The sun is shining, the gardens are thriving, and thanks to cast members like Brittany and Antoinette, the iconic topiaries you can only find at EPCOT are blooming. Each year at the EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival, favorite Disney characters spring to life as living statues, including one of our newest additions to this year’s festival, Princess Tiana from the Walt Disney Animation Studios classic “The Princess and the Frog.” And behind the scenes, using innovative techniques and methods, talented cast members are the root of each topiary creation.
From following her artistic passions to pursing her dream career of working for Walt Disney Imagineering, Production Designer Senior – Specialty Design, Brittany Smith, has taken inspiration from favorite character Princess Tiana and her dig a little deeper philosophy for years. As a recent graduate, Brittany 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 planning began on the creation of Princess Tiana’s topiary back in 2022, 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, facial features, and the use of a deeper green color to reflect Tiana’s skin tone had to be perfect to ensure the topiary authentically embodied the native New Orleans character.
“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,” shared Brittany. “I want children to see her confidence and courage, and realize that they can be a princess, too!”
In fact, that same 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 this vision a reality, Planned Work Specialist Antoinette Valentin, was ready to use her expertise to create living art in topiary form. One of the factors considered was staying true to the New Orleans spirit and scenery by using magnolias and florals native to the area. 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 recent 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 horticulturalist flourished as her support system grew, and her leaders quickly knew she was essential to authentically representing Tiana at EPCOT.
So, what’s the recipe for a show-stopping Princess Tiana topiary? Antoinette and Brittany agree that it’s a mixture of blue skies, sunshine and a team of passionate cast members that planted the seeds of success.
Eight months later, the two friends that originally bonded over their love of plants, art and a favorite character are overjoyed to share Tiana with the world. “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!”