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April 30, 2017

2017 Star Wars - The Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend, Part 2: 10K and Half Mararthon

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Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

Kim Scharoff and Tom Troost continue their coverage of the Star Wars - The Dark Side Half Marathon weekend events as they describe their successful completion of the Dark Side Challenge - the 10K and Half Marathon races.

Saturday, April 22 - Dark Side 10K

The 2016 Star Wars Dark Side races at Walt Disney World were inaugural events. As with most first time events, it went okay, but there were things that could have been better. We were excited for the 2017 versions of the next two races because they would both be following a new course.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

The 2017 10K course was a point-to-point race. This meant we were starting in one location in the Magic Kingdom parking lot near the Ticket and Transportation Center, running down closed roads and finishing at the EPCOT parking lot. Due to this fact, we decided to take the race transportation to the start. The 10K race also started earlier at 5:30am (compared to the 5k 6:00am start). We stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge and had no issues with getting to race start on the Disney buses.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

In the pre-race area at Magic Kingdom everything was well organized. The pre-race character meet and greets were the same characters from Friday and DJ Elliott was spinning tunes to get everyone up and excited to run. The DJ was reminding people to hydrate and that the characters would also be in the finish area. There was plenty of space for folks to hang around before heading to the corrals. We milled about and used the porta potties, which we felt were in ample supply before heading to the corrals. For the 10k, the corrals went from A to F. Each corral was subdivided into two or three waves and were sent off in two minute intervals. Every wave was sent off with fireworks.

For the 10K, we were starting in separate corrals and decided to take different approaches. Tom hung to the back of his corral and Kim went to the front of hers.

Rudy, John and Carissa sent everyone off for the race. We started the race by heading back toward World Drive and got to run through the back side of the toll booths for Magic Kingdom. Within the first half mile, there was a local high school band playing Star Wars music. The kids and their adults were highly enthusiastic, cheering and giving high fives. The first three miles were down World Drive, a divided highway. You needed to stay alert to the side of the road because of construction, but most of it was well lit and well-marked. There were no PhotoPass photographers on the highway portion of the course for action shots, but there were character stops. R2-D2 was in this area of the course. Character photos were also available with Star Wars Rebels, the Emperor's chair and Darth Maul. After running a little more than half way we left World Drive, and snuck in to Hollywood Studios by the back of the Tower of Terror and the Fantasmic show area. At this point, there was an exciting group of cosplayers from the 501st Legion and the Saber Guild.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

As you came out into the Studios, there were some Storm Troopers available to take pictures with.

We made the left onto Hollywood Blvd. to go out the entrance of the Studios. There were lots of Cast Members with light sabers cheering us on at this point and at least 4 to 6 PhotoPass photographers.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

It was now time to go down the path to the Boardwalk and over to EPCOT. This was the only place we felt the course was a bit narrow and bottlenecked a little, although it was not like last year when it came to a complete stop. On the path, they had the Endor speeder bikes out for a photo opportunity. We took the boardwalk past the front of the Yacht and Beach Club. This was nice because there was some shade from the trees and folks out cheering with signs all along the area. We entered EPCOT in World Showcase and Chewbacca was near the backstage entrance by the International Gateway (the same spot as the 5k). We made our way from World Showcase to the front of EPCOT. The Storm Troopers were on the fountain again for photos.

As we headed backstage for the final two tenths of a mile, there were more cosplayers available backstage where the gospel choir is normally during Marathon and Princess weekends. As we approached the finish line, we stopped to talk with race announcers Rudy and John briefly before crossing the finish line with our arms raised in victory.

The finishers area where you get your medals, water and snack boxes was perfect. We stopped to get our photos taken by the PhotoPass photographers.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

As the temperature was getting warm already, we headed to the buses to head back to the resort and had no waits getting right on a bus. One thing that did surprise us was that while there were adequate water stops, there was no Powerade available on the course.


Sunday, April 23 - Dark Side Half Marathon

When we woke up for the half marathon, the temperatures were already in the low 70s. We knew this was going to be a rough one. We got ourselves prepared, made sure we had full water bottles and damp cooling towels and boarded the bus to Magic Kingdom parking lot.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

Like the 10K, we got to the pre-race area with plenty of time to spare, but three days of three a.m. wake up calls were taking their toll. We met up with old friends, made some new friends, used the porta potties and casually made our way to the corrals.

While in the corrals, the race announcers were great at reminding everyone to be careful and safe due to the heat. They even got Jeff Galloway on camera to remind us that it was important to watch your pace and to listen to your body. We took the same approach as yesterday with Tom starting in the back of his corral and Kim starting in the front of her corral hoping to meet up early in the race.

The new half marathon course started the same as the 10K by going towards the toll plaza of the Magic Kingdom. The band was there again, doing a great job of motivating the runners as we went by. Then it was time for a few new twists. The course turned off of the familiar World Drive route and they routed us down Bear Island Road. Those who have run the full Marathon or the 2016 Wine & Dine course will recognize this as the road behind the Speedway, running by the water treatment plant.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

R2-D2 was out again early on. Then we ran back in to the quiet and darkness of the 5:30 a.m. start.

As we ran back onto the dark roadway it seemed a little creepy until suddenly we were in the middle of the battle of Endor. There were laser blasts, sound effects and fire balls to make it feel like you were in the middle of the action. This was a great addition to the race.

Also during this stretch, they had out the speeder bikes and meeting with an Ewok around mile 2.6.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

We entered Animal Kingdom backstage and made our way into the park. We ran a little backstage, saw some of the holding cages, and then popped onstage near Kali River Rapids. All of the water in Kali was a very cooling thought for what was yet to come. We got to pass by the Nemo theatre, where there were Storm Troopers for photos, and exited the park near Chester & Hester's Dinoland attractions.

