Creating Disney Magic – Installation of the Christmas Decorations

Welcome to the 2014 ‘Designing Disney Research Center’ Christmas series “Nights Before Christmas at Disneyland Paris”! It pays tribute to the huge effort that is made by the Disneyland Paris Cast Members to transform their Resort into a winter wonderland.

In the first instalment, Show Director Creative Entertainment Katy Harris gives insight in how the Christmas decorations are designed, created, installed and stored.

DD: Based on which criteria do you select the places that need to be decorated?

KH: We always start from a story whenever we choose the places where we’re going to install our decorations. That means that there should be a link between the season and the theme of the land. For example, Halloween is linked to Frontierland and Christmas to Fantasyland. The train station is decorated because it functions as a kind of billboard. It informs our Guests about the fact that we’re in the Christmas or Halloween season. We decorate Town Square because we want to immediately immerse people in the atmosphere of the celebration. The decorations should be put in areas where lots of Guests can see them. But we have to make sure that it doesn’t hinder the thoroughfare and that all necessary technical equipment is available or can be installed.

DD: Are the decorations being created in-house? Or are they purchased from a third party?

KH: It’s a mixture of both. Certain elements are made on site. Others are supplied by third parties. But we design most of the decorations in-house.

DD: Which factors need to be taken into account when designing the decorations?

KH: All sorts of factors need to be taken into account. We have to consider harsh weather, wear and tear and ultraviolet rays. The ultraviolet rays have an effect on the paint color. And there is the safety aspect. For example, decorations need to be designed in such a way that the Guests cannot climb on them.

DD: When do you start planning, designing and creating?

KH: We started planning this Christmas season last January. So it takes almost a year.

DD: How much time does it take to install all the decorations?

KH: We have about four nights in total to completely transform everything from Halloween to Christmas. The Parks, the Hotels and everything across the Resort.

DD: How is the installation planned and coordinated?

KH: We have a team of coordinators that needs to make sure that everything is installed on time. They bring all involved departments together to list the to do’s, divide the work and agree on timings. These talks result in a master planning that says, for example, that we can take out Mallificent’s thorns on a particular date because a crane can be brought in and some other elements will already have been moved. So it’s a big jigsaw puzzle, basically. 

DD: Which departments are involved in the installation?

KH: A lot of departments are at work in the nights before the start of the Christmas season: Landscaping, Maintenance, Entertainment, Production, Lighting, Sound… And don’t forget that the Entertainment Department has rehearsals at the same time too!

DD: What are the challenges they encounter while installing the decorations?

KH: We can only work in the Park overnight. So we have a limited amount of time to install the decorations. And if we start a job then we have to finish it. But anything could happen that would prevent us from doing so. A crane can break down or we could have bad weather. While we absolutely can’t leave an element half built for our Guests the next day, we always have back up plans for everything. And there is a good sense of team work too. You know, everybody is working together to make sure that the Park opens on time and opens correctly.

DD: What are the most difficult pieces to install?

KH: All of it is complicated! But one of the biggest challenges is the installation of the garlands on Main Street. Just because of the way that they are hung on cables, the several stages that they have to be installed in and the fact that the installation takes such a big space in the Park. When we have cranes and everything down Main Street doing that, then nobody can drive through. So it takes a lot of planning!

DD: Where and how are the decorations being stored?

KH: In January, everything is taken down, wrapped and stored in various locations on site. Some things remain outdoors. Others can’t stay outside without risk and are covered over or stored in tents. For example, the Christmas tree goes into a tent where we can do mechanical work on it.

DD: Is there a kind of evolution in the way the Parks have been decorated over the years?

KH: Yes, the decoration style is ever evolving. We had specific themes over the years. And as far as the light installations on Main Street are concerned, we embraced the new LED technology. As LED’s can be a little bright and brash, it’s a challenge to keep the Victorian look and feel. It’s something we’ve been working towards over the past few years. And the 2014 Christmas tree lighting ceremony proves now that we managed to find the right balance.

DD: Yes, indeed Katy! Congratulations!

Thanks for this interview and all efforts made by you and all teams involved!

Photos: (C) Designing Disney Research Center

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