Lotte World has long been one of the world’s famous (and infamous) theme parks. Located in Seoul, South Korea, the highly-attended hybrid of indoor and outdoor facilities has always performed well, establishing its place as one of the world’s most-attended non-Disney theme parks. What makes the park infamous, however, is its line-up of big budget rides, shows and attractions “inspired” by their counterparts at Disney. From the Indiana Jones carbon copy dubbed Pharaoh’s Fury, to the Pirates-inspired Adventures of Sindbad, Lotte World has long held a place in the upper echelon of “rip off” theme parks. It’s for this reason that many throughout the themed entertainment industry were intrigued when Hollywood-based entertainment design firm The Goddard Group first announced a partnership with the park in 2012. Six projects have since opened as a result of the deal, with the largest and most impressive of all recently having made its debut.
Commemorating the park’s 25th anniversary, Let’s Dream! is a new mega show that combines the park’s nighttime stage spectacular (think Fantasmic!) with a light parade (think Disney’s Electrical Parade, but on steroids). So far, the buzz for the show is through the roof, with those who have seen it in-person saying it raises the bar for future night parades.
Theme Park University recently had the chance to speak with the show’s creator, Taylor Jeffs, at length about the process of creating the massive production, as well as some of the challenges that faced the Goddard team long the way.
TPU: Back when you were first approached by Lotte World, what were they looking for in a parade? TJ: So to begin – cut to mid-December 2013 – the edict that came down from the park’s CEO was twofold- the new light parade had to be world-class, and it had to open on July 1,2014. Yes, as in six months from the awarding of the contract, meaning there was no chance along the way to really experiment or take a step backwards. More on that later, though.
TPU: Why do you suppose The Goddard Group was selected for this project? TJ: I think the reason Lotte saw us as the right fit was that, in addition to our positive ongoing relationship with the park, we had already created the highly-successful Glow in the Park parade for Six Flags back in 2008. Lotte was aware of what we had done there. In a similarly short time frame, we took a shoestring budget and transformed it into something truly magical. Glow in the Park had been a great experience all around, and in the ensuing five years, we had come up with a few dozen really exciting ideas for what we would do the next time we had a chance to do a night parade.
When Lotte started looking for a company to produce the parade, we had one of our designers quickly create a piece of art for one of these exciting ideas, the “Hologram Fairy” float concept, showing Lotte that we had a vision for something totally new and different. This wouldn’t be a rehash of something that could be seen elsewhere, we showed them that this would be an electrical parade of the 21st century. And luckily for us, the bait worked. Of the six companies to submit proposals, we were awarded the turn-key contract.
TPU: In the beginning, how did you approach the design for the parade? TJ: This show is the centerpiece of the park’s 25th anniversary celebration, so we immediately latched on to the idea of the anniversary and made that the guiding principal of the entire production. It’s the celebration of old and new, paying homage to the past while being optimistic that the best days are ahead of us. This idea of old and new is reflected in basically every aspect of the parade: The music blends hyper-contemporary electronic dance music sounds with a classical symphonic orchestra, while the parade and effects represent both ancient art forms (the shadow puppetry and Korean sangmo as two good examples), as well as some truly groundbreaking ones (the flying lanterns and hologram, among others).
TPU: Given that Lotte World is a mostly-indoor park, did the park have any special requirements for the parade? TJ: Working in Lotte World was a mixed bag of restrictions and opportunities. For example, because of the limited storage area, the floats can only be so large, and because of the oval parade route with a single point for entrance and exit, the parade can only be so long. So from the outset there was a very clear idea of how big the production would be.
That said, working in an indoor theme park also offered a lot of neat opportunities that wouldn’t be possible in an outdoor setting. From big things like the flying lanterns and overhead lighting, to small details like the “glow fur” on the big monster, there are quite a few things we couldn’t have done in an outdoor parade.