We went through a backstage area where there were plenty of cosplayers and then out into the near-park side of the Animal Kingdom parking lot. This can be a long stretch but they did a great job of breaking it up with people cheering and a water stop.

There was also another photo opportunity, the ice cave on Hoth where you had to try to reach out and use the force to recover your light saber. We were a little more than halfway there at this point.

Then the hot happened.

We started on another long highway stretch down Osceola staring into the rising sun. First we got to make jokes about the double suns of Tatooine. The heat jokes got old, so we started the chant “I am one with the Force, and the Force is one with me.” Somehow this morphed in to “I am one with tequila and tequila is one with me.” Heat and humidity can do silly things like that.

We had to run up the circle entrance ramps from Osceola to World Drive and again from World Drive to Buena Vista Drive. The incline on the ramps wasn’t bad, but the sloping of the Florida roads around the circle ramps led to more silly comments as we made our way towards Hollywood Studios. The sun was pushing its way up, and the comparison to living on Darth Vader’s volcanic planet of Mustafar was mentioned.

The clouds blocked the heat a little, but with no breeze it got muggy quickly. The path we followed into and through Studios was the same as the 10K. Back through the Fantasmic Theatre (no cosplayers on Sunday), down Hollywood Boulevard and then out to the park entrance. There were plenty of PhotoPass photographers in this stretch and lots of people were hamming it up for the camera.

The course then went back down the path to the Boardwalk resort where we went closer to the shaded BoardWalk side. It was in this area that there the various running teams out supporting, cheering and having snacks available. We also got to see a famous (?) podcaster who is just a little taller than an Ewok and another section of additional cosplayers.

We entered EPCOT and made the right to go the long way around World Showcase. We joked that we could have ridden the Frozen ride because we hit this part at park opening. The lack of an open margarita stand was also pointed out. We continued to make out way to the front of EPCOT. There was a final group of cosplayers in the backstage area again.

After seeing our favorite race announcers near the end we tried to dance our way across the finish line and learned that Kim has much better rhythm than Tom.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

As we made our way through the finish area, we were given our medals and the blessed relief of new cooling towels. The medical volunteers were out in full force encouraging us to hydrate hydrate hydrate.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

We got medals and finish line pictures, and they had beer and food available in the reunion area, as well as merchandise opportunities for people who missed out at the expo, but Tom was too tired. We hopped right on to a bus for a ride back to the hotel.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

While we were smart with hydrating and using cooling towels during the race, this was a tough one. The new courses were a refreshing change from what we are used to running. The minimal crowding on the course made it very enjoyable to run. With lots of time on open roads the crowd was able to thin out and you got an excellent balance of open running time mixed with some time spent in the parks and seeing characters.

We would recommend these races to those who are Star Wars fans. We believe that as Disney does more with the Star Wars franchise we will see more variety of characters on course and ultimately a change in the course when Star Wars Land opens. This weekend certainly wins most improved over the inaugural experience and it will continue to get better with time.


From Laura: I'd like to say a huge thank you to Kim, Tom, and Molly for sharing their experiences at the Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend with us! After reading their blogs I'm seriously considering signing up for the Challenge again next year...







April 29, 2017

2017 Star Wars - The Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend, Part 1: Expo and 5K

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Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

Lee and I did not attend any of the events of this year's Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side weekend, so I prevailed upon friends to blog about the race weekend instead. Kim Scharoff and Molly and Tom Troost collaborated on notes and photos, and Kim wrote Part 1. A big thank you to all of them!

Thursday, April 20 - Expo

Tom, Molly and I are veteran runDisney runners and know that the Expo can be crazy at opening, so we decided to wait until later in the day. We drove over to the Expo around 3:30pm. We had no problem getting parking and walked right in.

The set up was the standard for WDW events - bibs in one building and Expo in another. While all of us printed out waivers prior, we forgot them at home and needed to print them on site. This was extremely easy to do. We were able to quickly get our bibs - all of us for the 5k and Tom and me for the Challenge.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

In the same area where we picked up our bibs, the race shirts were available. The shirts were gray, maroon, and red, with black writing to keep with the Dark Side theme.

(Laura's comment: Of course there was a gray shirt. There's ALWAYS a gray shirt.)

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

Upstairs there was a merchandise area. Tom went to pick up some commemorative items that he had pre-ordered while Molly and I went to check out the merchandise.

The merchandise was well stocked. It had race specific items as well as Star Wars generic items. We did not see pins in this area or the "I did it!" shirts.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

We went back outside and across to the main Expo. We first went to the runDisney merchandise area. Again, there appeared to be no shortage of anything. In addition, this area had the pins and shirts. Molly and I both purchased capri sweatpants that were Star Wars themed. Going through checkout was simple as well, requiring a less than 5 minute wait.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

We walked around the remainder of the Expo, checked out some of the exhibitors and picked up a couple of items that we needed. New Balance sneakers were readily available and easy to purchase with no wait. I was able to basically walk right up and speak with Jeff and Barb Galloway and get my usual picture with Jeff.

We were done within 2 hours and headed off for dinner prior to calling it any early night since we knew the morning would be an early one.

Friday, April 21 - Dark Side 5K

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

Since the 5k was the usual EPCOT 5k that everyone knows from Marathon and Princess weekend, we drove over early so we could explore the pre-race area, and arrived at 4:00. Going through security to get in was easy. They continued with the bag vs. no bag lines and considered someone with a water belt as no bag.

