Walt Disney Imagineering: Wikis


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Walt Disney Imagineering (also known as WDI or simply Imagineering) is the design and development arm of The Walt Disney Company, responsible for the creation and construction of Disney theme parks worldwide. Founded by Walt Disney in 1952 to oversee the production of Disneyland Park, it was originally known as WED Enterprises, from the initials Walter Elias Disney.[1]

The term Imagineering comes from Walt Disney’s blending of the words imagination and engineering, representing the skill set embodied by the employees of WDI. These employees, known as Imagineers, are renowned for their ability to blend creativity, expertise, and technological advancements like Audio-Animatronics to create “distinctive experiential storytelling”/[2]

Imagineering is responsible for designing and building Disney theme parks, resorts, cruise ships, and other entertainment venues at all levels of project development. Imagineers possess a broad range of skills and talents, and thus over 140 different job titles fall under the banner of Imagineering, including illustrators, architects, engineers, lighting designers, show writers, graphic designers, and many more.[1] Most Imagineers work from the company’s headquarters in Glendale, California, but are often deployed to satellite branches within the theme parks for long periods of time.



Walt Disney founded WED Enterprises on December 16, 1952 to help design and build what would become Disneyland.[3] The inspiration for a family-friendly theme park came from Disney’s frustration with the cheap curbside amusements of Los Angeles. The idea for Disneyland was also heavily influenced by his visit to Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, a clean, beautiful space that his whole family was able to enjoy. Disney gathered together some of the brightest employees of the Disney Studios to assist him in realizing his vision, dubbing them his “Imagineers”.[4]

Eventually the Imagineers moved from the Disney Studios in Burbank to their own dedicated space in neighboring Glendale, California. Though at first a private company owned wholly by Walt Disney himself, WED Enterprises later merged with the Walt Disney Company, and in 1984 it was renamed Walt Disney Imagineering.[5] Tony Baxter, current Senior Vice President, Creative Development, noted that “Imagineering is the outgrowth of WED Enterprises... and it was a place sort of removed from the studio that Walt created where people could think about magical things, and during the course of time the word Imagineering came out of that, because he realized he had a staff of people that imagined things and people that engineered things”.[6]


Imagineers are governed by a few key principles when developing new concepts and improving existing attractions. Often new concepts and improvements are created to fulfill specific needs. Many ingenious solutions to problems are Imagineered in this way, such as the ride vehicle of the attraction Soarin' Over California. The Imagineers knew they wanted guests to experience the sensation of flight, but weren’t sure how to accomplish the task of loading the people on to a ride vehicle in a cost effective manner where everyone had an optimum viewing position. One day, an Imagineer found an Erector set in his attic, and with this old childhood toy, he was able to envision and design a ride vehicle that would effectively simulate hang gliding.[6]

Imagineers are also known returning to ideas for attractions and shows that, for whatever reason, never came to fruition. These ideas are often reworked and appear in a different form – like The Museum of the Weird, a proposed walk-through wax museum that eventually became The Haunted Mansion.[6]

Finally, there is the principle of “blue sky speculation,” a process where Imagineers generate ideas with no limitations – the sky’s the limit, so to speak.[1] The custom at Imagineering has been to start the creative process with what is referred to as “eyewash” – the boldest, wildest, best idea one can come up with, presented in absolutely convincing detail. Many Imagineers consider this to be the true beginning of the design process and operate under the notion that if it can be dreamt, it can be built.[4]

Imagineers are always seeking to improve upon their work – what Disney called “plussing.” He firmly believed that “Disneyland will never be completed as long as there’s imagination left in the world,” meaning there is always room for innovation and improvement.[6]


Over the years, Walt Disney Imagineering has been granted over 115 patents in areas such as ride systems, special effects, interactive technology, live entertainment, fiber optics, and advanced audio systems.[2] WDI is responsible for technological advances such as the Circle-Vision 360° film technique and the FastPass virtual queuing system.

Imagineering is perhaps best known for its development of Audio-Animatronics, a form of robotics created for use in shows and attractions in the theme parks that allowed Disney to animate things in three dimensions instead of just two. The idea sprang from Disney’s fascination with a mechanical bird he purchased in New Orleans, which eventually led to the development of the attraction The Enchanted Tiki Room. The Tiki Room, which featured singing Audio Animatronic birds, was the first to use such technology. The 1964 World's Fair featured an Audio Animatronic figure of Abraham Lincoln that actually stood up and delivered part of the Gettysburg Address for the “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln” exhibit, the first human Audio Animatronic figure.[2]

