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Todd Heiden: Disney Parks’ Tilt Shift Videos Boost Customer Engagement

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By Chad Emerson

Disney World’s new tilt-shift video series has become very popular. Tilt shift photography techniques result in miniaturization of the subjects, making life-size things appear model-size, for humor and effect.  An example is the hit,   “A Model Day at the Magic Kingdom Park.” 

Blooloop’chad emerson theme park and disney interviewss Chad Emerson discussed the videos with Todd Heiden, International PR Director, Disney Destinations LLC.

Chad Emerson
: Which of Disney’s tilt shift videos has been the most popular so far?

Todd Heiden
: “A Model Day at Magic Kingdom” has by far been the most popular for many different reasons.  First, the park resonates very well with the target audience; when you think of Disney Parks, the first of our parks that springs to mind is the Magic Kingdom. Second, the video launched simultaneously with our Disney Parks Blog, which has turned out to be a huge success for us in terms of having an official Parks voice with which to engage our fans within the social media realm. Lastly, the video itself received key references and embeds from influential external sites that helped drive the views up significantly.

: Please explain how the idea of using the tilt-shift technique came to mind and why you thought it would fit well with Disney theme parks.

: I was first introduced to tilt-shift by my sister-in-law who is an avid photographer. She shared an example of a video by a gentleman in Australia and I was mesmerized by the effect. Tilt-shift is first and foremost a photographic technique, but when the individual images are stitched together the resulting video works particularly well with motion and people. I thought, since so many of our ideas start out as models, how fun would it be to revert to a model-like look and incorporate both motion (trains, monorails, busses, boats, etc.) and moving people?

: What about the technology creates that miniature effect?

: I’m sure I won’t do the technology any justice with this explanation but here’s a try. Tilt-shift lenses do exactly what they advertise: tilt and shift. Whereas a traditional lens is mounted on a camera body in a straightforward affixed position, a tilt-shift lens allows for the movement of the lens relative to the image plane – namely left-right (tilt) and up-down (shift). The ability to do this allows for selective focus and precise control of the perspective. When you take a camera with a traditional lens and point it down or up at a subject (e.g. a building), you either only capture the base of the building or affect the perspective in the resulting image (a building that slowly converges near the top). Shifting the lens upwards on the camera body allows you to capture the entire subject, which is important when trying to tell the whole story. Tilting the lens produces a narrow region of sharpness with a blurring effect top and bottom in the image. Combining these two effects – and punching the color saturation up a bit in post-edit – can give the impression of a miniature.
Results are best when photographed from above or at a distance with a wide angle of view. In certain instances we chose to go with a zoom lens as the resulting image helped move the somewhat loose narrative along.

: You’ve really focused on the theme parks to date. What are some other types of settings in which you could imagine this technique would also work well?

: We’re about to drop our next video, which will feature the Disney Cruise Lines and in particular their ship the Disney Wonder. Seeing a massive 90 million pound cruise line bobbing about on the water like a toy ship in a bathtub is a really cool effect. Beyond the cruise line we have our 24 resorts on property, our two water parks and our shopping district, as well as unique perspective shots that we can consider for smaller POV segments.

Emerson: What type of feedback have you received back from guests regarding the videos? What has been the most surprising response?

: The response has been overwhelmingly positive and “more” is what we’re being asked for. Everyone has their favorite park so obviously, if we haven’t featured their park yet, the expectation has now been set that it will be coming.

David Roark, our photographer who shoots all the images, has had guests approach him in the parks and comment on the videos. It really is a labor of love on his part given all the different locations he needs to lug his equipment around to so the recognition is a pleasant surprise for him. 

Probably the most amusing responses have been to the music selections. I wanted something that wasn’t standard Disney, something that would challenge people to “experience” Disney differently rather than hearing the music and automatically saying to themselves – “Disney.” The Magic Kingdom music is an overwhelming favorite, with Epcot’s music being a little more polarizing – they love it or hate it.  Either way, the videos generate a healthy trail of comments that are fun to follow.

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