A War on Audio-Animatronics?


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Original Poster
This news story just came across my Facebook feed:
Chuck E. Cheese restaurants are phasing out the animatronic band....in favor of a live M&G character who comes out to have a dance party with the kids.

And....it strikes me that this is merely the latest salvo in what I would consider a war. Back in 1999, Universal built The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and created an amazingly immersive experience. The city skyline props moved along in time with the projections to create the illusion that you really were swinging over the city with Spidey and confronting his rogues gallery. It was a unique spin on the dark ride, and it pulled off so well that when the Raimi movies came out, Spidey and Doc Ock's costumes were changed from their comic book versions to the movie versions.

Unfortunately....Spidey's ride was not merely just a one-off attraction....Universal decided that projections was totally the way to go, and a wide array of attractions built since have all been projection based; Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, Transformers, and Jimmy Fallon Kart 64.
(seriously the hell is ^THIS^?)

Everyone remembers Kongfrontation at Universal, right? Where King Kong, in his rampage through New York, grabs your tram and shakes it about a bit, then roars at you and you smell banana-breath? That was pretty freaking awesome.

But now...."Reign of Kong" simply has a ride vehicle go through a speed tunnel with Peter Jackson's King Kong 2 playing on the walls.....followed by an encounter with a very depressed-looking Kong. And while the facial movements are indeed impressive....all he does is stare at you. There's no interaction, no sense of danger.
(for the full effect, mute the video and play Eric Carmen's "All By Myself" in another window)

And then we come to Disney. Good lord, Disney. The Great Movie Ride, chock-full of impressive AA's, including the Wicked Witch of the West (Disney's first A-100 model!) is now gone.....and will be replaced with.....projectors.
They're bringing over Ratatouille Kitchen Catastrophe for the France Pavilion....which is a projector based ride. The Tower of Terror in California closed.....for a Guardians of the Galaxy ride chock-full of projectors (I'm willing to wager that Universe of Energy is going to get a similar treatment). Pirates of the Caribbean at Shanghai? More projectors.

Test Track? Rip out the robot arms and testing chambers of the car factory! We need projectors because now you're INSIDE the computer....thus allowing guests to deride it as "Tron Track".

Even Disney's new animatronics have projectors ON them, causing a strange unworldly aspect.

(yo dog, we heard you like projectors)

There's a TON of praise for the animatronic Shaman at the Navi River Tour....but she's the only one in there. All the wonderfully creative animals of Pandora? Projections.
Surely they could have built one of the cool looking giant hammerhead rhinos to put in there, right?

(for the record, this was the coolest animal in that movie)

Look, I get it. Animatronics cost a lot of money to build, even more money to build lifelike, and even MORE money on an annual basis to maintain. (*cough*DiscoYeti*cough*)
But in a world in which we are increasingly inundated with glowing computer/phone/tablet screens, turning rides into movies....why not give us something more real?


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Just to clairfy for anyone...They are removing the AA's and replacing it.......With this...:rolleyes::banghead:
Actually having seen it...It's pretty bad....Your lucky if Chuck is as "Enthusiastic" as the performer here or it's one that just there for a paycheck and couldn't give a care....


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I feel that some ip attractions would be strange to not be projected, such as superheroes. But projections in avatar and frozen are really odd to me. Thankfully disney is at least doing half and half, unlike universal which I think should have the official slogan of "all projections all the time."


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AA's can be impressive, yes, but they aren't the answer for every ride. Projection technology opens up new ways to create ride experiences that would be impossible with AA. Just as every AA is not impressive there will be issues with screens. The Great Movie Museum was no longer impressive and is being replaced by Disney's most ambitious ride project that will use projections. Does that mean it will be bad? No, just different. Disney is trying new things, using new technology, just as Walt Disney did with AA's so many years ago. Don't fear the future.


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Chuck E Cheese is being stupid. They totally redesigned Chuck E and he now looks like a sewer rat instead of a cool guy. I'd never seen such a horrendous character redesign before. Now they are getting rid of a big visual element, part of what made it more than an arcade, because "the kids stopped looking at the animatronics years and years ago." My own observations would differ.

They're trying to stay ahead of the curve, but they're not. They're just destroying themselves.


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It's not a war, it's called evolution to higher technology. No one is actively condemning AA's, it's just that they do not command the same awesome feeling that they once did. With the desire for more and more expanded realism in theme park entertainment, AA's cannot keep up. Like myself they have become less flexible and more mechanical. Nothing puts you into the scene faster then well done screen graphics. AA's are very entertaining, but, not exactly able to create the immersion that is so promoted these days. No matter how good the AA's are, you are concentrating on the idea that you are watching a robot and not concentrating on the story. Screens put you in the story and are so realistic that you don't even think about the fact that they are not real.


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...until you see the edge of the screen.

That didn't happen with an AA.

