Disney is not holding back in the use of their immensely popular and profitable Marvel property, with new super hero experiences in development for not only the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts, but also for their Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland.
Why not use them? Marvel characters are very cool. There is one cool effect, though, that presents a problem for cast members donning superhero helmets in the parks; a problem one new patent by Disney Enterprises, Inc. aims to solve, utilizing some technology that would make Tony Stark proud.
Unique eyes are a trait found among many Disney characters, and glowing eyes are especially prevalent among Marvel's super hero community. Having fully functioning effects — such as Iron Man's traditional glowing eye-slits — add a feeling of legitimacy to the character but detract from the cast member's ability to perform in a natural manner. Disney's patent published on March 15th, descriptively titled "Optical Assemblies That Are Both Brightly Backlit and Transparent for Use in Costumed Characters," acknowledges the current limitations in mask technology. It states,
"In the costumed character setting, one solution is to rely on holes in the masks or helmets to try to get enough of a view of their surroundings outside their mask or helmet to allow them to safely and effectively maneuver. However, this often results in a very limited outside view, and the holes may not coincide with the 'eyes' of the helmet or mask, which can cause the performer to move their head in a less natural manner. Another solution that has been implemented is the use of a display system within the headgear that involves the use of one or more cameras capturing images of the space outside the headgear and a heads-up internal display displaying these captured images to the person wearing the helmet or mask. These can be expensive and complex to implement and also be relatively bulky so as to only be suited for relatively large 'heads.' Further, the performer may be left with a non-stereo view with no depth sensing and with a distorted perspective gathered from the camera's point of view (POV) rather than their own."
Costumed cast members aren't the only ones who face this issue, of course. The average collectible toy purchaser also runs into the effects vs. visibility situation. This patent aims to solve everyone's problem by manufacturing backlit glowing eye effects that the wearer will still be able to see through.
The way it does this is with a rather complicated synchronized strobe effect. A mask would include two eye-screens:
The first, positioned farthest from the wearer and toward the audience, would flicker on and off — lit and un-lit — so rapidly that it would appear to be constantly glowing. This requires an LED backlit polymer-dispersed liquid crystal (PDLC) material, as that substance can switch between a transparent state and the active one within milliseconds.
The interior screen, closest to the wearer's eyes, would switch between opaque and transparent at a synchronized rate to protect the user's eyes from the light. When the light is on, their screen is dark and protective; when the light is off, their screen is clear and see-through.
The helmet would alternate between two states: mask lit/eyes shielded, and mask un-lit/eyes un-shielded. The speed of this switch would be so rapid as to be unnoticeable by both the wearer and the audience (known as passing the "flicker fusion" rate). To someone behind the mask it would appear that their eye screen was always transparent, but to those in the crowd it would appear that the helmet is always glowing.
This technology could find its way into any number of character costumes and toys, but the most obvious ones are super heroes, which the document directly references. The patent's illustration uses a figure vaguely resembling Black Panther, but notables like Star-Lord and franchise flagship character Iron Man both possess trademark masks with glowing eyes.
As is always the case in these situations, the existence of a published patent does not guarantee its use in toys, Marvel attractions, or the parks in general. What we can gain from this publication, though, is that Disney is continuing to develop technology that can help them offer realistic experiences and capitalize on their intellectual properties — it would only make sense for them to focus their efforts on Marvel.
Featured Image: Marvel Studios
Source/Patent Images: United States Patent and Trademark Office