Disney Parks and Experiences President Josh D’Amaro gave a presentation at SXSW this weekend that promised to focus on “The Art and Science of Disney Parks Storytelling,” and the boy l ‘did.
After showing off a very dynamic character robot and offering a look at the Smart Hulk in his time travel suit, D’Amaro offered what he called “the real wow moment.”
D’Amaro brandished a legit-looking lightsaber hilt. He pressed a button and, “beeshheww”, a very realistic blue lightsaber blade seemed to shoot out of the hilt in his hand.
“I have the coolest job in the world,” D’Amaro announced. “I’m holding a real lightsaber.”
Video posted online captured the moment and the collective gasp of the audience followed by applause.
D’Amaro explained that he was holding one of the lightsabers used aboard Disney’s ultra-expensive Galactic Starcruiser experience, but video of those lightsabers shows they have a tube sticking out of the hilt, which is not retractable. D’Amaro seems to come out of the handle herself.
The president of Parks and Experiences then brought Leslie Evans on stage. She leads R&D for Disney Imagineering. “It was a difficult project. It wasn’t easy,” Evans said. She said part of the goal of the project was to “construct cinematic moments in the real world”.
D’Amaro said, “I love throwing this thing,” before hitting the button again.
Deadline contacted Disney Imagineering for details about the lightsaber that appeared on stage, but did not hear back.
A fan posted a link to a Google patent page that appears to have schematic diagrams of the grip and a written description of how the device works its magic. If you want to preserve your sense of wonder, stop reading here.
The explanation reads as follows:
…the special effects device (or energy sword, lightsaber prop, or similar) is specially configured to deliver an extendable and retractable blade of energy that appears to emanate from a handheld hilt due to an effect of lighting that appears to provide bright illumination based on the handle.
In some useful embodiments, the special effects device includes two long plastic cylinders that are cut lengthwise. These two pieces (or blade body elements) are then each wound perpendicular to their length (or center axis), creating compact cylinders of relatively small volume material that can be supplied on a pair of coils or coils. The coils retaining the blade body elements, as well as other blade producing elements, are housed in the body of the hilt assembly of the special effects device or lightsaber attachment.
To extend the blade, a motor provided in the body of the handle is operated to unwind the coiled/coiled plastic blade body elements from their spools/spools, with each element (or blade half) acting much like a ribbon to metal carpenter measure. Each blade body member passes through a blade forming a guide or passage which acts to “zip” the two semi-cylindrical blade body members together (or with portions along their length overlapping or interlocking one into each other) as they leave the handle body, forming the energy blade. To retract the blade, the process is reversed with the motor acting to wind the spool pair to wind or wind the extended blade body elements into the handle body and onto the spool/spool pair.