There's a place for both media. Used properly the effect can be amazing.
Until you see the end of the screen or the end of the scene. Both have a limited life span. And I agree that there could be usage for both. Whether or not it goes that way remains to be seen. I personally am not on the board of directors so I have little to no say in it. I do, however, feel that properly done screens beat the crap out of AA's if it's realism you are looking for. Three dimensional dolls are still dolls. Two dimensional characters are still not real characters. And as you are so fond of saying... you are entitled to your opinion.


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I think like any new technology screens have been overused for a while as the excitement builds for what can be done. But recent projects (Shanghai pirates, and especially Navi River, and Frozen) have shown designers are beginning to understand how to use them in more creative and appropriate ways as one technique in a toolchest. And flight of passage shows how the projection technology is being pushed and improved to a level where it is much more realistic. Even Universal, while behind the curve on this, has been making strides to improve.

And let's not forget how awesome queues are becoming - often entirely physical environments showcasing plenty of effects, and AAs.


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...until you see the edge of the screen.

That didn't happen with an AA.

There's a place for both media. Used properly the effect can be amazing.
Martin, was hoping you could give some examples of where you believe the two technologies work well together to make an impressive effect? I tend to be more of a fan of AAs, but certainly don't hate all screenz. Interested in your opinion.


WDW History nut
Premium Member
Martin, was hoping you could give some examples of where you believe the two technologies work well together to make an impressive effect? I tend to be more of a fan of AAs, but certainly don't hate all screenz. Interested in your opinion.
Example, Forbidden Journey. Screen to produce what couldn't physically be recreated, then followed by an Animatronic dragon.

PotC in Paris - then burning city is still populated by animatronics, but all the fire effects are now more effective projections.

There's a time and a place for both. But one isn't, nor shouldn't, replacing the other.


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The younger generation is looking for the fast speed, quick changing, flash, bang experience. You can get that with the projection technology. The AA's are stagnant, they move in a limited space and appear to speak, they fit into a scene, but they are limited to that moment. They cant give the guest the powerful motion and ongoing thrill that an immersive screen can deliver. The AA's still belong and can play a part in an attraction but with the addition of the projection peice it makes a more thrilling and enjoyable experience. Guests still will want to see the AA's because they give you a somewhat personal connection to the story.


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IMO, as others have alluded to, the right combination of AAs and 3D/simulated 3D screens can create an immersive experience that is so much bettter than either AAs or screens could produce alone. Think of your favourite classic WDW dark ride scene-sometimes, you can make out the roof or the walls of the show building beyond the edges of the scene. If there were screens covering these areas, showing moving backgrounds or sky, you would have very little to remind you that you are actually on a ride.


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I think it's about balance...Animal Kingdom is an example of things done the right way with a mixture of mediums used to tell the story in really effective ways. At times, like in Dinosaur and River Journey the 2 mediums work together well to enhance the experience. Universal Studios on the other hand uses too much of the same/similar medium to tell the story, and after a few hours the story gets very boring.

I'm really happy Disney are embracing newer ride technologies, but of all the announcements made only Star Wars Battle Escape looks like it'll have a decent amount of AA. It's worrying that this is the way it's heading, as they risk tipping the balance too far the other way.


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I completely agree that screens and AAs should (and will) both have a place in theme park attractions going forward. I don't think screen-based rides are inherently inferior to AA-based rides, and I expect MMRR to be a boundary-pushing ride that really utilizes and fully justifies the presence of its screens! Like people have said, some of the most incredible Disney attractions in recent memory combine screens with AAs to incredible effect–including Mystic Manor, which has been praised across the board.

I think some of the decline in AAs has to do w/ the fact that guests are no longer impressed with an AA on its own. This isn't a failure of the guests–it's a natural progression, because decades have passed since AAs were first invented, and guests have had plenty of time to get used to them. Impressive & realistic modern AAs like the EE yeti in A-mode, the shaman in Pandora, the Q’aráq in Shanghai, and the lava monster at DisneySea still have an enormous wow-factor for guests, even the "casual" guest who isn't necessarily a fan of AAs. And attractions that combine AAs with immersive theming, clever storytelling and even thrills (including so many of the rides I've already mentioned, and FL classics like Splash Mountain) are also still a huge draw for guests.

Obviously I'm not saying screen-based rides can't be lazy–but AA-based rides can just as easily lack story and immersion and feel almost perfunctory (TLM in New Fantasyland is a good example of this for me). So IMO really what it comes down to is that future imagineers will really be forced to get creative, combining various ride elements to hold guests' attention...and that's a good thing.


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It seems to me that Disney is going the way of using more AA's and practical effects in their queues and trying to make the actual ride more immersive with screens and a couple animatronics (Mission: Breakout, River Journey, FOP, etc.)

I can accept this, but of course I always side with the more animatronics argument (because I like them). I'd like to see a more Shanghai Pirates type execution, where you get a few really great figures mixed in with projections. It immerses you while making the attraction feel physical at the same time.

With SW:GE coming and its promise of a lot of unique interactions, I wouldn't be surprised if animatronics move out of the rides and into the environment you walk around in.
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