DJ Elliot was spinning the tunes to get everyone pumped up. There were 7 picture back drops/characters that you could take photos with - Rogue One, Boba Fett with a carbonite Han Solo, Jabba the Hutt, Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma, and BB-8. We were able to quickly get Darth Vader, Kylo Ren and BB-8, never waiting more than 15 minutes.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side Darth Vader

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side Kylo Ren

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side BB-8

By that time, the lines had gotten long and for the first time, runDisney had signs with estimated wait times for each character. The ground was also nicely marked for moving the lines.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

We made sure to make our way to the corrals with time to spare before the 6:00 race start. We were starting from corral C so that we could all stay together as we walked this race. There were the usual 5 corrals. Prior to the start we were reminded of proper course etiquette. It was relatively cool for Florida in April - about 61 degrees at the start, but quite humid.

Storm Troopers came out and told us this was Level One of our training. This was the same script that was used last year.

Rather than release an entire corral at once, they subdivided the corrals into 2 or 3 waves and released them at 2 minute intervals. This definitely helped to reduce some of the crowding on course.

Once on course, we felt they had a nice selection of characters. Less than a mile into the race, there were two Ewoks. The line was long when we got there and we decided not to stop, which is something we regretted later. We kept going and right before entering EPCOT near Test Track, the Emperor's Chair was available for runners to sit and take photos.

R2D2 and Star Wars Rebels were available in World Showcase for photos. Chewie was also in his usual spot for the runDisney events on the path near the International Gateway which allows for plenty of space for a long line. As you came near the Fountain in Future Wold, there were Storm Troopers on the ledge to take pictures with but without a PhotoPass photographer which we thought a bit strange.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

We saw lots of cool costumes, especially mash-up type costumes and we even dressed as droids. We got lots of great photos from the PhotoPass Photographers stationed throughout the course.

Of course, right before we crossed the finish line, we had to stop and talk with race announcers Rudy Novotny and John Pelky and take a selfie.

We all enjoyed the 5k race. Molly was now done racing for the weekend but Tom and I had two more races to go....

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side







April 27, 2017

First Look at Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!

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Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to take a hard hat tour of the new Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! attraction. This was a media preview and members of the creative team from both Disney and Marvel took us into several areas of the new attraction, though we did not get to ride it. No photos or video were permitted, so I have just a few photos that Disney provided on this awesome thumb drive, and yes it was in a cassette tape case.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT

(All unattributed photos courtesy of Disney.)

Once we were behind the construction walls we donned our protective gear - safety vests and goggles, and hard hats.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT

Before we went inside Imagineers Estefania Harbuck (Creative Producer) and Danny Handke (Creative Director) shared some of the backstory of the attraction. The Collector (Tanaleer Tivan) has brought his Fortress to Earth, and has invited Terrans to be his VIP guests and see his collection - particularly his latest acquisition, the Guardians of the Galaxy. But Rocket has already escaped, and recruits guests to help him free the rest of the Guardians.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT

Without spoiling anything, I will say that I was encouraged by what I saw and heard. As announced in the press release, there will be six different ride scenarios, where the Guardians encounter different challenges as they make their escape. The visuals and the attraction's motion in each will be synchronized to a different classic rock/pop song. These include selections from The Jackson 5, Elvis Presley, and Pat Benatar. Estefania Harbuck mentioned that they are pushing the ride system and what it can do. There's lots of unpredictability in what you feel. She said: "This experience is high energy, it's fast, it's chaotic, and it's funny." The word "irreverent" was used a lot, also.

The attraction opens on May 27. The spaces we toured are still very much a work in progress, and a lot of finishing touches still need to be applied.

The Lobby already contains cases of artifacts all around the room - including overhead. Some of these are not necessarily from the Guardians movies and will be recognizable to Marvel fans. There are over 2200 props in the attraction. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT

We also saw the Maintenance Bay - the gantry loading area. It didn't really look a lot different to me from when it was the Service Elevator area of the Tower of Terror - it's still very industrial.

The final space was the "Collector's Warehouse" - a merchandise location by any other name. No merchandise yet, of course. And it might have been the most complete simply because most of what goes in there is merchandise displays.

During the Q&A, someone asked how this attraction will appeal to those who may not be familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Estefania Harbuck had this to say: "That's one thing that's really important to us. That you be able to walk in the front door with no prior knowledge of the Guardians of the Galaxy and be able to understand it and have a good time....And the ride experience is going to be so fun and thrilling too with the awesome soundtrack that even if you don't know who the Guardians are I really do think guests will have a good time."

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! opens on May 27.

WARNING - SOME ATTRACTION SPOILERS BELOW. IF YOU DON'T WISH TO KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE ATTRACTION, DON'T READ ANY FURTHER.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT

The exterior of the building is also part of the story. All of those colorful pipes on the outside of the Fortress contain organic matter that powers the generator which keeps the collection locked up. At night these pipes will appear to pulse and glow.

The outdoor queue contains items from the Collector's plant collection - Tivan's Oasis, aka The Gardens of the Galaxy (groan). It will have lots of strange and unusual plants - we could see the top of one of the trees over the wall. I'm sure the horticulture department has had lots of fun with that.

There's also an audio collection of music and sounds from all over the Galaxy that will play in the outside queue.

In the Lobby, some of the artifacts are inanimate and some are alive. One of the cases contains Kree artifacts from Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. show. And recognizing the huge annual passholder fan base, there are a lot of theme park Easter eggs, though it wasn't clear to me whether those are in the Lobby or all throughout the attraction.

From the Lobby, guests will go into Tivan's office (a space we did not see) before going to the loading area.

