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The History of IllumiNations

The first nighttime show to take place on World Showcase Lagoon was Carnival de Lumiere which debuted in October 1982. Carnival de Lumiere featured three floating barges displaying rear projected images, plus fountains and pyrotechnics. It celebrated world festivals with fountains, film, music, and other effects. But, it had a shortcoming – it could only be viewed on the northern portion of the world showcase promenade between the countries of Canada and Mexico.

Carnival de Lumiere lasted only a few months until the summer of 1983 saw the debut of a New World Fantasy. New World Fantasy included some updates to the hardware of the show including the addition of rooftop searchlights on some of the pavilions of World Showcase. This new show featured a soundtrack of classical music played on synthesizers directed by Don Dorsey, who also famously produced the music to the Main Street Electrical Parade.

The show began with a fanfare and contained three acts. Act I: Celebrations on Land contained such pieces as Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and Piano Concerto No. 1. Act II: Spectacles on Water

included pieces such as “The Pines of Rome” and “The Beautiful Blue Danube.” While Act III: Revelries and Pyrotechnics featured Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate of Kiev” and “Pictures at an Exhibition”, Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” and ended with Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Festival Overture.”

New World Fantasy lasted not quite a year when on June 9, 1984 EPCOT Center debuted a new show, Laserphonic Fantasy. This show is notable because it could now be viewed all around World Showcase in its entirety. It used the same soundtrack as its predecessor New World Fantasy but was choreographed to entirely new visuals, fountains, lasers, and lights around the whole of the lagoon. Laserphonic Fantasy was also notable as the first use of laser graphics projected onto a water droplet screen.

Laserphonic Fantasy lasted four years until January 30th 1988 saw the debut of Epcot’s groundbreaking new show, IllumiNations. IllumiNations carried the sponsorship of General Electric and featured new show hardware – most notably a central laser barge topped with a sphere that included internal lasers for rear projections on its surface as well as externally facing lasers and search lights.

GE Sponsorship lent many changes to the actual world showcase countries themselves as well. The 9 original pavilions saw the addition of colored show lighting, edge lighting, and animated show lighting on building roofs.

The audio was based on Laserphonic Fantasy but this time the soundtrack was fully orchestrated and was recorded by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and featured music arranged by Don Dorsey, Steve Skorija, and Bruce Healey, who produced the music to Fantasmic.

The theme of IllumiNations was international travel. In order to set the stage for the journey, the first act featured laser images of different modes of transportation and iconic sights from around the world projected onto the fountains and water screens set to a montage of music featuring Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”, “The Zampa Overture”, Bach’s “Italian Concerto Movement #3”, and Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.”

Act II had the guests visiting the various ports of call that World Showcase had to offer as the show highlighted each of the individual World Showcase countries one at a time with a short lighting feature set to music from each country.

Scheherazade represented Morocco although the pavilion was not highlighted at all, “The Infernal Gallop” from Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld took guests to France, “Days of Emancipation” provided the music to the stop in China, “Rule Britannia” was featured in the United Kingdom while Johann Strauss’ “Tales of the Vienna Woods” was the musical backdrop in Germany. “Sakura” was the music in Japan, Mexico was celebrated by “Espana Cani”, a traditional French Canadian Jig brought guests to Canada and guests heard Denza’s “Funiculi, Funicula” for their stop in Italy. Finally in the United States George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” finished out the second act.

Act III was robust finale that combined the elements of this global tour with a dazzling pyrotechnic display on and above the World Showcase Lagoon and was comprised of “Carnival Overture” by Antonin Dvorak, “March of the Toreadors” from Carmen, “Alla Hornpipe” by George F. Handel, “Titan Symphony” by Gustav Mahler, “Ode to Joy” by Ludwig van Beethoven, “Prelude to Act III” by Richard Wagner, “Firebird Suite Finale” by Stravinsky, “Great Gate of Kiev” and “Promenade” from Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky, and finished out with “1812 Festival Overture” by Tschaikovsky.

Following each performance of IllumiNations, guests were treated to exit music as they left the park. This exit music used a combination of the tunes “it’s a small world,” and also GE’s “We Bring Good Things to Life” theme and adapted them using various international musical styles.

This first version of IllumiNations used 13 special-effects projectors, 6 lasers, 11 giant searchlights, 12 wire/mesh grids, 108 nozzles which created the fountains, 783 fireworks pieces, 550 theatrical lights, 680 strobe lights, and 5 miles of building-outlining edge lighting (like that of main street USA).

When IllumiNations was first performed, it was described as a nighttime spectacle that captured the glitter of Times Square, the fantasy of Paris at night and the splendor of Piccadilly in an international music and light show. The final performance of the Original IllumiNations took place on sept 20th, 1996.

On Sept 21, 1996 a new version debuted titled IllumiNations 25. This version was created to be part of the 25 anniversary celebration of the Walt Disney World Resort. The theme for the entire resort was a party and the tagline to the celebration was Remember the Magic.

