The Epcot Transformation has been underway for a while now.
Honestly, we’re not sure what to look forward to the most. Is it perhaps the upcoming nighttime spectacular, Harmonious? Or maybe it’s World Celebration and Dreamers Point? Well, we certainly can’t discount the innovative and mysterious Play Pavilion. And it IS mysterious — but we might have just figured out even MORE of what will be inside!
What We Know So Far
First up, let’s chat about the information that Disney has already provided to us on the new Play Pavilion. Construction is currently underway on set design and structural elements in Epcot’s former Wonders of Life pavilion. The area is currently surrounded by construction walls for the neighboring Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.
According to Zach Riddley, portfolio executive for Walt Disney Imagineering, “This innovative, new pavilion is beyond anything we’ve ever created and is completely unique to Epcot.” Hmm…that’s a pretty lofty statement! What could possibly go beyond anything Disney has created? We’ll get into that later 😉.
Ridley goes on to say, “Built on the power of play, it introduces an immersive and interactive ‘city’ where you can explore, create, and interact with some of your favorite Disney characters. This is an experience worthy of our bold vision for Epcot – and another signature element of our transformation.”
So, the pavilion is supposed to be themed as a sort of digital metropolis that’s full of Disney characters, hands-on activities, and engaging entertainment. We know that some of these activities will include an Edna Mode experience where you will rid the world of uninspired style and the Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby experience where you’ll join a water balloon fight with the little ducks.
As of now, the Play Pavilion is set to be completed by Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021 — although it’s still unclear if 2020’s historic park closures have had any effect on that timeline.
Breaking Down the Concept Art
Let’s talk a little bit about the concept art for the interior of the Play Pavilion; there’s a lot to unpack here. The depicted metropolis has several different components with facades showing Edna Mode (presumably for the Edna Mode experience), a “Dance” building, a cinema, Wedway (if that sounds familiar is because it’s part of the official original name of the PeopleMover! What!?!), and a “Hotel” building.
Some aspects of the art appear to be some sort of transparent projection or holograms — particularly the Wedway sign. These could potentially use Disney’s updated Pepper’s Ghost method like they used with Rey in the preshow of Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. In front of the “Let’s Play!” building in the center, it appears that some sort of live performance could be going on.
A particularly interesting aspect of the art is that there are Disney characters wandering around. You can see a child holding hands with Mickey, Tinker Bell flying, Olaf hanging with guests, and more. Typically, Disney does not include characters in concept art unless they will actually be represented. If they don’t use a shocking amount of free-roaming characters, how could this be accomplished? Well, we have an idea.
Disney’s Virtual and Augmented Reality Innovations
Much of the Play Pavilion remains a mystery. On the other hand, we’ve noticed an interesting trend recently that gives us an idea of what we might be seeing when the Play Pavilion opens. Disney has been putting in WORK on the tech side of things when it comes to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
Disney already has a solid relationship with VR. Imagineers and Walt Disney Studios have developed ways to use VR in the engineering and filmmaking processes. Disney has released some limited consumer VR products, and there’s a third-party VR experience in Disney World already — The VOID in Disney Springs. The VOID is a popular entertainment option, so why not apply that tech in the parks?
We’ve been noticing more and more patent applications and approvals crop up from Disney with inventions in virtual reality. At first, we thought they could be for a consumer application such as virtual reality games or something like the already-released Star Wars: Jedi Challenges — but then, things started to get interesting.
Many of the patents have inventions that imply virtual reality would work together with tech in the external environment. These inventions wouldn’t be functional in a consumer’s home but COULD be functional in an external theme park environment. Let’s take a look at the patents we’ve seen that could have something to do with this theory.
VR/AR and the External Space
The first patent we spotted that had to do with the external space was for a system that linked an AR experience with external stereo screens to give the AR user more depth. Augmented reality is a system that augments certain aspects of a user’s view instead of all of it like in Virtual Reality. The most famous example of this is the portable game Pokemon Go, but Disney has used AR before too. An animated figure appears through a screen into a real-world environment.
Disney has also recently filed patents for flooring that could work alongside an AR or VR system. One of the inventions allowed for dynamic VR ground effects and another allows for a floor system that could potentially stabilize those walking in VR. Flooring is a major point of innovation for the VR industry with the most immersive systems including omnidirectional treadmills.
But perhaps the most telling invention that Disney created is with a robot that syncs with an AR or VR system to provide a tactile experience. For example, in AR, Huey hands you a water balloon. At the exact same time through synced tech, a robot Huey hands you a tactile water balloon dupe. We know, we know. It sounds crazy and futuristic, but this is the tech that Disney has come up with.
The patent even mentions an application of throwing a ball or similar object — like a water balloon. We’re just sayin’! Interestingly enough, this tech is also what may be used for the lightsaber experience in the Disney parks. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be used in the Play Pavilion, too!
There are several other VR patents we’ve seen that focus on optimizing a system. We won’t run you through all of them, but we do want to talk about a few of the more interesting and exciting ones! Disney has recently developed a few innovations that help to make VR more realistic and immersive. One invention outlines a system for tracking objects in a VR Gaming experience so that the system can be aware of objects in use — sort of like motion tracking on an Xbox Kinect.
They’ve also worked on gaze-based audio to help make sure sound is coming from the right place and adapting an experience for user height so that various users can have a similar experience (like, say, parents and small children of varying heights). They’ve even come up with a way to create shared VR and AR experiences between multiple users!
Of course, none of this VR tech is useful unless Disney has a VR headset that they’re comfortable putting on guests. They could easily use a third-party headset, which we thought was the plan for a while. That is until we found a patent for (you guessed it) a VR Head-Mounted Display! So, as you can see, Disney has been heavily investing in VR tech outputs — and it seems to be paying off.
Could the Play Pavilion be an AR/VR-centric space?
Keeping in mind what we know about the Play Pavilion and Disney’s recent AR and VR enhancements, we’re wondering if the experiences in the Play Pavilion could be AR/VR-centric. Again, it’s hard to believe that such a futuristic system could exist but the technology IS available.
Many VR headsets are unwieldy and wired in — not functional for guest wear. However, there are more lightweight options such as Microsoft’s goggles-style display and AR applications don’t need to be nearly as bulky. So it’s not unrealistic that guests could wear a virtual reality headset in the parks.
Based on the new tech, we’re wondering if the Play Pavilion could be a mix of physical effects and AR/VR to provide a totally unique experience and fully immerse guests in the world and story of the Pavilion. This could help with realistic character interactions, immersive games, and more. That sounds like it could be the answer to the “completely unique” experience that Ridley suggests, doesn’t it?
This is even more practical since the Epcot pavilion provides an enclosed space. You can’t use VR in a large-scale space outdoors, but an enclosed pavilion or rooms in the pavilion would allow Disney to control guest experience and the technology in an isolated area. The building can be developed to optimally support these AR/VR experiences.
Of course, this is all theory based on real patents — but WOULDN’T IT BE COOL?! We can’t wait for the reveal of the Play Pavilion next year, or even just for more details to be shared! As always you can keep up with DFB for the latest tech updates and news about Epcot’s Transformation!
What do you think the Play Pavilion will hold? Tell us in the comments!