The Making of Ratatouille: Q&A Session

Full transcript of the Q&A Session given by Imagineers Björn Heerwagen and Beth Clapperton, at the Ratatouille Fan Preview Day

At 11:00 on Sunday the 22nd of June 2014, deep inside Disney’s Hotel New York Convention Center, Imagineers Björn Heerwagen (Show Design and Production Manager) and Beth Clapperton (Art Director) gave a 45 minute presentation about The Making of Ratatouille.

The presentation was followed by a 12 minute Q&A Session, starting with an introduction by Jonathan, one of the two Disneyland Paris Ambassadors.

Jonathan: Thank you Beth and thank you Björn for this fascinating Making of Ratatouille. Now it’s your turn to ask questions.

Fan 1: Is this gonna stay unique to Paris or, with Shanghai Disney Resort being built, is there a chance of this getting exported to any of the other parks?

Beth: Of course, as soon as we build something there’s always a chance that it gets exported, especially if it’s popular with the public. But as of today, it’s unique to Paris, and we don’t have any plans today to export it.

Fan 2: When you work with so many vendors to create the props, how do you maintain visual integrity? Everything looks a bit like the same.

Beth: That’s my job.

Björn: We travel a lot.

Beth: That means that I know what we’re working towards, and I go to each of the vendors, and I make sure that I’m the glue. I’m the visual glue.

Fan 3: Hi. I wanted to ask two questions, just a little bit. The first one, we know that in the queue line, on top there is the Pixar vehicle. Antonella pointed it out to us yesterday, the Pixar truck.

Beth: Sorry, I’m not sure I’m understanding. In the queue line, the Pixar truck?

Fan 3: In the boarding scene, on the first floor, on top, there should be the Pixar truck.

Beth: On the first… We’re in the queue line? Where are we?

Fan 3: Not in the queue line, sorry, got it wrong. There is a, the Pixar truck should be hidden in one of the scenes.

Beth: The Pixar truck.

Fan 3: Pizza Planet truck.

Beth: Hmmm, you are teaching me something there.

Fan 3: Oh good. But, one of the questions I wanted to pose was, what other Disney Hidden Mickey type things will we find in the attraction? […] And the other question I wanted to pose was, it’s been six years from when we knew that the park was getting Ratatouille, it still was hidden behind the Toy Story Playland gate, before it opened. Did anything change in the six years from what you wanted to open then, and what actually you opened, with the ride system which moved into Mystic Manor, changed a little bit and improved on what you wanted to give us? Or, no? Thanks.

Beth: Well firstly the hidden, the hidden question, was that you were teaching me a few things. But, um, there are some hidden things. But you know I’m not gonna tell you where they are. You gonna find them, right? I can tell you there are some hidden things and you’re just going to have to find them. No I’ll give you a GPS co-ordinate! I can tell you, for you, there are a couple of hidden mickeys in the Load. OK? There’s even two.

Beth: With regards to the process and do things change? Yes, things do change. But, you know, once we stop with the concept, the real opportunity for change is at the concept time, because that’s when we figure out what the cars are, how close things are gonna be, the way things move through. We always knew what the story was, but it took us a while to figure out how we were gonna tell it, what technology we were gonna use, and what was the method. Once you stop that and you’ve got to a model building stage, you really can’t go backwards from there. You can make adjustments but you are on a map. If you don’t have a map, you’re never gonna make it. So we start with the model and then we start developing the design. And some adjustments are made, but it’s pretty much faithful to four years ago, when the models were finished. We built pretty much what was around four years ago.

“There was a request from the very beginning that we use laser projection. For maintenance that’s interesting because they don’t have to change bulbs.”

Björn: On a technical standpoint, there comes a point where you have kind of determined what you wanna do. But then when I come on to the project that’s when we start to actually purchase things. There comes a point also in that purchasing perspective that you also have to draw a line in the sand. There was a request, for example, from the very beginning that we use laser projection. For maintenance that’s interesting because they don’t have to change bulbs. The difficulty is though is that laser technology isn’t far enough advanced today to do that. So, we kept the discussion going for a long time and we were researching laser, bulb, laser, bulb. But there came a point, I actually did draw a huge line in the sand and said, “stop! I have to buy these video projectors”.

Björn: So, things can change, but also when we have laid down the concept with creative, there are other things that need to continue on a development stage, such as the candles that you see move. That was done by our research and development team. The blinky eyes; things like that are gonna be fabricated, we’re gonna test, we’re gonna try out, we’re gonna have errors, we’re gonna change. But there does come a point at which we have to lock something down and move forward with it. So there is always change, but there’s also development, ‘cos certain things that we do will not work. So we have to change that to make it work.

Fan 4: Hello, I wanted to know, we’re still in the preview and soft opening phase, will some small things be added or improved before the public opening on the 10th of July?

Björn: There won’t be any fundamental changes based off of what you see today. There are a few things that we need to correct, to make things better, that we have seen as a creative team and a technical team, that we will correct between now and the 10th of July. But there will be no significant changes on what you see today.

Fan 5: Hello, I have a question regarding future developments for the attraction, seeing how it’s based on a lot of projections and on the fact that the vehicles have no physical guidance. Would it be possible, in the medium or long term, to change the movement of the vehicles, or the scenes shown via projections?

