Walt Disney Studios Brings the Magic of Cinema to Disneyland Paris

“The idea was to create a contemporary European film and television studio with Hollywood flair, but not a recreation,” says Paula Dinkel of Walt Disney Imagineering, who served as principal lighting designer for the new Walt Disney Studios theme park in Paris. Dinkel collaborated with senior lighting designers Tracy Eck (who is based in Paris at the park) and Laura M. Yates on the cinema-inspired park that opened last March in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of Disneyland Paris.

The architectural lighting throughout Walt Disney Studios begins at large front gates that are reminiscent of the imposing gates at grand old Hollywood studios. “The entrance recalls California architecture,” says Eck. “The lighting is romantic, dramatic, and soft, in white and amber, with a lavender wash for a sense of moonlight.” The cool wash comes from 1,000W Thorn CSI fixtures with dichroic filters.

Custom wrought-iron sconces with yellow marbled glass panels, made in Germany by Robers Leuchten, use compact fluorescent lamps, as well as concealed 35W metal-halide Philips MasterColor lamps that add a warm uplight on the facades. “We used mostly long-life lamps, including metal-halides with good color rendering,” says Eck. The long-life lamps make maintenance easier (there are even Philips induction lamps tucked into recessed downlights in the restrooms).

Streetlights outside the gates are decidedly French, with green curlicue iron and white globes, made by GHM, a French manufacturer. Once inside the main gates, the pole lights on the entry plaza are a play on classic Hollywood “acorn”-style lampposts, and made by the UK company Andy Thornton, signaling the transition into the movie magic of the park. Hydrel fixtures, also with Philips MasterColor lamps, recessed in the pavement provide additional uplight on the columns of the entry pavilion.

In the Studio Store (located right inside the front gates on Fantasia Plaza) the bi-level lighting is designed by Eck, and inspired by the decor of a soundstage. Black Targetti track fixtures with AR111 lamps hanging above the set add sparkle to the movie-abilia and clothing in the shop. “Instead of using floods, this is much more specific lighting,” says Eck, who added Concord recessed downlights, and custom wrought iron chandeliers made by Cosalt in the UK. Exterior lighting includes Bega recessed downlights and custom fixtures by Robers Leuchten.

From Fantasia Plaza, guests enter the park through Disney Studio 1, a soundstage dressed for a film shoot on Hollywood Boulevard. “The street is designed with a camera viewpoint,” says Dinkel. Behind the themed Hollywood Boulevard facades are shops and a restaurant, all with a behind-the-scenes backstage look. ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, Source Four PARs, and High End Systems Technobeams® are mounted on catwalks along the ceiling. Additional ETC and High End Technobeams are hung on Desisti “self-climbers” (motorized lighting bars) that add a studio look and make it easy to bring the lights down for maintenance.

The 23 Technobeams run in a continuous animated light show on the street and are tied into cyc lights creating sunset colors, and fiber-optic stars on the Hollywood Boulevard backdrop that includes a painted version of the famous HOLLYWOOD sign. Four ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, animated on customized motors and mounting brackets, create the look of moving searchlights in the skies above the soft purple Hollywood Hills. “Added to the color and dynamics of the set lighting on the street, it looks as if a theatrical company has lit the space for a party,” says Dinkel.

The lighting for Studio 1 was programmed on a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® II console and is played back on a Wholehog playback unit for regular operations. The control of the venue can be switched back to the Wholehog II, used as a live console for programming of special events and live entertainment. The ETC Sensor dimmers are part of the lighting network and control system that then ties into a larger park-wide control system, as do all the facilities and attractions. David Gray from ETC Europe coordinated the project along with Jean-François Delamotte from the WDI show lighting team.

Architectural lighting in Studio 1 includes industrial pendants as well as decorative ceiling fans with palm frond-style blades and lights, again for a Hollywood touch. “Just for fun, projected light patterns are scattered across the floor in the restaurant,” says Dinkel, who layered exposed theatrical lighting with merchandise lighting in the Legends of Hollywood retail store, in keeping with the overall film set theme. “In the merchandise area we used pipes and grids with Thomas PAR cans for spotlighting the merchandise and CCT floodlights for the overall ambient lighting,” she says. “The only color is on the props and sets flying above the shop because the merchandise needs white light for good color rendering.”

As a special touch on the soundstage, Dinkel added two vintage resistance dimmer boards that guests can play with and change the lights (in pre-programmed sequences) for a little interactive fun. “The old dimmer boards were refurbished and modified to talk to the ETC dimmers,” she explains. “It's fun for the guests to interact with the lighting. The kids just love playing with the color-mixing in the Liki Tiki, where they can mix primary red, blue, and green light on the suspended thatched roof, using L&E three-circuit 24V MR-16 striplights. They can also push buttons and flip switches to hear thunder and rain sounds as strobes flash and they create a little lightning storm.” At the second board, guests can mix cyan, magenta, and yellow in the striplights uplighting one of the facades.

Exterior pole lamps designed like towers of rock-and-roll truss are used along the park's parade route with Coemar color-changing wash lights on top and used only for special events and parades. Loudspeakers are also mounted on the poles, along with Light Projects exterior PAR cans in a special metal-halide version modified with barndoors as part of the essential movie lighting layer of the park's architectural vernacular. “These fixtures add splashes of color to the exterior walkways, completing the cinema vocabulary,” Dinkel notes.

