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September 12, 2011

D23 Expo 2011: Star Tours - The Adventures Continue


Wow, I can't believe the D23 Expo was three weeks ago already! There's still so much I wanted to share with you all -- for example, what I learned at the Making of Star Tours - The Adventures Continue program, presented byTom Fitzgerald, Executive Vice President & Senior Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering.


Honestly, with all the hype that surrounded the opening of this updated attraction earlier this year, I thought I had heard it all and knew everything there was to know about the new Star Tours. I'm so glad I decided to attend this presentation anyway -- I actually found out a lot of little details to satisfy my inner Star Wars geek.


If you haven't yet ridden or read about the revamped Star Tours attraction at either Walt Disney World or Disneyland, and you want to be surprised, foolish you will be to read further! Revealed will details be!

Fitzgerald began his talk with a short video of a bearded and much younger version of himself discussing the first incarnation of Star Tours, circa 1980s. Very cool that he is still the lead Imagineer in charge of this attraction, beloved by Disney and Star Wars geeks alike.

Fitzgerald explained how the revamping of Star Tours had actually been in the works for years, as far back as 1998, in fact. (The ride originally opened in January 1987 in Disneyland and in December 1989 in Walt Disney World.) It was in '98 that Star Wars director George Lucas was working on the prequel to the original trilogy, and he suggested to Disney that a scene from that film would be perfect for updating the attraction: an action sequence known as the pod race. Fitzgerald and his team of Disney Imagineers agreed, and even went ahead and created a whole new storyline for the ride. (And now I know where those rumors came from that were circulating for years about the ride being updated to include the pod race!)

But even though the story was outlined -- they had even gone so far as to decide to do the attraction in 3D back then -- they opted to wait to see what the next two movies in the new trilogy brought. In October 2003, as Lucas was filming the third new movie (Revenge of the Sith), Fitzgerald said that technology had progressed to a point where they realized they might be able to keep the Star Tours attraction fresh for years by using a sort of a "pick and mix" approach. With that in mind, they developed a matrix, listing different elements of the movies that could be combined in numerous ways to create many unique experiences.


Obviously, though, Star Tours isn't the only project that Fitzgerald and his Imagineers had on their plates. It wasn't until late 2005 that they were able to return to the concept and refine it further, coming up with a more streamlined matrix that contained elements that were realistically "do-able."


This version of the matrix is very similar to what became the final concept for the ride: there are two different opening scenes or "launches", three different "detours", and three different final scenes, which can combine in dozens of unique ways.


By early 2007, Disney was ready to take their ideas to Lucas, and they showed him another matrix, which had added a few additional elements. They had determined that the story for the new attraction would take place sometime between the first and second Star Wars trilogies -- in other words, after Revenge of the Sith, but before the original 1977 Star Wars movie (aka "A New Hope"). They dubbed this Star Tours 3.5 to indicate that timeframe.


In October 2007 they took actual storyboards to Lucas for his approval... and didn't get it! (Fitzgerald described the process sort of like Dorothy having to go back again and again to the Wizard of Oz -- you know, "We have the witch's broomstick, can I go home now?") Since Lucas had told them that he didn't "do" storyboards any more, they instead created what are known as "animatics" to give him an idea of what the ride would be like. (Animatics are animated mock-ups of a scene using images edited together with dialogue or a soundtrack.) Fitzgerald shared one of these animatic scenes that they developed for the new attraction in early 2008:

If you've ridden the new version of the attraction, you'll realize that the animatic is very close to what you'll experience today on Star Tours.

At this point (about May 2008), the ride was ready for production with Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), and Fitzgerald related lots of little anecdotes about how George Lucas's input shaped the story and the finer points of the ride. He also shared some interesting little trivia about the attraction that I had had no clue about. Some of the more interesting tidbits I learned:

-- When it came time to film the pre-show, they searched high and low for the woman who had done the safety spiel (she of the unique, sideswept hairdo). But they couldn't find her! Time constraints forced them to instead create the new "spokesbot" Aly Jan Jan, who is voiced by actress Allison Janney (famous for her role in the TV show West Wing, as well as the voice of Peach the starfish in the film Finding Nemo.)

