Walt Disney Imagineers Reveal The Technology That Drives Cars Land – Forbes

DISNEYLAND RESORT — There’s been gridlock and bumper to bumper traffic on Route 66 ever since Cars Land opened in Disney California Adventure, right next door to Disneyland. The new theme park, which is like stepping right into a real-life version of the computer-generated Cars movies, features Route 66 and a living, breathing Radiator Springs.
The historic Route 66 runs 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. Route 66 in Cars Land is approximately 525 feet long and 23 feet wide, rich with inspiration from the actual American highway. Guests have been waiting in line for hours to experience the panoramic vistas of Ornament Valley and experience the thrills of three new attractions. While waiting in line, real-life Cars characters like Lightning McQueen, Mater and DJ come to life.
The debut of Cars Land marks the completion of a five-year $1.1 billion expansion at Disney California Adventure, bringing more characters, more adventures and more Disney magic into the park, both day and night. The magicians at Walt Disney Imagineering reveal how technology has enabled a computer-generated world to be translated into the real world.
The re-creation of Radiator Springs captures the authentic feel of Route 66 with three-dimensional versions of familiar landmarks from the film, including Cadillac Mountain Range in Ornament Valley, Luigi’s Casa Della Tires and Flo’s V8 Café. Only in Radiator Springs do guests learn dance moves like the Overdrive, the Reverse and the Hairpin Turn, all part of the fun at DJ’s Dance and Drive, one element of the Route 66 entertainment. DJ spins auto favorites such as “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Car Wash.” When night falls in Radiator Springs, 16 neon signs in bright, luminous colors light the way along Route 66.

Cars Land features three new rides: Radiator Springs Racers, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Flying Tires. Cars Land also treats guests to food and merchandise locations inspired by the Radiator Springs landmarks in the film: Flo’s V8 Café, Fillmore’s Taste-In, Cozy Cone Motel, Radiator Springs Curios, Sarge’s Surplus Hut and Ramone’s House of Body Art.
“There is a lot of technology in the design, and then there is technology in the implementation,” said Jim Kearns, Vice President of Project Management at Walt Disney Imagineering. “When you think of the design, this is one of the first projects where we really embarked on what we call an integrated project delivery process; trying to leverage the talents of our build vendors and our internal design talent.”
Imagineers actually used a video game engine to help transfer the world from within a computer world into the theme park. The fact that the assets were all saved digitally by Pixar creatives made the translation — and game engine workflow — more fluid.
“We use a lot of pre-visualization, where we’ll model in 3D, especially the Radiator Springs Racers, and then go into this virtual reality environment to pre-visualize what the ride is going to look like well before construction has started.”
Disney Imagineers are using CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) technology, which they’ve modified and call the DISH (Digital Immersive Showroom). Tom Morris, Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering, said his teams use this technology to create environments and worlds earlier in the design process so that they can experience it the way a guest will experience it and validate the creative design and intent, and also begin to quantify things like How much rock work would actually be needed to build this using cement and iron?

“We’re using special camera and projection playback techniques,” said Morris. “The DISH is on a parabolic surface that creates an entire periphery. If you’re standing in a specific spot, you can then experience everything. Your entire peripheral vision is filled up and has a dimensional, almost 3D quality. You can also put a helmet on and experience the attraction in stereo 3D.”
The DISH was used to construct the Cadillac Mountain Range in Ornament Valley, which stands approximately 125 feet tall at its highest peak, the Pinnacle. The peaks of the mountain range, from left to right, represent Cadillac tail fins from 1957, 1958, 1959 (the Pinnacle), 1960, 1961 and 1962. At nearly 300,000 square feet, the mountain range is the largest rockwork construction in any domestic Disney theme park. More than 4,000 tons of steel were used to erect the mountain range and Radiator Springs Racers attraction. The team of Walt Disney Imagineers devoted more than 28,000 hours to designing the structural system for the rockwork and Radiator Springs Racers show building.
Radiator Springs Racers provides the longest line, and the most immersive experience, at Cars Land. The $200 million state-of-the-art ride is the focal point of the new 12-acre themed world. The five-minute ride transports guests into the computer-generated world of Cars. A leisurely, scenic tour of Ornament Valley turns into an all-out race for the Piston Cup as guests race side-by-side through the mountain range, around Willy’s Butte and past the plunging waterfall, Radiator Falls – all familiar sights to fans of the movie.
Six guests at a time board personalized cars for a scenic road trip, meandering through the countryside and the town of Radiator Springs. After a stop at Luigi’s Casa Della Tires or Ramone’s House of Body Art, guests and their cars get some final racing tips from Doc Hudson. When the race begins, racers split onto parallel tracks, zooming nose-to-nose through the desert landscape. Part of the thrills: Guests will never know who is going to win. New to Radiator Springs is Taillight Caverns, which Disney Imagineers conceived as a stunning finish to the dramatic race.

