The Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris will open its new Avengers Campus on July 20, the first phase of a big redo of the park.
Why it matters
Marvel superheroes are a huge part of Disney today. Beth Clapperton of Disney Imagineering tells CNET what park guests can look forward to, including immersive, interactive experiences and Easter eggs
Superhero fans, Disney lovers, Parisians, assemble! Disney revealed Tuesday that its new Avengers Campus will open July 20 at Walt Disney Studios Park, which is part of Disneyland Paris.
The Avengers Campus is the first phase of a massive overhaul of the park, which will see the arrival of Arendelle: World of Frozen in 2023, and a Star Wars-themed land, like, due to open in the future.
With an Avengers Campus already up and running at Disney’s California Adventure Park, the Paris opening isn’t a first for Disney and will contain some duplicate attractions. But there will also be a number of unique elements to the Paris campus, and dedicated Avengers fans can also stay at Disney’s Marvel-themed hotel, which opened at the resort last summer.
Ahead of the new area opening to the public, CNET spoke with the Avengers Campus Creative Director Beth Clapperton of Disney Imagineering to find out what guests can expect. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CNET: When you approach a massive project like building a new Disney campus, where do you even start?
Beth Clapperton: Some of the guiding principles are quite pragmatic, because it’s a physical project going into a physical place, so there are physical constraints. If we want to imagine that we fly, then we need to figure out how we would make people fly. But phase one is really… how do we represent the core philosophies of the characters that we’re deciding to feature [and] embed into whatever those practical aspects are.
The campus of course, is the Avengers Campus, and so what are the core philosophies of the Avengers? It’s optimism, it’s teamwork, it’s heroism, it’s diversity, it’s really working together. Whatever visual cues or immersive, interactive experiences, whatever there is, we have to make sure that those philosophies are embedded there.
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe being so huge now, how did you home in on the exact storylines you wanted to pull out to use in the Avengers Campus?
We start with which characters we want to include, and then we start figuring out what makes sense from a story point of view and a practical point of view. We know we want to tell a story about Spider-Man because we know Spider-Man is a big favorite, so what are the things people want to do? Well guess what, they want to sling webs just like Spider-Man. So how can we take these major principles and major characteristics of our superheroes and figure out how to make that work?
What are other examples of the stories visitors will experience?
When you come as a guest, I want you to believe that this campus is real and the superheroes are real. And we’re recruiting you because we know the world needs new heroes and more heroes, and so we’re looking for the next generation of superheroes. That’s why Tony Stark and the Avengers set up these places. That’s why the campuses exist. So that’s the overarching backstory for what is this.
One of the things that we did is we decided that we would use characters in another way. One of the characters you will meet here in Paris, and she’s somebody who works closely with Tony Stark, her name is F.R.I.D.A.Y. and she is his assistant. We don’t actually ever see her, but she accompanies him on all of his missions and she is all knowing.
We have introduced her as a principal character in our campus. She’s the advanced artificial intelligence that controls and connects us to all of the other campuses around the world, and also monitors the comings and goings of all of the heroes and one of the villains. She’s got a big role in our particular campus, and so it was really quite fun to tease out. We’ve never seen her so how do we increase her role in a way that makes sense in the story? Fleshing out that character to become part of our new story, that was really quite a lot of fun.
I imagine you have to work closely with the writers at Marvel to do that?
We have our talented writers at Imagineering, but we also obviously work very closely with our Marvel partners. Everything that we develop is developed concurrently. That’s just the way it is when we’ve got such an amazing intellectual property to deal with. We have to always verify that it’s coherent with the personalities of the different characters that are already out there.
How do you go about deciding how to transform that space through architecture and what the layout should be, as well as what you’re going to physically fit into it?
When we start a design project, like any urbanists, we look at what are the other things we need to balance. If we’ve got everything over here, do we need to just spread it out? How do we want to make it a comfortable experience for the visitors into the park, to make it natural for them to go into different zones?
For this park, part of it is renovation, it’s not a completely blank sheet, so we have to take that into consideration. How much of this existing development are we going to keep? How much of it are we going to actually replace? It’s really a blend between our creative vision and then the realities of what building physical projects means.
