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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, Sep 2 2015 02:28PM

If you visit the Kidani Village at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, you will see a collection of African proverbs scattered about property--etched on walls or rockwork as you wander about. It's a wonderful little touch. Here's a sampling:

o “There is no phrase that does not have a double meaning”

o “The day on which one starts out is not the time to start one's preparations”

o “A paddle here, a paddle there, the canoe stays still”

o “No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come”

o “Truth keeps the hands cleaner than soap”

o “He who learns, teaches”

o “If there were no elephant in the jungle, the buffalo would be a great animal”

o “Only a fool tries to jump fire”

o “No one tests the depth of a river with both feet”

There are many others. Check them out next time you visit…and if you stop by the front desk, they can provide you with a list of them all.

Do you have a favorite?

By Brian~WDWithMe, Jul 30 2015 02:02AM

I recently did a live Periscope broadcast from Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. If you’re not familiar with Periscope, it’s basically a phone ap which allows you to stream live media via your Twitter name. Followers can tune from anywhere in the world and comment as you take them on your visual tour of “wherever.”

The Wilderness Lodge is a particularly rich environment for a former Imagineer to immerse himself in. There is so much detail and Imagineering “magic” within the lobby alone that makes for an incredibly rich and educational experience. I didn’t have time to point out everything…it would be impossible to…so I thought I’d circle back here in my blog and provide a few more insights and facts about this incredible resort; stuff you probably would never know if it wasn’t pointed out.

• 85 truckloads of Lodgepole Pine logs were delivered to help build Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. All of it came from standing dead wood forests, so no live trees were harvested or used.

• There are three featured totems within the lobby of the Wilderness lodge. One is a whimsical totem pole that features Disney characters located by the entrance of the Mercantile store. This was carved by William Robinson. He was the artist also responsible for the animal figures by the registration desk and the animals on the bundled lodge poles in the lobby. True to Native American custom, those 16 figures are each placed according to their “life stations” with a bird of prey on the top of each column.

• The other two are 55 foot totems made from four dead wood cedars, known as the Eagle pole and the Raven pole. They were carved by artist Duane Pasco and his three assistants from Washington State. When first installed, they were facing each other dead-on; this is a no-no according to Native American tradition, since it is a sign of conflict. To correct this, Disney went to great trouble to offset them slightly so that now, the two totems look past each other. As with all totem poles, they each tell a story and are read from bottom to the top. My friend Herb Leibacher from World of Walt wrote a nice little blog which explains the stories; you can read those here: Totem Stories

• The three-sided 82 foot tall fireplace represents the strata layers found in the Grand Canyon. Disney Imagineers used advanced rockwork techniques to hand carve and paint the cement with astonishing detail. More than 100 colors were used to accomplish this. Actual rock samples can be seen in a display case next to the fireplace.

• The five story atrium lobby is roughly in the shape of an octagon. This was purposely done as a tribute to the railroad industry’s “roundhouses.” The roundhouse's unique circular design was built around a large turntable to easily and quickly reposition steam locomotives (which helped build the American West) from one direction to another.

• Most people know that Walt Disney had a special fondness for trains, and that is evident throughout the Wilderness Lodge. The Carolwood Pacific Room is located just off the lobby…look for another detailed blog on this subject in the future!

• The lobby and rooms intentionally have mismatched furniture since settlers leaving the East to head out West often abandoned their furnishings as they headed out to start a new life. (U-Hauls didn’t exist, so it was impractical for them to bring large pieces of furniture with them!) Because of this, they often pieced together a hodge-podge of styles when they arrived in their new home.

• The three types of rock in the Lodge’s lobby floor comes from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The same quarry also provided the solid six-inch green granite slabs which make up the front desk countertop.

• Although the four massive 500 lb. chandeliers look like they are finished natural materials, this too is Imagineering magic, as the “leather” is a reproduced look of authentic rawhide.

