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Monday
Mar262012

Mechanizing a Miniature Main Street Electrical Parade

We are excited to bring to you this stunning example of "Backyard Imagineering". Alex George, a reader of our blog, engineered a way to bring these miniature Main Street Electrical Parade floats to life. He also takes us on a behind-the-scenes look at his innovative two-year process.

  

Alex shares:

It was the fall of 2009 when I decided to mechanize a miniature Main Street Electrical Parade. I was collecting the Olszewski Main Street miniatures, including the Electrical Parade floats, when I thought how neat it would be to see the floats traveling down Main Street. I soon realized though, that simply moving the floats wouldn't be enough. There should be a sense of “show”, and so the parade would need to enter and exit Main Street to its musical score, then remain queued off stage until the next performance.

Thus began a two-year trek of attraction design and construction of miniature proportion. I'm an artist, not an engineer – so there was a lot of research needed to design the mechanics. I considered a number of ways to transport the floats using preexisting toy tracks and even motorized curtain rails, but ultimately I settled on a chain and sprocket system of my own design. Adding to the complexity was an electrical contact system to light the floats, and new computer-controlled LEDs that make the floats twinkle and cycle through designated colors.

The completed production resides in a low-sitting table which hides the mechanics as well as the parade when it's between shows. It's a lot of fun putting on the parade for guests, and even those who aren't dedicated Disneyland fans seem genuinely charmed by the show. In my own small way, I think I might know the pleasure felt by the creators of the actual parade when they saw their work enjoyed by audiences at Disneyland.

So take a glimpse at the Main Street Electrical Parade in Miniature, and check out the making-of short for highlights of how it came together.
 



Behind-the-Scenes

The chain system

Adding building supports

Several mock ups of the road, made from painstaking measurements, ensured that the slot defining the parade path would be perfectly aligned with the chain below.

Partial landscaping

After months of testing, the wiring that powers the floats began to break from flexing. The chain has been pulled here, and completely refitted with a far more flexible wire specifically designed for robotics and animatronics. There are four wires: two for power and two for network communication to the LEDs.

A backstage view as the floats make their way up to Main Street.

 
More on the artist at: By George, I Think You've Got It.

 

A huge thanks to Alex George for contacting us with his spectacular achievement. This is the kind of thing that excites us to no end. Tell your friends!

 

Related posts:

Swiss Family Treehouse Model
Disneyland Skyway in Your Backyard?
Buena Vista Street Model
The Wonders of Nature's Wonderland [ PART 2 ]
Mars and Beyond Robot
Disneyland 1955 Model Close-ups
A Look at the Progress City Model- Then and Now

 

Reader Comments (33)

This is magnificent.

*Standing Ovation*

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Coker

This is absolutely stunning! I'm in absolute awe!

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKat Slay

Love this!!! I think the "backstage" section is way cool!

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Lipack

Fantastic! It is my dream to one day have an Olszewski Main Street like this, and I would be interested in hearing more about how Alex created the platform, streetscape and other components that unite each of the miniatures to create a Disneyland replica.

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterC H

This is mind-blowingly spectacular. Backyard Imagineering at it's finest. Thank you for sharing your process and bravo on both your artistry and ingenuity.

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDisney Duchess

That is really great. Such a amazing tribute to a fun parade.

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeanine

Wow, way cool. He really put a lot of detail work into this, i thought the canopy looked great. Very inspiring to start working on a few things like this myself!

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathan F.

Fantastic. Great work!

March 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

This is amazing!!!!!! You are truly an artisit!

Thank you for sharing the videos (especially the backstage ones)

March 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDanea

George has done a marvelous job. Bravo!

I know how difficult a task bringing the parade to life is, as I am attempting it myself and I am an engineer.

-Justin

March 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

I am speechless! BEAUTIFUL!!!! STUNNING!! I can't say enough!!

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

You win.

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Any plans to animate the little Main Street vehicles?

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohnathan Rimler

Alex,
You are amazing. If anyone could do it, it had to be you!!! I wish you the best of everything. I have sent it to all my friends. I hope someone at Disney will see it.

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterInge Yde

Oh... my... gosh. I WANT THAT! It is stunning and amazingly cool!

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmily Oriotis

Simply stunning!

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNick

Innovations are there to wake you up everyday. They develop very fast, very fast that can't even notice them coming. Very great work.

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermunicipal vehicle hire

Absolutely amazing. The little details, "behind the scenes", itensive time & labor are all to be heavily admired. You have my vote for Imagineer of the Year.

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWDWFanBoyBrett

This is absolutely fantastic... You can really tell a tremendous amount of work and money must have went into this! Check out my new site btw http://disneyavenue.blogspot.com

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Mahne

Great work!! Now that you have all the details worked out -- it's time to get started on that model of Adventure Thru Inner Space or the Haunted Mansion rides...! I'd love to see little Omnimover cars moving about on that chain.

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOmnispace

I want to say thanks to everyone commenting here; I really appreciate the feedback. I hope I don't sound corny when I say that I'm very touched by the nice comments. After all the hard work, you guys really help make it worthwhile. Thanks also to Imagineeringdisney for taking interest and posting the project!

To answer a couple questions:

C H, should you assemble the Olszewski Main Street display, I highly recommend the platform sold by Olszewski Studios which is designed to bring all the models together. Unfortunately, I couldn't use it because of the parade requirements. Compared to building the platform yourself, the Olszewski platform will save you a lot of work! If you decide that you'd like to build your own and if you have questions, drop me a note and I can share some details.

Johnathan, with all the parade ado, I hadn't yet considered moving the other vehicles (although I imagine the same chain for the parade could be made to accompany that). If you haven't seen this yet, check out Jason Boye's trackless Omnibus on the Olszewski Main Street. Pretty neat!

