As Roald Dahl himself famously said, “those who don’t believe in magic will never find it”, and you don’t need to look hard to find it at The Festival Of Light at Longleat. Billed as the UK’s original, biggest and most exciting lantern festival, the event returned this year after a two-year hiatus due to Covid.
Each year, the festival features a different IP and in 2022 Longleat presented The Wondrous Worlds of Roald Dahl featuring phizz-whizzing storylines, wondercrump projection mapping and a magical lantern trail illuminating over 30 acres of the park.
The experience, which is taking place from November 5th – January 8th, is encouraging guests to meet their favourite characters from the Roald Dahl stories, whilst also encompassing fan favourites that make a welcome return year after year, including the Enchanted Christmas Tree show, the Santa Train and the popular animal attractions (including the infamous monkeys).
“We had the Roald Dahl IP secured in 2019 and decided unanimously that it was the high calibre, well known, family favourite that we needed to return with,” explained Daisy Mercedes, event and product development manager at Longleat Safari & Adventure Park.
“Each year we have a bespoke theme for the lanterns and use audio, visual and lighting effects to bring the stories to life and immerse guests into the experience. After two years of waiting, we finally saw it come to life and guests will never have seen Roald Dahl stories told quite like this!”
Guests have been able to marvel at the five-metre-tall BFG, whilst walking through Wonka’s famous factory gates, getting up close to James’ Giant Peach and are being awestruck by George’s Marvellous Medicine.
“It’s a great IP to work with because families all know the stories and to see multiple generations experience the festival together is really rewarding,” Mercedes continued.
“To start creating the trail each year, we begin with the theme and decide what stories we want to tell. Then we work closely with the brand and IP owners to put the specific scenes together. For Roald Dahl, we were only able to use the words in the books for inspiration and to form the character designs, we couldn’t use any of the other IP interpretations from films or stage shows for example, everything had to be original.
“We originally began the design in 2019 but only had an eight-week timeframe to refresh the ideas, ensure they were feasible, accessible and that the interpretations were inclusive and representative of all ages and walks of life.”
The trail features over one hundred lanterns, each of which were uniquely designed to bring to life key moments from the iconic books, including The BFG, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The Twits and Fantastic Mr Fox. The fabrication for the lanterns took place in China over a three month period. The team then arrived in the UK for the final two months of the build to assemble the intricate creations in their final location.
Away from the Roald Dahl theme, the annual Festival Of Light also features scenes of a traditional Christmas with the Enchanted Christmas Tree show, which includes a 20-metre projection mapped Christmas tree that marks the start and end of the trail.
This area of the experience was delivered by LCI Productions which has worked closely with the Longleat team since the 50-year anniversary celebrations in 2016. “The iconic Christmas tree has firmly established itself as a staple of the Longleat Christmas festivities” explained Rob Paul, design director at LCI Productions. “It features over 100,000 LEDs and is controlled by 14 pixelators, each of which run 24 light chains. We program these to create animated sequences, controlled using a 2×2 Disguise media server.”
LCI delivered the full audio, visual and lighting production, including technical design, concept creation, original media and audio scores, installation, show programming and onsite maintenance throughout the live dates. This included hand stitching the LEDs on to the rolled steel tree frame to form an accurate grid pattern.
During the day the tree twinkles, then the full show sequence begins at dusk. “The tree forms part of a projection mapped show, which also uses an adjacent 52-metre-wide Longleat stable building as its canvas,” said Paul. “We used seven Panasonic 8500 Lumen projectors in VIZBOX enclosures to create the 3D video mapped projection, seven projecting in total. 40 RGB uplighters and two RTI lasers provide further enhancement. The show is controlled using a 2×2 Disguise media server combined with two Datapath units to deliver eight video inputs in total.
“The original content has been created by our in-house team of character artists, animators and motion graphic experts to include festive imagery and mischievous elves who pop up in the windows in between shows, each with a story to tell.”
The accompanying audio comprises of a medley of Christmas tunes delivered through a K-array sound system, with the speakers hidden in the tree. This gives coverage across the square but without sound drifting into other areas of the park or the experience.
Four snow machines complete the magic, with flakes that flutter from multiple directions to ensure full guest coverage.
“The Enchanted Christmas Tree show has become a central part of the Christmas experience at Longleat,” said Mercedes. “The traditional soundtrack that accompanies this visual spectacular takes the audience on the perfect journey, evoking memories while at the same time creating new ones as a family.”
Paul added: “Since we started delivering this experience in 2016, technology has evolved, particularly with regards to control techniques, which has allowed us to advance the content delivery. Control systems are always getting better and give us new possibilities.
“Trends in lighting design have also accelerated and we are increasingly seeing a crossover with video. We now program lighting in a video suite, rather than at a lighting desk, which is then translated into a lighting design. This is particularly useful when it comes to client approval, as it removes any ambiguity from what is being created and shows them exactly how the whole show will look, combining all elements.”
Mercedes concluded: “Looking to the future, we are planning to evolve this section of the experience, but without changing the overall ethos, as this is a guest favourite that people return to see year after year. Working with LCI Productions, we are looking to extend the storytelling of this section of the show, create more voices and more digital reactions. We will also be evolving the scope of technology with interactivity, more advanced mapping, more LED pixels and some more surprises for 2023!”