Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Home Videos: My First Trip to Disneyland Paris, Collection 1

Here's something a little fun. These home videos show my very first visit to Disneyland Paris (and to any Disney park) and have some really nice glimpses at the park in its first year of operation.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Monsieur Mickey: An investigation into French cultural policy circa 1990, and state involvement in Euro Disneyland

Following on from my dissertation, here is another essay I wrote on Disney whilst studying for my BA. Written for a class on Cultural Policy, it considers Euro Disney as a permanent Worlds Fair style mega-event after a failed bid for the 1992 Olympic Games, undertaken for a range of economic reasons, but which uniquely compromised French national identity through state-funded American cultural imperialism. It was awarded a First.

Monsieur Mickey
An investigation into French cultural policy circa 1990,
and state involvement in Euro Disneyland

Click to download

An extract:

This essay will explore French cultural policies in the late 1980s and early 1990s in regards to the difficult economic situation the country was struggling with. It will investigate how a failed bid to host the Olympics led to a vigorous campaign to play home to the first European Disney resort and secure the economic guarantees it would bring. Yet in a country where America-fuelled cultural protectionism was significant, and where worries about cultural dilution were widespread, it will explore the cultural policies enacted by the French government to secure domestic culture. These events present a fascinating scenario in which a nationally protective cultural policy had to be compromised for economic security through the construction of a contemporary World’s Fair style project; where a mega-event was not reinforcing national culture, but compromising it.

Throughout the 1980s, France’s economic situation was grim. Suffering through a Europe-wide depression, unemployment rates had been hovering at around 10% throughout the decade , foreign exchange revenues were low as the value of the Franc stagnated , and France was simultaneously battling to ensure its economic and political significance in an emerging European collective. In 1982, socialist Francois Mitterrand assumed the French presidency and advocated a neo-liberal approach to the economy - the corporatization of French industry, encouraging private business to fix the French economy, and renouncing the practice of dirigisme – strong governmental economic control, a transnational trend Raymond Williams identifies as the product of the globalization of capitalism and the threat of a renewed Cold War.

The French government recognised that the cultural and nationalistic value of a mega-event would boost the economy and alleviate the country’s problems, and began an ardent campaign to host the 1992 Olympic Games. Preceding Games had shown the economic and social benefits of hosting, but it was announced in 1985 that the country had come second to Barcelona. At the same time, the Walt Disney Company announced its intention to build a European theme park resort, narrowing the potential location down to either France or Spain. Here was a unique opportunity to replicate the economic advantages of the Olympics; jobs, tourist dollars, purpose for massive infrastructure programmes, and even the prestige of Europe’s premier vacation resort would be afforded to France, reinforcing France’s position as a major European player and destination for tourists throughout the continent and its notion of grandeur – French cultural value. The project would gain international attention not just for a year as with the Olympics, but for decades to come. The total cost of EuroDisney would be estimated at $7.5 billion – almost double the price of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The government organised a determined campaign to ensure the Disney resort came to France, just as they had done for their failed Olympic bid. France was presented as being the heart of Europe, both geographically and culturally and convinced Disney to go ahead in France. Yet there was a crucial difference; the Olympics were used by their host country as a demonstration of that country’s culture and international prestige. Since the 1960 Rome Olympics, the Games were recognised for their influence on the city , a motivation for civic improvement projects and an advertisement internationally for the host. Disney was American, and in a country fiercely protective against encroaching Americanization, it was a compromised solution.

To read the whole piece, please click here to download it. Comments very welcome!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Disney World: Globalization and the Walt Disney Company

Following on from my dissertation, here is another essay I wrote on Disney whilst studying for my BA. Written for a class on Globalization, it uses Disney to explain some of the concepts of a 'shrinking world', with specific focus on tourism. It was awarded a First.

A Disney World
Globalization and the Walt Disney Company

Click to download

An extract:

Global tourism is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of a shrinking world to the western citizen, allowing short term travel to almost any part of the world; ostensibly an avenue for greater social and cultural awareness and understanding. No longer the domain of the ultra-wealthy with increasingly cheaper flights, vacations may now last only a couple of days, rather than the month long tours of past centuries. Disposable income and increased leisure time have empowered the western citizen to travel beyond national borders cheaply and easily. Disney operates the world’s largest vacation resort: Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, as well as operating the top eight most visited theme parks worldwide (TEA, 2010), dominating the leisure tourism market. It is significant to recognise that of all the world’s offerings, so many choose to vacation at Disney resorts, perhaps betraying the cultural ambassadorship ideals of global travel. More dramatically, tourism is very often a luxury unaffordable to the majority, even in richer countries – especially regular international travel. Consequently, the few major trips people undertake, such as the religious pilgrimage, often solely reinforces one’s own culture. For some commentators, the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ vacation to Disney is “the major middle-class pilgrimage centre in the United States” (Fjellman, 1992, p.10) - the contemporary religious experience, reinforcing Western ideals of capitalism, consumerism and the nuclear family.

