Wednesday, May 7, 2008
The Shape Of Things To Come...
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
- Alan Kay
You arrive at the gates of Disneyland ready to ride all your old favorites and the new ones that have been blared in advertising all over the place. As you go through the turnstile you're amazed at how light the crowds are. You're also curious that all the tourist are dressed the way you would like them to be instead of the normal traveler in a shirt too small. You brush it off and start walking toward the berm. A lovely park CM smiles at you and asks if you'd like to take a survey. You brush her off and nod as you walk under the rail road tracks and head down Main Street U.S.A.
You smell the air. The fresh aroma of sweets and other foods make your mouth water. Looking around you realize how vibrant the flowers are, how sweet they smell, how clean the streets are, how... perfect everything is.
And not a custodial worker in sight. Walking toward Sleeping Beauty Castle you take in the lovely view of the buildings. The lights you remember being on the roof as a kid are no longer there. The street seems wider than it used to. Either that, or perhaps the smaller crowd makes it seem so. As you get in front of the castle you suddenly realize that you'd like to take a picture. A tap on your shoulder...
Another friendly CM smiles at you and says: "Where would you like to stand, sir?" You smile and point to an area perfect for a framed photo. You stand on the exact spot and flash your pearly whites as the CM says: "Say Mickey!" Once the flash is over he smiles and walks away. You start to go through the castle but stop, something is wrong. Something isn't quite right... You look up into the sky and say: "City Hall?"
A kind and soothing voice purrs up: "Yes, Mr. Hunter? How can I help you?"
Looking around you say: "I really think the park is too sparse... could you put more customers in here, it just doesn't feel right."
City Hall: "I'm sorry for any inconvenience, Mr. Hunter. I thought you requested a light crowd today." A moment later: "How's that?"
You look around and notice that there are now quite a few more patrons, almost double in fact.
Smiling, you say: "Perfect"
Just then the slow, humming sound of a phone pipes in. You wave your hand and motion...
"City Hall, I'm going to have to take this call. I'll return shortly."
City Hall: "Very good, sir. Hurry back."
You notice a holographic tachometer appear next to you that reads... "Twenty-three hours remaining left on One Day Pass. Click here if you'd like to extend your stay."
Everything beautiful around you fades to black. You click your phone and answer it: "Hello?"
And so would be a typical experience to the Disneyland park you may enter in the future. This would be a "true" Virtual Magic Kingdom. But is it just around the corner?
Of course not! But it may be what you could expect to experience when Tony Baxter's Tomorrowland 2055 becomes just another year in the park. It's far off, but it's not far out.
In the meantime there are plenty of technologies that WDI and the Mouse in general are working on to make you wonder how they did it. You've seen the demo of the new Mr. Potato Head and several other new interactive attractions. The new AA's in the Cars Land area will be some of the most advanced Imagineers have ever come up with. Some capable of truly, mesmerizing qualities. Several of the "E-Tickets" that the Mouse will come out with during the next decade will show how technology has changed/evolved/advanced in telling a story.
I know some of you bemoan the inter-activeness of TSMM and I've got bad news for you... it's going to increase. There will be more technology used in attractions and everything in general to provide a more immersive environment. Does this mean that we'll no longer have any passive attractions like "Small World" or "Pirates" or "Haunted Mansion"? Of course not. There are several things WDI is working on that involve these types of experiences, but the (Disney)world we'll live in will be one in which the guest play a more active part.
Think of the Muppets attraction that was at DCA a while back or the PUSH character that roams around the Golden State area of the park. Sometime early next year well see a much more advanced version of this as these and much more detailed characters(from both films and original) roam about the park interacting with guest. I'd say based on the success of a certain film later this summer we can expect to see a prototype character out and about in Tomorrowland quite soon(ahem).
Lasseter is really trying to change the culture of WDI so that it works on fostering creativity and not fostering paranoia about whose getting fired. It's a hard job, but he knows it will take time to undo the structural chaos that Michael Eisner built up to have Imagineers fighting with one another. Many of these projects are team projects used to foster a collective sense of pride in creating something... this is a feeling that WDI hasn't had for the most part since the early 90's. We may be seeing the early, low hanging fruit of some of these projects in a year or maybe two, but the vast majority of these new design initiatives that will keep Disney ahead of other parks won't be seen until early next decade. 2011 anyone? I know, I know, saying that makes some of you go bonkers... but it's true. More like 2011/2012 or 2013 is when these things will really start to flow and transform the parks. By then Lasseter will be deep into his ruling of the Glendale Kingdom and if the choices he's made as Mouse Animation Czar are good ones(read: lots of moola) then he'll have an extremely large amount of autonomy within the company. Not only animation or Imagineering, but consumer products and live-action as well(but that's another story for another day). I'd venture to say that should things go well, John Lasseter will have the most power of any Disney official since Walt himself. Iger will be running the company of course, but the stock holders will be very lenient on Lasseter should his golden touch from Pixar rub off on the Mouse and Iger knows this...
But don't fret about these plans should they come about... Bob Iger and John Lasseter aren't trying to remake the world, just stay up to speed with it. To be relevant and dominate entertainment. As we move into the 21st century the taste of guest change. I can say I would have never thought I'd see certain things at the parks. Some films/rides don't appeal to my demographic. They're simply not for me, but my taste don't have to be catered to exclusively in Disney's global strategy.
It's a big enough small world out there for you, me and many, many others. Just realize that it's a bright enough future to sit back and welcome what is awaiting us...