The Pandora panel at D23's Destination D: Amazing Adventures opened with a previously-shown video of Alpha-Centauri Expeditions (ACE) founder Marshall Lamm explaining how guests will be transported to the planet of Pandora to experience the new land in Animal Kingdom to explore its mysteries.
Among those mysteries are "Why is Marshall orange?" and "did they really leave an electrical outlet in that shot?"
The presentation was done in a very awkward style of role-play where Joe Rhode and James Cameron were joined on stage by Marshall and the three of them had to pretend that Pandora was a real place and that Joe and James had just returned from there prior to the session. The willing suspension of disbelief of the audience was severely challenged and a number of folks either left or tuned out the presentation, which is a bit of a shame because some new details were shared. I'll do the best I can to pull together my recollection with sketches that I made today.
The Set Up
When we go to Pandora, the stories shown in Avatar and the forthcoming sequels are in the past. The conflict between the RDA and Na'vi are over and the RDA has abandoned the planet, leaving some of its degrading facilities and technologies behind. ACE has negotiated with the Na'vi to open up a small portion of the planet to human eco-tourists, so we visit Mo'ara Valley, which Rhode said contains a number of biomes. The Na'vi do not occupy in Mo'ara, with one exception, which I'll talk about later. Human ACE employees work the site.
Under the pretense that Joe filled up a memory card of images from the planet, a good number of high-quality photos of the construction that has been completed was shown. There were many images of the floating mountains (which Joe described at cathedral-like when you walk under them) and lots of close-up shots of trees and flowers. The level of detail in the builds are amazing. The plants have very fine details and it will be interesting to see how they'll stand up to the elements. The work here is at Tokyo Disney Sea-level of quality. The exterior of what appeared to be a food outlet was shown, which looked like typical high-end themed construction -- good, but not great.
Flight of Passage
Although there's been press about climbing on the back of a dragon to experience what we've been led to believe is a Soarin'-style show, it was revealed that in the story behind the attraction guests use leftover technology from the RDA's Avatar project to interface with an Avatar who in turn rides the banshee.
Images were briefly flashed of a seat with handlebars that guests will mount instead and a pair of beefy goggles that we'll wear on the attraction. It was unclear from the images whether the googles were typical 3D polarized lenses or 3D lcd shutters.
About 30 seconds of spherically mapped footage from the ride was shown and repeated, with the kind of distortion you'd expect to see from something that would be projected on a half-dome screen.
Na'vi River Journey
While discussing the planet's bio-luminescent plants, one of the speakers noted that there is a grotto in the valley which sustains a constant nighttime-like environment. This is the setting of the Na'vi River Journey, which was described multiple times as "family friendly," in contrast most likely to Flight of Passage. Stills from inside the attraction were shown of the plants and woodsprites, the floating jellyfish from the film. This is where The Shaman of Songs, the only Na'vi who has agreed to be in the company of humans and the attraction's standout Audioanimatronic figure, will be located.
Rhode described that as the Shaman plays musical instruments, the environment around her lights up in response to the tune. No technical details were given about the boats or length of the ride as the presentation was all done in character.
The valley's restaurant, Satu’li Canteen, is situated in the remains of a RDA Quonset hut, one of those corrugated steel buildings typically seen in WWII films. The buildings were abandoned and left to the elements -- plants have pushed their way into the interior so that vines grow through the rafters. There are also Na'vi artifacts inside to look at whilst you eat.
It was mentioned that they would be serving Na'vi food to guests and an image was briefly shown of what looked like Tapioca Pearls in a leaf or leaf-shaped bowl.
A few moments were devoted to Pongu Pongu (which means "Party Party" in Na'vi), which appears to be an outdoor walk-up kiosk dispensing what I can only assume to be alcoholic beverages. A notable feature is an AMP suit stationed in the front of the establishment, wearing a grass skirt.
The function of Na'vi clans were described in some detail, and in particular a group humans call The Windtraders, who are, you guessed it, traders. The area's store takes their name and it also located in an abandoned RDA facility. Images of ACE-branded travel accessories (tumblers, flasks, and shoe-lights) were shown, along with a My Little Pony-style Hexapod, which the Pandoran equivalent of a horse. My apologies for the terrible sketch -- the rendering shown was much cuter.
Pandora: The World of Avatar, is scheduled to open in Summer of 2017.
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