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Re-Imagining Imagination

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With all due respect to Professor Nigel Channing, the Imagination Pavilion is one in desperate need of re-imagination. My initial visit to the pavilion in the early eighties was one of complete and utter disbelief. No one had ever seen anything like it. The sights, the sounds, the interactivity was one of complete and total immersion into a fantasy world of wonder and technology. There were no movie tie-ins, no recognizable Disney characterizations, no ride.

What you did have were interactivities that, while somewhat antiquated by today’s standards, were immensely addictive, intriguingly compelling, and significantly different from any interactive playground out there (not that there were many to compete with). The luminescent rainbow tunnel that reacted to those who traversed it, blue screen movie sets that put you in the center of a wild west film, virtual orchestra pits with touch sensitive instruments that let you be the conductor and a stirring 3D motion picture were all part of a series of activities that, while today may seem mundane, were new and innovative for the time. And a welcome variation on the traditional milieu you would find in a theme park. The addition of the Journey into Imagination ride was only the icing on the cake for this already outstanding pavilion, as you now had the pavilion’s two memorable representatives take you on a one of kind journey that featured some of the most elaborate set designs of any Dark Ride in EPCOT Center.

Captain EO, while certainly an attempt to capitalize on celebrity affiliation (both in Micheal Jackson’s and George Lucas’ case), was a unique and outstanding achievement in visual storytelling, and certainly a step up from the original Magic Journeys, which, after so many views, would quickly begin to loose it’s luster. Captain EO proved to be an addition that could hold its popularity even over the test of time (albeit a much shorter time compared to some classic Disney attractions).

So what happened?

Well, Journey into Imagination was “renovated” and neutered to become Journey into YOUR Imagination, a decidedly less imaginative, abbreviated and economized version of the original. Though little of the original remained. The entire floor where ImageWorks featured most of those outstanding interactive stations was closed down and the bottom floor’s interactivities became largely a giant commercial for the pavilion’s sponsor. Once again, your filtered through another “themed” gift shop upon exiting the building. And Captain EO was replaced with a definitive movie tie-in that was destined to loose it’s luster after its progenitor’s first couple of sequels.

The whole purpose behind the Imagination Pavilion was to foment the notion of creativity and imagination, but it was sundered in favor of simpler, cheaper effects and a movie overlay. While the pavilion once kept you so engaged that you had to tear yourself away so you wouldn’t miss out on seeing the rest of the park on your no doubt limited vacation day, it’s now a sad and seldom visited feature of the park, that patrons rarely spend more then a half hour in.

So how do we fix it?

I’m glad I asked. MiceAge posted a remarkable article on the new technologies that Disney may be considering utilizing in their theme parks in the near future (as of this post anyway). One of the fantastic ideas they featured, is a new technology being developed by Microsoft called surface computing:

This should be a no-brainer. The potential implementations for this technology expands far beyond use in the Imagination Pavilion alone, but into countless other aspects of the park experience. For now, lets focus and theorize on where we could go in the Imagination Pavilion.

A fantastic implementation of this technology is a throw back to one of the old ImageWorks stations from the 80s. In this old imagination station, you could manipulate photos using touch screen technology and an interface very similar to Microsoft Paint. In an updated version, Guests could snap pictures of themselves and apply pre-designated image effects to their photo. Options could include the typical Paint/Photoshop-like interface, as well as a series of filter effects, backgrounds and scenes for folks to play around in and imaginate. In addition, Guest could be given the option of placing their phone/device on the screen and “magically” moving the image to their phone using the technology’s wireless interface (standard messaging rates apply) or even integrating the feature with Disney’s existing Photopass system. Conversely, Guest’s could be given the option of uploading their own images from their phone to the station for manipulation. The possibilities for these are endless.

Another possibility that shows great potential, is an interactive wall with a series of informational and entertaining activities for Guests to simply approach and start playing around with. Here, Imagineers creative juices should soar thinking of the possibilities. Imagine a wall of water where sea life responds to your touch commands, even being able to resize the fish, and as you do, they change to something completely different and alien in appearance. Imagine a wall with geographical locations that Guests can approach and seek out their home town or visit far off lands. Imagine a room, with walls of fluttering spectrums of light, that warp and dance according to a Guest’s touch and manipulation. Imagine what an Imagineer could imagine, that I couldn’t.

Photos could also come into play here, as Guests could place their devices on interactive cash registers and have them developed or have their content saved to DVDs. A “magical” way to maintain a merchandising venue, keep it applicable with the business of the sponsors, without sacrificing the spirit of the attraction.

To throw one more idea into the pot, I also envision a floating photo wall. Imagine an animated wall where hundreds of Guests’ photos gently float like clouds across the screen. Guests simply place their device against the wall and their pictures seemingly fly out of the device into the sea of pictures for anyone to view for the rest of that day. Other Guests can approach the wall and “grab” your photos, resize them, twist and turn them and even flick them to the side just for fun. Videos are also amongst the floating pics and other Guests can view your videos with the touch of a Play arrow. What a great way to get Guests to share and be interested about their fellow Guests’ experiences.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with the videos below. This technology is right in line with the spirit of the original attraction, giving you an opportunity to just play, act silly and not think too hard about it. Yet your imagination will still keep you captivated for far longer then you’ll realize. Hopefully, with the changes going on internally at the Disney company, the folks with the creative and intuitive sensibilities will restore the Imagination Pavilion’s original principles, and bring us new technologies that help us Find our Dreams and stir the Figments of our Imaginations.

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