Creating an epic show
An all-new Marvel experience is about to light up Walt Disney Studios Park between 28 January and 8 May 2023. Avengers: Power the Night combines video projections, pyrotechnic effects and drones around The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in an epic celebration of the Marvel Super Heroes.
But how is a show like this created?
That’s what we asked Arnaud Feredj and Ben Spalding, respectively the director and the producer of this world exclusive show that’s ‘made in Disneyland Paris’!
AVENGERS: POWER THE NIGHT – THE BEGINNING
How did the idea for this show come about?
Ben: It all started in August last year. Following the success of the Disney D-Light show at Disneyland Park, we began discussing the possibility of using drones in other locations at Disneyland Paris. The idea was to build on what was done for the opening night of Avengers Campus and create something even more impressive. We felt that The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was the ideal place to do this, since it is especially suited to this kind of sound and light show. From there, we needed to find the story we were going to tell – and that’s how we started working with Arnaud. He was bursting with ideas, and after just two weeks he had come up with the concept for the show!
Arnaud: It all started from discussions with the production team and even other teams involved in the project about the story we wanted to tell, and how we wanted to tell it. It was a true collaboration. Our show was scheduled to take place at the end of the day, and to be held at The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, just outside Avengers Campus. This meant we were potentially talking to recruits who had just trained alongside the Marvel Super Heroes, so it was only fitting to offer them a final training session. But how could we tell the story? And what could we use? Drones of course! But that’s not all – we wanted video projectors, pyrotechnics, lights, sound and music. Then we had to find the right emotion to link all these elements together. It was a real team effort, relying on the skills and expertise of each trade, from the storyboarder to the various designers (special effects, lighting, video, drones, audio, etc.), including the music producers.
From there, how did you build the concept for Avengers: Power the Night?
Arnaud: There are two ways to approach a show: either as a story with several acts, or through conveying an emotion and going on an emotional journey. We chose the latter. Avengers: Power the Night is a celebration of the Marvel Super Heroes’ powers through a succession of demonstrations. Right from the start of the show, with F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s announcement, we feel some emotional tension. Then we move on to something a little more spectacular when Doctor Strange arrives, and from there a string of fast-paced emotions keep coming with various musical breaks, pyrotechnic effects that are used to accompany the story and the powers of the Super Heroes, and drone choreographies. All this comes together to create an emotional journey that develops at each stage of the show.
This show features iconic superheroes such as Iron Man and the Hulk, as well as newcomers like Scarlet Witch and Shang-Chi.
Arnaud: Marvel has this unique ability to speak to all audiences through its multitude of Super Heroes, characters, even anti-heroes, and the show’s aim was always to reach the widest possible audience and to amaze as many people as possible. That’s why it was important for us to include as many characters as possible, including some of the most recent ones, in order to reach the entire audience. Take Shang-Chi and Scarlet Witch: they are characters that speak to a lot of people because they can relate to them. I am thinking about Wanda and Vision’s relationship in particular. In a way, they are our living metaphors.
TECHNOLOGY SERVING EMOTION
How did you manage to project these Super Heroes on to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror?
Arnaud: At first, I worked with a freelance storyboarder, Bruno Tesse, to put what I had in my head into images, and from there, I worked with our entire creative team to bring these ideas to life using our technical capabilities.
Ben: Under the leadership of our motion designer Jean-Paul Faure, we assembled a team of designers who took all these drawings and animated them in 2D so that they could be projected on to the facade of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The result is breathtaking.
How do the projections and effects work together?
Arnaud: People often separate the technical and artistic aspects of a show, but they are closely linked, especially in a setting like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, because the technical aspect really allows us to create the emotion I was talking about earlier.
When you put together a show like Avengers: Power the Night, you have to consider not just the tower, but also the sky, and transform it and connect it to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. None of the elements in our show are isolated – they must all tell the same story, with the same emotional impact. That’s why we envisioned the pyrotechnic effects as a continuity of the Super Heroes’ powers rather than as something that’s just visually appealing, and it’s the same with the drones, which aren’t ever there to look pretty – they provide an emotional continuity to the story. I often say, ‘The sky isn’t big enough for Ben!’. At Disneyland Paris, he is the leading expert in this kind of sound and light show, and it is a privilege to work with him because he masters all these elements and all these interactions to perfection.
