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 experiences...it'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 years...you 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?