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  1. #1

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    Disney launches research labs

    Orange County Register

    Disney launches research labs in Pittsburgh and Switzerland

    August 12th, 2008, 3:07 pm by Sonya Smith



    Walt Disney Imagineering wants to improve its computer animation, robotics and other technologies, and the company hopes to find ideas in Pittsburgh and Switzerland. This research is expected, in part, to lead to new and improved special effects for Disney theme park attractions.
    Disney announced today a new research and development initiative with the Carnegie Mellon University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Both universities are known for work in computer science and technology.
    “Creating the next generation of sophisticated technologies requires long-term vision and collaboration with world-class innovators,” said Ed Catmull, president of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.
    Disney has committed to fund the innovation labs for five years — which includes Disney’s paying for a director and seven to eight principal investigators for each lab. Additional staff will include professors, academic interns, scientific consultants and collaborators. The work will be done for several Disney companies, including its parks and resorts division, Disney Media Networks, ESPN, Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Feature Animation.
    One of the first projects for the Pittsburgh lab is to develop ways for people to interact with autonomous characters, either virtual or robotic, said Jessica Hodgins, professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University and Director of Research in Pittsburgh for Disney.
    “We’ll be looking for ways to sense what a person is doing or thinking so that the character can respond appropriately,” she said. “Whether the character is a robot or a virtual creation, the interaction issues are the same. We need to figure out what sensors to build and how to interpret and respond to human behavior.”
    Walt Disney Imagineering Spokeswoman Marilyn Waters said past research and development programs have led to effects that include: making the Haunted Mansion Madame Liotta head in a ball float around a room, effects for the Muppet Mobile Lab in Disney’s California Adventure, allowing Mr. Potato Head in front of Toy Story Mania to remove and replace his own ear (a first for a Disney Audio-Animatronic) and allowing guests to see animated Finding Nemo characters moving around while on the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage ride.
    Photo at top right by the Register’s Jebb Harris shows the Muppet Mobile Lab in Disney’s California Adventure.
    Last edited by Mad Madame Momba; 08-13-2008 at 11:50 AM.

  2. #2

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    Re: Disney launches research labs

    Very cool. I have no problem with Disney investing time, money, and effort into this sort of interactivity, as long as it doesn't become a excuse not to devote themselves with equal or greater intensity to the art of high-quality, thematically appropriate, deeply immersive attraction design.


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    Re: Disney launches research labs

    Great news. I feel like the last highly innovative attraction at Disneyland was Soarin' Over California. Since then, ToT's been a clone, Monster's Inc is a basic dark ride, Finding Nemo is the same concept as the older ride, and TSMM is similar to BLAB. Soarin' - and Indiana Jones before that - are the most recent I can think of that have a unique ride system.

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    Re: Disney launches research labs

    Well, keep in mind that a unique ride system does not a great attraction make. It certainly helps, but Soarin' and Indy would be nothing without their phenomenal content. In the same way, Pirates is amazing, despite the fact that its ride system consists of boats on a track. Boring? Could have been. But it's not.

    But I agree...WDI's come up a little short on the entertainment value of late. Keep in mind that Radiator Springs Racers should be amazing, though.


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    Re: Disney launches research labs

    My only concern is that this will lead to more virtual and less physical.
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    Re: Disney launches research labs

    Quote Originally Posted by techskip View Post
    My only concern is that this will lead to more virtual and less physical.
    Ding ding! We have a winner! My thoughts exactly! It's kind of like the CG animated movies out now. While they are really neat to look at, nothing can be as warm and effective as the traditional hand drawn animation.

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    Re: Disney launches research labs

    Quote Originally Posted by techskip View Post
    My only concern is that this will lead to more virtual and less physical.
    If it does, that'll be a problem. My hope is that they will do what they're saying and devote plenty of time to the physical applications such as Lucky, Mr. Potato Head, and Muppets' Mobile Lab. There's a lot of potential there. Virtual stuff...well, I like it in certain contexts--I mean, I spend a significant amount of time working on my CG model of the park!--but I hope Disney doesn't push screens and projections and like too much more into the parks. A firm grounding in reality is what theme park effects need. These sorts of virtual effects are fine, but they have to be used sparingly.


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    Re: Disney launches research labs

    Quote Originally Posted by Datameister View Post
    If it does, that'll be a problem. My hope is that they will do what they're saying and devote plenty of time to the physical applications such as Lucky, Mr. Potato Head, and Muppets' Mobile Lab. There's a lot of potential there. Virtual stuff...well, I like it in certain contexts--I mean, I spend a significant amount of time working on my CG model of the park!--but I hope Disney doesn't push screens and projections and like too much more into the parks. A firm grounding in reality is what theme park effects need. These sorts of virtual effects are fine, but they have to be used sparingly.
    The reality is in the long run it's cheaper to go virtual... Budget wise they are looking at a computer,screen, and a projector vs a multitude of custom made moving mechanical parts! Knowing that I am concerned about how much research can be done.
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    Re: Disney launches research labs

    Quote Originally Posted by techskip View Post
    The reality is in the long run it's cheaper to go virtual... Budget wise they are looking at a computer,screen, and a projector vs a multitude of custom made moving mechanical parts!

    Exactly! It's always about money! Everything is!

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    Re: Disney launches research labs

    Meh...I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on this particular issue, since their most recent interactive output in this area has all been physical (Potato Head, etc.). I mean, I know stuff like TSMM is happening, but I think that's a different part of WDI. I've also talked to several Imagineers who were exceedingly proud of these physical manifestations of the interactivity they're researching.


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    Re: Disney launches research labs

    So Disney is owning research labs now. I am sure it's not only for Disney's own good. I am sure there are other applications which can use this technology.

    But this is a good thing. I can see Disney securing government contracts now, meaning more revenue for the company as a whole. In fact this is probably the main reason that they are establishing research labs.

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    Re: Disney launches research labs

    Quote Originally Posted by Datameister View Post
    Very cool. I have no problem with Disney investing time, money, and effort into this sort of interactivity, as long as it doesn't become a excuse not to devote themselves with equal or greater intensity to the art of high-quality, thematically appropriate, deeply immersive attraction design.
    Agreed!
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    Re: Disney launches research labs

    Virtual or physical, at least they are thinking about developing new things instead of just going down to the Wal-Mart and picking crap off the shelf.

    PS I personally would prefer physical to all the virtual rides.
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