IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth was a nighttime show performed nightly at Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. It utilized fireworks, pyrotechnics, water fountains, fire effects, lasers, and searchlights to create a visual production on the park's World Showcase Lagoon.
Created and directed by Don Dorsey, the show premiered on October 1, 1999 as IllumiNations 2000: Reflections of Earth as part of the Walt Disney World Millennium Celebration; it was so successful that after the celebration ended the 2000 was dropped from its name and it was continued. It has received several awards throughout the years including 11 straight Best Outdoor Night Production Show Golden Ticket Awards (2005–2015).
- 1 Show summary
- 2 Technical infrastructure
- 3 Special editions
- 4 Soundtrack
- 5 Gallery
- 6 Trivia
- 7 References
- “"Good evening. On behalf of Walt Disney World, the place where dreams come true, we welcome all of you to Epcot and World Showcase. We're gathered here tonight around the fire as people of all lands have gathered for thousands and thousands of years before us...to share the light... and to share a story. An amazing story as old as time itself, but still being written. And though each of us has our own individual stories to tell, a true adventure emerges when we bring them all together as one. We hope you enjoy our story tonight: Reflections of Earth".”
- ―Opening narration
Immediately after, there was the sound of a flame being gently blown out, the lighting was immediately dimmed throughout the park, and the show began.
Act I: Chaos
Act II: Order
The spouting flames from the Flame Barge were reduced to a low sputter, and the Earth Globe appeared and moved towards the center of the lagoon accompanied with water effects emanating from the fountain barges. As the Globe cools, it changed from hot white to red to blue. Images appeared on the Globe of countries, famous landmarks, objects, and people. The exterior buildings of the countries around the lagoon were illuminated followed by laser lights, spotlights, and more fireworks in the center lagoon. Since the buildings of the Morocco Pavilion are replicas of ones that have a great religious significance, it did not light up during the show. In order to keep symmetry, the Norway Pavilion did not light up either. The scene included high-launch fireworks.
Act III: Meaning
As the song "We Go On" is played, the torches around the lagoon are relit and the Globe opened to reveal a final unity torch with emanating fireworks followed by a launch of 1,000 white fireworks brightly illuminating the lagoon. The scene concluded with a final launch of fireworks and a set of bright white flashes that ended with a loud crackle. The finale crackle emanating from the final launch set of fireworks could often be heard within several miles outside the park.
- “Ladies and gentlemen, the entire Epcot family thanks you for having been with us for 'Illuminations: Reflections of Earth', presented by Siemens. We hope that your visit to the Walt Disney World Resort has been a truly magical experience for you and yours. We wish you a pleasant evening and a safe journey home. Thank you and goodnight.”
- ―Exit announcement
The song "Promise" played directly after this, which is then followed by the Tapestry of Nations parade soundtrack. As the music played, the continents were laser-projected onto Spaceship Earth, making it appear as a spinning globe.
The centerpiece of the show was the Earth Globe, a 28ft diameter globe housed on a 350 stone barge. The world's first spherical video display system, it was wrapped in 15,600 LED clusters, each consisting of 12 light-emitting diodes. It started its journey from the edge of the World Showcase Lagoon, a 40-acre man-made lake in Epcot, before anchoring itself in the middle of the lagoon. It was 28 feet in diameter and sits on top of a 10-foot pedestal. It contained 258 FlashWorks mini strobe lights (43 per petal) and was controlled by 6 computer processors. This was the only barge in the show with a driver on board, who uses an infrared guidance system. It was said to be one of the most complicated piece of show equipment made by Disney by The History Channel's Modern Marvels.
Jerold Kaplan of Walt Disney Imagineering designed and engineered the Earth Globe and supporting barge. The detailed engineering for the barge and its propulsion and control systems were provided by Glowacki Engineering of Orange Park, Florida. It was built by Sun State Marine Services in Green Cove Springs, Florida and was delivered in four major components which were assembled on site. The LED video display was run by a Pentium II server running Microsoft Windows 95/8 using a Serial ATA drive. There were two servers constantly running the same programs at the same time for fail-safe support. If one went down, they could instantly switch to the other server which presumably will still be running. The video control software, written by Derek Brown for Hitech Electronic Displays of Clearwater, Florida, communicates with onboard PLCs using two interfaces. The serial interface is used to receive the 4 character command codes separated by spaces to signify the end of each command. The NIDAQ (National Instrument Data Acquisition) card was used to provide status back to the PLCs. There are 8 optically isolated status channels. One channel was used to provide a heartbeat signal to tell the PLC that the software is on and functioning. The file formats were uncompressed AVIs passed through a masking filter to put the pixels in the spots for the countries.
