Epcot's First Nightime Spectacular: Carnaval de Lumiere

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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Harmonious debuted at Epcot on October 1, 2021 as a nighttime spectacular on the World Showcase Lagoon to celebrate the cultures and stories of the world that have inspired various Disney films and music.

This twenty-three minute show utilizes pyrotechnics, choreographed water fountains, water curtains, lasers, searchlights and LED screens.

The black structures used for the show are so large that they stay visible on floating barges in the lagoon throughout the day. Some Disney fans feel these are eyesores that disrupt the view of World Showcase. It was rumored that Disney was also considering a daytime show but no further information has been forthcoming.

Unlike previous Epcot lagoon shows, this one features favorite music from the following Disney films: The Lion King, Frozen, Hercules, Moana, Aladdin, The Jungle Book, Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Brave, Coco, and The Princess and the Frog.

The five floating platforms in World Showcase Lagoon are positioned like a compass. The show's central water curtain is five-stories high. The show employs hundreds of programmable moving fountains and lights, plus lasers and pyrotechnic effects.

Harmonious tells a story of global connection, with a world tour of familiar Disney songs performed in more than a dozen languages by a cast of nearly 240 vocalists and musicians. Global connection is a major theme in the re-imagining of Epcot.


Harmonious is scheduled to end its run at Epcot a year from now.

This spectacular replaced Illuminations: Reflections of Earth that was created and directed by Don Dorsey. That show premiered on October 1, 1999 and ran for approximately two decades until 2019. A one year interim show Epcot Forever was shown before the debut of Harmonious.

However, there were four other nighttime lights and firework shows created and directed by Don Dorsey that performed at night on the World Showcase Lagoon.

I think too often we Disney park fans are oblivious to how things developed and just accept those things without question.

I worked at Epcot for several years and I often saw the nighttime show Illuminations: Reflections of Earth and its variations but it never occurred to me to ask how such an entertaining concept was developed. I just accepted that it seemed like a natural choice.

Recently, I did some research and discovered there has always been some type of fireworks spectacular involving show barges since EPCOT Center opened in 1982. However, like much of early Walt Disney World history, information has been lost and forgotten and I always feel the responsibility to share what little I know to help document that history before it all disappears entirely.

EPCOT Center's nighttime shows on the World Showcase Lagoon were inspired by the popularity of the Electrical Water Pageant on the Seven Seas Lagoon that was also created and directed by Dorsey. The idea of barges moving on the water with constantly changing light patterns and with background electronic music was first upgraded technologically for the EPCOT Center experience in 1982.

Le Carnaval de Lumière's International Festival of Festivals (which was the official nomenclature of the show that was often just called Carnaval de Lumiere, or "carnival of light") was referred to by the Walt Disney Company as "a celebration of celebrations". It was the very first nighttime spectacular at EPCOT Center and premiered October 23, 1982 as part of the dedication ceremonies for the new theme park.

The program for the dedication event stated, "To conclude the evening's festivities, Le Carnaval de Lumiere proudly presents the world premiere of its International Festival of Festivals, a celebration of celebrations. Epcot Center's nighttime extravaganza of illuminations, water, sound and fire must be viewed from Showcase Plaza.

"This show, which will be an ongoing feature of World Showcase, uses the new medium of computerized 'magic lantern' illumination to transport you to other times and cultures inviting your imagination to engage in moments of festivity around the world.

"Every society rejoices in what it feels most deeply about, inviting vivid rituals to celebrate important events in the cycle of life. Throughout the ages, the family of man has marked these joyous occasions with impressive public feasts and fetes, dancing and music, parades and processions, pageants and exhibitions, spectacles and fireworks. These celebrations march from the past through our life today and into the heritage of future generations.

"Through kaleidoscopic tapestries of light and sound, Le Carnaval de Lumiere takes you across the entire world and through twenty centuries to experience the rich diversity – and the commonality – of human celebration."


Carnaval de Lumiere listing in EPCOT Center's dedication program.

It was a presentation using rear projection screens on barges floating on the World Showcase Lagoon. Between the projection barges were fireworks barges controlled by Apple Computers. The show could be viewed only from Showplace Plaza between Mexico and Canada at the front of the entrance to World Showcase.

Here are some memories from 1982 from Tom Craven who was Entertainment Technical Development Director for EPCOT Center. He was responsible for the facility and technical requirements design, engineering and installation for live entertainment at EPCOT Center as well as Walt Disney World in general, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland:

"The World Showcase Lagoon is central to the World Showcase experience, and so became a natural staging area for the Carnaval de Lumiere.

