By Beth Deitchman
We’re bringing you details about this amazing new land opening at Disney’s Animal Kingdom all week on D23.com. Click here to read part 1 about this spectacular world and the people you’ll encounter there, and hear more from the creative team bringing Pandora to life in the summer issue of Disney twenty three.
Soon after arriving in Pandora – The World of Avatar, guests encounter a welcome sign like one you’d see in any national park here in the U.S.—it warns about feeding the animals and cautions guests to stay on the trails. But written on the sign, just below the name of our location on this beautiful planet—the Valley of Mo’ara—are words we’ve seen before, in James Cameron’s Avatar: “Oel Ngati Kameie,” or “I see you.” Pandora, we are told, is “a world similar to Earth but unique in so many ways.”
It’s the flora and the fauna of Pandora that first captivates visitors, and starts you on your journey of discovery. There are large “Puffball” plants, blue and round, like their name; and the spiny, arcing Flaska Reclinata, which reacts to guests’ touch; there are flowers that seem to be Pandora’s answer to the tulip; and there are flowers that resemble nothing you’ve ever seen on earth. Zsolt Hormay, the Imagineer tasked with “placemaking,” revealed that there are living, “real” earthbound plants alongside manmade Pandoran foliage, including handmade vines that it took a team of 60 artisans to complete. Stefan Hellwig, executive creative director, Walt Disney Imagineering, also pointed out that there are trees and plants that have been “damaged” by large animals like Thanators and apex predators, just one example of the amazing detail that’s on display in Pandora.
Small details, like direhorse and Na’vi footprints that guests will notice beneath their feet here and there, are intriguing and, in some cases, even entertaining. A tree and rock formation with several flat surfaces that almost cry out for you to drum upon is intended for you to do just that! Guests are encouraged to bang on these drums, and at night, cause them to illuminate. Imagineer Steven Fortunato, who talked to us about the audio elements of Pandora, details, “When you engage with one of these drums or instruments, you not only hear the sound that you make here, but also the responses and sounds of other Na’vi celebrations that have gone before you, to greater enhance your sense of connection to this place.” At times, live performers will also engage with guests to create a musical spectacle that further immerses them into the rich local environment.
As you follow the river further into Pandora, you turn a corner and get your first full view of the Floating Mountains, and your breath is truly taken away. Photos simply can’t do justice to the scale and size of the mountains—you need to see them in person to appreciate what a wonder of design and Imagineering they truly are. Like all things in Pandora, the vista seems to change as the day goes on. Hellwig notes, “[The sun] goes around the mountains and at night there’s this beautiful silhouette of the Floating Mountains against the sky. It’s really quite gorgeous.”
As you take in the abundance of beautiful things found in Pandora, you might notice something that’s absent: marquees and signs. In a nod to Na’vi culture, attractions are marked with hand-woven totems. A totem that represents the Shaman of Songs has been placed outside Na’vi River Journey, while a hand-woven representation of a flying banshee welcomes guests to Flight of Passage. Hellwig says, “It’s important that [Pandora] feel like a natural place and not have these big printed marquees everywhere that would take [guests] out of that world.”
It’s safe to say that you will never have the same experience twice at Pandora. The land feels alive, and changes constantly over the course of the day. But there is no change as dramatic as the one you see when you return to Pandora at night, when the bioluminescent forest comes to life. To give us an impression of what the land will be like when it opens, Walt Disney Imagineering Portfolio Creative Executive Joe Rohde and Avatar Producer Jon Landau previewed the bioluminescence for us, and it’s like nothing you’ve experienced before. “Every exotic plant is hooked up to the bioluminescent system,” Landau informs us, and that extends to the Floating Mountains, the river, and even the ground beneath your feet, which positively glows after dark. Guests will be able to influence the bioluminescence at the drum area, and they’ll marvel as they notice how the light is affected by animals—unseen, but their presence quite palpable nonetheless—as they travel through the forest.
Rohde noted also, “If you’re really, really paying attention, you’ll notice that the whole sound environment has altered. You’re hearing different kinds of animal sounds… And the experience of the entire land will be quite different [at night].” The sounds change over the course of the evening, and guests will be able to hear the animals—and the plant life—reacting to each other. Landau states, “It’s the evolution of a night on Pandora. The sounds will complement the complete evolution.”
Rohde stresses that the entire land will appear to be alive and moving after the sun goes down, but he adds, “We want to also have quiet places where you can just tuck away and enjoy it for what it is, as well.”
Guests will almost certainly feel an overwhelming sense of awe as they cross the bridge into Pandora for the first time by day, and at night, Rohde suspects that will evolve into a sense of wonder. Landau reminds us that the Avatar film began and ended with the character Jake Sulley opening his eyes. “I’m hoping that when people come here and come to Pandora, their eyes will be opened and they will look at our world a little bit differently when they go back across the bridge.”