During the first two minutes of the show, the Earth Globe's LED screens were off. It was brown in color, but invisible in the thick black of the night. The screens turned on in part two of the show, showing imagery of the natural world and iconic man-made structures. Slightly fewer than 300 pictures appeared on the Globe's spherical video screen during the show. Century III, an Orlando area film company, edited the video portion of the show. The pictures came from the stock libraries of Image Bank, National Geographic, and Archive Films, some custom-shot live footage, and a single 3-D graphic animation shot. At the end of the show, the Globe blossomed like a flower, revealing a flame torch that rose 40 feet above the lagoon. When the show ended, the fires on 19 of the torches keep burning, but the Globe's torch is put out.
In summer 2008, the show ran a shortened, modified version in order for the Earth Globe to be refurbished. The refurbishment was to install a new LED video system, improving the clarity of the video. The content of the video was not changed.
The Inferno Barge was a 150,000 pound barge with an isopar system on board that sent balls of fire soaring 40 to 60 feet into the air and on to the surface of the lagoon from 37 nozzles. 400 gallons of isopar were used every night for the show.
The Inferno Barge also housed an air-launch fireworks system. On September 19, 2005, it was pulled from the show due to the explosion of a firework still inside its mortar tube earlier in the day. It took heavy damage; fortunately, no one was injured. It returned to service on February 1, 2006 without the air launch system on the barge, although the cause of the accident was the firework shell itself and not the air launch system. The shells previously fired from the barge were moved and fired from the center slip. In February 2009, the barge was pulled from the show and underwent a scheduled rehab. It returned on March 10, 2009. If any isopar is left in the tanks after the show, it is burned off later that night.
Walt Disney Entertainment invented a new way of launching fireworks for the show, which used a pneumatic launch system, instead of black powder that pollutes more and causes the trail of an igniting firework shell to be seen. The technology was developed for Disneyland under requirement by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The compressed air technology allowed for explosions to be timed with the music and for the height of the shell's explosion to be controlled. Not all the shells used the ALF (Air Launch Fireworks) technology. A timing chip was inserted into the shell and can be programmed to ignite and explode with precision. Eric Tucker, an award-winning pyrotechnics designer, was brought on board to design new fireworks effects. Designers of the show meet with fireworks manufacturers in China to create these new effects for the show. 750 individual mortar tubes were used during each show, inside one of the 56 firing modules at 34 locations around the lagoon, producing 2,120 visible effects. During the holiday season, two more barges were added and an additional 455 pieces are fired, producing 818 more visible effects.
Full color laser systems were used, emanating from the American Adventure, Canada, and Mexico pavilions. The projectors could launch laser light into the air as beams, as well as scan patterns and images. There were also bounce mirrors scattered around the park on various islands and rooftops, to further encapsulate the park in laser light. In late November 2014, the show's laser programming underwent a major overhaul which saw the introduction of new state-of-the-art lasers, featuring new patterns, colors, and the addition of laser projectors installed on the islands in the World Showcase lagoon. The FAA required the user of any outdoor laser system to obtain advance permission and to contact local airports prior to use. Consequently, Orlando International Airport was notified by "Mexico Control" every night fifteen minutes before the show began so that air traffic could be advised accordingly. Some pilots passing over the resort have used this call to announce to their passengers that they may get a glimpse of the show out of their window; however, it was rare.
On December 8, 2014, it was announced that the lasers had been switched from ion lasers to solid-state lasers. This saved approximately 64 kilowatts of electric power per show. It also meant that the laser would no longer need a water cooling system, which also reduced water consumption by thousands of gallons.
A ring of eight programmable moving searchlights called Syncrolites were used. The fixtures had dousers to control brightness, and were equipped with a color scroller with 14 different colors, including the four colors selected specifically for the show: lavender, mint, pumpkin, and lagoon blue. As of December 2011, a transition to new firework product began. The new product was more environmentally friendly, however they could not create the original four colors of the show. Instead, standard colors (orange, green, magenta, and yellow) replaced lavender, mint, pumpkin, and lagoon blue. The color scrollers were fitted with new colors to match the product change. These lights could be programmed to highlight pavilions, illuminate the smoke from fireworks above the lagoon, or just make interesting patterns in the sky as they crossed each other and move.
There were four fountain barges that had 40 water nozzles per barge. There was also an effect that created a "skirt" of water around the bottom. A lighting system on-board allowed the water to be displayed in different colors. Each barge pumped approximately 4,000 gallons of water per minute. These barges carry pyrotechnics as well.
