Countless businesses have been hit hard over the past few months in response to the COVID. The stock market has been all over the place. Stores, restaurants, venues, and more have been closed for extended periods of time. Across the world, the Disney theme parks collectively closed their gates to prevent the spread of COVID. It is estimated that while a single Disney park costs around $3.25 million a day to operate, that same park could bring in over $20 million in one day. That’s millions of dollars a day each park has lost, billions over the last few months. Disney has slowly been reopening their parks with some major modifications in place.
As the Disney parks are fondly called the Happiest Place on Earth, finding a way to resume business safety has been paramount. The parks are operating at limited capacity to cut back on crowds. Signs and ground markers are scattered about to designate safe social distancing placements. Masks are required at all times, even on rides. Hand sanitation stations are set up throughout the park for convenient use. Staff members continually disinfect surfaces. Shops and food vendors have been limited, character meet and greets eliminated, and parades closely monitored. Disney’s Imagineers have clearly worked overtime to create a safe environment, but admission numbers are still in great decline.
In a possible attempt to lure visitors to the parks, Disney released this week that they have been granted a new patent for using entertainment drones in an innovative way. Drone light shows have become the next big thing in after dark entertainment. Across the world, drones are replacing expensive, dangerous, pollution causing firework shows. These small drones with LED lights can be arranged into creative shapes and messages to mesmerize audiences. Disney’s evening shows have become legendary, featuring fireworks, light projections, and special effects. In recent years they have incorporated drones into their shows as well. This new patent will give Disney an opportunity to use drones in a way that has never been done before.
The title of the patent is “Aerial Show System Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Energy To Animate Creative Show Element”, and is intended to be applied to day and nighttime shows. Instead of using a swarm of small drones to animate the sky, this idea is to use larger drones almost like a puppet marionette. The drones would be used to bring stage sets to life, moving them to give a greater sense of magical realism. The patent artwork shows images of drones lifting objects above a stage with actors below. Imagine sitting down to watch a Peter Pan themed show. As Peter and Captian Hook confront each other, Hook’s ship The Jolly Roger is doused in pixie dust. Currently, to show this action during a live Disney show, this scene would be portrayed digitally on a backdrop screen. With this new patent, an actual lightweight ship can be lifted up into the air and flown through a course.
The project is being led by Senior R&D Imagineer and Creative Systems Engineer Pehr Hovey who has been a Disney Imagineer since 2012. He says that this isn’t the first time Disney has tried using drones in such a capacity. However, they found that the continuity of the show was not perfect enough so the drones were scraped. Now the team has redesigned software to safely and seamlessly incorporate the drones into live shows. Will this be enough to bring guests back into the parks? Probably not, but it just goes to show Disney’s commitment to offering the best in entertainment. As the goal of the Disney Imagineers is “Making the impossible, possible,” drones could be just the tool to get the job done.