To wrap up my “Tell Your Story Visual Companion” (TYSVC) tour through the Magic Kingdom, I thought I would provides links to the individual posts in this series, for anyone interested in hopping around the park to see these examples in any order they like. The posts in this series include:


Wienies – Cinderella Castle

Long, Medium, and Close Shots – Cinderella Castle

Forced Perspective – Cinderella Castle

Bonus – Windows on Main Street

It All Begins With a Story – Casey’s Corner

Creative Intent – Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

Attention to Detail – Liberty Square

Pre-Shows – The Enchanted Tiki Room

“Read”-ability – Pirates of the Caribbean

Theming – Splash Mountain / Big Thunder Mountain

Kinetics – Nugget Way and the Rivers of America

Hidden Mickeys – The Haunted Mansion

Transitions – Liberty Square to Fantasyland

The “it’s a small world” Effect – it’s a small world

Post-Shows – Mickey’s PhilharMagic

Each post in the tour features photos of the attractions and venues described in Tell Your Story the Walt Disney World Way, following the same path through the Magic Kingdom that the book uses (Main Street, Cinderella Castle, Liberty Square, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square (again), and Fantasyland).

Thanks for joining me on this Imagineering Storytelling tour through the Magic Kingdom. I hope you enjoyed the tour!


TYSVC: Post-Shows – Mickey’s PhilharMagic

The last stop in our “Tell Your Story Visual Companion” tour of the Magic Kingdom is in Fantasyland, where we’ll see an example of one last Imagineering Storytelling principle: Post-Shows!

Post-shows reinforce the story’s themes and key ideas. Post-shows often include themed areas or interactive activities or games, like the games at Mission: SPACE and Spaceship Earth at Epcot, but they can take many different forms.

A great place to see an example of a post-show in the Magic Kingdom is Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

Mickey’s PhilharMagic is a 3D movie experience featuring Donald Duck in scenes from several classic Disney animated movies.

As the show starts we see Donald Duck asleep on stage during the setup for a concert featuring a magical orchestra to be conducted by Maestro Mickey Mouse. When Donald dons Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat and decides to try conducting the orchestra himself, he finds himself drawn into a swirling magical maelstrom before ending up chasing after the hat through a sequence of musical scenes including “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast, “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” from The Lion King and “You Can Fly” from Peter Pan, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from Fantasia, and “Whole New World” from Aladdin.

Donald eventually finds himself back on the stage, with the orchestra spinning around him in the same maelstrom that took him away. Mickey Mouse appears, grabs the Sorcerer hat, gets the orchestra under control, and conducts them through a rendition of the Mickey Mouse Club march. As the orchestra plays, Donald ends up stuck in a tuba, and with the last note of the music, the tuba blows Donald out over the audience where he crashes into the rear wall of the theater. If the audience turns around they see Donald’s legs sticking out of a hole in the back wall of the theater, where he rocks back and forth a bit, and with a nervous “Uh oh”, falls into the hole.

Click through the slide show below to see Donald falling deeper and deeper into the hole in the wall.

After Donald falls entirely into the hole in the wall, the show ends and guests exit and walk out of the theater up a large ramp, depositing their “opera” (3D) glasses in marked bins. As they reach the top of the ramp, to the right is the Fantasy Faire gift shop.

If guests enter the shop, one of the first things they’ll see is a small merchandise display. Hanging from the ceiling above the display is a clustered assortment of musical instruments, including a sousaphone, a trumpet, a trombone, a flute, and a couple of clarinets. And in the middle of the cluster is none other than Donald Duck, falling forward, a familiar look of irascibility on his face.

This simple little scene, this post-show, reinforces the final scene of the show, when Donald falls into the hole in the wall.

