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Creating World of Frozen: Disney creative director shares process behind ‘most magical place on Earth’ |

Arts and Culture

Creating World of Frozen: Disney creative director shares process behind ‘most magical place on Earth’

Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo -
Creating World of Frozen: Disney creative director shares process behind âmost magical place on Earthâ
Michel den Dulk, Executive Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering (left). The Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Iger, 'Frozen' creator and Walt Disney Animation Studios Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee, and other Disney officials together with Anna, Elsa and Olaf at the World of Frozen opening (right). / Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo; The Walt Disney Company / Released

HONG KONG — Once upon a time, there was a 12-year-old boy who drew castles and dreamt of creating a world thought to exist only in imagination.

“I've always been inspired by art, fantasy and theme parks. From age 12 actually, I realized that things in theme parks and Disney theme parks are not just a ride that’s just there, but are also created by people who are also drawn by art,” Michel den Dulk, Executive Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering, shared to and other international media at last week’s preview of World of Frozen.

“As a kid, I used to love to draw like little castles, make some villages. And in theme parks, I kind of saw what I love to draw. So from the age of 12, it dawned to me, I realized that there are people who do this as a job. That was the day I told myself, I'm not going to be a fireman. I’m not going to be a pilot. I’m going to draw theme park adventures.”

Seven years ago, beginning with a simple sketch as he did since he was 12, Michel began creating World of Frozen. 

“The goal was to create an enchanting land like never before, bringing ‘Frozen,’ one of the top animated movie franchises to life with world-class expertise, state-of-the-art technology, and references to environments and architecture in Norway,” Disney explained in a statement the concept that propelled World of Frozen into reality.

“Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering Asia teams collaboratively pushed the boundaries of creativity on building a living land that immerses guests into captivating stories, beloved characters, culture, stunning landscapes, cutting-edge technology, exquisite craftsmanship and enchanting music.”

Michel’s job, however, is not as simple as picking up pen and paper and putting Disney’s concepts into drawing.

“A day in the work of an Imagineer would be so different from day-to-day. There was really nothing like, ‘Oh, my day is like this.’ We actually kind of work with so many disciplines to create these projects,” he shared.

“With this project, when we were starting, we would work with artists, architects, people that have helped establish the idea. And then, we work with the local team for each of our Disney sites because they also have their own Imagineering offices. So we work with them because they really know about the local resort and their needs. How things are being built is different from Europe to Asia...”

A “spectrum” of jobs is needed to be able to make the entire park work, “so it’s really broad,” he said.

“There is really a close collaboration. We work really closely with the studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios, to make sure we represent the characters in a way that feels like we honor their work.”

At the beginning, Michel and his team worked with artists and a lot of specialists to make sure that everything – from the sound, to the finishes and woodcarvings – adhere with the franchise.

“So there is literally thousands of people that are involved in a project like this. That makes every day really different – from the time I wake up, I’d be dealing with someone for Nordic culture, about trees. In the next hour, on music recording, when does it takes place. Then the next meeting is about audio and electronic figures – if there’s an animation arm that needs to be adjusted that would work better…”

According to him, it took them seven years to build the World of Frozen, and among the hardest to construct was the Arendelle port and its manmade mountains, which they made sure would blend with Lantau Island’s natural mountains and landscape, which are “a stunning gift that we were able to play with.”

Behind this “beautiful and nostalgic environment” is “a very long process” for “a very complicated project” – involving “highly advanced engineering” for the mountains that took “hundreds of people to construct,” den Dulk noted.

“We devoted an enormous time in engineering steel to create what seems to be a natural landscape,” he shared. “But they were so beautiful and we're really able to make them part of the natural ambience of the land. It's a challenge but at the same time, it's an opportunity to make this particular world unique to Hong Kong Disneyland.”

Friendship Fountain, best known as Elsa’s ice fountain sculpture, was inspired by Michel’s childhood as well. He grew up in New York where there a lot of fountains and squares.

“Fountains, they are gathering points for people… You will always see people that sit in the fountain, and doing something that’s exactly the same here, not only it is a part of the story, Elsa decorated it for Summer Snow Day, but it’s doing exactly what I was hoping people would do – come to the land, they see it, they want to take a picture… they take their picture there with Arendelle in the background. And that’s really awesome, to use an American term.”

According to him, he and his fellow creators were concerned about not only making the Elsa robot move, but also making her movement realistic with even subtle eye movements, as seen in one of the park’s rides, Frozen Ever After.

“Yes, there’s a lot of technology that we infused in the land. When you ride the boat ride, you’d see the many electronic figures – how Elsa moves, and realize that she does that every 30 seconds every day, day in and day out. There’s a lot of technology involved to create that,” he bared.

“We use a lot of technology in all of our projects, but in Walt Disney Imagineering, technology is never the driver. Technology is always the supporting role in creating our stories. It has to fit into our stories and make sense in creating our story… We want our guests to have a good time here…”

Related: World of Frozen opens in Hong Kong Disneyland: Rides, attractions, what to expect

The World of Frozen’s “land philosophy” stated that the kingdom of Arendelle in “Frozen” is inspired by Norway in the mid-19th century, giving the movie a classical fairytale look that transports guests to a world of wonder. Now, World of Frozen takes that same concept from the movies and aims to bring it to life. Guests will find familiar spots they love with environments and architecture in a new travel destination with stories to be discovered and explored.

To “foster the fun and friendship felt in the movies,” den Dulk and his team also incorporated the interactive Playhouse in the Woods attraction, where “there’s not only a recreation of ‘Frozen’ songs, but a live theatrical experience that will (make visitors) really (get) up-close to the characters.”

Related: Visiting World of Frozen? Disney launches style guide, Arendelle beauty makeover 

“Obviously, we want to give our guests the opportunity to meet the famous characters that they love and hear the music that they love so much with multiple experiences that will last,” he shared.

Through his work, den Dulk learned that it is not only important to deliver the desired output, but also to inspire people with their works.

“It dawned on me that Frozen is something that many people love and if they would love the World of Frozen and be inspired by that, I would love to be part of that,” he said. “It's an opportunity I'm most proud of.”

Truly, the work of this once 12-year-old dreamer and his hundreds of collaborators is now being appreciated by visitors all over the globe as World of Frozen officially opens as the first and biggest “Frozen”-themed land described by Hong Kong Disneyland Managing Director Michael Moriarty as today’s “most magical place on Earth.”

Hong Kong Disneyland Managing Director Michael Moriarty (left) and Anita Lai, Hong Kong Disneyland Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs. Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo

“Anticipating the opening of the World of Frozen, we already get a lot (of excitement) from fans all around the world,” Anita Lai, Hong Kong Disneyland Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs, said in a speech.

“Disneyland gets people together… You will see how Disney tells a story differently and use innovative technology and most importantly, we use our heart to tell the story. When you step into that, you truly feel the scene and just the characters come to life in front of you, you like walk into that dreamy place.”


Editor's note: The trip to World of Frozen was hosted by Disney. At no stage does the host organization has a say on the stories generated from the coverage, interviews conducted, publication date and story treatment. Content is produced solely by following editorial guidelines.

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