A blur of brilliant-colored neon. Flashing strobes. Whirling lights. And the pulsing. driving beat of electrifying music that seems to surround you. Towering stacks of MTV-style music video monitors flank the stage, mirroring the excitement of the sound. While high over head, huge “skytracker” follow-spots slice through the night sky. The band is wailing. The crowd is jumping. It’s another Saturday night at Videopolis, Disneyland’s first teen dance club, the place to be.
The kids who dance here call it “radical,” “wild” and “the best.” Management calls it one of Disneyland’s most successful attractions in recent years. But to the designers and engineers who produced it, Videopolis is better known as “The 100-Day Miracle.”
“We had our first meeting on February 14, 1985,” says Steve Carroll, Manager of Disneyland Show Operations and one of the key conceptual idea men behind the project. “And we scheduled to have it open by June 21, the first day of Disneyland’s summer season… which just happened to be exactly 100 days later.”
Carroll first put his ideas for a teenage dance spot on the back of a placemat in a Chinese restaurant. “But I typed it up before I submitted the idea,” he adds with a grin. That was two years ago. The project was originally titled “Galaxy” and was intended to replace the Space Mountain stage. Instead a 3-D theater was scheduled for the area for the Michael Jackson film, “Captain EO” (tentatively set to open this Fall), and the teen club site was changed to its present location in the meadowby “It’s a Small World.”
Late 1984 brought a keen interest in making Disneyland a viable place in today’s teenage market instead of relying as heavily on tradition as in the past. “Today’s teens are caught between being a child and being a young adult, with the pressures in society pushing them to be this young adult. They want a place to go where they can feel comfortable — where they can dress up and be part of their peer group. Videopolis provides that for them. And that was our goal,” recalls
Dennis Despie, Vice President of Entertainment.
Because of Disneyland’s high operating standards, Videopolis has the added advantage of putting parents’ minds at ease. “It’s a very safe, fun place that lets teens have a good experience without all the problems that may occur in other clubs in the city,” Despie adds, himself the father of a I6-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, “My kids come out here as often as they can for those very reasons.”
The collaborative effort of the Disneyland Entertainment Department and the “Imagineers” at the Walt Disney Imagineering Division, the Food Division and the Costume Design Department, resulted in a sparkling high-tech video nightspot that dazzles the first-time visitor with its sheer size and complexity.
Videopolis features a versatile 90-foot wide stage, three dance floors (one of which measures 5,000 square feet), and seating to accommodate up to 1,500 people. Two 12′ by 16′ video screens loom overhead, flanked by 90 television monitors which create a video “wall paper” effect around the floor. The main superstructure and the lively peristyle entrance is made of dramatic black scaffolding, based on the design used in the 1984 Olympic Games venues. Some of the structure actually contains portions of those very same historical venues.
Tucked in amongst the wild profusion of some 300 linear feet of neon graphics are five special effects called “light sticks.” At first glance they appear to be simply vertical rows of red lights. But each stick is actually a matrix array of LEDs (light emitting diodes) which project up to 16 different light images such as stars, musical notes, dancers, surfers and palm trees. The trick is, these banks of LEDs blink on and off so fast the observer can only catch the image being projected as his eye tracks across it, not while looking directly at the light stick. The results are quick snatches of lighted pictures that catch guest by surprise as they appear to float independently in space.
Completing the facility is a snack bar called “Yumz” where club-goers can treat themselves to pizza, nachos, churros, popcorn and soft drinks. And a merchandise stand offers Videopolis T-shirts, visors and other accessories for those who want to take home a little of their dancing experience.
The show itself consists of a combination of live bands and music videos frequently hosted by a Disneyland emcee or a “guest” disc jockey from a local radio station. Three live television cameras scan the action on the floor televising dancers and their performances on the various video screens. And matching the mood of the moment, are some 600 lightning instruments on massive moving trusses that can drop as close as 12′ above the floor.
“What we’re using is concert technology versus disco technology,” Steve Carroll explains. “The setting changes throughout the night, and the effect is definitely an environmental experience rather than just a show.”
“If you could take an x-ray of the sheer volume of conduit running underneath the concrete all over that area you’d be amazed,” says Videopolis Show Designer, John Kavelin, who estimates that number to be in the thousands of feet. “The reason for that is because we had to provide not only for Videopolis’ current needs, but the needs of the future. We’re not finished yet you know. This was just the first go-round.”
Some of the future plans include more neon, more television monitors, and a “video wall” in which electronically enhanced multi-colored images will be created, using black and white cameras and spot-lighted dancers. There are also plans in the works to build a Videopolis railroad station so that the club can operate during Disneyland’s winter season even when the rest of the Park is closed.
“Videopolis can never be complete,” Steve Carrol explains. “It will never be what it was last year, because we keep coming up with new ideas to match the kid’s changing entertainment styles.”
From Disney News, Summer 1986