Disney Insider wrote a fantastic article about the new Little Mermaid ride:
Look at this stuff, isn't it neat? Paradise Pier area's collection of turn-of-the-20th-century-style boardwalk attractions will be more complete when The Little Mermaid~Ariel's Undersea Adventure opens June 3, 2011, at Disney California Adventure Park. With exterior architecture reflecting the era, Walt Disney Imagineers used whimsical special effects, gadgets and gizmos aplenty to create an immersive experience overflowing with seaside flavor. Creative Director Larry Nikolai and Show Designer Chris Crump discuss the whozits and whatzits galore behind the Park's first fairy-tale-inspired ride.
Though construction took almost four years, Larry tells us that the desire to convey Ariel's story as a ride-through attraction is almost as old as the film. "'The Little Mermaid' has been around for 22 years. We started designing the attraction several times, but it never materialized." Luckily for fans, all that's changed.
According to Larry, Ariel's Undersea Adventure attraction will be as memorable as the movie. "Our vision was to celebrate the music, because that's what people remember. We recorded brand-new orchestra music for certain scenes and in-between transitions." Guests can sing along to original songs from the film, including "Part of Your World," "Under the Sea," "Kiss the Girl," and "Poor Unfortunate Souls."
Scuttle welcomes Guests into the shipwreck's broken hull before they sail through scene after scene. From Ariel's grotto to Sebastian's "Under the Sea" extravaganza (the largest scene), the show boasts 183 characters in all, including 49 spinning starfish. Larry talks about how they selected characters for "Under the Sea." "We chose characters mentioned in the lyrics – there are 129 in that scene alone!"
Cramming a full-length movie into a five-and-a-half-minute attraction is always tricky, but Larry points out some of the other challenges. "One of the most amazing things we're doing is animating Ariel's hair. It's important her hair looked like it was 'floating' because it almost has a life of its own in the movie. We didn't animate individual strands of hair ... that would've been distracting."
Fortunately, Larry says, Imagineers got pointers on the sculpture process from Ariel's original animator, Glen Keane. "He advised us to handle it as a mass with its own fluid movement apart from hers – but not to 'over-animate.'" Chris adds, "It's common to work with a character artist, but not the original animator. John Lasseter wanted us to consult with Glen to ensure we remained faithful to his vision. We were very lucky!"
New technology made other Imagineering firsts possible, like the digital 3D design program used to model the building facility, portions of the ride, and the major environmental components. Larry explains that skin technology advances helped the team construct Ariel, King Triton, and Ursula. "The fact that Ariel really isn't wearing much of a costume is challenging. To get the skins on and off each figure, we need seams, fastenings, and closures. Finding the right place for them is difficult when you're working with that amount of exposed skin."
Chris describes how skin is handled when it doesn't cover the entire body. "The hands or necks of most figures usually terminate into a sleeve, cuff, or collar, which makes things a lot easier. In Ariel's case, her body is all skin from the waist up to her arms and head – that's a pretty complicated 'skin suit.'" Larry says that King Triton and Ursula presented the same difficulty, but thankfully, "Skin technologies have changed immensely in the last 30 years. New materials hold up better and provide more movement. If we'd done Ariel 15 or 20 years ago, it might not be the same result ... which is a really neat development."
Ursula's one of the most advanced Audio-Animatronics® figures ever built. As Larry puts it, "She's amazing in sheer size alone – 12 feet wide by 7.5 feet tall. We've given her torso a 'squash and stretch' function (traditionally used in hand-drawn animation) so she can dance along to her number. Our figure animator, Ethan Reed, has done a wonderful job with her." The staggering sea witch conjures up some surprising special effects at her caldron as well, which only enhance her delightfully dark side.
Now that their work is done, both Larry and Chris agree it'll be hard to let Ariel go. "The show's become so much a part of our lives ... it's such a high point for both of us. We're going to miss the people too. While working on a project like this, you get close to everyone on your team – the artisans, architects, engineers, construction workers, painters, and electricians who've all worked tirelessly. I want to see very long lines," laughs Chris. Larry nods. "Our finale goes a little beyond the film. I think it'll surprise people and give them a lump in their throats ... that's what I'm hoping for."
Be part of their world when The Little Mermaid~Ariel's Undersea Adventure opens in Paradise Pier June 3 at Disney California Adventure Park!