5 Favorite Walt Disney World Special Effects

by | Mar 26, 2019 | Disney Parks and Resorts, Lists and Trivia

1. Enchanted Mirror

One of the most astounding special effects to arrive at Walt Disney World in recent years was the mirror portal in Enchanted Tales with Belle So how does the mirror portal work? Well, magic of course! Disney magic, that is. We’ll leave the details for you to figure out (or not, if you don’t want to spoil the fun!), but we can tell you that it’s a very sophisticated combination of 3D projected imagery, moving (and hollow) walls, sliding mirrors, and highly precise optical technology. The mirror portal utilizes similar techniques used in the Haunted Mansion’s stretching room and the expanding stage in Mickey’s PhilharMagic to “open” the doorway, with additional visual effects used to conceal the seam in the mirror itself. Many of the visual effects are enhanced by the darkness of the room; since you’ve just come from a brightly lit room your eyes aren’t dark-adjusted so you don’t notice some of the subtler motions of the mirror’s components as they slide in and out of place. The one thing we will tell you is that the “doors” of the mirror slide open like an elevator, rather than swinging open as they seem to do. More Disney magic? Sure, and some very creative 3D animation and ultra-precise projection to boot.

2. Haunted Mansion Hitchhiking Ghosts

The recent refurbishment of the Haunted Mansion introduced several new innovations, such as the new figure of Constance Hatchaway (the bride in the attic), and a new Escher-like staircase room, filled with the footprints of otherwise invisible ghosts lighting and extinguishing the many candelabras found throughout the room. But the most humorous addition was the update of the final scene, where a hitchhiking ghost would follow you home. Previously, your ghost guest was simply a projection on the mirror in front of you that moved in synchronization with your Doom Buggy. But the new characters made use of advanced CGI technology and are now able to interact with Guests in delightfully mischievous ways. For example, you might find them switching your head with that of your fellow Guest! You’ll never know what sort of hijinks the hitchhiking ghosts have in store for you, so each Haunted Mansion experience will be different.

3. Leota’s Crystal Ball

Madame Leota’s crystal ball is one of Disney’s classic special effects, and it’s actually undergone quite a few changes over the years. Originally, the image of Imagineer Leota Toombs was projected by a 16mm film loop onto a bust inside a crystal ball, creating the illusion of a living, speaking disembodied head. Imagineers revisited the effect in the 1990s, utilizing new technology that allowed the now-digitized footage to be sent through fiber optics to the back of Madame Leota’s “head.” The image then shone out from a wide-angle lens with a small focal length. The new method of projection allowed the table holding the crystal ball to move about in the séance room without disturbing the image of Leota’s face. Less than a decade later, Madame Leota received yet another upgrade at the Disneyland version of the Haunted Mansion. The advent of high-definition video projection technology allowed the crystal ball to float around the room while still holding the projected image. Imagineers programed the ball’s course into a computer, and the projector used the path as a virtual screen, following the ball as it moved around the room. Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom never utilized this upgrade. Instead, Imagineers implemented a new internal, LCD projection program in 2007 that eliminated issues with the earlier rear projection attempt, such as poor light and image quality.

4. Misty Pirates

Water screen projections have been used to great effect in shows like Fantasmic! and the new Rivers of Light show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. But the effect was also put to use in the refurbished Pirates of the Caribbean. As you start off on your journey, you’ll pass through a waterfall. Don’t worry, the “water” is actually fog. But another surprise awaits you at this point; the appearance of Blackbeard projected on the fog, warning you of the dangers ahead. When the effect first appeared, the haunting apparition was that of Davy Jones, Blackbeard was added to the attraction to coincide with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean:
On Stranger Tides

5. Nemo and His Aquatic Friends

The Seas with Nemo & Friends makes great use of Animatronic figures and film projections to create a fun-filled world for you to get lost in. (Well, don’t get too lost; we’re still looking for that little orange fish…) While the EAC scene with Crush is exhilarating (or “righteous” as Crush would say), a more subtle but no less stunning effect can be found near the end of the attraction. Here you’ll see several scenes of various characters from the film singing “In the Big Blue World,” happily swimming in the aquarium along with their real-life cousins. But wait, did you see that fish just swim in FRONT of Nemo? And come to think of it, how come they look like they’re actually in the water, instead of just being an image projected on the glass? Well, the secret is actually quite simple; the characters are indeed projected on a clear screen, but that screen is actually inside the aquarium and not the exterior wall. It’s a very subtle distinction, but that’s why the characters appear to be in the tank, cavorting about with the other inhabitants of the aquarium. Well, all except Peach, that is. She’s firmly stuck on the aquarium viewing window, telling you exactly how many Guests she’s seen today, among other trivial tidbits.

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