Disney’s Tomorrowland has always been about exploring the future and the engineering marvels that might be possible in that far off “someday.” Yet when Shanghai Disney Resort opened on June 15, its Tomorrowland explored the capabilities possible today from composite materials.
Tomorrowland is one of six themed lands at Disney’s newest park. Highlights of the nearly 25,000-square-foot area include the Tron Lightcycle Power Run rollercoaster, Buzz Lightyear’s Planet Rescue interactive adventure and the Lilo & Stitch character encounter, each of which includes GFRP parts.
GFRP was selected as a prime material for many applications due to its durability and water-proofing capabilities, as well as the ease with which it could create complex shapes. “FRP can produce double curved panels with complicated patterns on the surface directly from the design in the computer,” explains Jessica Lee, project coordinator for Shanghai-based E-Grow, a fabricator of GFRP and other advanced building materials. “This makes it perfect for futuristic designs.”
These futuristic designs included, for example, the concourse base cladding with its series of complicated parametric patterns spread across the surface, as well as the decorative panels at the queue for the Buzz Lightyear ride. GFRP theater delay towers, which hold show lighting and audiovisual equipment, also embrace the futuristic theme with their rocket shape. Altogether, composites are found in many shapes and sizes in at least 12 areas of Tomorrowland.
The vast number of differently shaped and sized components might have taken aback some fabricators. To produce the wide-ranging variation cost effectively in six months beginning in November 2015, E-Grow pulled a trick out of its sleeve – a patented wax mold process.
The fabricator had first used its wax mold process on the Guangzhou Opera House in China, which, like Tomorrowland, has almost no repeated shapes. Using wax to create the molds for the hand lay-up process offered several benefits, Lee explains. “If we were to follow construction industry standards using carpentry or foam molds, it would create a lot of waste and pollution, often with very bad tolerances. If we were to use nautical or aerospace techniques, the tolerances would be wonderful, but the costs would simply be too high,” she says. The wax molds solved both of those problems.