The decoration workshop at Disneyland Paris is a little-known and yet essential service. It manufactures and repairs all the objects and accessories used during parades and shows at the resort, especially during the Disney Halloween Festival. We met Richard Vallet, props director in the workshop, who told us more about his job.
How did you become a props director at Disneyland Paris?
I started at age 17 as a stagehand at the Théâtre Clavel in Paris, then I became assistant stage manager on several other Parisian stages. I did a bit of everything: changes of scenery, lights, sound, etc. I arrived at Disneyland Paris in February 1992 as a stagehand, and very quickly, I started repairing props between two shows. Our management understood the importance of such a service, and this is how the Disneyland Paris Decoration Workshop was born in 1994.
What does your job consist of?
My work consists of making decorative objects and accessories that come out of the imagination of a Show Director or are inspired by a film, intended for shows and seasons at Disneyland Paris. Very often, these are accessories that are a bit special, a bit “toon”, a bit magical. The challenge is that the object has to be believable, yet easy to use, light and durable. But it’s not just about creation; there is also the monitoring of these objects, their maintenance and repair, which occupies us throughout the year, day and night.
What is the Decoration Workshop team comprised of?
There are almost 20 of us, plus up to 10 intermittents who join us during more intense times like Halloween. Within the team, we have a wide variety of skills. Props director is a generic title, and we have colleagues who specialize in sewing, upholstery, and even in the making and maintenance of puppets. Many of us have changed from one specialty to another, and that’s how I was able to broaden my skill set. Molding, sculpture, painting, varnishing, modeling, it is very vast. It’s great to work at Disneyland Paris because it’s a great place to learn new techniques.
What objects did you make for the Disney Halloween Festival?
There are a lot of them, but I will say in particular the props of the ghosts of Main Street, U.S.A. and the Pumpkin Men in Frontierland. Without forgetting the “Funkins”, these very different little pumpkin heads, embellished with various accessories such as hats, eyeglasses and feathers. These are items that we have made in previous seasons and that we bring out regularly to delight guests.
How many objects does this represent?
So many! It takes about a hundred “Funkins”, plus Pumpkins, and garlands, which are hundreds of meters long. In all, it must represent more than 300 different elements.
How does the production of a decorative object work?
Everything starts from the Scenographers of the Disneyland Paris design office, who translate the vision of the Show Directors in graphic form. Their designs are absolutely beautiful and give us the information we need to make the objects. When manufacturing starts, they frequently come to see us in the workshop to make sure everything is running smoothly. These visits are also moments of creation. Seeing an object built in real size in front of their eyes sometimes inspires them to make small changes that they tell us directly: a few more patinas, a color to be nuanced or something else.
What materials do you use?
All kinds of materials. Resins, very often, but also metal and fabric. For some time now, our objects have been frequently made in Plastitrogen, a very practical foam for its lightness and strength. Polystyrene or polyurethane foam can also be used. We cut foams of different densities, we glue them, we put together and we paint them. For recurring objects, we can make models with earth or Plastiline. Then, for the molding, different polyurethane resins are used. And for slightly larger objects, it will be laminated resin, fiberglass or polyester resin, with silicones for impressions, or plaster. For some time now, we have been trying to use less and less resins, favoring healthier products. We also use latex for soft objects. Wood remains a safe bet. We carry a lot of wooden crates for the Pumpkins and for the Frontierland Jack-in-the-Box. It is also used for some structures, in place of metal, as long as it is not in contact with water. It is a very practical material.