Many Disney fans and even some people who don’t like Disney (i.e., people who are wrong!) have wondered how Disney characters see through their costume heads. If you have had the pleasure of going to Disney and meeting your favorite character, you might even have scrutinized them up close, but you will not have spotted any human eyes or eye holes. So how do they see?
Disney characters see through tinted plastics or “one-way” mesh, which covers the character’s eyes or mouth opening, depending on how tall the character is and what the costume design allows. The cast members can see out of the heads, but their vision is still impaired, particularly peripheral vision.
The secrets of Disney parks are so well-kept that if you wanted to believe that it is all the result of fairy magic and pixie dust—well, we would only have hearsay evidence to refute this opinion. So, the answers provided in this article are mostly based on the stories of current or ex-cast members as opposed to official statements, which do not exist.
How Do Disney Characters See out of Their Costumes?
Like I said, no matter how close you get to them, you will not see any eyes or even eye holes in a Disney character’s costume head.
Disney is committed to maintaining the illusion, and they think about the smallest details, like hidden Mickeys in the patterns of hotel carpets, so they are certainly not going to make it obvious that there is a human being inside the character costume.
However, the cast members (there are no employees at Disney) inside the costumes can still see well enough to walk around and even dance without bumping into everything and everyone.
This is rather simply achieved through the use of tinted plastics or a specialized mesh over a particular part of the face. These materials are designed so that you can see out of them but not into them.
I say “rather simply” because similar materials or technologies are used for sunglasses, tinted car windows, and screen doors.
Depending on the precise material used for the costume “eye holes”, you might be able to detect the person inside the head if there was a light shining within. But as there is no light, the magic is unbroken.
Where Are The “Eye Holes” in a Disney Character Costume?
Depending on the design of the costume and the height of the character, the tinted plastic or “one-way” mesh may be used for the character’s eyes or their mouth.
If the mouth is being used, then it will typically be designed to stay open to a certain degree—just enough to allow a good field of vision, but not so much that it looks like the character is permanently yawning or screaming!
As I said, the location of the eye holes also depends on the height of the character. If the character is supposed to be very tall, then looking through the mouth is a better option than trying to find an extremely tall person to fill the costume.
Don’t forget that more than one person is playing the same character, so while finding one 6’8” actor would be possible, the chances of finding two who are both willing and able to work for Disney are a lot slimmer.
How Well Can the Actors See out the Costumes?
Although the people inside these character heads can see through the plastic or mesh, their vision is not wholly unhindered. As you can imagine, their blind spots are also rather more expansive than they would be out of the costume.
The exaggerated head movements of the characters are certainly part of the actor’s training, but the impaired peripheral vision makes these movements functional as well as fantastical.
How Do the Disney Characters Blink?
While we are on the subject of a Disney character’s eyes, let’s take a moment to address the magic of blinking! Granted, the explanation is not exactly magical, but it is still very interesting.
The blinking of the characters’ eyes is known as animatronics, and it has evolved over the years. The newest generation of animatronics was created as a part of the living characters initiative, which was launched in 2007, and it has certainly breathed new life into Mickey and his friends.
There are two options of animatronics that control the opening and closing of the eyelids.
The first is a manual option, controlled by the actor in the costume. The mechanisms that move the eyelids are controlled by a lever system attached to the actor’s fingers. Bending a specific finger will then cause the eyelids to close, and unbending the finger will open them again.
The same technology is also used to make the characters’ mouths move.
The second option is an automated system that follows a set pattern that has been choreographed and programed into the eyelid mechanics for specific performances or appearances.
Mesh Is Also Used for Heat Control
If your first thought is not “how do Disney characters see?” then it is probably “gosh, it must be hot in that suit!” and you would be correct.
Not a single sliver of skin is allowed to be visible, so all of the characters wear long sleeves, long pants, oversized footwear, thick gloves, and a heavy head that joins snuggly to the neckline of the character’s outfit.
Standing in the shade in this get-up is one thing, but our beloved characters come to life by walking around the parks or dancing in shows and parades, and most cast members report that it gets sweltering in there.
But Disney is not about to let the kids and kids-at-heart see their favorite character pass out from heatstroke during a dance number! Thus, they have taken steps to ensure that the heat is managed.
One of these steps actually ties into how Disney characters see. In addition to the mesh through which the cast members can see, other mesh vents are cleverly incorporated into the costumes, allowing air to flow through the costume and keep the person inside as cool as possible.
Do Disney Characters Have Fans in Their Costumes?
There is a rumor circulating that Disney characters have fans inside their costumes, but I can’t confirm this. While some cast members say that their own costumes did not have a fan but another character did, other Disney veterans say that this is entirely a myth.
So, who do we believe?
Well, if you think about it, introducing an effective fan into the costume will add weight to the costume and emit a certain amount of sound.
Extra Weight Is Dangerous
It could be rather dangerous to add any item that would increase the weight of the costume. The characters’ heads are already so heavy that many cast members have sustained some kind of injury while wearing them.
Sometimes this is simply a strain from having to wear the head regularly, but other times it is because they have been subjected to rough treatment by the guests. Think about how your own muscles would have to work to keep that head balanced as a child cannons into you at full tilt!
Moreover, increasing the weight of the costume increases the energy required to move around in it, which generates more heat. Thus, a fan might be counterintuitive.
Sound Can Ruin the Illusion
This one is obvious. Even the quietest of fans will still create some kind of sound, and Goofy does not whir, and Mickey does not buzz! So, a fan seems to go against the Disney maxim of maintain the illusion.
Ultimately, I would say that it is unlikely that the costumes have fans in them. But, since we have solved the “how do they see” problem, the next time you bump into a character at Disney, don’t peer for eye holes. Instead, try to listen for the low hum of an electrical fan.
How Do You Talk to Disney Characters?
If you have never met a Disney character before, it can be a bit awkward knowing how you should talk to them.
My advice is just to let go of your inhibitions and speak to them as if they were real. What have you always wished you could say to your childhood (and current) heroes?
Remember, the cast members are not allowed to break character, so trying to address them directly instead of the character means that they have to work harder to deflect your comments.
This also means looking at the character’s eyes, no matter whether the cast member is actually looking out through the eyes or if they are looking out of the mouth.
Then, try not to ask them too many questions. Full-suit characters are not permitted to talk or sing, so unless you are willing to play charades, stick to statements they can react to (although playing charades with Donald Duck sounds quite entertaining!).
One final tip on how to talk to a Disney character is to be polite. They deal with overwhelmed children, frustrated or embarrassing parents, and the occasional inappropriate or rude adult. By being kind and polite, you will get a better response out of the character and contribute to making it the happiest place on earth.
The technology that allows Disney characters to see is magically simple. While tinted plastic and mesh materials are as low-tech as it gets, I, for one, am grateful to the costume designers who make every effort to keep the magic alive and ensure that when we meet a character, we meet that character, not whichever person happens to be in the costume at the time—although I am grateful to them for their part too!