IMAGINEER INTERVIEWS: Behind-The-Storytelling of Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration

Disneyland stems from the imagination of Walt Disney. One man’s dream permeates the Resort and the entire Walt Disney Company and makes this particular theme park special. With Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary and Diamond Celebration, the creative team behind the magic has taken a nostalgic look at the past, and brought it lovingly forward to future generations. Read on as Imagineers share an in-depth “Behind-the-Storytelling” look at Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration.

Unveiling of Sleeping Beauty Castle's Diamond Celebration adornments.

Unveiling of Sleeping Beauty Castle’s Diamond Celebration adornments.

On May 21, 2015, Disneyland held a Round Robin in which several media outlets were given the opportunity to speak with ten Imagineers, Cast Members and Creative Directors. Participants included:

  • Mary Niven, Vice President, Disneyland Park
  • Jessica Bernard, 2015-2016 Disneyland Resort Ambassador
  • Steve Davison, Executive Producer, Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment
  • Sayre Wiseman, Executive, Parades & Spectaculars, Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment
  • Scott Trowbridge, Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering
  • Kim Irvine, Art Director, Walt Disney Imagineering
  • Jeff Shaver-Moskowitz, Producer, Walt Disney Imagineering
  • Larry Nikolai, Creative Director, Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment
  • Randy Wojcik, Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment
  • Michelle Harker, Manager, Merchandise Marketing & Communications

Mary Niven, Vice President of Disneyland Park, previously helmed the entertainment at Disney California Adventure. We asked how her job has changed since moving to work on Disneyland.

MARY NIVEN, Vice President of Disneyland Park: To have opportunity to lead the team at the original Park is tremendous and humbling. You feel the responsibility of being a good steward of Walt’s dream. There are times when I walk here early in the morning before the Park opens up. You can just picture Walt walking down the street at one point, with his dreams for his Park. Walt has very much been a centerpiece of the Parks and Resort. Internally we’ve always had a very close connection to him. We make sure our Cast Members see him as a real individual, not a person that’s been created for our brand. Now with this 60th Anniversary milestone, what a great opportunity to share Walt’s Dream with a new generation of guests.

Mary Niven, Vice President, Disneyland Park is in the center.

Mary Niven, Vice President, Disneyland Park is in the center.

Disneyland is constantly changing, updating and innovating. It’s one of the things I love most about the Park. Walt Disney himself wished this to continue. “Disneyland will never be complete as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Imagineers Scott Trowbridge and Kim Irvine shed some light on why the creative team adheres to this legacy.

SCOTT TROWBRIDGE, Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering: Why spend time and effort to continue to add new things to an existing park that fills people’s lives and memories? The answer is, we always are trying to make DisneyLAND a place that’s filled with surprises and discovery. A place that continues to feel fresh and new, while at the same time staying true to it’s core, the emotional core. We are constantly trying to express that emotional idea in new ways that feel fresh and interesting and exciting. Even in our classic attractions, we are always trying to push and “plus.”

Disneyland60 Round Robin

KIM IRVINE, Art Director, Walt Disney Imagineering: Our goal is to make sure we always keep original stories and intent, but always “plus it,” as Walt used to call it.

SCOTT TROWBRIDGE: This was Walt’s original idea. We are following in his footsteps. So long as we continue to keep that emotional core as our touchstone, we can’t go wrong. Disneyland is not a place, it’s an experience, a mindset, it means something to people. If we keep that in mind, then we can think how that experience involves over time.

MARY NIVEN: We are constantly looking at how we can innovate the guests experience. What I’m trying to do with the team is to really be knowledgeable and understanding of the rich heritage we have at the park, and bringing it to guests in innovative ways. Walt was really good at that. One foot in past and one in future, and bridging that gap.

We wanted to know how the Imagineers decide what to change and update.

KIM IRVINE: Our intent is to make people think, “man that is so cool, was that always there?” When we plus an attraction, it has to be something that fits in. That’s our main goal.

Moving into a Diamond Celebration discussion, I asked Kim Irvine why they picked that particular blue and white color scheme for the 60th Anniversary.

Disneyland60

KIM IRVINE: It was not easy because a diamond is clear! We looked at whites. We looked at different shapes. We looked at rainbow colors when a diamond facets sparkles. The 50th Anniversary was really easy because we had that golden color. The 60th was not easy! Every time our team tried to draw a diamond it looked like a jewelry store. It took us awhile to find the right shape. Things like this (the merchandise and logo) are around forever and we want them to be perfect and an example of what the 60th Anniversary was all about.

SCOTT TROWBRIDGE: The ice, the diamond – this final modification of the diamond was done by John Lasseter.

I jokingly asked if they had called on Elsa for help. She is good with ice and all.