March 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex George

I am in awe of this project. It's utterly magical and captures the wonder of seeing the full-size parade - without the long wait for that perfect seat! Thank you for sharing this with us and for showing how you accomplished it.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKit

Alex this is absolutely awsome. Jazzy enjoyed it very much. Thanks for sharing.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlejla

Is it me or does The End of the parade with the lighted floats on Super Mario RPG for Super Nintendo resembles this?

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames

Hi Alex as an owner of a non completed base unit with quite a few more buildings to purchase before I get to completion, I was totally blown away by your skills on this awesome project, while my fabricating skills would never allow me to attempt something so creative, after checking the link on Jason Boye's trackless Omnibus Faller system, in your opinion do you think it would be possible to re-create a similar effect using the Faller track wire and fitting the MainStreet Parade figures with Faller vehicle motors and maybe using a "Train and Carriage" system to motorize the front one or two units to pull the others in the parade ? of course I realise the lighting would not be as bright as your hi powered mains electric system , but I was hoping to install rechargeable cells to cover that problem in some of the other towed floats and distribute the lighting that way using fiber optics and with you knowing the limits of the interiors on these models you could give me a few thoughts on whether I have a chance of pulling this off, I have completed several model train systems and am a competent model builder so have fairly good skills in this area,
Cant wait for any other updates on your projects,
Regards Paul.

May 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dazeley

Hi Paul, thanks for your nice comments!

I'll have to guess about the Faller Car's use being that I haven't worked with it. I suspect that the Faller mechanism might be too large to fit into a float (at the size they are now). If you check out Jason's home page, he shows how he just barely got it into an Omnibus - and it filled up the entire lower level.

Regarding a means to pull the floats along, I'm not sure what to expect. The Disneyland parking lot tram works something like what you're suggesting, and it relies on each unit having it's own wheel base in order to serpentine. Even if the floats have their own wheels, but the floats themselves aren't heavy enough, they might get pulled sideways as the parade goes around a corner.

I haven't worked with fiber optics in tiny objects like these floats, so I can't say what the challenges would be. I will say though, wow, some of these floats are tiny. Like the size of a medium-size marble.

I should be careful not to sound dismissive to these approaches, because actually the real answers would come with experimentation. As technology continues to become smaller, it would not surprise if we someday see a miniature MSEP with no slot and each float doing it's own thing as it goes down the street. Imagine smaller floats like the turtle spinning around like they do in the actual parade!

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex George

Hi Paul,
I would like to address your concept, as I have also been working on animating the MSEP for sometime now. When the article about Alex's parade came out, I had just worked out a system for storing the parade under the layout. BTW Alex, you have done an incredible job and have provided me with some great ideas like the BlinkM's; dang they're cheap.

The Faller Car System is a great system for animating cars and trucks, though after some experimentation I decided it was not good for a parade. Allow me to explain further. For starters, speed control was an issue, as the parade is a slow moving experience and the FCS did not look good. Next, since it's designed for more realistic car speed, the little motor ( and I mean little) does not have enough torque to pull several float units. Jason's OmniBus is not the Olszewksi piece, but a custom piece and appears to be slightly larger. Now creating a train like the courtesy tram's will be very difficult in this scale. I had arrived at a modified z gauge track design that would provide guidance and bus voltage; though the lack of torque blew that whole design. Lastly, it is an expensive system and I felt it was not as reliable as one would hope for a show that will be under glass.

What I am doing now is a modified n gauge train layout. The motive power comes from Kato Power Chassis', which are relatively inexpensive and provide good low speed with decent torque. The test loop is showing promise with the positive grade to show level and the negative grade back to storage. I am using DCC (digital command control) which allows for constant speed of all connected power chassis' and full automation for the finished parade. Keep an eye out to the MiceChat Olszewski forums for I plan to post progress in the near future.

Lastly, I would like address lighting. I can highly recommend the BlinkM programmable LED's. They are cheaper than building your own Arduino controller and have a nice programming interface. I really like how Alex handled his light implementation, it's really impressive just to see the lights traveling around. Now in my design I found a way to improve upon this by keeping the BlinkM units under the street. The LED units are 7.6 mm sq and work well with the Bivar ORCA light pipe system. I will be able to keep all power and control wiring under the street and on the train (motion platform) and only bring the fiber to parade level.

I would love chat more with any of you And share ideas. My wife says we must leave for dinner.

BR,
Justin

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Ponzi

Awesome! How did you set up the contact rails and chain contacts to power the LED's?

November 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Hi John, the contact rails are metal strips that run on both sides of the chain. Electrical contact is maintained by having redundant brass contact springs which are wired together on the chain along the entire length of the parade. The contact rails don't even need to run through the curved sections of the route - so long as at least a few of the brass contacts are touching a rail somewhere, everything stays lit up. You can see the brass contact springs in the second to last photo above.

November 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex George

i have no idea how many times i've watched this and i still get goosebumps! one of the most amazing things i've seen!! kudos!!!

January 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterelle sees

I have no idea how i even got here, but I am so glad i am. What you have done is remarkable. I keep watching the videos and looking at the pictures because I am so mesmerized by how you did this. It honestly looks like a parade try-out that Disney does at night when all the visitors are gone. Incredible. So in awe right now...

June 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermm

best part of this post is Several mock ups of the road, made from painstaking measurements, ensured that the slot defining the parade path would be perfectly aligned with the chain below.
thanks
Regards
Emily.Bronte

September 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmily.Bronte

Well it is nice to see like this.. its very elegant.. In fact, technology has given us the power to support our rapidly growing needs in order to survive... Cable Assembly

November 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermiriam

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