Universal Orlando Resort’s Mike Aiello Discusses “Epic” New Lagoon Show!
About a week ago, we reported on a new nighttime lagoon show that is headed to Universal Orlando Resort this summer, called “Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration.” Ahead of the show’s debut later this season, I got the opportunity to interview one of the creative minds behind the “Cinematic Celebration,” Mike Aiello, the Senior Director for Entertainment Creative Development at Universal Orlando Resort.
From the press release alone, it’s clear that the “Cinematic Celebration” isn’t exactly a small undertaking.
The show combines an all-new storyline with full panoramic water screens accented by additional multi-layer water screens, pyrotechnics and – for the first time ever – more than 120 dancing fountains and projection mapping to transform the entire waterfront and surrounding buildings into a vivid celebration of epic movie moments and beloved characters.
While the description is certainly impressive, Aiello explained how the 20-minute show is like nothing that Universal Orlando has put on in its history. Instead of having park guests all around the lagoon, the “Cinematic Celebration” has its own dedicated viewing area to ensure that all guests can get the full experience of the show, precisely as its meant to be seen. This differs, Aiello explained to me, from the other shows that have been focused on the lagoon.
The challenge that lagoon has always had is its shape. It’s kind of a ‘dog leg,’ as far as how it was built. So the guests who viewed any of the shows in the past, their perception of the show and even their engagement [with] the show really depended on where they were standing in relation to the lagoon, which, many times or in many locations, may not have been the best view.
Some previous shows, Aiello noted, were specifically built for certain areas of the lagoon, although they didn’t have dedicated viewing areas.
So it was really dependent on where you were standing that determined the level of enjoyment that you had with the show. And even the last show, we literally had to create three different versions of the same show, depending on where it was located in the lagoon.
While it only uses half of the lagoon, “Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration” has an even greater impact. By utilizing the Central Park area of the Universal Studios Florida park, Aiello and the rest of the team working on the show had the ability to create a space for 6,500 people to stand and to face one direction. Aiello additionally emphasized the layering of all of the different elements of the show.
Our lagoon, of course, would be filled with fountains, but also, with the buildings that reside [in the New York section of the park] as the backdrop now, we have the ability to map-project onto the buildings to give us some really cool and fairly extensive backdrops that then can complement everything that’s happening on the water.
There is, Aiello continued, a lot happening! With a focus on the experiences that guests have had during their day at Universal Orlando Resort, the show draws upon the multiple brands and franchises found at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. These include Jurassic World and its dinosaurs, the Minions, and of course, Harry Potter.
One thing that sets the “Cinematic Celebration” apart, said Aiello, is the wide scope of the footage that is being used for each two-minute segment, in a way that is different from simply watching a film at home or in a movie theater. The imagery is layered, and the films’ soundtracks are featured as a part of the experience, which Aiello often described as being “immersive” in its nature. (Yes, the music of John Williams will be featured!)
Aiello was able to reveal to me that the Harry Potter portion of the show is very “spell based” and that it opens as though the lagoon itself is a Pensieve. The spells featured in the show also tie into the different elements that are used. The Water-Making Spell, Aguamenti, for example, is paired with fountains, while the Fire-Making Spell, Incendio, is paired with pyrotechnics. Aiello highlighted that the experience, because it is not housed within Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, will have more of a focus on the film franchise from a fan’s perspective.
With its being right in the center of the [Universal Studios Florida] park, we have, now, the opportunity to show images that are directly from these films.
Aiello’s favorite moment, he told me, is when the Dementors arrive and turn the lagoon and its surrounding façades to ice before being sent away by Harry’s Patronus.
Calling the production a “visual feast,” Aiello stated that “Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration” is different from anything that fans have seen from Universal Orlando before.
It is a visual feast that is so layered and wide and epic, so it definitely is different [from] a ride attraction and anything that we have done on our castle map projection shows, so it really is a unique moment within the ‘Potter’ brand.
Warner Bros., he said, also collaborated with Universal Orlando Resort to bring the Harry Potter section of the show to life.
Aiello described working on “Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration” as being akin to “living like a vampire,” since it is currently being tested at night. The team working on the show also has access to computer technology to generate an image of what the show will look like in real life before it is actually tested.
Prior to actual nightly programming, everything’s been based on computer programs to be able to visually see, to have a previsualization tool to inform, at least, the basics of what you want the show to be.
Unfortunately, Aiello was unable to give me an exact date for the show’s launch at this time, though it will premiere sometime this summer. He did, however, speak glowingly about all of those who have lent their time and talents to the process of making “Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration” a reality.
I kid you not when I say that there are armies of people working all hours of the night after the park closes to produce this show, and every night, we’re seeing more and more of it.
I know that I can’t wait to see “Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration,” and I hope that you all are just as excited to see it as I am! Many thanks to Universal Orlando Resort and Mike Aiello for taking the time for this exclusive interview!
You can find the previous press release for “Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration” below.