SCOTT TROWBRIDGE: No, she’s busy. She has her own kingdom to run! However, one other thing that’s coming to Disneyland Emporium – animated windows! We’re bringing those back in a very special way. Starting tomorrow (May 22, 2015), we will have the first animated window. They are amazing works of art. It feels like a music box from the turn of the century, but with hidden technology.

I then asked Mary Niven, who oversees the operation of Club 33, whether Disneyland has any special plans for the 60th Anniversary in Club 33.

MARY NIVEN: We have a variety of things we are doing, special events for the club members.

ME: Anything you can divulge?

MARY NIVEN: No!

I tried, friends, I tried…

With so many offerings at the Disneyland Resort for the Diamond Celebration, we all wondered what the Imagineers wanted guests to experience the most.

SCOTT TROWBRIDGE: The overall feeling you get when walking down Main Street and the weenie of the Sleeping Beauty Castle that draws you down the street. To see that in the late afternoon, it’s really outstanding. And at night, we have some really amazing offerings where we can bring out that sparkle.

Sleeping Beauty Castle in the afternoon

Sleeping Beauty Castle in the afternoon

That brings us to our next “Behind-The-Storytelling” topic, where I spoke with the Imagineers about the  NEW World Of Color, Paint The Night Parade, and Disneyland Forever fireworks.

PAINT THE NIGHT PARADE

Originating in Hong Kong Disneyland, PAINT THE NIGHT is an all-new nighttime spectacular inspired by the iconic MAIN STREET ELECTRICAL PARADE. Full of vibrant color and more than 1.5 million LED lights, 8 floats bring 8 stories and characters to life. Randy Wojcik helmed the production, along with Sayre Wiseman (who had a hand in all 3 nighttime spectaculars).

I always wondered what happened to the giant illuminated puppets from the early days of World of Color. They've found new life in Paint the Night! (photo by Sarah Woloski)

I always wondered what happened to the giant illuminated puppets from the early days of World of Color. They’ve found new life in Paint the Night! (photo by Sarah Woloski)

RANDY WOJCIK, Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment: “Paint The Night” is intended to raise the bar. Yes there are familiar stories that we all grew up with, but we are telling these stories in a whole new light. Pun intended! 1.5 million LED lights, to be exact. We’ve been working on this for over 2 years and it’s definitely a labor of love.

SAYRE WISEMAN,Executive, Parades & Spectaculars, Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment: We’ve never done 3 spectaculars at once. It’s an extraordinary effort. Each one can stand on its own. The last 3 months have been all-night programming. The teams have been working from Park Close to Park Open and then they go to sleep and come back the next night, 7 days a week. But my favorite thing about being an Imagineer… I get to be there at the very first moment of conception, a sketch on a napkin; to now, here we are!

Sayre Wiseman (right), Executive, Parades and Spectaculars.

Sayre Wiseman (right), Executive, Parades and Spectaculars.

I had to ask the reasoning behind choosing the MAIN STREET ELECTRICAL PARADE as PAINT THE NIGHT’S nostalgic jumping off point.

RANDY WOJCIK: Our guests are really savvy, so we wanted to raise the bar, push the boundaries. We wanted to pay homage to the Main Street Electrical Parade. There are some really beautiful nods to the original parade; however, this is truly a new Electrical Parade for a new generation.

Peter Pan's float continuously changes (photo by Chrysty Summers)

Peter Pan’s float continuously changes (photo by Chrysty Summers)

ME: Is there a reason you chose these particular stories?

RANDY WOJCIK: You have to be mindful of budget and parameters, but we’re going to continue to raise the bar and look outside the box. We have so many franchises that are important and popular with our guests. Take FROZEN – that was a no-brainer. However, there’s plenty of classics and we wanted to have some nods to truly classic Disney. This is the 60th Anniversary and we wanted to pay tribute to the past. We are confident that these 8 stories will really resonate with our guests. Also the beauty of the parade is that it’s built in a modular fashion, so we can always introduce new elements and new franchises.

Well, as I am a huge STAR WARS fan and Disney now owns STAR WARS, I asked the question that begged to be asked. Does the creative team have any plans to introduce STAR WARS to the parade?

RANDY WOJCIK: Oooohhh…you never know, you never know…can’t give away all the magic! But did you like the nod to Star Tours in WORLD OF COLOR: CELEBRATE!?

I responded in the affirmative, but then had to ask if BB-8 would be rolling down Main Street any time soon.

RANDY WOJCIK: You’re a big STAR WARS fan, aren’t you? I love it.

Aaaaaand…nothing else. Once again, I tried, STAR WARS fans, I tried! Randy DID answer the next question, which out of the 8 stories were his favorite.

