But that’s not to say there weren’t hints of what may be coming. “Journey into Imagineering,” the Disney Parks and Resorts pavilion, teased fans about two anticipated projects based on movie brands: “Star Wars” and “Avatar.”
With a presence at D23 Expo, Disney subtly confirmed it still plans to bring “Avatar” to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Announced in 2011 as an “Avatar”-themed land, Disney has said very little about their plans since. Infrequent updates no longer refer to “Avatar” as a themed land, specifically, but now refer to “Avatar” by the more ambiguous word “project.”
The “Avatar” exhibit fit the “Journey” open-house format and focused on Set Decoration. It looked like a workstation devoted to displaying materials and artifacts from Pandora. The story behind this exhibit, the one everyone stuck to for the event’s entire three days? Disney Imagineers, including Joe Rohde, have taken a research trip to Pandora to collect data and information about the moon as well as to learn about Na’vi culture.
So, the “Avatar” exhibit encouraged D23 attendees to go on a little expedition of their own – into the cubicle – and ponder the meaning of its contents. With that in mind, here is just some of what the “Avatar” exhibit offered for closer inspection and further speculation:
- A chunk of floating unobtanium;
- A bioluminescent bean pod, viable but under quarantine, which hosts noted is colorful and beautiful at night;
- An exopack, a filtriation system which allowed the Imagineers to survive in the Pandoran atmosphere;
- Models, sketches and artist’s renderings, and video of indigenous peoples and species (e.g. Banshee, Hammerhead, Leonopteryx, Thanador) with many of the visual studies detailing movement (including flight);
- An emphasis on Pandoran plant life, with botanical sketches and plant and soil samples;
- A Na’vi bow and arrow and a hunting knife that was gifted on one of the Imagineers, as well as a number of other Na’vi objects; and
- A white board with a note in Na’vi. Translated into English, it says, “To all who come to this happy place, welcome!”
In talking with Imagineers, they repeated emphasized how Pandora’s world, with Ewya and a respect for one’s environment, fits within the conservation message of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. They noted the expedition, studying Na’vi culture and collecting both natural materials and tribal artifacts, would help Imagineers realize Pandora to the theme park. And they noted that Pandora was both beautiful…and dangerous.To emphasis the point, yellow quarantine tape was present in the exhibit, and a botanical chart noted the existence of both poison water plants and carnivorous species.
The size of various Na’vi artifacts is worth mentioning, if only because several Imagineers pointed to that element. Imagineers repeatedly pointed to the oversized hiking boots and expedition backpack worn by their Na’vi guide. While a fun activity for D23 Expo, the prop – as well as the other Na’vi artifacts on display – was suggestive for how scale might be employed in the “Avatar” project.
Also of interest: D23 attendees also were encouraged to wear the Na’vi hiking boots or place the ‘Avatar” backpack on and pose for pictures. The photo opp that not only promotes the project, but taken with the exhibit’s overall focus on expeditions seems likely to indicate the theme of at least one part of the “Avatar” project.
Research & Development showcase interactive, musical plant
As Stitch Kingdom has already noted, at least one other “Journey” exhibit seemed suggestive for the “Avatar” project. Research and Development demonstrated an interactive plant technology, one previously announced by Disney Research Pittsburgh in 2012 as Botanicus Interacticus; the plant responded to touch and proximity via electrical signals, with a sensor embedded in the soil.
In the D23 Expo demo, attendees could touch the live plant – without hurting it – and it would respond with music. While guests enjoyed “playing” the musical plant, it was also easy to see how such technology could be used to create an environment where plants use music to communicate and/or the interactive nature of the experience would suggest a plant’s spirit or sentience. (Alternately, the technology could be used with artificial plants or offer different responses to interactions.)
While the “Avatar” exhibit at D23 Expo 2013 couldn’t substitute for news or a timeline on the project, Disney Parks and Resorts succeeded in both confirming the project is proceeding – offsetting rumors that it had been quietly shelved – and in raising interest in future developments.
As the National Disney Travel Examiner I attended the D23 Expo on a media pass to provide first-hand coverage. Look for more recap coverage to come, including photos and video, now that the event has concluded.