilla, the upcoming Kong : Skull Island, and many more, and all these are characters that Chinese know and with which you can design great rides. Godzilla is still the property of TOHO Studios in Japan and Universal has a deal on King Kong ( a swell as on Godzilla in Japan ), but this can be resolved probably, specially with a man who's spending billion of dollars each week. And i wouldn't be surprised if the lack of characters IP was also the reason why Wanda tried to buy one of Hollywood major studios. Though with the upcoming Wanda investmend fund in Hollywood movies they might be in good position to ask for the use of IP in their Chinese parks in exchange of millions of dollars that will help a movie to get into production...

Now, to find and hire the right creatives and the ride companies will be the easy part for Wanda, specially when you are a billionaire like Wang Jianlin. But to make sure that Wanda's future theme parks will be as good as Disney, Wang Jianlin will need another victory over his biggest enemy and it's one that no money can buy as it is: himself. From what i've been told Wang Jianlin has no understanding of the industry in which he is trying to compete. May be his visit to Shanghaî Disneyland opened his eyes but so far he didn't realize that all he was doing was taking western concepts and throwing a Chinese robe over it and calling it Chinese. The Wanda guys also have a reputation for hiring western experts, bring them out for the press and then ignored everything they said because they think they know better. Until recently all they were doing was buying rides and ideas from the west, paying for it once and then copying without understanding what makes them special.

So, it seems that Wang Jianlin has still a long road to go before being a true competitor with the same quality than Disney and may be his "pack of wolves" won't hurt Disney "tiger", finally...

Related articles to learn more about Wanda projects and Wang Jianlin: Wall Street Journal, Shanghaist, Hollywood Reporter HERE and HERE, New York Times.

Pictures: copyright Getty, Wanda, Hollywood Reporter

Thursday, November 17, 2016

First Trailer For The Awaited Kong: Skull Island !

The first trailer for the awaited Kong: Skull Island has been released and so far, looks good. I specially like the new appearance of King Kong which looks somewhat between the original 1930's movie and the one in Peter Jackson's Kong movie ( in which i didn't liked too much the look of Kong ).

Kong: Skull Island will open in theaters on March 10, 2017 and was directed by John Vogt-Roberts and the cast includes Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, and John C. Reilly. Then you have the supporting cast featuring Tian Jing, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, John Ortiz, Thomas Mann, Shea Whigham, Toby Kebbell, and Eugene Cordero.

Picture and video: copyright Legendary Pictures

Hong Kong Star Ferry Announces New Route With 27 Years Old Renovated "World Star" Ferry Between Hong Kong and Hong Kong Disneyland Starting this December !

It don't look like but this is great news, and it'll be for sure a romantic way to go from Hong Kong to Hong Kong Disneyland during your next visit: The Hong Kong company which own the Star Ferry sailing from Hong Kong harbor to Kowloon has announced that it has recently transformed the 27-year-old "World Star" ferry into an environmentally friendly tour boat - which will sail a new route between Tsim Sha Tsui and Disneyland - in a bid to attract more tourists to explore Hong Kong on the water. More from The Standard:

"The HK$14 million refurbished "World Star" is expected to start operating daily on the new route by the end of this month, or early December.

It will pass through the SAR's landmarks, including the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals and Tsing Ma Bridge, during its trip, which will take passengers from Tsim Sha Tsui Ferry Pier to Disneyland in Penny's Bay in about 45 minutes.

Tourists who want to join the tour must purchase a HK$180 same-day return ticket ( $23 - 21€ ), with which they will be able to enjoy the snacks provided on the ferry as well. For about HK$200 ( $26 - 24€ ), World Star will also take tourists on a night trip to enjoy "A Symphony of Lights" - the nightly multimedia show involving more than 40 buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbour.

Star Ferry estimated the new ferry, which provides charter services, will carry more than 350 passengers per day once it starts operating, and the company expects to break even in six years' time.

General manager Johnny Leung Tak-hing said the new ferry will mainly target foreign tourists, as he believes "they like watching midstream operations and destinations, such as the container terminal."

The World Star was originally the ferry plying the Wan Chai-Hung Hom route.

Co-funded by the Pilot Green Transport Fund of the Environmental Protection Department, it has now been given a new life to become Hong Kong's first diesel-electric powered ferry. The eco- ferry brings about substantial reduction in smoke emission, but higher propulsion efficiency after undergoing the transformation.

With the introduction of the diesel- electric engine, the chimney stack above the roof will be of decorative use to preserve the iconic image of the Star Ferry.

The same section located at the interior upper deck of the ferry has been removed, which creates a larger interior compartment with an uninterrupted view from one end of the boat to the other."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Shanghaî Disneyland Wins Three THEA Awards

The THEA Awards are to theme parks what the Oscars Academy Awards are to movies, i.e the most prestigious awards that any Imagineer can get. The annual IAAPA - International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions - is currently happening in Orlando and Shanghai Disneyland Resort won on Tuesday three main THEA awards from the Themed Entertainment Association. 

Shanghaî Disneyland park is the recipient of the THEA award of outstanding achievement, an award that the park - and of course all the Imagineers and workers who built it - deserves totally. And the winning award for outstanding attractions went to Adventure Isle Camp Discovery and Treasure Cove Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure ride. 

