Siemens Contributes to Toy Story Attraction's Magic

  • September 19, 2011
  • Feature
September 2011
By Bill Lydon,
Siemens Automation Summit, June 27-30, 2011 in Orlando, FL
Rather than talk about the technology, Siemens and Disney first provided me and 17 other lucky people an experience on the Toy Story Midway Mania!™ attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios®at the Walt Disney World® Resort followed by a discussion with Imagineers and Siemens employees. Toy Story Midway Mania! is one of the most technologically sophisticated attractions yet developed by Walt Disney Imagineering. It marks the company's first use of industrial Ethernet for a ride's control system which takes advantage of Siemens products. According to:! - cite_note-New_York_Times-6  the attraction cost an estimated $80 million to design and build. 
A much larger-than-life Mr. Potato Head is the "Boardwalk Barker" who welcomes you to the Toy Story Midway Mania! attraction.  With more lines of dialogue than any other Audio-Animatronics figure ever created for a Disney Park, Mr. Potato Head yuks it up with you and keeps the jokes cracking until your carnival tram whisks you away to midway action.
Don Rickles comes face to face with his "Toy Story" alter ego, Mr. Potato Head, at Walt Disney Imagineering in North Hollywood, Calif., on Feb. 23, 2008. Disney Imagineers created a sophisticated Audio-Animatronics® figure featuring the voice of Rickles for "Toy Story Midway Mania!"
Wearing 3D glasses you climb aboard a two person “back to back” vehicle, swiveling, bucket seat and zip through a gallery of midway style games inspired by the Disney·Pixar Toy Story films. Toy Story characters host different games matched to the character's animated personalities that challenge your skills at target shooting.   Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Rex, Hamm and more from the Toy Story gang are there to call out helpful hints and cheer you on. With your spring-action shooter, take aim at targets (moving ones are worth more!) and launch virtual ammunition including darts to burst balloons, rings to capture little green aliens, eggs to splatter across barnyard targets, and baseballs to break plates.
Orchestrated Technology
This is a great attraction that puts all ages into another world of fantasy, skill, and excitement but to an engineer it is even a greater marvel. The inter-workings of Toy Story Midway Mania! are made possible by orchestrating a number of technologies in real-time.   The excitement and enthusiasm of the Disney people is apparent as we discussed the attraction. 
The “shooter” that guests use looks simple but relies on highly sophisticated technology shooting virtual ammunition.
While discussing how creative ideas are developed in many ways, they told the story about the design of the Soarin’ attraction at Epcot®. Initially the team was having a hard time creating a workable design for the ride. One of the early designs was a series of little hang gliders on a conveyer belt system, but it had all kinds of problems. The solution was found when Mark Sumner, a Walt Disney Imagineering show/ride engineer, sketched an idea at home on a weekend, built a working model with a 40 year old erector set from his attic, and demonstrated it on Monday morning. The rest is history!
Siemens was one of the partners brought in early in the process of design as subject matter experts to work with the Imagineering team.   The attraction uses a number of Siemens products including Scalance Ethernet products and every vehicle has an S7-315 controller onboard. 
The control system is divided into three components: one for the ride vehicles, one for the games and one more for the attraction's special effects. Siemens programmable logic controllers in the vehicles alert the control system wirelessly via ProfiNET RT to the vehicle's speed and location. The central controller then sends its instructions back to the vehicles using a hard-wired network within the track. The one-way communications flow adds a factor of safety, even though the wireless network is protected against outside interference, such as a denial-of-service attack.
The attraction features more than 150 PCs, which includes one Windows XP PC for each of Midway Mania's 56 game screens, as well as others that control the special effects at each game. At the game screens, two tracking systems provide the game control system with the vehicle's exact location, making sure that gameplay is not affected by even minor differences in vehicle position. The game doesn’t care if the car parks in the same spot every time, it just needs to know where each car has actually parked, and it can compensate. Additional sensors in the spring-action shooter provide information on its orientation, which is fine-tuned using data on the position of the ride vehicle at the screen and the rotation of the seats on the vehicle base.   Real-time communications is critical since the system calculates the trajectory of the virtual objects based on position sensors in the spring-action shooter to provide information on its orientation, which is fine-tuned using data on the position of the ride vehicle at the screen and the rotation of the seats on the vehicle base. The result is a flawless shot using virtual ammunition to a target through a dazzling 3D landscape.   For an added "4D" element, technology is used that creates special effects so you can feel projectiles as they whoosh by you.
All three sub-systems work together in real time to guarantee proper operation.   For example, if a delay or other vehicle stoppage is detected (such as might occur if the loading and unloading of the ride vehicles is taking longer than expected), the control system can command the affected game screens to launch a non-scoring practice round, so that guests may continue to shoot targets while they wait. Similarly, it can instruct the show control system to play an audio spiel telling guests about the delay.
Siemens - Disney Alliance
Siemens and the Walt Disney Company entered into a 12-year strategic marketing and technology alliance in 2005. As part of this alliance, Siemens sponsors several iconic attractions and shows, including Spaceship Earth and the nightly light show at Epcot, “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.”
Thoughts and Observations
Disney designs are a fusion of multiple disciplines including art, theatre, music, sound, architecture, mechanical & electrical engineering to create unique experiences.   Automation engineers are constantly faced with multidiscipline problems and new challenges.  So, what can we learn from Disney? 
As production speeds increase, mechanical and electrical systems need to be integrated and orchestrated in new ways. My takeaways are that the goals need to be defined and then it is important to collaborate with other disciplines early in designs. Each separate group in a company doing their own thing and “throwing it over the wall” to other groups will not get it done anymore. Collaboration also means leveraging the knowledge and knowhow of your subcontractors and suppliers.
Years ago I was fortunate to be introduced to a great book by Mike Vance, “Think Out of the Box,” that may be something you may want to look up. Mike Vance had worked for Disney including being Dean of Disney University. In the book, Vance relates a conversation with someone after the completion of the Magic Kingdom® Park at the Walt Disney World® Resort, someone said, “Isn’t it too bad Walt Disney didn’t live to see this?” Vance replied, “He did see it. That’s why it’s here.”
Good lesson - clearly crystallize in your mind’s eye the end result and you’re on the road to make it a reality.


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