"Throughout the history of the world and of individual countries and cultures, celebrations and festivals have been immortalized in art and music. To showcase our Festival of Festivals we applied some interesting technology.

"The lagoon became the stage and the Promenade the audience area. The size of the lagoon gave us a stage of over one thousand feet in width. The show focuses on a portion of the Promenade called Showcase Plaza.

"Spectators view the show from this area; by incorporating the Entertainment Control System (ECS), music and narration are heard through the Promenade audio system. Special floating platforms hold the diverse technical show elements. There are nine of these platforms – five devoted to projection and lighting, four to fountains, firework and lighting.

"Central to the show is the depiction of the art representing the festivals of the individual countries. To display this art, we constructed five floating platforms, each with four projection screens, for a total of projection surface of forty feet by twenty-six feet.

"The four screens can work together to create one large picture or independently to present four different pictures. All five units can be combined for a total of twenty screen surfaces, with sixty 35mm projectors operated independently or en masse.

"On each platform four screens are stacked two over two to form the forty foot by twenty-six foot picture surface. A picture frame of lights outlines the projection screen. Small individual colored light bulbs are mounted and circuited for up to six different picture frame patterns for each unit.

"A number of patterns incorporate multiple-effect chase systems. Special strip light units on the front of the platform at water level light the water in five different colors.

"Two outboard motor boat engines are mounted fore and aft to provide propulsion and maneuverability to this forty foot by twenty-five foot by thirty-five foot high boat. An electrical generator mounted on board provides the power for projectors and lights. An on-board computer system receives commands by means of a radio transmitted data code from the Entertainment Control System at EPCOT Computer Central.

"Our use of water fountains for Carnaval de Lumiere is, as far as we know, unique in this show. Again, a floating platform was developed to accommodate the mechanics necessary for a working fountain.

"This platform is nearly the same size as the projection unit. Four units were constructed – one was a prototype designed and engineered in conjunction with William Hobbs Limited of Atlanta, Georgia, a fountain manufacturing and installation company.

"After constructing and testing the prototype in Georgia, the three remaining units were built by our Disney Central Shops. Each fountain unit has forty individual jets of water. Each jet is individually controlled by an electronic interface with a mechanical value. The jets are capable of effects up to ninety feet high.

"The number of effects is astronomical because of the individual jet control and the control of jet height. Five colors of light illuminate the effects with total dimmer capabilities.

"We challenged the incompatibility of fire and water by incorporating fireworks on the fountain units. Using special containment systems we can set off fireworks throughout the downpour of failing water. Approximately seventy-five different fireworks tableaus are presented in concert with the fountains.

"The units receive their power from an on-board electrical generator. Two outboard motor boat engines provide the propulsion. Like the projection units, the fountains are controlled by an on-board computer. Commands are received by an on-board radio receiver that processes the data codes to the computer.

"All these elements begin to take on the semblance of a show when music is incorporated. The music is a medley of well-known classical pieces that are coordinated with the festival depicted on the screens or by the fountains and fireworks. The selections are produced by electronic music synthesis and reproduced through full range audio systems at Showcase Plaza.

"As you have probably been able to deduce, this show takes place at night on the World Showcase Lagoon. Under the cover of darkness the nine units take up pre-assigned positions on the lagoon and form a 1,400 foot arc approximately two to three hundred feet offshore. The units alternate along the arc – projection unit, then fountain unit, then projection and so on. The real Disney magic comes to play in the presentation."


Carnaval de Lumiere barges on World Showcase Lagoon.

The Entertainment Control System began development in 1980 to manage the lighting and sound for the parades. It included two Sperry-Univac V77-500 minicomputers operating as redundant processors from EPCOT Computer Central. Both of the computers communicated over separate fiber optic data transmission links with ten microcomputers based Remote Interface Cabinets (RIC) located within World Showcase.

The RICs were intelligent controllers providing commands to and monitoring of lighting, dimmer modules, audio processing equipment and the Pageant Float Identification System so there would not be any delays or cancellations due to equipment malfunctions.

Carnaval de Lumiere lasted only about eight months before being replaced by A New World Fantasy that debuted June 1983 and closed in 1984 to be replaced by Laserphonic Fantasy that premiered June 9, 1984. That show closed January 24, 1988 to be replaced by the original Illuminations that opened January 30, 1988.

A New World Fantasy was set to classical music played on synthesizer and was supervised by Don Dorsey who was instrumental in the Main Street Electrical Light Parade and the Electrical Water Pageant on the Seven Seas Lagoon.

