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Denis Lemonne: Technique serving emotion

As Senior Manager Concepts & Supports, Denis Lemonne has designed and produced events for over 20 years at Disney Business solutions. Heading up a team of 57, he still delights in pulling off amazing feats every week.

How do you come up with all these ideas for events and settings?

If the client doesn’t know exactly what they want, we start by sounding them out. We ask what they want to see, or not see at their event. Based on this, our five design studio team members write the story they want to tell, harnessing their solid reputation for savoir-faire. They are the ones who define the event’s main theme, in terms of both the scenario and technical concerns. Working as a team, they each have their say at frequent brainstorming sessions. I encourage my staff to keep their creative edge sharp and think outside the box.

All the more because deadlines are necessarily tight. You rarely get a second chance at making a good impression: as you come through the door, impact must be instant. This is why I always tell my staff to “put the budget where it shows”.

It doesn’t matter if the mechanics only last for that one evening. We don’t stock anything: unlike permanent theme park shows, events are pop-up concepts.

How do you manage to  constantly reinvent without repeating yourself?

To get hold of new ideas, I wonder what would truly amaze me as a professional. I’ve seen a lot. But I always look hard at what could be honed more, making sure I’m still in touch with my inner child. As if I were designing new toys. I do the rounds of trade fairs, I watch all kinds of shows on Internet. I have to keep up with every last new thing.

I’m lucky to be doing a job that I love, and I love taking up challenges. When a client pitches a daring idea, we pull out all the stops to come up with solutions that fit their ideas. If we have to invent new solutions, all the better! Of course we do need to keep our feet on the ground: great ideas that exceed the budget are not so great after all. But pragmatism never means dumbing down.

We are constantly bidding for new markets. And sometimes we have to get going quickly. Deadlines to produce events are getting shorter and shorter. We have to be in a position to respond very quickly, getting the design studio on our case in no time. This is why we need enthusiastic, trustworthy staff.

Since you first started out, what innovation has really changed the game?

No need to mull that one over, it’s video. Video shook up how we stage things. Especially mapping, i.e. telling a story by projecting footage on a façade. 20 years ago, we used to improvise a lot, like illusionists. For Halloween in 2002, we painted heat absorbing glass plates and placed them before giant projectors pointing at Sleeping Beauty Castle. And they were only still pictures.

Lighting has also made headway, we have replaced lamp projectors with energy-saving LEDs that we can now dot all over the place.

For the latest Electroland, at the Walt Disney Studios Park in June, we designed 3-D mapping lasting for four hours on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror with top-quality 4K footage. This took us several months of hard work, using computers that ran 24 hours a day.

Then there are the technological developments introduced into the firework displays, which have upped the ante to combine images, special effects, lasers and lighting, such as our Bonfire on Lake Disney.

Five years ago, these developments were still unimaginable, we needed a mood board, a great pitch, designs and plans of the room. Nowadays, clients want to get fully immersed in our proposals and visit their event in 3-D before buying it.

We leverage all this technology to imagine ever more innovations in stage sets, providing clients with ever more immersive experiences. But we’re not into always outdoing ourselves for the sake of it. Even if video has become a must, the emphasis is always on storytelling and how the story unfolds.

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