There are lots more wonderful details concerning the themeing, architecture, artwork and artifacts found throughout this wonderful lodge. Don’t even get me started on the landscaping.

As you can see, WDI goes to great lengths to “get it right”; as a matter of fact, I can tell you a good deal of my time would often be spent researching facts and background information to make sure I was incorporating authentic and accurate information in my show scripts and writing. No different here.

I hope you enjoyed this insight. If you have ever stayed at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

(Oh yeah—if you want to see my Periscope video on the Lodge, you can view that, along with many others, on my YouTube Channel here: WDWithMe YouTube Channel)


By Brian~WDWithMe, Jul 14 2015 07:08PM

Imagineering does wonderful things with lighting…and in many different ways. A recent trip to EPCOT gave me a chance to appreciate and reflect (no pun intended…) on just how many ways WDI masters the use of light. For example:

• As you’re leaving the park at night, take a look at the sidewalk between the large fountain and Spaceship Earth. Embedded within the concrete slabs are fiber optics, creating a wonderful effect of “pixie dust” dancing on the ground—color changing sparkles of light that bring the walkway alive with a playful vibrancy which surprises and amazes kids and adults alike.

• In the Magic Kingdom, a technique called Projection Mapping has been used incredibly effectively to change the textures and exterior of Cinderella Castle. Typically used during the nighttime shows such as “The Magic, The Memories and You” or “Celebrate the Magic”, projection mapping has turned the iconic castle into a colorful canvas painted with imagery from Disney’s classic and contemporary animated films.

• Given that many of WDI’s original and current Imagineers were recruited from the world of movies, theater, and entertainment, it’s no surprise that many of the show’s lighting designers bring this expertise with them and have creatively adapted or cross-pollinated techniques to use in the attractions. The burning city in Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, is a relatively simple theatrical lighting effect—though many people have no idea. (I’ll write about that some more in a future blog.)

• Show lighting of the buildings exteriors is often masterful. Not only in EPCOT, but all the Disney parks. Colors are used for dramatic effect, bold washes draw your attention to certain structures or portions of structures where the Imagineers want you to focus your attention. One of the most beautiful lighting jobs, in my opinion, is the exterior of Spaceship Earth.

I could probably go on and on with examples. As an Imagineer, I had the chance to view the inside of Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion and several other attractions with the lights on. Although that is no doubt a very cool experience in its own way, it really drives home what proper show lighting can bring to a story.

Next time you’re visiting the parks, take some time, once the sun goes down, to appreciate the way Disney illuminates at night. Like many aspects of show design, lighting can easily be taken for granted…but if you stop to notice, you will see just how much more magical it makes the experience.

If you have some favorite lighting examples, please list them in the comments below—I’d love to hear what they are!

By Brian~WDWithMe, Jun 23 2015 12:19AM

The Imagineers who create the wonderfully themed environments throughout Disney are called Show Set Designers. (Actually, there are a lot of people that can have a role in this. Even though I was a Show Writer, even I was asked to contribute to show set design on occassion....) But it's the "official" Show Set Designers who often act as the environmental “art directors”-and a talented lot they are! Great fun to work with too.

When done properly, show set design brings together props, lighting, audio, colors...all sorts of stimuli...that tie together a unified theme and transport our guests to places as far away from Orlando, Anaheim, Hong Kong, or whatever city their theme park is actually located in. Individually these elements or props might be incredibly obvious and stick out like a sore thumb. However, when placed in context with their surroundings, they almost go without notice. Well, maybe not without notice...but certainly easily accepted as a normal part of the environment. Here's an example.

As I was wandering through Ft. Wilderness recently, I was admiring the outdoor light fixtures out there. Now mind you, I don't normally take time to admire light fixtures, but this was a case where I guess my ex-Imagineering eyes kicked into gear. Besides—how many places would go to the trouble to install custom-made lamp fixtures that look like old-time oil lamps? I don't know how many people really stop to take pause and notice that, but to me a great example of how those sort of details—going so far to even theme the lampposts—make all the difference in the World.

