Do you know why the Universe of Energy Pavilion is located where it is in Future World?
During the planning stages of Epcot, the Imagineers had a different concept for the Energy Pavilion. Early ideas called for a “solar energy exhibit” that would feature a large building sporting a solar dish and a parabolic shaped mirror that would concentrate sunlight into a superheated receptacle. These can be seen in the concept drawing below.
When Exxon came on board as the pavilion’s sponsor, they wanted to place less emphasis on solar power and more on fossil fuels. In the end, a more balanced look was conceived that covered a broad spectrum of energy options. However, the Imagineers still wanted to demonstrate the advantages of clean solar power. After much thought, they eventually abandoned the solar dish in favor of photovoltaic cells--which convert light directly into electricity.
It’s important when harnessing solar power to maximize sunlight exposure. To achieve optimal conditions, technicians studied the arcing sun in Orlando for a year and finally determined that a due south orientation with a roof tilted at 30° from horizontal would do the trick. It was then determined that the northeast corner of Future World would be the best spot for the Universe of Energy.
The Energy Pavilion is 20 feet high above the entry doors and 60 feet high at the rear of the building. Atop the roof are 80,000 three-inch, wafer-shaped solar collectors situated in 2,200 panels. At optimum times of the day, these cells create 77 kilowatts of DC current that is then converted into AC current. This electricity is used to help power the battery operated ride vehicles. It’s estimated that 15% of the attractions power comes from these photovoltaic cells. The triangle-shaped building (although actually a square when viewed from above) has more than 180,000 mirrors that add beauty to the structure and enhance the concept of solar power. The side panels of the building are painted in shades of red, orange, and yellow to signify fire or energy.
Universe of Energy was an Epcot opening day attraction (October 1, 1982) and underwent a major refurbishment in 1996. The original show was very serious as was most of Epcot in the 1980’s and early ‘90’s. But in typical Disney fashion, the Imagineers tried to educate us while at the same time, entertain us.
One of the most memorable features of the first incarnation of this attraction was the eight minute preshow featuring the “Kinetic Mosaic.” The Kinetic Mosaic consisted of 100 three-sided panels arranged in four rows of 25. This “mosaic” screen measured approximately 15x90 feet. Two sides of each panel were covered in a white coating suitable to act as a projection screen. The third side was coated in a non-reflective black. Each panel was connected to a servomotor which allowed it to rotate right and left. As five projectors presented a movie detailing our many energy options, these panels occasionally rotated to add a new dimension to the film presentation. This screen was the brainchild of Czech film director Emil Radok who also directed the movie. The preshow ended with a great song, "Energy (You Make the World Go ‘Round)." This piece was written by Bob Moline and sung by John Joyce.
After the preshow, guests were directed into Theater 1 where they boarded one of six vehicles, each capable of seating 97 people. After safety announcements were made and the lights dimmed, the vehicles, all sitting atop a giant turntable, rotated 180° (on a cushion of air) to face a movie screen measuring 157 feet wide by 32 feet tall. Here, guests viewed a four minute hand-animated film that depicted the beginnings of life on earth and the formation of fossil fuels. We were told that much of the earth’s present supply of energy was created during this primeval era when great reptiles ruled the land. This gave us a nice transition from the film to the AudioAnimatronics dinosaurs we were about to see. The film was narrated by Peter Thomas.
When the movie completed, the turntable rotated back 90° and a large, soundproof dividing wall (12 feet x 92 feet x12 inches) was lowered into the floor, clearing the way for our journey back to a primeval world inhabited by dinosaurs.
At the time, this “moving theater” represented a giant leap forward in amusement park transportation. Never before had so many people been transported all at one time. And to top it off, there was no visible track. Instead, a 1/8 inch thick wire is imbedded in the floor following a designated path. Onboard computers sense the wire which emits a low-level radio frequency and guides the vehicles through the attraction.
For power, each vehicle carries eight automotive batteries. Of course, these batteries need to be recharged frequently so within the attraction’s two turntables are “charging plates” that contain electromagnets. The magnets work in conjunction with onboard magnets that create an electric current that is transferred to the vehicle’s batteries. No actual physical connection is made between the charging plates in the floor and the onboard magnets. This technology, although improved, can also be seen on the Great Movie Ride and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
In the Primeval Diorama section of the attraction, the Imagineers recreated this prehistoric era with great care and precision. Fossil references where used to accurately recreate leaf patterns and needle clusters, even in areas too remote for most guests to notice. Lightweight foam and plastic was used for the creation of many of the plants and the materials mimic the actual movement of foliage in the wind.
It’s also in the Primeval Diorama that the “theater” breaks apart and the vehicles move to create a single-file line through the swampy landscape. This configuration affords everyone an optimal view of the dinosaurs. Once your vehicle starts moving, it takes approximately seven minutes to travel through this section of the attraction.
If some of the dinosaurs look familiar, that’s because Disney had already created similar scenes for the “Ford Magic Skyway” attraction at the New York World’s Fair and later in the “Primeval World” diorama added to the Disneyland and Santa Fe Railroad in Anaheim.
Here is a list of the dinosaurs seen in the Universe of Energy.
• Large Millipede
Most people don’t realize that they are actually traveling through five geologic periods representing 300 million years. These include Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. In many cases, the differences are subtle, but important when trying to convey the passage of time necessary to create fossil fuels.
Also in the first incarnation of this attraction, several heaters were strategically placed in the Primeval Diorama along with machines that dispensed a sulfur-like odor. This was done to help recreate the volcanic atmosphere we were visiting. But sadly, these effects are no longer in use.
