Disney researchers develop interactive 'magic' bench

By Ashley Carter , Digital Media Producer
Last Updated: Thursday, July 27, 2017, 3:15 PM EDT

Disney is known for being on the cutting-edge of innovation—whether it’s developing new technology for theme park attractions or creating new experiences.

  • Magic Bench is interactive, mixed-reality experience
  • Technology developed by Disney researchers in Pittsburgh
  • Users can see, hear and "feel" CGI characters  

The company’s research team in Pittsburgh is testing out a new type of virtual experience.

Researchers have created a way for users to interact with animated characters, without the use of a virtual-reality headset.

The Magic Bench, as it’s being called in the research paper, is a new take on interactive, shared experiences being developed, combining animation and other CGI elements in real-time.

As seen in a demonstration video, people sit on the Magic Bench, which is positioned in front of a display. The display is equipped with an RGB camera and a depth sensor. This allows users to see a mirrored image of themselves on a display, creating a third person point of view.

The image is recreated in a virtual space using a depth sensor, placing users in the same space as computer-generated characters and objects. Users can not only see and hear the CGI characters, but also "feel" them through haptic feedback. Actuators underneath the bench trigger vibrations to give users the sensation that characters are physically present.

Magic Bench can tell how many people are there, allowing developers to create unique group experiences.

“Our mantra for this project was: hear a character coming, see them enter the space, and feel them sit next to you,” said Mo Mahler, principal digital artist, in a demonstration video. “We wanted to create an immersive experience through a multi-sensory approach.”

Magic Bench is only in the development stage, but the technology could eventually make its way to Disney’s theme parks.

Imagine sitting down on a bench at Disney World only to have an animated character plop down next to you.

The Disney Research team will present their paper at the Siggraph 2017 Conference in Los Angeles next week.  

Watch a demonstration of the Magic Bench below: