Beacons of Magic: Spaceship Earth

Each park in Walt Disney World has an iconic structure: Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom, the Hollywood Tower Hotel in Hollywood Studios, the Tree of Life in Animal Kingdom, and Spaceship Earth in Epcot.  Each one is awe inspiring and emblematic of the wonder that each park contains. 

For Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, these park icons have been transformed into Beacons of Magic. At Animal Kingdom, the Tree of Life has gained a lovely glow courtesy of enchanted fireflies that seem to swarm around its branches. The Hollywood Tower Hotel, “glitters with EARidescence, evoking the glimmer and shimmer of the golden age of imagination and adventure.” In addition to the new paint job and decorations it received for the 50th, Cinderella Castle has been given “a dazzling glow that sparkles with pixie dust.”

While each of the Beacons is stunning, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a favorite. The transformation of Spaceship Earth is truly something to behold. If you’ve seen it in person, you’ve likely stood in slack jawed wonder at the sight, and even if you’ve only seen pictures you’ll have noticed its remarkable beauty. It’s so awesome, that I thought this week we would take a closer look at just how Imagineers transformed the icon into something even more transcendent. 


Spaceship of Earth Beacons of Magic

Before the debut of the Beacon of Magic enhancements to Spaceship Earth, Imagineer Zach Riddley described the coming changes saying, “Inspired by past and future, the classic Spaceship Earth color gradients will be rendered richer by our new lighting fixtures, evoking twinkling starlight in an evening sky. This is visual poetry and will forever change the way we experience EPCOT.”

It was a bold declaration, but somehow even describing the changes as “visual poetry” seems to undersell the beauty of the new Spaceship Earth. Disney’s official page describes the changes like this, “Lights shine from within Spaceship Earth’s reflective panels as stardust emerges to symbolize beacons of possibility and optimism.” LED lights have been placed all over the exterior of the structure, making it sparkle and glow. Going even further, the lights change color, bathing the dome in an ever changing patina that makes it seem almost alive.

To give you an idea of the scope of what was required to create this beacon, here are a few quick numbers:

  • The system can generate 30 million lumens of light. That’s more light than is generated by 35,000 light bulbs. 
  • The display utilizes nearly 2000 LED lights, along with 12,000 side firing beams to achieve the star burst effects that Guests see.
  • To complete the project, roughly 60 miles of cable were installed. If you wound that around the World Showcase Lagoon, you’d have to go around 45 times to use it all up.
  • In addition to the lights on Spaceship Earth, there are lights shined onto the ball from 14 separate locations, allowing Imagineers to do things like blend colors and achieve detailed color gradients. 

Describing the creation of the Spaceship Earth Beacon, Riddley said, “As our team developed and started testing this system, it was evident something magical was happening that wasn’t fully captured in videos and pictures. We were creating an effect that speaks perfectly to the blend of science, biology, technology and art coming together to produce a uniquely human emotional response that’s only fully possible when you experience this Beacon of Magic in person.”

He went on to explain that Imagineers specifically chose LED emitters that produce a wavelength of blue that is the lowest perceivable by the human eye. Because of this, Riddley explains, “it produces the perception of a vivid color interpreted by our retinas and our brains that is often described as ‘ethereal’ or even ‘celestial’.” This sense is compounded by the enormity of Spaceship Earth itself. (Just how big you might ask? Well, it stands 180 feet tall, with an inner sphere diameter of 165 feet and a total circumference of 518 feet. It weighs a staggering 15,520,000 pounds, and is comprised of 11,324 silvered facets which comprise 954 exterior triangular panels. The six pylons which hold up Spaceship Earth are sunk anywhere between 120 to 185 feet into the ground, and it required 1,700 tons of steel to build the entire sphere). Add all of that to the staggering number of lights and the low wavelength light, and the effect is almost more than the mind can process. 


Spaceship of Earth Beacons of Magic

However, Disney didn’t stop there. To add to the experience, a new Epcot anthem was composed. The music was composed by Pinar Toprak, whose credits also include music in Captain Marvel, Fortnite, Justice League, and others. Toprak took to Twitter to talk about the project, stating, “Writing the new EPCOT theme has been one of the biggest honors of my career so far. I can’t begin to describe how emotional it is for me to finally see it all come together.” Her completed work is a piece that alternates between subtle beauty, and soaring, sonic passages that warm the heart. Talking about the completed score, Riddley wrote, the uplifting score celebrates the themes of optimism, community, and possibility that together symbolize this unique, global park.” 

Taken altogether, the 50th anniversary changes to Epcot and Spaceship Earth seem to truly exemplify the spirit of the park, and Walt Disney World in general. It is impossible to experience them without feeling that depth of wonder, curiosity, and endless possibility that have carried Walt Disney World through half a century, and will continue to carry it far into the future. 


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