There is no denying that good lighting can highlight a scene, drive emotions, set a tone and even convey the nature of a character. But the source of that light, the actual ornamental or functional housing from which it emanates, what kind of impact does that have?
When on a grand, artistic scale, light fixtures can become the focal point of a room. Others can be crafted in such a way that they go almost entirely unnoticed as they seamlessly blend into the landscape of their environment. Or in the unfortunate situations found on home renovation television shows, they can become so anachronistic and uncomplimentary in their environment that they stick out as a point of derision.
In Walt Disney World, no detail gets overlooked and “anachronistic” and “uncomplimentary” are not in Imagineers’ vocabulary. In fact, there is an entire division within Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, California, devoted to creating the thousands of themed light fixtures found in Disney Parks around the world.
Without question there are Imagineers with the glamorous job of creating the bioluminescence of Pandora – World of Avatar, but there are many others who design and build what may seem like a simple street lamp. In reality that street lamp required someone to devote hours of research to designing and manufacturing a structure that would be authentic, at home in its environment, able to withstand the weather, and serve the functional needs of a park filled with thousands of guests. Depending on the purpose and location of the light, Imagineers are given many requirements to design toward.
Works of Art
Some Imagineers are tasked with crafting pieces that will serve as focal points such as the incredible multistory Victorian chandelier found in the lobby of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. On the complete opposite spectrum of the art world lies the modern fixture found in Disney’s Art of Animation Resort which could only be described as artwork made of artwork. This chandelier is composed of pieces of concept art from The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Cars and Finding Nemo.
Pieces of History
In other cases, Imagineers must search history books and seek out antique photos to recreate housings for lights that would have existed at various times in history. This is the case in areas of Liberty Square, Frontierland, the American Adventure pavilion, Main Street, U.S.A. and more.
The multi-candle chandelier found in Liberty Tree Tavern brings to mind colonial America and thoughts of a craftsman working at the fire to bend and shape its many curves. By the mid-1800s blown glass oil burning lamps were prominent across the country, which makes the red glass lamps found in The Diamond Horseshoe right at home.
According to frequent WDW Radio guest and historian, Jim Korkis, one of the designs for the turn-of-the-century lampposts found on Main Street, U.S.A. was made from a mold which had been cast from antique lampposts found in Baltimore, Maryland. The original fixtures were found by designer Emile Curie and were installed in Disneyland, but before they became permanent fixtures, he made sure to make a mold for future use. On WDW Radio Show #197, Jim Korkis also relates the story of the Edison light bulb that can be found in the Car Barn on Main Street, U.S.A. This single light is an authentic Edison bulb made by a gentleman in Virginia who has been contracted by Disney to manufacture bulbs specifically for this location. He also relates a special Imagineering detail that has been added to the light switch to make this fixture especially authentic. Listen to the show to learn what it is!
Shining Light on Distant Cultures
Whether at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Epcot or various resort hotels on property, Imagineers are often tasked with creating culturally authentic environments. In some cases the light fixtures found in these areas are made by artisans from these specific locations around the world. In others, Imagineers must study and recreate pieces which are representative of that culture while adhering to the logistical needs of the application.
The metal chandeliers found in the Morocco pavilion are a beautiful example genuine craftsmanship. Made by punching and cutting intricate designs through very thin sheets of metal, this art form can be observed in marketplaces and shops throughout Morocco.
Another case of true adherence to culture can be found in the enormous lanterns in the lobby of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. According to D23 writer Tyler Slater:
“Eight enormous Maasai shields banded together create a chandelier over the majestic lobby. The shields are tri-colored—black, red, and white. The black identifies lineage while the red and white carry the age and geographical location of the owner. The geometric patterns painted on the shields also have special meaning: The ones marked with circles signify the Kisongo province of Kenya, the squares denote the Loita province, and the triangles are used by Ol bruggo province.”
The Maasai people live in East Africa, primarily southern Kenya and northern Tanzania and have a population of approximately a half million people.
The lanterns of China, streetlights of New Orleans, string lights of the New Jersey Boardwalk, Mexican punched tin luminaries, and many more are all key to recreating the culture and architecture of a destination. Disney Imagineer, Joe Rhode recently discussed this on an Instagram post featuring a Disney’s Animal Kingdom lamppost inspired by Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I don’t think we have ever talked about the design of the main lighting fixtures on Discovery Island. The detail is subtle, and obscure…but what you are looking at are the hubs of old wagon wheels… The idea being that the various beasts of burden are unburdened of their loads and the wheels converted into these lights. I wish I could say it was totally original… But when we were doing our first research trips, back in the early 90s, everybody in northern Thailand was making furniture and lighting fixtures out of old wagon parts. And that’s really where we got the idea… Chiangmai! Anyway if you know what a wagon wheel hub looks like, you won’t be able to unsee it once you look at these lights.
Bringing Film to Life
Without a doubt, guests visiting Walt Disney World are amazed by the way classic Disney films are brought to life. No detail is left unaddressed when it comes to creating the world these characters inhabit. This is clearly seen in Be Our Guests Restaurant were hanging from the towering ceilings can be found exact replicas of the chandeliers adorning Beast’s castle in the animated classic Beauty and the Beast.
Where Theme Meets Life
There are many cases throughout Walt Disney World where areas are a combination of history, culture, film, and even the public’s idealized or imagined perception of these concepts. In those cases, Imagineers must create details that are inspired by, reminiscent of, or simply bring to mind a certain theme, time in history, culture or idea. While they may not be exact replicas or made by artisans from distant lands, these fixtures fit seamlessly into the areas for which they were designed. So seamlessly in some cases, that it is possible to walk by and not even notice them.
(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)
What is your favorite light fixture in Walt Disney World? Let us know in the comments section below or on the WDW Radio Facebook page!
To learn more about Kendall and read her recent posts for WDW Radio, visit her author page by clicking the link on her name at the top of this post.