Secrets of the Third Dimension

Published: September 3, 2003
Categories: Feature, Reports

Secrets of the Third Dimension

by AnonyMouse

[ This article was written by a TP pal who toured behind the scenes at Walt Disney World. He asked me to hide his identity so that the Disney secret service won’t crack down on his sources… ]

I visited a friend at his job one day. We shot the breeze, and eventually he said:

“Would you like to take a tour of MuppetVision?”

That’s the kind of thing that happens when you have friends who work at Walt Disney World.

“Heck yeah!” I said, after the shock subsided, and I was able to put together a coherent sentence.

Thirty minutes later, I met him at the last show of the day, and he let me watch the show from the projection booth.

There are, to my surprise (and probably yours too), two projectors — one for each eye. While one is perfectly in focus, the other is 180 degrees out of focus, going back and forth. This is what creates the 3D effect. The projectors are perfectly in synch with each other, digitally counting the frames and using a computer to verify that they’re on the same frame at the same time.

At the back of the theater: The two projectors (green arrows), viewing holes (red arrows), the Chef’s broken window (blue arrow).

My friend opened the viewing panel and placed a clear plastic sheet in front of the window.

“This is a large version of the left lens of the 3D glasses. It blocks the left eye — so now all you’re seeing is the right image, making the picture flat like a regular film.”

So here’s a tip for all of you who want to videotape the show: Take a pair of the glasses, and tape one frame over your lens. If your camera can focus on the film, then you’ll be home free. And they don’t say no videotaping at MuppetVision…

The sound — presented in 360° surround sound — is in a different room, completely separated from the projector. There’s one track for each speaker, combining the sound for the film, the animatronics, and the live Sweetums. Simple, huh?

After the last show ended, we walked to the orchestra pit and looked down at our penguin friends.

To my surprise, they ended at the waist. (Well, most did. Two penguins are full-sized to fire the cannon.) It looked like they were stuck in the platforms they were on… I guess because they are stuck.

We went underneath the penguins, and I half-expected to see little feet dangling down. Instead, I saw a number of scissor lifts. When called for, each of the platforms lifts to reveal the penguins to the audience.

We then took a tour of the upstairs of MuppetVision. Just next to the projector room is one of my favorite parts of the tour: the room the Swedish Chef lives in. Or should I say Chefs…

That’s right, multiple Chefs! For those of you who’ve seen the show, you’ll remember that at first Kermit calls up to the Chef, who’s running the projector for the show, and you see the Chef through the steamy glass.

Then, later, you see a blown-up Chef through broken glass. Then, from that same broken glass, you see a cannon fire at the screen.

How do they do it? Well, easy. The two Chefs and the cannon are all on a turntable. The turntable spins to reveal one face at a time towards a hole in the wall — and in that hole are two versions of the window. If you watched the Chef for the whole 17-minute show — for example, if you were nuts — you’d notice the glass move sideways to reveal the broken glass during the finale song, before the cannon is fired at the Chef. Again, the Chef is only built from the waist up — you’re not going to see the whole thing, so why spend the money to build it?

Walking around the top of the theater to the sides, we get to some giant projectors — these project the walls of the theater in their original and blown-up versions.

The walls are actually just gray scrims, and the images are produced via giant slide projectors. The slides, just like the glass in the Chef room, slide horizontally into the correct position, fading out the image slowly during the finale song — and all of a sudden popping the “damaged” walls back on immediately after the Chef’s explosion.

Next stop is the catwalks. You probably didn’t notice the catwalks at the top of the theater, because nobody looks up there. They’re incredibly visible; the creators really didn’t hide them at all.

A few things you’ll find up there? Water sprinklers. Handy when there’s a fire, handier when Fozzie pulls the old squirting flower trick. That wacky Fozzie, I tell ya! What else? Moving spotlights — these are used during the search for Bean Bunny, when Gonzo shines his flashlight onto the audience. You can also see giant fans, for when the VacuuMuppet is turned on.

There’s also disco balls up on the catwalks. Cast member parties? Nope. Tiny little Waldos are projected onto the walls via these disco balls, during the scene when he blows to pieces. (“Now I can start my own football team!”) They may look like they’re just little white spots — but if you look closer, they’re actually little Waldos. And as soon as the vacuum starts, they slow down, and start moving towards the screen. I tell ya, the attention to detail in this place is amazing!

The next stop on our tour was the final stop… into Statler and Waldorf’s box. They happened to be working on it that night — somebody lost a finger during the day — so I was able to get up there and look down from between the two old coots. I’ve always wondered what their view was like… and I tell ya, it wasn’t that great. It’s all off to the side — maybe if they sat on the floor, they wouldn’t hate the show so much. But that wouldn’t be much fun for us, now would it? And, just like our other animatronic friends, Statler and Waldorf are — you guessed it! — only built from the waist up!

The one really amazing thing about our friends is that there’s a third arm for each character, attached to the rail at the edge of the box. This is used after the Chef’s cannon explodes, and Statler and Waldorf are crouched down for safety. The arms have white flags in their hands, and when Sweetums says “Everyone okay in here?” they start to wave, saying, “We surrender! We surrender!” From the back, it looks like it wouldn’t work, but from the audience the effect is almost seamless.

That ended my tour of the attraction, but as we walked over to his next attraction, Star Tours, my friend told me some interesting information he’s collected over the years. This is his hobby — collecting Disney trivia.

You may not know this about the show: There’s one Waldorf line in MuppetVision 3D that wasn’t Jim’s voice. Towards the end, Statler shouts: “Oooh! Aaah! OOOO!!” Waldorf asks, “Enjoying the fireworks?” Statler’s response: “No, your chair is on my foot!” That joke was apparently added after Jim passed away. I can’t guarantee this is the right credit, but it sounds a lot like the new Waldorf voice, Dave Goelz.

It would have been easy to record the line — Richard Hunt had to dub all of his lines in anyhow, as he was unable to make the taping. At that point in time, his health was suffering, and he passed away shortly thereafter.

Other Muppeteers operated Beaker and Sweetums — John Henson played Sweetums, as he still does today — but they were still able to have Richard voice his characters.

Since Richard couldn’t be there, they added a nod to him in the film. Just before Miss Piggy’s musical number, two characters go by on a bicycle. The riders are Janice and Scooter — a tribute to Richard.

So we walked. The park was empty, like it was open just for me. We got to Star Tours, and went in to see what a simulator looks like during the ride. But that’s another story for another time.

So, as Kermit says at the end of MuppetVision: Thank you for coming, enjoy your stay, and we’ll see you again sometime!

by AnonyMouse

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