Improving Illuminations: An Unofficial Guide by Someone Who is Not Qualified to Offer Advice

Let’s open this can of worms, shall we?

As you may have read in my previous article, I am not a massive fan of Illuminations. I simply feel like it isn’t reaching the admittedly high bar set by Dreams!. And if you have been anywhere on the DLP side of Twitter, you will have realised that this opinion is common to many people in the community.

So now, we are going to talk about ways that it could be improved aside from bringing Dreams back, even though that might actually be easier.

My Opinion on How to Change It

Quick note: These are just my thoughts on what could be done to improve Illuminations. I don’t think these are the right ways necessarily and I’d love to hear what you have to say on this as well. There are so many options that everyone’s going to have different ideas which could make for a really interesting discussion. And again, the following is just my opinion so feel free to take it with a pinch of salt!

I think the fundamental issue with Illuminations is that you just can’t have the same emotional connection with it as you could with Dreams. Although Dreams covered popular movies like ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Tangled’, it also featured bits from less popular ones like ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. It didn’t seem like the movies had been chosen purely for the amount of money that was made off of them, unlike in Illuminations where movies with big franchises and fanbases have been chosen. This leaves it feeling more like the string of adverts on a Disney DVD that you skip by not using Fastplay because they’re really dull. There is no rise and fall of emotion as you go through the show. You’re left with this overriding feeling of nothing most of the time, save being impressed with the technology (Which is awesome, feel free to read my previous post which is about that).

In my opinion, there are two ways that this could be done. Firstly, re-order the scenes. At the moment, it feels like they went with this vague underwater theme and then decided to leap in the complete opposite direction and go into Star Wars. However, this doesn’t make for an emotive journey like Dreams had. Dreams had your initial setup of the story followed by easing you in nicely with some more entertaining bits. This is then followed by your classic ‘I Want’ song, in a very similar position to where it is in stage musicals interestingly (About the third song in). You then get your relationship love bit, then your villains and climax and then it’s over. It’s a very vague story but a story nonetheless.

I think this is something Illuminations needs. Just having a sequence which makes some vague sense will help immerse people in the show as they can emotionally connect to it, rather than it seeming like a disjointed mess.

Andrew and Simon have podcast questions of the week/month/year/whenever they do it so I’m going to have a blog post question! (That’s not plagiarism, right?) Which order do you think the scenes should be in? Do you think there is any point in doing it?

Now onto the bit, I think I’ve thought more about.

As I mentioned previously, I think making Illuminations more immersive will make it more entertaining and give it an emotional punch and I think there are some interesting ways that you could use technology to do this.

The first and most obvious solution is to project onto Main Street USA. Having extra projection skins may help people standing right at the back of Main Street to be more involved (As well as encouraging people to spread out). You could project more of Ariel’s treasure room in the Little Mermaid scene or you could project Elsa freezing different buildings as Let it Go plays.

I’m not quite sure how good this would be in some of the more subdued scenes, such as the Beauty and the Beast scene and the second half of the Lion King scene. It might just distract from what’s going on (Although that might be what you want in the Beauty and the Beast scene). Therefore, would it be as effective if you only used it in some scenes and not in others?  Also, to get the projections as well designed and fitted as the ones on the castle, that’s going to require a LOT of work. Not only will you need to create a computer model of Main Street, you need a scale model to figure out the proportions of the projections. Also, the rendering of the extra animation would take forever.

In short, I’m not quite sure how much this would add. I think that it would very definitely add something to some of the scenes but definitely not all of them.

So I think that there should be other solutions. You still need to make it immersive in creative ways other than just, ‘Let’s use the snow machines we use at Christmas in ‘Let it Go’ and install some bubble machines or something that could be used in ‘Finding Nemo’’(I think there’d be something wonderfully poetic about Disneyland Paris ripping off its own parade technology in a show ripped off from ‘Ignite the Dream’ in Shanghai). So how?

