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The 18th Annual Thea Awards Recipients were anounced by TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) today. The annual awards for the themed entertainment industry celebrate excellence in storytelling that supports the creation of compelling places and guest experiences. As you might expect Disney is well represented.

  • Imagineer Joe Rohde won the newly christened “Buzz Price” award (formerly the Thea Lifetime Achievement Award) for his lifetime of distinguished achievements.
  • Star Tours – The Adventures Continue at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World won for best Attraction Refresh.
  • The Magic, The Memories, and You! at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom won the award for best Show Spectacular.
  • Disney Cruise Line got in on the fun with an award for Ingenious use of Technology at Animation Magic in the Animator’s Palate Restaurant aboard Disney Cruise Line’s Ship – Disney Fantasy. Which is weird, since that ship hasn’t even sailed yet. But I have seen the concept in action and it’s pretty cool.

Congratulations to all the winners.

The full list of award recipients is below the jump:

The BBC has a great story examining how two of the most recent attractions to open at Walt Disney World point the way toward future development from Walt Disney Imagineering. Disney sees current and future generations of youth who are already so inter-mediated with video games, texting, MP3s, video downloads, and 3-D movies (sometimes all at the same time) that they’re afraid standard attractions just won’t be enough to inspire repeat visits down the line.

“The emerging generation expects more immersive, personal and interactive experiences in every facet of their lives,” says Bruce Vaughn, chief creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering.

The two attractions the article looks at are Toy Story Midway Mania and Kim Possible. TSMM takes the ‘video game’ experience and brings it into the parks in a very Disney way. While Kim Possible is one of the first examples of how Disney can build an attraction using overlay technology. No need to expand the footprint of the park, just intertwine the experience with what is already there.

Sure, WDI can continue to pump out the heart pumping thrill rides like Expedition Everest or new entertainment environments like The American Idol Experience, but really, so can anyone these days (usually with the help of laid off Imagineers). What will set Disney themed environments apart in the future are overlays (or an even more exciting technology called Total Immersion, but that’s coming well down the line).

Just about exactly 8 years ago, I wrote a short story for LaughingPlace.com (unfortunately, the second page of it appears to have gone missing, so I rescued it from the Internet Archive Wayback machine (woo hoo) and have included it in full below the cut) forecasting where this overlay technology might be heading in the future. If it seems familiar, that probably means you’ve used a Pal Mickey before. It also gives you an idea of how long these ideas percolate in Imagineering before making it into the parks. Additionally, I’m almost finished with a novel by Vernor Vinge called “Rainbows End” which takes this overlay concept to the umpteenth level and extends it worldwide via a combination of future social networking and an economy based on themed design and role play.

I think it’s important to remember that it all comes back to quality story telling with the type of rich detail that Disney knows how to intertwine with entertainment. If Disney keeps their eye on that, the technology is just another color on their canvas.

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Mickey gets ready to open the store!

On Friday the Walt Disney Company and Hanes officially opened “Disney Design-a-Tee presented by Hanes”, an innovative next-generation store for apparel souvenirs at Downtown Disney in the Walt Disney World Resort.

The first-of-its-kind interactive T-shirt design and printing store enables Disney guests to enhance their magical Disney experience with a personalized custom-designed Hanes T-shirt printed while they wait that is as easy to buy as souvenir apparel off the rack. And much more fun!

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Really well prepared cake made to look like a stack of t-shirts for the celebration. This was also the pin design for the grand opening event.

Guests at Disney Design-a-Tee presented by Hanes, which is located in Downtown Disney, use touch-screen kiosks for an interactive experience to design their custom shirts, selecting long-sleeve or short-sleeve T-shirts, choosing from multiple colors, picking artwork from more than 100 selections featuring Disney animation and movie characters, and crafting their own text message using a wide selection of type fonts and colors.

The design possibilities are infinite, and the shirts are printed on site while guests wait using premium environmentally friendly water-based ink. Art selections include multiple designs featuring not only famous characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Snow White and others from classic Disney films, but also characters such as Crush from Finding Nemo, Princess Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and Tow Mater from Cars.

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Door prize given away to first guests to shop in the store.

“At the Design-a-Tee store, visitors can dream it, design it and watch their custom Hanes T-shirts being made,” said Sidney Falken, senior vice president of the Hanes brand. “The store combines all the magic of Disney and Hanes to create immediate one-of-a-kind keepsakes and souvenirs of their visit to Walt Disney World.”

The store is cleverly designed and features the brand of Disney Magic you expect is required to make this more than just a t-shirt store. Younger children will especially love the interactive process that’s involved with designing and then making the shirt.

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decor shows guests the process for designing their own t-shirts.

So what differentiates this store from online stores like Zazzle, which has a Disney branded shop, where you can choose from many more designs and characters? Well, for one, you can actually hold and try on an exactly same sized shirt at the store. You don’t have to pay for delivery either.

The Design-A-Tee store makes your shirt the same day you order it. If you’re there early in the morning you could have it in as little as 15 minutes. For those who come when the store is busier it may take quite a bit longer. Those staying at a Disney resort should take advantage of free delivery to their room. You can also return the next day to pick it up.

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sample t-shirts available to judge size and quality.

The grand opening event was attended by guests who were treated to a festive decor, confetti cannons, a giant T-shirt cake and a visit from Disney’s most famous star, Mickey Mouse.

Kevin Lansberry, vice president, Downtown Disney operations, and Falken spoke at the event and invited guests to try their hand at designing their own special T-shirts.

“We are thrilled to create another exciting new Downtown Disney venue for our guests,” Lansberry said. “The Disney Design-a-Tee store fits perfectly with our What Will You Celebrate 2009 campaign. Whether guests are celebrating an anniversary, a birthday or a special reunion, they can create a special Hanes t-shirt to show how they feel.”

Disney Design-a-Tee uses a unique application of state-of-the-art technology and printing equipment in a process designed by Hanesbrands’ research and development team. This is the first application of printing technology that allows consumers to walk up, design and print a custom message on a T-shirt of any color with screen-print quality.

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Building your t-shirt on a t-shirt shaped kiosk. Clever.

T-shirts are available in a wide variety of colors and styles, including long and short sleeve versions, and come in infant, toddler, youth and adult sizes. Prices range from $18 to $31. The company expects to add additional apparel product offerings at a later date at the store.

Disney Design-a-Tee is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and is located at 1790 East Buena Vista Drive. Downtown Disney is open to the general public and resort guests and is accessible by car and by the Walt Disney World Resort guest shuttle system.

More about the Hanes and Disney relationship, photos, and a video of the opening ceremonies below the cut: