Lately, the parks have been projecting film onto unconventional surfaces.
It started with mist screens in Fantasmic, and now we’re seeing film projected onto whole buildings, like Disneyland’s it’s a small world.
From 0:01 through 1:29.
We like this trend, and feel that it deserves its own attraction.
Hence, Pocahontas: a dark ride that experiments with projecting film in unconventional ways. The centerpiece of the ride is an interpretation of the “Colors of the Wind” scene.
but ours is a ride, and ours is better.
Let’s ride through, shall we?
I know exactly where this should be placed.
That’s rare. Please don’t get used to it. We here at Pure Imagineering are practical, but only because we put the “practical” in “impractical.”
The ride'll replace the old Skyway queue in the Magic Kingdom.
I know that the the old Skyway queue is being demolished to make a restroom, but do you want a new dark ride or not, I’ll turn this car around, young man, so help me God.
The Pocahontas dark ride is an adaptation of a movie, so it's in Fantasyland. It borders Liberty Square, which is fitting, since its facade emulates Colonial Era London.
This ride will not be built in Disneyland.
I don’t see the point in cloning a ride. I have a variation of this ride--one that's not based on Pocahontas--that would thrive in Disneyland, and it wouldn’t requiring relocating the Powhatan tribe to the borders of Frontierland.
Where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain!
I’ll write about my Disneyland variation of this ride some other day.
It's 1607. The Great Fire of London has yet to raze the city, so it’s still rooted in Imperial Roman and Medieval architecture.
Welcome to the headquarters of the Virginia Company! We'll travel through the storage warehouse to get to the dock.
As we enter the warehouse, the background music loops the bit of “the Virginia Company” with the humming and the drum cadence.
From 0:38 to 0:59.
The lighting inside casts the warehouse in the dull tones of parchment paper. The Musty Lighting is a motif throughout the ride. It represents the Old World, where there's history, by Jove!
We weave our way through aisles of cargo: barrels, rifles, sacks of very hard biscuits. There are stacks of assorted maps and contracts. There’s paraphernalia from earlier expeditions to the New World: Aztec headdresses, Iroquois poisoned arrows, Algonquian birch bark scrolls.
At the exit of the warehouse, there’s a display of gold. Statues, pendants, coins, you name it. That’s what awaits us in the New World, my friends!
The Loading Dock.
What can I say? It's a dock.
The background music swells into the full version of “the Virginia Company.”
The cobblestones of the warehouse floor have been replaced with wooden planks.
We've walked “outside,” but it looks no more vivid out here than in the warehouse. Sure, there’s more light, but it’s still Musty Light, and we're still only seeing shades of sepia.
The Ride Vehicle.
We travel in log flumes. Naturally, they're modeled after the Virginia Company's fleet: the Discovery, the Godspeed, and the Susan Constant.
how to put masts on a log flume.
They seat four rows of two, like the flumes in the Magic Kingdom’s Splash Mountain. It’s more concise than the six rows of one in Disneyland’s Splash Mountain.
The Storm Room,
wherein we cross the Atlantic Ocean.
We embark from the Loading Dock and sail around a corner. Blue sky and drifting white clouds are projected upon the wall ahead of us. The water is calm.
As we round the corner, this all goes to hell. The sky fades ever darker, and the clouds follow suit, until everything is pitch black.
The water churns around our flume, and we bob in the tumult.
Alan Menken, "Ship at Sea."
The background music swells as our flume drops down a ramp, and into...
The New World Room,
wherein we arrive in the New World.
It’s still pitch black. As we recover from the storm, we see that we’re surrounded by fog, and we can juuust make out clouds drifting in the sky. As we round the corner, the lights come up...
...and it’s a reveal worthy of the Wizard of Oz.
Gone is the Musty Lighting of Europe. Here, the sky is milky purple, and the clouds are goldenrod.
The background music plays the prelude from “Steady as the Beating Drum.”
From 0:01 to 0:21.
What follows is a rather literal translation of the first three shots of this scene.
There are three screens ahead of us. There are two mist screens in the foreground, along the sides of the track. There’s a smoke screen in the background, and it spans the width of the room. We're gonna sail through it.
The layered screens create a sort of live-action multiplane camera, and we are the lens as it zooms in.
From 4:15 to 4:29.
The coastline of the New World is projected onto the smoke screen. Jutting coastlines are projected onto the mist screens in the foreground. The film pulls back the jutting coastlines, so it looks the channel is widening as we sail through.
After the coastline, there are two more sets of screens.
The shoreline of the New World is projected onto the second set of screens. We pass through them and approach...
...the third set of screens, which show a river in the New World...
...but before we can pass through, we hear the crash of a falling tree! The noise booms so loudly that the river screens dissipate, the film shuts off, and we’re plunged into darkness.
As we round the corner, we enter...
The Mine, Mine, Mine Room,
wherein we (over-enthusiastically) probe for gold.
This is the only scene centered around animatronic characters. You can imagine what goes on in here, so I won’t spend a lot of time describing it.
The background music plays “Mine, Mine, Mine.”
Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, "Mine, Mine, Mine."
There are ditches and tree stumps all over the place. Our sense of wonder has dwindled a bit, now that we’re demolishing the New World, so we’re back to Musty Lighting.
A row of settlers shovel, a second row of settlers pick, a third row of settlers run with wheel barrels.
Ratcliffe stands atop a mound, wielding the Union Jack and cheering the settlers on.
The exit of the room looks like a clearing in the forest. Beside the clearing, there’s a large tree, which two settlers are sawing through.
