James Cameron’s World of Avatar

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Disney is moving towards their “What’s Next?” presentation on December 7th, and fans have been speculating what will be discussed. There is seemingly an endless inventory of projects currently in development. Well informed forum members on sites like WDWMagic.com have suggested that the first half of 2013 will see a new daytime parade at the Magic Kingdom and the return of Spectromagic. Additionally, replacements are in the works for both Voyage of the Little Mermaid (Phineas and Ferb) and Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage (Tangled) over at Hollywood Studios. However, it is still unknown whether any or all of these items will be mentioned at the December 7th press event.

For Disney fans, the items listed above aren’t necessarily the types of offerings that typically generate the buzz and mass hysteria that Disney craves. An assumption exists that Disney is holding back on many of their major announcements until the D23 Expo in August of 2013. It is expected that construction for Carsland will begin in the next 6 months, but an announcement may not be made until the D23 Expo.

This brings us to James Cameron’s World of Avatar. Very little information has been officially released on this project and until recently, there has not been much in the way of leaks either. Below is a brief summary of official Disney comments on the project:

  • On September 20, 2011 Disney announced via press conference and on the Disney Parks Blog that they have partnered with James Cameron to develop a new land in the Animal Kingdom based on the movie Avatar.
  • Also on September 20, 2011, following this announcement, Tom Staggs, Head of Parks and Resorts answered select follow up questions made by fans on the Disney Parks Blog.
  • On October 18, 2011, the Disney Parks Blog reported that James Cameron had visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom with Imagineer Joe Rohde as well as Tom Staggs (photo below)
  • On November 12, 2011, the Disney Parks Blog showcased a photo opp of James Cameron visiting the Carsland construction site with Tom Staggs
  • Additional confirmation has been made at Shareholder meetings after audience questioning, but no specifics were revealed.
  • On March 29 and March 30, 2012, the Disney Parks Blog and The Disney Blog had interviews with Imagineer Joe Rohde where he briefly discussed the project.
  • At the 2012 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference 9/13/2012, Disney CFO Jay Rasulo said the following, “Avatar is coming for Walt Disney World” in “15-16″ and will be funded out of the normal capital expenditure profile.”

While official public information on the project has been relatively limited, information has started to come out from trusted sources about things that are being considered as well as the potential delays in the project.

Last month, I outlined all of the relocation being done in Camp Minnie Mickey to clear that area for future construction. At this point in time it appears that budget is still the issue and Cameron and Disney appear to be hundreds of millions of dollars apart. Initially, the budget was $500 million, but Disney was looking to cut that down to $400 million, while Cameron may be seeking a budget closer to $750 million.

As a result of this, there are two different Avatar proposals currently in the works. The larger scale proposal is going by the codename, Project Lightstorm and it is speculated that concept art from this version will be introduced at the December 7th press event. The attraction descriptions listed in last month’s Carsland article are representative of what I believe to be the attractions included in Project Lightstorm.

  • Flora and Fauna of Pandora walk through: This would be a family attraction, and possibly the entrance to the land.
  • Soarin’ over Pandora (Not a real name): This would use a simulator similar to the existing Soarin’ simulator but with 3D components
  • Motorbike Coaster: Designed by ride manufacturer Vekoma, the Motorbike design was proposed for Shanghai Disneyland for a Tron attraction. The vehicle seating is similar to that of a motor cycle (guests leaning forward with their feet back) and would face potential capacity issues. The theming of this ride would be elaborate, and it is the likeliest thing to be cut if they’re trying to reduce the budget. It also seems this is the project that James Cameron is most enthusiastic about.

Having said that, it does not appear that Project Lightstorm is the version of World of Avatar that Disney intends to build. An additional version has also been created under the codename, Project Morpho and would include similar, but not identical components.

Current information indicates the following offerings are part of Project Morpho

  • E-Ticket attraction: This will be a 3D simulator housed in a gigantic show building. The building will have multiple levels and guests will enter the building on level 3. The attraction will have four separate theaters with three rows of seating in each theater. Each row will load on a separate level. The nature of the simulator itself is unclear but capacity would be comparable to Soarin’ assuming an 8 minute cycle time. The attraction will be housed in a building by itself, with the exception of a portion of the C-Ticket attraction that will enter the Northeast corner of the building.
  • C-Ticket attraction: By all accounts this appears to have replaced the Flora and Fauna walk through attraction that was speculated as part of Project Lightstorm. This attraction appears to have both indoor and outdoor components, and will actually enter the E-Ticket show building below the grade that guests enter. This means that an indoor scene for the C-Ticket attraction will be underneath the queue for the E-Ticket attraction. The ride system for the C-Ticket attraction appears to be a boat or other track based ride.
  • Additional amenities: Disney will also be including a quick service restaurant, multiple shops, and at least one restroom in this project.

I fully expect additional details to be revealed on World of Avatar. Whether these details are revealed on December 7th or at the D23 Expo remains to be seen. However, it does seem likely that this project is moving forward and may not be as delayed as originally thought.

Tom Edwards, and Chris Lathrop contributed to the content of this article.