The ride starts with a launch straight up - and then Rocket disables the generator. That also causes the vehicle to lose power and behave unpredictably as guests experience one of the six different scenarios.

The six versions were titled "Escape", "Abilisk Attack", "Drax vs Beast", "Anti-Gravity", "Quill vs Orloni", and "Drones." The songs (we don't know which song goes with which) are: "Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar (1980), “Give Up The Funk” by Parliament (1975), “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf (1968), “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5 (1969), “Free Ride” by The Edgar Winters Group (1973), and “Burning Love” by Elvis Presley (1972).

When exiting the attraction, in addition to music there are creature sounds from some of the escaped exhibits.

Guardians of the Galaxy composer Tyler Bates wrote original music for the attraction.

In the Collector's Warehouse there will be some interesting artwork, like a map showing where items came from, and a sign showing the number of items collected.

Cast Members will have new roles in the attraction. They are playing the part of working for the Tivan Group as greeters and VIP tour guides. But they know they are being watched all of the time and have to be very careful of what they say and do - and while they want to help Rocket free the Guardians they can't appear to be doing so. We had a first look at the costumes - inspired by the patterns and textures from the film.

From the Q&A:

There will be Fastpass, the length of the ride feels longer than Tower of Terror.

There is a new character original to the attraction.

Some cast members rode early on and a few changes were made based on their feedback.

When asked how the attraction fits into the theme of Disney California Adventure, the response, I believe from Danny Handke, was: "Bringing the Collector's Fortress to the edge of California Adventure was a way to welcome guests, welcome Terrans to take his VIP tour and see the Guardians on display. And it's also a mystery, you might have noticed an alien language throughout the facility, and there's some mystery elements here to decipher and give you clues of other reasons why the Collector is here as well."








April 26, 2017

Cars 3: Tales of Production, Design, and Lou

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"Cars 3" is rapidly approaching the finish line for release this June 16th. To learn more about it, AllEars.Net was invited up north for an early look.

[Non-attributed photos and video are courtesy of Disney.]

The trip began with a visit to Pixar Studios for a screening of some scenes from the movie still in production.

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Director Dave Mullins and Producer Dana Murray screened and spoke on the adorable short "Lou," that will accompany "Cars 3" in theaters.

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Dave Mullins

--John Lasseter gave Mullins guidelines on the specific ingredients that make up a Pixar film: Heart, entertainment, setting, and animation.
--Heart: The main character is flawed, but experiences personal growth throughout the film.
--Entertainment: The story must be unpredictable and funny.
--Setting: The film must transport the viewers to a place both exciting and new.
--Animation: The film must call for being animated and must use animation's full potential.
--After eight years of pitching ideas, Mullins came up with a story revolving around a character who could hide in plain sight, and a character who longed to be accepted.
--The final story stars a Lost and Found pile that loves returning toys, but fights back when a bully starts stealing from kids.
--The characters were reworked several times to make them more sympathetic.

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The next day, presentations on the making of "Cars 3" kicked off with "Start to Finish: Pixar’s Production Pipeline." Supervising Animator Bobby Podesta, Supervising Technical Director Michael Fong, and Effects Supervisor Jon Reisch spoke on the film's technical process.

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Michael Fong, Jon Reisch, and Bobby Podesta

--Making something visually tangible is rooted in making something emotionally tangible.
--A sequence where Lightning McQueen is in a Demolition Derby is a physical manifestation of his intangible feelings of being out of his element.

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--After a research trip to real-life Demolition Derbys, the animators tried to come up with ideas as to what it would feel like, to be different types of cars in that situation, and how different characters would react to that environment.
--Technical effects are vital to creating believable interactions that ground the characters in this world. At their best, by making physical jeopardy believable, they increase the emotional stakes.
--Simulating mud was one of their big challenges for this film, much like snow was for "Frozen," and hair was for "Brave."

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--The mantra "Story Is King" effects every department at Pixar, including the technical ones.
--All the visual effects in the scene need to be adjusted to avoid stealing focus from the story beat, which is McQueen's emotional state.
--If McQueen's fear, anger, and embarrassment in this sequence isn't conveyed effectively, it makes his subsequent scenes where he lashes out feel unearned.
--The goal is not photorealism, which is not always aesthetically pleasing or best for the story. The goal is Directed Realism, in which physics can be broken if true physics would detract from the storytelling.

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Next up was Directing Animator Jude Brownbill, Production Designer Jay Shuster, and Characters Supervisor Michael Comet talking about the new characters to "Cars 3"--"The Next Generation."

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--Looking at the next generation of cars introduced to the world of "Cars," they display all the advantages of the technological advances since the first movie came out.
--With generally better aerodynamics, they are lower to the ground with a better wind profile than McQueen.
--The virtual construction of the cars mirrors actual car construction with various shading passes done for different layers of paint, gloss coating, etc.
--McQueen is the baseline, from which all the other cars should differ in comparison.
--Subtle changes were made to McQueen to make him appear slightly less stable and older on the track.
--Aspects of all the "Cars 1" models had to be revised because the rendering quality is so much better now and flaws more evident.

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--McQueen's new nemesis Jackson Storm is designed in stark contrast to McQueen: All sharp edges and corners compared to McQueen's friendlier, rounded body.

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--Low to the ground, Storm has a tight suspension so he has less vibration and can make tight turns.
--He drives with precision and calculation and appears to race almost effortlessly, which makes him more of a threat to McQueen.
--Personality-wise, Storm is overconfident, arrogant, and intimidating. He cares about nothing but winning and himself.
--Outside of racing, Storm holds himself relatively still, which helps give him the aura of power. Vocally, he over-articulates and often expresses with his eyes a disdain that is in opposition to what he is saying.