I couldn't agree more with these awards as these are truly the most "perfect" attractions in the park. However, you'll note that TRON Lightcycles Power Run didn't get a THEA award. And, although i think that the Imagineers who built SDL Tomorrowland did a super job, i consider that it's also fair that the TRON ride didn't get one. There is a lot of things in the TRON attraction which are truly great  - starting my the magnificent dome and lighting as well as the ride vehicles design - but, in my opinion, the ride is not perfect. Surprisingly the TRON ride was even a disappointment for me and the main reason is a simple one: it should have last at least one more minute, if not two. The ride would have been one minute longer or more it would have been more immersive as we would have had the time to truly be immersed in TRON's world. Currently, you have barely the time to realize where you are - in TRON's grid - that it's already over. I'm pretty sure that Tomorrowland Imagineers are not responsible of this and that the reason why the ride don't last one or two minutes more is an executive decision to save money.

Disney's Central Florida’s theme parks were shut out of the Thea awards this year but Disney won another award for “connected immersion” for Haunted Mansion: Ghost Post at Disneyland, California.

Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts posted today: “These awards are a testament to our talented Cast Members, who continue pushing the boundaries of creativity and innovation as we bring treasured Disney stories and characters to life in our Parks and Resorts around the world”.

Universal Studios Hollywood was recognized for its themed food and beverage experience in its Springfield area, and also received the Thea Classic award for WaterWorld – A Live Sea-War Spectacular.

Other winning attractions awards went to WhiteWater’s Slideboarding for 'technology on a limited budget'; Mack Ride Systems’ Suspended Power Coaster for 'innovation'; the 5D Castle Theatre in China; House of Eternal Return by Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, N.M.; Meet Vincent Van Gogh Experience, a touring exhibit; Transformations at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Calif.; the Senate Immersion Module at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston; Le Dernier Panache, Puy du Fou, Les Epesses, France for live show; and Center Parcs Le Bois Aux Daims of Les Trois-Moutiers, France for 'eco-friendly destination'.

Jerry Railton, founder and chairman of Entertainment Design Corp. won the Buzz Price Thea Award, a lifetime achievement honor. Peter Chernace of The Chermack Group won the distinguised service award, which was renamed the Peter Chernack Distinguished Service Award in his honor, posthumously.

IAAPA last at the Orange County Convention Center until this Friday.

Here is the full THEA award text for the three awards won by Shanghaî Disneyland, with official SDL pictures:

Shanghai Disneyland, China - Theme Park
The 12th Disney park, sixth Magic Kingdom and largest of the Disney castle parks is excellence on an international scale. Shanghai Disneyland, which opened June 16, preserves the best of Walt Disney’s original vision, while pioneering a host of dazzling new creations.
It is a massive and successful, state-of-the-art world-class achievement with groundbreaking technology and creative design, production and execution.

Shanghai Disneyland photo ©Disney
Within its six themed lands (Mickey Avenue, Gardens of Imagination, Fantasyland, Treasure Cove, Adventure Isle and Tomorrowland) are elements both classic and new, with many first and new attractions specifically tailored to the Chinese audience.
Disney, one of the world’s biggest entertainment companies, took time to rethink its core brands in the context of the host country. Culture, technology and creative are seamlessly integrated to deliver a guest experience that is, in the words of Bob Iger, “authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese.”

Camp Discovery, Shanghai Disneyland, photo ©Disney
Camp Discovery, Shanghai Disneyland, China - Attraction
Camp Discovery is comprised of three major components: Challenge Trails; The Vista Trail; and Excavation Site. All are set at the base of an iconic waterfall mountain. The Excavation Site is a hands-on dig area for younger visitors. The Vista Trail is a walk-through area at ground level that affords views of those on the more daring Challenge Trails. The Challenge Trails proper are the primary attraction of this area and feature three unique, ropes-course options through spectacular settings, integrated into the mountain: Hidden Falls Chamber; Echo Cavern; House of the Ancients. Camp Discovery delivers hands-on, participatory entertainment and a variety of experiences that cater to guests of all ages and appetites for adventure and that will continue to engage over multiple visits. Camp Discovery is ambitious in scale and complexity, rich in story, and big on adventure.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure,
Shanghai Disneyland - Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement -
Attraction - photo ©Disney
Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, Shanghai Disneyland, China - Attraction
This attraction at Disney’s newest park embodies excellence in concept; it is a signature next-step achievement that reinvents and reimagines Pirates of the Caribbean. Based upon the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction that first opened at Disneyland in 1967, “Sunken Treasure” is housed in a mammoth 175,000 square foot facility in the park’s Treasure Cove land, and features Captain Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones from the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The ride is an eight-minute adventure that plays out in 10 major scenes, with seamless technology, a new controllable boat ride system, operatic scale scenery, large format projection, special effects, illusions and next-gen Audio-Animatronics technology. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure represents the pinnacle of Disney storytelling, immersive design and advanced technology. 

Pictures: copyright Disney and more, Disney

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Rogue One : A Star Wars Story : New Posters and 360° 8K Video!

Lucasfilm has released the above cool Imax Poster for Rogue One : A Star Wars Story released this December and i also add below two others Rogue One posters.

Now, ILMxLAB has teamed up with Verizon for Rogue One: Recon, a new 360° video experience that's connected to what happen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. "This short video lets viewers experience Star Wars from the perspective of an everyday Rebel X-wing pilot in space, culminating with a fight in an unexpected battle against the evil Empire." Not only the video is a 360° video, meaning you can move the image with your mouse left, right, up and down but you also have the choice of definition, and can even watch it not in 4K but in 8K8 Warning: the 360° effect does not work with Safari but works with Firefox.

Pictures and video: copyright Lucasfilm

Monday, November 14, 2016

First Trailer for Disney's Live Adaptation of Beauty and the Beast !

That's it, the first trailer for Disney's live adaptation of "Beauty and the Beast" is on line, and here it is!

Picture and video: copyright Disney