Published March 17, 2014
Meet Mirena Rada. She’s slightly obsessed with sequins, polyester silk and handmade feathers. Which is completely understandable, given her current line of work. For the past year, she’s been part of the creative team conjuring up costumes for Disney’s Festival of Fantasy parade, the first new parade to open at the Magic Kingdom since 2008.
As a costume designer, she was responsible for whipping up 39 designs -- from sculpted conch shell headpieces to Steampunk-inspired getups. And that is no small feat. Ten different costume houses from eight cities and two countries were involved in what was nearly a yearlong process.
Disney officials say their latest daytime parade, The Festival of Fantasy, pays homage to New Fantasyland characters and is set to a new musical score with more than 100 performers dressed in some of the most extravagant and elaborate costume designs in Disney Park history. The parade debuted at Walt Disney World in Orlando on March 9.
The nine floats, some up to three-stories tall, feature everything from a fire-breathing, 53-feet-long and 26-feet-tall Maleficent dragon from “Sleeping Beauty” to a pirate ship with smoking cannons. There’s a troupe of Scottish dancers and daring performers on swings, stilts and pendulums.
One of Rada’s favorite creations is the raven costume based on the ones in “Sleeping Beauty.” The raven characters have articulating wings that stretch 12 feet across and are dressed in custom-printed fabric that matches the shimmering blue body armor, making them look menacingly beautiful. The hauntingly elegant beaks, which are encrusted with Swarvoski crystals, are a lacquered bronze that glimmers in the Florida sun.
“They are undoubtedly the stars of the show due to their sheer scale and wing articulation, and considering the collaboration of artistic and engineering skill sets needed to bring these to life,” Rada says.
Another feat is the process of preparing for each parade. The performers spend an hour going through hair and makeup and squeezing their way into the intricate outfits.
The final unit includes over-the-top characters like Cha Cha Girl, who sports a red-and-white striped flare dress (made to look like a circus tent), a bolero jacket embellished with sequins, star-spangled tights and blue hair that looks a lot like pulled taffy and is made of 148 yards of horsehair.
"Everything here in the Magic Kingdom is done on a grand scale," says Randy Wojcik, senior show director at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. "One of our many goals was to create and deliver a spectacular parade that would be a visual storytelling feast for our guests' eyes. This parade is epic in every way."
What’s really fascinating is how some of the pieces are made. Just a few years ago, creating an elaborate headpiece would take weeks. But now, thanks to 3D printing, it can be done in a matter of days.
To create the elegant beaks of the raven, for example, Rada used a 3D origami program.
“This allows much greater creative freedom for the artist,” she says. And it “allows us to grow multiple masks in one run over the course of several days.”
For Rada, there’s no such thing as a typical day. Some are devoted entirely to fabric research, or textile print development, or doing fittings with the workroom and milliners. On others she’s running from cosmetology meetings (to discuss wigs and makeup) to creative brainstorming sessions to determine how the floats and costumes work together.
She oversees everything, including boot covers, layering and embroidery techniques, structural engineering, ergonomic testing, airbrushing, rhinestoning, custom shoes and accessories. To top it off, she created 27 custom-designed fabrics produced at Disneyland using a process that permanently infuses the dye into the fibers of the fabric. This includes the spandex swirls on the “Bubble girl” outfit, the expansive fins of the Lion Fish costume and the furry plaids and tweed stripes worn by the Newsies-inspired Lost Boys.
But before this whole process could begin, Rada spent countless hours watching Disney films and pouring over style guides developed by the original animators. What made it so time-consuming was that characters from more than a dozen Disney and Pixar films are represented with nearly 100 performers and nine floats.
“We tried to pull out as much film-specific detail to enhance the authenticity of the designs,” she says. “For example, the custom plaids for the Highland Dancers in our “Brave” unit were based on special plaids from the film, as well as their 3D-printed medallions and buckles.”
Detail is the name of the game for Disney. Consider this: It takes 28 separate fabrics to make up one “Swing Thugs” costume on the “Tangled” float. Each vest requires vinyl to be cut into 75 diamond shapes and then stitched onto breathable, and moisture wicking fabric. Each of the coral pieces for the “Coral Twins” was baked and finished in an oven for 16 hours. Even the socks worn by the Lost Boys are custom designs that were knitted to order in Hong Kong.
"Every element of this game-changing parade is very important and must compliment each other," says Wojcik. "I'm proud of the fact that each and every costume is truly a work of art out there. Grand, elegant, playful, fashion-forward and a ton of visual eye candy on the parade route."