If you go to Hong Kong Disneyland this month you may feel a strange force pulling you towards Tomorrowland, the futuristic zone famous for its legendary Space Mountain ride. Walking through the intergalactic scene, you might just have to hide beneath your Jedi robes as the hostile Captain Phasma and a squad of Storm Troopers carry out their merciless patrol for any signs of resistance.
This weekend, the park will finally reveal its eagerly-anticipated Tomorrowland Takeover, a re-vamp that celebrates all things Star Wars. Disney kicked things off with a big launch last week, and Young Post went along to talk to the Imagineers – the minds behind the magic.
Alfred Lee and Katrina Teh both studied illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). There, the young “concept designers” came up with an idea for a new Mickey Mouse attraction as part of Disneyland’s 2012 Imaginations competition. The idea won them an internship with Disney.
“An internship became training, which then turned into a full-time gig,” Teh says, and that led them to their present role as Imagineers.
What does being an Imagineer actually mean? The title – a combination of “imagination” and “engineer” – refers to a team made up of different creative minds, and it involves “passion, dedication ... and a bit of crazy,” Lee and Teh laugh.
“We bring things from paper to reality. We might start with a Disney movie or story and create rides or a hotel for everyone to enjoy,” Teh explains. “Someone might be good at interior design, someone might be an illustrator, another might be into visual effects. Together, we create all of these different experiences for guests.”
How well does YP know Star Wars?
“There’s a lot of creativity involved,” says Lee. “But there’s also a very practical, technical side to the job. Imagineering is a combination of these two things.”
The duo was thrilled to work on the Tomorrowland Takeover. Teh has been a Star Wars fan since she was a child, and although Lee missed out on the franchise when he was growing up, both were swept up in the excitement of watching The Force Awakens.
Being a designer, Teh was blown away by the lovable robot BB-8. “He’s a droid that has so many emotions in the way he moves – like his little thumbs-up lighter,” she smiles. “It’s amazing how the design has evolved in this wonderful universe and now there’s so much humanity in this galaxy far, far away. We can relate to it even though it’s so foreign and futuristic.”
For the Tomorrowland Takeover, Teh was involved in the graphics side, transforming the shop at end of the ride so shoppers would feel like they’re speeding through an asteroid belt in a First Order ship. “I wanted to get the whole feel of being inside a space ship. I had to put myself in the headspace of Storm Trooper,” she says. “But it’s really a team effort – we all get to contribute and have a say in how everything looks.”
Lee, meanwhile, drew concept images for Hyperspace Mountain and felt particularly proud of his ideas for the overall theme, queue areas and signs. All that effort pays off on Saturday when they finally see their creations come to life, as the newly-styled Tomorrowland throws open its doors.
“It’s one of the best parts of the job,” says Lee. “It’s not about drawing something once and ‘Poof!’ it gets made,” says Teh. “It’s something you’ve worked on for a while … it’s a lot of fine-tuning, a lot of thinking about how the design will best suit our guests. All the love and care is manifested when you get to see it in front of you.”
Young Post lightsaber duel
It sounds like a dream job, and if you’re interested in following in their steps, Lee says: “It’s important to have a passion for storytelling and Disneyland.”
“Stay curious,” says Teh. “There are so many different stories and worlds and you need a curious mind to see all the possibilities. Through Disney, we know what it’s like to be a toy, or an emotion in someone’s head. It’s that out-of-the-box thinking that [this job] nourishes from Day One.”
The pair won’t say what they’re working on next, but they’re looking forward to seeing how fans react to the new attractions. “I hope the existing Star wars fans will be happy with the world we’ve brought to Disneyland,” says Lee.
Teh agrees, adding: “I hope they’ll be as happy with it as we are. We’re very enthusiastic about creating this whole new world within the park’s existing structures. I think fans will see how much we thought about the design, and that it will feel as real for them as it does for us.”
Head to yp.scmp.com to watch Katrina and Alfred’s full interview and see more snaps from the Tomorrowland Takeover launch!
What’s new at Hong Kong Disneyland ?
The famous ride has been re-imagined as an epic dog fight. After a briefing, guests fly into outer space on a Rebel X-wing starfighter to battle Imperial TIE fighters.
From June 25, aspiring Jedis aged between four and 12 put on the brown robes and join a secret lightsaber training session, before duelling a line-up of baddies.
Here comes Chewie!
All the most famous Star Wars characters will descend on the park for your selfie-taking pleasure. Head to a hidden Resistance base to hang out with R2-D2 and Chewbacca. But don’t get too close to Captain Phasma’s mirrored armour … or else.
Treats and toys
The Star Wars theme extends to the #swag to take home and snacks to fuel Jedi training. Look out for the Darth Vader burger, BB-8 slush, collectable Tsum Tsums, and a build-your-own lightsaber station.