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The Portable Hole at Disneyland

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I'm gonna roll the clock back to when I was the lead designer for Disneyland's Roger Rabbit Car-Toon Spin Ride in 1990/92. The goal was to end the ride with our guests going through a cartoon portable hole to escape, so I did this drawing of Roger Rabbit as we exited the ride. But how to make it work?

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The Imagineering R&D department gave us two solutions. One solution was a wall behind a wall, and the illusion was an optical one. The bricks behind the first wall would be painted larger, so as we approached they would appear to be on the same plane. But that didn’t account for parallax, shadows, lighting, that would disrupt the illusion. It simply would not be believable.

The second solution was to have a wall with a hole cut into it, and a thin sheet of fog would be blasted in front to create a surface — and we would project a portable hole that appears as we exit the ride. But, that didn’t make any sense as you can project light, but can’t project the absence of light! That’s impossible. We had to choose between one of these two options!

So, my artist friend and Imagineering colleague Andrea Favilli reached out to magician Jim Steinmeyer — and it was Jim that helped us create the wonderful portable hole effect with a simple magic trick. Jim was an expert magician that built magic tricks for the biggest names in magic. He came up with a brilliant solution, and THAT is what we built in the ride. (I’m not going to divulge the secret here!)

I also designed this particular scene so that the figure of Roger was NOT entirely audio animatronic, but rather show-action animation. This meant it’s the extending arm that places the portable hole against the wall, not the Roger Rabbit figure. Again, another simple solution that helped to stretch our budget. This means the ride and this illusion can continue to work even if the equipment isn’t working. The posing of the character also works with or without animation.

Limiting the expenditures allowed us to spend more money on the rest of the sets so that the ride never felt neglected, stayed exciting... and prevented break-downs. More tech heavy rides have a tendency to shut down when their complicated equipment stops working. Not so with the Roger Rabbit Ride.

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