Park Hopping in VR

As an early adopter of digital cameras (my first was purchased in 1996), I am no stranger to adopting new tech before the rest of the world decides it’s useful.

In the early 2000s, I became fascinated with panoramic photography. I learned about special mirrors that let a camera take 360 panoramic photos with just one shot. Around 2005 I purchased a SurroundPhoto attachment and a Nokia camera specifically to use for this purpose. Here is what an image looked like:

SurroundPhoto one-shot 360 mirror lens.

If you’ve ever looked at the files that come out of a modern RICOH Theta VR camera, you will find this image a bit familiar.

Using special software, this weird image could be flattened out into a panorama:

Disneyland 2005 panorama taken with the SurroundPhoto.

I had already created a virtual tour of Disneyland by taking four pictures in each spot (facing north, south, west and east) and linking them all together as web pages with a custom program I wrote. I wanted to do the next version using 360 panorama VR-style photos.

Someday maybe I will.

I had also gotten my first digital camcorder in 1999 and was recording everything I was allowed to during my Disney trips. I have hundreds of tapes rotting away in storage. Some of them are in 3-D thanks to learning about the NuView camcorder attachment:

MuView 3-D camcorder attachment.

This odd device attached to the front of any pre-HD camcorder and used a special lens system to record what a left and right eye would see as separate scan lines in the old video signal.

I took this with me on a few trips and recorded a few hours of 3-D video, which I could later convert to red/blue anaglyph. I made copies of my 3-D home movies available on DVD (because I also was an early adopter of a machine that could burn DVDs). It’s hard to believe that burning DVDs was a big deal. (Somewhere I still have tons of the paper red/blue 3-D glasses.)

After that, I was an early adopter of HD video (even though I wouldn’t own an HD TV until years later). I still have many tapes I have yet to even look at.

Someday maybe I will.

And as far as “real” VR goes, I did get to play Dactyl Nightmare, the first consumer VR experience, at a Dave and Buster’s near Dallas back around 1993 or so. I then saw a demonstration of VR at Epcot in 1995, then got to play DisneyVR at the Tomorrowland Starcade at Disneyland in 1996.

DisneyVR at the Disneyland Starcade on May 20, 1996.

Yet somehow I missed adopting VR at home, beyond playing with a “put your phone in this thing” Google cardboard device.

So apologies for this announcement being so late.

Ladies and gentlemen . . . in VR! in VR.

You don’t seem too impressed.

Maybe someday you will.

Christmas at Universal Studios Florida in 1998.

NOTE: I believe I may be incorrect about the dates here. I think these photos are actually from 1999. I am not sure why I have a bunch of Universal Studios photos that are off by one year, but from looking at my Disney trips, I see I visited in November 1999. With that in mind, assume that “1998” below is probably actually be “1999.”

Today I am quite familiar with Halloween and Christmas events at Disney, but there was a time “not too long ago” (but longer than many of you reading this have even existed) when Halloween wasn’t really much of a thing in the parks.

Back then, there was a small Fall transition where you’d start to see some pumpkins or Fall decorations before Christmas would take over later. I went through my photo gallery trying to see if I captured any of this “before Halloween” stuff, but I find that the first trip I made in November with a digital camera was in 1998.

I found some photos from Universal Studios Florida, back when it was just Universal Studios (long before Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and before Islands of Adventure opened).

Universal was already in Christmas mode by November at that time. Let’s take a look.

The original movie-themed park had different areas representing different big cities. As such, they put up traditional city-style decorations.

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

As a kid in the 1970s, I have fond memories of seeing the Christmas decorations like these candy-stuffed stockings on light posts.

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

I don’t recall seeing any of these “across the street” decorations, though. I suppose it’s easier to decorate fake streets that don’t have actual traffic (other than parades).

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

I *think* these “shooting star” decorations may have been from the Hollywood Boulevard area of the park.

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

Of course the park has a Christmas tree.

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

The tree was located just across the way from the Islands of Adventure preview center.

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

Since Universal Studios was based on a movie backlot, its “lands” were supposed to be backlot filming sets based on different cities and such. Thus, the attractions were often placed in buildings that usually didn’t make sense. King Kong was an exception, since it was a public transportation ride located in a public transportation station building. It was decorated for happy holidays, in spite of giant gorilla inside…

Christmas decorations at Universal Studios Florida on November 17, 1998.

As I keep digging through my archives, I expect I may locate some photos of the in-between decorations the Disney parks had (Main Street and Frontierland, I think). Today, though, I think they go straight from Halloween to Christmas, with no room for anything in between like Thanksgiving or Fall.

Until next time…