The Art of the Disney Dream

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

While I have taken cruises on the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, in January I got the opportunity to take a cruise on the Disney Dream as part of a series of classes I was doing on Disney three-dimensional storytelling for students from a university in Iowa.

I’ve written about the history of the Disney Cruise Line.

The Disney Dream features an artistic style that captures Art Deco, while its sister ship, The Disney Fantasy, is done in an Art Nouveau style. I am reminded how Imagineer Tony Baxter referred to Disneyland as an “intimate experience” while the Magic Kingdom was a “spectacular experience.”

For me, that description captures my feelings about the comparison between the Disney Magic and the Disney Dream. I am not convinced that bigger is necessarily better. The Disney Dream is 40 percent larger than the Disney Magic and you don’t fully realize how significant that difference is until you actually experience it. I had more difficulty navigating the Dream and its offerings than I have had in the past on the Magic.

All of the Disney cruise ships capture the elegance and majesty of the Golden Age of cruise ships from the 1930s, but incorporate Disney whimsy as well in the various details.

The Disney Dream captures Art Deco style, with some very Disney touches thrown in, as well.

I am a huge fan of the nautically themed Disney artwork on both the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, but they pale in comparison to the Disney Dream as a floating art gallery.

The five-foot tall bronze Admiral Duck statue on a marble pedestal in the atrium lobby was inspired by the animated short Sea Scouts (1939), where Donald Duck is similarly attired. The crew will tell you that it had to be “Admiral” Donald Duck, because he insisted on a higher ranking than “Captain” Mickey Mouse.

Speaking of the atrium, I wonder how many guests realize that the Disney characters in the images surrounding the space in the decorative bronze friezes on the balconies are different. On the Disney Magic the Disney characters are attired in costuming that the ship’s crew would wear or jobs they would do. On the Disney Dream, they are attired in costuming and activities that guests would do.

The massive chandelier, according to the instructor of the Art of the Theme Show tour given on the ship, is actually 23 feet in diameter and almost 14 feet long. It is decorated with Swarovski crystals. There is a rigging system so it can be lowered for cleaning rather than negotiating ladders or cranes.

The Sorcerer Mickey Mouse on the Disney Dream’s stern is about 14-feet long. It was constructed out of stainless steel and fiberglass and weighs approximately 2,500 pounds.

I was very impressed with the two huge seascape mosaic murals featuring characters from the Pixar animated feature “Finding Nemo” that was in the Cabanas buffet on Deck 11 Aft. They were beautifully done and so subtle that many guests didn’t even notice.

These gems were especially created for the Disney Dream by a team of nine Italian artists working by hand in the time honored tradition. Each mural is more than 25 feet wide and more than 8 feet high and contain approximately 194,500 tiles in 200 colors of hand-crafted Venetian enamel. Pixar was intimately involved in the designs and the depiction of the individual characters like Nemo, Squirt, Bruce, and more.

I was also pleased to discover that two panels of the famous Dorothea Redmond designed mosaic mural in the breezeway of Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World has been recreated in part on Deck 3 Midship near Guest Services.

As many fans know the two ugly stepsisters have red and green faces to symbolize anger and envy while the two courtiers are caricatures of Disney Imagineers Herb Ryman (putting on Cinderella’s slipper) and John Hench (with the beard). There is even an elegant throne chair in front of the mural for a photo opportunity.

However, I was especially pleased by the pieces of “Enchanted Art” around the ship primarily near elevators and staircases that seem to resemble artwork for cels, theatrical cartoon posters or vintage photos.

"Enchanted Art" springs to life with some "Disney magic," but othertimes they are just great pieces of art to admire. While there are still others that are used for the Midship Detective Agency games.

If you ask the crew on the Disney Dream how these enchanted pieces of art spring magically to life, they will usually respond “Disney magic.”

You may occasionally find someone who will tell you in a hushed tone that these pieces of art are equipped with facial recognition sensors. One way of finding some of these experiences is to look for a bronze like circle with an icon of a magnifying glass on the floor in front of the picture.

