For a heart-thumping jolt of adrenaline and jaw-dropping entertainment, it’s hard to top the spectacle of Epcot’s Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. It’s also hard to imagine Epcot without this fireworks-and-laser extravaganza at the end of each day, but how many of you remember the shows that preceded it, such as Carnival de Lumiere? Or New World Fantasy? Or Laserphonic Fantasy?
Cathy, an Epcot-opening cast member, saw each of the nighttime shows, from Laserphonic Fantasy (before 1988) up through the current Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. “The first Illuminations is when I remember us first using the phrase ‘a kiss goodnight,’” she says, referring to the big grand-finale shows each night—such as the fireworks at Disneyland or Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland—which give guests a sweet “kiss goodnight” before sending them on their way. “What I liked about Illuminations 25 [in celebration of Walt Disney World's 25th Anniversary] is that it told the story of each country, using different theme songs for each pavilion,” Cathy says. “I loved the idea of using the show to tell stories.” She does admit, though, that the current show is her favorite. “My favorite thing about Illuminations: Reflections of Earth is the music that plays as guests leave. It’s such an uplifting, beautiful song. When it says, ‘We will go on… another thousand circles ’round the sun,’ I love that it looks toward the future. It’s very forward thinking.”
When comparing the original 1988 Illuminations to today’s version, the advancements in technology tell quite a story. It stacks up like this:
Illuminations debuts January 30, 1988:
- 16½-minute show with lights, lasers, fountains, fireworks, color projectors, and music.
- Musical score by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on one of the world’s largest outdoor sound systems (at that time).
- One by one, lighting effects cause nine of the 11 pavilions to change in appearance. In the Japanese pavilion, kites appear from nowhere in the sky as colors bathe the Emperor’s palace. In the United Kingdom, Big Ben appears.
- Half a million watts of theater light cover the front of the buildings used for the show.
- Specially made large-image slide projectors make scenery changes happen on the showcases.
- One of the tech advances was the multifunctional network of some 26 computer systems. The mainframe entertainment computer at Epcot Computer Central talked to this system.
- 12 special-effects projectors.
- 15 brilliant searchlights.
- 13 wire-mesh lighting grids on top of the showcases.
- 108 fountain nozzles for the dancing waters.
- 872 fireworks pieces ignited from the barges—amounting to more than 317,000 over a year.
- 600 theatrical lights, 780 strobe lights.
Illuminations 2000: Reflections of Earth debuts October 1, 1999:
- Dropped “2000″ from the name on January 1, 2001, following the close of the Walt Disney World 15-month Millennium Celebration.
- Development began July 1997 and took 26 months to complete.
- The production has 67 computers in 40 locations.
- 1,131 people contributed to the show’s development.
- Earth globe: features 56 famous faces and covers five continents.
- Weighs 350,000 lbs. (the equivalent of 150 midsize cars)
- Each petal consists of four inches of thick steel plate.
- It has a hydraulic system capable of producing 650,000 pounds of force.
- The earth globe has a 28-foot diameter and houses six computer processors, 258 strobe lights, and an infrared guidance system.
- Four fountain barges, each with 40 water nozzles, pump 4,000 gallons per minute.
- Inferno barge: weighs 150,000 pounds with 37 nozzles that shoot flames 100 feet into the air.
- Energy produced by the inferno barge: 1.7 million horsepower.
- The show uses Disney’s patented Air Launch Fireworks (ALF) technology.
- 2,800 fireworks shells are fired each show, more than double the number used in previous nighttime productions at Epcot.
- Original music composed by Gavin Greenaway and supervised by Hans Zimmer, the Oscar-winning composer for The Lion King.
- Music Director: Steve Skorija.
- 19 torches around the World Showcase Lagoon, each 26 feet above waterline.
We look forwarding to having you join us as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Illuminations during D23′s Disney Fanniversary Celebration 2013 in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark, Orlando, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
By D23: The Official Disney Fan Club’s Jim Frye