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Backlot Tour featuring Catastrophe Canyon

The calamitous scene is set in the heart of desert oil country on the edge of a rocky canyon road, and the action rolls when an earthquake rocks the canyon walls with a mighty rumble.

As the earth tremors intensify, new thrills snowball on cue. But every “disaster” is a surprise for guests who venture into Catastrophe Canyon, an exciting special-effects demonstration that punctuates the Disney Hollywood Studios Backlot Tour. Before the journey ends, Walt Disney World guests are “threatened” by fire as it sweeps across the oil fields and by flash floods that storm the unsuspecting shuttle riders, who can smell the oil and feel the heat and the water.

Set in the American Southwest, Catastrophe Canyon is built of 65,000 square feet of rockwork reaching 50 feet high and stretching 200 feet in length. Created to show guests how filmmakers devise movie and television disasters, the attraction is an experience never before offered Florida vacationers.

After beginning the backstage tour with a ride past pre-production costuming quarters, scene shops and along a residential backlot, the shuttle moves on toward the rock formation looming ahead.

Within minutes, the shuttle is surrounded by the steep canyon walls, where a tractor-trailer rig has just parked on a roadbed to fill its tanks with oil. Ground tremors suddenly grip the rock formation and an earthquake builds, rattling nearby telephone poles and showering the area with hot sparks. Fires erupt, explosions echo inside the steep rock walls and flames race toward a large oil-storage tank at the mouth of the canyon.

Built not only as a guest attraction but also as a movie set showcasing special-effects disasters, Catastrophe Canyon is equipped to create the worst of weather, as well. Light rain signals the first sign of wet weather in the canyon, but the sprinkle becomes a deluge that pours over the plateau and threatens to knock the tractor-trailer rig right off the roadbed. The rig tips over on its side as the “disaster” builds.

Even after the torrents begin to subside, a surprise flash flood gives guests a quick dose of special-effects realism.

To guarantee a realistic “disaster” experience, Disney designers chose a geological formation that guests could relate to. Layers of sandstone and limestone, complete with fault fractures, create an earthquake environment typically associated with the Southwest. Guests who’ve learned about Monument Valley, mesa country and the American West through the magic of movies are suddenly surprised to find themselves in the middle of such a dramatic landscape.

As their shuttle “escapes” Catastrophe Canyon and heads for the next movie adventure, visitors have an opportunity to understand the magic by glimpsing the attraction’s many pipes, water tanks and hydraulics features -- the off-stage equipment on which special-effects “disasters” depend.

 
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Video: Hollywood Studios Backlot Tour

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