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Artwork of Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey from Walt Disney's Fantasia which provided the inspiration for The Vaults presents Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney Fantasia

Magically speaking…

23 June 2018 Suzanne Frost

Inspired by the classic 1940 Disney masterpiece, the Vaults, London’s home for immersive theatre and alternative arts, is creating a unique multi-sensory experience to celebrate an iconic moment in history ahead of the 90th anniversary of Mickey Mouse. Audience members will take to the maze of tunnels underneath Waterloo Station wearing individual headphones as the orchestra guides them on an interactive journey through fantastical environments using a combination of cutting edge binaural sound, 3D projections, elaborate set designs and dazzling lighting effects to reimagine the many worlds of Disney Fantasia. London Calling talked to designer Kitty Callister on set at the Vaults, which is still a building site but will soon transform into a kaleidoscopic world of magic…

London Calling: What a fascinating project! Fantasia was a huge part of many people’s childhood.
Kitty Callister: To be perfectly honest, I knew about it and I knew sections of it but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I finally saw it in its entirety. A lot of my friends have properly grown up with it and I’m a little bit jealous I didn’t experience it at a young age because it is such an amazing film. The illustrations are probably on of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I have known about a lot of the illustrators but have never clocked what amazing artists were involved in the whole thing.
LC: Looking back it’s really striking how intellectually challenging and grown up that film was. Modern day Disney is very different.
KC: Massively! People who knew about it from childhood now realise how dark and scary some of the themes were. When they redid the format with Fantasia in 2000 that was very different, very Disney, very watered down.  

Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Fantasia - Set Design for The Sorcerer's Apprentice. (c) Kitty Callister

LC: It also served as a first introduction to some very demanding pieces of classical music for children to sit through!
KC: Trying to do this project now is quite fascinating, we are creating it for adults but also for children to understand and experience. Walt Disney was trying to get children to understand and ease up to music because apparently he wasn’t very good with classical music at the time. I’ve worked at opera houses before but this is a whole different level of working with music, you’ve got so much different music in one short experience. It’s quite intense.
LC: Disney has quite a relationship with theatre, mostly in their big musical adaptations. But Sounds and Sorcery sounds like a very different project!
KC: We are taking over every single room of the Vaults, I’m not sure if there are any places left. When you arrive, you’ve got this long corridor you enter through a magical portal, then you enter a waiting room and get your earphones there. It works in a similar way to a silent disco. Everyone in that first room goes into the first section together and experiences what is a really fascinating overhead projection so everyone is immersed. When you leave that room you enter a central corridor and from there you can chose which rooms to enter. You get a basic map, if you like, but it doesn’t tell you anything, it just gives you images to follow. Your audio will kick in at a certain point to tie in with the lighting design and visuals, like at the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A. It is a real combination of everyone working together and it’s going to be quite intense. It will be a very different experience to the Disney stage shows. We are very lucky that they agreed to let the Vaults do this. It was strange going into a boardroom meeting with the people from Disney!

Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Fantasia - Set Design for Night on Bald Mountain. (c) Kitty Callister

LC: Sound–led theatre is having a huge moment right now.
KC: The sound in this one is massively important. They have re-recorded the entire orchestration for all the pieces, partly to make them our own but also to get every aspect of the sound. In one room we actually have the sound diffused around the space so depending where you are standing as an audience member, you will get different aspects of the music. We have fewer actors in this than in other shows we have done previously, because primarily it is an audioscape and visual piece. It is theatre, but it doesn’t quite align with the term, it’s somewhere between a concert and a theatre piece.  We have no live musicians but the way they’ve used the audio and the equipment and amazing technology I really don’t understand… it’s taking audio design to a whole different level, which is what Fantasia was at the time, it was revolutionary. We are taking it forward into modern times.
LC: In 1940, every frame of that film was hand drawn. They didn’t have any digital help.
KC: If I’m perfectly honest, I’m not the most computer-savvy; I’m quite old fashioned in my work. I love drawing and always go back to it. If I could have made a model box for this, I would have done, but obviously the Vaults are such a large space and a model box is normally done to a 1:25 or 1:50 scale. On the computer you can fill the spaces with colour quickly on a large scale. But I still draw a lot of it myself beforehand so I have a visual, or I do a Photoshop drawing, where you take a photo and I then add elements of my drawings and put both together. I looked at a lot of references from Disney but we tried to move away from the original, so it’s not a copy. You could never redo it. But we try to capture the feel of the film.

Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Fantasia - Set Design for the Nutcracker Suite. (c) Kitty Callister

LC: What is your favourite room?
KC:Magically speaking and because I love this section in the film, it’s the Nutcracker Suite. We have oversized flowers and mushrooms and probably my favourite bit is a cross between 3D projection and the actual film for the “sexy fish” scene, the Arabian Dance. I made a costume for this, which was so much fun, and it was filmed in an underwater sequence. I’m looking forward to finally seeing that projected on a larger screen. It is quite magical. I also enjoy the volcano for The Rites of Spring, I think that is going to be the most fun for kids. It’s a lightning visual and there’s a little bit of climbing involved…
LC: Do you have a childhood Disney memory you can share with us?
KC: I’m a massive, massive Bambi fan! It’s probably everybody’s least favourite because it is so sad, but at the time I was so obsessed with animals and I think I understood it, it felt dark but also very real. Bambi was my big love.
Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney Fantasia will be at the Vaults 3 July- 30 September. Adult tickets from £30, Child tickets (3 to 12yrs) from £22. Under 3 yrs go free (no headphones)

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