This particular post-show is also an example of a specific type of post-show, what some in the themed entertainment industry refer to as “Exit through retail”, where guests are guided to or through a themed merchandise shop as they exit an attraction. Some might question whether a merchandise location really qualifies as a post-show, but I think a souvenir like a t-shirt or key chain can help you remember the experience you had on an attraction long after you’ve left the park, and in my view, that’s as valid a post-show as any other. Plus, there’s nothing like a post-show that you can take home with you!

Want to learn more? Check out Tell Your Story the Walt Disney World Way!

“When the Imagineers tell their stories, they reinforce key ideas and themes from the story to help the audience stay engaged.”

TYSVC: The “it’s a small world” Effect – it’s a small world

Our next stop is just a short walk from the transition between Liberty Square and Fantasyland, and is the attraction that this next principle is named for – it’s a small world!

The “it’s a small world” Effect is a shorthand way of describing how the Imagineers use repetition and reinforcement to make an experience and message memorable.

The Imagineers design the Disney parks to be memorable, and some of the most memorable aspects of the guest experience are the songs and music. They are a big part of what guests remember from their park visits. Like it or not, the songs get stuck in our heads and stay there long after we get home. Of all of the memorable music and songs in the parks, the song from ‘it’s a small world’ is probably the best known and most memorable of them all.

Like nearly everything in the Disney parks, the memorable nature of its songs is by design, and repetition is part of what makes the songs memorable. And like many of the Imagineers’ tools, this one traces its roots back to Walt Disney. According to Disney Legend and long time Imagineer Marty Sklar, Walt knew the importance of music in storytelling, and placed a premium on it. When Marty asked him once why he was spending so much time working on the songs and music for one of Disneyland’s attractions, Walt replied, ‘People don’t go out of the park whistling the architecture’.

And if seeing the marquee isn’t enough to get the song into your head, here’s the lyrics:

It’s a world of laughter
A world of tears
It’s a world of hopes
And a world of fears
There’s so much that we share
That it’s time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small, small world
There is just one moon And one golden sun
And a smile means
Friendship to ev’ryone
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small, small world

Music is not the only way the Imagineers employ repetition to make the parks memorable. They also use repetition in other ways, such as through the use of pre-shows and post-shows (coming soon) in which key ideas and themes are presented both before and after an attraction.

Repetition is also found in things as basic as park announcements. For example, one of the most well-known and oft-repeated phrases to guests at Walt Disney World can be heard when riding the monorail:

“Please stand clear of the doors! ¡Por favor manténgase alejado de las puertas!”

A photo of one of my favorite Walt Disney World t-shirts.

Monorail guests hear this phrase no fewer than 3–4 times during a trip around the Seven Seas Lagoon. For guests staying at a resort on the monorail such as the Contemporary, the Polynesian Village, or the Grand Floridian, this announcement will likely be playing in their heads long after they return home, just like “it’s a small world after all”.

“When the Imagineers tell their stories, they use repetition and reinforcement to help make the audience’s experience memorable.”

Next: Post-Shows at Mickey’s PhilharMagic!

TYSVC: Transitions – Liberty Square to Fantasyland

Our next stop is right next to the Haunted Mansion, where we can leave Liberty Square and enter Fanstasyland, and see one of the best examples of our next Imagineering principle – Transitions.

Transitions most often involve making sure that as guests make their way through the park, the changes they experience as they move from subject to subject, or area to area, are as seamless as possible. The Imagineers accomplish this through the use of what they call three-dimensional cross-dissolves that employ different sorts of sensory cues to let their audience know that they’re moving to a different area. As guests move through the park and pass from one land to another, the theming, colors, textures, walkways, and even background music around them changes subtly, and before they know it they’re in a completely different environment.

The pass-through between Liberty Square and Fantasyland is one of the best examples of this.

The pass-through between Liberty Square and Fantasyland. This shot is taken on the Liberty Square side.

In The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Imagineer Alex Wright provides an excellent description of this transition.