I don’t know how many of you reading this have watched ‘Happily Ever After’, the new nighttime spectacular (And it genuinely deserves that title) but one of the things that stuck out to me about the show, apart from the incredible projections and choice of movies and the fact that they got a ‘Mulan’ scene (*Seeths quietly in the corner*) which I’d be interested to see if they could do over here is that towards the end of the show Tinkerbell flies from the castle to somewhere in Tomorrowland, a feature of their previous nighttime show, ‘Wishes’.  Tink’s friend is attached to a harness which is in turn connected to a motorised carrier on the wire which then takes her down. The motorised carrier allows her to be moved up and down to give a better impression of flying in a way that you wouldn’t get with just a straight zipline.

Maybe having live actors dotted around the place could help to bring the effects out without using projections? Even better, could you use zipwires and things from the top of one of the Main Street buildings to somewhere in Discoveryland and live actors? For instance, in the Pirates of the Caribbean scene, could you have a live actor dressed as Jack Sparrow attached to a harness going off adventuring? Or if you didn’t want to use live actors, could you send down models of the fish from Finding Nemo in the Finding Nemo scene? If you attached them in a certain way, you could get them to rotate or get the fins to move due to the wind? Obviously, you wouldn’t want to use the same effect such as this in more than one scene as you don’t get the ‘Wow’ factor of ‘How did they do that?’ as it’s blatantly obvious. Nevertheless, it would be a different effect which would extend the show past the castle, potentially bringing it out into most of the hub area.

Another use of live actors which Andrew and Simon touch on in the Armageddon episode of the podcast is projection mapping onto people’s faces – a use of the technology which is possible. Infrared markers on the person’s face are used as trackers for a computer system which creates a real-time model within the computer, allowing the projections to be synched up with the movements of the person and also to the shape of their face. I was thinking that you could use this technology to transform cast members into characters from the movies to have full-on live-action parts to Illuminations, similar to how the stage was used in ‘Star Wars: A Galactic Celebration’ earlier this year.

There are three main issues with this. Firstly, the technology isn’t quite at the state that it needs to be at yet, as far as I’m aware. The person who is being projected onto can only move very slowly to give the computer time to move the projection around with them. Also, you’d need to find somewhere convenient to put a projector which can move (The moving aspect of this would be particularly difficult as it would limit you as to where this could be used. It would need to be somewhere where you don’t have people watching). The other is that not everyone would be able to see and appreciate the projection. Main Street is a lot bigger and longer than the part of the Studios where you could watch the Star Wars show. Maybe this would be a better fit for a future Star Wars show in the Studios where things are more compact or for use in the rumoured Marvel show that is coming in to replace Cinemagique (*Cries*) next year?

Also, I realise that this is just more projection mapping but this would be it being used in a way that hasn’t really been seen in many other places. It would be a relatively new technology that would make the audience question how it had been done.

If you didn’t want to use live actors at all, you could always try pepper’s ghost (If you could find somewhere on Main Street to do it, which I don’t think you could but it’s worth talking about anyway. These are imagineers we’re talking about here. We have no idea what they can do), a technique you may already have heard of because it’s used in Phantom Manor in the ballroom scene.

In this effect, you’re making it look like there are people in a place without them having to be there.

I think a REALLY cool use of this would be to put up projections using Pepper’s Ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda etc in the Star Wars scene.

To do Pepper’s Ghost, you need a glass screen, a room adjacent to the screen and backlighting to the screen. The glass screen will be angled between the adjacent room and the audience so that it can be projected onto but the audience doesn’t see it (The audience also can’t see the adjacent room). The ‘ghost’ (A light source) inside the room is then turned on, causing the light from it to hit the glass pane and reflect off it so the audience can see the image. The fact that they are seeing the light from the backlighting as well as that from the ghost gives the eery fuzzy edges that you’d imagine would appear on a ghost of a jedi (To get a jedi ghost, you would project the image of the jedi you wanted to resurrect onto the screen).

The obvious technical issue here is the lack of an adjacent room. Also, because the projections would need to be outside, I’m not quite sure how rain and the like would impact this. Maybe an option would be to give some of the rooves on Main Street USA an unexpected attic and do the effect between buildings? Maybe you could put it on the Castle Stage or something? I don’t know. The imagineers can figure that out for us. If they could pull it off, I think it could look awesome.

If they couldn’t pull it off, you could still get some fun hologram looking things in using lasers.