As we approach the clearing, the tree falls directly over our heads...
...but we make it into the next room just in time. The fallen tree acts as a door behind us, blocking out all light.
The RTC Room,
wherein we learn that Rs and Ts and Cs have lives, spirits, and naaaaaames.
Here begins the ride’s interpretation of the “Colors of the Wind” scene. It’s meant to evoke the emotions of the song. It is not meant to recreate the film, shot-for-shot.
For your reference.
Once the door shuts behind us, the lights come up--and the lights are still Musty. The forest looks unremarkable, like a background without a character in front of it.
In fact, the set of this room is devoid of texture. The rocks have the shape of rocks, but they’re smooth. The trees are shaped like trees, but have no bark. The shrubs are shrub-shaped, but they have no individual leaves. We see their textures because they’re being projected onto the set.
One by one the rocks, trees, shrubs--everything in the scene--illuminates.
Then they swap textures: the rocks now have bark, the tree trunks are now columns of leaves, the shrubs are cracked slate.
Then they take on pastel colors, swapping each other’s pastel colors, phasing faster and faster until everything in the set is unified in purple. The purple turns into footage of purple butterflies taking flight.
We follow the footage of the purple butterflies as they leave the set and head into...
The Strangers Room,
wherein we are threatened by innocuous critters.
The room is filled with models of what-look-like monsters. They totally look like they’re gonna attack us.
We can’t see details of these “monsters,” because there’s a powerful light behind them. The light is aimed directly at us, so they’re just silhouettes.
As we pass, the light fades away, revealing that these threatening monsters are actually animals going about their business.
The Blue Corn Room,
wherein we marvel at the wonders of the night sky, and get dizzy.
The room is cylindrical. Its walls feature 360 Vision screens, and its ceiling is a planetarium dome. The track is a turntable.
When our flume enters, the turntable rotates us in a full circle. Colors swirl around the walls, drawing our eyes ever-higher.
The colors coalesce in the planetarium dome, showing the blue corn moon and constellations, and then swirl back down towards us as we exit into...
The Forest Room,
wherein we run the hidden pine trails of the forest.
There is a traditional screen along the wall in this room. Colors flow swiftly across the screen.
There are trees in front of the screen...that is, the silhouettes of trees. They are mounted on a conveyor belt, which runs around the screen.
The trees provide pitch-black contrast to the vivid, warm colors of the film.
They also give us a sense of running through the forest, and traveling much faster than we actually are.
The Waterfall Room,
wherein we fall down two waterfalls.
This is complicated, so I’m gonna over-describe it.
We fall down two waterfalls: the first is virtual, and the second is real.
Our flume loads onto a turntable. We “fall down” the Virtual Waterfall while the turntable turns us a hundred and thirty-five degrees.
The Virtual Waterfall is inspired by the Anti-Gravity Room in the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. Like the Spidey ride vehicle, our flume tilts, skewering our sense of perspective as we enter a new room. In the new room, we combine the set, physical effects, and film footage to simulate falling down when, in fact, we’re on flat ground.
From 2:51 to 3:03.
When the turntable finishes rotating us, we are deposited down the Real Waterfall.
Let’s walk through the experience.
As we load onto the turntable, we can’t see the Virtual Waterfall, because there’s a wall blocking it. As we turn, there’s a cloud of mist, which segues us over to the Virtual Waterfall.
The Virtual Waterfall is a traditional screen, showing first-person perspective footage of falling down into a lake. We do not actually see the waterfall in this footage...just a fall from a cliff into a lake.
The further the turntable turns our boat, the closer the film footage zooms into the lake.
Between our flume and the screen, there are water jets. The water jets are angled at the screen. They create a sheet of water that skewers our sense of perspective, and looks like the waterfall, itself.
At the end of the Virtual Waterfall, water cannons shoot up a burst of water right in front of our boat, indicating that we’ve hit the lake, and are now coming back up to the surface.
Sure enough, we see trees, and rocks, and shoreline...
...and the Real Waterfall, which we fall down.
At the base of the waterfall, we round a corner and enter...
The Sycamore Room,
wherein we return to the Old World with new understanding.
We travel up a spiral ramp. Since we arrived in the New World with a drop, we’ll return to London with an ascent.
On the wall that the ramp curves around, we see a projection of a sycamore. It starts as a sapling, and it sprouts before our eyes, shooting up ever-higher.
The sycamore grows faster than we’re traveling. Soon it towers above our heads. Pastel designs shimmer on its trunk.
Eventually the tree stops growing. At last we reach an animatronic Pocahontas, standing atop a physical tree branch.
Pocahontas waves us goodbye, and she becomes pastel.
In fact, life-size footage of a pastelized Pocahontas is projected onto the Pocahontas animatronic. The pastelization emanates from Pocahontas, gradually covering everything: the sycamore, the water, our flume...
At some point in the ride, there’s a cleverly concealed camera which gets a shot of us. The picture is put through a pastelizing Photoshop effect and projected, life-size, onto us.
and less horrifying.
The pastels fade as we surmount the ramp and approach...
The Unload Dock.
We’re back in London, at the Virginia Company’s headquarters. It’s identical to the Loading Dock...
...except it’s no longer Musty. Everything is vivd.
There are a number of issues to work out.
The ride’s timing is too specific to efficiently churn guests through. I haven’t compensated for the likelihood of getting stuck in a room. I’ve absolutely underestimated the practicalities of lighting and film projection.
Still, it’s our first dark ride. I’m stoked about it, and I hope you are, too.