Magic is the tool of choice for Imagineering, and perhaps no trick is so astounding as when they make awesome Tomorrowland attractions disappear. You know. The classics: Skyway, Alien Encounter, Timekeeper…
On occasion, Imagineering has been known to work a little magic inside an attraction as well. Stitch’s Great Escape may be a letdown to the purists, but its skeleton is still Alien Encounter at heart. Or some such mixed metaphor.
The preshow gag has been the same since Alien Encounter first appeared on the scene back in 1994. It’s a teleportation example, the sci-fi equivalent of a spirit medium. In the original show, the alien started in one tube, then was teleported across the room to another tube, while a red-shirted robot shouted out in Scottish brogue, “I can’t do it, Capt’n. I don’t have the power!”
Since this is the same Walt Disney Company that can’t seem to come up with a viable plan for expanding the monorail, we’re pretty sure that Disney isn’t skilled enough to really invented interspatial molecular transport.
It is nonetheless a nifty little trick. Even in the current format of Stitch’s Great Escape, in which the alien is teleported into the room, rather than across it, it’s still a great effect. One second the tube is empty, the next second a full-blown Audio Animatronic figure is snorting at us from behind the glass. Where did it come from?
The Alien Encounter example was easy to guess, as it was the oldest magic trick in the book: body doubles. It starts with Raw Skippy in the tube on the right. The glass smokes up, Raw Skippy drops down the trap door, Burnt Skippy reemerges in the other tube. The alien’s disintegration not only provides a great intro to the real XS-Tech demonstration in the next room, but also offers us a poignant insight into where this comes from:
But wait. There is no trap door! I’m standing only eight feet away from the tubes, and I can see right underneath it. There’s no room for a Burnt Skippy down there. Ah, so he must come down from the ceiling. Only I can see the top of the tube also, and it doesn’t look big enough to hold an animatronic, let alone the elevator platform that lowers him into the chamber. So how exactly are they doing it?
The answer is a brilliant but simple solution, the second oldest magic trick in the book, and it wasn’t until only a few years ago that I finally spotted it: Mirrors. Here is the same picture of skippy as above, only I’ve painted over the mirrors in black:
You’re not seeing under the tube at all. You’re simply looking at a couple of angled mirrors, which reflect the walls on either side of the chamber. The effect only works if the wall is planned exactly right. It must be distinctive enough to fool you into thinking that you are seeing the wall behind the chamber, but simple enough that it will reflect without looking “off.” Hence the vertical striped wallpaper. This is the same reason why men often wear vertical striped shirts, to hide the roundness of their bellies.
Have fun ruining the magic for everyone on your next trip to Stitch’s Great Escape. And while you’re at it, ponder this: What are the odds that there would be two Magic Kingdom characters named after peanut butter?
Special thanks to the kind folks at flickr, for the wonderful shot of Skippy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23322134@N02/3527486711/