Audio-Animatronics figures have been part of the Disney Parks for decades. The first figures debuted at Disneyland Park in 1963 with the Enchanted Tiki Room. Since those first rudimentary Audio-Animatronics debuted, Disney has continued to push the limit on the technology to create even more lifelike figures for its theme parks around the world.

The newest attraction to use the next-gen of Audio-Animatronics is Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, which occupies the shell of the now-shuttered Splash Mountain. The new princess-themed attraction officially opens June 28 at Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World and later this year at Disneyland Park.

Along with the new storyline that features guests getting shrunk to the size of frogs to help Tiana and Louis the Alligator find a band for an upcoming party, the attraction features 48 new Audio-Animatronics, and over a dozen of them are advanced Audio-Animatronics. The new lifelike figures are helping Imagineers push storytelling forward in a new way, not only in Orlando and Anaheim but around the world.

In the past, Disney used hydraulics or pneumatics to make Audio-Animatronics figures move. Now, WDI is using all-electric Audio-Animatronics, though Tiana’s Bayou Adventure isn’t the first time WDI has used all-electric animatronics. That technology debuted with the Frozen-themed attraction at EPCOT, where the figures also had projection-mapped faces. The projection mapping can also be found on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom Park but is not a feature on figures inside Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.

Now WDI is using technology to bring its next generation of all-electric figures to life. What makes the new advanced all-electric Audio-Animatronics figures so impressive is the level of precise control that can be programmed into each movement. This control allows WDI to blend make-believe and believability seamlessly so riders get the best experience possible.

Bringing Tiana and Her Friends to Life

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure comes to life as 2-D animated characters from the movie The Princess and the Frog seem to have popped out of the movie and into the ride sets as 3-D Audio-Animatronics. These highly realistic animatronics are made in partnership with Walt Disney Animation Studios. For Tiana’s Bayou Adventure the original animators of Tiana, Louis and Naveen, Mark Henn, Eric Goldberg and Randy Haycock, respectively, assisted WDI with animation work and the overall design of the figures.

Each of the characters has its own unique design and timeline. WDI has to think about everything from where the animatronic is placed in the log flume attraction so it doesn’t get wet to how long each specific audio segment should be so guests can hear everything being said in a scene. All of this and more is considered while programming an Audio-Animatronics’ sequence of movements, which happen thousands of times a day, 365 days a year.

Imagineers work through barriers that may seem impossible while building one technologically advanced Audio-Animatronics figure. For WDI, technology is just the tool that’s used to bring various characters, like Tiana to life.

“The real magic is to be totally immersed in our characters and our story. With the use of electric motors combined with simulation and our amazing animation team, the technology is enabling us to have a truly authentic level of performance and precision and repeatability that push these characters and their performance to the limit,” says Brian Orr, Show Systems Creative Executive at Walt Disney Imagineering.

One of the most impressive audio-animatronics is Louis, the jazz-playing alligator from the movie. Louis is big and bold, and riders definitely won’t miss him while floating in the realistic bayou of the attraction. But Louis is doing even more than pushing the narrative of the attraction.

“The Louis figure in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is our latest example of the combined work in storytelling, figure finishing and technology used to bring this large expressive character to life. We continue to push ourselves in expression, speed and believability,” says Orr.

Imagineering has said Louis is one of the largest and most dynamic figures it’s built to date. The Audio-Animatronic is built in layers, almost like an onion. A hard outer shell covers the motors, and the shell is covered in his costume. Each of the individual parts of Louis is animated and has to move in sync so nothing gets jammed or broken.

Making Costumes for a Princess

Tiana has two new costumes that are on full display during Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. The first is an adventurous pantsuit with boots option that she can be seen in at the beginning of the attraction, and at the end of the ride, she’s in a beautiful green flapper-style dress ready to party. While the new costumes are exciting for guests, WDI still has to be mindful of how the fabrics of the animatronic’s costumes may impact movement.

According to Orr, “It starts with the look, the feel, the emotion, the performance [and] the gesture. We use this information to develop some of the performance criteria around what a costume needs to do and sustain the cycles that our characters will put through them.”

In a video on WDI’s YouTube page, Imagineers states that one of the Tiana Audio-Animatronics has three motors in its wrist alone. This area is also where a large cuff of Tiana’s jacket will lie, so Imagineers must work through how the movements and costume can work together and not be worn down too quickly.

Advanced Audio-Animatronics Around the World

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure isn’t the first time this type of advanced Audio-Animatronics has been used at a Disney Park. These ultra-lifelike figures can also be found at World of Frozen at Hong Kong Disneyland, Fantasy Springs and Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast at Tokyo Disney Resort, and the Zootopia-themed land at Shanghai Disneyland.

The viral videos of Anna’s cape “unfreezing” on Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Journey inside Fantasy Springs could be an indication of what’s to come next for Disney’s theme parks in the United States and around the world as new lands and experiences open. No matter what Disney park you visit, technology and storytelling are being combined into the new advanced Audio-Animatronics to push just how far Disney can immerse guests in their favorite stories.

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