Happy 25th Anniversary, IllumiNations!
On this night in 1988, the first iteration of IllumiNations premiered on EPCOT Center’s World Showcase Lagoon.
While not the first show to grace the skies above EPCOT, this presentation was the first to use synchronized spot lights on the pavilions, a classical score, and a central laser barge. IllumiNations 88 was the first “all inclusive” show, as the pavilion’s pin lighting was featured heavily, and were used to surround guests on the promenade in light and imagery. Featured heavily during the show, the pavilions would each be featured, individually, set to the refrains of classical music from their country of origin. This major sequence of the show was called the “pavilion chase” and is one of the more fondly remembered aspects of the first IllumiNations. Massive spotlights were used to sweep across the promenade directing guest’s attention to the pavilion currently being featured. Each pavilion, at this point, had its own unique special effect to show off to guests. France had a massive neon sign, Germany had projection mapped (Much like today’s Magic Kingdom “Celebrate The Magic” show) banners and murals magically appear, and the American Adventure was transformed from Federal architecture to our Neoclassical US Capitol. This culminated in a dazzling pyrotechnic display.
Previous to this, fireworks in EPCOT Center were not such a grand event. The inaugural show, Carnival De Lumiere and it’s successor, A New World Fantasy, were executed on a much smaller scale. These preformances only took place facing World Showcase Plaza, the entrance from Future World. They did, however, boast the first iterations of mist screens, used for projecting seamless videos on sheets of falling water. In 1984, Laserphonic Fantasy debuted, adding the spectacle of beams of laser light to EPCOT’s grand finale.
IllumiNations’ debut in 1988 brought forth the technology and show infrastructure that we still enjoy today on the pavilions and structures of World Showcase. In 1996, however, this hardware was put to a new use and a new show. Walt Disney World celebrated 25 years, and ushered in IllumiNations 25. This new show dropped the afore mentioned pavilion chase” and focused on celebrating Disney’s momentous anniversary. In 1998, when the celebration wrapped up, classical music and ceremony returned to the shores of World Showcase lagoon with IllumiNations 98 and a return to a traditional show.
1999 saw the most radical changes to IllumiNations. Rebranded as “IllumiNations 2000: Reflections of Earth”, the new show was given an wholly unique score and abstract narrative meant to evoke the passage of time, Earth’s history, and the humanistic triumph as recorded history entered the third millennium. In addition to sweeping thematic changes, the show underwent a physical transformation as well. A new “Inferno Barge” was built for the undertaking, designed to spew and spit flames 50 feet high, so as to illustrate the chaotic Big Bang at the beginning of time in the show’s new narrative. An “Earth Barge” was also built to be the centerpiece of the show, and is the first spherical video display to utilize LEDs in High Definition. At the finale of Reflections of Earth, the “Earth” unfurls in the shape of a lotus blossom, adrift on the water, and ignites a torch symbolizing the dawn of the 21st century.
Now a nightly tradition, IllumiNations still concludes each day at EPCOT. Although different from the pageant that debuted in 1988, IllumiNations continues to draw upon the pathos of EPCOT and World Showcase, exciting guest with a celebratory and unifying capstone to their international and cultural experience.