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At Disneyland, thank cutting-edge tech for nighttime magic (pictures)

Road Trip 2015 takes CNET to Disneyland, where tech takes over the show after the sun sets.

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Joan E. Solsman

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Magic through tech

Walt Disney opened an Anaheim, California, theme park 60 years ago. To mark the anniversary, Disneyland reinvented its nighttime programming, which it calls its "spectaculars."

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Master of ceremonies

The electric-light parade "Paint the Night" has advanced significantly over the years, but Mickey still headlines the program.

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Watch it go

Floats are tracked by GPS to ensure clockwork precision every evening.

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Beauty at night

The parade has 1.5 million sources of light. That's one for every person in a city the size of Philadelphia.

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Part of that world

Lights in the performer's costumes are controlled by their own system.

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Bright idea

Its electric-light parade is now the biggest to be illuminated almost exclusively by light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

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Mack the truck

A float based on the Mack the truck character from Pixar movie "Cars" has a novel three-dimensional display in his trailer, built from thousands of suspended glowing orbs.

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Unlikely inspiration

Mack's 3D technology was inspired by an installation at Burning Man, the experimental art festival in the Nevada desert.

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World of Color

Across from Disneyland in its sister park, Disney California Adventure, a water show called "World of Color - Celebrate" explains how Disney entertainment has changed over the decades.

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Making a splash

The centerpieces of the program is a 380-foot screen created by jets of water and mist.

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Water stars

The water projection allows stars like Mickey and Neil Patrick Harris to narrate the show.

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Splashes of color

Lights illuminate jets of water to appear as different colors, which sometimes sync with the lights around the park -- even the light-up ears in the Mickey Hats that audience members may be wearing.

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Ablaze

The "World of Color" show isn't all water -- it integrates blazing jets of fire as well.

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'We're home'

The latest incarnation of the program includes a clip from the forthcoming "Star Wars" franchise reboot.

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Feel the heat

Chuck Davis is the parks' entertainment tech guru. His favorite part of the show is when a 100-foot plume of flame blasts into the air -- though he loves it partly because he's a big "Star Wars" fan.

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Laser focus

The show beams lasers into the sprays of water to create different effects.

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Explosive finale

The fireworks display occurs over Sleeping Beauty's Castle, in front of the park's statue of Walt Disney walking hand-in-hand with Mickey Mouse.

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Projecting

The new program using projection mapping technology to dress structures in the park in animation, such as twinkles of light.

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Finding innovation

Projections turn Matterhorn Mountain into the volcano from the tank in "Finding Nemo."

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Drawing a crowd

Visitors to the park begin staking their spots for the nighttime spectaculars hours in advance.

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A complicated facade

Disney developed a mapping technology to project on the park's castle, mountain and buildings along Main Street USA. The technology creates 3D models of the structures because their facades aren't flat surfaces that easily accept projections.

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Transforming buildings

The projection mapping allows Disney to "shrink wrap" live animation onto complicated buildings.

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