Over the course of four decades, the Disney theme park brand has grown far beyond its origins in Anaheim, CA. Disney World, in Orlando, FL, is a virtual nation-state, with the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom, plus other attractions. After its controversial opening, Disneyland Paris has settled in and now draws crowds from all over the continent. There's a Disney park in Japan, with another set to open later this year. A Hong Kong venue is scheduled to open later this decade. It's an astonishing achievement, given the fact that doomsayers predicted the imminent demise of Disneyland after its rocky opening in the late 50s.
But over the years, as Disney became the premier name in themed entertainment, Disneyland got a little bit lost in the shuffle. Although the park has evolved over the years, its location, on a relatively small parcel of land in the middle of the urban sprawl that is Anaheim, prevented attempts at significant expansion. Even as Disney World grew at an exponential pace and Disney parks opened in Asia and Europe, Disneyland remained what it always was, a well-executed theme park, fun for families and suitable for day-trippers. Disneyland was venerable, the place that started it all, but the real pizzazz was to be found elsewhere.
However, that may have changed this spring when the Disney Organization opened a new gate adjacent to Disneyland, known as Disney's California Adventure. If you think you know what to expect from a Disney theme park — well, forget it. Disneyland celebrates the extensive stable of Disney characters. California Adventure plays down Mickey and Minnie to create its own set of myths. Disneyland is designed to bring out the child in each attendee. California Adventure is aimed at the eternal adolescent in us. It's a smarter, funnier sort of park, more aware, more self-referential. With the addition of a Downtown Disney restaurant-and-retail complex, Disneyland has been transformed into a two- or three-day destination that is capable of attracting adults as well as kids and families.
As the title suggests, Disney's California Adventure celebrates the history of the state, its many communities and cultures. Guests pass through the Golden Gateway, designed after San Francisco's famous bridge, into a park divided into three main areas. Golden State pays tribute to the immigrants who settled California; subdivisions includes Pacific Wharf, inspired by Monterey; Bay Area, dominated by a replica of San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts; Bountiful Valley Farm, which celebrates the state's agricultural history; and Condor Flats, which recalls the state's aerial pioneers. Condor Flats also features the ride Soarin' Over California, in which guests are virtually thrust into the center of an IMAX screen for a bird's-eye tour of the state's topography.
Hollywood Pictures Backlot takes guests through a replica of D.W. Griffith's Babylon set for Intolerance and down a re-imagined Hollywood Boulevard, where they learn about the art of animation, snack on “Academy Award Wieners in a Supporting Roll,” encounter the Muppets in 3D, take a spin on the Superstar Limo dark ride, and catch a show at the Hyperion Theatre, said to be the first legitimate theatre ever designed for a theme park. (Check out entertainmentdesignmag.com for stories about two other dining venues here, Soap Opera Bistro and Hollywood and Dine).
Last stop is Paradise Pier, which re-calls the old-fashioned seaside amusement centers, such as Pacific Ocean Park, that soon became obsolete after the opening of Disneyland. Here's where to go for the Ferris wheel, the carousel, and the typically nerve-shredding roller coaster, aptly named California Screaming. Paradise Pier comes alive at night, with a lighting scheme dominated by miles of neon and thousands of Tivoli bulbs, all of which help create a more enjoyable garish atmosphere than one usually finds in Disney territory.
The Tie That Binds
The event that ties all the areas together and provides a kind of summation of the park's themes is the Eureka! Parade, which takes place twice a day. Disney, of course, is a specialist in theme park parades, but again, this one is significantly different. Unlike Parade of the Stars at Disneyland, which presents an all-star lineup of Disney characters, or the Tapestry of Nations at Epcot, which is meant to provoke a feeling of millennial awe, the Eureka! Parade is a sassy celebration of the multicultural melting pot that is California. Giant dragons and figures from the Peking Opera bounce up against African goddesses and giant skeletons from Mexico's Day of the Dead, while teams of bodybuilders from Venice Beach and glitterati from Sunset Boulevard fill out the mix. It's a sunny, satiric celebration of the spirit of individuality that binds together the diverse communities of America's most singular state.