In addition to the 22 animated pictures of “Enchanted Art,” the Disney Dream features roughly 200 pieces of artwork that does not animate. These pieces often include rarely seen model sheets and concept art.

I did indeed see guests standing in front of pictures trying to ascertain if they would suddenly move. In fact, some of the Enchanted Art is placed next to a nearby “regular” print to try to fool guests trying to figure out a pattern. The enchanted artwork doesn’t glow like a regular computer screen or television, with covering coated in an anti-glare finish to enable it to blend in with other artwork.

“This type of storytelling helps make time on the ship unique and different from the Parks,” said Greg Butkus, concept designer principal for Walt Disney Imagineering. “Ultimately, we want to create a one-of-a-kind Disney experience.”

No one, including the Disney Company, has posted a list of all the Enchanted Art on board or its location. So, while part of the fun is discovering some of these pieces on your own, I am sharing about a half dozen that I especially liked to get you started:

  • On Deck 2 midship, to the right of the entrance of the hallway to the Enchanted Garden restaurant, is what looks like a cel of young Bambi, Thumper and Flower playing with a butterfly.
  • On Deck 3, near Guest Services, are two posters for the Silly Symphonies Flowers and Trees (1932) and Birds in the Spring (1933). With a little patience, you can see a flock of black birds fly from one poster to another and then back again.
  • Two of my favorite framed photos are outside the balcony entrances to the Walt Disney Theater on Deck 4 Forward.
    • One photo shows Walt sketching on a large piece of paper on a drawing easel and then the sketches come to life with brief animation from the first three Mickey Mouse cartoons: Plane Crazy, Gallopin’ Gaucho, and Steamboat Willie.
    • Just a few feet away is another photo of Walt standing by a camera and the screen springs to life with short clips from three of his earliest black and white silent cartoons: Alice in the Jungle (1925), Alice’s Mysterious Mystery (1926 and featuring a bit of animation of Julius the cat that mimics the distinctive walk of another silent cartoon star, Felix the Cat) and Alice Gets in Dutch (1924). Even the reel on the camera near Walt twirls as the clips are shown.
  • On Deck 5 aft by the elevators and stairs are two adjacent pictures of a pirate ship and an old fort. The two interact with the ship firing at the fort just like in the famous Disneyland theme park attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean. In fact, the sounds that are heard are taken directly from the soundtrack for that attraction.
  • On Deck 7 aft by the elevators and stairs is what looks like a cel from the Mickey Mouse cartoon Hawaiian Holiday (1937) that was made roughly 22 years before Hawaii became an official state. It was inspired by Walt’s Hawaiian vacation trip to Oahu in 1934 where he tried to learn how to surf with not much success that is parodied by Goofy’s attempts in the cartoon.
  • In the Vista Gallery on Deck 4 selling artwork (including some nice pieces done by my friends Alex Maher and Don “Ducky” Williams), there is one painting that is not for sale. It is the "Minnie Lisa" (a parody of the famous Mona Lisa painting featuring Minnie Mouse). Minnie blinks and birds start chirping in the sky and Tinker Bell whizzes across the painting if you are patient.
  • In the upper atrium area of the Dream sits a classic ship wheel. Guests can turn the wheel and animation in the picture shows them maneuvering Captain Hook's ship around Never Land Cove. There's even a clutch you can use to control speed. Be careful not to get distracted by Tinker Bell.

The Enchanted Art will only come to life if it senses that someone is not just casually glancing but pausing to look. A small camera hidden in the top of the frame detects that look and launches into a five-to-30-second piece of animation. Touching the artwork will not activate it.

In general, there are three different animated sequence variations if you stand there long enough.

Amazingly, Disney is currently working on updating the technology so the facial recognition will enable the artwork to know you have already seen it and what animation you have and have not seen.

