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:
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:
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:
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.
Yet somehow I missed adopting VR at home, beyond playing with a “put your phone in this thing” Google cardboard device.
When I returned to Disneyland in December 1995, there were some thing I had “just” missed (like the PeopleMover and Skyway, that had closed a few years earlier). But, some things were still there, though they would close soon after.
One such thing was the Circle-Vision theater, showing a special presentation of America the Beautiful, which was supervised by Walt Disney himself.
For the kids at home, this was where the Buzz Lightyear ride is today. You can learn more at Yesterland.com or read the writeup at the Wikipedia.
My ancient digital camera did not do well indoors without using a flash. But, since there aren’t that many photos of this online, I thought I’d share what I have.
Yep. Glorious low resolution, low quality digital photos from 1996! Above was the pre-show area, leading in to the main CircleVision theater. Below I will share the other photos I took that visit — all of equal quality.
After this theater closed, it eventually would re-open and be used as part of the queue for the Rocket Rods. They created a new Circle-Vision film for it, which features some clips from other CircleVision films (on all screens) as well as clips from Disney’s TV series segments on transportation (including clips of Walt Disney). It was nice to be in a Circle-Vision theater at Disneyland again, even if it was just something you passed through while waiting for a ride.
Walt Disney World had Circle-Vision theaters at Epcot‘s World Showcase (and still does) and Magic Kingdom‘s Tomorrowland (Timekeeper, gone and replaced by the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor).
Disneyland no long has any theater, as the building was redone to become Buzz Lightyear and the Circle-Vision screens were removed.
At least I got to see the “end” of Circle-Vision at Disneyland — the original theme park that pioneered this type of presentation. It’s one of the things I have never seen anywhere else (though surely someone else has made them).
2018-02-25: Added “new” Tomorrowland history notes from Werner Weiss of Yesterland.com.
The Tomorrowland of 1996 was probably the “new” Tomorrowland, not to be confused with the new “new” Tomorrowland that would open two years later. After speaking with Werner of Yesterland.com, I found that there were several other “new” new Tomorrowlands along the way. (See his notes at the end of this article.)
I’ll just call this one Tomorrowland ’96, in tribute to the recently renamed Epcot ’94.
First, the Rocket Jets were still in their original spot:
By having them up on the second story (you took an elevator to get to them), it make them seem much more frightening. To prove that, here’s a non-public photo I vowed I would never share publicly:
Today a new version sits on the ground at the front of Tomorrowland, and the skeleton of the old Rocket Jets is a kinetic sculpture that may or more not kinet any more.
In 1996, you could also catch the original run of Captain EO, which I did, because I don’t think I ever caught it when it was at Epcot. (Recall, I visited Disneyland a few times in the 1970s, then my 1980s and early 1990s were only trips to Walt Disney World):
A short time later and that theater would be redone for Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Then, years later, it would be repurposed to become Captain EO Tribute after the passing of the film’s star, Michael Jackson. I wonder what will happen if Rick Moranis or Eric Idle passes away?
There was also this long-closed Carousel of Progress / America Sings Building that was being worked on for Tomorrowland ’98:
The PeopleMover had been closed since shortly before I got back to visit in 1995, darnit. “Missed it by that much!”
Hey! That’s Esmarelda (bottom left, above) walking out of Tomorrowland! This, my friends, was one of the reasons why Walt Disney wanted so much land for his Florida Project. He said he didn’t want to see a cowboy walking through Tomorrowland on his way to Frontierland, and I’m guessing seeing Esmeralda do the same also counts.
And taking a peek at the People Mover tracks showed work being done for the upcoming Rocket Rods ride:
Speaking of Walt Disney World… Did you ever see the Disney virtual reality demonstration at Epcot ’95? (Yes, Virginia. There was virtual reality in the early 1990s.) It was in one of the buildings near Spaceship Earth, and I saw it with my dad during the summer of 1995. They selected a few guests to demonstrate the system on a stage while we all watched overhead monitors showing what they were seeing. It was an Aladdin magic carpet ride game. During my 1996 Disneyland trip, I got to play it at the Starcade. It was very cool.
V.R. is the future, I tell you!
I guess I should also point out the Circle-Vision was still showing movies:
That movie was interesting because Walt Disney was involved in it, and he could be seen over and over in various scenes. It’s hard to hide from a 360 camera. (Yes, Virginia, Disney was doing 360 movies back in the 1960s.)
This location later became the queue for Rocket Rods (the theater still intact and showing a new Rocket Rod film sequence), then later Buzz Lightyear.
Space Mountain was presented by FedEx and had the “speed ramp” up to the top:
And the ride itself had recently gotten onboard sound via add-on speakers they put on the existing cars:
During a later redo, they would get all-new cars with the speakers integrated into them.
The Submarine Voyage was still running:
Besides the subs being yellow instead of grey, it was very close to the original version that opened in 1959. A few years later, it would close and the lagoon would sit, abandoned, for what seemed like “forever” until Nemo saved it. Florida’s version, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, was not so fortunate. It just sat there for what seemed like “forever” and then got replaced with a Winnie the Pooh playground for toddlers.
And, who can forget the Toy Story Funhouse, showing that Disney began putting things in the Tomorrowlands long before Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor. If I recall correctly, this was an exhibit that was used at a movie theater during the promotion of Toy Story, then moved to this area in Tomorrowland as an attraction.
I only took a few photos, so this one must have really stood out. It was the first time I ever saw a human Green Army Man.
It’s worth noting that the original versions had their feet connected on a platform just like the toys. They would wobble around just like the toy versions did in the movie. Cute.
It’s also worth notice that orange floor. Back in the 1970s, Radio Shack stores were also orange and brown. I guess those were good colors for the future, in the past.
I guess that about covers Tomorrowland. I took a few photos of Star Tours, but that remained mostly unchanged until the updates for the new movies so nothing interesting to share there.
Notes from Yesterland.com:
Werner Weiss contributed some more details about the various “new” Tomorrowlands:
1959 – Significant additions to Tomorrowland at Disneyland, but not called “New Tomorrowland.” Included Disneyland Alweg Monorail, Submarine Voyage, and Matterhorn Bobsleds (Matterhorn is now classified as part of Fantasyland).
1967 – “New Tomorrowland” at Disneyland. Included G.E. Carousel of Progress, Goodyear PeopleMover, Monsanto Adventure Thru Inner Space, AT&T Bell System Circle-Vision 360 (replacing the 11-screen 16mm version), Flight to the Moon (replacing Rocket to the Moon), Coca-Cola Tomorrowland Terrace, Space Stage, and the tile murals by Mary Blair.
1994 – “New Tomorrowland” at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World.
1998 – “New Tomorrowland” at Disneyland. Included Rocket Rods, “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” Innoventions, and Redd Rocket’s Pizza Port.