LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Fascination with human flight has been sending thrill-seeking Epcot guests on a skin-tautening rocket ride to Mars. Next adventure: a breathtaking glide over the wonders of California.
As part of "The Happiest Celebration on Earth," Walt Disney World Resort will launch "Soarin' " in May 2005, beckoning Epcot guests to experience a magical journey that sweeps them up, over and across the landscape of the Golden State.
Based on the hit Anaheim show "Soarin' Over California" -- deemed "the most technologically advanced attraction at Disney's California Adventure park" -- "Soarin' " will join Mission: SPACE presented by HP on the flight plan of Epcot guests. The attraction will be located in The Land presented by Nestlé USA.
"We thought the attraction was perfect for Epcot because of its spirit of exploration and discovery -- and that The Land is a natural fit since the pavilion is about the appreciation of the rich bounty and awesome beauty of the Earth," says Kathy Mangum, Walt Disney Imagineering executive producer/vice president.
"Soarin' " is an exhilarating flight over California's diverse terrain -- mountains, deserts, the ocean. "We try to reinforce this story in the pre-show," Mangum says, "by having guests pass by huge panoramas of five of the Earth's biospheres."
And because the experience involves flight, the entry to the attraction is designed to be reminiscent of an airport, with cast members dressed as though they are part of a flight crew.
Using amazing cinematic artistry and state-of-the-art motion base technology, "Soarin' " literally lifts eighty-seven guests at a time 40 feet aloft inside a giant projection screen dome. From all sides -- up, down, left and right -- their field of vision is completely surrounded and filled with the beauty and wonder of the state of California as their flying theater seats take them on an unforgettable journey.
Never before has anyone had the opportunity to view the Golden State from such a birds-eye view with such an extraordinary sensation of free flight. Among the many sights on view during the exhilarating fly-over are the Golden Gate Bridge, the Redwood forests, Napa Valley, Palm Springs, Yosemite and San Diego, among other locations. The experience is intensified as guests feel the sweeping winds and smell the fragrance of orange blossoms and pine trees all around them. An orchestral musical score created by renowned composer Jerry Goldsmith ("Mulan," "Air Force One," "Star Trek," "First Contact") heightens the thrill.
"The genesis of the idea goes back to the simple observation that one of the things that is most impressive about California is that it's just drop-dead beautiful," said Barry Braverman of Walt Disney Imagineering. "We have the ocean, we have Big Sur and we have the mountains and desert -- an unbelievable variety of terrain and spectacular topography. Clearly we wanted to use film to capture the beauty of all that but how do you do it in a way that's never been done before?"
The challenge was a formidable one. "One of the early designs ... we used to refer to as 'the dry cleaning idea,' " explained Braverman. "We had a series of little hang gliders on a conveyer belt system that went around, but it had all kinds of problems." Several other concepts also fell by the wayside for a variety of reasons.
It wasn't until Mark Sumner, a Walt Disney Imagineering ride engineer, decided to take the problem home over the weekend that the issue was overcome. "Mark built a concept model with an erector set he had at home," said Braverman. "He brought it in Monday morning, we all looked at it and said, 'Now that might work!' "
A tremendous amount of research and development followed to achieve the remarkable technological result of what literally started with a simple erector set.
The counterpart to the engineering complexity of the attraction was the cinematic challenge of generating film that would immerse guests in the visual aspect of the ride. "We filmed everything from a helicopter," explained Alec Scribner, Walt Disney Imagineering show producer. "We used an IMAX camera with a special lens that's basically a take-in lens -- meaning it captures everything within a person's visual periphery."
Shooting in a variety of locations around the state was not always an easy task, particularly in a place like Yosemite National Park where governmental restrictions usually prohibit flying inside the park's valley.
"We were fortunate to be able to make an agreement with the Department of the Interior to acquire a four-hour window on a specific date to get our shots," said Scribner. "That meant no changes to the schedule no matter what kind of weather we had on that day. As it turned out, it was one of those clear and pristine blue-sky California days, and we got incredible footage of the valley, Bridalveil Fall and Half-Dome."
Each location in the film brings to life the beauty and diversity of California, whether it's soaring over the mountaintops of Lake Tahoe or gliding across the desert sands of Death Valley. "And don't forget that your other senses are involved as well," remarked Scribner. "You're totally immersed -- you feel, hear and smell things at the same time that you're enjoying all the visual wonders as you fly within the film that surrounds you."
To further enhance the experience, the film is projected at 48 frames per second, twice the speed of normal motion picture film. The result is a crisp, clear image with extraordinary definition.
Just as clear: "Soarin' " will offer guests a first-of-its-kind experience at Walt Disney World Resort. While Epcot guests have been able to blast off like an astronaut, they've never before been able to soar with the eagles.
That all changes in May 2005 when "Soarin' " opens as part of a worldwide Disney theme park celebration marking the 50th anniversary of Disneyland in Southern California.
"The Happiest Celebration on Earth" pays tribute to Walt Disney's dream of Disneyland, the original park that introduced an entirely new genre of family entertainment that now spans the globe and continues to offer the most visited attractions in the world, drawing 100 million visitors on three continents every year -- and still growing.