Today, Audio Animatronics are featured prominently in many popular Disney attractions, including Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, The Hall of Presidents, Country Bear Jamboree, and Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D. Guests also have the opportunity to interact with some Audio-Animatronic characters, such as Lucky the Dinosaur, WALL-E, and Remy from Ratatouille. The next wave of Audio-Animatronic development focuses on completely independent figures, or “Autonomatronics.” Otto, the first Autonomatronic figure, is capable of seeing, hearing, sensing a person’s presence, having a conversation, and even sensing and reacting to guests’ emotions.[7]

"The Art of the Show"

Over the years, Imagineering has conceived a whole range of retail stores, galleries, and hotels that are designed to be experienced and to create and sustain a very specific mood – for example, the mood of Disney's Contemporary Resort could be called “futuristic optimism,” and it’s readily apparent given the resort’s A-frame structure, futuristic building techniques, modern décor, and the monorail gliding quietly through the lobby every few minutes. Together, these details combine to tell the story of the hotel.[4]

Imagineering is, first and foremost, a form of storytelling, and visiting a Disney theme park should feel like entering a show. Extensive theming, atmosphere, and attention to detail are the hallmarks of the Disney experience. The mood is distinct and identifiable, the story made clear by details and props. Pirates of the Caribbean evokes a “rollicking buccaneer adventure,” according to Imagineering legend John Hench, whereas the Disney Cruise Line’s ships create an elegant seafaring atmosphere. Even the shops and restaurants within the theme parks tell stories. Every detail is carefully considered, from the menus to the names of the dishes to the Cast Members’ costumes.[8] Disney parks are meant to be experienced through all senses – for example, as guests walk down Main Street, U.S.A. they are likely to smell freshly baked cookies, a small detail that enhances the story of turn-of-the-century, small town America.

The story of Disney theme parks is often told visually, and the Imagineers carefully design the guest experience in what they call “The Art of the Show.” Hench was fond of comparing theme park design to moviemaking, and often used filmmaking techniques in the Disney parks, such as the technique of forced perspective.[8] Forced perspective is a design technique in which the designer plays with the scale of an object in order to affect the viewer’s perception of the object’s size. One of the most dramatic examples of forced perspective in the Disney Parks is Cinderella Castle. The scale of architectural elements is much smaller in the upper reaches of the castle compared to the foundation, making it seem significantly taller than its actual height of 189 feet.[1]

Disney's attention to detail distinguishes it from similar parks and corporations. Walt Disney himself was adamant that details be correct, no matter how minute. John Hench argued that these seemingly insignificant details were Disney’s greatest strength and created a truly immersive environment within the parks. As Hench said, “Walt knew that if details are missing or incorrect, guests won’t believe in the story.”

Theme park projects

Walt Disney Imagineering boasts an extensive resume – since its 1952 inception, the company has created eleven theme parks, a town, two cruise ships, dozens of resort hotels, water parks, shopping centers, sports complexes, and various other entertainment venues.[1] Currently, WDI is developing a number of new projects, including an extensive expansion of Fantasyland in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Outside of the theme parks, a complete overhaul of Disney Stores is being planned with the help of Apple’s Steve Jobs. Disney is hoping to move away from the traditional retail model and toward more of an interactive entertainment hub.[9]

In mid-July 2009, blueprints and concept art for a Fantasyland expansion leaked online, and Disney confirmed the rumors at the September D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. Some aspects of the refurbishment will be open as early as 2012, and it is set for completion in 2014. The expansion, which will double the current size of Fantasyland, will feature a greater focus on the Disney Princesses. Cinderella, Aurora, Belle, Snow White, and Ariel will all have dedicated sections within the land where guests can experience highly interactive character meet-and-greet sessions in immersive movie environments. There will be two new restaurants, the full-service Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Beast’s Castle and the quick-service Gaston’s Tavern. The current Ariel's Grotto area will be expanded to include a new attraction called The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Adventure. The expansion will also feature an updated Dumbo ride with a doubled guest capacity and an interactive queuing system that will keep guests entertained while they wait for one of the park’s most popular attractions. The last aspect of the refurbishment to be completed will focus on Tinkerbell and her fairy friends in Pixie Hollow.[10]