The transitions from land to land in our parks are always carefully considered, but the one from Fantasyland to Liberty Square—or Liberty Square to Fantasyland, depending on your point of view—is one of the most successful. The transition takes its cues from the standard film cross-dissolve. In order to make your way from one land to the other, you must pass beneath an overpass, actually a seating area in the Columbia Harbour House. There are elements from each land that appear on each side of the pass-through. You’ll see stonework reminiscent of the castle wall in Liberty Square, and Tudor-style woodwork on both sides of the restaurant. Your view narrows and goes dark as you travel through the tunnel, and there is even a separate BGM track playing in this space to complete the dissolve. It’s one of the finest and subtlest moments in your walk in the Park.

The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World by Alex Wright

So, let’s look at some photos of the details Alex describes. First is the “stonework reminiscent of the castle wall in Liberty Square”:

Notice that stonework? It’s reminiscent of the castle walls in Fantasyland.

Next is the “Tudor-style woodwork on both sides”. And that Memento Mori sign (on the Fantasyland side) feels like it belongs in Liberty Square, doesn’t it?

The Tudor-style woodwork fits in both Liberty Square and Fantasyland, while the wrought iron bracket has a Colonial style.

Let’s look at how this works with something specific: the support columns holding up the overpass. As we approach from Liberty Square, we see round, wooden, Colonial-style columns holding up the overpass in the foreground. As we get closer, we also notice square stone columns in the background, directly behind them. As we walk under the overpass, the round columns fade out of view, and the stone columns become more prominent. These columns are based on the look and feel of Fantasyland and serve as a gateway for us into the land.

Click through the slideshow below to see photos of the columns as we approach from Liberty Square.

Now let’s look at the column cross-dissolve again. This time, as we approach the pass-through from Fantasyland, the column cross-dissolve works in reverse of what we saw above. We see square stone columns holding up the overpass in the foreground. As get closer, we also notice round, wooden Colonial-style columns in the background, behind them. As we walk under the overpass, the stone columns fade out of view, and the wooden Colonial-style columns become more prominent. These columns are based on Colonial style architecture of Liberty Square, and lead us into that area.

Click through the slideshow below to see photos of the columns as we approach from Fantasyland.

Want to learn more? Check out Tell Your Story the Walt Disney World Way!

“When the Imagineers tell their stories, they make sure that changes in the experience serve the story they’re telling.”

Next: “it’s a small world”!

TYSVC: Hidden Mickeys – The Haunted Mansion

We’re heading out of Frontierland and back to Liberty Square to see an example of our next principle – Hidden Mickeys!

Hidden Mickeys are just what the name implies: images of Mickey Mouse that the Imagineers hide in the attractions, restaurants, hotels, and other areas. They’re usually designed to blend in to the area where they’ve been added. One of the more interesting things about Hidden Mickeys: once you spot a Hidden Mickey, you never see it the same way again. Once you see one—especially if you find it on your own—you no longer see what it really is, instead you see the Mickey. Let’s look at an example.

The specific Hidden Mickey we’re going to look at is in The Haunted Mansion.

The Haunted Mansion looms over the corner of Liberty Square near Fantasyland.

As we make our way through the mansion our Doom Buggies leave the Grand Hall and we enter the attic. If you look to your left just as you enter the attic, you see the image below – a bunch of old junk scattered about. But if you look closely, you might see something hiding in the junk…

See anything familiar?
How about now?
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wdw_haunted_mansion_attic_plates.jpg
And now, you’ll never look at those plates the same way again.

As interesting as Hidden Mickeys might be to some Disney park fans, they aren’t universally loved. In fact, not even all Imagineers are fans of them, since they can sometimes distract the audience from the ‘real’ experience they’ve designed. For example, in a Creative Mornings video, Imagineer Wyatt Winter points out that as guests ride through the Haunted Mansion, they’re supposed to be riding through an 18th century haunted mansion, and that seeing an image of Mickey Mouse in the attic is naturally going to momentarily pull guests out of the experience.