The nighttime show opened in June 1983 and used floating barges that had rear projection screens on them. The barges were the same as the first show at EPCOT Center, Carnaval de Lumiere. The show also added "Pichel lights" that moved automatically.

Laserphonic Fantasy used the same soundtrack as A New World Fantasy but incorporated lasers for the first time. It featured lasers emitted from barges and from around the lagoon and for the first time guests could view the spectacular from anywhere around the World Showcase Lagoon.

The "Skater" segment featured the first use of non-continuous lines in a laser animation and was the first use of laser graphics on a water-droplet screen.

The projection barges were abandoned and the fountain and fireworks barges were arranged around a central barge containing lighting effects, fog effects, and lasers.


Laserphonic Fantasy ran from January 1984 through January 1988 above World Showcase Lagoon.

Laser projection booths were installed at Canada, Mexico, and American Adventure. The automation of the Pichel lights was completed and added to the show. Later, small fireworks barges and seawall fireworks were added to expand the show.

In none of these three shows were the individual country pavilions surrounding the lagoon spotlighted.

Soundtrack for A New World Fantasy and Laserphonic Fantasy

Fanfare

  1. "Fanfare" from La Péri (Paul Dukas)

Act I: Celebrations on Land

  1. Symphony No. 5, First Movement (Beethoven)
  2. "Flight Of The Bumblebee" ( Rimsky-Korsakov)
  3. Zampa Overture (Herold)
  4. Piano Concerto No. 1, Third Movement (Beethoven)
  5. La Vie Parisienne (Offenbach)
  6. "Dance Of The Comedians" (Smetana)
  7. "Bourrée" (Handel)
  8. Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, First Movement (Bach)
  9. Orpheus In Hades (Offenbach)
  10. Trisch-Trasch Polka (Strauss)
  11. Italian Concerto, Third Movement (Bach)
  12. William Tell Overture (Rossini)

Act II: Great Parades and Pageants

  1. "Procession of The Nobles" (Rimsky-Korsakov)
  2. "March" from Love For Three Oranges (Prokofiev)
  3. "Farandole" from L'Arlesienne Suite No. 1 (Bizet)
  4. March Militaire (Schubert)
  5. "March of The Toreadors" (Bizet)
  6. The Marriage of Figaro, Aria (Mozart)
  7. Light Cavalry Overture (Suppé)
  8. Radetsky March (Strauss)
  9. "Procession of The Nobles" (Rimsky-Korsakov)
  10. March Hongroise (Berlioz)
  11. "Anvil Chorus" from Il Trovatore (Verdi)
  12. Hands Across the Sea (Sousa)

Act III: Revelries in Pyrotechnics

  1. Carnival Overture (Dvořák)
  2. "March of The Toreadors" (Bizet)
  3. "Alla Hornpipe" (Handel)
  4. Symphony No. 1 in D, "Titan"; First Movement (Mahler)
  5. Symphony No. 9,"Choral"; Fourth Movement (Beethoven)
  6. "Lohengrin"; Prelude to Act 3 (Wagner)
  7. Firebird Suite, Finale (Stravinsky)
  8. "Great Gate of Kiev" (Mussorgsky)
  9. "Promenade (Reprise)" (Mussorgsky)
  10. "1812 Festival Overture" (Tchaikovsky)

IllumiNations opened January 30, 1988 and closed September 26, 1996. It was replaced by the long running Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.

IllumiNations used many of the arrangements of the music from the previous A New World Fantasy and Laserphonic Fantasy but instead of being performed solely with synthesizers, it was re-scored for full orchestra. Directors Don Dorsey and Bruce Healey created new music as well.

The "Great Parades and Pageants" section used in the previous installments was omitted and replaced with a celebration of all the individual countries of World Showcase (except Norway, which had just opened by the show's premiere).

To add to the Pichel lights, fountains, laser barges, and laser graphics projected behind the fountains, the directors made the lights representing the different World Showcase pavilions interact with the music and the rest of the show. In addition fireworks were not used until the very end of the second act, and then the third act would show off the fireworks in a grand finale.

Holiday IllumiNations played during the holiday season instead of the regular show from 1994 to 1998.

Of course, most of the Epcot entertainment shows have been largely forgotten today including the Daredevil Circus Spectacular, Magical World of Barbie, Splashtacular and Surprise in the Skies, among others.

With all the significant changes happening at Epcot, I thought it might be nice to take a moment to think about the early nighttime shows on the World Showcase Lagoon and how they influenced shows like the new Harmonious.