Steve Davison Meets Disney Fans

Fans of the Disney parks always love to hear some of the stories and secrets behind an attraction or show. A the occassion of the kick-off event for the 20th Anniversary celebration of Disneyland Paris selected members of fan operated websites covering the resort online were invited to meet and talk to Imagineer Steve Davison who created the resort’s new nighttime spectacular Disney DREAMS (as reviewed in an earlier post). After introducing the attendants to his work he happily answered questions.

As Steve Davison explained the first time he was approached to create what would eventually become “Disney DREAMS” was over two years ago. Steve Davison revealed that interestingly the first contact concerning him creating a spectacular for Disneyland Paris came from … the marketing department.

The team of Disneyland Paris wanted to create a spectacular using video mapping on the castle – i.e. projecting on the three dimensional surface of the castle turning it into a unique canvas utilizing the actual shape of the castle for added effect. Story-wise one of the first ideas was to have it centered around the concept of “dreaming”. So this corner stone was in place from the very beginning of the creative process. However, they certainly looked also into alternatives, to be specific a total of four concepts were considered.

Not surprisingly Steve Davison didn’t reveal anything specific about these other three concepts. However, he went into detail about the creation of the on concept that made the cut explaining that the idea of using Peter Pan in the story came from seeing his image all around the Disneyland Hotel at Disneyland Paris. The many decorations based on this character inspired him to use him as the main character. The team then developed the idea further up to the point where they decided to choose Peter Pan’s shadow as the main story telling character. However, the various scenes feature numerous additional characters – including Quasimodo who was specifically picked because of the French location. This local aspect is also reflected in the team involved in the creation and execution of the spectacular which included US and French Imagineers – as well as the Pixar crew.

The process to laser map the castle to allow for the creation of the projections for its surface took three months as Steve Davison explained. As the animation was done in the USA. “Disney DREAMS” features a large amount of new, specifically created animation, some of which was handled by the Pixar Studios since it involved their characters – for example Remy from Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille. As far as the dialogue is concerned the team ventured to as many performances as possible by the original voice actors. For some parts they were able to repurpose old recordings after research in the studios’ archives while other parts were newly recorded specifically for the spectacular.

The completed sequences were then tested on a 3 meter replica of the castle erected in California. Differing from past projections on DLP’s castle for “Disney DREAMS” the projections are not only limited to the castle’s front but also wrap around the sides. This opens up whole different perspectives when watching the spectacular from different angles.

Compared to the firework displays featured at Disneyland Paris since opening day “Disney DREAMS” allows to keep a larger part of the park open during the night (as there is only much more limited security perimeter required). This also means that guests will not need to be pushed as far back over the Central Plaza into the Main Street creating more viewing space allowing up to 15,000 guests to enjoy the spectacular from various viewing areas –  even from the sides of the castle. While weather conditions could impact the spectacular they do not necessarily result in cancellations – not even in case of high winds. Instead these might only force the team on-site for the performance to stop the use of fireworks – but the spectacular could still go on featuring all other elements which still provide a magical experience to guests. Speaking of viewing points – Central Plaza certainly will be a prime spot. Steve Davison told the attendants that he specifically requested the stage placed in the center of the hub to be removed.

The unique setting for “Disney DREAMS” on and around the castle with the inclusion of specifically installed water fountains in the castle’s moat certainly created unique challenges. And as in every project of this scope not every vision can be executed in the end. For example the idea of projection on the water fountains from the back and the front was dropped as it was impossible to get them fit into each other as the water was always moving differently depending on wind and weather conditions. While it would have added an extra dimension, they had at some point to admit that it just didn’t work out.

As “World of Color” created by Steve Davison for Disney’s California adventure “Disney DREAMS” can be changed depending on the seasons. For example a new sequence could be added for the Halloween or the Christmas season. Although creating these might take a while, swapping them in once they are ready can be done with a push of a button. This allows the resort to run one version of the spectacular in the first night and a different version the following night.

The mix of various different (technical) elements also required the installation of various new equipment on and around the castle and the hub area. Some of that equipment is still visible at the moment or only temporarily covered at the moment during daytime. However, the plans call for all equipment to be themed / covered / hidden during daytime to limit the intrusion as far as possible and retain the magical views. Steve Davison emphasized that these plans are still moving ahead and everything should be hidden well in a couple of weeks.

Furthermore, some of the equipment will also be used for entertainment offerings besides “Disney DREAMS”. In particular the fountains in the moat are already programmed to present several times daily a little fountain show featuring music from the Disney Princess movies – in fact guests can already enjoy this experience since Saturday March 31st.

Even before the grand premiere speculations appeared online whether the spectacular might be copied for Tokyo Disneyland since executives of the Japanese resort visited Disneyland Paris recently – but Steve Davison was able to solve that mystery with one (or two) short sentences: NO. While they looked at the spectacular they will not get their own version. However, a new parade for Tokyo Disney is in the works – and their visit was related to that project.

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