The genesis of the attraction that would eventually become Flight of Passage began when Imagineers approached James Cameron with the idea of creating banshee ride for Disney's Animal Kingdom’s planned Avatar land. Cameron was intrigued, saying “When they told me, they wanted to do a banshee ride, I said I wanted it to be Soarin’ over Pandora.”
According to Imagineer Joe Rohde, work on Flight of Passage began in 2012. To help create the attraction Disney was joined by James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment, and Welta Digital, who helped with the attraction's visuals . Under the direction of Rohde, Amy Jupiter and Lightstorm Entertainment's Richard Baneham, a team of hundreds of artists contributed to the attraction's VFX production. As the ride's queue and main show templates were being designed, the team turned to Weta Digital to execute their plans. According to Jupiter:
“Everything you see in the attraction’s main show was original to this production. We were fortunate to be able to use the model and texture assets from the first film during our templating/visualization process. We were also able to use animation cycles for our BG characters.”
We needed to develop glasses that functioned with a 160-degree field-of-view screen. Typically, theatrical or cinema glasses only support 90-degree field of view. We also wanted as little visual intrusion of the glasses [as possible] as we wanted folks to have as natural a stereo experience as possible. We opted for as translucent a frame as we could get, along with as much clear filter as we could afford. Essentially, we wanted the glasses to disappear
With the use of 3D glasses, it became imperative that the physical movements of the attraction be aligned with what guests see on screen. This meant that the ride animators and template artists often worked together in real-time. Furthermore, in order to keep the illusion intact, Rohde stated that the team refrained from using any gimmicky 3D effects that would bring attention to the physical elements of the ride.
Although Pandora- The World of Avatar was initially announced on September 20, 2011 , it was not until the D23 Expo in 2013 that guests got their first glimpse of Flight of Passage. At this time, though the attraction was not named, Joe Rohde told guests that one experience would allow them fly on the back of a banshee .
Subsequently, at the 2015 D23 Expo, Flight of Passage's name was finally announced . At this time, new concept art for the attraction as also shown, and guests were promised that the new ride would be an adventure unlike anything that came before it.
Flight of Passage officially opened to guests on May 27, 2017. Since opening, the attraction has not seen any major changes.
The story of Flight of Passage (as well as the rest of Pandora) takes place a generation after the events in the film AVATAR. In the queue for Flight of Passage, guests enter a former Resources Development Administration mining facility, which has been repurposed as the Pandora Conservation Initiative's Mountain Banshee Project research facility. The Conservation Initiative was started in an attempt to rectify the damage done by the RDA through both their mining, and their conflict with the Na'vi. In order to study the Valley of Mo'ora's ecosystem, scientists have identified the banshee as a keystone species. Unfortunately, due to the location of the banshee's rookeries, and the danger the animals pose, it is impossible for humans to study the species up close.
Due to advances in technology however, guests can now be matched and linked to an Avatar based on genetic comprehensibility. This new technique was invented by Dr. Jackie Ogden, who restarted the Avatar Program, and allows humans to participate in the Na'vi rite of passage known as Iknimaya.
The Flight of Passage queue begins with guests taking a gradual climb up into Pandora's mountains. Entering into nearby caverns, guests can see Na'vi artwork depicting the Inkaya rite of passage. Further on, guests find a small entrance that leads to a dilapidated RDA mining facility. In the years since the facility was built, the natural world of Pandora has begun to reclaim its territory. Around them, guests can see various foliage which has grown over the mining facility infrastructure, and in the distance, they can hear the cry of young banshees.
Moving into a new section of the queue, guests enter a high tech facility that is clearly still in use. This is the headquarters of the Pandora Conservation Initiative's Banshee Project. Now surrounded by lab equipment, guests can see an Avatar suspended in an amino tank.
Finally, guests enter a room where they watch the attraction's first preshow video. Here Doctor Stevens explains the history of the Pandora Conservation Initiative and introduces the technology that allows guests to link with an Avatar and ride a banshee. During the video, guests are genetically matched with their Avatar. To accomplish this, they must move around a bit, while a "genetic sample" is taken.
After being ushered into a second preshow room, guests watch another video. This film is hosted by Dr. Jackie Ogden, the founder of the PCI. Dr. Ogden gives guests an idea of what to expect once they are linked to an Avatar and also gives a brief warning spiel. After this video, guests enter the Link Chamber, where they sit on their Link Chairs, starting the attraction.
Flight of Passage allows guests to link with an Avatar and perform the Na'vi rite of passage known as Iknimaya. Sites seen along the way include the Hallelujah Mountains, the ocean, and even the feared Great Leonopteryx.
To get a better feel for Flight of Passage, click play below and watch the attraction's film!
Fun Facts and Trivia
- Between the lab and the Link Chambers, guests can see a sign that points to "section G" which apparently has a basketball court .
- Dr. Jackie Ogden's name may be a reference to a retired VP of Animal Kingdom’s Animal Programs of the same name.
- If Flight of Passage is slowed down or broken, there is an alternate scene in the preshow video that show's Dr. Stevens noticing a link error and leaving the room. When the delay is resolved, Dr. Stevens returns to desk and the video resumes.
- James Cameron, Jon Landau, and Joe Rohde left their hand prints in the Flight of Passage queue.