Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Visual Clutter

The once sleek, wide-open spaces of Epcot have given way to such visual clutter that it's almost hard to make out the park's design.

Look above at Innoventions Plaza (top image). The park's original design instilled a sense of serenity and beauty in Future World. Although the buildings of Innoventions (formerly Communicore) are overwhelmingly large, they are almost Zen in their spartan design. The simple sleekness conveyed a sense of "future" that has aged very well. The carnival-like additions to the plaza, however, already seem retro and silly.

On the other side of Spaceship Earth, as you enter Epcot, is one of the most crass pieces of visual clutter imaginable. Enter the park, and the first thing you get is a blatant sales plug for "Leave a Legacy." Directly at the base of Spaceship Earth, even before you get to the attraction entrance itself, Disney's already trying to get you to shell out hard cash. It's ugly, its crass, it's distracting and it really ought to be moved to a different location.

Mission: Space (you can read my review of that below) is a brilliant design addition to Epcot, its exterior design so sleek and simple. It fits in perfectly with the original conception of Epcot pavilions. Next door, however, is another matter. Test Track (image above) is such a visual clutter that you can't even make out the design of the building behind it. There was something wonderfully basic and elementary about the World of Motion building: a round silver structure that supposedly was modeled after a wheel. Even if the "wheel" message wasn't visually conveyed, it was a lovely structure. Now it's covered up by scaffolding and pylons and signs and other visual pollution. It's exhausting just to look at it.

Over on the west side of Future World, the glass pyramids of Journey Into Imagination are still there, and the water elements (the jumping fountain and backwards waterfall) still entertain. But when Imagineers shortened the name to "Imagination!" they must have thought, "Gee, nobody will understand," so they overwhelmed the building with signs and visual clutter. The "Imagination Institute" logo is everywhere, there's a garish neon-laced sign for "Honey I Shrunk the Audience," and even a hanging vinyl sign that looks like it was made at Kinko's. In a park dedicated to man's opportunities and achievements, the best they could do was a cheap sign that looks like it was designed by high-schoolers?!

Throughout Epcot, it's as if attractions are shouting out, competing for your attention. "Look here!" "Ride me!" "Come inside!" "This is fun!" Walking through the park puts a guest on sensory overload.

It would be great to see Imagineers take a long look at what has become of Epcot visually. The park has a beautiful design and sensibility somewhere underneath all of those garish new decorations. A few years ago, Disneyland in California became overwhelmed with outdoor vending carts (a problem that plagues Epcot, as well!) and too much visual distraction. Wisely, Imagineers and park management scaled it all back, making a much better guest experience.

If any Imagineer remembers the words "bad show," please raise your hand and proceed directly to Epcot!


Anonymous said...

So true. Thanks for bringing this up.

Scott said...

I don't completely agree with your assessment of the Innoventions Plaza. On my last trip to EPCOT I took a picture of Spaceship Earth a good distance away from the Fountain of Nations. In this picture, I find the canopies compliment the geosphere that rises above it. From the angle of your picture, the canopies clearly clutter the view. But, from the picture I have (which I may post to my blog), I think it's visually attractive.

Scott said...

Here's the picture.

Epcot82 said...

You've got a valid point, SilentSpectre, but ... are the canopies even necessary? They don't really provide shade, they look like a confusing jumble when you're near them, and ... well, did the Spaceship Earth geosphere really need complementing in the first place? (Apparently someone thought so, hence the lovely hand and wand combo.)

Scott said...

I don't know if the canopies are necessary or not; I just wanted to show them from a different perspective.

The biggest problem I have with the Leave a Legacy monoliths is that they took down the three prism structure with the EPCOT logo on each piece. There was just something about that sculpture and the enormity of Spaceship Earth behind it that really spoke volumes. Unfortunately, I witnessed the three prism pieces being sold (as a set) on eBay about a year ago.

Anonymous said...

That continues Disney's truly sad legacy of selling its history to the highest bidder. Short-sighted, to say the least.


There's so much about Epcot that's just sad, isn't there?

Matt Arnold said...

Beauty often depends the meaning a scene has in an emotional context.

My grandfather is with me. I step out of the darkness of a virtual reality lab-- back when nobody even knew what VR stood for-- having just experienced one of the first consumer playtests. At that moment I realize this medium will fuse all of my most passionate childhood interests (animation, theme park rides, puppetry, games, computers) into a single art form. My imagination is primed.

The entire wall opens up, and we emerge, squinting, into the bright sunshine of the most beautiful place in the world: the central plaza of Epcot Center between Communicore East and West. The architecture evokes being a gnome in the toy chest of a colossal demigod of dreams. Geospheres and languid curls have been painted and lit in brave but carefully-measured color combinations. We shade our eyes under fronds of plants imported from all over the planet. A gigantic concentric-staged fountain dances its 10,000 spouts in computer synchronization to the theme from The Rocketeer. Colorful metal banners spin their screw-driven spiral shape in the wind, as if they were submarine propellers somehow made of ice cream. Flocks of light whirl and bank on the tips of fiber optics in the pastel concrete, bursting their emergent complexity and dying in fractal singularities. A group of dancers dressed like a red version of Blue Man Group form some kind of contortionist version of a cheerleading pyramid. The Monorail approaches and is reflected in the lagoon. It glides silently overhead.

It was, at that time, the most beautiful day of my life.

Epcot82 said...

Well, you are absolutely right, Matt. Thank you for a lovely, evocative message. Makes me want to go to Epcot!

Anonymous said...

why do you talk so much about a place you hate more everyday? im sure you would argue that you love it deep down, but good god please quit complaining about it. maybe if you worked this hard on your imagineering application you could actually do something about all this "visual clutter." and do you honestly want to stand by these photographs as evidence? seriously? come on man. i challenge you to either find something you love about the place (that it is now, not that it was in 1984), or get a new hobby. things change

Epcot82 said...

Thanks, bud!

Feel free to scroll down and read my post on what I think is good about Epcot.

I love the place, it has inspired me, it has entertained me -- and just as I push for people to be the best, I would like to see Epcot achieve the potential it once had.

You don't have to read the blog, you know.

Oh, and I have no aspirations to be an Imagineer, by the way. Never have, actually.

Anonymous said...

you're welcome, bud.

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to comment that I HATE the whole idea of "Leave a Legacy"...for a good amount of money you too can get your own thumbnail size black and white picture/etching thing on a wall with thousands of other people you can't recognize because the "pictures" look so cheap!


Epcot82 said...

Not to mention that the entry to Epcot now looks like a military graveyard!