How Artificial Intelligence is powering Story Telling at Disney Land

31 October 2017

Artificial Intelligence is a hot topic today and there is a lot of rhetoric about this phenomenon regarding its impact on companies, their culture and its people. In fact, this has led to substantial speculation further leading to frustration with regards to the possible loss of jobs and careers due to this phenomenon.

There is no doubt a great degree of excitement in the air with respect to the diverse possibilities and applications in AI in our day to day lives. This is bound to influence and impact every walk of our lives in the days ahead.

On retrospection, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that the concept of Artificial Intelligence had been around for decades in reality. A quick read on Wikipedia will show you that the concept was bandied about ever since the advent of calculating machines in the 1600s. Today the concept has taken shape even further with the help of automation and machine learning. Machines today are designed to work and respond as closely as possible to human behaviour.

While this may be a scary thought for some, but it also opens a plethora of opportunities for any optimist.
Now let us step into a world of joy and happiness, one that is filled with vivid colours and vibrant characters. This is a world were machines have been replicating human behaviour for several decades on end now while entertaining people. You got it right, if you guessed Disney Land. The architect of this phenomena is at it once again, leveraging the power of AI in his efforts to make the dreams of every Disney visitor become real.

Turning Technology and Innovation on its head

Disney is acknowledged the world over for its deft use of technology and innovation in its efforts to drive creativity and entertainment to the next level. The company has successfully created many stalwarts who shape the dreams of children and adults each day, with the help of storytelling that is brought to life by vivid characters and themes.

Featured below are some of the technological innovations introduced by the company over the decades.

  • Early 1950 witnessed the creation of the monorail and submarine voyages.
  • Audio-Animatronics was the next introduction by the company to follow.
  • The pollution-free WEDWay People Mover was next from the Disney stable.
  • Disney then went on to dab with and successfully implement many other creative applications such as Augmented Reality, Holographic Displays and 4D imaging to name a few over the coming years.

The company also introduced for the first time a single key access in the form of a wrist band with a built-in swipe-to-pay system technology. This unique band gave visitors access to relevant sections of the park ranging from rides, to refreshments, to rides, to rooms, etc, depending on their choice of package. All this was possible since the huge entertainment park was managed by a single entity and all access points could be controlled centrally.
Can you imagine a world where you don’t have to ever plug your phone in to charge but simply go into wireless charging rooms to automatically recharge them? The Quasistatic Cavity Resonance for Wireless Power Transfer was introduced by Disney for this and was spread strategically across the expansive theme park.

No surprise hence that most technologies tested and introduced by Disney has been adopted today in various parts of the globe.

AI and Storytelling

Disney is all about storytelling and about how to tell them in creative ways. Their continuous research and studies into understanding how visitors and readers react to various story telling situations, has led them to creating the magical renditions that we see today. Their monitoring metrics have helped them benchmark this quality and to further enhance this in each and every one of their creations.

The development of the ‘Neural Network AI’ by Disney has helped them create content and stories by simply monitoring trends and adoption patterns. Disney has as a result been at the forefront of leveraging AI technologies that use machine learning to automate story creation and storytelling. This has resulted in the company collating a wide range of stories and situations that offer immense entertainment potential.

Disney has also been monitoring facial expressions of movie goers to understand how they respond to situations and to also predict outcomes for a movie. Studies were conducted among viewers of several blockbuster movies (with requisite permissions of the movie goers) to study this phenomenon. From their observations they were able to assess standard responses to a movie and further study what elements work and don’t work. However, it is understood that the data isn’t very exact as humans tend to imitate the expressions of those around them and those on the screen.

What’s next?

Among its focus areas currently, Disney is clearly looking to harness the power of AI through machine learning increasingly. The efforts are towards blending technology in such a way that visitors will be able to live through entire story sequences not realising the difference between AI and Reality.

The visual and sensory extravaganza as a result promises to leave visitors in a trance while giving them the chance to interact with costumed caste seamlessly without knowing the difference.

In one of the presentations for Star Wars, guests are given custom experiences where they experience varying situations and choices ranging from joining the resistance or becoming a spy. The individual experiences also allow you to negotiate with droids to secure food in the Cantina. This is only a brief example of what is in store.
Disney is no doubt pushing the limits of AI and AR in their efforts to deliver an as close as possible to real life experience in their presentations. The continuous process of innovation and adaptation is helping them stay ahead of the curve when it comes to delivering futuristic experiences that can appeal to a discerning visitor.

About the Author

Priyan DC is the CEO of Star Squared PR, a fast-growing boutique PR consultancy. The company has been recognized for its contributions in PR with their work for a cross section of industries. He is a familiar face today in the PR industry in India and provides counsel to companies in areas ranging from crisis management, communication planning, media planning, media training, campaign management, etc.