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.

Joan E. Solsman
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
Joan E. Solsman
1 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

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."

2 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

Master of ceremonies

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

3 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

Watch it go

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

4 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

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.

5 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

Part of that world

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

6 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

Bright idea

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

7 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

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.

8 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

Unlikely inspiration

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

9 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

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.

10 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

Making a splash

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

11 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

Water stars

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

12 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

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.

13 of 22 Nick Golebiewski


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

14 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

'We're home'

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

15 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

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.

16 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

Laser focus

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

17 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

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.

18 of 22 Nick Golebiewski


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

19 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

Finding innovation

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

20 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

Drawing a crowd

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

21 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

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.

22 of 22 Nick Golebiewski

Transforming buildings

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

More Galleries

17 Hidden iOS 17 Features and Settings on Your iPhone
Invitation for the Apple September iPhone 15 event

17 Hidden iOS 17 Features and Settings on Your iPhone

18 Photos
I Took 600+ Photos With the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Look at My Favorites

I Took 600+ Photos With the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Look at My Favorites

34 Photos
Go Inside the Apple iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro: See How the New iPhones Look and Work
iphone 15 in different color from an angled view

Go Inside the Apple iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro: See How the New iPhones Look and Work

21 Photos
AI or Not AI: Can You Spot the Real Photos?

AI or Not AI: Can You Spot the Real Photos?

17 Photos
Yamaha motorcycle and instrument designers trade jobs (pictures)

Yamaha motorcycle and instrument designers trade jobs (pictures)

16 Photos
CNET's 'Day of the Dead Devices' altar (pictures)

CNET's 'Day of the Dead Devices' altar (pictures)

9 Photos
2007 Los Angeles Auto Show: concept cars

2007 Los Angeles Auto Show: concept cars

14 Photos