Interview with Ben Spalding – Producer Disney Dreams!

Published: April 11, 2023 / Last Updated: April 11, 2023 / By: Arvid Bux

For the grand finale of our 30th Anniversary, the legendary night show Disney Dreams®! is making a comeback. From 12 April, Disneyland Paris guests will be able to discover or rediscover this magical experience, which has been made even more spectacular thanks to new technology. Ben Spalding, who was involved in creating the show in 2012, is now returning as Producer. Relive this extraordinary adventure with him through this InsidEars interview and find out more about the new upcoming version.

What do you remember about creating Disney Dreams! in 2012?

The arrival of Disney Dreams! was something of a revolution! Before, we used to offer one-off night shows or season-themed shows. This time, the goal was to create a permanent sound and light show, with all the means necessary. Vast amounts of infrastructure – video projection and pyrotechnic equipment, lasers, lights, water jets and mechanical parts – had to be installed for Disney Dreams!, while at the same time be hidden from our guests. It was also necessary to ensure the operational side of the show was in place, as well as the entire security network for both guests and our Cast Members, and arrange the various entrances and the closure of Fantasyland. The entire organisation of our Cast Members’ and our guests’ day had to be rethought. We also did a lot of preparatory studies on wind and sound effects in order to be able to offer a spectacular experience, while limiting the impacts for our neighbours. It was also a very different approach to what used to be done in the United States, where they had huge fireworks displays which make a lot of noise. Disney Dreams! was truly tailor-made for Disneyland Paris. It’s not like any other show. It could even be said that it was a pioneer and that it subsequently inspired our colleagues from other Disney Parks. Thanks to it, we have learned many things that are still useful today for our new productions such as Avengers: Power the Night.

What was your role at the time?

I was Production Manager and worked with the US team: Producer, Sayre Wiseman, Creative Director, Steve Davison, Pyrotechnic Designer, Eric Tucker and Technical Director, Chuck Davis. We worked closely with the creators from the entire media and cartoon section, in particular the artists from the Walt Disney Animation Studios under the leadership of Dave Bossert. The characters from Disney and Pixar Classics had to come to life on the Castle, which is why we asked them to redesign some of them, starting with Peter Pan. We had to be daring!

But that’s not all. Disney Dreams! is a unique blend of technique and artistry, and we thought a lot about finding the right balance between the different visual effects and the music so that spectators are completely immersed in the story. Because the magic of Disney Dreams! is also this magnificent story, with Peter Pan and his shadow as the theme between the different scenes.

I love Disney Illuminations, and all our night shows, but for all of these reasons, you will understand that Disney Dreams! is very close to my heart and I’m really looking forward to its return on 12 April!

How did the idea of this return come about?

First and foremost, we wanted to give our fans what they wanted. You can read messages everywhere on social media about Disney Dreams! being one of their favourite shows. Even those who weren’t able to see it at the time asked for it to come back so that they could finally experience it “in person”! It exudes a unique magic. Something very strong, that can’t be explained. That’s why people want to see it or see it again at all costs… starting with me!

One of the magical moments of the show is the appearance of the Second Star at the top of Sleeping Beauty Castle.

At first, when we started thinking about this show, Steve Davison considered an effect that would have moved from one tower to another, but technically it was very complicated. It would almost have been necessary to put up an extra tower in the middle of the park to make it work. So we considered another solution together with our teams. We installed a crane with a basket, and hung a quarter of a star at the place where it was to be on the Castle in order to carry out a light test. We turned it on at 70% of its capacity and thanks to the LEDs, we could see it in broad daylight! I was next to Steve and I remember hearing him say: “Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” This meant that we had found the right solution and from there we started building the complete star.

We called for tenders as is always the case for our shows, and one of the French companies with which we had worked for years offered us the most effective and at the same time the simplest solution. So we worked together with them, and in fact, the star is still there!

Getting the star to fit inside the tallest tower of the Castle was a real challenge because it is so big. We had to make it bigger and in the end it fitted in by a millimetre. Seeing this star come out of the medallion is stunning. It is incredibly silent. Just a breathing noise, much like Darth Vader in Star Wars! It really is something unique in the world – no one would be crazy enough to do this again!

Joel McNeely’s score is also superb!

