From a small rat to a big Disney themepark ride: building Ratatouille The Adventure
Ratatouille, the movie
Ratatouille is a Pixar movie that, by many, is still considered to be one of the best things Pixar has ever done. Considering that we are speaking about Pixar here, that is very high praise indeed. The movie was released in 2007 and tells the story of Remy, a little rat who dreams of one day cooking in a fine restaurant. This dream becomes true when one day, by accident, he ends up in Paris, on the doorstep of one of the best restaurants in town, Gusteau's. Here, he befriends a young man named Linguini, who is the garbage boy when we first meet him, but who quickly rises through the ranks thanks to Remy's guidance. Still, it's a dangerous friendship, because when other people find out there's a rat in the kitchen, you know there's going to be trouble... Ratatouille was a huge success with audiences, on top of that winning the Oscar for best animated feature.
Build the ride, save the park!
Ratatouille The Adventure is located in Walt Disney Studios, which is part of Disneyland Paris. Walt Disney Studios opened in 2002, and wasn't an immediate success. Even though the park looked gorgeous, there were only 9 attractions there, meaning there was just much too little to do. If you didn't have to wait in line too much, you could breeze through the park in only a few hours time. Visitors stayed away, preferring to go next door to the much more accomplished Disneyland Paris itself.
This was a huge letdown for Disney, because this happened just when Disneyland Paris was starting to become a big success. Disney responded to the avalanche of criticism by building new attractions. The Tower of Terror came to Paris, for instance. In the American and Japanese Disney parks, this ride is one of the success stories, so it was an easy choice. Next to that a Toy Story Playland was made, along with a rollercoaster based on Finding Nemo. Still, it wasn't enough to make crowds go wild for the Walt Disney Studios. What the park needed was something big, a real eye catcher!
Small rat, big ride
Problem was, the banks weren't really that excited to grant Disneyland Paris permission to spend 150 million dollars on a new ride. The parent company, Disney, had to step in and wipe away 1.5 billion dollars worth of DLP-debt, so that the French park would once again have the funds to get cracking (by the way, this is not the recent financial injection Disney gave DLP, where another 1.5 billion dollars in debt was wiped away).
Disney has a huge department for building everything related to the theme parks, called Walt Disney Imagineering. These people are among the finest builders of rides, theme parks and restaurants in the world. They probably rubbed their hands when Disney gave them the go ahead to build a new theme park ride to knock people's socks of, with a 150 million dollar budget.
For this new ride, Disney wanted something more specific to France and Europe, to make the people feel like there was something there that belonged to them. The time was ripe to build something really French. And well, what do you know, there's a well loved Pixar movie taking place in France just waiting for some theme park love! The choice was made to turn Ratatouille: The Adventure, into a dark ride, which is something the Imagineers do best.
Wait, what's a dark ride?
A dark ride is a ride where you sit down in a car, or boat, or something else that moves, and you are being taken through an attraction, with many different scenes taking place in front of you. Think of a haunted house, but also something like Pirates of the Caribbean or The Haunted Mansion out of Disneyland.
The process of building a dark ride
When the Imagineers get the assignment to do a new ride, a lot of things have to happen, as you can understand. Making this ride, things got even more complex, as Ratatouille is based on a movie by Pixar. The people at Pixar are very protective of their movies and wanted to be involved as much as possible, right from the start. For instance, the director of Ratatouille, Brad Bird, helped writing the story for the new ride. Although the ride only last a few minutes, the Imagineers want these few minutes to be more than just a quick blast through a restaurant, with some sharp corners and shock elements and that's all.
For the story, we go back to the movie. Together with Remy, you visit the restaurant of the late great chef Gusteau. At the start of the ride, you are being shrunk magically to Remy's size. He then takes you through the ventilation shafts in the ceiling, so you can eavesdrop on the kitchen and watch magic happen. However, you accidentally crash through the roof and end up in the kitchen, where new chef Skinner immediately starts chasing you. Now it's up to you and Remy to get away before he can catch you!
