Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Redesigning 'Finding Nemo - The Musical' By Lauren Salisbury

By Lauren Salisbury
Marlin the clownfish is a safety enthusiast. After losing nearly all his family to a vicious barracuda, the overprotective dad does his best to keep his remaining son safe from the ocean’s dangers in 2003’s Academy Award-winning film “Finding Nemo.”
After an epic journey through the “big blue world” to rescue Nemo, Marlin learns the best way to protect your loved ones is by giving them the tools and education to stay safe.
At “Finding Nemo – The Musical,” a Broadway-style stage show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, Cast Members have taken Marlin’s philosophy to heart. With an ergonomic redesign of the show and an infusion of best practices, the team has been able to reduce incidents by 70 percent in one year.
Marlin’s safety attitude has rubbed off on the Cast of “Finding Nemo – The Musical” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park.
Nemo and friends were brought to life for the park show in 2007 by Michael Curry Design, a veteran puppetry firm whose portfolio includes “Disney’s The Lion King” on Broadway and ”Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular” at Disney California Adventure Park. Advancements in ergonomics united the puppet builders and a group of Walt Disney World safety experts to reexamine the creative production.
To make the characters’ eyes and mouth move, puppeteers squeeze a handle resembling a brake lever on a bicycle, a movement repeated thousands of times each show by performers in the principal roles of Marlin, Dory and Nemo. When first designed, the handle’s distance was beyond a comfortable range for most performers.
After examining hand measurement data, the team installed new levers with a decreased handle width. The result is a more comfortable and safe experience, and fewer hand injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Bill Sheppard presents a lighter, ergonomically friendly Nemo puppet.
Because male and female performers typically have different body measurements, puppets were adjusted to reflect those differences. Dory primarily is played by a female performer, so the puppet’s top lever and handle were redesigned to better fit a woman’s grip. The handle also was extended to rest comfortably in the performer’s hand without much effort.
For the comfort and safety of all performers, most puppets also were redesigned to be lighter.
“When you hold something for [the length of the show], even just a pound in reduction makes a huge difference,” said Susan Shultz, an Entertainment technician who has been part of the production since opening day. “It’s been amazing to see the work that has been done on the puppets. We tested every puppet for improvements.”

Susan Shultz compares the new Dory handle, left, to the old version.
In addition to modifying the colorful puppets, the team also applied ergonomics to the show’s choreography. The Safety team made suggestions on moments where performers could incorporate better practices such as using two hands instead of one, and Safety in Motion techniques.
In the past, turning puppets caused stress on performers’ wrists.
By adjusting the show’s choreography, puppeteers’ wrists now stay in the green zone.
A key principle of ergonomics is to avoid repetitive motions to reduce the risk of injury. Now, each of the show’s 18 performers and 15 technicians is cross-trained on four to five roles to vary the muscles used.  
“This has been a big success,” said Bill Sheppard, area manager. “Having multiple roles is very helpful for our performers and technicians so they aren’t using the same muscles every day. This also keeps people mentally in the game,” he added.
The safety success at “Finding Nemo –The Musical” will contribute to future designs in the puppetry industry, according to Sharon.
 “Nothing like this had ever been done,” she said. “These are unique puppet designs and they are going to help with other productions outside the company.”

The Haunted Mansion Tour

Before I get started, I want to let you know that I am writing this out of excitement and not out of professionalism, so forgive me for all the grammar mistakes I might have due to the awesomeness! Its a crime of passion you could say.

            My day started at 5am because I couldn’t stay asleep, I was way too excited. I had to be on my way there be 6am anyways so I wasn’t to bad.  It’s always a great day when you get to wonder through the Utilidoors, and nothing can beat an introduction like opening up a random door into a completely empty Liberty Square and rounding the corner to see the Mansion staring you down with its hovering eeriness.
            Our tour began in front of the mansion, where our guide, Lauren(a Butler for 13 years) greeted us and took us inside. After a short introduction while standing on the motionless walkway at load, we began to head into the scenes. We came upon the portrait hallway, where we were aloud to touch the paintings and get a better understanding of how the lightening and picture change synced with each other. Next we headed into the library, stocked with priceless first editions of course. It’s dark on the ride, but look closely by the table right before the scene ends. You’ll notice not one, but two Jack Skellingtons. One of his face on the bindings of a book on the table, then a full body on the front of one on the floor.

            Our next hidden gem is in the next room. There were a lot of fun little things to look at. I was extremely interested in looking at the sheet music on the piano. The words were written in a different language so that even made it more interesting! If you look closely there is an official and unofficial hidden Mickey in the design of the music stand.

            The never ending staircases were great to see, because this is the first time you see up close the candles that very realistically move like a real flame.. If you remember before the update a few years back, spiders and cobwebs occupied this room and some of the corner around to the endless hallway. They decided to change the scene because even though the ride is build to spook you a bit, some guests were genuinely displeased because of a huge fear of spiders. I strongly feel this was a fitting change. The effect to create the moving wallpaper eyes is actually quite brilliant, and it works seamlessly blending into the wall itself.

