From the Disney Parks Blog and written by: Julia Ohlrich
If you’ve been following along, you know Princess Tiana is a big deal around here!
This year at Disney Experiences, Tiana is hosting a one-of-a-kind Mardi Gras celebration with the opening of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts. And even sooner, she’ll be front and center at the EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival once again with another show-stopping topiary.
With the Festival quickly approaching, we thought it’d be a perfect time for a behind-the-scenes look at the gorgeous Tiana topiary – beginning with the history-making Disney cast members behind it all!
As you can see, the Princess Tiana topiary at EPCOT is a one-of-a-kind creation that stays true to the New Orleans spirit and scenery – even using magnolias and florals native to the area. Two of the secrets to its success are Disney Imagineer Brittany Smith and Walt Disney World cast member Antoinette Valentin.
Brittany, who is a Senior Production Designer with Walt Disney Imagineering, started off fresh to the topiary art world and quickly became known for taking characters from almost there to the one-of-a-kind masterpieces we see throughout our parks. Little did she know that with the help of her Disney Horticulture friends, she’d one day use her expertise to bring Tiana to life in an entirely new way.
When original planning began for Princess Tiana’s topiary, Brittany studied every detail of the movie to turn a 2D animation into a 3D figure. She knew her design choices like Tiana’s fearless expression and facial features had to be perfect.
“I’ve always dreamed of working on a Princess Tiana topiary because, as a Black woman, she means so much to me and our community,” said Brittany. “I want children to see her confidence and courage, and realize that they can be a princess, too!”
Princess Tiana’s courageous spirit inspired Brittany and her team to explore something they’d never done before: creating a fully floral scene to surround Tiana with a piece of the bayou, complete with illuminated fireflies.
And to make the overall vision a reality, Disney Planned Work Specialist, Antoinette, is using her expertise to create living art in topiary form. Much like Brittany, Antoinette said she feels a special connection to Princess Tiana not only as a fellow Black woman, but also because she loves her determined, go get ’em attitude.
Antoinette’s profession blossomed thanks to hard work and fellow cast members who taught her everything she knows through on-the-job training. Before her promotion to Planned Work Specialist, Antoinette was a Gardener backstage at Disney Horticulture’s Nursery. From learning about state-of-the-art irrigation systems to perfecting how to trim plants into fanciful shapes, Antoinette’s journey to become a horticulturist grew as her support system expanded, and her leaders quickly knew she was essential to authentically representing Tiana at EPCOT.
So, what’s the secret recipe for a head-turning Princess Tiana topiary? Antoinette and Brittany agree that it’s three things – a mixture of blue skies, sunshine and a team of passionate Imagineers and cast members that planted the seeds of success.
Now, just in time for the Mardi Gras festivities, the two friends that originally bonded over their love of plants, art and a favorite character are overjoyed to share Tiana and her blooms of the bayou with the world again.
“Brittany and I feel so accomplished because we worked hard and made history,” said Antoinette. “We are the first Black women to bring the first Black princess to EPCOT!”
Keep checking our dedicated “Everything Tiana” page for updates throughout the year.
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