-- Seat belt use is demonstrated by the same woman in the safety videos for ALL versions of Star Tours, throughout the world.

-- In the attraction queue, the droid performing the scan on humans is voiced by actor Patrick Warburton (who also does the pre-show spiel for the Soarin' attraction). Warburton was originally slated to provide the voice of the new Star Tours pilot, Ace, but when the Imagineers decided instead to make C-3PO the pilot (in an effort to inject more comedy into the show), Ace was relegated to a minor role. Still, they loved Warburton so much, they asked if he would instead voice the droid, which he does with much hilarity.


-- Also in the queue, there's a droid scanning luggage, who lets some unusual items slip past him. Some that Fitzgerald pointed out I'd seen already, but I'll certainly be looking for some of the others, especially Wall-E's belongings and Madame Leota!

-- In the scene at the beginning of the film, where either Darth or a droid is looking for the rebel spy in the StarSpeeder, one of the images that flashes on the screen is that of George Lucas. Fitzgerald said other Imagineers and people who worked on the show are hidden in files as well.

-- In one of the live action sequences filmed for the show, several of the actors were actually members of the ILM and Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) teams, including show writer Steven Spiegel.

Even though I'd been impatient to see an updated Star Tours over the years, I have to agree with Fitzgerald, who pointed out several times that by waiting for technology to progress, the new Star Tours has a much stronger concept than if it had been done years earlier. And this behind-the-scenes peek at the making of the attraction was just the sort of insider program that makes the D23 Expo worthwhile for avid Disney fans.

September 21, 2011

Disney's Caricature Artists

by AllEars® Team Member Jack Marshall

You have probably seen them a hundred times. Walked right past them without paying any mind. I know. I'm guilty of doing it, too. Every resort lobby in the Value and Moderate categories has one. Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge, too. I'm talking about that little fold-up stand by the door where the caricature artist sits.

Every night from 6 to 11 pm and an occasional mid-day, too, you will find one of these artists ready to perform right in front of you. Most of their subjects are children but they do all ages. They can do face only or they can put your face on one of many body poses you can choose from a notebook they have. You can even specify one that isn't there and they will tell you whether they can do it or not.

The artists themselves are not Disney cast members. They work for an outside firm that Disney contracts with. There are currently about 40 artists who alternate between 11 locations. Some work once or twice a week. A few work a little more and a few are vacation/illness fill-ins. There are four different art companies that handle the various caricature and portrait business throughout Walt Disney World.

The artist that I spoke to on a recent Sunday night was named Michael. As I was asking him some questions, a young lady named Lily, all of 4 years old, came up to the booth with her mother and asked to have her caricature done. She was wearing the cutest Little mermaid dress. When Michael asked what she wanted her body to look like, she didn't hesitate: "Mermaid!" Shocker, huh?

So Lily was seated and Michael took out a fresh piece of paper to begin. The first step is to put the name in the upper left corner. Then it's on to the rough sketching of the shape and features of the head using a pencil.

The beginning:
The beginning

Pencil sketching:

pencil sketching

Michael drawing:

Michael drawing

Once satisfied with the pencil drawing, Michael uses a thin-tipped permanent marker to outline the features.

Adding marker:

Adding marker

Soon the mermaid's tail is added and other "under the sea" friends start to appear.

Tail fin appears:
tail fin appears

Sebastian and Flounder appear:

under the sea friends appear

If you want the black and white sketch, this would be your finished product. Total time from start to this point was about 8 minutes.

Finished black and white head and body picture:
finished black and white

But Lily is going to be in full color so here goes:

The coloring begins:
coloring begins

Sebastian comes to life:

more coloring

Flounder is colored and work on the tail begins:

more coloring

Almost done:

almost done

Finally, Michael adds the sea and the finished product appears. Total time: about 15 minutes.

Putting the finishing touches on the sea:

adding the sea

The finished product: Lily the Mermaid

the finished color caricature

The cost for these caricatures is currently $15 for face only black and white, $20 for face only color; $20 for face and body black and white; $30 for face and body color. But note that the price is PER PERSON.

