Disneyland Paris has shared an interview with special effects designer Metin Cig About “TOGETHER: A Pixar Musical Adventure”, the brand new hit show at Walt Disney Studios Park. He talks a about his Disneyland Paris journey as well – Cig has been with the resort since 1995!
Read below for this interview with Metin Cig.
How did you come to work at Disneyland Paris?
During my studies, I worked in a Paris theatre as an usher and had the opportunity to work backstage as a stagehand. It was here that I met a contract worker who told me that Disneyland Paris was looking for people in this field. I tried my luck and was hired. I arrived in June 1995, and I haven’t left since!
But there was nothing to suggest that you were destined for this career…
That’s true, and I’m always the first to be amazed! I originally studied for a BTS (vocational 2-year college course) in refrigeration engineering, but I’ve completely abandoned that path. The world of show business is so exhilarating. When you get into it and you go to work happy every day, you feel like you’ve found where you belong. I was 21 at the time and joined a team of youngsters like myself. We didn’t feel like we were working, we were having fun and enjoying making people in the audience react. We felt like part of a team. There were a lot of people there like me, who didn’t come from the world of show business. Some of them came from the building and civil engineering sector or the craft industry, and today they wouldn’t leave their jobs for anything in the world! They love this profession, they love working, and Disneyland Paris is the ideal place to live out their passion.
From there, how did you progress within the company?
As a stagehand, I’ve worked on a number of shows, including “En Scène, S’il Vous Plaît!” (1995) at Fantasy Festival Stage, then I became Stage Manager for “Pocahontas, le Spectacle”. I was lucky enough to take part in iconic productions such as “Animagique” for the opening of Walt Disney Studios Park, and after a few years I was offered the chance to leave operations to become Technical Support Manager for Machinery and Special Effects. That’s how I got involved in special effects. I started out in this field for the Videopolis show “The Legend of the Lion King”. I started out assisting the special effects technician, then took over. Everything followed on from there, with notably “It’s Party Time… with Mickey and Friends” (2009), with its satellite stages extending over Central Plaza and a whole host of special effects. Today, I’m in the technical shows department and I’ve also been responsible for all the show designers since 2018.
What productions stand out for you the most?
The first is “Pocahontas, le Spectacle”. It was incredible! There were stunt performers, a river on fire and a boat that came on stage. And, most importantly, us stagehands were in it! We were part of the show. All the props were set up live. We stepped out of the shadows. The atmosphere was truly extraordinary, and it remains one of my fondest memories. “Disney Classics: The Music and the Magic” (1997) at Videopolis is another one that comes to mind. It was a delight for special effects fans like me: you could see Ariel swimming above the stage, Mary Poppins flying, and Aladdin and Jasmine on their Magic Carpet. There was also a superb depiction of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Many of the effects, such as set changes, were carried out live, by hand, to the rhythm of the music.
There’s also Disney Dreams! which made its comeback on 12 April.
It was the big innovation of 2012 and has remained an emblematic show for our destination. Everything had to be created. Pyro effects such as flame jets were the subject of much discussion and whole nights of programming. I’m very proud to have been involved in its launch, and I’m even prouder to have rewritten the show’s pyrotechnic design for its revival. At the time, I assisted the American designer of this effect, who I admire greatly, and today I’m so happy to have taken over and added my own personal touch. Whenever I get the chance, I go and see it again and I choose a spot right in the middle of the audience to see people’s reactions. It always fills me with joy!
And now you’re working on “TOGETHER: A Pixar Musical Adventure”. What’s special about this show?
The big new feature is the video immersion. There are LED screens everywhere, and even an LED panel on the floor that takes up the whole stage. Video is a medium we’re all familiar with, on television or at concerts, but to see it live, and in these conditions – I can tell you it’s breathtaking. You really step into the world of toys, the world of Toy Story. After seeing it over and over again in rehearsals, I still can’t believe it! Seeing our artists perform in the midst of these screens, it’s easy to get caught up in the fun. It’s a fantastic innovation.
And the audience is immersed in this universe too?
Yes, exactly. Because of its scale, Studio Theater was the ideal venue for this kind of immersive experience. When you step into the world of Toy Story, all the furniture in the bedroom is giant and the toys are human-sized. This allows the audience to feel as if they are toys too. It’s really amazing!
How do the special effects contribute to this immersion?
Almost all the physical effects take place in the auditorium. I’m thinking especially about the drops that fall on people when a character falls into the water. It’s an effect that’s been done before, but it takes on a whole new dimension here because it’s directly linked to what’s happening on this incredible stage. When I saw it working for the first time, I felt like a child again. I didn’t expect it to work so well. At Disneyland Paris, we’ve been working for years to make our shows and experiences more and more immersive. It’s an approach I’m very familiar with. But surprising myself – that’s never happened to me before! I think the audience will be just as surprised by this as by the wind and odorama effects.
