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A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!

at Disneyland Paris

Update : 16:30 Published by François Mayné the 2 June 2013, Feature.
Since its grand opening on the occasion of Disneyland Paris 20th anniversary celebrations in March 2012, the nighttime show Disney Dreams! seems to have reached the goals set by the first European tourist destination with a guest satisfaction rate of 95%, as recently emphasized Philippe Gas, CEO of Euro Disney S.A.S.

On the international scene, Disney Dreams! has also received many accolades during the year, all crowned by obtaining a Brass Ring Award from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).

While entering its second year of operation in an enhanced version, NewsParcs wished to look behind the scenes of this huge production for which the creative and technical teams of both Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) and Disneyland Paris have been working on for several months. Spotlight on the major steps of this outstanding project.

A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!

The artistic creation


It all started in 2010. The executive management of Disneyland Paris launches strategic thinking about the 20th anniversary program and the main proposition that emerges from the meetings is to stage the Sleeping Beauty Castle—the iconic symbol of the Disneyland Park—with a major show as the signature of the event. The project is then quickly assigned to the WDI under the responsibility of Steve Davison, Vice President, Parades and Spectaculars of the Walt Disney Creative Entertainment division.

"The concept of 'Disney dreams' has quickly established itself to the creative team as the basis for this show," he explains. "We also wanted to integrate a technological aspect in the show in order to tell Disney stories in a modern and original way. We decided to create spectacular visual effects on the Castle by using the video mapping as the main element of the production, together with fireworks, water effects and lasers." He continues: "We had to pick a main character in order to illustrate the Disney Dreams. Our choice fell on Peter Pan whose shadow escapes and takes the audience on a journey through the greatest Disney stories."

The first step of the long creative process was to define a storyline incorporating the key elements of the script and more especially the different Disney animated films to be featured in the performance. "This step was essential to see if the show would hold the road," explains Katy Harris, the artistic director of Disneyland Paris who coordinated the creative part of the project from the French side. "Meeting after meeting, the storyline took shape. We decided to split Disney Dreams! into several scenes/sequences to allow the show to evolve over time, for example by changing their order of appearance or by replacing them. There are so many Disney stories... We selected some of the most popular ones including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Tangled or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Some of our ideas have failed for various reasons, we had imagined for example scenes with Pinocchio, Winnie the Pooh, Finding Nemo, Bambi or Fantasia that never have been created! "

A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!

Once the script was validated, each sequence has been illustrated in a few simple drawings to create an animated storyboard used as a basic work for the animators, the music composer and the technicians. "The animation was done by our colleagues and friends of Walt Disney Animation Studios headed by Dave Bossert, director of special projects," continues Kary Harris. "Together, we identified what were the characters that we could recover from the original film stock and those that we had to animate specifically for Disney Dreams! On older animated films, for example, if you want to get a character out of its background, it takes a long time because the work must be done for each image! (editor's note: 24 frames per second) This is easier on recent animated films productions because they are built differently. The scenes are already divided into layers that the animators can take one by one to separate each character from the rest of the action or from the background. "

In the end, Disney Dreams! represents over 60,000 images. When this long animation phase was completed, each sequence was assigned to a media team in charge of producing the videos. The assembly was then loaded into a computer program to ensure that each projected video be perfectly synchronized with the others while avoiding interference effects (distortion, color balance, etc.).

A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!

The music was the second major challenge for the creative team, because it had to be perfectly synchronized with the sequences while respecting the soundtracks of the concerned Disney's classics. During all stages of the creation of the scenario, the American producer and composer Joel McNeely worked with WDI to write step by step a score retracing 80 years of Disney productions. The recording took place at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London with an orchestra of 100 musicians and a group of singers.

Once the video footage was completed with the soundtrack, the final step for the creative team was conducted on-site at Disneyland Paris with 6 weeks of programming at night. It was at that point that the special effects team has started to give life to the ideas of the designers... Indeed, Disney Dreams! also features water fountains, water screens, pyrotechnics effects and lasers!

A show full of technology


Technically, Disney Dreams! is a particularly well-oiled machine. And yet, the case was not a foregone conclusion as the challenges were many ahead. Starting with the main element of the show, the impressive Sleeping Beauty Castle whose architecture (while height and curves) do not lend itself easily to exercise. "We had to integrate a series of technologies into the Disneyland Park, while the original facilities had not been planned at all for that kind of installations (note: the park opened in 1992)," explains Ben Spalding, Disney Dreams! project leader at Disneyland Paris. "But we still managed this tour de force in a relatively short period of time: 7 months between the starting signal and the première!"

A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!

To carry out the video mapping on the Castle, a specialist company was asked to scan the building and get a three-dimensional image of the structure to the nearest millimetre, a job which determined that the total projection surface was 2,500 square meters (approx 26,910 square feet). Based on this data, the teams of the Walt Disney Imagineering then built a model in their studios in Glendale, California, to test the effects of small-scale video projections. "This allowed us to check if the visual contents were well fitting on the Castle as well as in the surrounding space. It was, for example, important to check if the characters were appearing clearly and if the colours went well together," continues Ben Spalding.

