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Here are some insights, stories, tips and other bits and pieces from a former Disney Imagineer.  I hope you enjoy the reading!

Insights, Thoughts and Ramblings From a Former Imagineer...

*Your comments are welcome!

By Brian~WDWithMe, Aug 5 2017 09:54PM

There are a special group of Imagineers who are incredible artists in their own right and specialize in aging and texturing things. These are the craftspeople who specialize in aging environments. Walk through any Disney theme park or resort and you can see the results of their work-most times, so convincing, you don't even realize it. Need a Haunted Mansion to look like it's over a hundred years old with dust and cobwebs? Done. How about an old Italian market with aged posters and faded paint on the sides of some building? Or even better-age old wooden poles to tie some gondolas up to? Nessun problema. And if you need a centuries-old intergalactic outpost that shows the wear and tear of many Stormtroopers, WDI knows how to create that too.

Some of the best aging can be found at Disney's Animal Kingdom--especially in Pandora. Step into this environment and all around you find rusty doors, chipped concrete, water-stained wood, exposed wires and rebar. No--the legendary Disney custodial crews haven't gone AWOL--it's meant to look like that. Most times, it's so convincing, and blends in with the "story" of Pandora, that your brain doesn't even register it as a fake environment--it looks perfectly normal and you accept it. But think about it. Pandora opened in 2017. As of this posting, it's less than a year old. Would there really be the rusty doors, chipped concrete, water-stained wood, exposed wires and rebar in such a new part of the park? Of course not. Or maybe you justify it by thinking it was already there and the Imagineers just worked around the decay and rust to incorporate it into the themeing? Wrong! It's all the intentional work of some highly skilled and talented artisans. What makes it even more realistic is the attention to detail--rusty water stains underneath drainage pipes. Discoloration on the ground where some sort of barrel or machinery once stood. Overgrown "moss" that blends in with the surrounding plants, and visible internal rebar where chunks of concrete have fallen away from a wall. Amazing stuff.

So--next time you're in the parks or even at a resort and you find yourself surrounded by an age-old environment, stop for a moment and think--is this real and natural...or are the Imagineers pulling one over on me? If it's the latter, appreciate how realistic it looks...then get your head back into the story where it's supposed to be!

By Brian~WDWithMe, Mar 19 2017 05:32PM

Many people are aware of Walt’s fondness…no love…no, make that obsession…with trains. This fascination can probably be traced all the way back to when a young 14-year-old Walt Disney worked as a “news butcher” on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. (A news butcher, or news butch, was someone who sold newspapers, snacks, and other small dollar items on a train…a job from a bygone era that doesn’t really exist anymore…)

There are many articles and websites dedicated to Walt’s love of trains, and much information available about the Carolwood-Pacific-the miniature railroad he built in the backyard of his home located within the exclusive and celebrity-laden development known as Holmby Hills-an affluent neighborhood in the district of Westwood in western Los Angeles and bordered by the more famous city of Beverly Hills.

What many people may not realize, however, is that if you visit Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL, there is a hidden gem for anyone who shares Walt’s love of trains—or at least is enamored with Walt’s own fascination. It’s a mini-museum, if you will, dedicated to the Carolwood-Pacific, and it’s located in the Carolwood-Pacific Room found just outside the lobby of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. If you ask at the front desk, they can easily direct you to the precise location.

Inside the Carolwood-Pacific Room, you will find photos, letters, and other unique artifacts and memorabilia that tell the story of how Walt, along with his friend and fellow Disney Legend, Roger Broggie, built the miniature train that wound its way through Walt’s backyard, much to the joy of his two young daughters and, for certain may of their friends and other neighborhood kids. (Walt actually got the idea for his backyard railroad after learning that two of his animators, Ward Kimball and Ollie Johnston were not only fellow train enthusiasts, but each had trains of their own that were big enough to ride in their backyards!)

Perhaps some of the coolest things you can see inside the Carolwood-Pacific Room are two of the actual cars and sections of train track that were donated to this unique and amazing collection, as well as the original smaller mock-ups that were built in the Studio’s machine shop.

Trust me-this display at the Wilderness Lodge is worth seeking out on your next visit—even if you don’t think trains are “your thing”, the Carolwood-Pacific Room offers a charming insight into what was such an important part of Walt’s life. And…if trains ARE your thing…then be prepared to be blown away!

For those who want to learn more about the Carolwood-Pacific Railroad, here are a few links:




By Brian~WDWithMe, Apr 8 2016 01:12PM

We have all heard the saying that “there’s no such thing as an original idea.” I don’t believe this. Many people lump innovation and creativity together. There is an age-old argument about this, with both sides having some valid points. My view on this is that they are definitely separate and distinct. As I see it, you can not be innovative without being creative—but you can certainly be creative without being innovative. Just because the technology, processes or other means may exist that are being used to generate the new idea does not take away from the innovation of using Creative Cross Pollination to generate something completely new. Here’s an example.

When Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso portrayed the human body in a new way…with hard lines and angles…Cubism was borne. This was innovation. Since then, many artists have replicated the style, and that has been done is some very creative ways. So what’s the litmus test for innovation vs creativity? In my eyes, innovators are the first ones to the table. They are the ones who do something that truly has never been done before. Once Braque & Picasso created, or innovated, the first cubist portraits, nobody else could claim that achievement—but they certainly could put some unusual creative spins on the concept.

So yes, while creativity certainly is important in the entrepreneurial process, innovation is essential. True innovation leads to paradigm shifts. It takes us to places we have never been before and, as Joel Barker, the well-known futurist has noted, a true paradigm shift has the power to set everyone back to zero. True innovation, when it happens, unleashes powerful creative follow-ups that can have profound impacts on business and life as we know it. Sometimes for years, or even decades, to come. This is the reason why true innovation and true innovators do not come along that often.

As you can see, innovation then, is more than just a good idea. To innovate, whether you are in business, public service, government, a parent, or, in the case of Disney’s Imagineers, theme park design, connecting the dots—or creative cross-pollination—is a critical part of the process. You need to be able to able to blend creative thinking and logical ability. There has to be a reason...a method to the madness! But, most importantly, true innovation requires us to rummage through our mental filing cabinets and associate things together that have never been associated before.

This post is an excerpt from my book in progress:

"Creative Cross Pollination: A Former Imagineer's Take on the Innovation Process"

I welcome your comments and thoughts!

By Brian~WDWithMe, Dec 7 2015 10:21PM

I was recently asked by a graduate student in the UK if I would answer some questions about my experience as an Imagineer--I thought it was a pretty good mix; a little different from some of the questions I've answered on various podcasts and such. With that in mind, I thought I'd share my answers with you.

-What inspired you to want to become a Disney Imagineer?

As a kid growing up in Florida, I've been going to Disney since the Magic Kingdom first opened in 1972. On that first visit, I remember looking around and thinking "wouldn't it be amazing to be one of the people who helps create this stuff!"; I certainly had no concept of the Imagineers or who they were--that came later in life. Fortunately,that dream became a reality for me nearly 20 years later.

-What are the fundamental and important values of Disney Imagineering?

It's important to not only master your craft, but to exceed in it--do things differently than others can do or have done in your field. I also think the ability to solve puzzles and connect the dots, whether you are a writer, artist, engineer or show set designer is critical.

-What is the Imagineering ‘process’ for creating a new attraction?

I don't think there is any one "process." Everyone--especially creative people--go about solving challenges in different ways, and WDI is very cognizant and respectful of that. Certainly there will be guidelines and steps to be taken, but from what I believe, the "magic" happens inside of everyone individually. Creating a new attraction is a very complex and long process with many talented individuals working on the project either concurrently or at different stages.

-What did you enjoy most about being an Imagineer?

Working with an incredibly diverse and extremely talented group of people every day. It's a FUN job--one we all took very seriously, no doubt, but I can't deny it was just a fun job! You never really knew what one day might bring to the next.

-What influence has Disney Imagineering and its attractions had on the way consumers now view and enjoy themed entertainment?

Disney and his first Imagineers were the first to recognize the importance of building a story around an attraction. Immersing guests into a complete story was a huge paradigm shift. Another big influence that WDI had on the industry was the integration of diverse types of technology into the attractions, going all the way back to the Disneyland and the World's Fair exhibits.

-What impact has Disney Imagineering had on the way that other theme parks develop and produce attractions?

I think Disney's attention to detail and again, creating immersive stories and environments, completely transformed the industry. When you look at the most successful attractions in the world today--both inside of Disney and out, you can easily feel WDI's influence. As a matter of fact, there are many talented former Imagineers now working for other parks and companies, helping to create their very successful venues and products. To me, this is a good thing, as you continue to see the quality of the theme park experience increasing as the competition heats up. Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure, in particular, have done some tremendous work.

-In your opinion, which recent and historical Disney attractions best demonstrate the Disney Imagineering process?

Historically, I think Disney's classic "E-Ticket" attractions--Haunted Mansion, Pirates & Jungle Cruise are examples of Disney Imagineering at its best. When you look at the story lines, architectural detail, special effects, lighting, set design...all these diverse components and how they come together to create wonderful guest's apparent why they have stood the test of time. For more contemporary attractions, I would point to the ones which have pushed the envelope in engineering and ride design such as Soarin' or the re-imagined Test Track.

-Where do you believe Disney Imagineering will be taking us in the future? Is new technology always a factor?

