🚨 WARNING! 🚨 READ THIS POST AT YOUR OWN RISK!!
While some of the magic at Disney World is truly real (like when it comes to those amazing Cast Members), there are some ways that Disney TRICKS you into believing that some “real” magic is happening. From dancing ghosts to lightsabers that seem to cut through walls — there are some epic Disney effects that might cause even the most tech savvy to say “how did they do that?!” But, as we noted above — BE WARNED! Reading on could spoil some of the magic. For real, this is your last chance! Oh, you’re okay with getting some behind-the-scenes spoilers? Okay! Lean in close — we’ve got some juicy secrets to share with you!
Ghosts on Haunted Mansion
Ghosts are pretty spooky in any shape or form, and the Haunted Mansion ones sure do look real and there are some stories and rumors of real ghosts on other Disney World attractions. 👻 So, what’s really happening here?
Some of the most iconic ghosts in the entire ride are the ones dancing in the ballroom. It seems like if you were to jump down and join them, you would be surrounded by some pretty sprightly real ghosts! But…there are no real ghosts here (as far as we know 😉) just some really awesome tech at work!
The ballroom ghosts use a practical effect called Pepper’s Ghost. Essentially, real animatronics of the “ghosts” play out the scene in a room located just below your vehicles (which, of course, you can’t see while on the ride). Instead of seeing those animatronic figures though, what you’re seeing are their reflections!
There is an angled pane of glass placed between the animatronics and the ballroom that is essentially invisible to guests. A light is shined on the animatronics and their reflections bounce off of the glass and BOOM! You’ve got ghosts.
Haunted Mansion is full of creepy effects, but another particularly cool one can be spotted in the library. When cruising through the library, it seems like the busts on the shelves are turning to watch you pass. In fact, they’re not turning at all!
Instead of being carved like traditional busts, these are actually concave so that the center of the face is further back than the edges of the face. This helps to create the creepy illusion that their gaze is following you!
Flying Spider-Man in Avengers Campus
If you’ve seen the videos, you know what we’re talking about here. But for those who might not have watched, what you need to know is that Spider-Man FLIES in Avengers Campus. Well…sorta.
During one “show” at Avengers Campus in Disney California Adventure, you’ll see Spider-Man talking to guests in the area, when suddenly he moves over to another area to take his suit for a practice run. And BAM! before your very eyes, you see Spider-Man FLY! Truthfully, it’s hard NOT to believe that it really is Spider-Man doing superhero-level stunts right in front of your eyes.
Yeah, we could watch that all day! So what makes this stunt actually work? Is there a REAL person performing those tricks? Well, in actuality Spidey is part man, part robot!
For much of the show (where Spider-Man talks to guests and does maybe a tumble or two), you are seeing a human in the Spider-Man costume. But when Spider-Man prepares for his launch, you’ll notice he ducks behind a building. At this point, Spidey gets swapped for an animatronic version of himself that is slingshotted (literally) into the air.
This advanced bot is known as a stuntronic and it is able to mimic the movements of a human being hurtling through the air – complete with some super poses.
When it lands, it’s generally caught in a giant net and human Spider-Man taps back in to finish the show. Between shows, technicians reset the Spider-Man robot in the giant slingshot, all ready for his next set of awe-inspiring stunts.
Kylo Ren’s Lightsaber on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is full of unbelievable special effects (which is why it can often have an unbelievably long line!), but perhaps the most puzzling is when Kylo Ren stabs his lightsaber down through the ceiling of the lift you’re in. The lightsaber shoots through the ceiling and then seemingly carves a semi-circle in the roof. WHAAAAAAA?!
How is that happening without ACTUALLY putting a hole in the roof during every ride? Disney isn’t breaking and rebuilding ceilings between each ride, is it? No, of course, it isn’t! So here’s how that trick works.
The answer is simpler than you might think! Kylo’s lightsaber is a lit shaft that spins very quickly. With the bright red light, the spinning looks more like the usual wavering of energy that a lightsaber has. When the saber pokes through the ceiling, the panel begins to rotate, revealing what was a hidden semi-circular path for the lightsaber to follow. Combine these effects with some lighting, projections, etc., and it sure looks like Kylo’s saber is slicing through the ceiling like butter!
Figment’s Disappearing Butterfly on Journey Into Imagination with Figment
Ever wondered if you’re seeing things when you watch the giant caged butterfly on Journey Into Imagination with Figment disappear before your very eyes? Don’t worry. You haven’t had one too many Mickey bars! It’s actually a simple optical illusion.
When you enter the room to the right of the butterfly, you’re viewing half of a butterfly figure on a swing within the cage. The center of the cage has a mirror that makes it look like your seeing a full, symmetrical butterfly.
As you cross, the bars of the cage help to obscure the edges of the mirror and you end up to the left of the butterfly. There, you see half of an empty swing, continuing to swing in unison with the one you just saw. That half empty swing touches up to a mirror on that side perfectly – making it look like a full swing. If you look closely (look at the top of the cage!), you can see the line where the empty swing meets the mirror!
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Magic Mirror in Enchanted Tales with Belle
Note that Enchanted Tales with Belle is currently unavailable at Disney World continues its reopening. Check to see if it is open during your trip!