What are some of the best theming details you've seen in the parks and resorts? I'd love to hear...

By Brian~WDWithMe, Jun 7 2015 12:18AM

(An excerpt from my hopefully soon-to-be book....)

What is your “Creative Nucleus” and why is it important to understand? Because I don’t think you can innovate at a high level externally without exploring what makes you tick internally. As a Walt Disney Imagineer, I was extremely fortunate to work with some incredibly creative people. For us, we were all pretty in tune with what I refer to as our creative nucleus—that internal magical mix of “stuff” that allowed us to be highly innovative day in and day out. Of course, it isn’t just Imagineers that perform at this level, just as Navy SEALS aren’t only ones who are physically fit. But there is something internal…a self-awareness, maybe a personality disorder, as several of my friends might attest to, or perhaps zen…that helps to manifest one set of our skills at a higher level over others.

Throughout my career, and indeed my life, this creative nucleus has always helped define who I am. As a college professor teaching courses in entrepreneurism, creativity, and business, I started to formally explore just what made up my and my student’s creative nucleus—just what was the “magical mix of ‘stuff’” after all? Here’s my take on it.

Since I’m using a biological analogy, I’ll begin by looking at the DNA of our creative nucleus. Fortunately, this DNA is much simpler than what you learned about in biology class. Rather than containing thousands of genes, the DNA of your creative nucleus is comprised of 5 traits:

1. Passion

Creative people tend to have deep passion for what they do. This passion then translates into determination. If they set their mind to accomplish something that is important to them they tend to see it through. This can take hours, weeks, days, months or years—but eventually, the task they have been working on will get there.

2. Responsiveness

By “Responsiveness” I am really talking about vision or intuition…in other words, responding to what you may call a gut feeling. Having the ability to respond to this intuitive insight into the world, this “vision,” is one of the hallmarks of all highly creative people. Pick any of history’s great visonaries and you see that they constantly have the ability to act on a hunch...not necessarily knowing why they know they’re on the right path...but trusting in themselves and knowing they are.

3. Inclusiveness

Creative people have to have an open-mind. They have to be accepting of many different points of view. Being able to remain non-judgmental throughout the innovation process is critical, because once you start dismissing ideas or shutting down others, new approaches or potential solutions are lost before they even see the light of day. As the former musician Frank Zappa once said, “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open.” Being unbiased and accepting—inclusive—is one of the best ways I know of to power up you creative mindset.

4. Curiosity

Most Imagineers I know are afflicted with the Peter Pan syndrome—they don’t want to grow up. Having a child-like curiosity, looking at the world from their perspective and asking questions that only a kid would ask when you are deep within the creative process is a good thing. For some, that’s not so hard. As someone who was being asked to create the magic for Disney’s theme parks on a daily basis, it was not only easy, but actually encouraged. For many, though, tapping into your inner-child is a difficult and even awkward process. That’s easy to understand, especially if you’ve become successful at a career that doesn’t traditionally call on child-like skills. How many of you would want your attorney, CPA, corporate CEO or police sergeant acting like a little kid? I would argue, however, that the most successful people, no matter their field, actually do act like kids…though they may not necessarily think about it from that perspective. However, when faced with a challenge that is difficult to solve, creative people are able to find that kid’s perspective, tap into that curiosity and make the effort to go out, learn, explore and find the answers to their questions.

5. Emotion

Emotional folks, us creative people are. Sometimes, not the easiest to deal with or be around. On the other hand, sometimes it makes us great fun to be around. Some creative people are driven by darker emotions, and some by pure joy. Most flip back and forth depending on what the situation or given project may call for, but we're not afraid to let emotions play a part in the creative process. As a matter of fact, innovators understand that they must.

These, then are the 5 traits that make up the DNA of your creative nucleus. You can think of it as creative people literally paying a PRICE (Passion, Responsiveness, Inclusiveness, Curiosity, Emotion) for their talents.

I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts!

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