The WDI spokesperson for the Enchanted Art is Estefania "Stef" Pickens, associate interactive show producer for Disney Imagineering

"They look just like just another painting on the wall but they [the paintings] can recognize that you are there and trigger something special for you," Pickens says. "It's definitely unique."

The idea started with the Magic Mirrors in place at Disney stores. But Imagineers took that basic concept a big step first with interactive adventures at Walt Disney World like the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.

“A large team, which includes animators, directors, producers and technicians, is behind the creation of the Dream's interactive art. Themes had to be chosen, animation sequences developed — even the frames were a problem to be solved, as they needed to be attractive, while at the same time hide the technical components,” Pickens said.

While all of this is very impressive, 13 pieces of Enchanted Art around the Disney Dream serves an additional function. They are used for two family oriented adventure games: “The Case of the Plundered Paintings" and "The Case of the Missing Puppies."

The Midship Detective Agency (located in kiosks on Deck 5) enables guests to grab a “detective badge” and a casebook (that includes a map for the specific Enchanted Art you need to use).

The badge is actually a card that looks like an ordinary playing card but is printed with a unique 2-D barcode icon on one side. When you hold the "detective badge" up to the Enchanted Art you discover it functions like a wireless game controller.

Holding the card up to a specified piece of artwork triggers an animated activity (like moving the card to unscrew bolts from a wall) that needs to be done in order to discover the lost painting or rescue one of the dalmatian puppies from the animated feature 101 Dalmatians. I observed that it took a little practice to properly manipulate the card in connection with the artwork.

The Imagineers designed the game so it can be played at an individual’s own pace including the ability to start and stop at any time. On average, it has been determined that the game takes 25 to 45 minutes to complete.

The Imagineers even included an added level that will bring a smile to the face of adults including that the missing paintings game having paintings where Goofy is inserted into the classic "Washington Crossing the Delaware" and Minnie Mouse poses as Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus."

Even better, with several potential villains like Cruella De Vil, Jafar, Malificent, the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Captain Hook, guests can play several times without repeating a case because it rotates so that a different villain is the culprit needing to be caught.

Another great piece of animation exists in the inside staterooms that are equipped with “magic virtual portholes.”

Outside staterooms have been prized because they have real windows and verandas to view the sea and moments like sunrises, sunsets and islands or other ships coming into view.

The “magic virtual portholes” are round 42 inch monitors showing the real sea in real time in the inside staterooms.

Bob Zalk, senior producer/director for WDI, explained to a correspondent from AOL Travel that the live feed is accomplished with four HD cameras mounted around the ship: port, starboard, forward and aft. So wherever the inside stateroom is located—and there are about 150 on the ship—the virtual view will correspond.

To heighten that experience, there are approximately three-dozen different animation snippets that overlay the actual sea. So, while watching the ocean, a guest might see the house with balloons from the Pixar animated feature Up floating by, or Mr. Potato Head slyly peeking into the cabin and waving, or Rapunzel swinging by on her hair, or Aladdin and Jasmine zooming along on their magic carpet.

These animated segments are randomly timed so you might stare for quite some time before you see any activity and have to accept that you will never see all of the options no matter how long you look. For instance, I missed seeing Jiminy Cricket floating by on his open umbrella and Goofy surfing by even though they were seen by my traveling companions in their rooms.

"With the Disney animated library being what it is, there is no shortage of Disney characters and scenes and vignettes we can choose from," Zalk says. "The challenge sometimes for us is not what will we pick, but how do we whittle those picks down to the best."

Something that I only discovered on the second day and my traveling companions did not is that there is a switch in the room by the light near the bed where you can turn the screen off so it is not going on all night or distracting you during the day.

I have much more to write about the “secrets” on the Disney Dream. I took extensive notes, asked questions and attended the Art of the Theme Show walking tour, the Making of the Dream seminar and the brief behind-the scenes-tour of the Royal Palace kitchen.

Hopefully, sharing that information as I have done about the artwork will enhance the experience for future travelers.