And then, there are hours and hours of testing together, at night, in the cold, to adjust everything down to the millimetre so that each effect can deliver the desired emotion. It’s an extremely delicate balance. As soon as you touch one piece of drone choreography or a special effect, it has a huge impact on all the other trades. All our experts collaborate together and go back and forth in real time.
Through Avengers: Power the Night, Disneyland Paris is continuing its partnership with the Bordeaux-based company Dronisos, the European leader in drone shows.
Ben: We started working together on Disney D-Light. The goal was to create the first daily drone show for a theme park. We complement each other perfectly: they are technical specialists, while we bring the artistic aspect and the storytelling. Once we realised that, we knew that our collaboration would not stop there. Through Avengers: Power the Light, we are going from 150 drones to 500 – it’s a real challenge! You really need to work with the best to make it a success. Arnaud asked them to perform incredible movements and changes. Things never seen before. At first, they told him it wouldn’t be possible, but in the end, we made it happen. We really pushed this technology to its limits. When children start to draw, they scribble, and if you look at an image of drone choreography, that’s what it looks like. But in reality, it represents all the drones passing one another to make changes at the especially intense pace of our show. Dronisos excels at this task, and it was a great pleasure to work with them again. They are more than just partners – they’re colleagues.
Arnaud: At the beginning of the project, Ben told me that they were one of the best, and that’s exactly what my experience was. When we presented them with the storyboard for the show, it was so rich that they thought it had to be 30 minutes long – but it’s more like 8. That’s how intense the movements were. We started with the idea that all the drone images should be in 3D. This is something that happens from time to time in some shows around the world, but to do it all the time for 8 minutes is a real feat, especially with the complexity of these images. And while what you see in the sky is beautiful and wonderful, I can tell you that what you don’t see is even more so – it’s an absolutely incredible ballet.
Ben: It is also important to remember that the flight area is very limited, whereas this type of show usually uses a lot of space. This means there is a lot of movement in a very short time, in a small airspace next to a tower with pyrotechnics and lasers, in a theme park full of guests. It’s a huge operational challenge. And with Dronisos, I know that we have complete security, which is our priority.
What about the music, written by Marco Marinangeli, who has collaborated with Disneyland Paris on several previous occasions?
Arnaud: Marvel music is so iconic that you recognise it from the first notes and the first vibrations. Because of this, it was essential for the music to be at the centre of the show. The music gives it its rhythm and provides the necessary emotion and vibration to experience what was happening visually.
Ben: That was the first thing we looked at. Music producer Jonathan Barr put us in touch with Marco Marinangeli and we worked together between Paris and California to make sure he translated Arnaud’s vision into music.
Arnaud: With Marco, we started from the general Avengers theme and the themes of each character in particular, in order to create a kind of medley that lasts 8 minutes, with moments of tension, moments of rupture and moments of intense emotion. Being able to put all this into music with this finesse and this fidelity to the Marvel themes is quite exceptional. Then I had the chance to realise a childhood dream of recording this soundtrack at Abbey Road studios with more than 70 musicians. This gives us a sound quality that is truly incredible. Just talking about this makes my eyes light up!
Ben: On 4 January we went to Abbey Road, and on 10 January we received the soundtrack. Then we mixed it on site. I think the result is spectacular. At least that’s what we felt during rehearsals. It’s extraordinary!
Arnaud: But that’s not all. The music is just the ‘visible’ part. There are also all the special audio effects that have been added here at Disneyland Paris to accompany what is happening visually. It was a huge synchronisation effort that was done internally by our sound engineer Sylvain Chesneau.
‘AVENGERS: ASSEMBLE! ‘
What was the biggest challenge you faced in this project?
Ben: This show was produced in record time – just three months. To meet this challenge, we had to rely primarily on our internal talent. It has to be said that Disneyland Paris has a real pool of experts in all kinds of trades, especially in the field of entertainment. I’ve always been told that to create extraordinary things, you have to surround yourself with the best. And that’s true, I really believe it. We have experts – passionate people who know everything about the park, the product, the visitors and their expectations – who put their heart into everything they do. It’s truly unique and magical.
In a way, I’d say we’ve embraced the motto of Avengers: Assemble. Thanks to this, we managed to create something together that we are extremely proud of, and we can’t wait to share it with our guests!