Wishes, Wonders & Dreams

UCLA TFT Professor Myung Hee Cho designs a spectacular show for the grand opening of Shanghai Disneyland

By Noela Hueso

When The Walt Disney Company was planning a visual spectacle in front of the Enchanted Storybook Castle at the new Shanghai Disney Resort, they looked to a longstanding relationship with UCLA to help bring it to life. Designer and UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Professor Myung Hee Cho had previously designed the sets for the popular "Golden Mickeys" show at Hong Kong Disneyland and was a key partner in bringing this new centerpiece show to life for the Shanghai park.

The $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort is the third largest Disney resort after Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., and Disneyland Paris. (Other locations can be found in Anaheim, Calif., and Tokyo.)

Cho's work on the Shanghai Disney project had her designing sets and costumes for "Golden Fairytale Fanfare," a 17-minute musical showcase that is at the center of the park's opening celebration, featuring more than 50 performers and seven musical numbers in each of six daily shows. (Approximately 2,500-5,000 audience members are anticipated at every performance.) It takes place in front of the largest, most ornate and interactive Disney castle ever built — there's a restaurant and activities inside — and is the only one that celebrates all the Disney princesses with mosaics on its walls. Working alongside Disney Creative Entertainment, the team responsible for producing the new show, Cho reimagined iconic appearances of six Disney princesses: Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Merida (Brave), Jasmine (Aladdin), Snow White and the royal sisters from Frozen, Elsa and Anna, while still maintaining their familiar silhouettes.

"I researched each of the princesses and then contemporized their looks," Cho says regarding her process. She kept each character's familiar colors but used "high-tech materials" such as 3D prints, iridescent PVC, translucent mylar, gold mesh and silk lamé to help achieve the fashion-forward yet iconic and stunning costume designs. Renowned Chinese director Shi-Zheng Chen insisted that the costumes be stylish, vibrant, reflective and sculptural for the outdoor show.

"My objective was not only reimagine the look of classic Disney princesses such as Snow White and Jasmine but to have them be visible from a long distance, taking into account different sight lines and environmental factors," recalls Cho. "We did numerous visual tests for all the fabrics to see if we could see the costumes from 40 feet away."

Using the same design principles, Cho also partnered on the design of several puppets for the show, built by the Michael Curry Studio in Portland, Ore., including a stylized metallic Angus, the horse from Brave, and majestic elephant heads, reminiscent of those found in Aladdin.

Additionally, an intricate lift system was created for the show, hidden beneath the castle stage, which allows performers to emerge from the stage in dramatic fashion.

Disney Creative Entertainment executive Tom Williams worked with Cho throughout the process, combining the creative and technical designs with the storytelling and overall production of the show.

"We're proud of our collaboration with Cho Designs," said Williams. "Working together, we were able to achieve new heights in bringing these Disney stories to life for guests at Shanghai Disneyland."

In undertaking the project, which began in September 2013, many UCLA TFT graduate scenic and costume designers had the opportunity to assist Cho. Student scenic designers included Yuki Izumihara, Patrick Scalise and Eunnym Cho, who assisted in concept rendering, model building and drafting.

Costume design students Hannah Green, Lexi Newman, Michelle Moon and Rebecca Guzzi worked on costume rendering, and last year, student Ji Young Lee had a six-month internship with Walt Disney Imagineering, Creative Entertainment. During the internship, she revised the drafting, created art works and tracked complicated scenic design packages with Cho. In the mounting phase of the project, alumna Yee Eun Nam was on site in Shanghai for six weeks during the tech and preview process, working alongside director Shi-Zheng Chen and other designers, who reported back to Cho in Los Angeles as final touches were completed in anticipation of the show's opening.

"She was the right person for the job," Cho says of Nam. "She's a huge Disney fan and was just so happy to be there working on the project."

Meanwhile, Cho, who has been teaching at UCLA TFT since 2009, has moved on from pop culture to high culture. Recently, she designed the sets and costumes for a production of Gioachino Rossini's opera, The Thieving Magpie, directed by Peter Kazaras, now playing at the internationally renowned Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York.

Posted: August 1, 2016