on December 12th, 2019

Imagineer.

Verb.

Gerund or present participle: Imagineering

Devise and implement a new or highly imaginative concept or technology.

How do engineers instill a feeling of magic in people’s minds? Some have spent the last 70-years creating innovations that stir up a sense of awe and wonder in anyone who experiences Disney – its theme park has even been dubbed the happiest place on earth.

These engineers have been working creatively in a space that has been described as equal parts design studio, design center, think-tank, and innovation laboratory. This laboratory of innovation is known as Walt Disney’s Imagineering. And the engineers that work there are called Imagineers.

These Imagineers are the fascinating individuals behind the scenes at Disney who invent and design the magical feats that have cemented Disney as one of the greatest entertainment brands in the world.

And the world has never really heard their story, until now. In November, Disney released their streaming video service Disney+, with a documentary on the Imaginers entitled: The Imagineering Story.

The documentary begins by telling the Disney story from 1928 but quickly shifts focus on the building of the first Disneyland in California, which opened in 1955. Bob Iger, the current CEO of Disney, said, “Walt set a standard early on with the Imagineers.

“There was a standard that surprised people, a standard that enabled people to come in expecting something and giving them something even beyond that. Beyond, really, their own imagination. So that they left thinking, ‘wow, either only Disney could do that,’ or asking, ‘how did Disney do that’”.

The inspiration for Disneyland came from Walt Disney’s daughter. Walt took notice of the things his daughter enjoyed as a child and wanted to create a place where parents and their children could have fun together.

The first bit of engineering involved building a model railroad and train in his backyard. From there, he became obsessed with the idea of creating a theme park.

In 1952, Walt Disney formed a group named WED (Walter Elias Disney) Enterprises Inc. to design and build on the growing idea of Disneyland. He recruited creative staff already working for animation divisions within Disney and found other designers to be the first Imagineers.

Walt Disney dared this first intake of Imagineers to bring the abstract notion of Disneyland and turn it into a three-dimensional reality.

 

Creativity in engineering

Disney purchased land in Anaheim, California, and began seeking funding to build Disneyland. Amusement parks at the time were not raking in business in America. Nonetheless, the construction of the first Disneyland commenced in 1954.

Bob Gurr, an Imagineer and Industrial Designer who worked for Disney from 1955-1991 described the atmosphere of that first stage of construction. “The concept of ‘creative chaos’ is a word that you hear a lot of times, and I just thought it was an absolute marvel of super-organization without being organized. We were able to move so fast; we built it before the Xerox machine was invented. ”

The combination of skills, expertise, and innovation from many different creative individuals formed part of a genuinely innovative engineering team. Those who were involved with the project say that in today’s world, you would find hard-pressed to find an engineering team similar to that of the Imagineers who worked on the first Disneyland.

After blazing through US$17 million — triple the amount of money they planned on spending —the first Disneyland opened its doors on 17 July 1955. Two months later, the one-millionth visitor would walk through the doors. It was a roaring success, and a new era of theme parks had been born. Soon after, Disney began focusing on adding rollercoasters to the theme park. By July 1959, The Matterhorn Bobsleds, the first tubular steel roller coaster in the world, was opened.

More and more innovations would be added to Disneyland through the years as technology advanced. But what they achieved back in the 50s is nothing short of incredible.

However, Disney is not slowing down. They continue to build new attractions at their theme parks and utilize technology to thrill customers. Walt Disney famously said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world. It is something that will never be finished.”

The ideological position on engineering that Disney, as a company, employ, can inspire all other engineers. Creating innovative technologies, and utilizing imagination is something that can break the sometimes tedious engineering process. Creating a unique environment for invention with an atmosphere of childlike imagination is what Disney has thrived on in all the facets of their company. Disney along with the Khan Academy, has also put together a free course that can give you the basics of becoming an Imagineer. You can access it here:

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/hass-storytelling/imagineering-in-a-box

 

Works Cited

Disney, www.disneyplus.com/en-gb/video/a250e541-a085-4b1f-aced-631a2cf88501.

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