TPU: What’s the story of the parade? TJ: One really exciting thing for our creative team was the freedom we were given to create something totally original, and not being saddled with any established intellectual properties, outside of a few existing Lotte World characters. Let’s Dream! is the park’s 25th anniversary campaign, so we used this as a launching point for the storyline, and from there we created six different dream worlds represented in the parade.
About 10 minutes before the main show begins, we have six storytellers come out on magic bikes and park themselves at different points along the parade route. After they dismount, the audience in that specific area is told one of six unique “bedtime stories,” each one telling the story of one of the parade’s units. And what’s kind of fun is that all six stories are interconnected, so to truly fully understand the parade’s backstory, guests will have to watch the preshow from all six different zones.
The really cool thing is the way these six different stories play out in the parade. One of the breakthrough moments in the creative process is when we came up with the idea of literally making the guests the stars of the show. So in the bedtime stories, you hear the tale of a child who had a dream, which was becoming a mermaid, finding a magic lamp and getting a genie, saving a princess from a ferocious dragon, and so on. Then in the main parade, you actually see these kids fulfilling these dreams. I think we have something like 12 spots in the parade for park guests, including the key spot on each major float. It’s such a simple and fun idea that works so well. It gives the parade a fresh and unique energy each night. TPU: Were there any other night time parades that inspired this one? TJ: Well, to be clear, without Disney’s legacy of fantastic nighttime parades, Let’s Dream would never have happened. But that said, we weren’t interested in copying Disney, and even less interested in creating a typical old fashioned “dancers, float, dancers, float” parade. While it may not be obvious at first, we actually took much more of a cue from the mega electronic music festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival that we had designed for Insomniac Events over the last year. High energy, larger than life creatures and characters, electronic musical score, and most importantly, it had to be intensely immersive.
TPU: You had several theme park industry veterans collaborate on this project. What was their role in the creation of the parade and what kind of input did they bring to the finished product? TJ: It’s funny. When I’m asked who designed the parade, the answer is always “everyone.” Whereas at Disney or Universal, you’d typically have 18-24 months to create a project like this. From contract to opening we only had six months, including the period for design. John Horny did the initial inspirational sketches that sold the project and following that Christopher Smith made it real by making all the ideas work as a cohesive whole. Following that, a number of other brilliant designers worked out the details, including Phil Mendez, Kohei Nakajima, Kevin Kidney, Jody Daily, Dalton Nunez, Tony Archer, Danilo Montejo and Mia Gyzander, among others.
On the production side, we padded ourselves with industry pros to make sure that we could achieve the highly-ambitious schedule. Bill Grayson was crazy enough to agree to produce the show, and Stephen Dischiavi, best known for choreographing Disney’s incredible Festival of Fantasy Parade was brought onboard to stage and choreograph this production. Also, Lee Roe, our in-house lead art director, relocated to Korea to produce the floats, and continues to be there still, refining the details of the show’s performance and direction.
TPU: There are a lot of clever uses of technology including the floating lanterns and a “hologram” effect in one of the floats. Any insight on how they were developed? TJ: The most groundbreaking feature of the parade is of course the fleet of choreographed flying lanterns. Those were born out of the desperation of trying to make the big atrium in the middle of the park work. That’s something no show at Lotte World had ever been able to do effectively. We had five or six really great ideas for ways to activate that space, but for one reason or another, none of them were feasible due to our inability to rig anything from the skylight structure.
Our Chairman, Gary Goddard, was spending a lot of time in New York and had been turned on to the fleet of eight flying orbs featured in the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show. The moment he brought those to our attention, it clicked that this was the answer and we then quickly worked with the same manufacturer to create their biggest and most ambitious installation yet, with a total of 24 computer-controlled flying objects.
As far as the float with the hologram fairy, that was an example of the thought that “good ideas never die.” I think I’ve been carrying that idea around in my notebook for four or five years now and this was finally the chance to do it. It’s a pretty simple effect in the parade, but now that we’ve dipped our toes in the water and know that it can work, we have some really exciting ideas on how to take it to the next level whenever we have a chance to do another parade.
