Happy 80th Birthday, Fantasia!

Fantasia is a 1940 American animated film produced by Walt Disney and released by Walt Disney Productions on November 13, 1940. It is the third Disney animated feature film, and consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski, seven of which are performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Music critic and composer Deems Taylor acts as the film’s emcee, providing a live-action introduction to each animated segment.

Disney settled on the film’s concept in 1938 as work neared completion on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, an elaborate Silly Symphonies short designed as a comeback role for Mickey Mouse, who had declined in popularity. As production costs grew higher than what it could earn, Disney decided to include the short in a feature-length film with other segments set to classical pieces. The soundtrack was recorded using multiple audio channels and reproduced with Fantasound, a pioneering sound reproduction system that made Fantasia the first commercial film shown in stereophonic sound.

Of course, I have several books about the movie, published in 1940.

This is THE book of Fantasia – Walt Disney’s new full-length feature production. Just as the movie Fantasia represents an entirely new departure in the art of the motion picture, this book is a unique publishing venture. It is the first Disney book designed for adults, the first comprehensive record of Walt Disney’s revolutionary contribution to contemporary art – painting in motion.

Fantasia is a sort of symphony between book covers – a new and exhilarating form of entertainment for the printed page – conceived by Walt Disney and worked out by him in collaboration with a distinguished company of writers, artists, and musicians.

In a profession that has been an unending voyage of discovery in the realms of color, sound, and motion, Fantasia represents our most exciting adventure.  At last, we have found a way to use in our medium the great music of all times and the flood of new ideas which it inspires.      

Walt Disney

Here are the other 1940 books about Fantasia: the movie premier booklet, and several books about individual pieces within the movie.

My favorite part of Fantasia, though, is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. As noted above, it was originally intended to be a Silly Symphony animation short to revive interest in Mickey Mouse. Instead, it became the centerpiece of Fantasia, and the Mickey Mouse character most-recognized of all time.

A 1940 book released with the film

Every time I visit a Walt Disney property where Sorcerer Mickey “lives,” I stop by for a quick visit.

My last visit in early February 2020

Sorcerer Mickey has been very visible around the world over the years: character appearances (as above), park attractions (Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Fantasmic, Mickey and the Magical Map, Starlight Dreams, the World of Color), and video games. His most recent feature film appearance was a cameo in Ralph Breaks the Internet.

My personal favorite appearance of Sorcerer Mickey was in the logo of Walt Disney Imagineering from 1986 – 2019.

With the launch of Disney+ and a greatly-increased interest in Imagineering through the series, The Imagineering Story, Sorcerer Mickey was dropped from the logo design.

Tonight I’ll be watching Fantasia to celebrate its 80th birthday – and of course, who do they choose to illustrate the movie?

Immerse Yourself in the Creativity of the Disney Imagineers

My admiration for the creative brilliance of Walt Disney and the amazing group of geniuses he gathered around him runs deep and long.

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As a boy growing up in the 60s, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color television show was something I looked forward to every week. My father, an owner-operator of a Gulf gasoline station, was the recipient of various advertising tie-ins involving such Disney classics as 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, and the amazing nature films. I was fortunate to be part of a high school band marching in Disney on Parade in 1975, just a few years after Walt Disney World opened.

Then marriage and four children came, just in time for the rejuvenation of Disney animation of the late 80s-early 90s. That meant endless viewings of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and the rest of the Disney library.

By the time the 2000s had rolled around, I was beginning to accumulate different types of books on the Disney organization – biographies, behind-the-scene details, first-person accounts, and various types of business-related books. I was beginning to use them in leadership and teaching positions I held.

In 2011, the fortunate circumstances of my daughter graduating from college in three years before beginning her master’s degree and her request for a much-talked-about-but-never-fulfilled Disney trip led to a week-long adventure in Walt Disney World with a 23-year old graduate student and her two early 50’s parents.

Before that, I knew about Disney. That week, I experienced Disney.

That may seem like a small thing, but in reality it is a HUGE difference.

In the last five years, I have been to Walt Disney World at least several days each year, with the last year being the highlight: by the time this fall rolls around, I will have been on Disney property 19 days.

The experience of Disney – primarily in the theme parks, but now expanded to other resorts, retail shops, and cruise ships – can be traced back to Walt Disney. His untimely death in 1966 could have left a void in the creativity of the Disney empire.

But I believe his greatest act of genius had its origins in 1952, as he began to pull together veterans of film and animation work for a special project that came to be known as Disneyland.

That group of versatile animators and art directors was the foundation of a group that came to be called the Imagineers.

