Home » 5 Astonishing Tricks That Disney’s Theme Park Rides Play on YOUR BRAIN

5 Astonishing Tricks That Disney’s Theme Park Rides Play on YOUR BRAIN

Fifth Dimension

Walt Disney World’s rides and attractions take you on all kinds of wild adventures – racing through space in Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, entering a “fifth dimension” on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or being blasted into space on Mission: Space. Of course, the reality is that you’re not really doing any of these things – you’re actually completely safe, and riding in a piece of machinery that has been designed to trick your brain into thinking things are happening that really aren’t. We’ve already taken a look at the the actual physical effects that theme park rides have on your body. Some of them are pretty damn weird – organs floating inside your body, and your heart pumping blood in the wrong direction, for instance. Now, we thought it would be fun to look at the ways that your brain is fooled by Disney’s Imagineers into believing that all kinds of things are happening to your body. Here are 5 of the most ingenious examples.

5. Staring down a loooooong corridor at ghosts (Twilight Zone Tower of Terror)

Fifth Dimension

Image: Disney

The experience: As they climb in a service elevator towards the top of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, riders witness a scene in one of the hotel’s corridors in which ghostly figures of former hotel guests beckon them into the Twilight Zone. The spirits are then zapped by lightning, and the room transforms into stars and empty space, with the exception of the window at the end of the corridor. This then smashes. The trick:There are really two separate tricks at play here. The first one is “Pepper’s Ghost”, which is famously used in the Haunted Mansion’s ballrooms scene. The ghostly figures are projected via a mirror onto a diagonal sheet of glass, giving our brains the impression that they are right in front of us. The corridor is made to look longer than it really is using a forced perspective technique, with the elements at the far end being smaller than those that are closer to riders. In fact, the corridor is 10-feet-high at the front, and only 4-feet-high at the back. The Pepper’s Ghost trick is used once again to show the window morphing and smashing, in combination with fiber optic lights that are used to represent the stars.

4. Convincing you brain that you’re flying in a spaceship (Star Tours: The Adventures Continue)

 The Adventures Continue

Image © Disney/Lucasfilm

The experience: Star Tours was a revolutionary attraction when it first opened at Disneyland in 1986. Taking guests on a tour of the Star Wars universe, it saw them boarding Star Speeder vehicles for what should have been a leisurely trip. Before they knew it, riders were under fire from Imperial forces, and racing downwards towards the Death Star. In 2011, the attraction underwent a major upgrade to become Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, and there are now 54 different possible scenarios created by splicing together different scenes. At heart, though, the core experience remains the same. The trick:The Star Tours motion simulators completely enclose their occupants, creating the sensation of being in a moving vehicle. In order to do this, the ride takes advantage of the way our brain interprets signals from our sensory systems. In particular, it focuses on three classes of sensory input:

  • Proprioceptors – receptors located in our muscles, tendons, joints and inner ear, which send signals to our brains regarding our body’s position.
  • Vestibular system – contained in the inner ear, this interprets rotational motion and linear acceleration.
  • Visual input – from the eyes, which relays information to the brain about our speed, altitude and position.

Star Tours simulator

The rough layout of a Star Tours simulator.

It is not possible to completely, correctly simulate the motion of a spacecraft in the limited space available for a Star Tours simulator. Instead, the ride aims to simulate the relevant cues as closely as possible – taking advantage of imperfections in the way that we perceive acceleration and motion. Here are a couple of examples of how it does this:

  • Linear movements – by tilting us backwards, the simulator tricks our brains into thinking we are being constantly accelerated forwards.
  • Turning – to convince us that the Star Speeder is changing direction, the simulator undegoes a yaw rotation followed by a back-motion. Combined with the on-screen action, this is enough to trick us that we’re turning, when in fact we’re facing in exactly the same direction.

3. Perceiving a dimension that isn’t there (Muppet*Vision 3-D)

Muppet*Vision 3-D

Image © Disney

The experience: Guests are taken on a chaotic tour of Muppet Studios by Kermit the Frog, witnessing a number of set-pieces that appear to take place in three dimensions. The trick:There are a number of 3-D attractions at Disney theme parks, and most of them work in the same way as Muppet*Vision 3-D. Two projectors are used to throw the images up on to the screen. Each shows the same scene, but from a slightly different angle. The two projectors are perfectly synchronized with each other, with a computer being used to count each frame. Humans, of course, are generally equipped with two eyes. Our binocular vision system enables us to tell which objects are farther away from us, and which are nearer (we can still perceive distance with one eye, but not as clearly). This system relies on the fact that our eyes are around two inches apart, which means that they see the world from a slightly different perspective. Our brains use the difference to calculate distance.The 3-D glasses that you wear while you’re watching Muppet*Vision 3-D are polarized, and allow only one of the two projected images into each eye. Our brains then do the rest of the work to create the 3-D image.

2. Being blasted into space (Mission: Space)

 SpaceThe experience: Riders go through astronaut training for the first manned mission to Mars aboard the X-2 Deep Space Shuttle. They are given one of four roles (navigator, pilot, commander or engineer), before being exposed to the full force of a rocket launch into deep space. The trick:Assuming you’re riding the “Orange Team” version of Mission: Space and not the less intense “Green Team” version, you are exposed to quite some extreme forces on your body, which should be enough to convince you that you’re really being blasted into space.

Mission: Space is made up of four separate centrifuges, each containing 10 capsules that hold four riders each. When you “take off”, the capsules are tilted and spun at high speeds. This exposes you to forces of more than 2.5G (effectively multiplying your weight by 2.5 times), and pushing you back into your seat. To combat motion sickness, fans blow air into your face and a display provides your brain with visual clues as to what is happening.

1. Travelling really fast through a prehistoric jungle (Dinosaur)


The experience: After boarding Time Rover vehicles, guests are sent back in time into a prehistoric jungle where they come face-to-face with enormous dinosaurs. The vehicle races along at high speed and bumps up and down over difficult terrain before finally emerging back in the present. The trick: Dinosaur reuses the Enhanced Motion Vehicle dark ride system that was developed for Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye at Disneyland (in fact, the two rides feature near-identical layouts). The Time Rovers run on real tires, but on an unusual road. The track through the attraction is slotted down the middle like a toy race track set. Secured into the slot, the Time Rovers can pilot themselves while also sending and receiving location information and power. Enhanced Motion Vehicle The cars really travel along a smooth road, and it may be hard to believe that they never actually go above a speed of 14 miles per hour. Yet you’ll feel as though you’re going much faster, as well as being bumped and shaken all over the place. How is this achieved? Well, the chassis holding the 12 riders is connected to a six-degrees of freedom motion simulator that pitches, rolls, rotates and jumps to simulate rough terrain. The sharp turns are accentuated by tilting the car, while – just like the Star Tours simulator – the cars can lean backwards to make riders feel as though they are accelerating at high speed.