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Disneyland with Chinese characteristics

By Gao Changxin  (China Daily)

14:32, July 16, 2012

When the Shanghai Disney Resort opens in 2015, all the attractions will look amiable and adorable.

But the process that helped create them was the product of creative opinions, challenges and discussions involving many different voices and backgrounds, including leading Chinese artists and designers.

More than 500 designers, or what Disney calls "imagineers", have worked for years to create the design concept for the first Disney resort on the Chinese mainland, in the hope of making the 3.9-square-kilometer resort 100 percent Disney, but with distinctive Chinese flavors.

For these Disney imagineers, who have already designed five Disney resorts, ensuring their designs are genuinely Disney is not as much of a challenge as ensuring Chinese elements and consumer tastes are appropriately considered and incorporated.

To achieve that goal, the designers launched numerous focus groups and undertook countless field research trips to hear from audiences, and witness and experience Chinese culture firsthand. They also welcomed into their design group top Chinese creative talent to ensure Chinese participation in the project from the very beginning.

During a lunch at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, the Shanghai Disney Resort's creative head, Bob Weis, and three LA-based Chinese imagineers shared with China Daily some of the exciting stories about their work on the Shanghai project.

According to Weis, many of the designers involved with the Shanghai resort have visited China multiple times to experience Chinese culture, and have incorporated elements into their work and discussed improvements with colleagues.

Every design in the Shanghai Disney Resort is subject to critical review and debate.

"We encourage the exchange of ideas so we can select the best concepts while recognizing there are no stupid ideas," he said.

One of the most debated designs has been of the main castle, the centerpiece of every Disney resort. To ensure a perfect castle for the Shanghai theme park, the team pinned many drafts on a giant wall to solicit opinions from visitors and partners.

Lead castle designer Doris Woodward, a senior director and producer who traces her family background to Shanghai, said Shanghai's castle will be the biggest among Disney's castles worldwide.

Instead of being home to any single princess, the castle in Shanghai will be home to all of Disney's princesses, including Snow White and Pocahontas.

Beijing-born and raised Yu Xuan, one of the LA-based imagineers, is in charge of organizing creative design focus groups and the immersive trips across China.

"We get ideas of what Chinese audiences want through questionnaires and face-to-face interviews with thousands of people in many cities. One key thing we have found is that they all want to take away from their Shanghai Disney Resort experience a collective memory that can be shared among family members throughout their entire lives," she said.

Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said some of the designs in the Shanghai park have been pinned down but some are still up for modification. Designs will be constantly improved and refined during the development phase and visitors will be "surprised" when they enter the park at the end of 2015, he said.

He added that the Shanghai park will also feature plenty of rides and attractions, many of which are newly designed and cannot be found at other Disney theme parks.

When it opens in 2015, the Shanghai resort will have a theme park, two theme hotels, various dining and entertainment venues, recreational facilities, a lake and transportation hubs.

Total investment is expected to reach 24.5 billion yuan ($3.84 billion) for the theme park and 4.5 billion yuan for the hotels and the retail, dining and entertainment facilities.

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