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Wednesdays with Wade: Farewell to Body Wars

Wednesdays with Wade: Farewell to Body Wars

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With the closing of the "Wonders of Life" Pavilion, it is also means farewell to an attraction entitled "Body Wars." While I still dearly miss many of the attractions that have closed over the years from the "Submarine Voyage" to "Horizons," I won't miss "Body Wars."

I haven't ridden it for years and while I eagerly visited "Cranium Command" several times before it closed, even as a Disney fan I couldn't bring myself to take one last ride on the motion control simulator.

I think every time I have ridden the attraction it made me ill and made the rest of the day at Walt Disney World slightly unpleasant. It is interesting because I do not experience the same discomfort when I ride "Star Tours" even though it is the same ride technology.

The story behind "Body Wars" actually begins with Walt Disney himself.

Walt had a great fascination with miniatures. So when the "Monsanto House of the Future" faced its final year

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at Disneyland, he was intrigued when Dr. Charles Allan Thomas, who was a key researcher at the Monsanto Chemical Company, approached Walt with the idea of creating an attraction that would explore the miniature world of Inner Space. Originally called "Micro-World," the attraction would carry guests in Omnimovers (which were then called Atomobiles) into the miniature world of a snowflake.

The storyline would have guests getting smaller and smaller during their journey until they could actually see the atoms of oxygen and hydrogen that make up water as the snowflake starts to melt. In order not to be lost forever, the guests would be quickly returned to normal size and the real world. As they returned to full size they would see an eye in a microscope observing their transformation.

The attraction officially opened on January 27, 1967 and was called "Adventure Thru Inner Space" and was one of the most popular rides at Disneyland until it closed almost twenty years later on September 2, 1985. (The space was needed for a new attraction: "Star Tours.")

One of the most memorable films of the Sixties was "Fantastic Voyage," a combination of the spy films popular at the time and a clever science fiction idea about exploring the inside of the human body. A team of specialists on board a miniaturized submarine are injected into the body of a defecting Russian scientist who has suffered a dangerous blood clot as a result of an attack by Russian spies. In addition to eliminating that threat, they also have to battle the body itself, in particular white blood cells trying to protect the body. "Fantastic Voyage" was a big hit for 20th Century Fox and was highly praised for its special effects, earning two Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Special Visual Effects. (Although some critics claimed the best visual effect was a young Raquel Welch in a skintight diving suit.)

The Disney Imagineers were intrigued by this concept. However, the crudeness of the then current technology prevented "Adventure Thru Inner Space" from being more than a charming attraction where the styrofoam snowflakes often fell victim to guests poking them, hitting them with a baseball bat and even shooting a BB gun at them.

Although "Adventure Thru Inner Space" did become a popular "date night" ride and when it finally closed, Disney Guest Communications received an irate letter from a couple who complained about the ride closing. "How could you close that ride?" they wrote, "Our son was conceived on that ride!"

The advanced technology of "Star Tours" inspired the Imagineers to once again try developing an "inner space" attraction or a submarine-like probe being journeying through a patient's body for the "Wonders of Life" pavilion in 1989.

The probe's captain, Jack Braddock (Tim Matheson from "Animal House") is setting out on a fairly routine medical mission with a the crew of civilian observers accompanying him. The submarine and crew will be miniaturized to the size of a single cell and beamed inside the human body to rendezvous with Dr. Cynthia Lair (Elizabeth Shue who starred in Disney's "Adventures in Babysitting"), an immunologist who also has been miniaturized to study the body's response to a splinter lodged beneath the skin. Unfortunately, the mission becomes a high-speed race against time when Dr. Lair is swept from the splinter site into the rush of the bloodstream.

Through the pounding chambers of the patient's heart and through the lungs' gale-force winds, the ship rides the body's current in an effort to rescue Dr. Lair. Even after she's safely on board, there are still problems when the ship loses power and heads toward the brain in search of emergency power and escape.

The film was directed by Leonard "Mr. Spock" Nimoy who had recently finished directing Touchstone's "Three Men and a Baby." With anatomical images produced by computer graphics and special effects film techniques, it was a remarkably realistic experience.

"Even though Body Wars is the shortest film I've ever directed, it presented a new set of challenges," said Nimoy at the time. "We had to take into account that the film will be shown inside a moving theater -- the simulator. So, in order to intensify the sense of motion, we built a set that actually moves, and rocked it during filming to match the pitching and rolling of the simulator."

Since the story of the attraction is that you are in the bloodstream, the Imagineers programmed in movement to mimic the beat of a pulse. That additional movement may be the movement that unsettled me. Or maybe it was just the images of being inside a human body. Apparently, others also had a similar reaction and the film was eventually shortened.

If the film slips out of synchronization even slightly, that can also cause a feeling of uneasiness. Although there is debate as to the exact cause or causes of simulator sickness, a primary suspected cause is inconsistent information about body orientation and motion received by the different senses, known as the "cue conflict theory." For example, the visual system may perceive that the body is moving rapidly, while the vestibular system perceives that the body is stationary. Inconsistent, non-natural information within a single sense has also been prominent among suggested causes.

The inside of the cabin was always monitored so if Disney saw a guest experiencing discomfort, they could immediately shut down the attraction. (One Disney secret was that if attendance was slow, they could "lock down" a probe so someone could sit and enjoy the film without the movement. With a total of four probes available that was always a possibility.)

Like "Star Tours" each probe could hold forty guests. The probes weight approximately 20,000 pounds empty and roughly 27,000 pounds when loaded with guests. They are approximately 10 feet high, 17 feet wide and 26 feet long. The speed varies depending upon the axis of motion. In its starting position, it is approximately 10 feet off the ground.

This probe is a totally self-contained unit. It is almost like riding in a building. The air conditioning, film and sound are all individually controlled by each flight simulator. The ride itself is cued by the film. Each frame of film generates a time code pulse with an associated set of jack positions. When the ride was being developed, an Imagineer watched the film repeatedly while moving a computer joystick to indicate movement and to synchronize the ride and the film.

The 70 millimeter film (10 times the size of 35 millimeter film usually run in a movie theater) runs at 24 frames per second. The entrance and exit ramps are "photographed" by an infrared beam after each load/unload cycle. The beam acts as an intrusion system and can sense something as light as a piece of paper.

The simulator (Rediffusion ATLAS-Advanced Technology Leisure Application Simulator) consists of a cabin supported by six servo actuators. The actuators are powered hydraulically and driven automatically using electrical drive signals received from a free-standing motion-control cabinet. The actuators provide "six degree of freedom movement" so the cabin can be moved in planes representing heave, surge and sway and in axies representing pitch, roll and yaw independently or in any combination.

So while I will miss "Cranium Command", I definitely won't miss "Body Wars." Actually, while I understand why Disney is concentrating on thrill rides to remain competitive in the amusement park market, I definitely wish they would balance those rougher rides with Walt's desire that a theme park would have rides that the entire family could enjoy together.

"Expedition Everest" may be the best new attraction that Disney has opened in many years but my little niece and my aged parents would shy away from it as they have from "Mission:Space". Needless to add, only my brother and I were brave enough to ride "Body Wars."

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