The withering of the nation-state, and the growth of the transnational manifests itself through globalization. Disney’s power is dramatic, able to pressure governments of even major countries. When Disney first decided to build a central Asian resort, the company negotiated sites in China, South Korea, Singapore and India before settling on Hong Kong (TNF, 2010). Disney was able to play off countries against one-another in order to secure the greatest financial benefit for Disney, a strategy previously exercised in Europe (primarily between France and Spain) for EuroDisney (Lainsbury, 2000), and before that in California between the city councils of Anaheim and Long Beach for their second California park (Blue Sky Disney, 2007). In Hong Kong, Disney was able to secure a 43% stake in the resort, despite contributing less than 20% of the constructing costs (Balfour, 2009) due to the enormous tourist boost Disney would guarantee (Hong Kong, 1999).

McDisneyization is the term directed at the proliferation of Disney resorts, each of which largely conform to the same design, share attractions and are rarely adapted for local culture . Disney’s exportation of it’s classically Americana parks have had varying reactions around the world, yet are coupled with regular financial success. Disneyland’s first international iteration, Tokyo Disneyland, began its concept design as something tailored specifically for the Japanese audience, only for this to be rejected by the Japanese client who, motivated by the Japanese fascination with America, wanted a distinctly American park (Fjellman, 1992). In the end, only one attraction, Meet the World, would be based on Japan. The second international resort however, EuroDisneyland, was subject to a number of directives given by the French government, fiercely protective of their French identity yet desperately requiring the economic boost Disney would provide. All language would be in French first; one attraction would be exclusively about France; and French influence would be seen throughout the design (for example a Statue of Liberty diorama portraying the historic links between France and America) (Littaye & Ghez, 2006). Nevertheless, America was dominant, seen through the inclusion of ‘Main Street USA’ and the Wild West based ‘Frontierland’. Hong Kong Disneyland received token influence from Chinese customs, such as the involvement of a feng shui practitioner advising design (Holson, 2005), yet no Asian influence can be seen in the product.

To read the whole piece, please click here to download it. Comments very welcome!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Disneyland Aesthetics: The Co-development of Disney Theme Parks and Film; and Analysis of Theme Parks through Film Theory, a Dissertation

As part of my final year of university study, I was required to write a dissertation on a subject of my choice; for which I chose Disneyland. I am proud to be able to say that after many months of hard work, my 11,000 word paper, with 7,000 more words of additional content, earned me First Class Honours (the highest UK award) and contributed towards me graduating as Valedictorian. I can now share my work with those that may find it of interest.

Disneyland Aesthetics
The Co-development of Disney Theme Parks and Film;
and Analysis of Theme Parks through Film Theory

Click to download

The abstract:

This dissertation examines the creative and aesthetic links between Hollywood cinema and contemporary theme parks, with specific focus on Disneyland. By examining the history of the industries, I identify the impacts each has had upon the other, with particular focus on synergy, and then use this to support the assertion that film theory can be used to creatively analyse theme parks and their attractions, supported by a case study example of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland. Data has been collected from literature concerning both film theory and theme parks, field research, quantitative analysis of Disneyland’s attractions, newspapers, articles and an interview conducted by myself with Eddie Sotto, former Vice President of Concept Development at Walt Disney Imagineering. The dissertation recognises the creative, cultural, economic and technological impacts of Disney theme parks, justifying them as credible creative texts, and then finds success in applying key film theory, including the frame, mise-en-scene and the three act structure, to Disneyland, additionally identifying new criteria of analysis specific to the medium. I then conclude by highlighting the trends which are currently leading the theme park industry away from film, increasingly incorporating techniques of video gaming to differentiate from the rise of immersive 3D cinema.

I will also include an extract from the third chapter, 'Dissecting Disneyland':

Criteria of Analysis

With the grounding in film, and the exportation of film techniques such as studio backlot design, the notion of perspective, and the notion of immersion, it stands to reason that ways of analysing the creative qualities of film may be applied to Disneyland attractions. I wish to focus on two; mise-en-scene, and the three act structure.