Comparing the Eureka! Parade to Tapestry of Nations, designer Michael Curry, who created floats and puppets for both, says, “In one sense, they are similar. They're both meant to stretch the usual Disney identity. Tapestry is a kind of world culture show. The Eureka! Parade is specific to California, but it's about the diversity of California. That's how the Eureka character was conceived.”
Make that Eurekas. According to director Steven Davison, “It is about the golden dream of California, and the people who came in search of it. There are six different units in the parade.” And each unit has its own reigning female deity, or Eureka. Adds Curry, “I see California as a feminine state — it's experimental, sensitive to itself, somehow ephemeral. The Eurekas are overlooking female presences, themed for each region and group in the state. We let these figures be the icons that everything else was built around.” Davison says, “The Eurekas are the essences of the golden dream.”
Thus each unit has a large, Curry-designed float, from which a Eureka rises to preside over the action; the floats usually feature drummers in a way that recalls the use of percussion in the Tapestry of Nations. But don't think for a minute that Curry is copying himself. “Steve was very open to the idea of a California tribute that was exotic and, in a certain sense, campy,” says Curry. “California is good at poking fun at itself, the way New Yorkers are.”
Thus the Chinatown Eureka, says Davison, is “a Chinese Opera goddess” fronting a “27'-tall phoenix with a 24' wingspan, which is controlled by a puppeteer.” The Chinese Opera was chosen as a reference point, says Curry, because “We wanted to refer to the performance specialties of each group.” The goddess holds a stick from which dangles a fiery sun — a key image running through the park. This unit also celebrates the Bay Area, and begins with a pair of stilt walkers who wear a single costume that represents the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is 20' high and 4' wide.
Speaking of the bridge, Curry says, “I wanted to take a physical icon and give it animation. It's a large piece, and stilt walking is relatively dangerous, so it had to be lightweight. It's a trussed skeleton made of tubular carbon fiber rod, with urethane foam laminated to it and encapsulated with woven cotton fabric, which is infused with liquid urethane as a sealer. The frame is relatively flexible, with pivot ends in all the truss terminations. The whole piece weights only 14lbs.” The cast members who wear the bridge costume are also using jumping stilts with a compression spring. “They were first created to be used by amputees,” says Curry. “It's a pogo stick on each foot, set like a bow and arrow. The bow compresses and unloads when you reach the bottom of the compression.”
The African unit's main float features what Curry calls the “African angel. Her arms are spread backwards, with wings behind the arms that can be manipulated. Her bodice and turban are taken from a typical Nigerian woman's robe.” The rest of the float is a recreation of the famous Watts Towers sculpture that is an enduring symbol of the black community in Los Angeles, both in good times and bad (Watts was the site of infamous riots in the 60s). Curry admits, “The Watts Towers float was an issue, but if you want a silhouette landmark for Southern California, it's almost unavoidable. Of course, we didn't do anything in this parade blindly. We spoke with different ethnic consultants. You have to include people in a careful way.”
The Hispanic unit's float stars a Eureka waving a pair of fans, with a large bird's mask that moves up and down to reveal her face. “It's an Aztec-derived bird mask,” says Curry, adding, “the fans are traditional folklorica. She's sitting on a bed of folkloric flowers.” Almost as notable are the giant skeleton puppets, taken from Mexico's traditional Day of the Dead ceremonies. Like the Golden Gate structure, the puppets are designed to be lightweight. “They're 17lbs,” says Curry. “We carve the skeletons out of foam. Then, using a heat-vacuum process, we encapsulate the foam in a skin of carbon fiber and Kevlar, using pressure and heat to cure it, and create a hollow foam tubular structure. I exploited this process in The Lion King on Broadway. Carbon fiber is 40% lighter than fiberglass and has a lot more stiffness than fiberglass cloth.”
California, however, isn't only made up of ethnic communities. The Pacifica float celebrates the state's beach culture, with a sun-worshiping Eureka who adjusts her shades while riding in a car made of sand and decorated with dolphin-shaped details. She is followed by a gang of musclemen from Venice Beach and cast members sporting signs from the areas, advertising tattoo parlors, fortunetellers, and other colorful services. Whimsical details abound: “There's a specialty juggler with a chainsaw and a bowling pin,” says Curry, as well a guitar player on roller skates, a tribute to a famous Venice Beach eccentric.
