La Place de Rémy at Disneyland Paris’ Walt Disney Studios park, inspired by the world of Ratatouille, is one of the most ambitious Pixar projects we have seen to date inside of a Disney Park. Following the tremendous success of Cars Land at the Disneyland Resort in California, it has quite the reputation to live up to, but after its grand opening to the public last week, signs are pointing to another great development from the Disney and Pixar collaboration. Inside the mini Ratatouille land, you will find stunning architecture that is pulled right from the film, an attraction that shrinks you to the size of a rat and places you in the chaotic world of a chef’s kitchen, and a restaurant themed in a way that further immerses you into Remy’s world. I had the opportunity to speak in-depth with Roger Gould, the creative director of Pixar’s Theme Parks Group, about the development process and the land’s unique details. Go inside the mind of Gould and get a closer look at La Place de Rémy after the break!
The interview was so rich with detail that it will be presented in several parts. Part one is below.
Pixar Times: The grand opening just happened to the public.
Roger Gould: Yeah, it just happened!
PT: You’ve been working on this project for years. Can you walk us through the development cycle of the attraction and the land?
RG: It began almost five or six years ago. Tom Fitzgerald, Imagineer extraordinaire, creative lead for the entire Disneyland resort – at that time we were working with him to build the Toy Story Playland at the Walt Disney Studios park there in Paris. It’s a wonderful immersive land. You’re the size of a toy in Andy’s backyard. There are some fun attractions inspired by different moments from the film. Tom’s really been working to transform that park to the kind of rich immersive experience we expect from Disney Parks. Ratatouille was a tremendous hit when it opened in France and Europe. It was really embraced, which was thrilling for us because making a movie set so specifically in the world of Paris in the world of cooking, we didn’t ultimately know if we were caricaturing and it would be embraced or if it would be insulting. It was welcomed by the French – they just loved the film. They felt it was a love letter to their city and to French cuisine, which was certainly how it was all intended. Tom said, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic to enter that world?”
It’s always fun to be small, so from the beginning the concept was how can we be with Remy, inspired by that sequence in the film when he plunges down from Gusteau’s skylight and finds himself on the floor of this crazy kitchen, this dangerous place for a rat to be. There was probably a year or more that was spent exploring the idea of building it as a purely physical giant oversized kitchen, with giant moving parts – giant chef’s legs are about to step on you and other giant animatronic figures. The problems that we kept running into were that the speeds of these giant mechanisms were just too slow to recreate the dynamic feeling that you have in the film so that got scrapped.
We started exploring the idea of combining giant physical sets with stereo 3D animation. In the live-action world, people talk about set extensions. Nowadays, people build a small part of a set and shoot their actors in front of a green screen and later extend the world with effects. It was that same idea but could we visually extend the world, not simply to add architecture but to bring our characters to life. It was a great idea that Tom had. As we got further into it, we realized that it was a fantastic storytelling opportunity because it allowed us to bring our characters to life in full film animation style with no physical limitation. And yet, the joy of going to a Disney Park is feeling physically immersed into a place that you could not go to any other way, and we knew that.
You enter this attraction from La Place de Rémy, which is our Parisian pavilion that we’ve built. It’s inspired directly by the design of the movie, so this isn’t simply trying to recreate Paris, it’s trying to recreate Ratatouille’s Paris. Harley Jessup, who was a production designer on the movie, collaborated with us from the beginning to the end on it. He was so excited, as all Pixar artists are, to see that a world he created, he only expected to see on a movie screen, brought to three-dimensional life. In fact, he went to the cast preview a few weeks ago, and he sent the most joyous pictures of him standing there just loving seeing his world brought to life. There is a hand-sculpted quality that Harley tried to capture in creating the Paris of the movie and we really took that to heart in creating this world.
This clearly had to be Remy’s Paris because we don’t want [local guests] to feel we have a bad photocopy of where they really live. It had to be a distinct cartoon world so we put in a lot of hidden Remys, something that we wouldn’t do in the movie but to really emphasize that this is Remy’s Paris and this fun and magical place. Everything from the beautiful fountain at the center of the courtyard, which has a bronze Remy standing on top of it with water erupting out of champagne bottles, to the manhole covers which have a decoration honoring Remy’s journey in the sewer we saw in the beginning of the movie. And then you enter the attraction building, and you find yourself on the rooftops of Paris at night at human scale. It’s a beautiful little scene. As you turn the corner and enter the load area you see yourself on the exact same rooftop at night, but at rat scale. You know the battle scene in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland in Anaheim? This load area, this giant rooftop, is as large as that pirate battle scene. It’s huge!
One of the things that we wanted to do was we wanted the ride vehicles to be rats because we wanted you to be a friend of Remy’s, so you get to be an honorary rat. The ride vehicles, themselves, are adorable, very graphic versions of rats that each seat six people. You have three rat vehicles that leave together. We wanted the vehicles to behave like rats so there is no ride track whatsoever. It’s a completely trackless system with these three vehicles that can move, weave in and out – you can enter a scene ABC and then leave BCA, so they really feel like characters.
Throughout the attraction, scene-by-scene, we thought of what we wanted to build as fully functional set pieces and what we wanted to bring to life as computer animation. The fun thing was that we custom made every single screen that appears in the attraction so that it fit into it, and blended into the physical environment that we were building. Some of them are quarter spheres, three-and-a-half stories tall, with all the original animation that we made just for the attraction. It’s so immersive that you really can’t make a distinction between what is physical and what is virtual except for the fact that, you know when you see the characters racing around, you know it must be animation. The fun magic trick was to try and blend that so seamlessly that the guest would forget about it.
Look out for Parts 2 and 3 of the interview next week!