Mise-en-scene is perhaps the more obvious of the two concepts. Following from its identification in the theatre, theme park show scenes can be quite obviously seen as sets, populated by audio-animatronic actors, and analysed as such. Many of Disneyland’s larger attractions are quite literally housed in soundstages .

Sets

Most of Disney’s sets are built under scale, in the style of storybook realism – they are realistic, but a representation of what we would optimistically remember, hope or imagine a place to be like, not as how they actually are or were. Classic movie tricks such as forced perspective, trompe l’oeil and matte painting are utilised - a layering which has come to be known as ‘stratification’ – a “method of stacking elements of design so that they appear to recede endlessly into space” . This is demonstrated for example in New Orleans Square, where the under-scale masts of a sailing ship are visible peeking above a rooftop, giving the illusion that a full sized port lies just beyond the building .

Imagineer Marc Davis emphasised movement in the sets, which he called animation, to bring the scene to life and push it beyond a static diorama, perhaps appropriating the effects used in Victorian panoramas and myrioramas to give the illusion of life. Restaging notes for the cave scenes in Tokyo’s Pirates of the Caribbean demonstrate this;

Necklace … should be made out of very light material. […] Beads should swing with air movement. Light scene so jewels sparkle (fibre-optics, mirrored ball – or any other way to give the scene animation).

Practically, the sets are almost interchangeable with movie sets – wooden, fibreglass or concrete constructions dressed only on one side to look like their intended surface; rock face, brick wall and so on. Imagineering includes two specific disciplines for this, ‘character plaster’ and ‘character paint’ (referring to giving character to a construction), which produce “the hard finishes in the park that mimic other materials”, including aging .

Actors

The idea of the actor and the character becomes uniquely blurred when applied to an attraction. First are the Cast Members, who, as explained in the section on performative labour, are expected to support the theme – for example, greeters at the cowboy Big Thunder Mountain will welcome guests with a “Howdy, pardner!”

Once on the attractions themselves, the actor role is often taken by the animatronics – lifelike robots designed as caricatured figures synchronised with audio dialogue so as to seem realistic. Justifying their assignation as actors, I would refer to the similar motion-capture technology used for films such as Disney’s A Christmas Carol , in that an Imagineer will record the movements that the figure will later repeat . As such, there is a human performance, both physically and from the voice-over artist.

The third possible category, more character than actor, but which should not be overlooked, is the guests themselves – as they are clearly people viewable within the three-dimensional frame of each other guest’s experience. Just as seeing a contemporary family walk along the riverbanks of the 1951 African Queen would massively impact the emotional and storytelling aesthetic of the film, Imagineering goes to huge lengths to create realistic fantasy worlds only to have people in Mickey Mouse clothing walk through them. The effect is that perhaps the environments can never be truly convincing. When tasked with designing a Space Pavilion for Epcot, Eddie Sotto deliberately avoided creating a space station environment as he felt the presence of guests and fire exits would dominate the illusion. This handicap to convince is not necessarily bad however, as Disney is not intending true realism and emphasises the fantasy of its worlds, creating an arguably stylised mix of environment and crowd which helps define the Disney experience (which I will explore later). The guests in fact add hugely to the dynamism, kinetics and mood of the park - apparent to the few that have wandered a deserted Disneyland, frequently describing the absence of other people as ‘spooky’.

Costumes & Props

Variations exist between the costumes of the Cast Members and the animatronics. On a ride like Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, the animatronics are dressed in realistic pirate costume; appropriate to the setting, with accurate fabrics and colours, including dirt and rips as appropriate. Their intention is to imply a world of real pirates. Props, such as treasure maps in Pirates of the Caribbean, instruments in the Haunted Mansion or traps in Splash Mountain are also included, often stylised to match their setting.

Cast Members however wear much more simplistic pirate costumes, generally with no more than three or four variations amongst the entire staff working the attraction. Whilst this is no doubt an effect of the laundry and uniform requirements of the park, the costumes are nevertheless made up of more childlike, primary colours and all Cast Members are required to wear a name badge. The result of this is a stylized costume transition between the amalgamative fancifulness of Disneyland, and the Hollywood realism of the attraction.

Disney is so strict with the story effect of Cast Member costumes that Cast Members dressed in the costume of one land are not allowed to walk through another land, barring exceptions for parade and firework control . Walt Disney World took this even further by constructing underground tunnels, called Utilidors, beneath the park to allow Cast Members to move about without disrupting the above theme.

