Harry Potter and the $15 billion adventure

How long can the $15 billion Harry Potter franchise flourish without generating new content?

In December 2011, an announcement about the planned launch of a Harry Potter theme park in California generated a frenzy of excitement among bloggers and media ranging from Perez Hilton to the Los Angeles Times. The blogosphere is also buzzing about news regarding the expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Island of Adventure in Orlando, Florida. Meantime, the official adventures of Harry Potter are over: the final book in the series was published five years ago, and the last movie adaptation was released in 2011. The release date of the forthcoming Pottermore website has been postponed and remains unknown. Will J.K. Rowling and her network of media/entertainment partners find a way to renew his adventures after all?

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Finally: 3-D that makes sense

It was only a matter of time before Disney Parks and Resorts responded to the success of Wizarding World of Harry Potter at rival Universal’s Islands of Adventure. And with the announcement of an Avatar world at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you should look for Disney to apply 3-D technologies where they make the most sense, which is creating an experience instead of trying to tell a story in a movie.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter is fun facsimile of the celebrated town of Hogsmeade from the beloved Harry Potter series of books and movies. But it feels like a small attraction wedged inside a bunch of other sections of Universal Orlando, just like Jurassic Park and Marvel Super Hero Island.

Based on news reports, Disney will collaborate with mogul and Avatar director James Cameron to surround park visitors in an immersive environment that recreates the world of Pandora from the movie, not just a ride or two.

Thomas Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, offers a revealing quote in a Huffington Post article about the collaboration between Cameron, his producing partner Jon Landau, and 20th Century Fox:

“One of the things that we found when we screened (AVATAR) was that the scenes that people liked best were not the obvious things, like the big battle scenes, and that sort of thing. It was the creatures. It was learning to fly. It was being in the forest at night. The impression that we got was people just like to go to Pandora . . .So here’s an opportunity to use (our) animatronic technology, and all of these amazing craftsmanship and design capabilities of Imagineering, and possibly rolling in mixed-media, 3-D projections, holography. Whatever makes sense to build, bring this world to life and actually get to wander in it and explore it, and see things you didn’t see either in the first film or in the subsequent two.”

James Cameron will remain closely involved in the development of the $500 million Avatar park. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2013, and evidently other Disney properties beyond Animal Kingdom may see their own Avatar attractions.

Given Cameron’s commitment to developing 3D technology – he launched a technology venture earlier this year, building on his use of 3D in movies – the Avatar experience will achieve in a theme park what movies have thus far failed to accomplish: apply 3D successfully. Cameron’s technologists and Disney’s imagineers can go wild dreaming up ways for tourists to interact with six-legged Direhorse, four-winged Mountain Banshee, and blue Prolemuris.

With $500 million being sunk into the project, I have a feeling park visitors will experience something that does not require wearing dorky sunglasses, either.

For more reaction from Disney followers, check out this blog post from Inside the Magic and this Yesterland discussion of the news in context of the history of Animal Kingdom.