Disney wants to bring to life its galaxy of characters using AI and robotics

Pascal from Tangled is the first character being tested

Disney is working on how it can use robotics and artificial intelligence to help its storytellers to bring to life its many much-loved characters within its theme parks to engage with visitors and heighten their experience.

Speaking at SXSW, a panel of Disney technologists, including Jon Snoddy Disney's senior vice-president for research and development, revealed that it had begun using AI to develop the characteristics of characters from its catalogue, and presented a video of Paccal, a chameleon who featured in Tangled, as the first that it was testing.

“This is a pretty extraordinary time for innovation right now. So many things that were impossible just a few years ago now seem possible. It's already fun when the technology works and you start building on top of that,” said Snoddy.

Mike White, chief technology officer and senior vice-president for Disney Interactive and Disney Consumer Products at The Walt Disney Company was also on the panel and said that the use of AI would allow Disney to bring the guests of the parks “closer” to the stories that it aimed to tell.

“We are really excited in the potential in this space just now and the opportunity to have a technology strategy across our group's and how we use some of these tools to enable our creatives and bring our characters to life in new and exciting ways,” added vice-president for engineering at The Walt Disney Company, Kathy De Paolo.

While there was not a great amount of depth into how or when it was likely that the robots would be introduced into the parks given by the panel, there was a clear shared vision that the potential of such technology suited Disney’s ambitions and that it was already testing other characters along the same lines as Pascal.

They discussed the need for more collaboration between the technical and storytelling teams within the company in order to make such a vision possible, and while they also covered the research into the skin being used for the robots, the continued message what that this was all about furthering the storytelling within the parks.

“Every technical decision is made towards this idea of telling the story. Things that the engineering team might have thought were very important becomes less important,” stated Snoddy.

Other technological advancements within the park that were shared by the panel included the use of apps to entertain and engage younger audiences, such as a kids chat app and a Star Wars-themed quiz.

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Stephen Lepitak

Stephen Lepitak is editor of The Drum, with responsibility for overseeing the day-to-day running of the content produced for the various platforms run by the publication. Over the years he has interviewed agency network bosses such as Sir Martin Sorrell, Maurice Lévy and Arthur Sadoun, as well as Cindy Gallop, Kim Kardashian, film directors James Cameron, Spike Jonze, Richard Curtis and Lord David Puttnam. With a keen interest in media and breaking news, Lepitak has been with The Drum since 2005 and is based across its UK, US and Asia operations.

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