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--Cruz Ramirez, McQueen's young high-tech trainer, has a design somewhere between Storm and McQueen.
--She's a powerful technologically advanced racer, but in contrast to Storm, also has a heart and a passion for the sport.
--Full of enthusiasm and energy, Ramirez has done all of her training on simulators and is a little out of control when it comes to real life racing.
--Ramirez's character is based largely on her voice actor, Cristela Alonzo: Smart, determined, funny, and from modest beginnings.

"Cars 3" opens in theaters June 16, 2017.

April 24, 2017

Disneyland Resort Updates - 4/21/17

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Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, April 21, 2017.

A video overview of the Star Wars Construction site from the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Looking toward Critter Country forms are still up for the new railroad bridge.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

More steel being added to the large show building. It now extends out over half the basement/pit.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

The circular structure now appears to be a spiral perhaps, notice the left side higher than the right.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

The Downtown Disney banners have been updated to reflect the new end date, August 20th.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

A Canadian Anaheim Music Festival taking place in Stage 17 today and Saturday. A workshop was wrapping up when I stopped by.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout! opens in about 5 weeks on May 27th. The exterior is receiving the finishing touches. Scaffolding is all removed now.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

A look at the entrance way.

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Ornament Valley this afternoon.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Some cactus are starting to bloom in Ornament Valley.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is hosting Earthweek activities.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017


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Nature play sets in the camp circle area.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

The Environmentality Art Challenge entries have been moved from the Opera House to this area.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Cast Members hosting more activities.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

From Critter Country you can see the rail for the boats is being installed and the rock work is moving along on the north side of the Rivers of America.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

A closer look.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

The new bridge for the Disneyland Railroad over the walkway leading to Star Wars.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

In some of the planters of New Orleans Square some new statues have appeared over top of utility plates.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Mary Poppins and the Pearly Band.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

The Castle Holiday Shoppe opened Thursday replacing the Castle Heraldry Shoppe in Fantasyland.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

A quick look around inside.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

The pools at the Grand Californian have been closed since early this year for a major refurbishment. The pool closest to the walkway looks close to reopening. The decking looks complete and it is filled.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Returned to use a Toy Story FastPass and at 5:24pm this was the posted wait time and return window.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Elena of Avalor photo opportunity in Paradise Gardens.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Corn Dog Castle is closed for renovation. Paradise Garden Grill has a new menu featuring corn dogs and other fried items.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Cars 3 merchandise in Sarges

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

The Sunset Showcase Theater is hosting a Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Men Tell No Tales Sneak Peek.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

A display case houses some costumes and props. A little hard to get a good angle with guests waiting right in front.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Captain Jack Sparrow Costume

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Carina Smyth costume worn by Kaya Scodelario

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

A family of ducks out for a walk at Disneyland near Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, April 21, 2017

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of the Disneyland Resort. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Disneyland Update I posted on my site, https://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.







April 23, 2017

Star Wars Celebration Orlando: 40 Years of Star Wars

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Star Wars Celebration, the Lucasfilm convention devoted to all things Star Wars, has alighted on Orlando, FL this year, with its usual star-studded panels and coveted merchandise.

The first panel to kick off the weekend was "40 Years of Star Wars," which featured George Lucas on stage, reminiscing about the origins of Star Wars with most of the major recurring cast of the series.

[Unattributed photos courtesy of Disney.]

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George Lucas

"I'm not supposed to say this, and I wasn't supposed to say it then...it's a film for twelve-year olds. It was designed to be a film, like mythology, of this is what we stand for. You're about to enter the Real World. You're twelve years old, you're going to go on into the big world, you're moving away from your parents being the center focus...you're probably scared, you don't know what's going to happen...and here's a little idea of some of the things you should pay attention to: Friendships, honesty, trust, and doing the right thing. Living on the Light Side, avoiding the Dark Side...these are the things it was meant to do."

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Dave Filoni

"The most important lesson there (from "Clone Wars") honestly, and it kind of combines everything, (Lucas) used to always tell me: 'Don't be afraid.' It seems very simple, and most of the big ideas you have are very simple, but when you're coming on board to direct this major franchise that all of you love and around the world people love, it's easy to get overwhelmed by that idea, and that is going to limit you and more importantly limit your creativity, if you become afraid of it...It's just a true thing in life, as you've always said, 'just don't be afraid. Make no decision out of fear.' That's key."

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Liam Neeson (taped message)

"I'm actually here on location in the Canadian Rockies. We're making a movie--a very unofficial movie...about Jar Jar Binks, and what happened to Jar Jar. Spoiler alert: He did go to the Dark Side."

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Hayden Christensen and Ian McDiarmid

McDiarmid: "The one (scene) that stands out for me is in 'Revenge of the Sith,' and that's when we all get to go to the opera...The reason I liked that so much is I'm a theater actor too, but more than that, Hayden and I could really sit down and, from my point of view anyway, have an evil chat."

Christensen: "I will share with you one of my challenges: I had been conditioned from a very young age to make the sound effect when I'm swinging a light saber...it was a difficult habit to break. I remember on a couple of occasions, George would come over after we had filmed a fight scene and, in a very encouraging way, say 'you know Hayden, that looks really great...but I can see your mouth moving and...you don't have to do that. We add the sound effects in afterwards.'"

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Samuel L. Jackson (taped message)

"And while you're all sitting there, I know you're all in my corner on this, we know Jedis can fall from incredible heights and survive, so apparently I am not dead. Yes, I have two appendages right now, but we know the long and rich history of Star Wars characters reappearing with new appendages and being stronger and better than they ever were. Mace Windu is awaiting his return! Let's make it happen!"