I know that people have mixed opinions on the lasers in Illuminations. They do seem to be kind of shoehorned in occasionally. However, I think the effect I’m about to talk about could be incredible, particularly if the technology can be built on and be made more advanced.

Forget projection mapping (I’m getting fired, aren’t I?). This is just awesome.

It’s projection without the screen. You just need air.

To do this, you use lasers to ionise (Give charges to) molecules in the air (Oxygen and nitrogen), causing them to release light. The electric field of the laser gives electrons (The negative bits of the atom that orbit the central nucleus) in the molecules a chance to escape. The electron then returns to the atom which causes a photon, a packet of energy, to be released which we then see as light.

These lasers produce 3D projections in the air. No 3D glasses. No screen required.

In a demonstration by Aerial Burton of this technology, they were literally projecting tiny fairies (You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNoOiXkXmYQ).

Also, if you use a type of laser called a femtosecond laser (A laser that fires every millisecond) you can feel the projection. This is because, when you touch it, shock waves are generated in your finger, which your brain processes as touch.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I think it would be awesome if you could combine the fairy projections with the touchable projections to add interactive elements to the ‘Peter Pan’s Flight’ queue.

Furthermore, the technology required to do this fits into a car. Surely, we could use vehicles that looks like those on Main Street USA, park them somewhere and go to town?

There are some potential safety issues to consider, including that we aren’t sure yet whether it’s safe to look at them. However, there are other emerging technologies that do very similar things (I feel like if I write any more about this you might actually die of boredom so I’m not going to go into them. They might come up in a future post. I don’t know).  Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in the future, we start seeing this kind of projection being featured in shows.

Now obviously, all of my ideas have involved making the show more immersive rather than making it more emotional which I feel is what it needs. The ideas I have I don’t think would get it up to the standard of Dreams but it would definitely make introduce the ‘Wow’ factor back in and certainly make it more memorable.

Does it actually need improving?

Over the past few weeks I have been asking people on Twitter to get in touch and give me their opinions on Illuminations and, as part of this, I asked them to give each scene in Dreams and Illuminations a score out of 10 so that I could do some fun stats things with them to see whether Illuminations is actually as bad as we all think.

First off, I would like to acknowledge that this may be VERY biased as the people who said they would do this for me may be the people who have stronger opinions, throwing the scores off in one direction substantially. However, it’s what I have – if there’s anyone who wants to do some scores for me and send them in, I’ll more than happily do the calculations again (Yay for Excel spreadsheets!).

Also, if anyone wants to check the calculations, let me know and I’ll send you the raw data.

The easiest stat to compare is the average total score for a scene from Dreams and Illuminations where obviously, a higher score is better. The average total score for Dreams is 87.2 whereas the average for Illuminations is 71.3, showing right off the bat that Illuminations is not as popular, as you’d expect.

This is a significant difference. To prove this, I ran an unpaired T-test on the data. From this, you get a value which you then compare to values on a table some very smart people made and if your value is above their value there is a significant difference between the two sets of data.

I know that’s a crappy explanation. Sorry.

Anywho, there is a significant difference – the calculated value is 2.26 and the value we needed to top was 2.11. This means we can be 95% certain that Illuminations is not as good as Dreams.

So now, let’s look at the stats for individual scenes to see which scenes are either lifting Dreams up or dragging Illuminations down.

The most obvious issue with Illuminations is the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ scene. It has an average score of 3, the lowest of any scene in either show (The lowest score in Dreams for comparison is 5.5 for Ratatouille). Fortunately, it is in a good position to be swapped out, similar to the ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ scenes from the original Dreams, so hopefully we’ll see it gone soon (More on this later).

The other live action scenes in Illuminations seem to have been very polarising in terms of score. By looking at the standard deviation values, a measure of how spread out the scores are, you can see that scenes like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ have standard deviation values around 2.3ish whereas ‘The Little Mermaid’ scene has a standard deviation of 1.2. Obviously, this means that there are some people who really like the live action scenes, hence the spread, meaning that for some people having these films is a great addition. However, it is necessary to note that the scene out of both shows with the highest average score (9.2) also has the second lowest standard deviation (‘Friends on the Other Side’ in Dreams). You can have people really enjoying a scene without having to split opinion.

