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3. The Chamber of Destiny

Image: Disney

Attraction: Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye (Disneyland)

The Disneyland exclusive Modern Marvel: Indiana Jones Adventure - Temple of the Forbidden Eye is, without a doubt, one of the greatest examples of theme park storytelling on Earth. As the legend goes, the ancient forgotten Temple was built to honor the lost god Mara. Any who made the pilgrimage to Mara’s temple would earn one of three gifts: timeless youth, earthly riches, or visions of the future. But the legend also warns: anyone who looks into the dark and corroded Eyes of Mara will… well… Don’t look.

It’s a chilling tale that sets up one of the greatest effects in Disney Parks. On board old converted troop transports, guests turn the corner from the loading station and face three locked doors – one for each gift. Mara announces which gift he’s selected for riders. The corresponding door glows, unlocks, and swings open into the Hall of Promise with Mara’s glowing eyes tempting them to look. That Hall of Promise is personalized to each of the doors, so every “path” is a different experience.

Of course, the whole effect is achieved pretty simply. There’s really only one path and one working door. The other two doors are just props. The ride used to give the appearance of three different paths by physically rotating the massive set to make it seems as if guests were traveling through the left, center, or right door, with the lights and props in the Hall of Promise quickly adjusting to match the selected door. Unfortunately, that staggering and completely convincing effect ranks among our list of 13 Abandoned, Broken, and Canceled Special Effects at Disney Parks. Luckily, that fresh projection technology allows the Chamber of Destiny and the Hall of Promise leap forward to the 21st century.

2. The Chinese Parlor

Image: Disney

Attraction: Mystic Manor (Hong Kong Disneyland)

When the Modern Marvel: Mystic Manor flung open its gates in 2013, Disney fans around the globe suddenly found themselves imagining where the Hong Kong exclusive attraction could reasonably be wedged into the stateside parks. Deeply tied to the S.E.A. mythology that leaves fans salivating, the epic trackless attraction isn’t just a spiritual sequel to the Haunted Mansion; it’s an epic adventure in its own right.

On board, guests tour the eclectic collection of international oddities accumulated by Lord Henry Mystic and his mischievous monkey Albert. However, Albert pulls an “Abu” and accidentally unleashes mystical music from an ancient music box with its tunes bringing the home’s collection to life. (The "music dust" that spreads through the house, by the way, is an ingenious and nearly-inexplicable special effect itself.)

After guests narrowly escape mummies, man-eating plants, Medusa, and Medieval weapons, it all comes to a head in the Chinese Salon.

There, a central monkey statue comes to life, using his mage staff to create swirling gusts of wind that trap riders’ carriages. As the winds grow, the magical music dust carried on the breeze lands on flapping tapestries, growing in force until the home literally tears itself apart. It’s an absolutely stunning, surreal scene that reads as an epic, mind-blowing finale just before order is restored at the last possible moment and it’s hard to imagine the effect existing without projection to bring it to life.

1. The Factory

Image: Disney

Attraction: Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)

The charmingly wacky Runaway Railway and its haphazard tour towards Runamuck Park makes its second appearance on our list, and at number one! How? Frankly, the ride manages to pull off one of the most spectacular, surprising blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments on any Disney Parks attraction. And given how the ride's projection-mapping is central to its spirit (and its promise of being "2½-D"), it's no surprise that the unbelievable moment hinges on one of the smartest projection moments on Earth.

As guests on board wildly race from deserts to carnivals; sewers to cityscapes, it all comes to a head in the Factory – a looming warehouse of pipes, tubes, vats, gears, cogs, and levers. It's a wild and imposing industrial landscape, and as Mickey is helplessly sucked through tubes, guests likewise find their runaway train stuck on a conveyer belt... inching closer and closer to massive industrial presses ahead that threaten to smash them! All hope seems lost...! Then, at the last moment, Mickey (accidentally) activates a lever that doesn't just turn the factory off... it makes it disappear entirely.

The Factory literally folds away like origami with hardware stretching, tubes skewing, vats reforming, and panels flipping to transform in seconds into the dreamy picnic park we've been seeking all along! In a staggeringly complex fusion of projection and practical, factory walls become fanciful park lanterns; flowers flip out of the ground; the Squishers that promised our doom turn into a bucolic hillside before stretching into a lengthy park tunnel; a steaming metal boiler becomes a carousel; and coolest of all, factory machinery literally folds into trees. The transformation literally takes place in a blink... in fact, the only complaint we have is that it takes place so quickly that most guests probably fail to recognize just how astounding it is, requiring not just multiple re-rides, but slow-motion to fully appreciate!

Runaway Railway is certainly one of the most in-your-face applications of projection mapping, preferring entirely animated scenes over mere subtle enhancements of physical sets... but wow, that finale proves the immense power of the technology when Imagineers really let it go and commit to taking it to its extreme! Whether or not you love the ride itself, Runaway Railway is an unabashed masterclass in what projection mapping can do. 

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Comments

I hate to be "that guy", but there's a typo in the first paragraph:
"For more than six years, Disney's designers have been assembling an industry-leading toolbox of storytelling tricks. "
Wow, a whole 6 years? That's amazing. ;)

I think that should read:
"For more than SIXTY years, Disney's designers have been assembling an industry-leading toolbox of storytelling tricks.

Thanks for the heads up, apologies the typo has been corrected! Thanks for reading TPT.

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