By Kevin Rafferty, Jr., Communications, WDI
One of the most exciting things about working at Walt Disney Imagineering is getting to see the passion Imagineers have to create – they’re curious, constant learners, massively collaborative and always looking for new, compelling ways to immerse guests in a story. Sometimes, Imagineers use new technology or invent new tech altogether. Other times, they focus conversations on broadening perspectives about the incredible people and cultures that make up our amazing world, and all who visit a Disney park.
Three Imagineering leaders joined the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo to share various ways Imagineers are continuing to elevate story-driven experiences. This annual industry event connects the people and organizations who’ve dedicated themselves to the themed entertainment industry.
President of Walt Disney Imagineering, Barbara Bouza, kicked off the presentation with a discussion on the importance of inclusion. The experiences Imagineers create reach guests from around the world, and that means considering many diverse perspectives and what they might connect with and enjoy. The details matter, and collaborating with a variety of backgrounds and interests allows Imagineers to create in the most authentic ways.
“Harmonious”— our new nighttime spectacular that premiered last month at EPCOT—is a great example in that it embraces cultures from around the world. More than 240 global musicians and artists shared their talent and passion to reimagine iconic Disney songs in more than a dozen languages. In one particular scene, Barbara shared how Imagineers commissioned the work of a multigenerational family in India to create Indian shadow-theatre puppets that were used to develop the animation for The Jungle Book sequence. We’re so inspired by the people who contributed these interpretations of classic Disney stories!
With inclusion in mind, we are reimagining attractions and spaces throughout our parks – and taking fans along on the journey. Most recently, we completed enhancements to Jungle Cruise and continue to make progress on an attraction inspired by “The Princess and The Frog” for Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts. Barbara also gave a glimpse into our vision for a reimagined Mickey’s Toontown coming to Disneyland park, and she shared her optimism about our industry not only recovering, but also the next-level experiences everyone is creating that visitors around the world will enjoy.
Imagineering Portfolio Executive for Walt Disney World Resort, Mark Kohl, discussed a variety of ways Imagineers are increasing capacity, while keeping guests steeped in story. He started with the positive impact of Disney Skyliner, which added valuable capacity for getting guests to the magic faster. He also shared that offering a variety of hotel options and large-scale entertainment allows us to extend the Disney experience day and night. Finally, Mark shared how Imagineers are leveraging existing infrastructure to create one of the largest indoor roller coasters, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. This story will start before guests step into the highly innovative ride vehicle, and we can’t wait for guests to experience it next year.
Walt Disney Imagineering was recently named by Fast Company as “one of the best workplaces for innovators,” and Loyal Pyczynski, Show Systems Studio executive, gave everyone a taste of that environment. He shared, “In order to conjure our magic into the real world, iterative material, mechanical design, creative art direction, and clever show techniques must all be layered on top of invisible technology.” From drones to advanced robotics to artificial intelligence, he pulled back the curtain on the tech behind recent projects, including X-wings that flew above Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the Stuntronics robot, web-slinging technology – one of the most sophisticated implementations of gesture recognition machine learning – and a personal and fan favorite, a “real” lightsaber.
A special “thank you” to IAAPA for continuing the great support for our industry and creating opportunities to bring us together and connect with so many who we admire and respect. Our collective drive is motivated by creating unforgettable experiences for people around the world. The possibilities are endless!