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Warwick Davis, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams

Williams: "There are two components: (to Lando) The cape and 'Calrissian'--an Armenian name. And I thought wow, that's interesting. Let me play around with this whole idea. 'Cause I didn't want to do a kind of stereotypical, cliche kind of character. I wanted to bring something really special to it. Something bigger than life."

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Peter Mayhew

On how he and Chewbacca are similar: "Well, we're the same height, for starters."

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Mark Hamill

"I can never get over the fans. They are supportive; they're with you in good times, bad times...they're more supportive than my actual family."

As series star after star appeared, the roar of the crowd increased exponentially, until the final actor Harrison Ford entered and the room exploded.

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Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford

Harrison: "You can have the most brilliant cast in the world, but they have a story to tell; and the story we had to tell was more than sufficient. It was full of humor, emotion, and conflict, and it was a brilliant invention of a mythology that has sustained interest for over forty years--and that's made out of whole cloth by George. An actor without a story to tell might as well go home, so it was a brilliant opportunity for all of us."

After the actors had accepted the crowd's accolades and left the stage, Lucas and Kennedy led a short tribute to the late Carrie Fisher, along with Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd.

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Billie Lourd

Lucas: "...She really is a modern woman, and she isn't just a woman that, you put guy's clothes on her and she becomes a hero. She was a princess, she was a senator, she played a part that was very smart, and she was having to hold her own against two big lugs...goofballs who were screwing everything up, but she was the boss, it was her war....She was brilliant, and obviously we'll all miss her, but she'll always be the princess who took command and never backed down, never was in jeopardy--she was always helping the other guys get out of the messes they created. We'll all love her forever and ever."

Lourd: "My Mom used to say she never knew where Princess Leia ended and Carrie Fisher began. She went from being an unknown actress, the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, to Princess Leia, a character synonymous with the idea of the ultimate Strong Woman. A soldier. A fighter. A beyond-capable, independent, sensible woman in control of her own destiny. A rebel who resisted the norm. She was imperfect in many ways, but her imperfections and willingness to speak about them are what made her more than perfect. My Mom, like Leia, wasn't ever afraid to speak her mind and say things that might have made most people uncomfortable, but not me and not you. That was why she loved you, because you accepted and embraced all of her: The strong, soldier of a woman she was, and also the vulnerable side of her, who often and openly fought her own Dark Side, knowing early on that we all have a Dark Side of our own, whatever it may be."

After a short retrospective of Fisher's various on-camera appearances--sharp, incisive, irreverent, and unrepentant--one of the most poignant moments of the morning came as, revealed in a corner of the room, John Williams and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, began playing "Princess Leia's Theme." They followed it up with a mini-concert of selections from the iconic soundtrack.

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The music of Star Wars is so powerful and so integral a part of the cinematic experience, this performance with the in-person appearance of the legendary John Williams made it a highlight of the panel...which was already a highlight of the entire Celebration. If you could only make one session of the four days of programming, this was certainly the one to attend, and it is no wonder huge numbers of people slept out overnight to get a seat in the room. It was a phenomenal way to kick off Star Wars Celebration Orlando.


April 19, 2017

"Caring for Giants" -- A Closer Look at Some Big Friends

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Photographs taken by Linda Eckwerth.

A new tour offering at Disney's Animal Kingdom is "Caring for Giants," which offers guests the opportunity to get a closer look (80-100ft) at the African elephant herd otherwise seen on the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction.

Elephants as seen riding Kilimanjaro Safari
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Guests check in at the tour desk near the entrance to the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction and are given a brief run-down of the upcoming activities, as well as admonishments not to take photos while backstage. We were also reminded that the elephants roam on their own and their closeness to the viewing area is not guaranteed.

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Afterwards, you're taken on a short jaunt through some backstage areas to an awaiting van that takes the tour group through the savanna to your vantage point.

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Once you reach your observation spot------

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----- elephants!

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During the 30 minutes you have to spend in the observation area, two cast members talk briefly about the elephants and aspects of their lives, both in Animal Kingdom, and in their native home of Botswana.

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Some of the information shared:

--African elephants are a keystone species of the savanna and help to maintain the entire ecosystem.

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--The elephant herd is a matriarchal system in which females form a large bonded family and males are kicked out in their teens to lead largely solitary lives.

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--The country of Botswana is underpopulated and home to the largest number of elephants in Africa.

--In order to preserve their crops from the elephants, farmers there utilize "bee boxes." These swinging boxes of bees emit bee sounds (and some bees) when disturbed by elephants. The elephants in turn leave and emit elephant vocalizations -- low-pitched sounds virtually inaudible to humans -- that can warn off other elephants from five miles away.

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--The baby is named "Stella."

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While the tour is pretty brief, it affords a nice look at animals that are not always sufficiently cooperative to display themselves to the Kilimanjaro Safari. Additionally, for people trying to pack a lot into their WDW vacation days, it represents a relatively small investment of time and money.

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Tours cost $30 and can be reserved by calling (407) WDW-PLAY or (407) 939-7529. At this time, reservation can not be made online. Disney Vacation Club members and Annual Passholders qualify for discounts.

We all felt it was well worth the money to experience the elephants in such a unique way.

All proceeds from the tour go toward conservation efforts.

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If you've taken the tour, why not write a short review to help other visitors!

April 17, 2017

Born in China" Roundtable with Roy Conli

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On April 21, 2017, Disneynature will debut its seventh theatrical feature "Born in China." To commemorate the opening, Producer Roy Conli held a roundtable Q&A about the various challenges involved in creating this True Life Adventure film.

