Disney Interactive at the D23 Expo

by Stephanie Wien, staff writer

Disney Interactive, The Walt Disney Company's division responsible for interactive and gaming across various platforms, made its debut at the D23 Expo this year, highlighting some of its exciting current and upcoming products.

Disney Interactive Co-Presidents John Pleasants and Jimmy Pitaro kicked off the presentation by highlighting how the new products extend Disney's history of creativity and storytelling across new devices and platforms, "bringing the best Disney to bear in new ways."

These new offerings continue Walt Disney's history of cutting edge technologies like Technicolor, high fidelity soundtracks and multi-plane cameras. The presentation showcased four new products spanning from gaming console offerings to web videos.

Fantasia: Music Evolved

Fantasia: Music Evolved provides an evolutionary spin into the motion play genre. Disney hired development house Harmonix to create a game where the player is the conductor. Harmonix is a pioneer in the music and dance-game genre, having assisted Red Octane on Guitar Hero, then working with Electronic Arts on RockBand. Later, Harmonix reformulated the genre with Dance Central for Microsoft Kinect.

In Fantasia: Music Evolved, the player assumes a Sorceror Mickey role, guiding the music and its style through various conductor-style gestures that expands the arsenal of available genre gameplay actions. While motion matching is an integral part of the player's success, there are play segments that provide an ability to creatively change the mix or modify the music. In many ways, this is a fusion of music and dance, and the ability to direct and modify the music while performing dance-like moves is a very compelling evolution.

The initial offering includes 30 songs, ranging from classical music to today's top hits. With the music style variations, it is clear that an enormous recording effort went in to the game's development. A clip shown during the presentation provided making-of footage inside the famous Abbey Road Studios. These are no longer just games, but are full original music productions.

Chris Nichols, Executive Producer, Disney Interactive and John Drake, Director of Communication and Brand Management, Harmonix, took the stage to showcase the game, including a segment featuring Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," as seen in this video:

"Fantasia Jazz Clams" – Annette Gonzales from Harmonix demonstrate the game while Chris Nichols (Executive Producer, Disney Interactive) provides commentary. MousePlanet video. Running time 1 minute 38 seconds.

Players may assume the role of conductor, dancer, or sorcerer; remixes of the music are available along the way, and players may create their own custom drum beats for later play. Sharing with friends is another feature sure to be popular with the social networking crowd.

"Night on Bald Mountain" is another dramatic sequence included in the game. MousePlanet video. Running time 2 minutes 30 seconds.

Fantasia: Music Evolved embodies the artistic expansions of game play, but like its namesake, it may take time for this product to be truly understood. "Fantasia is so closely tied to the legacy of innovation and storytelling of this company that it provides a perfect origin and inspiration to build from.” The game will be released for XBox Kinect in 2014.

Animated Series

Disney Interactive is also introducing two new online video series, Blank: a Vinylmation Love Story and "it's a small world." Blank is stop-motion animation using Vinylmation figures, and tells the tale of a blank Vinylmation who goes on a search for his lost love and ends up on an epic adventure. Disney Interactive has released a teaser trailer for this upcoming 12-part.

"it's a small world" tells the tale of a hot air balloon that follows a group of culturally diverse children on adventures around the globe. Richard Sherman, composer of the original "it's a small world" theme song as part of the Sherman Brothers team, has composed a new musical piece for the series. Disney Interactive shared the news and first look at a live performance, along with concept art for the series:

"it's a small world: the animated series" features a new original song composed by Richard Sherman. MousePlanet video. Running time 1 minute 54 seconds.

Disney Animated

The Disney Animated iOS app is sure to be a favorite among Disney animation fans as well as aspiring animators. It functions as an interactive reference book, containing information on how animated features are made. The app was developed by TouchPress, and contains an astonishing amount of information, available with the touch of a finger. Every animated feature made to date is included as reference material via thumbnails and character references. Production maquettes used for animation reference were even scanned in 360 degrees so that they could be rotated within the app like an animator would when drawing scenes for films.

