A Conversation with Rick Rothschild
by David Yeh on February 24, 2010
Rick Rothschild is a 30 year veteran of Walt Disney Imagineering and personally oversaw the installation of Captain EO in its initial theatrical run at Epcot and at Disneyland. Now he’s back once again, serving as In-Theater Effects Director for the Captain EO Tribute. Rick talks to us about the changes made to the experience and also on what remained the same.
EndorExpress: How long have you been working on Captain EO?
Rothschild: Well, on THIS version, the return of Captain EO I’ve been working about four months. I was involved originally as part of the core team with Imagineering back in 1985 to develop ideas that ultimately were pitched to both George Lucas and Michael Jackson, and one of those was the basic concept of what became Captain EO.
EndorExpress: So you and Captain EO go way back.
Rothschild: We go way back, yeah. There’s a younger piece of me in the pre-show. [Laughs]
EndorExpress: We’ve been hearing and reading about changes that have been made to the presentation. Could you walk us through that?
Rothschild: Clearly the things first to focus on are what we are able to do just with current technology, and audio is a BIG one. The audio system is significantly improved and substantially better than what we had, you know, technology-wise twenty-five years ago. So taking the original tracks and putting them back through and balancing the theater system so we get the quality we get, it’s [Captain EO] never been heard like it’s being heard now. So that’s very exciting simply – just the audio – to hear the music and hear everything.
EndorExpress: And the 3D is still exactly the same?
Rothschild: The film and its 3D are exactly the same. Other than striking a new print off of the well-protected negative that, you know, has been put away for years, it is exactly as it has been seen, frame for frame.
EndorExpress: Experiencing this new Captain EO, there has been a few added effects, such as the air being blown and the lighting on the floor…
Rothschild: Right. There’s a whole lighting package that, really the birth of what became known as “4D”, not our name, but the general sort of ether adopted the name…
EndorExpress: Interactive 3D.
Rothschild: Yes, interactive 3D… really came from Captain EO. That was the beginning of all of that, so first of all, it’s really interesting that after twenty-five years, it’s fun to go back and see the classic show but also recognize that the whole notion of 4D, even for Disney with newer 3D attractions, continued to create new and different ways to do it. The primary idea behind it was to extend the quality of light. First of all, Captain EO is all about bringing light to a dark world along with the music, it changes, and I think that we extended that metaphor and also found that if you bring the quality of light that’s on the screen in a particular moment in the show out into the theater, since everyone is looking generally over a series of heads, you begin to get a sense of the 3D objects and the sense of space and the fact that you’re more connected with it. It isn’t one of those big things that hits you in the face that says, “Oh look, they did that” but if we turned it all off and you watch the movie experience again, you will feel more remote from the experience. So part of is just increasing that emotional connection.
EndorExpress: The star field and laser effects I remember vividly from the old show. Could you talk about the effects that used to be there that could not be brought back and why? Was it a factor of time or restrictions due to budget?
Rothschild: The big thing was really just time and I think we felt that there was a way to do with what we had a lot more … I mean, we all love the star field and we sort of found a way to pay a bit of a small homage to that the way we open the film now, it’s still the notion of the 3D emerging through the 2D and so the principle thing was to really take advantage of the assets that we had. Obviously it’s a limited run, nobody knows how long it will be here at Disneyland, but it wasn’t planned to be here as a new attraction for a long period of time. So, the idea, what could we do to be true to the original and get it here quickly. Some of the effects that you speak of took tremendous amount of time to put them in.
EndorExpress: And the theater has been restructured for Honey, I Shrunk the Audience…
Rothschild: It has been restructured and again, we made absolutely sure that the slight differences in the way the screen is formatted here in no way affected any of the primary visual sequences, didn’t affect any of the 3D moments that, you know, basically unless you’re watching the corner of the screen, you don’t notice anything’s changed.