Discovering Ratatouille – The Pixar Connection

At the occasion of the opening of the attraction “Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy”, Designing Disney talked with Roger Gould (Creative Director of Theme Parks, “RG”) and Liz Guazzano (Executive Producer of Theme Parks, “LG”) about the involvement of Pixar Animation Studios in the creation of Disneyland Paris’ all-new mini-land “La Place de Rémy”.

Attention, the following text contains spoilers.

DD: What is your job at Pixar all about?

RG: Liz and I run the theme parks group at Pixar Animation Studios up north in San Francisco. So we collaborate full time with Imagineering anywhere the Pixar stories show up at the Disney Parks and Resorts around the world. It’s attractions and lands, parades, hotels, meet and greats… Basically, we work with Imagineering to share with Disney the knowledge of those stories and to make sure that they represent the films and the characters as the filmmakers wanted them to be. And we have been doing that for about ten years.

In the case of the Ratatouille attraction, we actually brought Brad Bird into the process. He directed the movie so no one knows it better then he does. We showed him our story boards, he saw the model and he was able to give us great ideas to make the attraction even better. We also involved lots of other members of the film making team from the original picture. We had our supervisor animator who was one of the animators on the Ratatouille film. The production designer helped us with a lot of the architecture and worked closely with Imagineering. And then we had the film’s director of photography who oversaw some of our lighting.

So every step of the way, we involved people from the film. And that’s what we do on most of our projects. We go to the filmmakers and talk with them about the characters, about the world they created. We’re very lucky that the Pixar artists who made these films are still at Pixar and we can go back to them and involve them. And in fact, all of them love the Disney Parks, so they get very, very excited when we say we’re going to make the imaginary world they created on a computer screen a reality.

DD: How big is your team?

LG: It really kind of depends how much work we have going on. We work on anywhere between 13 to 16 projects all at once, ranging from big to small. Right now, we have maybe 25 people working with us. At the peak of Ratatouille, we probably had about 60. But we have a core team of 12.

DD: How long did it take to design and build this attraction / mini-land?

RG: It took us about four years. If you do something grand, something you have never done before, it’s four years because it’s not just the design, it’s also a construction project.

DD: Does the attraction tell the story of the film?

LG: No, we created a brand new story for the ride.

DD: Why did you decide to shrink the guests down to the size of a rat in the attraction?

RG: Who are we in the story? That’s the very first question we ask on every attraction or any kind of job we start with Imagineering. For example, in the world of Cars, there are no humans, so we said our guests are cars. For the Ratatouille attraction we had a choice, there are humans and there are rats. And in this case we said, in the plaza, we’re people, it’s a human scale. But, the fun is to be small. So if we’re going to be small, then we must be rats. And so we made the choice that we as guests, are rats, so we’re friends with Remy, he can talk to us and invite us to his restaurant, “Bistrot Chez Remy”, which is of course a place where he serves all of his rat friends and family.

DD: How different is creating 3D animation for an attraction, compared to creating it for a movie?

LG: The scenes are a lot longer for one. In our movies, we get many scenes that are four, five, six seconds long. In the “Ratatouille” attraction, the scenes are more like 30, 45 seconds long. And that’s really challenging for the animators because they have to make it work and all the background action has to be meaningful for 45 seconds. Plus on this one, the film is projected on ginormous screens. So the guest sees every little action, every little thing, every little character.

RG: And what’s really fun is, we know that people are going to go on this attraction for many, many times, hopefully for many, many years. So there is the most important action that we want you to see the first time. But we were also able to layer in many other things. So when you ride it again and again, you’ll discover new things. For example, when you fall through the kitchen, you’re the size of a rat. Remy is in front of you, and the first time, of course, you’re going to watch Remy as he’s racing through the kitchen and you’re racing with him. But the next time you ride, look up at Chef Skinner who is towering overhead or watch Linguini jumping around trying not to step on you and trying to keep you safe. It will be a complete different experience!

DD: Did the animators design new sets for the attraction?

RG: There are two new sets that we built from scratch: one for the rat kitchen and one for “inside the walls”. The production designer on the film, Harley Jessup, helped and designed Remy’s kitchen. We see a corner of it in the movie at the very end of the film when Remy is asked by Colette to finish the Ratatouille. And so I said to Harley, we know that corner, what does the rest looks like? And he loved going back to that world!

DD: Is the Ratatouille mini-land an exact replica of parts of the center of Paris?

RG: No. In the movie, it’s really Paris. Well, it’s a caricature of Paris, an imagined version of Paris. But because we’re building our Ratatouille Paris literally outside of the city, we said, we need to be more playful and show our guests that this isn’t really Paris. This is Remy’s Paris. So we put the rats in. If you look at the wrought iron of the fence work, you’ll see there is a rat hidden in there. If you look at the manhole covers in the ground, you’ll see there is a design of Remy. In the beginning of the film, he rides the cookbook through the sewers. There is a heroic emblem of Remy on the cookbook as our manhole cover. So we gave a lot of little winks to the guests. There are a lot of hidden Remy’s!

DD: How do you decide if a Pixar movie is suitable to be turned into an attraction?

LG: A lot of the times it starts with Imagineering saying, wouldn’t it be fun if… And they bring us in and then we start to go back and forth. Many factors weigh in on it. You know, does that world work within in a Parks and Resorts venue. And Ratatouille, it’s a great one, you know. The number of Pixar related ideas generated by Imagineering that are actually getting build must be at least fifty to one. So we brainstorm ideas for attractions for every Pixar film. But we have only built a handful of them. And there is just always that dream of “what if”. We have never built an “Incredibles” attraction. There have been many explorations of ideas about that movie. But up to now, it just never happened. Maybe at the occasion of Incredibles 2, one of the ideas will materialize!

Photos: (c) Disney.

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