Current imagineering projects

Project Park/Resort Opening Date
Cinderella's Chateau Magic Kingdom 2012
Sleeping Beauty's Cottage Magic Kingdom 2012
The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Adventure Magic Kingdom 2012
The Beast's Castle Magic Kingdom 2012
Dumbo's 3-Ring Circus Magic Kingdom 2013
Pixie Hollow Magic Kingdom 2013
Disney's World of Color Disney's California Adventure 2010
Silly Symphony Swings Disney's California Adventure 2010
Goofy’s Sky Skool Disney's California Adventure 2010
The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Adventure Disney's California Adventure 2011
Buena Vista Street Disney's California Adventure 2012
Radiator Springs Racers Disney's California Adventure 2012
Luigi's Roamin' Tires Disney's California Adventure 2012
Mater's Junkyard Jamboree Disney's California Adventure 2012
Toy Story Playland Walt Disney Studios Park 2010
Disney Dream Disney Cruise Line 2011
Disney Fantasy Disney Cruise Line 2012
Mickey's PhilharMagic Tokyo Disneyland Park 2011
Captain EO Disneyland Park 2010
Star Tours 2 Disneyland Park 2011
Star Tours 2 Disney's Hollywood Studios 2011
Toy Story Land Hong Kong Disneyland Park 2011
Grizzly Trail Hong Kong Disneyland Park 2012
Mystic Point Hong Kong Disneyland Park 2013
Toy Story Midway Mania! Tokyo DisneySea Park 2012

Complete imagineering projects

Project Park/Resort Opening Date
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters Disneyland March 17, 2005
Space Mountain Disneyland July 15, 2005
Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland June 2006
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage Disneyland June 11, 2007
It's a Small World Hong Kong Disneyland April 28, 2008
Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough Disneyland November 27, 2008
It's a Small World Disneyland February 6, 2009
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln Disneyland December 17,2009
Space Mountain Refurbishment Magic Kingdom November 22, 2009
Raging Spirits Tokyo DisneySea Park July 21,2005
Turtle Talk with Crush Tokyo DisneySea Park October 1, 2009
Mickey's Fun Wheel Disney's California Adventure May 4, 2009
Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor Magic Kingdom (Florida) April 2, 2007
Stitch's Supersonic Celebration Magic Kingdom (Florida) May 3, 2009
Haunted Mansion Refurbishment Magic Kingdom (Florida) September 13, 2007
Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show Disney's Hollywood Studios May 5, 2005
Toy Story Midway Mania Disney's Hollywood Studios May 31, 2008
The American Idol Experience Disney's Hollywood Studios February 14, 2009
Crush's Coaster Walt Disney Studios Park June 9, 2007
Cars Quatre Roues Rallye Walt Disney Studios Park June 9, 2007
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror Walt Disney Studios Park December 22, 2007
Stitch Live! Walt Disney Studios Park March 22, 2008
The Seas with Nemo and Friends Epcot October 2006
Spaceship Earth Reopen Epcot February 15, 2008
Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune Disneyland Park (Paris) June 1, 1995
Space Mountain: Mission 2 (Reopen) Disneyland Park (Paris) April 9, 2005
Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast Disneyland Park (Paris) April 8, 2006
Soarin' Epcot May 5, 2005
Expedition Everest Disney's Animal Kingdom April 7, 2006

Non-theme park projects

The Imagineers have been called on by many other divisions of the Walt Disney Company as well as being contracted by outside firms to design and build structures outside of the theme parks.


Imagineers may include artists, writers, architects, landscape architects, engineers, model builders, construction managers, technicians and designers. Past Imagineers include Tony Baxter, Marshall Monroe, Bran Ferren, Danny Hillis, Alan Kay, Randy Pausch, Robert Swirsky, and C. McNair Wilson.

Corporate locations

Since the 1960s, Imagineering's headquarters have been in Glendale, California, a short distance from Disney's corporate headquarters in Burbank.

There are two field offices at the Walt Disney World Resort, required for the sheer size of the resort. There are field offices located at;

Walt Disney Imagineering Management

Walt Disney Imagineering

  • Chief Creative Executive - Bruce Vaughn
  • Chief Development and Delivery Executive - Craig Russell
  • Principal Creative Adviser - John Lasseter
  • Senior Vice President, Executive Designer - Joe Rohde
  • Senior Vice President, Creative Development - Tony Baxter
  • Senior Vice President, Creative Development - Eric Jacobson
  • Executive Vice President, Senior Creative Executive - Tom Fitzgerald
  • Executive Vice President, Resort Development - Don Goodman
  • Executive Vice President, New Ship Development - Frank de Heer
  • Executive Vice President, Creative Reasurch and Development - Scott Trowbridge
  • Executive Vice President, Producer - Kathy Mangum
  • Executive Vice President, - Bob Weiss
  • Creative Vice President for Tokyo Disney Resort - Joe Lanzisero
  • Senior Concept Writer - Kevin P. Rafferty
  • Senior Show Producer/Director - Kathy Rogers
  • Senior Concept Designer - John Gritz
  • Senior Concept Writer, Creative Development - Michael Sprout
  • Senior Fabrication Designer - James George "Jim" Armagost
  • Director, Art - Kim Irvine
  • Principal Plastics Technician - Michael Traxler
  • Principal Concept Designer - Scot Drake
  • Principal Show Artist - Heather Greene
  • Principal Show Artist - Tod Mathias
  • Show Writer, Creative Development - David Fisher
  • Associate Graphic Designer - Caroline May
  • Mechanical Lead - Rick Taylor
  • Sculpturer - Scott Goodard

Prior to 2007, Walt Disney Imagineering was headed by a President. After a corporate shake up, It was decided that the President role would be dropped. Bruce Vaughn and Craig Russell now both head the division. All creative executives now directly report to Vaughn and Russell.