The Hollywood unit is the only one without a Eureka float, but there are plenty of glitzy characters, including backpack-mounted puppets of an Action painter and a symphony conductor leading the band at the Hollywood Bowl. And for a finale, there's one last Eureka, a goddess bearing her own sun, the living embodiment of California's golden dream. The floats were built by a number of shops, including California Theming, Great Lakes Scenery, and F&D Scene Changes. The floats are driven by hydrostatic float drive units.
Because the parade was designed for a not-yet-open park, Curry tried to plan for every eventuality. “We knew the parade would be staged at night, so we should accommodate for light,” he says. “But it's a new park and the actual lighting on the route was not fleshed out. So we added onboard lights whenever possible. Also, I did exacting ¾” models, which were very important. My advice to designers working on this scale is to do the same. That way, your sculptors are not up on the float, trying to make artistic decisions.”
Edwin Piekny, who designed the many costumes for the Eureka! Parade, is no stranger to spectacles. The Las Vegas-based Frenchman has worked on a number Vegas shows, including the Masquerade Show at Masquerade Village in the Rio Hotel. Other credits include costumes for the Lido, in Paris. For the Eureka! Parade, his first project with Disney, he matched his designs to Curry's color palette, to create a vivid collection of costumes. Chinese performers in blue-and-gold kimonos with red sashes and blue-and-red headdresses, unfurl red banners. The California Eureka is accompanied by a company of cast members in yellow and orange bodysuits with fanciful headdresses. The skeleton marionettes are carried by performers in deathly white makeup and suits made of layer upon layer of colorful swatches.
Piekny says he researched the various ethnic traditions celebrated in the parade and then incorporated them with the already-designed floats. “The idea was to match the costumes with the floats color-wise and style-wise,” he says. He created dozens of designs, each of which was built in multiples, as they are worn by several performers. Also, Piekny says his costumes, in many cases, “had to be adapted to work with Michael's backpacks. He would design the backpack and I would design the costume to go with it.” Costumes were built at Vegas-based Farrington Productions, where Piekny works as a freelance designer.
Of course, in designing for an outdoor event, Piekny had to field a number of challenges. The costumes, he says, “can't be too heavy. They have to be comfortable. Also, longevity is a major factor. Fortunately, they make incredible polyesters now; they are phenomenal, excellent for this kind of use. There are microfiber polyesters that are just like silk.”
There are other maintenance factors as well. The parade is performed more than a dozen times a week and will be around for some time. Therefore, the list of performers is constantly changing. “I design costumes for the original performers,” says Piekny, “but we always add a seam allowance.” Some costumes must be reconstructed completely for new performers. “But it's the same with cruise ships. We leave a 1" seam allowance in the garments, so when you have cast changes, you can dry clean and refit the costume. Of course, there's a team at Disney that is there just to maintain, clean, and repair the costumes. Also, costumes are made in duplicate and triplicate,” to accommodate various cast members.
Quite apart from the fun it offers to the guests, the Eureka! Parade functions as a kind of thesis statement for the entire park — and the message it sends is not insignificant. Look around you, it says: Disney is embracing an entirely new sensibility. It's a startling statement, but then a Eureka never lies.
Over 4,000 Lighting Cues
“We were sitting in Audio Central the other night, counting them all, and realized we were triggering somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 lighting cues during the course of a parade,” says Paulie Jenkins, lighting designer for the Eureka! Parade. This is an astounding number of cues, especially, as Jenkins points out, “to my knowledge, historically there are only one to six light cues in a normal Disney parade, but this one has 144 cues in a series of loops that run in each of the 33 parade zones.”
The lighting was designed for the evening, or after-dark, version of the parade, which also has a daytime version. The design process included “sitting out there every night writing light cues with technicians Jim McFail and Dave Froberg,” says Jenkins, who with her partner Ilya Mindlin designed both the parade corridor lighting and individual float lighting. “Each float has its own sequence of cues and the show stops have an entirely different set,” she explains.