If you are interested, please click here to download it. Any comments would be very much appreciated!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Kingdom Forgotten By Time!


Deep in the jungles of South America, 1935.

Explorers and adventurers are returning with tales of a land time forgot and where dinosaurs still walk the earth! Undisturbed by humankind, these monsters of the past live in peace on a huge volcanic plateau heretofore inaccessible.



But now, the Primeval World Ballooning Co. is offering mere tourists the chance to glimpse at these magnificent monsters from the basket of a hot air balloon. In a jungle clearing at the base of the dinosaur plateau, guests find the Primeval World Ballooning Co. has set up shop, titillating guests with posters, fossils and drawings of the creatures they will soon discover in 'The Kingdom Forgotten By Time!'.

The guests board their hot air balloons and rapidly ascend inside a fissure in the mountainside. As they emerge, a wondrous site beholds them; a magnificent panoramic vista across the dinosaur kingdom! Their balloon floats amongst the sights; dinosaurs at a watering hole, herds of beasts running across the plains, and a primeval landscape beyond of virgin jungles, volcanoes and mountains.


But wait! The earth shakes violently and black smoke billows from the volcano! It’s erupting, and violent winds toss and turn the balloon through the darkening sky! In the storm of falling rock, the balloon is hit, severing the guests from their transportation and sending their basket careening into the jungle!

Falling through the trees, the basket finally lands on thick branches high up in the canopy, the burst balloon now hanging in tatters across the leaves. A family of pterodactyl is fiercely guarding its nest full of eggs from a marauding T-Rex right in front of them! The T-Rex is startled by the guests and roars angrily, the sound alone knocking the basket from the canopy and sending it tobogganing down the mountainside – the ferocious T-Rex footsteps chasing behind!

The basket skids into another clearing, where a huge stegosaurus is feeding! It swings its enormous tail, hitting the basket and catapulting the guests out of the jungle, where they land precariously on the edge of a ravine! On the rock face in front of the guests, they can see the T-Rex shadow emerging from the forest and violently knocking down trees in its hunt for the guests! One of those trees lands in front of the guests, tipping the basket and sending it sliding across the ravine – until the tree snaps and the basket falls into the gushing river!


The basket bobs amongst the rapids, sailing into a lagoon of brontosaurus then a garden of gigantic insects and carnivorous plants along the riverbank, snapping at the guests! The basket sails into dark cave and finds itself in an ice cavern; sabre-toothed tigers watching the guests intently. But that’s not all there is to worry about! The T-Rex can be seen through the transparent ice walls, trying to break through and shattering the rocks all around!

As the cave begins to collapse, the basket floats into a steamy minefield of violent geysers, spewing boiling water high into the air! The guests soon find out what’s causing them as they are blown into the air by a giant waterspout and land on a piece of rock floating in a river of lava! The guests are inside the volcano!

Jostled and bumped on the glowing torrent of molten rock, the guests float beneath a giant ribcage from some perished behemoth, their first sign they are in … a dinosaur graveyard! There are skeletons and bones all around them, scavenged by raptors! But the worst is yet to come, at the centre of the cavern, now seen in full for the first time, is the T-Rex! It towers above them, thrashing and lashing out with its claws and teeth - a beast at the centre of a hellish volcanic inferno!

But wait – a pterodactyl swoops at the T-Rex, startling it! And another! And another! It is the pterodactyl family the guests saved from the T-Rex. With the T-Rex distracted, one pterodactyl lands on the basket itself, picking it up with its claws and carrying it out of the volcano and out of the reaches of the vicious T-Rex!

Soaring above the primeval landscape once more, the guests take one last look at a world unable to be tamed by man, crisscrossed with rivers of water and lava. The basket is carried back to safety at the base of the plateau, where the pterodactyl drops the basket and flies off. The guests have survived their encounter with dinosaurs!



The Kingdom Forgotten By Time! uses state of the art Kuka arm technology to take guests into an exciting pulp adventure to a land of dinosaurs. Brand new innovations include the use of Soarin' style screens to create the illusion of soaring over the primeval world and the use of vehicle elevators to add height and simulate falls within the attraction, but the attraction must surely be recognised for its changing ride vehicles:

Guests begin their journey with a fake balloon canopy above their heads, which disappears out of view on a retractable arm. Later, when the pterodactyl picks up the guests, a simple animatronic is spun around so guests can see themselves actually being carried.

With its blending of pulp adventure, new technology and fantastically immersive environments, this attraction is sure to cause a ROAR!