25 October 2016

Urban Illusion

The Streets of America are all but gone, making way for the future of Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the form of Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land. Or, as I like to call them, Planet X and Andy’s Backyard. It’s been less than a year since the lands were shuttered, so it may be a little early to be calling it the world of yesterday, but even the land that closed was far different than the New York Street that originally opened in 1989 as a part of Disney-MGM Studios. While there are many examples of what changed between the opening and closing of the Streets of America, the façades and painted backdrop at the end of New York Street offers a great point of study.

Let’s start with this painted backdrop from the earliest days of the park. In fact, this photo of the New York cyclorama, the name given to painted backdrops that have been fastened to a flat, stationary surface, actually predates the opening of the park by a year and was taken in 1988. We can talk all we want about forced perspective, about how the Empire State Building is only 80 feet tall and the buildings in the foreground are only 40 feet tall, but in terms of what’s changed over the years, we need to focus in on the gritty details. Look at the individual signs and names all throughout the picture and also make sure to take note of the tops of the buildings forming the horizon.

It’s almost like trying to find what’s been changed between two pictures in the comics section of the newspaper, but have you study it enough? Okay, here’s the same skyline from 2010.

In the foreground, the Lucas Paints sign has been removed and the wedge, or flatiron, building has been given a sign that reads HOTEL at its back corner. Speaking of hotels, the Hotel Pouilly has become the Amsterdam. In addition, between the times of the Pouilly and Amsterdam the drugstore sign was also removed. The PARKING sign on the left hand side of the street would change into stating PARK HERE and on the right hand side of the street a smaller streetlamp was added. It is the changes to the parking sign in particular that show the changes were made to show a different era on New York.

Remember how I also said to look at the horizon? While no buildings were removed or added to the skyline, there was a change over the years. The furthermost building in the middle of the street had some changes. During the early years it would have a sculpted looking top section, reminiscent of 55 Central Park West from Ghostbusters (you know, the home of Zuul). However, in the 2010 photograph we can see that the building was made to look thinner, with a smaller penthouse level, with the sculpted corners becoming slivers of new buildings.

I imagine there will be some usage of force perspective in the new Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land. After all, these effects haven’t just been used on the Streets of America, but all over the parks worldwide, including the world building that was done for Radiator Springs, a complete environment whose construction is the closest thing we’ve seen to what Star Wars Land will become. Looking back at the cyclorama and how it transformed over the years reminds us that the parks are continually changing; whether it’s the changes of a small sign, the color of rocks in Tomorrowland, or moving something beloved into our memories.

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