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Character types

How we think about characters at Walt Disney Imagineering. Copyright The Walt Disney Company.

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Video transcript

Hello, I'm Tara Von Der Linden a show programmer for animatronic figures here at Walt Disney Imagineering. I work with the creative and engineering teams to design animatronic characters. and I'll be your host for this lesson on how we bring those characters to life. Characters are such an important part of our parks. They populate the land and really bring it to life. Some of these characters come from films you know and love. Others are characters that we create. No matter where these characters come from our ultimate goal is to create an authentic, emotional bond between our guests and characters. Walt built Disneyland so guests could go meet the characters. When I was a child, I went to Epcot Center and I got to go on the journey into imagination attraction. And I fell in love with a character named Figment and you know kept bugging my parents the whole week we were there. It's like, can I get a figment? Can I get a figment? I finally got a figment. When I design a character, I try to make sure that guests coming into the park today get that same emotional feeling to characters I helped design, that I had to Figment as a child. One of our most popular characters is Chewbacca. It is a very very emotional meeting for a lot of people. To finally meet a living, breathing, reacting character in our land is something that we take very, very seriously. So my little boy, Mickey was a part of his life from day one. And now they get to hug and give high-fives to these characters that they've grown to love. And it's been really exciting to see young girls in their princess costumes come to meet the Dora, the Black Panthers guard, and watch how after meeting them they stand up a little straighter. And there's a little bit of fierceness in the way they stand in the way they walk and the way they talk. As someone who helps create those experiences and build those characters an experience like that, is sort of the deepest honor and deepest satisfaction you can have with your work. And guests make this attachment to these characters by learning their stories. When creating new characters, it's important to understand what makes them tick, to understand their backstory. What are their hopes and dreams? What are their fears? The more you get to know your character, the more believable they'll be. We can design cute characters but can we make a story for that character that engages guests? We're thinking about: What is the blend of wants and needs and likes and dislikes that are gonna come together to form a personality. You know, what part of the world did they grow up in or what part of the universe? The little twitch-like How old they are. The little twitch-like movements. The way that they walk, the way that they strut. What kind of music do they listen to or like maybe they don't even like music? But, why don't they like music? You need to think almost like a psychologist when you're designing a character. Like, "Who is this character?" You have to get inside the characters head because that's the only way you're going to be able to write for the character and put the character in situations. And it will also reflect the design of the character. And that involves lots and lots of research. Many of the times the characters that we put in our parks come from existing films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or The Little Mermaid. When we worked on the Little Mermaid, it was my job to help develop all of the audio animatronic characters for that attraction. My favorite was Ursula, the sea witch. When we developed that attraction we watched the film many times, we met with some of the animators. We're looking at the physical, of course. If the genie of Aladdin is a big blue guy, then we know our genie's gonna be a big blue guy, but we also look at personality traits. The fact that the genie in the animated film was voiced by Robin Williams means that he talked fast, that he was wisecracking, that he could improv. So when we were doing our theatrical production of Aladdin, we actually went to comedy clubs and improv clubs and encouraged performers from the world of improv and stand-up comedy to audition for the show as well. It was really going to be the actor's talent and ability to think on his feet that we're going to really bring the genie to life. You have to build a character that is extremely believable and that is one that you can see, you can imagine walking and talking in the land. Whether we're talking about animals or whether we're talking about robots or whether we're talking about princesses or whether we're talking about superheroes, they all have the same human impulses that make them really relatable. You know, some have great curiosity, some have great compassion. When we meet Aladdin, people call him a street rat because he steals from the local vendors, but then he'll give it to someone who he realizes is hungrier. So you want to make sure that your characters have qualities that will make us empathize with them and sympathize with them and just want to spend time with them. Now it's your turn to start brainstorming the kind of character you might want to bring to life for the land or attraction you're creating. The next exercise will help you get started.