If you are worrying that your child would never sit still for long enough, here's a secret. The child only needs to be looking at the artist during the pencil sketching. Once that's done (and it only takes about two minutes), the child can do pretty much whatever they want.

The artists can also work from photographs as long as they are of a decent size. Postage stamp size photos don't work well, but they can use most photos from cell phones.

I asked Michael about mistakes. "Do you ever do an oops when you're drawing?" He said absolutely. Just the other day he spelled a name wrong and redid the entire caricature. Yes, mistakes do happen.

So next time you come upon one of these artists seated at their booth, stop and think about it. Ten years from now you will wish you had. My wife had one of these done of my daughter about 12 years ago and it's still one of my most treasured things from her childhood. Fifteen minutes now will mean a lifetime of memories.

September 30, 2011

2011 Epcot Food & Wine Festival: The First 36 Hours


Well, it's happened again this year. I fly into Orlando for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, and hit the ground running... I love this event so much, I always try to cram too much into too short a time.

Even though I've only been here about 36 hours so far, I already feel like I've lived a whole other lifetime... and food-wise, I really have. I've had the chance to sample so many savory and sweet delights, I thought I might give you a quick update. I plan to do more in-depth reviews of most of these experience over the next week or so, so be sure to look for those in the AllEars Newsletter and, of course, on the AllEars.Net website. But until I'm done feasting at the fest, here are my quick impressions via some photos that will hopefully speak a thousand or so words on my behalf.

I started out yesterday by interviewing pastry chef and Food Network star Keegan Gerhard. Chef Gerhard is just as down-to-earth and charming in person as he is on television, and we spent quite a while talking about the work he's done at Epcot's festival over the past 16 years, as well as what's next on his own agenda. (I'll share some video from the interview later this week.)


I followed that interview with a quick trip around Epcot's World Showcase, where the Food and Wine Festival's International Marketplaces (aka Food Booths) were open in "preview" mode before Friday's official opening. I sampled a few items but wanted to make sure I didn't overdo it, since I knew I would be attending the Festival opening event, the First Bites Reception.

The Chicken Chipotle Sausage with Polenta from the Canada booth, a winner I remembered from last year -- It's a winner again, in my opinion, even if it's not the most photogenic dish:


The feijoada (bean and pork stew) in Brazil -- definitely rated a "meh" from me:


But the rice pudding with berries -- YUM! So creamy, so good!


The First Bites Reception in the Festival Center was a nice preview of ALL the different sorts of activities you can experience during the festival's 45 days -- the food booths' offerings, culinary demos, wine tastings, HGTV personalities, and live entertainment. I found it ran a lot more smoothly this year, but still, I'm still contemplating whether it's worth the hefty price tag. I haven't quite made up my mind. (You can read my review of the 2010 event HERE.)





My first Food & Wine Festival event today was "Kitchen Memories" featuring Victoria and Albert's chef Scott Hunnell, and pastry chef Erich Herbitschek. The three course they prepared for us were, in a word, fantastic.



I followed that with a culinary demo hosted by Keegan Gerhard -- I *know*, more desserts! But someone has to do it. And so I muddled through, as Gerhard presented his take on the classic Bananas Foster -- a "dessert sandwich situation" that featured the chocolate-hazelnut spread known as Nutella, that he called "Faux Foster Banana Impostor"


And all of that doesn't include the various wines that were paired with all of these delightful dishes!

As you can see, it's been an intense 36 hours of eating and drinking! Tomorrow, Saturday, I'll be taking the morning off from festing to head over to the Magic Kingdom to help it celebrate its 40th anniversary! But I'll be right back to Epcot later in the day, trying out some more food booths, and attending one of the new Mixology demonstrations -- I understand that they'll be featuring the pear cognac called Xante, and that they'll be showing us how to make three different cocktails! Sounds like fun!

I'll be posting updates all through the weekend on Twitter (follow me @dcdeb_allears) and on my Facebook page: facebook.com/DebraMartinKoma. If you have anything in particular you'd like to know, leave me a message here or tweet me and I'll do my best to come up with an answer for you.

OK, better get ready for tomorrow... I think the next 36 hours may be as whirlwind as the first were!

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About September 2011

This page contains all entries posted to AllEars® Team Blog in September 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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