Sunday, June 24, 2012

Making of: Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth is the iconic and symbolic structure of Epcot and is one of the most recognizable structures at the Walt Disney World Resort. It is not only the centerpiece and main focal point of Epcot, but also the name of the attraction housed within the 18-story geodesic sphere that takes guests on a time machine themed experience using the Omnimover system. The 13-minute dark ride shows guests how advancements in human communication have helped to create the future one step at a time. The attraction is a timeline from the origins of prehistoric man to the dawn of the 21st century, where guests can then create a future for themselves. Join me now for the making of Spaceship Earth...

The structure was designed with the help of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who also helped write the original storyline for the attraction. The term 'Spaceship Earth' was coined by Buckminster Fuller, who also developed the structural mathematics of the geodesic dome. The structure is similar in texture to the United States pavilion from Expo 67 in Montreal, but unlike that structure, Spaceship Earth is a complete sphere, supported by three pairs of legs. The structural designs of both Expo 67 and Spaceship Earth were completed by Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc. of Boston, Massachusetts.

Construction took 26 months and 40,800 labor hours to build. Extending upwards from the table are "quadropod" structures which support the smaller beams which form the actual shell of the steel skeleton. Pipes stand the aluminum skin panels away from the skeleton and provide space for utilities. A small service car is parked in the interstitial space between the structural and cladding surfaces, and can carry a prone technician down the sides to access repair locations. The shop fabrication of the steel, done in nearby Tampa, Florida, was an early instance of computer-aided drafting and materials processing.

The theme of communication through the ages is presented in chronological order in settings peopled with Audio-Animatronics figures. Actors are seen and heard quietly declaiming in a Greek theater. Charioteers carry messages from a Roman court, and Jewish and Islamic scholars discuss texts. With typical Disney whimsy, a monk is seen having fallen asleep on a manuscript he was inscribing. Michelangelo, overhead, paints the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, and Gutenberg mans his printing press. Suggesting the rush of 20th-century technology, subsequent scenes meld together, overlapping each other as the circumference of the ride track narrows. A newsboy hawks papers, a movie marquee and film clips represent motion pictures, and radio and television are represented. As the vehicles reach the large space at the apex of the ride system, guests see, on the planetarium ceiling of the sphere, projections of stars, planets, the Milky Way, and, closest and largest, "spaceship earth." The Omnimover vehicles then revolve 180 degrees, so that the passengers lie backward facing the "sky" as they begin their descent on a relatively straight track.

In May 1986, the attraction was given a slight remodel. This second version of the attraction started off with the lighted tunnel enhanced by twinkling lights, meant to depict stars, with the fog machine removed. Famous news journalist Walter Cronkite was the new narrator, reading from an updated script. A theme song called Tomorrow's Child was composed for the ending of the attraction, which was redesigned with projected images of children on screens to help fit with the theme of "Tomorrow's Child". In August 1994, the attraction was given a major remodel. This third version of the attraction kept the lighted tunnel as it was in 1986, and maintained the majority of the scenes depicted in the beginning and middle of the attraction. Three scenes toward the end of the attraction that showed a computer in a boy's bedroom of the 1980s, a woman's office of the 1980s, and a network operations center of the 1990s, were all removed and replaced with one scene depicting a boy and girl using the Internet to communicate between America and Asia. Actor Jeremy Irons was the new narrator, reading from an updated script. A new orchestral composition was composed for the beginning, middle, and end of the attraction. The ending itself was completely redone, with the removal of the Space Station scene located in the attraction's planetarium (the astronauts from the scene subsequently turned up in Space Mountain's post-show, where they were used until 2009), replacement of an old projected image of Earth in the planetarium with a new image, and replacement of the 1982 and 1986 ending scenes of the ride with miniature architectural settings connected by color-changing fiber optic cables and arrays of blinking lights representing electronic communication pathways. The attraction re-opened in its third version on November 23, 1994.

On July 9, 2007, the attraction was again closed for another remodel that included a number of updates to the attraction. The attraction opened again with its fourth version in February 2008, with a new score composed by Bruce Broughton and new narration provided by actress Judi Dench. The attraction's exterior was also modified for the 2007 renovations.

