What's happening on Main Street USA these days? At Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, on America's most-loved Main Street, the news is Light Magic, an after-dark event that replaces Disneyland's Main Street Electric Parade. After months of technology try-outs, Light Magic opened on May 23. But the real news is that each of its four 80'-long by 25'-high by 11'-wide (24x8x3m) floats, or rolling stage units, has a self-contained, cable-free lighting system with custom-built DC-to-DC dimming and a DMX interface.
Light Magic is a show rather than a parade. Each float is identical from a design perspective, and decorated in a woodland theme with a pixie house for Tinkerbell, twinkling trees covered with vines, and large flowers lit with fiber optics (which are very bright, considering they are battery-operated). The Disney characters, who vary from float to float, sprinkle lots of good cheer and pixie dust in a 14-minute street show.
The floats leave a storage barn and parade to a show site in front of the "It's a Small World" attraction, where they sit on specific marks so that 70mm film projectors hit the screens on the floats perfectly. After the first show, the event moves to Main Street for a second performance. After a 20-minute break, there is a second show in each location. One difference is that only three of the four floats are used at "It's a Small World." Also, on Main Street the floats sit in a straight line, while at "It's a Small World" they snake in an S-shape. As each float weighs 70,000lb (31,752kg), the new parade route is concrete to support the weight (the old streets were asphalt).
"The audience is lined up on both sides at each location," says Brian Gale, Disneyland's lighting designer for the floats and street lighting. The floats are designed so that the audience sees the same show from both sides. "The show is symmetrical, from front to back and left to right, so everybody sees the same thing," says Gale, who explains that the screens in the center of the floats are both front- and rear-projection so that viewers on both sides can see the image. The projection system was designed by Mark Rosenthal of Personal Creations in Hollywood, CA.
For the colorful street lighting, Gale used Vari*Lite(R) VL6(TM) spot luminaires (a total of 84 along the parade route, hung in groups of six), and 300 Thomas All Weather PARs (hung in groups of 24, 12 of which are outfitted with Wybron Aquaram color scrollers). These instruments, programmed with a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II from A.C. Lighting, are mounted on themed light poles at "It's a Small World" and on the rooftops of buildings (along with confetti cannons) on Main Street, where light poles that can be seen during the day are forbidden.
"The floats move both northbound and southbound," Gale explains. "This means we need to repatch the show. There is one disk for north and one disk for south. During the break, after two shows in one direction, the lighting operator changes the disk before the show heads back in the other direction." In lighting the floats, Gale based his design on "what one person sees at any one time." This means he designed one half of one side of one float, then repeated the same design for each quadrant. Each side of each float has a self contained system with six Irideon(TM) AR5s(TM) and 11 mini-PARs, or birdies.
"I programmed one half of one float in the warehouse and duplicated it on the route, for each viewing area, updating the focus groups as needed. There are seven performance zones, and 14 shows. The lighting for each is the same," says Gale. "What it does, when it does it, and the color is exactly the same for each show."
To control the self-contained lighting systems, Disney called upon Doug Fleenor Design in Arroyo Grande, CA, to custom-design a DMX interface and battery-operated electronic dimming system for the floats. "We used a 24V source (four 6V batteries) to control 12V," says Fleenor. "Starting with 24V allows us to get a full 12V out even when the batteries start to discharge. Since the DC-to-DC dimmers are over 85% efficient, we could start with a higher voltage without wasting energy." Each float is equipped with a total of twenty 6V batteries (five packs of four). The floats are plugged in at night when they are returned to their storage barn, where the batteries recharge in 12 hours.
There are four battery-controlled dimmer packs on each float (two in the middle and one on each end). Each has a DMX interface, 12 DC-to-DC converters (a switching power supply which runs at high frequency through a transformer to supply 12V), and a status indicator circuit board.
The 24V power on each float is used at three different voltages: the DC-to-DC dimmer supplies dimmable 0-12V; relay packs provide straight 24V; and 120V AC is obtained from an on-board inverter for use by the show controllers, the Irideon AR5s, and the DMX512 optical splitters. The DMX system includes 32 DMX-to-analog converters (eight per float), four combine units, and four five-output splitters (one per float).
Each float also contains an ETC Impression rack-mounted show controller, a custom microcontroller for strobe units, and one Disneyland proprietary controller that talks to the central control room and gives cue information to all the control devices on the float. The central control room, Light Magic's heartbeat, is called DECS, for Disney Entertainment Control System. Here, a master PC-based controller is driven by SMPTE control.
The Wholehog II that controls the street lighting and the moving lights on each float takes its cues from the DECS. Additional interface control units along the parade route, including some custom-designed DMX interfaces from Fleenor, send signals as well. Four technicians run the show (two in the control room, and two in the street who travel with the floats), with an additional 25-30 technicians behind the scenes. The floats also have drivers to steer and position them.
"We might have the world's largest DMX network," says Phil Lindsey, who served as Disney's technical director for the Light Magic project. "We use it to control everything from confetti cannons to fiber-optic illuminators. There are probably 4,000 miles (6,400km) of fiber on this project." The custom fiber optics used for Light Magic were designed by art director Greg Lucas, with director John Addis and creative director Michael Maines. Lynn Hart worked on the animation, cueing, and programming of the fiber optics on the floats, while Steve Davidson designed the fiber-optic effects along the parade route.
"There is a lot of ballyhoo in the lighting during the first few minutes while the floats are set--lots of movement and lots of color," Lindsey says. "With the floats synchronized by wireless communications, this might be the single most complex show on the planet." Under the razzle-dazzle of moving lights and pounds of swirling confetti, Light Magic has made significant breakthroughs in lighting technology. While these nuances may not be apparent to the fans lined up to wave at their favorite Disney characters, perhaps Tinkerbell and her pixies really can make dreams come true.
Disney's Light Magic is a featured element of the LDI97 workshops.