The future of the entire themed entertainment industry, let alone Disney Imagineering, is going to be incredibly exciting. Yes--new technology is always going to be a factor, and it should be. For those who have the ability to think creatively on new ways to use that technology and cross pollinate it into attraction design, the payoffs will be immense. Engineering and ride design is incredibly sophisticated today. Here's another example: Look at what Disney has done with Magic Band technology in a few don't think there are discussion on if an how that might be able to be incorporated into attractions and enhance the guest experience? I'd be shocked if it wasn't. At the same time, I don't believe in using new technology just because it is there--the burning city in Pirates and the 999 ghosts inside the Haunted Mansion all appear using techniques developed in vaudeville over 100 years ago. Not to say it can't be improved upon with today's advances, but part of me likes it just the way it is...

Those are my thoughts--tell me what YOU think?

By Brian~WDWithMe, Nov 22 2015 07:33PM

I’ve been attending the IAAPA trade show off and on for about 25 years now. For those not familiar, IAAPA is the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. It’s the largest international trade association of its members, from more than 90 countries including professionals from: Amusement parks, theme parks, and attractions, Family entertainment centers, Museums and science centers, Water parks and resorts, Zoos and aquariums, and Industry manufacturers and suppliers. In other words, they’re in the business of fun…and IAAPA’s annual Orlando trade show is where the biggest in the industry go to showcase their newest and best products, network with each other, do some business and recognize excellence.

Let me tell you, by the look of IAAPA’s show this year, fun has never been more serious.

So in terms of some of the fun, favorite…and particularly innovative things I saw, let me present, in no particular order, the following:

o A 3D printer that makes gummy candy! European candy company Katjes has teamed up with entrepreneur Melissa Snover, founder of her own organic candy company “Goody Good Stuff”, to create a 3D printer called “The Magic Candy Factory”. It’s yummy—and the first of it’s kind. Hopefullly we’ll be seeing these here in the USA sooner than later.

o Triotech, a leading creator of multi-sensory attractions, has partnered with LEGOLAND® to create a ground-breaking new dark ride using their proprietary Maestro hand-gesture technology giving guests a unique form of interaction not found on any other attraction. By using hand gestures, guests can throw fireballs, ice, or any number of other items into the 3D action, allowing them the ability to engage and control the outcome of their adventure.

o The Giant, a new visitor attraction featuring a museum, which upon the roof stands the world’s largest moving sculpture. Towering 10 to 20 stories tall, The Giant is a large androgynous figure inlaid with thousands of LED lights allowing it to instantly transform into any person, including those who visit this groundbreaking attraction. Plans are for The Giant to be situated in 20 cities around the world, each offering a unique, engaging experience focusing on the great men and women of each city and country.

o Sometimes, it’s the simple things that catch your eye. That was the case with Illuminated Water, out of Australia. Illuminated water is “illuminated” by means of their patented water bottle which integrates the only LED illumination system like it in the world. Press the button at the bottom and your water bottle lights up (and, if you prefer, blinks…) in one of six different colors: blue, red, green, orange, pink, and white. A simple idea, but one that certainly catches your eye and is actually quite pretty to look at. Illuminated Water is represented in the U.S. and other global markets by Darren Hagen who also happens to be a champion USAC Sprints & Midgets race car driver! He and his wife Candice are incredibly charming and obviously entrepreneurial as they have an eye on the future and beyond the track.

So there you have it—some of the things which stuck out to me at #IAAPA2015. What is always apparent whenever I visit this show is that although there certainly are many large, impressive new products on display, true innovation is really far and few between. Immersive 3D rides are impressive, but they have now been around for several years. The challenge then, is how do you not only take these experiences to the next level, but do something completely fresh and new. When I taught a course in “Product Development for Theme Parks”, that was the challenge I put to my students. As I always say, if you do the same thing as everyone else, you’re just going to be like everyone else.

I can tell you from firsthand experience that the themed entertainment industry is a wonderful one to work in—but yes—it demands innovation perhaps more than any other I can think of. On that note, I’ll leave you one last exciting announcement that, in my opinion, was exactly what the industry needs:

o Dynamic Attractions announced they will be opening an Attractions Development Center in Orlando. For those not familiar, Dynamic Attractions is a subsidiary of Empire Industries, a powerhouse Canadian steel company. Dynamic originally leveraged their engineering and steel industry knowledge to create many of the theme park industry’s most recognizable roller coasters, rides and attractions around the world. This new 32,000 square foot Attractions Development Center, however, will take that level of service and expertise to a new level. Inside, clients will find an ‘experience’ studio with fully operational rides, as well as an ‘Imagination Think Tank’ for the company’s attractions designers and theme design partners. A truly collaborative environment, Dynamic Attractions staff, coupled with their world-class clients, will have a unique facility focused on conceptualizing and inventing the next generation of media-based, interactive attractions.

Now that sounds like my kind of place…

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