November 17, 2023, 9:27 AM ·

When designers put pen to paper – or, more likely these days, cursor to screen – to start creating a new attraction, they begin a journey in which each step helps determine the direction of the next. Sometimes, the result is a dead end. At other times, you make progress – only to see your final destination slipping further away. But sometimes, you and your team make choices that eventually come together to create something magical.Something like Hong Kong Disneyland’s new World of Frozen.

During the land’s press event this week, Walt Disney Imagineering invited me and a few other reporters to accompany Imagineers on a 40-minute walking tour of World of Frozen. During the tour, we learned why Imagineers made the choices that they did in creating this new land. It’s a rare, but welcomed, opportunity to get an insider’s view of the process by which a world-class theme park attraction comes to life.The following quotes come from the leader of the World of Frozen team, Michel den Dulk, Executive Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering.Why is Arendelle Castle a side piece?
All photos by Robert NilesIn the Frozen movies, Arendelle Castle stands at the heart of the village. When fans first imagined the film coming to life as a theme park fan, it just seemed right to envision the Castle as the focal point of a Frozen-themed land, housing its main attraction. But in Hong Kong, the Arendelle Castle stands behind and to the side of the main village street, inaccessible to guests. Den Dulk explained how a choice made years ago by other Imagineers forced the World of Frozen team down a particular path.”When the project started, the decision to extend the Hong Kong Disneyland castle [now the Castle of Magical Dream] was not made yet,” he said. “As you know, the Anaheim castle that this castle was based on, is not the tallest castle.” “Our Arendelle Castle sits directly behind that castle. But what I didn’t want is for our castle to dominate the park’s castle. You cannot do that. So after the decision was made to extend the castle, it still would have been a little risky to make our castle much taller than it is today. “Today it sits around the same height as the castle in Anaheim. It’s about the same size, but it is forced perspective. The doors on the side of the main gate are about [four feet] tall. “The nature of the Arendelle Castle is that it is tall, but it is also very wide. So another thing that I was playing with as I designed the land was that if I make the castle accessible, I need to start with the gate house – that’s where you go through – and then everything flows from there. Since the Arendelle Castle is very wide, it takes up a lot of space, and I opted for a little more diversity of places in Arendelle and then to have a secondary part of the land with the forest, along with the village, and then having the castle as a beautiful scenic backdrop but not something scaled to go inside it.”So if Arendelle Castle cannot be the visual weenie that guests see when they enter the land, what could be? Where would Imagineers host the land’s signature attraction?

