Both grandiose and totally immersive, Star Wars: A Galactic Celebration – which returned on January 11 at Walt Disney Studios Park, benefits from a unique stage at the foot of the Tower of Terror and impressive technical effects. We learned more about this original production from the producer of the show, Marie-Charlotte Bientz and the stage manager, Michael Mulato.
Marie-Charlotte, Michael, how did you come to work on the show?
Marie Charlotte: I joined the company 12 years ago now. I had studied show production at university and Disneyland Paris was my work-study company during my Masters. I was fortunate to be hired as a production assistant thereafter and have grown from there to my current position. Disney Dreams! was the first show I worked on when I joined the production trade. This is where I met Michael. And following this experience, I was asked to participate in the development of the production infrastructure for Production Courtyard, as well as in Star Wars: A Galactic Celebration which uses video production like Disney Dreams!
Michael: As for me, I arrived at Disneyland Paris fifteen years ago in attractions, then the parades department where I accompanied Disney characters and guided floats. Two years later, I became assistant stage manager. Between 2007 and 2017, I participated in most of the destination’s shows. Then I became stage manager for productions such as Bienvenue à la Belle Saison (2014), La Garden Party de Dingo (2016) and Disney Dreams! I became a general stage manager almost three years ago for seasons like Christmas, Halloween and the first Pirates & Princesses Festival, and I’ve been stage manager of the Production Courtyard stage at the foot of the Tower of Terror for over a year now. I take care of all the shows that take place there like #Surprise Mickey, Legends of the Force and Marvel Season of Super Heroes.
Michael, what is your job on this particular show?
Michael: I am the operational manager of everything that happens. Once the show is in operation, that is to say after the production phase piloted by Marie-Charlotte, I direct all the trades working on it, with the help of my team of stage managers, to coordinate the whole show.
Can you tell us more about this very special stage?
Marie Charlotte: We created it to present shows for seasons and special events at Walt Disney Studios Park, so it has to be very flexible. LED screens are a very important technical element as they allow shows to be played day and night. We only had one main screen to start, but now we have three to really immerse our guests and we added two new scenes with their own screen, courtyard and garden as we say in show business. All of them can play simultaneously, both in panning and individually, which we do a lot in Star Wars: A Galactic Celebration.
How do you use “mapping” and sound to immerse guests in the show?
Marie Charlotte: The Tower of Terror is the tallest building at Disneyland Paris, with a mapping surface for projection that is quite unique. Technology has come a long way in the four years since Disney Dreams! started and this show has benefitted from those advances.
Michael: We have 17 video projectors, including 16 in “quadrial”, that is to say that we have four video projectors projecting the same image on a given area which allows more power and light for an even more spectacular rendering. With a large, flat surface, we can project several important scenes at the same time on several areas of the Tower. That final projector is used to dress the rest of Production Courtyard to immerse visitors even more in our story. Visitors do not just face the show, they are truly immersed in the adventure. This goes beyond projection to sound too.
Marie Charlotte: What’s also unique about this stage is the 360-degree sound, not only from the front but from a system of diffusion in 7.1 distributed all around the space that allows us to create particularly immersive effects. For example, when a ship is projected on the Tower of Terror, you have the sound of its engine all over the place like it is passing just above you.
The show combines many different means of expression. How is it all synchronized?
Michael: Everything is coordinated by a “time code” – a kind of very precise stopwatch – and all of the effects whether video, lasers or pyrotechnics are programmed from this count.
Marie Charlotte: And this time code is guided by music. Audio is the conductor of all of our shows. Natalia Beliaeva, the director of the show, stages characters and images from movement and from music. And music flows from video, lasers, light and pyrotechnics. We were particularly attentive to the way of combining all these elements around the music. It is all the more important that the score of John Williams is very, very rich. The magic of this show is to carry the audience in a movement, to give them the impression, while being static, of flying towards this distant galaxy.
How did you work with the show directors?
Marie Charlotte: Our goal in production is to make the dreams of our directors come true and to give them the skills to go even further than they imagined. In Star Wars: A Galactic Celebration, this manifests itself particularly in terms of interactions with droids. The director’s wish to have some of the familiar droids influence the stage design. We were able to expand his vision to welcome C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8 for a droid sequence even more important than it was at the start.
How has the show changed since 2017?
Marie Charlotte: The creation of this unique stage has certainly brought the show to a new level, and the scenic deployment has made this even more immersive. We have more space, more possibilities for characters to interact with guests, more screens to broadcast more images. And then, each new episode brings its share of novelties. And this year, we’ve integrated a tribute to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to close the saga in our own way.
How are reactions of the audience a source of inspiration for you?
Marie Charlotte: It is extremely important to us how our guests and fans react to the show. When we are lucky enough to have a season like this, which comes back from one year to the next, we listen to those audiences to improve ourselves and to fulfill the dreams of fans.
Michael: We spend weeks or even months in meetings and especially in rehearsals to see and review the show every night. But on the premiere day, it’s not the show I’m watching anymore, but the audience. This is a very strong moment that we look forward to.
What is your favorite moment from this Galactic Celebration?
Marie Charlotte: I’d say the arrival of Darth Vader. He comes out of the shadows and we just see his saber lighting up in the dark before he reveals himself to us. Iconically, it’s very strong. The whole character is there, reinforced by his images on The Tower of Terror. I also think of Darth Maul and his incredible acrobatics. He is alone on stage; his speech is very short and yet it is a very strong moment of the show.
Michael: For me, it’s the opening with the credits from Star Wars. I remember the first time I saw this show. I was still working on Disney Dreams!, but I was lucky enough to see it before everyone else. I had no idea what was going to happen. I was chatting with a colleague when all of a sudden the first chords rang out and I got chills. In an instant, I realized that something special was going to happen. I also love the finale, with all the characters on stage and the lyrics “May The Force be with you … always!” It’s a moment that transports me!
This show is the work of an entire team. Can you tell us about the human aspect?
Michael: We are about 40 people daily for video, lights, special effects, sound, control room. We have a very close-knit team here. Whether production or management, we are happy to meet every year for this production.
Marie Charlotte: If we talk about the overall show implementation, we easily go up to about 200 people. Each of us has a special attachment to Star Wars characters and stories. For my part, it was my dad who made me discover this universe. He was in the United States when the very first film was released in 1977, and he passed on his passion to me when I was a little girl. We all have a story with Star Wars. It’s an additional bond that unites us.