Walt Disney Creative Entertainment

  • Vice President, WDI Creative Entertainment - Kevin Eld
  • Vice President, Creative Development; WDI Creative Entertainment - Michael Jung
  • Creative Director and Vice President, Parades and Spectaculars - Steve Davison

Walt Disney Imagineering Legends

Former Walt Disney Imagineering Management

  • Vice Chairman, Walt Disney Imagineering 2005-2007 - Marty Sklar
  • President, Walt Disney Imagineering 2005-2007 - Don Goodman
  • President, Walt Disney Imagineering 1987-1996 - Marty Sklar
  • President, Walt Disney Imagineering 1979-1989 - Carl Bongirno
  • President, Walt Disney Imagineering 1952-1964 - Bill Cotrell


  • Hench, John, with Peggy Van Pelt. Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show. Disney Editions, 2003, ISBN 0-7868-5406-5.
  • Imagineers, The. Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real. Disney Editions, 1996, ISBN 0-7868-6246-7 (hardcover); 1998, ISBN 0-7868-8372-3 (paperback).
  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Way: Ideas to Ignite Your Creativity. Disney Editions, 2003, ISBN 0-7868-5401-4.
  • Imagineers, The (as "The Disney Imagineers"). The Imagineering Workout: Exercises to Shape Your Creative Muscles. Disney Editions, 2005, ISBN 0-7868-5554-1.
  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland. Disney Editions, 2008, ISBN 1423109759, ISBN 978-1423109754.
  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Field Guide to Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Disney Editions, 2007, ISBN 1423103203, ISBN 978-1423103202.
  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Field Guide to Epcot at Walt Disney World. Disney Editions, 2006, ISBN 0-7868-4886-3.
  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Field Guide to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Disney Editions, 2005, ISBN 0-7868-5553-3.
  • Kurtti, Jeff. Walt Disney's Legends of Imagineering and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park. Disney Editions, 2006, ISBN 0-7868-5559-2.
  • Alcorn, Steve and David Green. Building a Better Mouse: The Story of the Electronic Imagineers Who Designed Epcot. Themeperks Press, 2007, ISBN 0-9729777-3-2.
  • Surrell, Jason. The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak. Disney Editions, 2007, ISBN 1-4231-0155-3
  • Ghez, Didier; Littaye, Alain; Translated into English by Cohn, Danielle. Disneyland Paris From Sketch To Reality. Nouveau Millénaire Editions, 2002, ISBN 2-9517883-1-2
  • Surrell, Jason. Pirates of the Caribbean: From The Magic Kingdom To The Movies. Disney Editions, 2007, ISBN 141769274X, ISBN 978-1417692743.


  1. ^ a b c d e Wright, Alex; Imagineers (2005). The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom. New York: Disney Editions.  
  2. ^ a b c Walt Disney Imagineering
  3. ^ Rafferty, Kevin; Bruce Gordon and Imagineers (1996). Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real. New York: Hyperion.  
  4. ^ a b c Marling, Karal (1997). Designing Disney's Theme Parks. Paris - New York: Flammarion.  
  5. ^ Kurtti, Jeff (1996). Since the World Began. New York: Hyperion.  
  6. ^ a b c d George Scribner and Jerry Rees (Directors). (2007). Disneyland: Secrets, Stories, and Magic. [DVD]. Walt Disney Video.  
  7. ^ Disney Autonomatronics Figure Can Sense If You’re Happy
  8. ^ a b Hench, John; Peggy Van Pelt (2003). Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show. New York: Disney Editions.  
  9. ^ Barnes, Brooks (October 13), "Disney’s Retail Plan Is a Theme Park in Its Stores", The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/13/business/media/13disney.html?_r=1, retrieved October 13, 2009  
  10. ^ Jay Rasulo. (2009). Disney World Fantasyland expansion announcement & makeover concept art. [YouTube video]. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08W5Os-Wnj0: YouTube.  

Related pages

External links

Coordinates: 34°09′42″N 118°17′21″W / 34.161674°N 118.289065°W / 34.161674; -118.289065


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