Two attractions at Walt Disney Studios, the new gate at Disneyland Paris, are real standouts in the lighting department. Rock'n'Roller Coaster avec Aerosmith, a revised version of the original attraction at Disney World in Orlando, takes guests on a hair-raising ride through a rock concert, while Armageddon Special Effects (based on the film of the same name) takes place on a space shuttle during a meteor attack.

A Rush of Rock and Roll

The storyline at Rock'n'Roller Coaster is that the guests are visiting the Tour de Force Records experimental test facility where a roller coaster is combined with truss, automated lights, and music by Aerosmith. “There are five ride vehicles, each with its own soundtrack and lighting program,” explains Paula Dinkel, principal LD for Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, CA. Art director Stefan Hellwig, Dinkel, and a team of designers worked together to design the attraction, with the scenery consisting mostly of truss, props, and lights. The ride track passes through, over, around, and under towers of Prolyte truss and through two truss circles. Lighting equipment is mounted on the floors, walls, pipes, and towers.

“The music and lighting are specific to each vehicle, and each one has its own color scheme,” Dinkel explains. “Each car always has the same music and lighting program but the cars are put on the ride track in a different order.” Dinkel gave each vehicle a nickname to go with the music and a color scheme — green/yellow, red/amber, pink/magenta, bright multicolors, and deep blue. For example, Vehicle #5 is blue and runs to Aerosmith's “Sweet Emotion,” and Dinkel calls the lighting concept “starry night” as the car moves through blue-lit truss and an all-blue nighttime environment with High End Systems Dataflash® AF1000 strobes sparkling throughout the building creating the stars. The ride lasts about a minute and a half from load to unload.

The challenge here is making sure that the right lighting accompanies each car. A custom control system designed by WDI syncs up the right music to each vehicle and then cues the right lighting at the various points along the ride. The intricate show audio, lighting, and ride control system uses track sensors, SMPTE and MIDI signals, and 12 universes of DMX to control over 400 automated lights.

The lighting control system was designed by Ken Wagner, WDI lighting controls designer, and assistant LD Jason Killelea. The show was programmed on two Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® II consoles with expansion wings.

There are three Wholehog rack-mount playback units that run the attraction on a day-to-day basis. The first is in the loading area and runs the lighting in the lobby, the queue line, the load/unload platform, and the outside marquee. Two more units are found in the ride portion of the attraction, known as the Gravity Building (perhaps since the guests are flying upside down at times). “These two playback units work together to run the lighting and control the motion and color of the fixtures,” says Dinkel. “They are independent of the first one so that if the ride stops, the automated fixtures in the Gravity Building can stop as well, but the show lighting in the loading area can keep running.

“It was a real group effort to make it all work,” Dinkel continues, complimenting the work of Wagner, Killelea, and the Hog programmers. “We worked on the programming from September through Christmas, then again from January through March, until after the soft opening of the park.” While programming inside the ride itself, the lighting team worked in a cage that provided a safe niche with clearance from the ride cars. “The vehicles would run while we were programming. Then we'd ask the operators to stop so we could come out to ride it to see what it looked like from the guest's point of view. I must have ridden it at least 1,000 times and I still feel the thrill of the launch,” recalls Dinkel.

The preshow area is designed as the lobby of the Tour de Force record company, with rock-star memorabilia including signed guitars in 12 cases that Dinkel lit with Artistic Licence programmable LED fixtures. “There are four vertical fixtures in each case. Two in the back and two toward the front,” she notes. “The guitars appear to float as the cases change color.”

In the loading area, Color Kinetics C-70 LED fixtures light the queue line and change color and intensity in concert with each vehicle as it approaches the load area. C-200 LED fixtures chase each vehicle as it launches and disappears down the ride tunnel, then the LEDs reverse direction and chase back to the loading platform, adding movement and color. As the vehicle nears the end of the launch tunnel in the Gravity Building, there is what Dinkel calls a “flash wall” that is seen as the vehicle goes up and over into its first inversion. Twenty High End Systems Dataflash AF1000s, mounted on an arch of truss, flash as the vehicles disappear from view. “The people in the queue line can see the LEDs chasing toward you and the flash as you go over,” says Dinkel. “Moving lights in the distance help disorient you.”

The real impact in the lighting comes from Dinkel's use of many automated luminaires, including over 100 High End Systems Technobeams®, 35 Studio Spot® 250s, 30 Studio Color® 250s, and over 100 disco lights including High End's Power Star and Power Scan fixtures and 70 AF1000 Dataflash units. A custom WDI haze system maintains a constant level of smoke to allow the lighting to really be seen.

As the cars fly through the dark environment, the moving lights create an incredible sense of movement and color. The truss takes on the color scheme as random patterns create a kinetic background and the Technobeams create a sweeping arc of light. The car flies through two circular pieces of truss and Technobeams mounted on the truss are aimed right down the track toward the car. LED rope light rings the truss and ETC Source Fours with color add to the light on the truss itself. As the car speeds down Dinkel's “Power Star Alley,” Power Star fixtures on pipes along the track are aimed right at eye level.

“We knew we needed moving lights, strobes, and LEDs,” notes Dinkel, who selected the fixtures that would be the most durable in this relentless ride that can run up to 16 hours per day. “I didn't need a lot of extra bells and whistles,” she explains. “I actually needed a limited range of features, including color, movement, quick response, and durability. This is all you need as a roller coaster goes whizzing by at high speed.” In addition, a smaller number of different fixture choices meant a limited number of lamps and spare parts were required. The LEDs were chosen to provide substantial brightness in a compact fixture, as well as for their easy maintenance in this hard-rocking attraction.