How much does the finished campus look like the initial ideas?
The first sketches, they’re wonderful. A lot of what ends up in those initial visual renderings does end up in the park, although often we have to make some changes. We’re going to be actually promoting some of the artwork from the campus in the Hotel New York. They’re critical to our development, which is why we have such a talented group of artists that we work with, because what ends up in those initial concepts is often very close to what we actually build.
You’ve been involved in taking existing rides and giving them a new makeover and a new lease of life. How do you go beyond simply giving them a cosmetic facelift and really change the feel of them?
One of the buildings or facilities that as part of the campus addresses is of course the Avengers headquarters. As a guest, or a new recruit, as we like to call them, you’re going to come into this address, and as you step into this facility, you will hear F.R.I.D.A.Y. — that character I was talking about earlier — telling us that there’s a bit of a situation and we need to go into the situation room and understand what’s going on and of course we will have to help out. Tony Stark and Captain Marvel need all hands on deck and we get recruited into helping on this mission, and this mission is a high-speed galactic battle with Iron Man and Captain Marvel in order to help save the planet.
So that’s the story and that’s what I hope you get when you come as a new recruit to the Campus. The reality of that is that we — for the pragmatic reasons we talked about — decided to keep the existing coaster (the former Rock n’ Roller Coaster) that was part of the old backlot. So once you decide that you’re going to keep that then you have to be very flexible and work backwards. So what’s going to make story sense? The Galactic battle. Okay, how do we get to the Galactic battle? We know what characters are so we sort of work our way back. Once we’ve got the storyline right, then everything else is cosmetic.
The Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure opened earlier than the one in Paris. Did you work closely with the team there to make the two experiences cohesive?
Absolutely! It was a bit tricky the last couple of years because of the COVID implications, but typically, our teams would be out there because they’ve already done a lot of work around the immersive experience that we can benefit from.
We have shared some of the aspects that are present in the California campus — for example, the Spider-Man Web Adventure premiered in the California Campus and it is going to be in our campus as well. But we do have exclusives and premieres here in Paris. We have the Avengers Assemble: Flight Force, which I just talked about. We have a new training center, which is where our new recruits can go and actually have a training session with their favorite heroes. We have a couple of interesting places to recharge and refuel in terms of eating.
Of course, a lot of our heroes that we’re going to see on our campus are also present on the California campus. The campus without the superheroes is just bricks and mortar. We know that our recruits are really here to see the Avengers, not necessarily just the architecture.
[But] we never just take exactly the same thing — for example, the Spider-Man web adventure in California. It’s a very similar experience, but of course we’ve adapted it for our multilingual audience. We’ve got slightly different pragmatic things in terms of architecture and building codes. So there’s always a translation. It’s not a copy and paste.
The thing that always impresses me the most about Disney Parks is the level of detail. Should Marvel superfans be on the lookout for any Easter eggs?
That’s a big part of what we do — it’s the Disney difference. There’s a lot of technical stuff that we hide, that we don’t want you as a visitor to even see. But we do want you to be able to come back and see that there’s something that you didn’t see the first time.
For Marvel fans, Easter eggs are part of that culture. So yes, we have definitely built in Easter eggs for those diehard, deep-dive fans. They will have that pleasure and we’re not going to reveal them. If you know, you know, and if you don’t, you don’t. We had a lot of fun building that into this campus. We always do.
What detail or element of the experience are you most excited for people to discover?
One of the things that we’ve worked very hard on and we had a lot of collaboration with the executive producer was the Quinjet. We talked about how we design certain things so that guests are naturally drawn into the land and it’s like our castle really. It sits there on the supercool platform and it’s got detail inside it that you have to really look hard to see. It’s got details on the back of it that you can see from a certain point.
I think that’s a very good example of something that becomes an icon, not just because we’ve carefully thought about it, but because we’ve carefully placed it, and it’s very representative of what this campus is. When we brought the Quinjet in, our building site suddenly became a campus. It looks like the Avengers have arrived. It was a moment.