Here’s how science becomes story at Disney’s theme parks
A NASA astronaut, a physicist, a Marvel exec, and Imagineers walked into a bar…
It’s not a setup for a joke. In fact, it was the lineup to a very interesting panel as part of a special event held at Disney California Adventure park. With an audience of over 450 people who were quick to register for the exclusive event, these accomplished individuals came together to answer how science and storytelling come together at Disney’s parks.
“All of our jobs really revolve around the question, ‘what if…?’,” said Amy Jupiter, an executive media producer from Walt Disney Imagineering said at the event hosted by Disney Parks Blog author Erin Glover. “Imagineering is half part imagination and “engineering” science.”
Glover went on to guide that conversation by asking the opposite in how science has imagination and story to it. According to NASA physicist Dr. Kimberly Ennico Smith on the panel, it does because there remains unanswered questions. “We ask a lot of ‘what if?’ questions because there are some things that our research can’t answer,” she said.
It’s that uncertain and some ways unreachable space that imagination and story come together to give the best possible answer. In a lot of ways, that void is where Imagineers can use their ability to create and answer their guests’ questions.
“Guardians of the Galaxy…it’s all made up,” said Marvel VP Stephen Wacker. “At the same time, a lot of our stories have been inspired by real-world science. It keeps us grounded because we need to find space where we can relate to our real audience.”
The new Guardians of the Galaxy attraction at DCA was the example that all the panelists referred to in that it was the perfect example of science and storytelling coming together.
“The ride system itself is a marvel of engineering and science.” said Jupiter. “It’s an attraction whose thrill comes from weightlessness – a real science!” Jupiter went on to share how much Imagineers had to study the science of human anatomy and how much zero-gravity a human could take. “We rode the ride a lot to program just the right amount of thrill,” she said laughingly.
Former NASA astronaut Capt. Mike Foreman got to ride the attraction himself for the first time right before the panel began. He said that he really appreciated the zero-gravity thrill and how it reminded him of his time in space. “It’s an amazing feeling to float in space for months. You all get to do it for just a few seconds. I’m not complaining,” he said.
One of Capt. Foreman’s final thoughts of the evening expressed how he really appreciated how the story aided the experience on the attraction. “It’s one thing to learn science and another thing to experience it,” he said. “I think stories can really stick the science to us in ways that we won’t forget.”