Caught in the Meteor Shower

In Armageddon, designed by Tracy Eck, the park's resident LD, the lighting has multiple layers, including the preshow look, task lighting (industrial fixtures with explosion-proof fittings), and intense color and movement at the peak of the action. As Eck explains, “The guests are extras on a film shoot on the Mir Space Station, and it is bombarded by a meteor shower.”

As the guests enter the preshow area, they are welcomed by a cast member and are shown a short film about the history of special effects in the cinema. “This is a very simple space,” notes Eck. Mole-Richardson “movie lights” (small PAR-30 fixtures with barndoors) hang on a ceiling grid to add to the film-set theme, while ETC Source Fours light the cast platform. DeSisti De-Lux dimmable fluorescents add a soft diffused light on the audience extras. “When the guests enter the main show area, the Mir space station is in worklights until the film shoot begins. From the worklights there is a cut to the spaceship mode as the director calls ‘Lights,’” Eck explains.

“You hear the voice of Colonel Andropov, a character from the movie, talking to the computer about what's happening,” says Eck. “The lighting is blue, as if in space, then, as a meteor approaches, things begin to go haywire. There are corridors leading to other parts of the space station and two windows that look out into space. But the central area is very intimate, so that the guests are very close to all the special effects.” These effects include fog (from liquid nitrogen) and steam coming up from under a metal grating underfoot, and bursts of flames out of the central portal and on one wing of the space station. “Everything in the Mir set has an exterior rating due to this harsh environment,” Eck adds.

The first layer of lighting in this space includes industrial task lighting with fixtures by Waldmann in Germany. “There is no up and no down in space,” Eck reminds us; “the fixtures are attached to the walls everywhere.” There are also DG Lighting rotating beacons over the door where guests enter the spaceship, as well as round iGuzzini flush-mounted uplights with AR-111 lamps and red glass filters used as warning lights. But there is a lot more to this space than meets the eye.

“Much of the lighting is placed under the metal grating where the guests are standing,” says Eck, who had to squeeze a great deal of gear into a confined, carefully planned space shared with special effects equipment. “The lighting looks simple at first, but there is this second layer hidden from view. You don't see all the things that provide the flexibility in color, movement, and texture,” she notes.

“The concealed lighting comes from all directions, shining through gratings and concealed openings for dramatic strokes of light from deep space or a far-off part of the spaceship,” Eck continues. “This allowed us to make the spaceship appear to expand and contract as it follows the storyline, and to focus the attention of the guests. Concealed moving lights, RGB LED fixtures, and flashing lights, cued with the sound and special effects, create a sense of movement and dramatic changes to the mood in the spaceship.”

What is hidden under the floor includes 12 rows of Artistic Licence LED Water-Pipe fixtures that Eck used for color-changing and flashing effects. There are also High End Systems Dataflash strobes used when the spaceship is hit by a meteor and “electric sparks” fly. General wash light in the space is provided by Philips 300W exterior-rated flood lamps mounted to the floor behind Special FX dichroic filters. “These add an eerie blue glow, and some are in red for an ambient wash when red warning lights are flashing,” notes Eck.

In addition to the Water-Pipes, there are also round Water-Fill underwater fixtures, also from Artistic Licence, that light the fire and steam that pour out of the central energy core of the spaceship. “The ring allows a lot of flexibility in programming with very few fixtures,” says Eck about the Water-Fill units. She also added IP 65-rated MR-16 fixtures from Light Projects and exterior PAR lamps under the floor, and L&E four-circuit MR-16 striplights over the set walls.

Above the guests, hidden overhead behind additional grating as well as behind the set walls, Eck placed the automated portion of the rig, including 18 High End Systems Technobeams. These are divided, with six behind windows in the set walls to protect them from the harsh environment; a dozen more are placed overhead, also behind glass, where a number of Source Four PARs are also found.

“Any fixtures that are not exterior-rated are protected,” says Eck, who used the Technobeams for patterns and very subtle movement. “This is not a show about moving lights,” she insists. The LD also used custom color filters to get otherworldly shades of blue and blue-green, as well as reds and oranges for the fire scenes. “These automated luminaires added that extra touch of movement in the space,” she adds. The show lighting was programmed on a Wholehog II console and plays back on a rack-mount unit.

“The programming was quite intricate,” notes Eck. “We have a lot of discreet control of the fixtures that allowed us to accompany and enhance the lighting, from the most subtle to the biggest moments in the show. Ben and Joe Harrington, the sound designers, and I worked very closely with our show producer, Rick Rothschild, on tight, coherent cueing.

“The big surprise is at the end of the attraction,” continues Eck. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that as the meteors strike the spaceship the lighting reacts until a power failure leaves the guests in dark blue emergency lighting. “A few meteors shoot through the darkened space,” explains Eck. Then the entire venue pulses red as a meteor hits the ship, the corridor collapses, and the smoke-filled air is sucked out into space. Bright white light from the AR-111s penetrates the smoke.

“Eventually it all goes black, the floor drops, and everyone screams as water, as if from a broken sprinkler system, sprays the audience, and the director says, ‘Cut,’” explains Eck. The attraction then returns to the original worklights and the audience exits through a would-be soundstage with movie lights on stands as props. There's barely time to catch one's breath before heading off for a second ride on the Rock'n'Roller Coaster.

Contact the author at elgreaux@primediabusiness.com.