You won’t find it in the dictionary. But any Imagineer can tell you the word is both a verb and a noun. To imagineer. To be an Imagineer. Like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Imagineering had become a purely Disney word.
The name combines imagination with engineering to describe both what they do and who they are. Creating a name for a group whose only job is to come up with ideas to build on – and then build those ideas – really took some Imagineering.
But that is what Walt Disney was all about.
Walt and his first team of Imagineers invented the theme park business by inventing the process of “Imagineering.” In the course of designing and building Disneyland, the process of “learning and succeeding by dreaming and doing” was employed for the very first time. Those new Imagineers used their talents in ways they had never used them before to accomplish things they – or anyone else – had ever accomplished before.
Touring the Central Support facility during a Behind the Magic tour at Disney World a few weeks ago, I saw first hand how the Imagineers are still “dreaming and doing” 50 years later.
Inside the massive building, we stopped to look at an early version of the famous birds from the Tiki Room. Walt first saw a very simple version on a trip to New Orleans in the early 60s, where he bought two – one for his wife Lillian and one to take to the Imagineers to improve on. After months of work, the proud group showed Walt how the bird moved, talked, and looked just like a real bird with feathers. Walt thanked them for their work and then said:
People can feel perfection. Make the bird breathe.
Perplexed but challenged, the Imagineers rebuilt the bird so that it’s chest cavity moved in and out just like a real bird. The Enchanted Tiki Room opened in Disneyland in 1963, notable in theme park history for ushering in sophisticated Audio-Animatronics technology.
Prior to 1963, Walt Disney’s Imagineers had produced movable figures, but none had the sophistication of the bird-brained cast of the Tiki Room. José, Fritz, Michael and Pierre produced movements when solenoid coils hidden inside received signals recorded onto magnetic tape and are regarded as the first “true” Audio-Animatronics figures.
The current show running at Disney World is steeped in tradition and maintains the original intent created by Walt Disney and his original team of Imagineers, but features the latest in technology – a state of the art show-control system, remastered audio, and a new versatile and energy-efficient lighting system.
And that brings me to the next Takeaway:
Vision must be passed on to succeeding generations.
As the design and development arm of The Walt Disney Company, Imagineers are responsible for designing and building Disney parks, resorts, cruise ships, and other entertainment venues. WDI is a highly creative organization, with a broad range of skills and talents represented. Disciplines range from writers to architects, artists to engineers, and cover all the bases in-between. Imagineers are playful, dedicated, and abundantly curious.
Walt Disney was the first imagineer, but as soon as he began developing the early ideas for Disneyland, he started recruiting others to help him realize his dream. Today’s Imagineering is a vast and varied group, involved in projects all over the world in every stage of development, from initial conception right through to installation and even beyond that into support and constant improvement efforts. In addition to their headquarters in Glendale, CA, near the company’s Burbank studios, Imagineers are based at all field locations around the world. Additionally, WDI serves as a creative resource for the entire Walt Disney Company, bringing new ideas and new technologies to all of the Disney storytellers.
The Imagineers are curious, playful, and exceptionally dedicated to their work. They write, draw, paint, tinker, sculpt, build, rebuild, study, test, and then tinker some more. They take their fun quite seriously!
Just like Walt Disney did.
Although Disney died in 1966, he “saw” how Disney World would be built in the future. And through the Imagineers, his visions live on over 60 years later.
Imagineers believe, as Walt did, that as long as there is imagination in the world, the Disney parks will never be finished. They will always be in a state of becoming, and the Imagineers will be there to imagine the possibilities.
How is your vision being passed on to others?
#4 in a series of Ten Takeaways from a Disney Immersion
GsD Spring 2013 DisneyLab