Björn: For Ratatouille or for everything?

Fan 5: For Ratatouille.

Björn: We’re not going to change the sequence of scenes.

Beth: It’s possible.

Björn: It’s possible, but we’re not going to change it. Mon Dieu! One of the problems that we have, because part of my job (once we’ve actually produced, delivered, installed everything in the attraction), is what we call Show Ride Integration. Show Ride Integration is basically where we take every element that we’ve bought and it’s in there, we’ve got vehicles running, and we have to make it work. There’s a huge programming portion that we have to do on any attraction where we tie everything in. The lights have to come on at the right time, the video has to trigger at the right time, the audio has to trigger at the right time, the vehicle has to go at the right speed, the vehicle has to turn, the doors have to open, the safety interlocks need to work, and so on and so forth.

“We’ve been programming this attraction since the 12th of January of this year. And I still have programmers in!”

Björn: The difficulty with it is, is that when we do an attraction and we set it and we open like on the 10th of July, we’ve done. So there’s a huge piece which is basically, we’ve been programming this attraction since the 12th of January of this year. And I still have programmers in! We have a few little things that we want to adjust, they’re very minor. And I have a team here basically looking after the reliability of the attraction, in case there are issues. Could we change it? Yes, it’s a huge effort and it’s a risky effort, because it means you have to go back to the start and retest everything, ‘cos one of the things we do is a 72 hour test where we run the attraction for 18 hours a day, for five days. So that Maintenance in Disneyland Paris has something that’s reliable. So if we go in and start changing things, we have to go back and do that again, which would mean shut the place down.

Fan 5: OK, my question might have been over the top. I was thinking more along the lines of small scene changes, like Toy Story Mania, which has been changed once or twice, I think, since it opened, where they just changed some scenes without necessarily changing the attraction at great cost.

Beth: In fact, Ratatouille the Adventure is extremely sensitive. It’s a very programmed, very technical attraction, but everything is linked together. So it’s very difficult to just change one thing. We can make a few adjustments, of course we’re going to make a few adjustments. And we are also open to feedback. Are there recurring comments, are things we could adjust ? But everything is so linked together that it’s very difficult to change one thing without having an impact on others.

Jonathan: Another question from our fans. Yes.

Fan 6: Thank you very much for the presentation. Can I ask, how many companies were involved in the creation of the ride?

Beth: How many companies? There were 4000 people. Three important things were fabricated in the States, that was the media by Pixar Animation Studios, the ride vehicles and the ride system, and the wheels. But everything else was European, designed and built. There were 150 Imagineers involved in this project, both stateside and France-side, and 44 French companies were involved in the construction of this.

Fan 7: What was the problem with the old sign?

Beth: We just didn’t like it. We put it up, that’s the way it was designed, we put it up and then we thought, “this isn’t working at all”. So we took it down. It happens. It happens even to us.

Fan 8: You explained just how much of what is real in the attraction was developed using models, at Imagineering, in order to precisely visualise what you wanted to do. I imagine that Pixar works the same way, virtually, with their computers, to try to visualise […] in the scene and try to create their animation. Do you know how they work, can you tell us, how they create those plans and what is different about their animation, their work, their storyboarding, when they create the 3D animation?

Beth: At Pixar they always create a storyboard because, as you said, at the end of the conceptual phase, we already know what the scenes sequences are, what the story is, what the main scenes are, so they’ve already created the storyboard for that. Of course, you’ve seen the different steps for the design; they work step by step, when they get to a certain step they send the information to us, or the other way around, […] as Björn said, […] screens so we can look at the images they’ve created, because it was new for them, there were new elements moving in front of a screen, we don’t usually do that. So step by step, we used a dome in California a lot to help us visualise the vehicle before…

Beth: Because what we do, as Björn said, we do a lot of things, but separately. So the big risk is, “OK, I have all these toys now, but how do I put them together?” So we really try to diminish the risk in advance. So we try to use technology to project the way things will be when we put them together. We used that with Pixar, we used the vehicle virtually, in a dome with virtual projections. And as for the course of the attraction, we used all of that technology just as much, but you have to realise that nothing replaces the moment when you put everything together. Once everything is put together, that’s when my job really starts.

Fan 9: Do you know how the name of the attraction was chosen? Personally, I like it a lot, “Ratatouille : L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy”. How did you choose each adjective? I don’t know if you personally […]?

Beth: I took part in a research session for the name of the attraction and this one was chosen because, I often think about it, the creative director particularly liked the onomatopoeia created when you say “L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy”. And of course we liked the play on words with “toque” (chef’s hat) and “Rémy”. And so he liked it. But we searched for a long time, we had list after list, after list, after list, after list.

Jonathan: One last question.

Fan 10: Hi. You’ve worked on it for four years. I was just wondering, what’s been your favourite element, the biggest achievement that you have? What’s been the best thing that you’ve experienced?

Björn: Making it work.

Beth: Having it look gorgeous.

Jonathan: That’s the perfect ending note. Thank you Beth and Björn. Before we go and see the real thing, if you want to take a picture of Björn and Beth you’re more than welcome, we have a few minutes. So, go ahead, don’t be shy. […] They’re very nice people. ■

Photo: Kris Van de Sande
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@CafeFantasia and @DLPTreasures

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