19 torches surround the World Showcase Lagoon, each representing a century completed of the last two millennia. The 20th one, representing the 20th century and called the Unity Torch, was revealed when the Globe blossoms into a lotus flower, and it rose from its center. It represented the world coming together to celebrate the gift of life and the land that we have been granted as a whole. The torches also symbolize the significance of fire to humanity as an element that unites cultures over time, as well as its significance to the Earth, as is alluded to in the show's prologue.
The control booth was located above the Mexico Pavilion. It housed emergency stop controls, and communications to each barge using wireless ethernet, and headset communication to the Globe barge driver. All barges were wired with multi-core cables, and most functions within them had a redundant wireless backup. Show audio and announcements also originated from the booth.
The show used more than 65 computers in 40 separate locations, hundreds of lighting fixtures, four fountain barges which can pump over 4000 gallons per minute, a 68 metric ton inferno barge with 37 propane nozzles, and lasers.
During the holiday season, after the regular finale there was a special Holiday finale tag originally from Holiday IllumiNations following the regular production. Immediately after the regular finale a female announcer announces, "And now, at this special time, as we embrace a promise of a new year, we would like to offer one final message." The song "Let There Be Peace On Earth" is played as the Earth Globe returns to its original closed look. Once closed, its display showed the message "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men" in multiple languages. When a language corresponding to a specific pavilion was spoken, that pavilion lit up. Once the final pavilion, The American Adventure, did so, a female announcer says,
- “During this glorious time of year there is one message that rings out around the world in every language. Peace on Earth, Good will to men is a wish to hold in our hearts throughout each passing year. A gift of immeasurable value. A treasure being handed down with care, from generation to generation. And so our holiday wish is that everyone, everywhere share in the spirit of the season. Peace on Earth, good will to men.”
- ―Holiday tag introduction
The song continued with an uninterrupted firework display, ending with a loud explosion of fireworks. This tag launched just as many pyrotechnic devices as IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth does.
Fourth of July
The show is shown around 10pm and after it, "Yankee Doodle" played and fireworks shot up from the roof and back of the American Adventure Pavilion, beginning The Heartbeat of Freedom tag. More fireworks in the lagoon were synchronized as if fireworks were marching along with the drumbeat. Then "Stars and Stripes Forever" played. The Earth Globe displayed images of American independence during a flute solo. Then a barrage of fireworks during the finale, which created a smokescreen and as the music ended, the smoke had been cleared out. The style was altered in 2006 as selected songs were played for the 230th year of US independence. At the end, "Battle Hymn of the Republic" played, the American Adventure Pavilion lit up as fireworks shot up from the behind it. Just before the end of the tag, hundreds of fireworks shot up in the lagoon as the show ended. Just as the crowds' exit, "God Bless the USA" played, the American Adventure Pavilion is outlined, and the Earth Globe displays the US flag. The laser projection in the American Adventure Pavilion (projecting to Spaceship Earth) displays "Happy Birthday America: Celebrating (number) Years of Freedom". More than 2000 shells were launched from 32 barges for the latest version of this tag. 
New Year's Eve Countdown Edition
Every December 31, a special New Year's Eve countdown show occurred normally beginning at 11:40pm. It began with the original show production and was then immediately followed by a special countdown show. Highlights of New Years celebrated in individual countries began the show; the Asian pavilions (Japan and China) go first, followed by those in Europe (Italy, Norway, France, and Germany), after that, the countries of those in the GMT time zone (Morocco and the United Kingdom). During the show, fireworks shot from the back of each pavilion accompanied by custom celebration music from each country. The countdown began at 10 seconds prior to midnight with the North American nations: United States, Canada, Mexico. It started with a dong (which originates from the American Adventure Pavilion) and lead to the massive celebratory firework display at midnight including a 360-degree launch of fireworks around the World Showcase lagoon. "Auld Lang Syne" played as spectators cheered and watched the massive firework display. This tag used double the number of fireworks that were launched in IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. A male announcer concluded the show wishing the guests a Happy New Year and reminded them of extended park hours for the New Year's Eve celebration.
Epcot's 25th Anniversary Special Edition
On October 1, 2007, a four-minute-long, one-day-only tag commemorating Epcot's 25th Silver Anniversary followed IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. IT used the "World War III Barges" and was said have to tripled the amount of fireworks launched. At the end of the regular show a male voice-over was heard saying, "And now in honor of Epcot's 25th Anniversary we celebrate our history and look to the future. We've just begun to dream." Once the music began, select segments of classic Epcot music were played including We've Just Begun to Dream, Tapestry of Nations, and Tapestry of Dreams. After the show, the retro music loop played throughout the park that day began to play, beginning with New Horizons. Due to the extra amount of fireworks used for this tag, it took much longer than normal to move the firework barges off the lagoon which resulted in a Burn-Off after midnight.
