Horizons - The Technical Wonder of Future World
Although revered amongst fans for being the ethos-charged thesis statement for Future World, Horizons also is worthy of recognition for the sheer scale and scope of the pavilion. Built a full year after EPCOT Center opened, Horizons’ possessed the same thoughtfulness, attention to detail, and bold daring that went into the original 6 pavilions. Horizons was laden with Audio Animatronics, screens, projections, and a myriad of special effects that place its stature perhaps even higher that it’s predecessors for how well all of these effects immersed guests of the pavilion. This blog has covered that topic before- Horizons was humanistic and warm, proving the future was a relatable and familiar dream. But what made that all tick, on a holistic and physical level? Scope, scale, technology and innovation. EPCOT Center’s own values were reflected in Horizons’ presentation AND its construction.
The physical structure of Horizons beset the experience of the ride itself. Described as a “monumental gold gem” or as if a “space ship had settled down on the site itself”, by Disney’s internal documents on the pavilion, this grand scale mirrored the almost 15 minute spectacle of futurism shown off to guests. To achieve such a lengthy ride time, Horizons covered nearly three acres, had 1,346 feet of ride track that spanned two floors, and had 137,000 square feet of show space. This was achieved by utilizing 3,700 tons of steel, more of which was used in this pavilion than in Spaceship Earth. Horizons stretched 78 feet into the air and defined the Future World skyline from the central and commanding plot in Future World East.
To traverse such a long length of track, guests boarded a hybrid of Disney’s omnimover system, designed to focus guest attention on the scenes and tableaux directly facing panning cars. Never before attempted by Disney (Futurama had a similar set up in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair) these hybrid omnimovers were a marvel in themselves. Suspended by tethers from the ceiling, the glided through the building with relative ease, even allowing for the cars to rock “back” and tilt during the finale of Horizons during the “choose your own tomorrow” flight sequence. Each car also was equipped with infrared sensors to relay location and narration to the ride controls and to guests. This was conveyed with sub bass speakers located under the seat that could WIRELESSLY adjust volume depending on the scene guests were currently in. Viscerally, this is responsible for the memorable omnimax screen scenes, in which guests were surrounded my imagery, light, and sound. When the Space Shuttle Columbia took off on screen, one certainly could hear and feel the rumble of the rockets… despite safely gliding by a screen, in a omnimover, 67 feet in the air.
The omnimax screens were one of the key technological features of Horizons, themselves. Three screens, 80 feet high, and 12 feet wide, came at the middle of the Horizons experience and ushered guests from “looking back on tomorrow” to actually experiencing and seeing the marvels of the future world yet to come. These screens were so large that they had to be constructed separately from the main shell of the building, and helicopters were used to place the projector rigs in place. The omnimax structure can be seen in the header photos- look beyond the structural steel of Horizons, and look for a lattice pattern, curved so as to support the forthcoming projection surface. The same method of surrounding guests in a video projection is now employed in The Land’s Soarin’. Below, you can see George McGinnis, a key imagineer on Horizons’ creative team toying with a model of the omnimax dome and cars when the ride was to be called “FutureProbe” and had three tracks. However, the system of projection is the same, globular and lattice constructed. The projections of DNA, as seen here, were among the first computer aided graphics used for a theme park.
Thus, was the scope and breadth of the Horizons experience. Not relying on Audio Animatronics alone, the pavilion’s memorable reputation was furthered by sheer scope, overwhelming proportion and imagery, and a reliance on technology that fit the main idea and purpose of EPCOT Center itself. Therefore, Disney and WED appeared to have really took their park’s message to heart when they embarked on building and creating Horizons. The technological thrills described here were done with a purpose and with a bold daring to be different and unique in the face of themed entertainment. The commonality in ideas and actions designed to stun, inspire, and further technological prowess in an exhibition space is what defined Horizons and EPCOT Center in those early, halcyon, formative years. And it is that spirit that most long for Disney to bring back to EPCOT Center. As the ride intoned, cheerily enough, if you can dream it, you can do it.