Once into the “production” areas of the park the lighting style changes to a working studio point of view, with more exciting colors (reds and blues rather than ambers and pinks) and bright neon highlighting the facades. On the exterior of CinéMagique, a tribute to the movies, exposed neon adds an art deco touch to the marquee design, while at the Art of Disney Animation, a look at the magic of animation, concealed neon creates a more subtle design. Both buildings have warm sandy facades, with bright bands of neon accents. At CinéMagique there are also linear fluorescent fixtures by Exterieur Vert to add contrast to the facade, and recessed Kreon fixtures from Belgium running like the sprockets of a filmstrip in square niches.

Inside the Art of Disney Animation, the entry area is lit with Turn (a European manufacturer) curved monorail and circles with MR-16 downlights and warm dichroic filters. A rotunda is lit with an Optikinetics effects projector with custom color wheels hand-painted to create a Technicolor ceiling. Interactive panels that illustrate the history of animation are lit with RSL fiber optics, selected for easy maintenance. Yellow neon in a cove accents the entry doors to the Disney Classics Theatre, where guests are treated to highlights of Disney animation.

The post-show area includes paint jars with slowly changing fiber-optic “paints” and additional Turn track lighting with an extra lens in front of the color filter to add another layer of color. Accents include blue neon in the soffits and a High End Systems Technobeam adding a wandering circle of color on the floor. In the Disney Animation Gallery, recessed downlights and neon amber give the walls a warm glow, along with Philips fixtures with fluorescent blacklight tubes.

On the outside of the Rock'n'Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and Armageddon Special Effects attractions, programmed sequences of High End Systems Dataflash® strobes mix with 1,000W Thorn CSI washlights with dichroic filters. At Rock'n'Roller Coaster the facade is bathed in a multicolored wash, while Armageddon has a burning red wash, both from the Thorn fixtures mounted on nearby building rooftops.

At Moteurs … Action! Stunt Show Spectacular, a live outdoor show, the same Thorn fixtures with a blue dichroic wash and green neon add color to the large silver letters of the signage. “At night the blue wash on the metallic letters plays off the green neon, and helps the green to pop,” says Eck. Festoons of colored Lumisphere bulbs create a festive look outside the Backlot Express restaurant (designed as a prop shop, with many movie props hanging from the ceiling, including a shark from Jaws).

The Studio Tram Tour takes guests past Reign of Fire, where the city of London sits in ruins. Broken columns are lit with Philips 1,500W quartz floodlights with green-blue dichroics (R74) adding big strokes of color. The remains of a London Underground car are lit with Diversitronics strobes, and PAR cans ringing a circle of trash cans that seem to be on fire. “All of the lighting on the ruins comes from below,” says Eck. “It is very eerie.”

Also on the Tram Tour is Catastrophe Canyon, complete with a truck crash, fire, and flooding. Yates designed the lighting for this attraction, which is mostly seen during the daytime. Thorn CSI fixtures are used to track the sun, with high-pressure sodium sources coming from the direction of the sun, with cooler metal-halide sources from the other side for contrast.

“These are on all the time as there are frequently cloudy days at the park,” says Yates, who also used Light Projects 1,000W exterior PAR-64s, with the lamps color-corrected with film tones (half-CTO and half-CTB). “The fixtures have barndoors to enhance the storyline of a live film shoot and are weatherproof with an IP rating of 65 and above, as the fixtures get very wet during the flood sequence.”

Highlights in the exterior park lighting include a water tower topped with mouse ears outlined with fiber optics provided by French company MC2. Two four-headed SkyTracker units from Strong Entertainment Lighting sit behind the main gate to light up the night skies. The Fantasia fountain on the entry plaza is lit from nearby trees with WE-EF 70W HID fixtures from Germany, in a combination of spots and floods. Roblon fiber optics from Denmark add sparkle to the water in the fountain. Hydrel fixtures provide uplighting for trees and plants.

Dichroic filters throughout the park are by Rosco as well as Prinz, a German company. “We chose a rather subtle range of tints rather than saturated colors. Color was important, and helped pull together the architecture for coherence, so that adjoining buildings were not competing,” says Yates.

Choosing the colors was not a simple process. “The lighting team and all the art directors, producers, and concept architects got together in the park one night to try out colors in the fixtures lighting the facades. We looked at them in context with the neon, the marquees, and the streetlights, and then chose the palette,” explains Dinkel.

Additional accent points pop out as you walk through the park. These include a giant version of Mickey's sorcerer's hat from Fantasia, a popular Disney icon adorning the Art of Disney Animation building. Eck designed the lighting for the hat using Meyer 70W metal-halide fixtures and Thorn Contrast fixtures with very saturated custom blue Rosco dichroic filters, perched on nearby rooftops to help make the hat glow blue in the dark. Extra sparkle comes from High End Systems ES-1 outdoor fixtures. “I like the way it glows in the dark,” says Eck. “It looks like it's iridescent.”

The night lighting at the park goes on progressively just before sunset so as not to power up all at the same time. “We also wanted a look of magic at dusk,” says Yates. “The facades light up first with big washes of color, and oversized graphics that sparkle at night. This meant lighting the facades carefully so the palette blends together.” Regulations in France that call for higher ambient light levels on exterior spaces and walkways than in US parks were considered when balancing the light as well.

The three designers split the lighting along clear lines, with Dinkel serving as team leader. “There was a great sense of teamwork,” she affirms. “We shared information, and although we each had our own projects we all worked throughout the park. There was a great crossover of ideas and creativity.” The end result is a kinetic blend of architectural and theatrical lighting that brings Walt Disney Studios to life with all the glamour of old Hollywood and the pizzazz of contemporary Europe. Mickey, the star of it all, must be beaming from ear to ear.

Contact the author at elgreaux@primediabusiness.com.