The Woody Woodpecker KidZone area of Universal Studios Florida closed down earlier this month, with Universal saying they were making room for new beloved animated characters.
According to rumors, a section of this area will supposedly be replaced with an animated meet and greet based on characters from Kung Fu Panda. Thanks to some images filed with a patent application from Universal, we may have evidence to support this rumor!
Universal recently published a patent named “Digital character interacting with customer in physical realm.” The description for this patent says it is for controlling the performance of a digital character, depicted on a display device, by a human operator, artificial intelligence game-engine, or a combination thereof.
At first glance, the technology seems similar to other interactive cartoon-based meet and greets and shows, like “Turtle Talk with Crush” and “Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor” at Walt Disney World, where a puppeteer uses controls and a rig backstage to supply not only the voice acting, but also trigger predetermined movements and emotions displayed on a screen.
Before we dig into the specifics of this particular patent, (and how some of the supplied images remind us of a location from a certain film,) it is worth noting that this patent was first assigned to DREAMWORKS ANIMATION LLC before being switched to UNIVERSAL CITY STUDIOS LLC later that same day when it was first filed with the Patent Office.
We spoke of a possible animated meet and greet experience that is rumored to be replacing a section of the previous Curious George Goes to Town area of Universal Studios Florida.
As we described in a recent episode of the ParkStop Podcast, the meet and greet would take place at Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop, from the Kung Fu Panda series of films. The images and details contained within this patent appear to back this up.
Despite Universal Orlando not officially announcing what would replacing the recently closed KidZone area of Universal Studios Florida, the animated graphics along the work walls may be an indication.
Cartoon graphics of various DreamWorks characters have been plastered all along the walls around this soon-to-be construction site. Some of the character graphics even include Kung Fu Panda.
Demolition permits for this area have been filed with the county, with project numbers of 540 and 576. It is believed that Project 576 may include this rumored interactive animated character experience.
The patent specifically says that this technology was created for use within an amusement park. It says that it could “create a desirable environment or atmosphere for guests” and that animated characters may interact with guests by speaking, waving, walking, or performing other actions.
Most of the patent’s description is about how a performer could use live-motion capture technology to inform the actions of an animated character in real time. A lot of attention in the text is placed on interaction between the cartoon character and real people. Plus, the text does not discount the possibility of removing a human operator entirely, opting for an AI-controlled character instead.
Going beyond just a meet and greet or even a show experience, the patent explains that a physical good can be vended or delivered to a person physically. The art illustrates this by showing a chute where a small parcel is passed from backstage to a guest or “customer.”
The patent description says this could be “a box containing cookies,” but that is only an example. It says the item could be sold to the customer in real time, by the animated character, and delivered via this method -or- the customer could earn it by playing an interactive game.
Examples of such games include a tug-of-war challenge where a guest can grab a physical rope and pull on it, and the performer can control the other end from backstage using a pulley, to create the effect of the animated character interacting.
Other possible physical interactions are described as well, such as physical objects being knocked over if the animated character trips or lights being turned on or off. Interactions could work the other way as well, where guests can move objects and the animated character will react accordingly.
While the patent illustrations appear to show a Panda, the original rumor was that this experience would feature Mr. Ping, Po’s adopted father. Both the patent illustrations and the rumor align on the location however, which is said to be Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop.
One interesting section of the patent description talks about using the chute to supply food, using a “bowl of noodles” as an example. Perhaps the reason the word “customer” is used within this text, rather than “guest” or “audience member,” is that this technology could be used for an actual dining location?
Once the food is ready, the description says “In the physical realm, the item may be placed at the output channel for retrieval by the customer.”
It is worth noting that multiple theme parks around the world already feature a Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop, including the Kung Fu Panda’s Land of Awesomeness at Universal Studios Beijing, which calls their restaurant location “Mr. Ping’s Noodle House.” MOTIONGATE Dubai is home to their own “Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop” at their “DreamWorks Zone” as well.
Neither of these existing locations feature interactive animated characters, although it is always possible that this patent could be for the improvement of an existing location, such as the one in Universal Studios Beijing.
You can currently meet Po and other Kung Fu Panda characters inside of Islands of Adventure, usually in the Lost Continent area. It is possible that these existing mascot-style costumed characters could find a new home at the future rumored replacement for KidZone at Universal Studios Florida, along with other DreamWorks characters and properties.
The Mr. Ping experience is rumored to be an interactive animated character, being controlled and performed by the same type of talented puppeteers as the Donkey meet and greets we’ve seen before. Whether this rumor is true or not, and if this particular patent is related, remains to be seen. We’ll just have to wait and see!
Be sure to follow along with us as we cover the demolition of the former KidZone area and construction of its replacement. See our recent podcast for more rumored details on its replacement and more!