A reason that people are citing for Illuminations not being as good that needs to be debunked is that it is very French heavy. Firstly, it isn’t very French heavy – 3.5 of the 9 scenes (0.5 because of the very beginning of the show) are in French which is, if anything, less than, or potentially equal to that of, Dreams. Furthermore, with the exception of the ‘Finding Nemo’ scene, the scenes in French actually did better than some of the scenes in English with ‘The Little Mermaid’ scene having the third highest average score after the introduction and finale.

The scenes that were in French in Dreams also didn’t do that much worse than the scenes in English, with the exception of ‘Ratatouille’. with scenes like ‘Be Out Guest’ and ‘Out There’ getting higher average scores than some of the scenes in English, such as ‘Frozen’ and ‘The Lion King’.

Nevertheless, all the stats point towards Illuminations not being as popular as Dreams. The movies that had scenes in both shows found their scores falling in Illuminations. ‘Let it Go’ in Dreams had an average score of 7 but a score of 6.5 in Illuminations (And to those of you going “AH HA THE FRENCH”, most people cited the scene in Illuminations being too long for the reason it has a lower score) with ‘The Lion King’ seeing the same trend (7.2 to 6.3).

So in short, Illuminations does need to be improved.

Your Opinions

As well as the bit at the start of the article, I also asked people for their thoughts on the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ scene and which movies they’d like to see in Illuminations 2.0 (Presuming it gets a second incarnation, which I think it probably will).

I have included below some of the best bits from the messages we got, credited to the people who sent them in (Thanks guys! If any of you have issue with your stuff being here, let me know.)

‘I’m stunned that Moana doesn’t feature;  the songs in that movie are excellent. I’m not a fan of live action  being projected onto contoured buildings as you can’t map them like you  can animation so would prefer POTC, etc. not to be in Illuminations. On the whole I felt this show was an advert for people who are being introduced to Disney and what they do (if those types even exist). The BATB scene is just a trailer with no narrative and has no place in  this show in it’s current form’. (@SulleysArms)

‘Would love to see some Moana, there are plenty of songs that could fit nicely (‘Shiny’ could be brilliant, or How Far I’ll Go for a more moving scene). I think there’s also plenty that could be done with Sleeping Beauty and ‘Once upon a Dream’ or ‘You can Fly’ from Peter Pan! I think it just lacks a bit of heart  because it is a stunning show!! For BatB, I think they should use Evermore with the corresponding scenes from film… or remove it altogether.’ (@ElenaSearle)

‘The Beauty and the Beast scene had good intentions but definitely just looks like the trailer has been projected on the castle. I have no problem with live action being included but they should have used the ‘Be Our Guest’ scene or Evermore (in a similar style to ‘Out There’ in Dreams) but the song choice was wrong and the projection looks lazy. By the way it’s done, I feel like it is going to be interchangeable with other new Disney releases as and when they come out. Hopefully that’s what they do because the scene really ruins the flow, mood and excitement of the rest of the show. I miss the classics, there’s a lack of old fashioned Disney in Illuminations. I also think there’s a lack of villains in this one, I loved the Friends on the Other Side section of Dreams and nothing has filled that slot. I would have liked Tangled to say or at least a ‘romantic’ scene with more of a focus on the princesses. Personally, I think Treasure Planet would look amazing as a section in the show! I’d also like to see scenes from Tarzan, Lilo and Stitch and The Aristocats because they’re some of my favourite films.’ (@THE_becki)

‘I think the biggest omission from the show is Moana. How Far I’ll Go is just crying out for a scene. Personally I’d dump at least part of the frozen section which I think is too long. Also I’d personally like to see Mulan there mostly because it has great music. The intro to the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ scene is lovely with the haunting intro music from the film. There isn’t enough to it after that. It is basically a clip show which doesn’t make enough of the projection mapping or the castle itself. I have to say I liked it more once I’d seen the film. To change it I’d do what they did with the Tangled scene and make it, after a bit of beauty and the beast, go into being about Disney romance in general’. (@thegrownupmouse)

‘I think they need to rework the BatB scene by using a faster song. Or one from the actual film. The projection mapping is lazy.’ (Andrew from @MagicalDLP, maybe you know him?)

