Exclusive interview: Tim Lutkin, Light Designer at Disneyland Paris


Having worked on both Mickey and the Magician and Marvel Super Heroes United, Tim Lutkin is in charge of creating immersive lightshows to offer unique experiences to Disneyland Paris guests. As the Season of Marvel Super Heroes is in full swing, we have recently sat down with Tim to better understand this exciting job.

How and why did you become a lighting designer? How did you get that passion?

From a very young age my mother told me that whenever she took me to the theatre I used to stare at the lighting rig instead of the stage. From as young as I can remember I was obsessed with lighting and I loved going to the theatre. I designed the lighting for my school productions and worked at our local theatre during my time at high school. Early in my career I worked as an associate designer for lighting designer Hugh Vanstone. I am extremely grateful for that time with Hugh.

How would you explain your job and your role in a show?

Essentially my job is to make sure the audience can see everything they are supposed to see and to help direct their attention to the right place. Our blank canvas as lighting designers is a pitch black room and we start to build a picture from there. My role is to support the work of the scenic designers and show directors. To build on their vision. If I get it right I can change, not just the way you see the show but how you feel when you are in the theatre space. From the moment you walk into the auditorium to the moment you leave.

What are your greatest achievements in your job, according to you? and why do you consider them so?

I am very lucky to have been awarded with Europe’s highest honor for theatre lighting design. The Society Of London Theatre’s Laurence Olivier Award. However, my real greatest achievements have been collaborating with some of the most talented theatre professionals working today. Working with companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, The National Theatre and Walt Disney Imagineering have been highlights of my career so far. I have designed ten shows in London’s West End and I am very grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.

How did you come to work with Disneyland Paris?

When I was fourteen years old I wanted to be an Imagineer. By the time I was deciding which University course to take I had decided that it was best to stay in the UK and study in London. I have always wanted to design shows for Disneyland and pretty much told everyone I met. Twelve years on my friend and collaborator Paul Kieve was going on a trip to meet some of the team at Imagineering. He asked if I would like to come along too. During our visit in Glendale we were presented with the project outline of Mickey and the Magician. Shortly after we were asked if we would like to be involved. Of course my answer was yes.

How was it like, working first on Mickey and the Magician?

 Mickey and the Magician really was a dream come true for me. It was exciting to be involved in a new project for Disney right at it’s very beginnings. I loved being a part of the team working with Disney’s greatest assets to create the show. Cinderella, Aladdin, Lion King, Frozen and of course the leading man himself, Mickey Mouse.

From the lighting point of view, could you explain the concept of Marvel Super Heroes United?

I wanted the lighting on Marvel Super Heroes to have a strong style. I wanted the Super Heroes to look and feel like mega stars. For this I drew on some of the techniques used in concert and arena lighting. We used bold colors and layers of arial beams to draw your attention to the right places. I used lots of sharp edged pools of light to place the Super Heroes in throughout their solos and battle moments. This, I believe gave the show a real ‘Marvel’ look. It mimics some of the artwork that can be seen in the original Marvel comics.

What was the challenge of such a show?

The challenge on the show was how do we keep the audiences attention directed to the right place for the whole show in a large space with lots of fast paced action? For this we used a tracking system to follow the Super Heroes around the space. It allowed us to select any light in the lighting rig and snap it straight onto them.

Can you tell us about your choices in matter of colors, and the role of color in the show?

Colour and tone in theatre lighting really makes the difference between ‘watching’ the show and ‘feeling’ the show. As I mentioned before we chose to use bold colors throughout. We used deep cyans, bold reds and strong blues / indigos to keep the story moving forward and to give each segment a strong look of its own. We end with the classic red and white look of the Marvel logo with all the Super Heroes each stood in a cold white clean pool of light and the stage set washed in deep red.

Is there any connection between your treatment of color in the show, and the one in the movies. In other words, did you take any inspiration from the movies?

Lighting in movies tends to be much more subtle then the lighting required for theatre spaces. Although we took some inspiration from the movies most of our work revolved around how we make the Super Heroes work in a theatre space and how to exaggerate the work in the films.

How did you treat each one of the heroes, colorwise?

Each of the heroes is surrounded with video. Most of the color choices were based on what we could draw from that content. However, a few of the heroes have some very specific colors that relate to them. Hulk’s green, Spider Man’s red and blue, and Black Panthers slick black costume is supported with cold clean beams of light.

There’s a lot of visual effects and projections in the show. How did you manage to integrate all these elements in your work, and have them function well together?

We worked very closely with the video team and animators to push the video into a more saturated world to help support the style of lighting we wanted to achieve. We also had the privilege of working closely with effect department to add smoke, haze and low fog throughout the show.

How did you approach the stunts?

We wanted to make each fight strong and and clear. We used the Zak Track system to focus tightly in on each Hero. We were careful to make sure that all of them had enough light to safely do all the moves too.

How did you approach the fights? Your treatment seem pretty much cinematographic, focusing on one aspect of the whole scene.

I approached the fights very much like ‘close up shots’ in cinematography. Using light to zoom in on the action and to make the rest of the space and scenic elements dark.

From the lighting and technical point of view, what are the characteristics of studio theater? how fun was it to work in such a state of the art theater?

It was exciting using Zak Track and the new lighting system in Studio Theater. It was an exciting and fulfilling experience and opened up many opportunities to us which meant we started to design the show in a way that would not be possible with a more basic lighting rig.

Can you tell us about your collaboration with the Disneyland Paris team? How fun was it? How collaborative was your work? How did you work with the Show Director?

I very much enjoy working with the Paris team. Stephen Fritschy and his lighting team at the theatre were superb. I loved working with show directors Moira Smith and Louisa Kriouche. They worked with the Super Heroes brilliantly and provided a very clear direction for the production to move in.

Is there any other aspect of the production that you’d like to evoke?

I would like to thank Metin Cig for his brilliant collaboration and help building smoke and haze effects for the show. Without his devotion to the show and to the parks I couldn’t have created the kind of lighting effects the show needed. I would also like to thank Celine Tamaillon for being a brilliant leader and delivering a superb show for the Disney parks.

From your point of view, is that kind of show very different from a musical in the West End?

Although our show lives inside a theme park it draws on all the same emotional devices we use in the West End and on Broadway. In many ways it delivers more punch and magic than West End shows can. There are many budget and space restrictions inside the old Victorian buildings West End shows are staged in.

For Marvel Super Heroes United, there was a first version of the show last year. How specific was it to intervene into a pre-existing production, regarding doing everything from scratch?

It is sometimes a daunting and slightly frightening task to come into a production late in the process. But with this show I felt confident I could bring it a new life and my passion for the Disney parks and previous experience at Disneyland Paris gave me the confidence to take on the role.

It seems that you have some more projects on your plate with Disneyland Paris. Can you tell us a little about them?

Art of Disney Animation is being transformed into “Animation Celebration” and it is going to be a beautiful immersive experience for the guests. You’ll know more about it very soon!

I feel very privileged to be working at Disneyland Paris and have loved working with the teams here. As I said before, it’s a dream come true.

Thank you Tim!

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