As you can see, the story has all the elements that make a dark ride fun. Excitement when you are sneaking a peek at the restaurant, and adrenaline when Skinner and his kitchen brigade start chasing you.
With the story done, it was time to start building the ride itself. The Imagineers start by making a ton of sketches, the so called concept art. This concept art gives the people designing the ride a feel for the mood of the ride and it's environment. After this, a model is made of the inside of the ride. This model is very small, so small it would probably be the perfect size for Remy! This model is then looked at vigorously and tweaked wherever necessary. Every element of the ride is there. Their location, the exact look... They even make a little track that little cars can ride through. They put a small camera on these cars and film the ride it makes, so that the Imagineers know what the visitors see whenever they take the new ride for a spin. Based on this, final tweaks are made, until the Imagineers are completely happy with the design.
When the model for the inside of the building is done, the model for the outside is prepped. When both models are done, the people responsible at the park get to see them, and when they are also satisfied, work starts on the real buildings. Disney's architect deparment is put to work to double check everything and make the plans that the building companies can start working with. Quite a big job, because next to the ride, there is also a restaurant, a shop and two streets based on the movie that had to be built. This was made extra tough, since this mini-Paris would have to compare to the real Paris, which is practically next door to the park! With the builders working on the outside, the Imagineers did their thing building the ride on the inside. For this, they got some more help from Pixar.
Ratatouille's new movie
To make the ride extra special, it was decided in an early stage to turn this ride into a combination of dark ride and 3D-movie. When visitors enter the ride, they have to put on 3D-glasses, with which they can see no less than 5 minutes of new Ratatouille material made by Pixar! This makes the ride just that bit more special. Where normal rides only feature dolls that either move or not, in Ratatouille The Adventure you are right in the middle of the action.
This was quite a job for the people at Pixar. To begin with, they had the problem that the Ratatouille movie is quite old, when looked at from a technology standpoint. The movie was made on an older version of the system Pixar uses these days, so the people creating the animation for the ride had to teach themselves how this older system worked, so that they could create the new animations!
A bigger issue was the size of the film. When a scene is made for an animated movie, all the data is then rendered, which is the process of having computers calculate everything and turning it into moving images. It's a process that takes a lot of time. Because the scenes in the movie were rendered in super high definition, including the 3D-effect, it took 8 times as long to render these 5 minutes as it had taken to render the entire 90 minute movie!
Making the new scenes, the Imagineers and Pixar worked together intensively. Brad Bird stopped by the offices of the Imagineers several times, to look at the models and sketches made for the ride, receiving notes from the Imagineers concerning the things they had to watch out for while animating. This was much needed, since the people at Pixar ran into problems they normally don't have when making a new movie. Think for instance about the aforementioned moment when the visitors crash through the roof of the restaurant. Pixar had to take into account things like: does it look believeable, are all the dimensions right, and does the 3D-effect work?
Other elements of the ride
While work was being done on the animation, buildings and inside of the ride, a different group of Imagineers was taking on another huge task: creating 1200 graphical elements for the ride. You know, things like logo's, menu's, street signs, potholes and more, which all had to fit in both with the Disney style as well as the style of Paris. Work was also well underway for the theming of the restaurant. The idea was that you were still shrunk while in the restaurant, so that you were sitting in-between huge plates and cutlery, huge menu's and more. It might be too easy to make the joke that the prizes on the menu are also huge...
It took about four years from the start to finish for the ride and themed section of the park to be made. It was opened July 10th of 2014, to many positive reviews. There was some grumbling about the long lines for the ride, as well as the fact that you have to wear 3D-glasses when going on the ride, but mostly the people seem to love Ratatouille: The Adventure. It gives Disneyland Paris the opportunity to start work on another huge, costly project: the change from Star Tours to Star Tours 2, including a lot of changes to the area around it. This project, also with a budget of 150 million dollars, is slated for 2017...