Set design for The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Set design for The Sorcerer's Apprentice

When the Vaults contacted me about the possibility of designing Sounds and Sorcery Celebrating Disney Fantasia I must admit I was more than a little excited. Last summer I had the opportunity to work at The Vaults with most of the same creative team on an immersive retelling of Janáček's Cunning Little Vixen. I loved the way the underground tunnels of the Waterloo theatre could be completely transformed and re-imagined.  Anyone who experienced the wonderful Alice's Adventures Underground last year, or who has been to one of their events, will understand.    

To be perfectly honest I didn't have the same degree of familiarity with Fantasia as others working on this project, such as my director Daisy Evans, who owned her own copy on VHS and has adored it since she was a very small child. I had seen the film during my early childhood, and was intrigued by the idea of revisiting it. The magic of Fantasia is truly universal; I found the history of the original Fantasia as fascinating and inspiring as the piece itself. 

Set Design for The Nutcracker suite
Set Design for The Nutcracker suite

Walt Disney created cutting-edge imagery, with some of the best-known artists and colourists of their time.  I myself, of course, was not immune to the wonders of Disney; Bambi will stay with me forever, as will the colours and landscape of Sleeping Beauty, and if I'm honest my costume designer dream is to recreate the puffs on Cinderella's dress.    

My initial steps were to create a mood board for the whole space and one each for the individual rooms.  With around eight pieces of music making up the original Fantasia, plus the five suites of The Nutcracker, the scale of the task was thrilling, if daunting.    

The idea of the show is to create an immersive concert experience using personal headphones and cutting-edge binaural sound recordings.  It allows the theatregoer freedom to move around, experiencing the changing moods of The Vaults' many arches and rooms, venturing from a central corridor into the different musical experiences.

Set design for Night on Bald Mountain
Set design for Night on Bald Mountain

Disney himself had colour-palleted the individual scenes of Fantasia during its initial creation;  an overall colour scheme was worked out in sympathy with the mood of the music, which I felt was inspiring and chose to opt for a similar approach.  I started by sketching a door image for each of the spaces, the door itself giving the audience a hint of the world behind.  These themes gave me a way to create my own colour palette for each room and allowed me to create individual pieces for the show without becoming overwhelmed by the huge scale of the space.  The creative team has worked closely together to ensure that lighting, projection and of course music are unified for each room, and adding the costume will create running themes and complete the feel of the piece.

This show generates on-the-spot design decisions daily, from how to create the best curve/movement of fabric for the underwater Arabian dance video shoot, to positioning the beautifully crafted pieces of set from the carpenters, adjusted from their original positions which are designed in a theoretical, and not always accurate, AutoCAD model.

Sounds and Sorcery: Celebrating Disney's Fantasia door designs. 

 L-R The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Dance of the Hours, The Rite of Spring, The Nutcracker Suite
Sounds and Sorcery: Celebrating Disney Fantasia door designs. L-R The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Dance of the Hours, The Rite of Spring, The Nutcracker Suite

It's a different way of working than I am used to, however, with such a great team and art director who know the space so well, as well as the exciting scope of the venue, the experience is pretty amazing.