TPU: Are there any firsts for this parade that have never been done before? TJ: So about that deadline. While in hindsight it may not have been the wisest idea to be such pioneers on a six month project. For better or worse, the entire production is packed with firsts. Perhaps the most bold of which was combining the park’s nighttime multimedia spectacular and light parade into a single show. The park’s unique configuration made this possible and the overall effect is really powerful. After that 10 minute preshow I mentioned earlier, there’s a big five minute spectacular with the castle rising out of the clouds and the reveal of the flying lanterns. Then, a bit later, once the entire parade is on-route, the floats park for a one minute fireworks “finale,” our version of the traditional show stop.
Regarding all the firsts in terms of special effects, one of the best moves we made early on was to engage the team at Michael Curry Design up in Oregon. Michael, Jeff, Derek and the rest of the Curry team were the perfect collaborators. They not only figured out how to bring some of our wild inventions to life, but also helped to elevate the project along the way, contributing new ideas that made it better and better at each step. TPU: At what point in the process was the soundtrack created for the parade and what direction was given for the music? TJ: Benoit Jutras (who was former Chief Composer for Cirque du Soleil) was one of the first people I reached out to when starting up on the parade. Our first collaboration (Six Flags Glow in the Park) was such a hit that we had both been eagerly looking for another chance to collaborate. I’d been on an EDM kick from all the music festivals we had been designing, so that seemed like a natural starting point for this project.
The score for the show is really unique. In the preshow, it’s fully orchestral with a warm classical sound. Then, during the big multimedia show, we slowly introduce the electronic sounds. And then in the main parade, the electronic music takes center stage with a bed of the orchestral music weaving its way through it. The combination of the two unique sounds is really thrilling. I can’t think of anywhere that has combined electronic music with a full symphonic orchestra before.
It was quite funny too. When we were recording the classical orchestra up in Seattle, only the conductor could hear the electronic score they were playing on top of. Not realizing what we planned to merge their score with the electronic beat, I remember the classical musicians expressing bewilderment at exactly what kind of low-key, sleepy parade this was going to be.
TPU: What were some of the challenges of creating this project? TJ: The schedule was always the killer. For some reason, all of my turn-key projects have been rush jobs, so while I’m now used to the drill, I know from experience that the client won’t be. Because of this, all the way back in December I was warning Lotte that, “You know, this is going to be crazy and scary right up to the very end. Like, even the day before.” During my first day on-site during the final rehearsal period, I played a clip from Shakespeare in Love for Lotte management, and this ended up becoming our mantra whenever we’d have a bad run-through or when the technology wasn’t working. At the point in the movie, everything is going to hell and the theatre owner is accosted by some disgruntled investors. They fire off a list off the problems facing an upcoming production, and the character’s reply is perfect. “Let me explain about the theater business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster,” he said. “So what do we do?” they ask. “Nothing, strangely enough, it all turns out well.” “How?” “I don’t know. It’s a mystery.” Anyone who has created entertainment on any scale anywhere in the world knows this to be true. It’s a mystery.
TPU: What has the reaction been like to the show? TJ: The energy in the room on opening night was electric and within a few hours the park’s hardcore fans were already online saying how the show had moved them to tears. Because of the way the route is set up, each night we literally see a couple dozen guests who watch the whole parade by the park’s Garden Stage cross the walkway and watch the whole thing again! So we honestly couldn’t be happier and neither could the client. Lotte World’s CEO took a big gamble on trusting us with such an important project, so for him and his key staff to tell us that they have never seen such a fantastic parade before, even at Disney, it’s pretty cool.
Editor’s Note: A thousand thank you’s go out to Director of Creative Design of Gary Goddard Entertainment Taylor Jeffs for his time and the exclusive images that can be only seen on Theme Park University. The parade looks truly spectacular and has truly raised the bar for parades in a theme park.