Whether you are a fan of the classics or more recent animated films, there is plenty of material for everyone. A timeline view allows for exploration in chronological order along with significant historical events at the time. Another feature allows a user to switch from artist concept sketches to finished product. In addition, the app lets the user create her own animations with a select number of characters, including Vanellope von Schweetz from Wreck It Ralph. Theo Grey, founder of TouchPress, demonstrated the app for the gathered crowd.

From the D23 Expo Arena Event, "To Infinity and Beyond: Disney Interactive Takes the Stage" presents the Disney Animated iPad App. MousePlanet video. Running time 7 minutes 27 seconds.

Overall the application is quite a reference presentation of Disney animated films and teaches the process through a sequence of elaborately illustrated chapters. The production values are high with a highly responsive interface. One thing to be mindful of is the significant level of content compression used; compressed playback of one of the included trailers was viewable but hard to watch over an extended time. High compression is understandable given the sheer amount of content available. For any Disney animated film fan with an iPad, this appears to be a must have application and is available in the app store for $13.99.

Disney Infinity

Three years in the making, Disney Infinity brings the worlds of Disney animated films and television, live action, and Disney-Pixar together in one game. Designed to appeal to Disney fans of all ages, the game empowers users to take control and expand existing worlds, bringing characters from disparate films into one world where they can play together. According to John Lasseter, the aim was to capture the experience of joy and freedom that children playing with their toys on the bedroom floor feel, "bounded only by their creativity and storytelling, just like Andy from Toy Story."

The first starter pack was released on August 18 across multiple platforms: Wii, XBox 360, PS 3, WiiU, and Nintendo DS. Each pack includes figurines that allow the user to add that character to their in-game adventures. The starter set includes Sully, Mr. Incredible, and Captain Jack Sparrow, and will bring together the worlds of Pirates of the Caribbean, Monsters University, and The Incredibles. Additional playsets include The Lone Ranger with the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and Cars. The sixth set, just announced at the Expo, will bring the Toy Story characters to space, where Buzz, Woody, and Jesse will help aliens fix their planet. Other new characters will include Rapunzel (the first Disney princess available), Wreck-it-Ralph, Vanellope Von Schweetz, Agent P, Phineas Flynn, and Anna and Elsa from the upcoming feature, Frozen. Jack Skellington will be released for the upcoming holidays.

The game also features a "Toy Box" mode, where users can create their own Disney stories and worlds through mixing and matching design elements, and will have multi-player games for up to four players. Users can even create their own version of Disneyland, but the one developed by the game's creators will be available for download at the Disney Infinity site. In addition, an iPad app allows users to edit their Toy Box creations at any time, and a free iOS application, Disney Infinity: Action!, allows users to include characters and props in mobile photos and videos.

John Blackburn, Vice President of Avalanche and John Vignocchi, Executive Producer of Disney Infinity, highlight the features of the game, including "Toy Box," which allows users to create their own worlds. MousePlanet video. Running time 11 minutes.

Many will draw a direct descendant connection between Disney Infinity and Activision's Skylanders series. Skylanders, developed by legendary developer Toys For Bob, debuted in 2011 and introduced the concept of physical avatars to game play. In Skylanders, the avatar is a hero figurine that communicates with the game through a physical base called the Portal of Power. Users place their hero on the portal and become that character in the world. The worlds are traditional action-based playfields that together form a story. The collectible feature has driven players to buy characters well beyond their needs to finish the game.

Disney Infinity uses the same avatar concept, but can draw from a vast collection of beloved movie and television characters for its collectible pieces. Players will anticipate each character that comes out, and then enjoy another level of interaction when these characters can then play in each of the hero's worlds. The Toy Box concept allows players to mix and match across all their collections and invent their own adventures, giving freedom to play without constraint. Disney's rich archive of loved characters and worlds gives it a significant opportunity to capitalize on this concept, and expand the game for a long time to come.

John Blackburn, Vice President of Avalanche and John Vignocchi, Executive Producer of Disney Infinity, announce that the Sorcerer Mickey figure will be available in January 2014. MousePlanet video. Running time 3 minutes 8 seconds.