14 June 2009

Landscape Architects Create Authentic Scenery To Heighten Storyline at Expedition Everest At Walt Disney World Resort

One of the many joys that has come out of my experience with the Gazette is the research and study I undertake every day. Couple this with my ability to share some terrific unnoticed details, such as the plant life that can be found at a stone’s throw anywhere within Walt Disney World. I imagine that this feeling is similar to the feeling of accomplishment that the world-builders at Disney must feel whenever they create a new immersive experience. Today’s Back Issue, a press release that accompanied the opening of Expedition Everest, chronicles the story of building and planting an authentic Everest region in Central Florida. The article’s title, Landscape Architects Create Authentic Scenery To Heighten Storyline at Expedition Everest At Walt Disney World Resort, may be a mouthful, but it is nice to see how the background is so critical to a successful experience, and these professionals given their due respect. The article appears below.
From tropical jungles and verdant forests to barren rock and frozen tundra, the mighty Himalayas reveal dramatic variations in climate and landscape. Disney Imagineers were challenged to re-create such a scene when designing Expedition Everest, the new mountain thrill attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World Resort.

The Imagineering team strived to create a believable place that enhanced the attraction's storyline about preserving nature and sacred lands, said Becky Bishop, landscape architect and Walt Disney Imagineering area development director.

"We built a landscape consistent with what trekkers might actually encounter on a pilgrimage to the botanically rich Everest region," she said. "It is natural looking and unkempt, like it has always been there."

The landscape was created specifically to emulate the lowlands surrounding Mount Everest. More than 900 bamboo plants, 10 species of trees and 110 species of shrubs were planted over areas of the 6.2-acre terrain. Disney landscape architects carefully selected plant varieties that would thrive in the Florida climate while capturing the look and feel of Asia.

From the Asia part of Disney's Animal Kingdom, rows of giant bamboos and white eucalyptus hug the pathway leading trekkers from a lush, tropical peninsula to Serka Zong, a mythical village at the base of the majestic mountain. As trekkers hike through the village toward the railway that will carry them into the mountain, the vegetation and climate conditions shift from dense tree lines to an arid landscape. Scruffy bushes, bottlebrush, camphor trees and yucca plants replicate the rugged terrain found at the foothills of the Himalayas.

"The environment is hard to duplicate, so we took the usual species and presented them in an unusual way -- that would almost guarantee we would get the look we wanted," Bishop said. "For instance, we planted Hollywood juniper and then really chopped it up to look like the yaks had chewed on it."

When Bishop began researching the Himalayan landscape in 2002, she was struck by the horticultural contrasts of the region.

"We incorporated characteristics from Bhutan, Mustang and Kathmandu into the landscape design to capture its true diversity," Bishop said.

For two years, the team searched for unusually shaped trees and shrubs to enhance the rich architecture and authenticity of the village. And they found some treasures: a mulberry tree that had aged with a piece of wrought iron woven into its trunk, a Florida camphor tree that had grown wild with a palm tree soaring between its limbs, and a 100-year-old cactus. Additionally, a half-dozen big gnarled "hero" trees are prominently displayed, beckoning guests to gawk at the hideous shapes and rutted textures. In this region, tree limbs were harvested for fuel and for ornamentation on buildings, leaving only naked tree trunks in place.

Imagineers hunted for trees and bushes with shapes that snugly fit into corners of the buildings for a natural look like they had grown wild.

A variety of textured plants and bushes were used to distinguish shady wet regions from dryer conditions. A grassy ground cover fills a bamboo-filled courtyard, giving the impression that someone had once carefully tended the area. Near the mandir -- an ornate shrine to the yeti -- it feels grotto-like with greener, water-loving grasses and plantings situated around a dry streambed.

As guests board the runaway train destined for Mount Everest, they may notice the California sherell (chaparral) plantings and overgrown remnants of an abandoned tea plantation that once sprawled through the valley.

To emphasize the forced perspective technique, Imagineers planted tall bamboo, pines and swaying reeds to blur the horizon of the mountain range -- making it appear more distant. When the train plummets down the mountainside, the tracks seem to disappear into a wilderness filled with pine trees and moss-covered oaks, leaving onlookers wondering about the outcome of the journey.


Cody said...

I agree... I truly think that the landscape around the attraction heightens the whole story and perception of the attraction

Princess Fee said...

I adore everything around the mountain that is Everest - the landscaping, the architecture, the tiny details that are often overlooked. And I definitely agree that the landscaping helps tell the story and immerse the guest in the authenticity of the ride's origins.