“The cars that we’re running in Radiator Springs Racers are probably the most technological vehicles we’ve ever designed and built; probably far superior to anything you’d see on the road now,” said Steve Goddard, Ride Project Engineer at Walt Disney Imagineering. “There were onboard computer control for the vehicles, dual processors, loading inputs and outputs. Each vehicle is its own power system, so we pick up electricity from a bus bar system underneath the track. We then transmit that into an electric motor. The computer is sending commands to the motor through a variable frequency drive driving the motor for whatever speed we should be going for that area of the track. The vehicle at any given point knows where it is on the track, how fast it should be going on the track, and has a feedback loop making sure that it’s going the appropriate speed for where it is.”
“Then we have an off board system that we call the Wayside computer that keeps track of all 31 vehicles on the track,” added Goddard. “It knows where they all are, monitors their speed, and makes sure they’re all going the appropriate speeds in the zones that they should be so that it’s monitoring to make sure that there’s never a collision on the track.”
The attraction covers nearly six acres – the largest attraction by acreage at the Disneyland Resort. The Cars movie composer, Jonathan Sacks, composed the attraction score. Each vehicle will travel approximately 36,000 miles per year.
Another popular ride is Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, starring everyone’s favorite tow truck, Mater. The ride’s story has Mater corralling a herd of runaway baby tractors in his junkyard. Guests are invited to an old-fashioned “tow-si-do” in Mater’s salvage yard as they ride trailers hitched to the baby tractors.

Larry the Cable Guy (the voice of Mater from Cars games and movies) recorded seven original songs for the attraction, backed by favorite Disneyland park performers Billy Hill & the Hillbillies. Mater’s songs are played on his own special jukebox, made of rusty oil drums, hubcaps, car hoods, horns, mufflers and other auto parts he has collected along the road. None of the 22 tractors in Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree are the same. Like the individual cows in a herd, the tractors all have different markings, mouths and eye colors. They have one thing in common: They all love to dance.
The baby tractors are new characters inspired by the movie and created especially for Cars Land. License plates on the baby tractors have letters that represent initials and birthdays of key contributors to the Cars Land project from Walt Disney Imagineering and Pixar Animation Studios.
Luigi’s Flying Tires: At Luigi’s Casa Della Tires, Cars characters Luigi and Guido play host to a “Festival of the Flying Tires.” When the music starts, tires float and dance in the grand tradition of a celebration that first started in Luigi’s hometown of Carsoli, Italy.
Guests board vehicles that look like over-sized Fettuccini-brand tires, accommodating up to two adults and one child, or one adult and two children. Luigi gives a countdown “Uno for the money, due for the show, tre to get ready and quattro to go!” and drops the flag for the “Festival of the Flying Tires.”
Gliding along, guests shift their body weight to guide the direction of the vehicle, bumping into other tires as they float across Luigi’s 8,000-square-foot Italian garden and tire storage yard. Guests may work as a team to guide their tire and, for extra fun, try to catch one of the inflatable balls scattered throughout the attraction.

From a technology standpoint, it takes 6,714 air vents to keep the tires floating ever so slightly above the ground – approximately two inches. The voice of award-winning actor Tony Shalhoub, who voiced Luigi in the movie, is heard throughout the attraction. Nostalgic Disneyland fans will recognize the attraction as a descendant of the Flying Saucers attraction, which operated in Tomorrowland from 1961 to 1966.
I was able to check out the rides early, but also experience the opening day traffic jams as fans from around the world flooded Disney California Adventure to explore Radiator Springs. This attraction, alone, puts Disney California Adventure on the map. It gives Disneyland a worthy companion park (finally) and also serves as an incentive for fans who are accustomed to the much larger Walt Disney World Theme Park to make the trek out West to check out the original.
That said, there will be huge crowds at Cars Land throughout the summer and likely throughout the rest of this year. FASTPASS helps a bit, but it’s probably best to wait until next year to take your test drive through Radiator Springs. Otherwise, you’ll be in for a lot of waiting. If you’ve already waited five years for this park to open, what’s another six months? It’s definitely worth the wait.


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