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Details guide the making of Disney World's Pandora

Details guide the making of Disney World's Pandora

Without giving away too many details, Imagineer Joe Rohde discussed his detailed design process for Pandora, the land under construction at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

The area, based on the film "Avatar," is scheduled to open in the summer.

Even if Pandora is a fake planet, it needs to feel like the real thing, he told members of D23, Disney's official fan club Sunday, during a presentation about adventures. And that's done with details.

"When we got the opportunity to actually look at the digital designs that make up the film 'Avatar,' rapidly it became clear that there was not enough detail in those images for an actual place that you're really going to build," Rohde said. A film doesn't bother with details that a Disney park designer might want.

During films, "90 percent of the time you're watching a closeup shot of a character saying something," he said. "You're not watching the tree behind them."

Rohde's talk covered the design history of Animal Kingdom. He has been one of the masterminds of the park, which opened in 1998. A hallmark of his work has been extensive research, travel and the resulting authenticity.

"We want you to be able to seamlessly walk out of your world into these worlds, whether it's Africa, whether it's Asia, whether it's Pandora — with very little awareness of the boundaries between all of these things," Rohde said.

For Pandora, his team looked into bioluminescence, the way that creatures emit light in "Avatar."

"We have been in caves in Thailand, caves in Central America, to look at bioluminescence. How does it behave? What makes it work? What does it feel like?" he said.

He halted carvers that were creating roots because they were too fantastical, he said. ("It looks like 'Lord of the Rings.' It doesn't look real.") They flew to Hawaii's rain forest for an authenticity check.

"When you're making it up, you make it up to make sense," Rohde said.

Earlier during the D23 event, Rohde shared the stage with "Avatar" filmmaker James Cameron, where they explained additional facets of Pandora under the elaborate guise that the planet, indeed, exists. The overall conceit will have Animal Kingdom visitors traveling to Pandora via Alpha Centauri Expeditions.

Among the attraction's features will be an intense banshee ride called Flight of Passage and Na'Vi River Journey, a family-friendly boat experience. Also discussed was an animatronic, singing, blue-skinned shaman. They showed a brief film clip of her in action.

They also talked about what makes those floating mountains, visible from the Animal Kingdom parking lot, float. It's thanks to an element called unobtanium and "flux concentrations," said Cameron, deeply into story.

"It's not anti-gravity. It's not magic. It's physics. ... And it only occurs on Pandora, that we know of, so far. ... It's one of the great wonders of the universe," Cameron told the Disney fans. "And you'll get to experience it."

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