It is excellent. It was recorded at the famous Abbey Road studios by an orchestra of 90 musicians, an adult choir and a children’s choir. We adapted it slightly for this new version of Disney Dreams!. It was originally recorded in stereo, but for this new version we created a new 4.1 mix. We improved the sound system in the Park by adding new speakers and took the opportunity to reconsider the spatialisation on the hub and Main Street, U.S.A. To do this, we installed our recording studio on-site and worked at night with our technicians to create this new sound experience.

But that’s not all. While this new version of Disney Dreams! remains true to the original, you have incorporated many other technical innovations.

Absolutely. Our goal is not to change Disney Dreams! because it is a magical show that must be kept as it is, but it is to improve the technology so that it is better than ever for our guests!

Mapping or 3D mapping is the main ingredient of this show. How did you improve it?

Right now, as we speak, we are changing our 12 video projectors. We have been using the same ones since 2012. It was very good equipment, but used a lot of electricity. But as we are always looking for ways to consume less, we switched to laser lamps. They are much more powerful and at the same time use a lot less energy. They give incredible light and the range of colours is unlike any other.

We have also changed our media servers, i.e. the computers that manage the more than 60,000 3D images projected on Sleeping Beauty Castle.

In terms of projections, the show has had different versions over time. Which one did you choose?

We chose the 2013 version, with clips from Brave and Lion King.

What’s new in terms of lighting?

Until now, we had 10 skytracers on Disney Illuminations which are the automatic lights that light up the sky, make ballet movements and illuminate the top of the Castle. We’re going to increase that to 28! And while the number has increased, consumption hasn’t. In fact, it is exactly the opposite because we now use laser lamps, which means we will consume only a third of the energy we needed before. And when consumption drops, the parts last longer and there are fewer to change. We win on every level.

Light also means colours, particularly on the fountains.

Our Castle it’s the best, of course, and the installation of fountains in the moats seemed obvious to us from the creation of Disney Dreams! It was as if they had been considered from the beginning by the original designers of the Park! Over the past 11 years, we have changed and improved the colours of our fountains, which means that we need to programme each one individually, because each one has its own light source. It’s a huge job which also takes place at night. We no longer have the water screens, which were removed during the pandemic. So, all the projections are on the Castle.

And what about lasers and pyrotechnic effects?

We are going to adapt the entire laser part of the show and we are currently working on it. And for the pyrotechnic part, we have completely redesigned our products. We have strict regulations to comply with, with regular checks. We have therefore chosen suitable products, 95% of which come from Europe, and in particular Spain, before being prepared by our team here in France. Our pyrotechnic designer worked closely with Matthieu Robin, the director of the show, to get the right colours and to ensure that the flashes were well balanced with the rest of the effects and the pace of the show. We’ve done on-site testing to make sure the products give the best possible result, and we’re continuing to evolve this part for our upcoming shows.

How are rehearsals and tests carried out on-site?

As you know, it is a job that takes place at night, when everyone is asleep, and that started several months ago. We have quite a complex schedule, in phases, depending on the arrival of the different equipment. It takes up to 6 or 7 months to manufacture and install some items. So we have to take these deadlines into account when organising our tests.

Some Cast Members have already participated, like you, in the first version of the show. How do they feel about the comeback of Disney Dreams!?

We have several technicians who participated in the creation of the show, and many of the people who worked in operations at the time are now part of the development and design teams for future Disneyland Paris shows.

We are all so excited to see Disney Dreams! again, to share these unique memories with the people who experienced it, and to introduce it to a whole new generation of guests. We are really looking forward to reliving the different unforgettable moments in this story, such as the scene of Rapunzel with the lanterns. When I hear this music and see these images, I am really overwhelmed by the emotion and tears come to my eyes.

If your shadow escaped, which cartoon do you think it would go to?

I think it would be The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. It’s a fabulous point in the show. The music is extraordinary and the animation of Quasimodo jumping from tower to tower on our Castle, as if it were Notre-Dame, is just magical. Moreover, the cathedral is now more than ever at the heart of our story and Quasimodo is a powerful symbol. He shows us that nothing is impossible, whatever the difficulties. This is something very strong that we often find in Disney songs, and it was in exactly this spirit that we created Disney Dreams!. It was a huge and completely crazy project. Some even said that it would be impossible to carry it out. But instead of stopping us, that actually stimulated us! And the same thing happened on Avengers: Power the Night which is currently being shown at Walt Disney Studios Park. This energy and optimism are part of our culture and it is indeed because of this that we create shows that continually stretch us to our limits.

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