The infrastructure of Disney Dreams! includes a total of 16 Christie high definition video projectors, 12 of which are pointed at the Castle (4 are installed on the roofs of Main Street buildings and 8 in and nearby the moats) and the remaining 4 are used for the two water screens. "Our goal was that the projections cover the entire front of the Castle, from top to bottom and from left to right, regardless of the view angle of the audience," adds Steve Davison.



The water effects are obtained by a group of 43 fountains (37 are fixed and 6 moving, with a maximum power of 40 meters high) equipped at their base of a LED system patented by WDI for another night show at Disney California Adventure: World of Color . The water, which is pumped directly from the ponds of the Castle, is recycled by a treatment system while a drain hole has been installed at the base of the Castle's bridge to retrieve the water losses. The facility is completed by two water screens (retractable) and a fog generator that operates in closed circuit with drinking water for hygiene reasons. This is the Belgian theming company Neverland Themepark Projects which was responsible to hide the various technical elements, a long and tedious job considering schedules to meet and weather constraints.

Special effects and pyrotechnics have also required a lot of work for the technicians, beginning with a group of 15 flamethrowers with telescopic arms that have been installed on and around the Castle. To avoid any damage to the building, each unit is fitted with a system of sensors connected to a weather station. If the recorded data exceeds the standards set during testing, each machine can stop independently. "For the flamethrowers, we have assigned a GPS address to each of them before to modeling a 3D space in which the flame can grow without risk to a maximum height of 15 meters. If the sensor considers that the flame can move away from this area because of too much wind for example, the security system automatically engages, whatever the decision of the control room, " explains Ben Spalding.

A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!

For the fireworks, technical teams have complied with a schedule of conditions very strict, both to not exceed the noise standards authorized by the neighboring municipalities but also to prevent damage to the Castle, while respecting the basic conditions of safety for guests and cast members. The main fireworks are launched from two firing points installed on the roofs of Fantasyland while specific indoor fireworks are used on the Castle.

Finally, four generators of lasers have been installed on the Castle and on the roofs of Main Street, still with very specific technical requirements as says Ben Spalding: "We had to get permission of the General Directorate of Civil Aviation because Disneyland Paris is located in the area of several airports. Our lasers can neither point to the sky or to the water screens to avoid any disruption".

The entire show is managed from a brand new control room thanks to a network of fiber optic long of 70 kilometers (approx 43.5 miles) installed all around the central plaza facing the Castle. This control room is themed as a small Victorian house and was transported by special convoy while it took more than two months of work for set-up. Disney Dreams! is operated by a main controller accompanied by three technicians overseeing the audio, video and special effects. Other technicians are placed at strategic locations around the Castle to ensure the smooth running of the show, especially at the firing points. In total, twenty people are necessary at each performance!

A look at Disney Dreams! control room.Katy Harris, the artistic director of Disneyland Paris who coordinated the creative part of the Disney Dreams! project from the French side.

The future of Disney Dreams!


Disney Dreams! was not designed for a short period, all the technical equipment having been installed permanently. The big 20th anniversary show will therefore continue after 2013, most likely with adjustments more or less important depending on the future developments and festivities of the resort.

This is how two new scenes on the theme of The Lion King and Rebel were introduced in the show as part of the 20th anniversary extended season, replacing two previous ones (The Jungle Book and Mary Poppins) as was suggested by the results of a survey conducted with visitors and fan communities. These new scenes have required hours of work to Disney's animators in addition to the writing and recording two new musical scores, always under the direction of Joel McNeely. Finally, new special effects have been installed and programmed on-site for several nights by the technicians of Disneyland Paris.

Starting this summer, visitors will also enjoy the show in a more immersive way with the arrival of a new merchandise: the Disney Light'Ears. Originally developed for World of Color, this bright hat shaped like Mickey ears was adapted to European standards by the merchandising teams of Disneyland Paris under the direction of Marianne Sharpe and David Sultan, respectively director and senior manager. Through a patented infrared technology by WDI, these bright ears are synchronized with the show thanks to a clever system of sensors broadcasters (the 'Earsmitters') placed around Central Plaza and Main Street. They are also able to 'communicate' with each other to achieve specific lighting effects.

"It's a bit like theater lights," explains Katy Harris. "Many effects are possible: the lights change in intensity, color, rhythm... Using infrared technology, we can achieve dramatic effects in a crowd like a wave or a gradation of colors. The idea of the Light'Ears is to extend the images of Disney Dreams! in the space to further immerse visitors into the heart of the story!"

To conclude this article, we asked Katy Harris and Ben Spalding to summarize the project of Disney Dreams! which they did with one of the most famous quotes of Walt E. Disney « We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious… And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths! » We could not have said it better!

A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!A look behind the scenes of Disney Dreams!

Editor's note

A special thanks to Disneyland Paris teams for having allowed us to collect the information necessary for the preparation of this article. We also thank Kary Harris, Marianne Sharpe, Philippe Gas, Steve Davison, Ben Spalding and David Sultan for their warm welcome, and time they devoted to answer us.

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