Epcot's 30th Anniversary Special Edition
On October 1, 2012, a four-minute long, one-day only tag commemorating Epcot's 30th Anniversary followed immediately after the standard show. It was followed by playback of music from Epcot's early days accompanied by laser generated wording on Spaceship Earth noting the celebratory occasion. Ten extra barges were used during it.
Epcot's 35th Anniversary Special Edition
Similar to the 25th and 30th anniversaries, Illuminations had a one-day-only tag commemorating Epcot's 35th anniversary after the standard show on October 1, 2017. It included music from closed attractions, as well as fireworks from the extra barges.
Gavin Greenaway is the composer for IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. His colleague Hans Zimmer, composer of The Lion King, asked him to take on the project because he was busy with other projects. Zimmer collaborated with Greenaway in the beginning of the process. The score from "Reflections of Earth" was recorded with a 71-piece philharmonic orchestra and a 30-voice chorus and was used for ABC 2000 Today, ABC Television's 25-hour-long program that followed the beginning of 2000 around the globe on December 31, 1999/January 1, 2000. The broadcast also included video of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. In 2000, the score was also used during Hong Kong's Chinese New Year celebrations. ABC also used a modified version for their program ABC 2002 on December 31, 2001/January 1, 2002. Finally, ABC News used a version of the theme for their televised election coverage throughout 2000 and 2004. Most of the score (excluding the Chaos section and the start of We Go On) was used in a laser light show at the 2005 National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill. The Chaos section was used in the October 4, 2008 fireworks celebration of the 250th anniversary of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. ABC also used the music during coverage of the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. Parts of the score are also used in the video "Welcome: Portraits of America", displayed in the Customs and Border Protection checkpoints in most US airports. Domino Day 2009 used the ending part of We Go On when the final builders challenge, Fire, was successful.
The Drum & Bugle Corps The Cadets used this material for the 2000 show entitled: We Are The Future.
"Reflections of Earth" (Working title: "Earth 2000")
- Executive music producer: Steve Skorija
- Music score composed, produced, and conducted by Gavin Greenaway
- Show and music director: Don Dorsey
- Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson
- Music supervisor: Dan Savant
- Music preparation: Express Music Services
- Music editor: Michael Atwell
- Music contractor: Isobel Griffiths Ltd
- Music contractor / composer: Nick Paul
- Music recorded: at Abbey Road Studios by members of the London Session Orchestra, possibly including some players from the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
- Music mixed at Media Ventures
- Music coordination by Savant Productions
- Video project manager for Century III and editor for the Earth Globe visuals: Oliver Peters
"We Go On"
- Lyrics: Don Dorsey
- Vocal solo: Kellie Coffey
- All other credits refer to Reflections of Earth above.
- Executive music producer: Steve Skorija
- Music score composed, produced, and conducted by Gavin Greenaway
- Lyrics: Don Dorsey
- Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson
- Music Supervisor: Dan Savant
- Vocal solo: Kellie Coffey
The complete show soundtrack can be found on these releases:
- Walt Disney World Millennium Celebration (1999)
- There was also a shortened version of the show soundtrack on a promotional CD included with Energizer batteries purchased in 2000.
- Re-released in 2001 as Illuminations: Reflections of Earth / Tapestry of Dreams, containing one less track than the 1999 release.
- “Good evening. On behalf of Walt Disney World, the place where dreams come true, we welcome all of you to Epcot and World Showcase. We've gathered here tonight around the fire as people of all lands have gathered for thousands and thousands of years before us... to share the light... and to share a story. An amazing story as old as time itself, but still being written. And though each of us has our own individual stories to tell, a true adventure emerges when we bring them all together as one. We hope you enjoy our story tonight: Reflections of Earth.”
- ―Opening narration
The original narration substituted the first two sentences with "Good evening and welcome" but was changed for the Year of a Million Dreams.
Mary Thompson Hunt was the female voice who did the pre-show announcements stating that the show will be starting shortly. In recent years, the voice has been changed to that of Bill Rogers, the voice behind most of the announcements at the Walt Disney World Resort.
- Unlike other nighttime fireworks shows, IllumiNations was rarely ever cancelled, and went off regardless of weather. However, due to the effects of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, the show was cancelled for the first time in its history.
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