“Months ago, when we listened to the music for the parade with Jim Holman, a Disney software specialist, we knew it would have a lot of cues. Jim set out to design software that could handle the large number of cues and make them easily programmable. Ilya and I would sit out on the route at night with the technicians and write cue sequences,” says Jenkins. “The next day, Jim would look at what we'd done and tell us what was possible and what would need to be modified. We repeated the process every night for a couple of weeks while Jim modified and enhanced the software. Once the final cues were written, Jim and the technicians worked to ensure that the system could handle them.”
The system Jenkins refers to is called DECS (Disney Entertainment Control System), which runs the parade from the aforementioned control room known as Audio Central. From there, DECS sends DMX signals to seven racks of ETC dimmers located in seven RICs (remote interface cabinets) along the parade route. In fact there are seven dedicated universes of DMX controlled directly by DECS, and an additional 16 shared universes of DMX that can be controlled via an interface with ETC's parkwide lighting control system. The system also includes 24 Fleenor 125EE opto-splitters and four Fiber Options RS-485 multimode transceivers.
The cues trigger lighting instruments in 67 positions along the parade route: 60 standing poles in five different styles and painted in eight different colors to match the theming in various areas of the park, and seven poles that lie flat on rooftops and are automatically raised into position at parade time. Each position has a DMX feed and a dimmable circuit near the instruments. Each pole also has a 20A convenience power circuit at working level.
Divided among the 67 locations are 536 Thomas Outdoor PAR cans and 268 Wybron Color Splash scrollers, all painted to coordinate with the colors of the poles. Each pole has eight PAR cans: four used for general route lighting with Roscolux gels 317, 34, 58, and 82; and four with scrollers dedicated to adding color to the individual floats as they move along the route.
Each of the outdoor, waterproof scrollers has its own DMX power supply onboard, and is equipped with a 16 — color scroll (Roscolux 21, 23, 317, 34, 343, 339, 49, 358, 58, 82, 83, 80, 94, and 388). “Each float is assigned its own base look [colors] from which the cues for that float are created,” says Jenkins. For example, Golden State's colors are R21/R23 — orange and yellow; Fiesta's are R15/R343 — pink and yellow; City of Angels' are R358/R388 — purple and green, and so on (Pacifica's are R21/R339, Phoenix's are R339/R358, and the finale's are R23/R15).
The scrollers have special 3-R rated connectors, the Neutrik HD, supplied by Wybron and TMB. There are also 1,533' of cable in different lengths used for the scrollers. Not only do the colors change along the parade route, but the movement in the light varies as well, from flashing on and off to live scrolling between colors. Even without using automated fixtures, Jenkins notes, “The scrollers gave us so much more flexibility.”
Jenkins worked on the concept for the lighting with parade director Steven B. Davison and designer Michael Curry. “Steve wanted it to be bright, vibrant, and dynamic with a lot of movement in the light,” she says. “Michael had a different idea for what he wanted to see on each float.” This gave Jenkins the challenge of making each float stand out along the parade route, while keeping the lighting in tune with Curry's designs.
The solution was to design each float as a separate stage and give each one its own distinct look. “You have to close your eyes and imagine what it would look like at night,” says Jenkins. “People only see what you show them.” The end result makes it look as if each float is a separate event, as they really are quite different. The Golden State float has eight MR-16 PARs supplied by TMB integrated to serve as uplight for the revolving State of California and the Eureka head. The most complex and dynamic float, lighting-wise, is City of Angels, which has 20 MR-16 PARs from TMB, and six ETC Irideon AR5s. The float has its own onboard dimming and control for the AR5s. “As far as lighting is concerned,” concludes Jenkins, “this is more complicated parade than Disney has had in the past. It was a real challenge to the system.”
All Hands on DECS
“In 1980, we put in the first parade control computer for Disneyland,” says Don Dorsey, of Dorsey Productions, Inc., who has been providing audio and show design consulting to Disney's parks for over 26 years. In 1975, Dorsey began coordinating the audio portion of the Disneyland parades, albeit in a rather rudimentary manner. “I stood on rooftops with a stopwatch calling the parade,” he recalls, noting that there were seven parade zones in those days.