Out of this group, Disney historian Tim Hauser reflects, “came the theories, aesthetics, design, and engineering of Disneyland; the advancement of three-dimensional storytelling; the development of robotic techniques in Audio-Animatronics; and the perpetuation of an ‘architecture of reassurance’ as inspired by Walt Disney’s personal sense of optimistic futurism.”

Today Walt Disney Imagineering remains the design, development, and master-planning branch of company, with over 140 disciplines working toward the common goal of great stories and creating great places.

Walt Disney wanted Disneyland to be essentially a movie that allows you to walk in and join in the fun. Imagineers – many whom had worked with Walt Disney since the 1930s – literally brought those movies to life with their multiple disciplines. He knew from his filmmaking experience that story was everything to the audience. Disney knew he must immerse the theme park guest in living storytelling scenarios.

And for over 60 years, the Imagineers have delivered – time and time again. To date, the Imagineers have built eleven theme parks (with Shanghai Disney opening in just a few weeks); dozens of resort hotels; 4 cruise ships with two more under construction; 2 water parks; and ongoing development in existing parks.

The Imagineers deliver the experience of Disney.

Now I want to bring you full circle by highlighting the recent work of author Louis Prosperi in The Imagineering Pyramid.

Using existing material published by Disney plus conversations with Imagineers, Prosperi weaves together an interesting thought captured in the book’s subtitle: Using Disney Theme Park Principles to Develop and Promote Your Creative Ideas.

It’s a very compelling challenge: look at the existing body of work done by the Imagineers for Disney’s theme parks and translate those principles into a “pyramid” of 15 principles grouped into 5 tiers.

Here’s an outline for an appetizer:

Tier 1: Foundations of Imagineering

  • It All Begins with a Story – Using your subject matter to inform decisions about your project.
  • Creative Intent – Staying focused on your objective.
  • Attention to Detail – Paying attention to every detail.
  • Theming – Using appropriate details to strengthen your story and support your creative intent.
  • Long, Medium, and Close Shots – Organizing your message to lead your audience from the general to the specific.

Tier 2: Wayfinding

  • Wienies – Attracting your audience’s attention and capturing their interest.
  • Transitions – Making changes as smooth and seamless as possible.
  • Storyboards – Focusing on the big picture.
  • Pre-Shows and Post-Shows – Introducing and reinforcing you r story to help your audience get and stay engaged.

Tier 3: Visual Communication

  • Forced Perspective – Using the illusion of size to help communicate your message.
  • “Read”-ability – Simplifying complex subjects.
  • Kinetics – Keeping the experience dynamic and active.

Tier 4: Making It Memorable

  • The “it’s a small world” Effect – Using repetition and reinforcement to make your audience’s experience and your message memorable.
  • Hidden Mickey’s – Involving and engaging your audience.

Tier 5: Walt’s Cardinal Rule

  • Plussing – Consistently asking, “How do I make this better?”

But instead of building an object like an attraction, Prosperi challenges the reader to do something with the principles that may be even more daunting: be creative.

Even though I was familiar with most of the principles and their origins, I enjoyed reading how Prosperi linked the ideas together into a unified whole. Especially helpful were the questions at the end of each chapter, with a general focus as well as specialized applications for game design, instructional design, and management and leadership. The questions will help anyone have a better grasp of the concept and how to apply it an almost any field.

The Imagineering Pyramid was especially beneficial to me on a recently completed 3-day “field trip” to all four theme parks at Walt Disney World. As I walked through each park, the genius of the Imagineers inspired me to fill several pages of my Disney journal with new ideas for development as well as take over 1,000 photographs of design details – exactly what I believe Louis Prosperi had in mind when writing the book.

Leaders in any capacity will benefit from The Imagineering Pyramid as a helpful tool, providing a creative framework for solving problems.

ImagineeringPyramid

Start with a Question, Then Challenge Your Assumptions

Start with a question to discover if there is an opportunity for creativity.

Questions start the creative process by asking how, why, and in what other way can something be done. The answers you get will explore options that kick off creativity.

The most unrealistic options inspire tangent ideas that take you to new places you would never have considered.

Once you have the basic questions to ask, it’s time to add questions that are specific to your challenge. Review your list of questions with others and ask them to help develop additional questions.

Now for a critical step in the creative process:

Challenge your assumptions.

As you continue to develop your ideas, you need to constantly question and challenge your assumptions.

As you answer the questions and narrow down your assumptions, it’s most likely that you are ready to solve the problem.

 

part of a series of ideas to shape and tone your creative muscles

Inspired and adapted from The Imagineering Workout

The Disney Imagineers

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