The original post show for Spaceship Earth was called Earth Station. It lasted from 1982 until 1994. It was a wide open exhibit space that included:
  • EPCOT Center Guest Relations
  • Seven large rear projector screens mounted on the walls of the exhibit space toward the ceiling that displayed visual previews of various EPCOT Center attractions.
  • WorldKey Information: Interactive kiosks that offered previews of various EPCOT Center attractions. Guests could also talk to a live cast member via two-way closed-circuit video, or make a restaurant reservation while in the park.

When AT&T renewed their sponsorship in 1994, they redesigned the exhibit space for Earth Station into the Global Neighborhood. The original Global Neighborhood lasted from 1994 until 1999. In 1999, the exhibit space was updated to become the New Global Neighborhood for the Millennium Celebration. The exhibit space closed in 2004 after AT&T left as sponsor.

AT&T's departure as sponsor in 2004 caused the exhibit to close. Siemens AG, the new sponsor of Spaceship Earth, having signed on in 2005, created a new exhibit space called Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future. The new exhibit space once again uses the entire exhibit space that only Earth Station had once used. The new exhibit space houses interactive exhibits featuring various Siemens AG technology. These interactive displays and games allow guests to see the future of medicine, transportation and energy management. The space opened with two games, with two new games added in December 2007 and January 2008. Project Tomorrow attractions are:
  • An illuminated globe featuring an ever-changing collage of inspirational images of tomorrow.
  • Body Builder, a 3-D game allowing guests to build a digital human body.
  • Super Driver, a driving simulation video game featuring vehicle accident and avoidance systems. It simulates what is supposed to be the future of driving. You drive a "smart-car" and try to stop the city from being destroyed.
  • Power City, a large digital "shuffleboard-style" game that has guest racing around the board to power their city.
  • InnerVision, a coordination and reaction-time game with elements similar to Simon and Dance Dance Revolution

A VIP lounge exists on the second floor at the back of the building that houses the post show for Spaceship Earth. It is a place for employees and customers of the current sponsoring company to relax while visiting the park. When Spaceship Earth was without sponsorship from 2004–2005, the room was utilized for private events such as weddings and conventions. The layout is small and curved in shape, with one wall consisting of large windows where visitors can look out onto the park. When Siemens AG took over as sponsors, the lounge was given the name "Base21".

Base 21

In celebration of the year 2000, a large 25-story "magic wand" held by a representation of Mickey Mouse's hand was built next to the sphere. Inspiration for it came from the Sorcerer's Apprentice sequence of Fantasia although Mickey did not actually use a magic wand in that sequence). At the top of the structure was a large cut-out of the number 2000. While the structure wasn't intended to be permanent, it was constructed to have a lifetime of about 10 years. After the Millennium Celebration ended, the structure was left standing. In 2001, the number 2000 was replaced with the word "Epcot" in a script font that differs from the park's logotype. On the morning of July 5, 2007, Epcot Vice President Jim MacPhee announced that Spaceship Earth would be restored to its original appearance and that the "magic wand" structure would be removed in time for the park's 25th anniversary on October 1, 2007. Siemens, the sponsor of Spaceship Earth, is rumored to have requested the wand removed as it did not fit their corporate image. On July 9, 2007, the attraction itself was closed for refurbishment, and the surrounding area was walled off. By October 1, the entire wand structure, the stars, and the star supports had been removed. In addition, palm trees and other plants that originally stood where the structure was prior to 2000 were replaced. Components of the structure were later auctioned on eBay.

Mickey's Magic Wand being removed...Thank God!