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On getting involved with "Born in China:" "I was asked to come in right after 'Big Hero 6.' The project actually started in 2013, and then I got involved right around 2014...This is the first time I've done anything like this. Early in my career I did a little live-action (I really came from theater) but I really fell in love with this format. For the first half of my career I probably thought of myself as a theatrical producer working in animation, and since I've been working with John Lasseter, I really feel like I'm an animation producer who used to work in theater, and this...I really feel like I'm just a producer now. I feel that this type of storytelling is quite different than animation...You know, when you work in animation you start with whole cloth, and you start with a script and you start boarding and then you start putting up sequences and you start from an idea to an image.

"Here, it's almost exactly opposite. You start with an image, and you work back, and somewhere you meet in the middle, and you create the story. You've got these these amazing cinematographers who are out in some of the most remote places in the world filming this stuff and journaling everything that they're seeing... so you depend on those incredible cinematographers to help feed you with the information you need to tell that True Life Adventure because they're the one who are actually experiencing it.

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"Shane Moore, who was the cinematographer for the snow leopard unit...he was 253 days shooting over four trips, over six seasons. He was living in a little uninsulated shack, next to a monastery in the Qinghai Plateau. He and his very small team would leave before dawn and get back after dark and shoot straight...for the length of their visas. Now, they were coming in on journalistic visas, and essentially had to leave after three months. The first shot of snow leopard that we got was ninety days into his first stay. He had to leave the day after he got his first shot. But, it's a testament to what kind of, not only perseverance, but what kind of professionals these guys are."

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"Pandas are incredibly isolated and they don't like a lot of companionship around them. And they're also 800lb animals. So a mother panda with an 800lb cub can be somewhat dangerous. So what the cinematographers on that crew did was essentially don panda suits and would put panda scent on them (you can imagine what panda scent is) and would stay a significant distance away...Shane, on the snow leopard front, started about 400 meters away with telephoto lenses and really focusing on building that relationship. By the time he ended, he was somewhere between 40-50 meters away."

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On striking a balance between creating a narrative and keeping the integrity of the animal behavior: "What we're committed to is making sure that, within the filming, that we're not setting anything up, and then when it comes to the actual reportage, it's those journals that the cinematographers keep that really help us in terms of shaping the story. Then we brought on Phil Chapman and Brian Leith and a really wonderful writer by the name of David Fowler...they do an awful lot of research, we make sure we have scientists working with our writer to ensure that any information that is being passed on is accurate to the species and what's being done, and then he's using those journals to actually shape a story. Then (Director Lu) Chuan is using all that information in terms of compiling the end product.

"Now the cool thing, and what I'm so proud about with this film, is what Chuan was able to do within the structure, was bring in the Earthly, being the chiru, and the Spiritual, being the crane, and kind of parenthesizing this amazing story. Up to now, we've had a film called 'Bears,' and it was about bears...what I love about this is that it's a broader swath, and that there's an uber theme that kind of runs through, and that theme became very important. And that's what you craft, is how to tell the story so that theme can come through."

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On the importance of True Life Adventures to children: "It's interesting because we really refer to these as 'True Life Adventures' as opposed to documentaries, in the sense that these are more narrative, and yet we shoot with the concept of documentary. We won't go and set up shots, we won't go and alter what is actually happening in nature.

"But for me...I grew up watching the True Life Adventures that Walt Disney actually released.
From 1948-1960 he made thirteen True Life Adventures which won eight Academy Awards, and through the 60s and 70s, they would use those on 'The Wonderful World of Disney,' so you saw those used in different ways. I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, so my introduction to wildlife was through these films. So I think the Disneynature label really gives an opportunity for not only kids, but adults as well...I think it really introduces children and adults into the wonder of this world, and understanding what an amazing world the natural life has to offer...It's incredibly beautiful and incredibly important to protect."

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"Born in China" opens in US theaters April 21, 2017. GO SEE IT OPENING WEEK (April 21-27, 2017)--Based on opening-week attendance, Disneynature, via the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, will make a contribution to the World Wildlife Fund to help protect wild pandas and snow leopards in China.

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April 15, 2017

"Caring for Giants" -- A Close Look at Some Big Friends

jeaninebanner.jpg
Photographs taken by Linda Eckwerth.

A new tour offering at Disney's Animal Kingdom is "Caring for Giants," which offers guests the opportunity to get a closer look (80-100ft) at the African elephant herd otherwise seen on the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction.

Elephants as seen riding Kilimanjaro Safari
caring-for-giants-14.jpg


Guests check in at the tour desk near the entrance to the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction and are given a brief run-down of the upcoming activities, as well as admonishments not to take photos while backstage. We were also reminded that the elephants roam on their own and their closeness to the viewing area is not guaranteed.

tour-office.jpg

Afterwards, you're taken on a short jaunt through some backstage areas to an awaiting van that takes the tour group through the savanna to your vantage point.

caring-for-giants-18.jpg

Once you reach your observation spot------

caring-for-giants-17.jpg
caring-for-giants-24.jpg
caring-for-giants-25.jpg

----- elephants!

caring-for-giants-32.jpg
caring-for-giants-07.jpg
caring-for-giants-04.jpg


During the 30 minutes you have to spend in the observation area, two cast members talk briefly about the elephants and aspects of their lives, both in Animal Kingdom, and in their native home of Botswana.

caring-for-giants-20.jpg
caring-for-giants-27.jpg


Some of the information shared:

--African elephants are a keystone species of the savanna and help to maintain the entire ecosystem.

caring-for-giants-34.jpg

--The elephant herd is a matriarchal system in which females form a large bonded family and males are kicked out in their teens to lead largely solitary lives.

caring-for-giants-06.jpg


--The country of Botswana is underpopulated and home to the largest number of elephants in Africa.