The new theme of illumiNations was now all about celebrating and this was of course reflected in a new score. Gone was the classical score that swept gets around on an audio visual tour of the countries of world showcase, and in was a new high energy score.

The Show initially started off with the Remember the Magic theme of the 25th anniversary which was composed by Ira Antelis and Cheryl Berman.

That is followed by greetings from each of the countries of world showcase in their native language welcoming us to the worldwide family to celebrate together over the recurring remember the magic theme. They used actual visiting cast members from each of the world showcase countries to record the various greetings.

IllumiNations 25 was composed and orchestrated by Gregory Smith. Gregory Smith is no stranger to disney having arranged and conducted the Disneyland nighttime spectaculars Magical, Remember Dreams Come True, Holiday Wishes at the Magic Kingdom, and Tokyo Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade Dreamlights among countless others.

Following the introduction came Act 1: A Worldwide Celebration comprised of 3 parts. Part I: Mascleta, was a calypso, part II: International Fantasy, and Part III wrapped up with a reprise of the mascleta calypso theme. This version of illumiNations differs from its predecessor also because it goes from 0 to 60 right away. World Showcase was flooded with pyrotechnics straight away to match the upbeat worldwide celebration music.

Act II shifted in tone and celebrated EPCOT’s spirit of discovery. The pyrotechnics went away for a bit while images representing science and discovery were projected onto water screens on the lagoon.

The music for act two was the “Discovery Suite” also orchestrated and composed by Gregory Smith and incorporated EPCOT’s original “We’ve Just Begun to Dream” fanfare written by Steve Skorija, Jack Eskew, and arranged by Gregory Smith.

Act III served as the finale and featured a version of “Circle of Life” performed by the Florida Mass Choir.

IllumiNations25 only lasted eight months before Disney reconfigured the show into what became unofficially known as IllumiNations 25B. This version of the show began on may 19, 1997 and continued until January 31, 1998.

IllumiNations 25B began much the same as IllumiNations25 did with the same welcome from each of the countries from around World Showcase welcoming everyone to celebrate 25 magical years of Walt Disney World. The difference in the show was that the original soundtrack was scrapped and IllumiNations returned to a classical score reminiscent of the original show. Legendary film composer John Debney not only arranged all the various classical pieces heard in this show, but he also wrote an original piece called “IllumiNations Fanfare” that started off the show.

After Debney’s sparkling fanfare heralded the start of the show, Act 1 began. This act entitled World Showcase, used various pieces of classical music that each reflected different nations such as “Die Meistersinger Overture” by Richard Wagner, “Barber of Seville Overture” by Rossini, and “Hoedown” by Aaron Copland among others.

While these tracks each suggested various nations, the show didn’t have the deliberate individual highlighting of each country as in the original IllumiNations and the focus remained less on the actual countries of World Showcase and more on the dancing fountains, lights, and pyrotechnics happening over the lagoon.

Act II: Future World stretched imaginations even further continuing to use classical music to nod to the future world section of the park. This portion used such pieces as Saint-Saens “The Aquarium” from Carnival of the Animals, “Hornpipe” from Handel’s Water Music Suite, Holst’s “Jupiter, the bringer of Jollity” from The Planets Suite, and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, “Ode to Joy” among others.

The exit music again saluted the sponsorship of GE with an arrangement of the company’s “We Bring Good Things to Life” theme that employed various international influences this time, without “it’s a small world.”

On February 1, 1998 with the end of the 25th anniversary celebrations the show’s name dropped the 25 and was once again titled simply, IllumiNations. The new classical soundtrack remained but all references to the 25th anniversary celebration were removed. This version, often referred to as IllumiNations 98 remained until September 21, 1999 when Walt Disney World launched its historic Millennium Celebration and with it unveiled IllumiNations 2000: Reflections of Earth. This version of IllumiNations which still runs to this day features a brand new original score by Gavin Greenaway and tells the story of our planet from the beginning of the universe to today.

Through the years there have been various versions of the show to reflect different times of the year. Before the arrival of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, during the Christmas period IllumiNations became Holiday IllumiNations and featured an entire score of Christmas Audio.

Additionally, during the holidays IllumiNations has a Peace on Earth Tag, featuring voices from each World Showcase country wishing “peace on earth good will to men” in their native language and until very recently also featured the voice of the venerable American newscaster, Walter Cronkite.

New Years Eve is one of the most popular days of the year at Epcot and through the years there have been a couple versions of their New Years Eve Countdown. The original from 1994 lasted until 1998 and used the original Epcot theme “We’ve Just Begun to Dream” by Steve Skorija, Jack Eskew, and Gregory Smith.

With the arrival of “Reflections of Earth” a new New Year’s Eve tag was developed that recalls the pavilion chase portion of the original illumiNations highlighting each world showcase country and even reuses some of that original soundtrack. In this version, Epcot counts down to midnight by highlighting when the countries of World Showcase each celebrated their new year that day and then finishes with a grand celebration for Canada, Mexico, and the United States at midnight Eastern time.

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