When you head into the world of Beauty and the Beast to hear a tale from Belle, you’ll find yourself stepping through a portal that magically appears from a mirror in the wall. Basically, inside of Maurice’s workshop is a large mirror that hangs on the wall. At one point during the pre-show, the mirror animates, shows the Beast’s Castle, and then stretches and grows to transform into a door for guests to step through. No matter how many times you go through it, it’s still an impressive effect, and one that’ll have you feeling like you’ve truly entered into a fairytale. So…how can that happen?
This effect comes from a combination of physical and projected effects. At base, you’re seeing the frame of the mirror mechanically expand on tracks as the wooden beams in the wall slide away from the mirror and the bottom section of the wall slides into a hidden portion of the floor. All of this happens simultaneously to take the opening from being a small one to being a large doorway.
As this happens, you’re also seeing a half-silvered mirror that allows the projection to be shown through while you’re looking at your reflection. The mirror is larger than the initial opening so that you still see the glass when the frame expands, and at the last moment, the glass slides to the left to reveal a split pane – much like an automatic door at the grocery store. The split panes slide away while a projection of wooden doors opening is projected to give the illusion that a door has appeared and opened before you.
All of this is carefully covered by the magical projections you’re seeing, cleverly placed props on the floor, and the audio track that plays to cover any sounds from the mechanisms. Sneaky, sneaky!
Tinker Bell’s Flight During Magic Kingdom Fireworks
One of the most magical moments you can have in Magic Kingdom might be watching Tinker Bell fly during the fireworks show. If you had to guess how Tinker Bell’s flight works, you might get it right. It’s surprisingly simple and yet AMAZINGLY impressive.
Tinker Bell is a real person who stands up on a platform in one of the highest spires of Cinderella Castle. When the time comes, Tink jumps from the spire and is carried in the harness down a zipline/cable that carries her over the crowd. The lights tucked in Tink’s dress, hair, and wand turn on while the Cast Member is “flying” and it’s a pretty awe-inspiring sight.
At the end of the zipline/cord, Tink’s lights cut off so you can’t see her anymore and she lands in a padded area on the rooftops of Tomorrowland. Simple but magical — sometimes that’s all you need!
Goofy’s Train Crash on Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Here’s another effect where the wall is trickier than it seems! In the pre-show for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Goofy takes “Full steam ahead!” quite seriously and crashes a train right into the walls of the theater. The resulting opening allows you to say goodbye to the Chinese Theater and hello to the world of some of your favorite toons!
When the projected clip shows Goofy hitting the screen and the explosion, a few things happen. First, the screen slides up to reveal a previously hidden portion of the wall. Mechanics in this area of the wall fold out to show where the wall was blasted out from the explosion.
This effect is pretty difficult to catch in action – even if you’re looking for it. As it happens, a loud audio plays, fog pours out from behind the screen and out of the new opening, and the projection stays stationary to hide any movement from the screen. Talk about impressive!
There are several different ways Disney puts you in contact with your favorite characters!
Turtle Talk with Crush & Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
Both of these attractions use a similar technology system that is pretty magical to the guests who get to interact with their favorite characters in real-time.
The on-screen projected characters (whether they are Crush or Monstropolis monsters) are connected to a live performer backstage. This performer has access to the controls for the pre-animated movement of the characters. The live performer then speaks to the members of the audience through their Disney character.
Add cameras and microphones in the audience so that the performer can hear and see guests, and you’ve got a truly interactive experience!
Ever wondered how the Stormtroopers respond to you and try to get you to join the First Order in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge? These suits come pre-programmed with a bunch of pre-recorded statements. That’s why everything the Stormtroopers say comes out in similar voices no matter how many times you see them.
The statements are in undisclosed sets (they might be positive, negative, photo reaction, etc.) and the performers have designated hand movements they can do to trigger the pre-recorded messages to play. That’s how it seems like these baddies are talking to you! Next time you’re hanging with a Stormtrooper, keep an eye on his hands when he talks!
Talking Mickey and Friends in Shows
This next talking illusion might be the most obvious, but it’s still pretty magical to see in real life. When you see Mickey and friends in parades and stage shows, they might speak though you might be used to seeing them mime to communicate during meet-and-greets!
This is pretty simple. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and anyone else’s voice is generally a part of the music track that plays for the show.
Keeping Ariel Safe During Fantasmic
This last one is a pretty interesting surprise! A favorite part of Fantasmic! for many is when all the characters come out on the big riverboat at the end. This comes just before some fireworks and pyrotechnics are employed. To keep the performers safe, all of the characters move inside the ferryboat – all, except one.
Ariel appears in mermaid form during Fantasmic and she can’t dart inside since…you know…she doesn’t have legs (it happens! 😂). To keep her safe when the fireworks start going off, the performers employ a technique sometimes nicknamed “Bagging the Fish.”
The other characters place a fireproof cover over Ariel so that she’s safe and protected while staying in place when the fireworks go off. It may sound pretty silly, but it appears to be effective solution! Hey, it’s at least better than trading your voice to a sea witch for legs! Will this continue to be the method used when Fantasmic! reopens? We’ll have to wait to find out!
And THAT’S how Disney makes magic. Pretty cool, huh? As always, keep an eye on DFB for more Disney fun and news!
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What do you think of these special effects? Tell us in the comments!