“In the first movie, there’s the scene with the clock, with Anna and Hans dancing in front of it, however they never showed what the tower actually looked like. When “Frozen Fever” came out, they actually showed what the whole clock tower looked like, and I thought, okay, that’s an iconic structure. This could be at the end of the street and be our entrance to the attraction.”And that’s how the Arendelle village clock tower become the home to the Frozen Ever After ride. It’s just one of three weenies in the land – each designed to help pull you into another part of the land. The clock tower draws you through the village and into Frozen Ever After. However, when you exit the ride through the Tick Tock toy shop, the spire atop the Northern Delights sweet shop pulls you back into the village. From there, the mountain that houses Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs draws you over to the forest side of the land.But more on that in a bit.Changing Frozen Ever After
You know what she’s singingIn Hong Kong, the Frozen Ever After indoor boat ride follows same structure as EPCOT original, but it’s longer, and built upon a new ride system, from Intamin. That extra length allowed Imagineers to give the attraction’s story some breathing room, with more separation of scenes. “Between the first two scenes when Olaf and Sven greet you and then the trolls scene, those are really tight in EPCOT,” den Dulk said. “All of that is separated here. It creates reset moments, I call them. You can have a scene flow, and when a new scene starts, it gets better pacing. I am happy with that. Our Let it Go scene is just a little stronger here. Our drop is also more intense.”In EPCOT, Frozen Ever After clocks in at about four and a half minutes. In Hong Kong, the ride lasts over six minutes. See the differences for yourself in our on-ride POV videos, first from Florida and then from World of Frozen. One difference you might notice is the changing faces of Anna and Elsa on the ride. Disney ditched the projected faces that it used in Florida in favor of practical, animatronic faces in Hong Kong. “When we do things, we learn from what we did and find out how things work,” den Dulk said. “In the original Frozen Ever After [face projection] was still a relatively new technology. On the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, this was done, and there was a lot of enthusiasm about that technology. So we tried it, and initially, it seems to make sense. Our animators at the Studio really liked it initially because it gives them full face expression. They are actually animated the face, as they do with the films. However… “Frozen Ever After is primarily a black light ride, and it seems to make sense to just have the [animatronic] faces – to eliminate the light. In a black light ride, it was confusing to have them glowing. “What we discovered after the ride was done is that the ecosystem to maintain the projectors and the blacklight paint transitions, and changing the projectors, and the change of the paint color as it ages – it is a very challenging ecosystem. I really praise the Walt Disney World Imagineering team for trying to keep up with it, but it’s a very complicated ecosystem. That’s what we learned, and it made us decide to change some of the key figures [in Hong Kong]. The primary issue in EPCOT is on the human characters, so we decided to change that.”World of Frozen’s world of color
Michel den Dulk at the Golden Crocus Inn“Depending upon which movie you watch, or the shorts, the color philosophy of each slightly changes. For example in Frozen 2, you look at a lot of autumn color versus those cooler colors. The Arendelle village was much more brown in relation to the first one, and then in the Christmas short the hue skews towards the holiday season – bright green and bright red. “So we’ve looked at all of that. In the end, we went with a blend of colorful houses, but it was important for us – call it unscientifically – graying them down. Every house has a unique color scheme. But what you want to prevent is all the houses fighting for attention. It needs to work as a whole. So every house has a new color scheme, but then we’re adding almost a gray to the mix. And what that does is cause the houses to blend together so all the houses work in symbiosis instead of as independent houses.Color also plays an important role on the unique facade of the land’s restaurant, the Golden Crocus Inn.”That facade has a color scheme that is based on the coronation dresses that Anna and Elsa wear in the film. Elsa is on the left hand side with her purple dress, and Anna is on the right with her green and yellow dress. So that’s a little backstory there. “And then you see the entrance in the center. It’s like two facades, and then there’s like one door in the middle. It’s strange when you see it at first. When we were coming up with new structures to populate the village with, we went to Norway, as the film team did as well. In the city of Bergen, there’s this row of houses and there’s alleyways in between houses that the houses are kind of like built over. And it looks like there’s two buildings sharing one entry hall. I thought that was so charming and so unique. The design feature was very interesting, so we made it the entrance to our restaurant.”Making a mountain
Wandering Oaken’s Sliding SleighsBeyond Arendelle village, a mountain stands among the forest at the far side of World of Frozen. Disney’s newest roller coaster mountain is the home to Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs. “Hong Kong has had two coasters: Grizzly Gulch and Space Mountain. Those are wonderful attractions and wonderful experiences, but aimed at a slightly older audience,” den Dulk said. “So it made sense to get an attraction in the mix for the park that also is suitable for younger guests. So then we have a step-up coaster, and that is what Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs provides. “It actually has oomph, some G-forces, but it is suitable for our younger guests.”The ride has a 95 cm height requirement – just under 38 inches.”It has a fun story conceit – Wandering Oaken is an entrepreneur. It’s Summer Snow Day, so he’s chiming into that celebration and trying to lure guests from Arendelle to the forest to ride his Summer Snow Days sleigh ride.”While the Vekoma coaster offers a short, 60-second ride, its most impressive feature might be the way that Imagineers made it fit in with its neighbors in the land.”There are three things in this facility that are hidden by the rock work,” den Dulk said. “There are restrooms, and there’s the Playhouse in the Woods facility, and the [coaster] lift hill actually goes up behind this space, and over it, and then it goes toward the water. “The station is on the other side of Playhouse in the Woods. So it’s all one facility – quite complex with all the spaces and the queue. It’s all massaged into one building, with rock work hiding the concrete.”Imagineers’ design decisions on World of Frozen created a land that feels natural. The artificial environment blends seamlessly with the natural mountain and woods behind it. The colors and alignment of the land’s buildings guide people through the land in a way that feels intuitive and relaxing rather than stressful. It is a space where people – guests and cast members alike – want to be. And when that happens, designers have literally set the stage for theme park magic.For more coverage of World of Frozen, please see:* * *
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