--In order to preserve their crops from the elephants, farmers there utilize "bee boxes." These swinging boxes of bees emit bee sounds (and some bees) when disturbed by elephants. The elephants in turn leave and emit elephant vocalizations -- low-pitched sounds virtually inaudible to humans -- that can warn off other elephants from five miles away.

caring-for-giants-36.jpg

--The baby is named "Stella."

caring-for-giants-08.jpg
caring-for-giants-10.jpg
caring-for-giants-15.jpg


While the tour is pretty brief, it affords a nice look at animals that are not always sufficiently cooperative to display themselves to the Kilimanjaro Safari. Additionally, for people trying to pack a lot into their WDW vacation days, it represents a relatively small investment of time and money.

caring-for-giants-29.jpg

Tours cost $30 and can be reserved by calling (407) WDW-PLAY or (407) 939-7529. At this time, reservation can not be made online. Disney Vacation Club members and Annual Passholders qualify for discounts.

We all felt it was well worth the money to experience the elephants in such a unique way.

All proceeds from the tour go toward conservation efforts.

elephant%20button.JPG

If you've taken the tour, why not write a short review to help other visitors!

April 10, 2017

WonderCon Returns to Anaheim

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After a year away at the Los Angeles Convention Center, WonderCon once again returned to the Anaheim Convention Center, conveniently located across the street from the Disneyland Resort.

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Continuing the trend of the larger media companies pulling back from a lot of these conventions, this year saw the same shift as the last few years away from celebrities and big studio presentations, and towards more panels/booths by, about, and for fans and fandom.

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Disney didn't have much of a presence this time around, its most visible asset the Disney Music Emporium booth on the floor.

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Disney's ABC Television Network brought some of their properties to WonderCon, including the ever-popular "Agents of SHIELD," and their new sitcom "Imaginary Mary."

After screening the second episode of the new series, they held a brief panel with the two stars of the show, Jenna Elfman and Stephen Schneider, and executive producers Adam F. Goldberg, Doug Robinson, and Patrick Osborne, who worked on animating such films as "Big Hero 6" and "Wreck-It Ralph," and who won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 2014 for "Feast."

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An interesting look into the potential future of entertainment was detailed in "Secrets of Storytelling in VR and AR."

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With a panel of experts from VR production companies such as Mandt VR, Clever Fox, and LittlStar, the presentation described some of the roles augmented/virtual reality can have in the storytelling process, such as the pannable 360 degree video Mandt did for the 2016 "The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration..."

...Or the 360 augmented photo writer/director Dekker Dreyer did for the "Star Wars Land" groundbreaking.

Animation fans enjoyed a variety of internationally acclaimed shorts in "The 18th Annual Animation Show of Shows," including Disney's "Inner Workings" by Leo Matsuda, and Pixar's Academy Award winning "Piper" by Alan Barillaro.

In "Rogue One: The Magic Behind the Mission," Industrial Light & Magic animation supervisor Hal Hickel, with moderator Scott Mantz, gave insight into making the stunning visual effects featured in the last Star Wars installment.

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--Many different attempts were made at bringing K-2SO to life, including giving him blinking eyes which ultimately made him look too much like an animated cartoon.
--Alan Tudyk was credited for making him a full character. An example was the "and there's a fresh one if you mouth off again" sequence, in which Diego Luna suggested the slap, but Tudyk added the dialogue. A replay of the clip from the film reveals Diego covering his face to hide him cracking up.
--As an aid to developing the movement of the AT-ATs, elephants were used as reference models.
--The digital recreation of Grand Moff Tarkin involved taking stand-in actor Guy Henry, digitizing his facial motions, then recreating them in digital Peter Cushing's features. A keen eye to anatomical detail was given, including such factors as the change in blood flow to different areas of the face with movement.

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The usual high level of cosplay was evident throughout the convention, and particularly during the annual WonderCon Masquerade.

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Disney Legend Bob Gurr helped close off the weekend of panels in "The OC Automata and Animatronics Legacy," with fellow automaton builders Garner Holt, Bill Butler, and Thomas Kuntz.

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The panel discussed the varied and innovative animatronic history of Orange County, including the larger parks of Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland, as well as smaller institutions such as the Japanese Deer Park.
--Bob Gurr discussed the ill-fated "charging rhino" gag that was ultimately too unreliable to be kept in the Jungle Cruise.

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--The first time the term "audio-animatronic" was used in print was in a brochure for Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland. (Did you think it was for the Enchanted Tiki Room? I did!)

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Out on the floor, examples of some of the engineering artisans' work could be seen up close:

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Garner Holt's yeti, apparently a pet project, is being developed in his workshop to communicate in American Sign Language for deaf children.

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Kuntz's "Fakir," a magician performing a fascinating ball-and-cups trick was on display as well. More information on it can be found at his website, here.

More information on Bob Gurr's many contributions to the audio-animatronic industry and more can be found in his recent documentary "Bob Gurr: Turning Dreams Into Reality," which can be purchased from Ape Pen Publishing.

WonderCon continues to grow and diversify as a convention, and seems to present more in the way of fan-based and niche programming than SDCC for example. If you're looking for more opportunities to get advice and instruction about different aspects of fandom--cosplay, fan fiction--or even information on how to move from being a consumer of genre material to a producer, WonderCon has a lot to offer.

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