            As we came around the to the Endless Hallway, this is where it hit me. You know when you’re excited about something, and you are there absorbing everything but the idea comes into your head that this tour is only just beginning!! That soon we would be in the ballroom, yeah, this is where that moment hit me… So we step up into the hallway and one of the many things I love about the queue is the velvety walls, well they have those same touchable walls in there, only in a red and black pattern. The hallway goes nearly 20 feet back until you get to the floating candelabra, and then who know how far after that, it’s endless!

            We then entered the Conservatory, and may I add this room is simple and brilliant. There is so much detail in this little scene that you can only take in so much before you move on. It is dark but if you notice the coffin, it has designs of mournful faces and bones for the handles. All of the flowers around the coffin is there for more than just showing respect for the dead, in that time they didn’t have the proper ways to keep the bodies as nice, so the flowers would mask the smell. You also encounter the raven for the first time! Lots of great speculation surrounding the bird, I’ll keep my story of the Haunted Mansion to myself for now. This isn’t the last time you’ll see the raven. As you continue through the Corridor of Doors, checkout the pictures, some depicting the screamers that you see later in the graveyard. But one stands out among the rest, and that is the infamous Hat Box Ghost! I’m hoping that If Del Toro’s film in the upcoming years is successful that they will revive him! We wondered into the Séance Room, which has the most security out of all the areas in the Mansion. No there aren’t any lasers that will cut your face off if you jump out, but if you do decide to leave your doombuggy, you can be sure that the ride will stop immediately and Madame Leota will float up to the ceiling and stay there until it is once again safe to come down. Also there is about a 5 foot jump to get to her platform and the only thing stopping you from falling about 10ft. to the floor is a little cage, want to risk it? Well, people do daily, and they get hurt. Not always do they make the jump, but they set off the sensor mats placed in the flooring. Most attractions have things like this that notifies CMs right away, so keep that in mind if you ever choose to hop out.

            We quickly walked through the upstairs ballroom hallway because we would get to that in just a bit. Next up is the attic! This room has been on my mind for years, there is so much detail in there and you pass by so quickly! With each little setup there is a wedding dress, portrait, and even a marriage license! It is very small, but there is also little brides and grooms for each section, the groom always with his head broken off. It is also set each with an empty birdcage to symbolize that she has “flown the coop!” clever right? Except for one husband, this is because he was a hunter and wouldn’t be believable to have a live bird in his home. Take notice of the last husband, George, does he look familiar? He should, it is Imagineer Joe Rohde!

            We then headed down into the graveyard to meet the Caretaker of his faithful dog. If you are wondering, yes, I got to pet him, and it was AMAZING. The graveyard was quite nostalgic to walk through. I really took time to look at all the detail they added into the Hitchhiking Ghosts. I just wish they could have done that when we see them in our buggy. To me they seem very flat, innovative technology yes! But I loved knowing there was an animatronic actually there and not just a screen.

I was already freaking out, but it was at this moment when I started to get that feeling. The feeling of going from that excited little kid, to the legs going numb feeling because we’re about to go where I’ve dreamt of going my whole life, little kid. Which was inside the Ballroom. Anyone who knows anything in the slightest about the Haunted Mansion can picture this room. It’s where the ghosts are first introduced to you, the Pepper’s Ghost effect that has shocked guests here and in Disneyland for over 40 years! And here I was, about to walk the very floors I have only seen from up high.
            When I first walked into the room, it was like I muted out the world. I didn’t care what anyone was saying or doing, it was just the room and I. It was amazing just how thin and tall the room looked from on the floor and yet how much room there was to walk around. All of the webs that you see in this room ar the original webs spun up by the Imagineers, done with special string and not the glue the use to create them throughout the rest of the ride. We got to feel them, and yes, I was even excited to touch a spider web…  Just seeing the ghosts on the other side of the glass was amazing. Knowing that I’ve never actually seen them in real life until now, because technically we’ve all only seen their reflections. Next time you go, imagine me running around like a child on Christmas and hyperventilating. Even as we all left the scene, I stayed behind just so I could be in the room alone for a quick second…and oh was it was a beautiful second. Every little bit of detail that went into this attraction is sheer brilliance, and most of it goes over looked because it is either too dark to see with the naked eye, or you just haven’t caught it yet.

There is still so much more I can rave about, but then this already extremely long write-up would be…well, lets just say if you’ve read this far, you must be a great fan of The Haunted Mansion like me, and for that, thank you. Let me know through anyway of contacting me if you liked this and would like me to go into even more detail about the amazingness that is the Mansion!

To see all the pictures from my ride through, with flash, head to my Flickr HERE!

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