With the new Siemens AG sponsorship, changes have been made to the ride and post show area. The ride's updates include new scenes, modifications to existing scenes; some new costumes, lighting, and props; a new musical score by Bruce Broughton, new narration by Judi Dench; and a new interactive ending featuring a touch screen. New scenes show a Greek classroom, mainframe computers and the
creation of the personal computer. The "time machine" vehicles now have an interactive screen where riders can choose their vision of the future. This resembles a similar idea on the now-defunct attraction Horizons. At the beginning of the ride, a camera takes riders' pictures (using facial recognition technology) which are used at the end of the ride to conduct an interactive experience about the future of technology, featuring the riders' faces on animated characters and narration by Cam Clarke. Visitors are now also asked where in our Spaceship Earth they live; this is used in the post-show area where a map of the world is displayed with the riders' faces shown where they live. The renovations were scheduled to be completed for a February 2008 reopening but the attraction opened for "soft launch" previews starting in December 2007. On February 15, 2008, the ride reopened officially after closing periodically in January for last-minute adjustments.

Spaceship Earth show current scenes:
  • Spaceship Earth mural
  • Load Area
  • Time Tunnel/Vortex
  • Prehistoric Caveman/Wooly Mammoth
  • Cavemen
  • Egyptian Temple
  • Phoenician Merchants
  • Greek Math Teacher
  • Roman Roads
  • Rome Burns
  • Jewish and Arab Scholars
  • Medieval Monastery
  • Gutenberg Press
  • Renaissance Artists
  • Sistine Chapel
  • Steam Press
  • Telegraph
  • Telephone
  • Radio
  • Cinema
  • Television
  • Mainframe Computer
  • A Garage in California
  • Data-flow Tunnel
  • Spaceship Earth Planetarium
  • Infinite Stars
  • Descent Tunnel (guests "invent their future" by answering questions via the on-board touch-screen)
  • Unloa

Spaceship Earth original logo used until 2007

Spaceship Earth Timeline:

October 1, 1982
  • Spaceship Earth opens with the opening of EPCOT Center.
  • Sponsored by the Bell System.
  • The narrator is Vic Perrin.
May 26, 1986
  • Attraction reopens from first major renovation.
  • AT&T is now the sponsor, having signed on in 1984.
  • New narration by Walter Cronkite.
  • Finale music changed to Tomorrow's Child.
August 15, 1994
  • Closes for second major renovation.
  • "Home computer", "Office Computer", "Network Operations Center", and "Space Station" scenes removed.
  • New final scenes installed and replace old final scenes.
  • Earth Station closes.
  • Tomorrow's Child ending removed.
November 23, 1994
  • Attraction reopens.
  • New ride narration by Jeremy Irons.
  • New ride score by Edo Guidotti.
  • The Global Neighborhood replaces Earth Station.
September 29, 1999
  • The Mickey Mouse arm holding a wand is dedicated with "2000" over Spaceship Earth.
November 24, 1999
  • The Global Neighborhood is replaced with The New Global Neighborhood, a new exhibit space serving as a hands-on playground for Spaceship Earth's post show.
May 2001
  • The Mickey Mouse arm holding a wand is changed to say "Epcot" over Spaceship Earth.
January 1, 2003
  • AT&T sponsorship ends.
April 2004
  • The New Global Neighborhood is removed and the area is boarded up. AT&T references removed.
November 2005
  • It is announced that Siemens AG will sponsor Spaceship Earth for twelve years.
April 11, 2007
  • Major changes coming to Spaceship Earth are announced.
April 25, 2007
  • The new exhibit space in Spaceship Earth's post show called Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future opens.
July 5, 2007
  • Epcot Vice President Jim Macphee announces the removal of the wand structure in time for the park's 25th anniversary on October 1, 2007.
July 9, 2007
  • Closes for a fourth renovation.
  • Removal of the wand structure begins.
August 24, 2007
  • Removal of the wand structure completed.
December 2007
  • Guest previews of fourth edition begin.
February 15, 2008
  • Fourth edition opens to the general public after renovations.
  • New narration by Dame Judi Dench.
March 4, 2008
  • Spaceship Earth is rededicated.
Spaceship Earth narrators:
Vic Perrin: October 1, 1982 - May 26, 1986; Walter Cronkite: May 26, 1986 - August 15, 1994; Jeremy Irons: November 23, 1994 - July 9, 2007; Dame Judi Dench: February 15, 2008–present

Spaceship Earth Full Ride:

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