How Disney’s Magic Mirror Works
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How Disney’s Magic Mirror Works


Disney theme parks are well known for their
immersive attractions that incorporate a wide range of practical and digital effects, from
the classic stretching room of the haunted mansion to state-of-the-art animatronics and
projection mapping. The topic of today’s video is not one of
the major E-ticket rides, but it is a popular attraction that combines many of these effects
together to pull off a cool one-of-a-kind illusion. Enchanted Tales with Belle is an interactive
walk-through experience in the Magic Kingdom where guests have the opportunity to meet
princess Belle and other characters from Beauty and the Beast. The story begins inside a small workshop which
belongs to the character Maurice, and guests are told that they will travel to Beast’s
castle by passing through an enchanted mirror hanging on the wall. Upon saying the magic words, the lights in
the workshop go out, and the mirror comes to life showing images of a forest and beast’s
castle as the frame is illuminated with shimmering lights. The frame then expands both horizontally and
vertically as the mirror transforms into a wooden door, and it opens to reveal a passageway
leading into the next part of the attraction. This is a really effective illusion that might
appear relatively simple at first, but there’s actually quite a bit going on to make it all
work seamlessly. To start, it helps to identify the parts of
the system that are stationary and the parts that move. The upper portion of the wall forms an upside-down
U-shape around the top of the mirror, and this is fixed within the dark wooden beams
that enclose the show area. The top middle part of the frame is secured
to the wall, and pretty much everything else can move in some way. The bottom section of the wall, the frame,
the glass, and even the wooden trim pieces all need to be moved out of the way to create
a portal when the mirror is in the open state. These components are arranged in several layers,
effectively hiding what is actually going on underneath. The frame is the first layer, which is positioned
on top of the fixed part of the wall, while the bottom part of the wall and the glass
are both positioned behind. The 4 sides of the frame are made up of telescoping
segments that slide into one another, allowing it to expand in 2 directions simultaneously. When the mirror is in the closed state, there
is a gap between the inside of the frame and the edge of the wall, but the gap remains
hidden because it is thinner than the width of the frame. As the top and bottom extend horizontally,
the sides of the frame are pushed over the wall to close the gap, giving the illusion
that the opening is becoming wider. The exact width that was chosen for the frame
is quite important here, as it determines how far the mirror is able to expand. The motion itself is achieved with a rack
and pinion system that is hidden underneath the frame, and the telescoping segments are
guided with linear bearings. The pinions are circular gears that engage
with toothed rails referred to as racks, and they drive the racks forwards or backwards
as they spin. There are racks and pinions hidden behind
the wall trim on either side of the mirror as well, and the trim pieces are made up of
telescoping segments just like the frame so that they can contract as the frame expands. To help disguise all the moving components,
the effect takes place in a darkened room and projection mapping is used to create shimmering
lights that hide the expanding joints of the frame. The audio track that accompanies the show
also plays an important role here because it covers up any mechanic noises made by the
system. [Music] Now, in order for the mirror to fully transform
into a functional doorway, the bottom of the frame and the lower part of the wall both
have to completely disappear beneath the floor. The lower wall section is a rigid U-shaped
panel, and when the mirror is in the closed state, the vertical sides of the U are hidden
behind the fixed wall above. As the frame expands, the wall panel moves
downwards to reveal the two side pieces, which become the new bottom part of the wall when
the mirror is in the open state. The panel is lowered into a maintenance pit
underneath the room by a linear actuator, and this is where mechanics are able to access
most the electrical and mechanical components when performing maintenance or troubleshooting
the attraction. The opening in the floor is the reason why
there are two strategically placed props on either side of the mirror, as these help to
hide the gap from view when the wall is lowered. Once the frame is fully open, it is revealed
that the glass part of the mirror actually extends all the way down to the floor behind
the wall. There are two glass panels installed side-by-side,
and they slide horizontally along a track so that they can function like a set of pocket
doors. The seam where they meet is initially hidden
out of view behind the frame, but the panels are moved just before the portal opens so
that they spread apart from the center. The glass itself is half-silvered to create
a one-way mirror, and the animation is projected onto the back from the opposite side of the
wall. The glass remains reflective from the viewpoint
of the guests while the projection is running, but the room is darkened so that the animation
appears much brighter than the reflection. As you can probably see in this low-light
video, the reflection of the room is just barely visible through the projection, and
you really have to look closely to see it in person. At the end of the animation, the image of
the castle transforms into a set of wooden doors, and this is when the glass panels are
moved into position before opening. The panels simply slide apart from the center,
but the projected image shows the doors opening inward to give the illusion that they are
real doors on hinges. Once the portal is open, a cover plate is
slid into place to cover the opening in the floor where the frame was lowered, and guests
are then invited to pass through the mirror into Beast’s castle. After the guests have moved through the passageway
and on to the next part of the attraction, the mirror is then returned to the closed
state for the next group. The glass panels are closed, the lower wall
is raised, and the frame is retracted, so that it once again looks like a regular mirror
hanging on the wall. This transforming mirror is a fantastic example
of how practical and digital effects can be used together effectively, and I think it’s
great to see Disney continuing down this path with many of their new attractions. The overall illusion is achieved purely with
physical mechanisms just like many of the classic illusions from Disney’s past, but
modern projection technology is used to enhance the immersive experience by really bringing
the mirror to life. Now before I wrap up this video, I’d first
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14 Comments

  • Art of Engineering

    The topic for this video was suggested by one of my followers on Twitter (Thanks Michael!)

    What attractions would you like to see next?

  • Day Man

    Man this wouldn't be remotely possible without the combination of digital and practical effects, and I bet most kids think it's legitimate magic (and a lot of adults will probably be baffled, I would be).

    Does make me wonder why so many people still rag on digital effects in film calling them lazy though -_-

    Edit: lazy and bad are not the same thing guys. There are tonnes of dedicated yet not too talented people in every discipline.

  • Chris Screws

    Great job on the video! You always do a wonderful job explaining complex and technical topics in a way that makes sense to everyone.

  • Patrick Jeffers

    I loved working at Enchanted Tales with Belle! Fun fact, to hide the movement of the lower wall they project fake cracks in addition to the green magic around the frame. The mirror surprised so many guests, it’s truly magical!

  • BenneLuke

    Great video, but here's a suggestion. You constantly use a rising inflection in your voiceover. It makes you sound like you end all your sentences with a comma or question mark. This gives your narration a lot of tension, like you're not finishing your thoughts. In your earlier videos, you didn't do this, so I assume it's to try to make yourself sound more like other videos like watchmojo. Be yourself, your videos are great!
    (I noticed you started doing this in your tower of terror video)

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