“When we added a computer in 1980,” he continues, “we upgraded the number of zones to 21 and placed RF antennas along the parade route to help us keep track of where the floats were. Even then we knew we had the beginnings of a great system. Ever since, I have been keeping a list of improvements we wanted to make in the parade audio handling to be able to make better location-based decisions and better musical decisions, while adding more show value to the parades. In the late 80s, we realized those dreams with the first version of DECS, and we have been adding features ever since.”
The opening of California Adventure and the birth of the Eureka! Parade gave Dorsey the chance to implement a newly enhanced version of DECS. “Gina wireless modems atop the light poles allow us to maintain a real-time dialogue with the moving floats, and to keep the onboard [Alcorn McBride] digital bin loops synchronized with the wayside playback system,” he notes.
The audio control is part of the overall show control run from Audio Central. For Dorsey, the enhanced DECS means that the technicians running the parade can “send out instructions to tell the floats what to do with their onboard audio, lighting, and animation. At the same time, they are reporting back to us with information as to their exact location. The DECS computer helps the floats make intelligent decisions based on conditional cues, telling them if they are here to do this, or if they are there to do that,” he explains. “You can also tell them all to stop and when to start up again.”
At California Adventure, DECS divides the parade route into 33 different zones. The audio, like the lighting, treats each zone as a separate stage. “People look at what is in front of them,” Dorsey adds. In essence, this parade is the equivalent of having 33 shows run at the same time. “DECS was invented to technical-direct and stage-manage the 33 stages at the same time and take proper actions,” he says. “The software allows us to write a single script for the master show design, and then DECS uses a series of algorithms to determine what each individual show zone needs.”
This technology represents a major advance in parade show control. Back in 1980, if Dorsey wanted to change something, he had to go into each of the 20 zones and change every individual cue line manually, a task that took hours. In 2001, DECS uses an “interpretation” feature, which allows a change to be written into one zone and immediately “expanded” to all 33 zones. “You can now rewrite the entire script in the amount of time it takes the parade to turn around,” Dorsey notes. “We finally have a system with the capability to control complicated parades and respond quickly to change requests from the creative team.”
Inside Audio Central
Audio Central is the control room for the parade as well as parkwide background music for California Adventure. The Alcorn McBride bin loops for the wayside audio zones live here, as well as three racks containing 19 Level Control Systems MatrixLX-300 audio engines. The information from the bin loops is fed to the LCS matrix units, then to QSC Rave units for distribution to 197 Crown MA2402 amps.
The audio for the parade itself consists of seven different zone tracks and six float versions of an original song written by Bruce Healy to create the parade's musical variation and its energetic, Top-40 sound. “Each float has its own arrangement of the song and an arrangement for the zone it is in,” explains Dorsey. “There are stereo pairs as the float and zone move down the street.” Live music is added to the mix, such as the drummers suspended from towers on one of the floats.
“The audio track has overlapping loops, alternate endings, and some very complex sequencing,” says Mark Hollingworth, manager of facility and technology development at Disney. The audio hardware along the parade route includes over 175 EAW speakers, both bi-amped, full range boxes and subwoofers (see list for model numbers), and 39 custom underground vaulted subwoofers with two 18" McCauley D174-8 drivers. These were designed by Steve Kadar at Walt Disney Imagineering, and are hidden from view along the parade route.
The system is set up so that each speaker in the park and along the parade route is individually addressable, with amp rooms distributed around the park via fiber optics. The Clear-Com intercom system has a remote station in each of the amp rooms, and remote communication via antennas mounted on the roller coaster at Paradise Pier.
The audio hardware was specified by Jim Thomasson, audio coordinator at California Adventure, with the software designed by Dorsey. Jim Holman, who wrote the lighting control software, also wrote the software coding for the audio information systems.
For Eureka! Parade director Davison, the success of the parade depended on “people who weren't afraid to leap out of the box.” Much like the original settlers and visionaries whose imagination and determination are being celebrated in the Eureka! Parade and at California Adventure in the first place.
Click here for the Hyperion Theatre story.