Speaking of odorama, how have you used this technique?
The first time we used it was for “Disney’s Once Upon a Dream Parade”, to mark our 15th anniversary. It was brand new. Each float had its own scent. The difference with “TOGETHER” is that we didn’t want to diffuse scents all the time, but instead create a surprise with a fragrant touch that appears in combination with a specific moment in each of our three scenes. I’m thinking in particular of the scene with Lotso, the teddy bear from Toy Story 3 who smells of strawberries. He was the ideal character to give off a scent that the audience can smell. I started with two scents that I tested in a separate room with our two directors, diffusing them in turn with a fan, and we all agreed on the one that best embodies Lotso. It is very important that the diffusion is very short. The scent is just a way of emphasising the character’s arrival, like a flash, and it mustn’t in any way interfere with the other scents we use for the other scenes, especially as we’re in a closed theatre here, with a show that plays five times a day. We carried out a number of tests to determine the timing and duration of the diffusion. Each production is unique and what we can do in terms of atmospheric fragrances in Studio D, for example, is completely different from what we do here. Putting three different fragrances in one show is a real challenge!
As TOGETHER is a “Musical Adventure”, how does the music fit into all this?
It adds another layer of emotion. Having musicians on stage playing live is an effect in itself. What’s more, they perform some of the most famous Disney Pixar songs. It’s truly magical. Combined with the visuals and effects, it’s a feast for all the senses!
The result is a highly poetic show.
Absolutely. It’s nothing like a firework display or a stunt show. The animated films we enjoyed as a family are brought to life here in a completely new way. You can’t help but smile. It’s a festival of emotions.
What was it like working with the creative team?
In my job, we’re involved in the process fairly early on, as soon as the first ideas are put down on paper by the directors. As soon as an overall concept has been drawn up, we designers and technical directors get down to the nitty-gritty of meeting the needs of the show’s creators by trying to understand their vision and finding ways of turning it into reality in terms of lighting, video, etc. For example, as far as special effects are concerned, when the director says that he wants wind for the moment when we enter the world of Up, we immediately think about the different places where we can place our equipment and how to develop the whole technical side so that the magic really happens in the theatre. Sometimes, things don’t work, and we have to find other solutions. Then there are times when you think something isn’t going to work, and yet you come up with something amazing. You also have to make sure that each effect adds something to the story and to the emotions. Adding an effect for the sake of it is pointless. To achieve this, we spend several months in discussion with the creators as the show is gradually created, piece by piece. Throughout the process, we do a lot of testing. The aim is that, by the dress rehearsal, we’ve managed to deliver all the effects that our artistic direction was hoping for.
It sounds like an endless challenge because you have to keep on innovating.
Every show is unique, and every stage is unique. Even if you know an effect inside out, you still have to rethink it from scratch. The heavy smoke effect used for “Mickey and the Magician” can’t be deployed in the same way for “TOGETHER”. The bubble machine can be used in one way in Studio D but will have to be used in a completely different way in Studio Theater. So even if the material is the same, everything has to be constantly re-imagined. The goal isn’t necessarily to find new technology. Instead, we need to think about how to make our equipment work sustainably every day and how to install it on a new show. It’s like an artist, an actor, who will never be staged in the same way twice. It’s fascinating.
What does “TOGETHER: A Pixar Musical Adventure” mean to you?
It’s probably one of the most moving stories I’ve ever worked on. The other distinctive feature is that the effects have not been designed for the stage, but for the audience. The challenge was to succeed in extending the show into the auditorium, which was not simply designed as a place for the audience to sit, but as an extension of the stage, in a global space where everyone, performers and audience alike, is part of the story and shares the same emotions. I can vouch for this because I experienced it myself. I love this show. It was one of the best moments of my career. I can’t wait to see how the audience reacts.
Will you be sitting in the middle of the audience, like for Disney Dreams?
Absolutely! The goal is really to all share the emotions together. I’m going to bring my granddaughter along, sit her next to me and watch her reactions. I know when each effect comes into play, so at that moment I won’t be looking at the show but at her face, and the face of the person sitting on the other side of me. That’s what I do for each new show. I’m not going to see the show; I’m going to see the guests see the show. My job is to get the audience to say “Wow!”, and if they don’t I go back and work on my effect until I do hear it. And when the audience reacts and enjoys the show as much as I enjoyed working on it, my work is done!