RANDY WOJCIK: All 8 stories are special and unique in their own way. How CARS is featured is pretty special. But I’d have to say they are like my children, I don’t have a favorite.

Mack's float is really impressive (photo by Sarah Woloski)

Mack’s float is really impressive (photo by Sarah Woloski)

Starting Friday, May 22, PAINT THE NIGHT will be rolling out two parades per night, 7 days a week. And as to its possible inclusion at Walt Disney World at the Magic Kingdom, Randy assured us that “it’s definitely something that could happen.” For pictures and full video of PAINT THE NIGHT, check out this post. 

DISNEYLAND FOREVER FIREWORKS

Celebrating 60 years of magic, Disneyland Forever new fireworks nighttime spectacular transports guests into the worlds of beloved Disney and Disney*Pixar films through traditional pyrotechnics, projection mapping technology and surprising special effects. You are surrounded and immersed in the experience.

Disneyland Forever Fireworks #Disneyland60

Imagineers Sayre Wiseman and Steve Davison helmed the production and had a lot to say about the conception of DISNEYLAND FOREVER, particularly about the characters and stories they chose to incorporate within the show.

STEVE DAVISON, Executive Producer, Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment: When conceiving this show, we ask ourselves what makes a good story. What’s relevant and what stirs the imagination? So of course we’re going to do Frozen. But these stories are told in massive new ways. Here it’s done with 300 foot fireworks and it’s wild, it’s really wild!

Imagineer Steve Davison (right)

Imagineer Steve Davison (right)

SAYRE WISEMAN: It really is what is the right thing for the show, and the emotion and where we’re going with whatever that particular moment is. Disney is unlike any other company. Such great stories, great music and characters to choose from. There’s a beautiful moment in Lion King tonight. We haven’t done anything with Lion King in years. It’s wonderful to bring moments back. Steve Davison is really a master at looking at what’s going to tell the right story and what’s the emotion he wants to convey to the audience. I think you’ll see that in both the fireworks and the parade.

STEVE DAVISON: We’re choosing songs that I want to paint to. The first big story we do is Step In Time from MARY POPPINS, because it kicks off the celebration. We called in Dick Van Dyke to record again. He asked us why we didn’t just use the original recording. I told him that by recording again it makes it new and it makes it special.

Did either of them have any one moment in DISNEYLAND FOREVER that was most sentimental?

STEVE DAVISON:  There are 100 search lights in this show. At the end of the fanfare the search lights make a fantastic diamond in the sky. Orange grove blooms and becomes the big oranges. A man stood here and didn’t see that, he saw a Magic Kingdom. Then we bring in Walt because we want kids to know who Walt is. Then Walt says “As long as there’s imagination left in the world, Disney will never be complete.” Next, we launch into just how magical the Magic Kingdom can be.

fireworks 1

SAYRE WISEMAN:  At the very end of that show, if you look at the archway of the castle, you’ll see Walt and Mickey walking through it. Not many people can see it, it’s only maybe the 200 people that are right there at the castle; but yeah, it’s pretty special.

Since they are the experts, we asked where the best place is to watch the fireworks.

STEVE DAVISON: There are so many different places for viewing the fireworks. It depends on how you like your fireworks. If you want that pure castle experience, be in front of the castle. If you want a broader picture – stand mid-Main Street. If you want to see a crazy version – go to the very end of Main Street. At “it’s a small world” the fireworks are huge. Fantasmic has it’s own set of pyrotechnics at the river that accompany it. We hide things and surprises all over the Park so if you come at different times you’ll see different things.

In other words, this show bears repeat viewing! For pictures and full video of DISNEYLAND FOREVER Fireworks, check out this post. For pictures and full video of WORLD OF COLOR: CELEBRATE!, head over here. If you’re interested in Disneyland 60th merchandise, I also spoke with Michelle Harker, Manager of Merchandise Marketing and Communications, and that post can be found soon here.

I was fascinated by this “behind-the-storytelling” look into Disneyland Resort’s Diamond Celebration. It blows me away that one man has changed the world so much. Even today, Walt’s original vision of Disneyland is almost palpable in the way Imagineers are rolling out new attractions and upgrades. It’s why I return, over and over again, to the Happiest Place On Earth.

You can also listen to the full Skywalking Through Neverland Podcast episode all about Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration featuring sound clips from the show, Imagineer interviews, and so much more, click below.



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About Richard & Sarah Woloski

Richard and Sarah Woloski are the co-hosts and creators of the Disney / Star Wars Podcast Skywalking Through Neverland. The husband and wife team strives to create a polished, positive and fun weekly show celebrating fandom. They also love writing for Adventures By Daddy. Find them @SkywalkingPod