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The future Disneyland Shanghai will be very Chinese

Disney looks at creating a very Chinese style theme park with the opening of its resort in Shanghai by involving leading Chinese artists and designers.

BEIJING- More than 500 designers, or what Disney calls “imaginers”, 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 flavours.

For these Disney imaginers, 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 imaginers 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 centre piece 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 imaginers, 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 CNY 24.5 billion (US$ 3.84 billion) for the theme park and CNY 4.5 billion for the hotels and the retail, dining and entertainment facilities.

(Source: China Daily)

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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.