Leaving the diorama, we traveled back to the “present” and onto a second turntable in the “EPCOT Energy Information Center.”
Once all six vehicles were reassemble into their original theatre formation they were rotated 90° to face a 210x30 foot wrap-around screen. Here, guests viewed a twelve minute live-action film that took them on an in-depth look at current and future energy resources around the world and how technology would help us meet our energy demands. To capture the footage, three 70mm cameras were mounted on a special rig. Angled mirrors and precise synchronization blended to create a seamless film.
From Theater 2 and the Energy Information Center we returned to Theater 1and a grand finale. Side walls that were covered by curtains at the beginning of the ride now sported enormous mirrors that reflected computer generated laser-like images being shown on the rear and front screens. Another forgotten Epcot song, "Universe of Energy" ended the adventure on a high and hopeful note. This piece was written by Al Kasha & Joel Hirschhorn, Academy Awards winners for their motion-picture themes for Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. John Joyce, who sang "Energy (You Make the World Go ‘Round)" earlier in the attraction, also sang this closing number.
From day one, Epcot was criticized as being an “adults only park.” And even though the Imagineers had included humor in the “World of Motion” attraction and whimsy into the Imagination Pavilion, guests wanted lighter fare than what was being offered. In January 1996, after a thirteen year run, the Universe of Energy Pavilion was closed for a major rehab. Although it opened intermittently during the year to accommodate the summer crowds, the total refurbishment was not completed until September 15th of the same year when it reopened as Ellen's Energy Crisis, but quickly re-named Ellen's Energy Adventure.
For the most part, the exterior of the attraction remained the same. The only significant difference was a new paint job. Gone were the warm “energy” colors lining the sides of the building to be replaced with a rainbow of hues. Note, the original color scheme returned a few years ago.
The first significant change guests noticed after the rehab was that the Kinetic Mosaic had been removed. This saddened many as this was truly a Disney original that never ceased to amaze. In its place, an eight minute movie begins with Ellen welcoming us to the pavilion. We then transition to her apartment where her neighbor, Bill Nye 'The Science Guy' drops in for a visit and the subject of energy is discussed. Eventually Ellen falls asleep and dreams she’s on the game show Jeopardy with Albert Einstein and her old school chum, Judy Peterson played by Jamie Lee Curtis.
After the preshow, we move to Theater 1 and take seats in one of the six vehicles. By the way, there are no bad seats. It really doesn’t matter where you sit. Like the earlier incarnation of this ride, the theater rotates 180° and we watch a six minute movie that starts with the Big Bang and the formation of the universe, our sun, and planet earth. Eventually, we land in the era of the dinosaurs where Ellen and Bill Nye 'The Science Guy' are waiting for us. After some humorous dialogue and an explanation of how fossil fuels were created, the theater rotates back 90° and we move into the Prehistoric Diorama in the same fashion as before.
Besides a new story, technical improvements were also made to the show. One of the most noticeable was an enhanced sound system. Subwoofers were added that allow you to “feel” the Big Bang and new “in screen” speakers add realism when characters move from one area to the next.
Another change made during the 1996 rehab was the addition of interesting pigmentation added to the dinosaurs. Instead of looking like dull lizards, they now sport spots and patterns. Take a look at the following two pictures.
An AudioAnimatronics replica of Ellen was also added to the diorama for some additional humor.
After we complete our journey through the Primeval Diorama, we arrive at Theater 2. While our vehicles regroup, Willard Scott can be heard broadcasting from KNRG radio. Get it? KNRG – K ENERGY. Ha ha.
Another movie is shown here that covers much of the same subject matter as in the original attraction, but once again, it’s done with a humorous touch. A keen eye might notice actor Michael Richards of Seinfeld fame playing a caveman.
The show finishes with us moving from Theater 2 back to Theater 1 and Ellen and Judy Peterson playing Final Jeopardy with a showdown question. If you want to know the answer and don’t have a trip to Walt Disney World planned for the near future, you’ll have to watch my video to find out.
During the transition between theaters, announcer Johnny Gilbert makes two interesting comments. The first “If you would like to have your own energy nightmare, place a self-addressed, stamped envelope under your pillow, or check us out on the web at www.energy-nightmare.game.” Just for the record, this is a fictitious website.
He also says: “Some contestants on Jeopardy will receive a year's supply of energy. Energy, you make the world go 'round.” This comment is in reference to the song that played in the previous version of this attraction.
From beginning to end (including the preshow), Ellen's Energy Adventure takes about 45 minutes. Cast members will warn you of this in advance and you need to pay heed. Once seated in the moving theaters, you are stuck and a bathroom break is out of the question. You are also warned that dark places and loud noises may scare younger travelers.
In 2004, after 22 years of sponsoring Universe of Energy, Exxon-Mobile dropped their association with this attraction.
If you’re looking for thrills, skip the Universe of Energy. There are none to be had here. Only the most timid child would be frightened by the AA dinosaurs. But if you’re looking for a relaxing 45 minutes sprinkled with humor and information, then this is a great attraction. I’ve heard Ellen’s jokes dozens of times, but they still make me smile. And the Moving Theater and the Primeval Diorama still impress me.
Disney World can be hectic – that’s an understatement. So it’s nice to occasionally sit back and enjoy a slow moving attraction that allows you to catch your breath. To see a much condensed version of the show, check out my video. Enjoy.
Reminder: If you send a comment, you must type "blog" in the appropriate field or your comment will end up in the Junk Folder.
The previous post in this blog was Does This Couple Look Familiar?.
The next post in this blog is Flag Retreat.