Most Disney dweebs will tell you that "Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain" is storytelling on a truly epic scale. Though -- that said -- even the most hardcore of Disneyana fans can sometimes have trouble recounting the story that the Imagineers were actually trying to tell with this new DAK attraction.
Take -- for example -- the man-made mountain range pictured below. Which of these peaks is supposed to be the "Forbidden Mountain"? More importantly, which of these other concrete crags is supposed to then represent the actual Mount Everest?
If you guessed that the tall trio in the center is supposed to be Forbidden Mountain ... Well, you'd be correct. As for Mount Everest ...
Photo by Jeff Lange
... It's actually that rather diminutive peak off to the far left ...
... Or so says Joe Rohde, the WDI VP who rode herd on this new attraction for the Walt Disney World Resort. Speaking to a crowd of 3000 yesterday afternoon at SIGGRAPH 2006, this Imagineering vet pointed out many of the subtler aspects of this new Animal Kingdom attraction. Things that even the most diehard Disney theme park fans sometime overlook.
Photo by Jim Hill
Take -- for example -- this shrine to the Yeti that's located at one of the entrances to DAK's new Himalayan section. Notice how this collection of structures actually apes the shape of the mountain range directly behind it.
More to the point, note that there's a tiny Yeti on display inside one of these shrines. Does that suggest to you that there might actually be some sort of fearsome creature wandering the slopes of Forbidden Mountain? If so, then Rohde & his design team take some pride in the fact that this artful piece of foreshadowing has set the stage for the adventure yet to come.
According to Joe, this sort of decorative detail is known as "ambiant storytelling." Those seemingly random details that are deliberately placed there in order to tell a story. In "Expedition Everest" 's case, the modern world has obviously begun closing in ...
... on this very traditional environment. Where there are all sorts of subtle ...
... and not-so-subtle signs ...
... that this is a world that is protected by a rather large powerful creature who won't take kindly to us invading its realm.
Mind you, not all WDW visitors will pick up on all of the subtler forms of storytelling found in the environment surrounding "Expedition Everest." Which is -- in the queue area for this new DAK attraction -- Rohde actually had his design team recap the story. Creating the museum section of the ride, which clarifies the what (a train ride), where (through the Forbidden Mountain) and who (which are protected by the Yeti).
And just for those who have really not been paying attention as they moved through the queue for "Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain," what's the very last thing you see before you cross that bridge where you leave the human world behind and enter the realm of the Yeti?
A painting of the protector of the Himalayas. One that clearly shows the creature's sharp claws & fangs.
Did it bother Rohde that he basically had to keep telling the same story over and over again in order to make sure that every tourist that was on that tea train finally understood what the basic story of "Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain" was really all about? Not really.
"When you're designing a theme park ride, you always have to take into account that different guests will have different levels of interests in your attraction, " Joe explained. "There'll be your diehard fans who will thrill at each new discovery, as they uncover yet another level of storytelling. And then there will be the guys who just want to ride the new roller coaster. So you have to try & create an attraction that accomodates all levels of interest."
Given the overwhelmingly positive response that Rohde's speech at SIGGRAPH 2006 got yesterday, it's clear that the "Legend of Forbidden Mountain" has already reached as far as Beantown. And given the large crowd that surrounded this veteran Imagineer after his appearance, it's equally clear that a number of folks had questions for Joe about theme park design and how one might begin a career at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Hopefully, Mr. Rohde will get a chance to answer some of these folks' questions when he makes his appearance at the Walt Disney Company booth (No. 1227) this morning between 10:30 - 11:30 a.m.
Look for more coverage of SIGGRAPH 2006 in the days ahead here at JHM.