‘While I think there shouldn’t have been any live action in the show to begin with, a lot more creativity should have been used in this scene. Maybe have the castle become covered in ice like that we see in the original teaser trailer (something that could have been realised without the release of the movie) and a better song used like Evermore. Indeed, that song felt perfect for a show like this as Beast roamed from his castle singing – similar to what we saw in Out There. Well I feel that this show should have been restricted to just animated movies, so I feel animated musicals should have been the focus of this. As for examples, movies such strong soundtracks like Hercules is a must (Zero the Hero could be a very popular upbeat song) and Moana was a big missed opportunity. Shiny, How Far I’ll Go and Your Welcome would all have been excellent candidates that if done right, would be a masterpiece’ (@NI_DLP_Geek)

‘I understand why BatB is there but it’ll need changed once it’s not relevant when the hype wears off. WHY WAS ZOOTOPIA/ZOOTROPOLIS OR INSIDE OUT NOT INCLUDED? My 2 favourite films of the last couple of years, surely they should be there?’ (@skillschampion2)

‘I don’t think anything will be done with BATB, personally I feel this is a cheap show for a year or two only, so by the time that scene needs replacing it’ll be gone’. (@ElliotJGMinto)

‘Scrap it! (The ‘Beauty and the Beast’ scene) No, seriously, I would have made it more coherent – right now it is the one scene that sets most like shameless advertising simply showing random clips completely out of context or coherence. The film features a wide range go iconic songs – How Does a Moment Last Forever? is not one of them and certainly not Celine’s version! If the film were to be included, I would have had Beast climbing the castle to sing Evermore in a scene resembling the Out There Scene from Dreams! Moana/Vaiana seemed obvious – it’s new, it has great songs and water plays a prominent part! I thing it would be great fun to have an 8-bit version of the castle with Ralph wrecking it, but I doubt it would work as part of a coherent show. Like Dreams! gave a presence to Hunchback, I would have loved to see Pocahontas, Tarzan or even just Mulan now that they were shamelessly copying Shanghai anyways.’ (@dlp_photos)

As you can see above, most people aren’t too angered by the idea of keeping a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ scene in there but it featuring ‘Evermore’ instead, although this may just be nostalgia for ‘Out There’. Nevertheless, I think this would work really well; Illuminations is missing it’s Tangled moment and this could provide it. I think Evermore’s a great song. Also, it’s actually in the film rather than just being over the end credits. So there’s that.

However there are obviously people who want to put in a different film, the one named most often being ‘Moana’ which I think is an awesome idea (The songs people wanted in there most often being ‘How Far I’ll Go’ and ‘Shiny’). As much as I love Tamatoa (‘THE POWER OF CREATION… FOR A CRUSTACEAN’), I’m not sure ‘Shiny’ would work. It isn’t much of a villain song really – it’s more funny than ominous and if you look at how scenes like that of ‘Brave’ in the second version of Dreams were received, going for a bit of humour generally doesn’t work but if they could get it to work, I am all for it. ‘How Far I’ll Go’ however is, I think, a missed opportunity.

In my opinion, the entire show should be ‘Mulan’ and Fear from ‘Inside Out’ but that’s just me.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into Illuminations from a technology point of view. Feel free to leave comments suggesting how I can improve these (Shortening the articles is first thing that comes to my mind) and also leave suggestions for elements of Disneyland Paris, be it attractions, entertainment etc etc.

I have said I’m going to attempt writing about Pandora in Walt Disney World but whether I can think of two ideas to rub together remains to be seen.

Hopefully see you next time!

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  • RandomDisneyGuy
    August 2, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    What I think would improve projection shows, and what I really liked from dreams, is the scenes which really work with/augment the castle. So scenes like the Genie making the turrets appear as fireworks, or even the simpler parts that just added flashing neon/lights over the castle are really clever and make it more interesting than just projecting movie clips. Combine that with a good uniting story with emotion and I think you’re onto a winner.

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