Disney Design: Forced Perspective

Posted: October 23, 2008 in Disney Design
Tags: , ,

In this edition of the Disney Design Posts I’d like to let you in on a little trick that Disney uses to make things seem “larger than life”. Does that castle look massive from the train station? Do those shops lining main street seem several stories tall? When you enter the park does it look like the castle is much further away than it really is?

Cinderella Castle from the Train Station

Cinderella Castle from the Train Station

These are just some of the many forced perspective tricks that Disney World uses to increase the magic of the Magic Kingdom (The Magic Kingdom at Disney uses Forced Perspective much less than Disneyland California. Disneyland California has much less room and therefor needs to make things look larger. It is still used at the Magic Kingdom however). The first, and often most noted instance of Forced Perspective is the Castle itself. Standing in front of it the spire seems to tower over the whole park. The actual height is only 189 feet (Which, as with most Disney buildings, is under the height limit that would require them to place the red flashing airplane light on top. Disney feels that this would take away from the magic so most attractions are under this height)
Some of the tricks Disney uses in the castle include making the “bricks” much smaller at the top than they are at the bottom, designing the top spire so that it is half the size it should be to make it appear twice the distance away, as well as scaling down several other features of the castle as you climb higher.

The next area of forced perspective is Main Street itself. Upon entering the park Main Street seems to stretch forever leading the castle in the distance.

Forced Perspective makes Main Street USA in Disney World appear much larger than it really is!

Forced Perspective at Main Street Disney

However, upon leaving the park you will observe that Main Street seems much shorter walking back toward the train station. The reason they do this is because in the morning your anticipation is building as you slowly approach the castle, however in the evening you are ready to head out and don’t want to walk forever! So how does Disney achieve this? First of all look at the main street building’s themselves. Most appear to be three or more stories tall, however upon closer examination you will find that the windows, signs and accessories at the upper levels are much smaller than the ground level! In most cases two “stories” of windows actually only equals one real level! Also, the buildings angle slightly inwards toward the castle making it seem much further away. On the reverse trip quite the opposite is true. Disney uses reversed perspective on the train station at the beginning of Main Street to make it appear closer, and making it seem you don’t have to walk as far as you did in the morning!

This post a part of the Disney Design Series

  1. […] has been a master of using design to create illusions, whether it is the forced perspective of main street and castles in it’s theme parks, or the amazing synthetic stone and wood that […]

  2. Ken Roberts says:

    Great facts, information, and explanations !

    Many thanks,


  3. […] my 22 year old daughter made us laugh by asking when Mickey Mouse would arrive and saying that the forced perspective was so expertly done that the Providence, RI cityscape actually looked […]

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