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How Disney Made Spider-Man Fly Over the Avengers Campus

On the opening day of Disney’s Avengers Campus, the theme park expansion of the blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe, a sea of ​​panicked fans looked up at the sky and left their jaws open.

“That was the first time I felt like, ‘Oh my god, I guess we can,'” said Tony Dohi, head of Imagineer research and development at Walt Disney Imagineering.

For years, Dohi and his team have been working hard to create Marvel’s latest miracle: the Spider-Man stunt double that can perform amazing acrobatics while soaring through the air. More than 65 feet with no ropes or spider webs attached.

“When we had our first brainstorming session on this subject, It is one of those moments where you live as a fantasy,” Dohi said in a recent video call. “This was a very ambitious meet and greet. I must say not like anything else.”

The high flying robot superhero who was named “Stuntronics”

; by Disney inventors is one of several eye-catching attractions that opened earlier this month as part of Disney California Adventure’s Avengers Campus.

Double the animation of the stunt robot spinning in the air.

(Walt Disney Imaging)

Tucked between the grand entrance of California Adventure and rustic Cars Land is a glittering sci-fi world. It’s packed with cameos from fan-favorite Marvel characters, including Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange and Black Panther.

Dan Fields, the creative executive who oversees live performances in the park, said: “We pledged that guests wouldn’t be able to walk through the Avengers Campus without meeting certain heroes.

“Which seems really basic, but … there are different frequencies of characters appearing in different parts. of the park … The promise we want to make is that we will conquer the guest experience because … it is a living place that is happening here and now.”

Immediately enter the park’s superhero area. Guests are served what Fields calls a “robot sandwich.”

On the roof of a modern industrial building with Web Slingers, an interactive Spider-Man simulator, a human actor dressed as a friendly neighbor Avenger performs somersaults. Do a backflip, wagon and draw the crowd before running off the stage to make way for the mechanical twins.

“Something has happened,” the youthful voice of Tom Holland, the latest film star portraying a brave surfer girl on the big screen, rang through the speakers. Suddenly, the Stuntronics Spidey flew into the air. Boldly posing and disappearing behind a webbed warehouse, the human Spidey reunites and resumes his meet-and-greet duties.

“When we were pregnant on Avengers Campus, we knew we wanted to push ourselves to allow our guests to interact and see Spider-Man in more distinctive ways,” Fields said.

“There are limits to what you can do with the human body in an outdoor environment. wearing a full face mask And make that really true and believable. Not just for 7 year olds, but for anyone watching it. But we know how important it is for the most famous hero’s guest experience … in principle.”

Two homeless people with an anthropomorphic robot in the middle.

Tony Dohi, Head of Imagineer R&D, left, and Morgan Pope, robotics research scientist at Walt Disney Imagineering, prepare their early prototypes of Stuntronics robots for close-up imaging at the Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development Lab in Glen. Dale

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Seamless transitions are designed to convince audiences that actors and robots are among humans with incredible physical abilities. But the illusion also serves as a viable solution to a problem that arose early in its development: How do robot acrobats land?

Thanks to the robot-sandwich approach, the simple answer is that it doesn’t. At the end of its dramatic arc, Stuntronics Spidey slips out of sight and into a giant net, while the human Spidey continues to dazzle viewers.

Imagineer's head of research and development Tony Dohi poses with the first MkI prototype of the Stuntronics robot.

“When we had our first brainstorming session on this subject, It is one of those moments when you live to be an imagination,” said Tony Dohi, Imagineer’s head of research and development for Stuntronics robotics.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“Aerial acrobatics are just part of this,” Dohi said. “It needs bookends, it needs to have the context that Dan’s story provides and be able to fix some technical issues … It’s also an opportunity. to ask ‘How high can we throw this now?’”

Because “the most natural way Spider-Man takes off in the air is through the web,” Dohi and his team have devised an advanced slingshot system that involves lines and “Very powerful motor” that can launch various flights or “throw” repeatedly

when suspended Sensor-equipped machines are programmed to spin and glide in a manner that mimics human motion. which required Imagineers to follow the pioneering physicist Isaac Newton’s third law of motion. (Every action has equal and opposite reactions) while carefully choreographing the choreography. “Air Ballet”

“Can we deliver this exciting moment … something that will be superhuman? That is the challenge,” Dohi said.

“I can’t describe how fun it is. …is the farthest thing from work It’s unbelievable that you can get this job … design and throw robots around.”

Masked man holding a robot

Morgan Pope, a robotics research scientist at Walt Disney Imagineering, holds an early prototype “Stickman” developed into the Mk1 prototype, which will eventually become the Stuntronics robot used on the Avengers campus.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Of course, while planning the humanoid robot’s movements Imaginators are also forced to consider gravity. Anything that goes up has to come down — and it’s tough when dealing with massive 95 pounds of 3D printed plastic, aluminum, sensors, microprocessors and servo motors that soar dozens of feet above the ground.

To avoid serious collisions, Dohi and his team created A “simple but complex system” to slow the robot over short distances.

“This is something we can’t do with human actors,” Dohi said. “Our intention has never replaced human actors. They actually did things we never thought we’d do with actors who were. man That said, you can destroy robots, so how we slow down robots is a big part of developing this.”

By the time Dohi’s team presented their first set of throws, Fields Stuntronics Spidey was in perfect shape. Flawlessly executed exact combinations where they fell with swan-like precision.

There’s only one problem: Spider-Man is far from perfect.

“We really liked it. But we felt it was too beautiful,” Fields said. “They all looked great. And part of the fun of Spider-Man, both in the movies and in the comics, is… he’s an arrogant teenager. so for him not Reinforcing — not to always be in control of his body — is actually good engineering.”

“That was a huge release … because we didn’t have to focus on making sure the figure was in the right plane and in the right direction when landing,” Dohee added. “We had to completely reframe the idea that … Spider-Man seemed out of control as he was flying.”

Both human hands rest on the shoulders of the signature humanoid robot.

On the chest of the Mk1 prototype are autographs of actor Tom Holland (left), who plays Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

After about three years of navigation Through trial and error, the Imagineers reached their final product. It’s a free-falling robot capable of performing six stunts inspired by Spider-Man’s greatest epic. Time interval on page and screen

“Nothing we create is valuable because we cannot risk breaking it to learn something,” Dohi said. “The Spider-Man character gave us the opportunity to express ourselves. He sailed past skyscrapers. So we’re not happy with the short and low throws. We want to see how far we can swing this guy.”

By 2020, Disney is ready to launch Stuntronics, the first technology of its kind, with the rest of the Avengers Campus in July, that is, until the COVID-19 outbreak prompts a 13-month shutdown that covers Both Disneyland and California Adventure

The unprecedented shutdown was “extremely painful,” Fields said. “Go home and put the pencils down” until it’s back to work safely.

“There was some nervousness that the pause would affect the consistency of what we were trying to do,” Fields said. When we get the green light to come back We got off the foul ball very quickly … and we drove it to the finish line.”

“When you get the green light again It’s like shooting in the arm,” Dohi added. “You turn on the robot for the first time … [i]t give you excitement without you knowing that you have Because all the events in such a terrible time dazzled you with everything … It was a really emotional moment for us.”

Two men shake hands with humanoid robots.

Tony Dohi and Morgan Pope show off the mobility of their Stuntronics robot Mk1 prototype.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Despite the obvious disadvantages But the year’s deferral bought more time for the live entertainment department to tweak “Amazing Spider-Man” and add final work, such as a voice-over from Holland.

The 25-year-old British actor also took part in the California Adventure’s Spider-Man experience, which is open to a limited number of lucky guests per day via a virtual queue system.

“We made sure to get Tom. the same holland The same Spider-Man and the same Peter Parker for both parts of the show,” Fields said. It looks special and authentic.”

The final step leading up to the opening of the campus Holland’s cheerful exclamation can only be heard late at night. When park administrators and members are invited to stay after hours to secretly watch the Stuntronics show.

Double the animation of the stunt robot spinning in the air.

(Walt Disney Imaging)

“They screamed at the joy of the children,” Fields said with a laugh. “The launch date was incredible. But to listen to our members — who? know What is it? – So glad … I feel a little bad when I think about it.”

One cast member told The Times during a recent park visit that to avoid crowds, Struntronics Spidey wouldn’t operate on a fixed schedule. comes with great responsibility especially after the global health crisis.

same as Peter real parker He is a person who rarely reveals. Hide his special abilities from the world until – when you least expect them – he swoops in to save the world.

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