Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Meet the Ferocious Yeti on Expedition Everest

You have ignored the museum curator’s warnings and decided to venture on with your expedition to Everest via a railway car – or at least, that’s the back story that Disney has set up while you’re waiting on line for Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom. But as you’ve begun your ascent of the towering Forbidden Mountain, your heart begins to pound as the ride comes to a dead end, then ascends into darkness! Things take a turn for the thrilling as you’re shot through narrow caves only to come face to face with the master of the mountain – the ferocious and mysterious yeti. And suddenly, you don’t quite feel like you’re on a ride anymore as you scream out of genuine excitement.

The pièce de résistance of Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest is most certainly the beastly yeti, and this masterpiece of Disney Imagineering is surely one of Walt Disney World’s best products of technology and storytelling yet. And though guests certainly aren’t thinking about what it took to create the yeti when he’s swiping at them on Expedition Everest, it took four years for Disney Imagineers to bring the creature to life.

The process started with a little help from Disney animators, who sketched more than a hundred unique designs of what the Himalayan legend might look like. Meanwhile, Imagineers consulted Dr. Stuart Sumida, professor of biology, for a realistic idea of how the yeti would move and stand. The team of Imagineers also sorted through legendary sources and current descriptions of the yeti from local people in Nepal and the Himalayas. Of the course of several months, a clear concept of the yeti emerged: it would be similar in size to a giant ape from prehistoric times with a skull modified from the Asian langur monkey, facial features and fangs of the golden monkey, and brownish fur and hair.

The next step was actually crafting the yeti, and that began with a rough sculpture molded by principal designer Doug Griffith. He also developed a computer model with engineers and programmers to determine how the yeti would move inside Expedition Everest. Once a final design was decided on, sculptor Scott Goddard worked on a detailed miniature sculpture of the yeti.

After getting the approval of Creative Executives, the miniature yeti was tagged with laser markers and scanned into the computer. From this file, a life-size foam version of the yeti was milled, which was then coated with a sealer to create a mold. Out of that mold, a final fiberglass cast of the creature was created and fitted with joints, pneumatics, and access panels. After days of work, a massive figure surrounding a skeleton of steel was complete and ready for programming and wardrobe.

Before the figure was created, specialists had spent over two years creating more than 100 computer animation tests. They finally got to work with the actual yeti in a full size production facility testing out subtle head turns, arm tilts, and blinking eyes. Once the mechanics were set, the yeti was put through his paces for hours on end. Meanwhile, costume designers worked to carefully craft his coat – a blend of yak, horse hair, and synthetics. Teeth and nails made from acrylic were molded and stained to look aged and yellow, and the yeti was given a nice coat of paint, mud, and even dirt between his toes to make him look authentic.

Though most riding Expedition Everest won’t notice all the detail, the Imagineers’ efforts are clearly worth it with every realistic move the yeti makes. So next time you ride this great attraction, be sure to marvel at the Himalayan legend – when you’re not screaming, that is. Check out Walt Disney World tickets from DWTickets.com to begin your trek to Everest and meet one of Disney’s greatest creations.


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