In addition to Hidden Mickeys, there are also other types of hidden secrets and tributes that provide a way for guests to be more engaged and active during their visit. These ‘Easter eggs’ are usually special or unique images, or hidden references to Imagineers and other people who work in the parks, or even references to other stories. The gravestones
named for the Imagineers in the Haunted Mansion queue are good examples of these. So are references to Ichabod Crane in Liberty Square. These ‘Easter Eggs’ are also sometimes called “five-legged goats”, named after a famous five-legged goat in the giant mural designed by Imagineer Mary Blair in the Grand Canyon Concourse in the
Contemporary Resort.

Want to learn more? Check out Tell Your Story the Walt Disney World Way!

“When the Imagineers tell their stories, they involve and engage their audience, and help them see things in a new way.”

Next: Transitions – Between Liberty Square and Fantasyland

TYSVC: Kinetics – Nugget Way and the Rivers of America

We’re staying in Frontierland for our next principle – Kinetics.

If you look around most Disney parks you’ll find there are few truly still and quiet places. Aside from the throngs of guests moving about, nearly everywhere you look there is movement or motion of some sort. That’s by design.

Kinetics is about using movement and motion to give scenes and settings energy and life. The Imagineers use kinetics to keep the atmosphere in the parks alive, dynamic, and vibrant, using all sorts of motion and movement, such as moving vehicles, changes in the lighting, special effects, or even hanging banners and flags that move as the wind blows. Another common feature the Imagineers use to create kinetics are the water fountains and features located around the parks. In some areas (including Tomorrowland), the Imagineers also use ‘layers’ of kinetics, where they stage different moving elements in front of each other so there is movement in the foreground as well as in the background.

Nugget Way, right near the exit of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a great place to see Kinetics at work. Everywhere you look from Nugget Way, there is movement and motion of some kind.

Right this way…

Like most of Frontierland, the path to Nugget Way is lined with split-rail fences and lamp posts. Up ahead on the right are several small geysers in the rocks. The geysers spurt water up into the air every few minutes.

One of the geysers to the right of the Nugget Way.

Up ahead the path splits to the left and right around a rock formation featuring several small geyser holes surrounded by a fence. The paved walkway continues to the left, while on the right the walkway changes from pavement to a wooden deck that wraps around the rock formation and connects back to the paved walkway.

Geysers in the fenced in enclosure.

Out ahead the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride tracks wrap around the Big Thunder spire and train cars filled with screaming guests roll along every few seconds.

A train full of guests zooms by Nugget Way every few seconds.

While looking at the Big Thunder spire, behind you, the Liberty Belle riverboat travels the Rivers of America, rafts carry guests back and forth between the island the main land, and guests move about on Tom Sawyer’s Island, adding to the kinetics surrounding guests (sorry I don’t have pictures of this part). There’s something moving everywhere you look.

Another great spot to see kinetics at work is on the boardwalk over the southwest corner of the Rivers of America, near the runoff from Splash Mountain. In the distance logs emerge from the top of Chick-a-Pin Hill (the original name of Splash Mountain) before sliding down the flume, while in the foreground logs float around the bend before heading back into the attraction for the “Zip-a-Dee-Do-Da” finale. And as was the case at Nugget Way, boats and rafts travel the Rivers of America behind you. Again, everywhere you turn, there’s something moving.

This spot near the runoff of Splash Mountain offers layers of kinetics with motion and movement in the foreground and background.

“When the Imagineers tell their stories, they keep the experience dynamic and active.”

Next: The Haunted Mansion and Hidden Mickeys!

TYSVC: Theming – Splash Mountain / Big Thunder Mountain

We’re heading to Frontierland next, to a great place to find examples of another key Imagineering principle – Theming.

Theming is about selecting the right details to support your story—or theme—and ensuring that everything in the attraction, land, resort, or park fits with that story. Theme is one of the most important things to come out of the early stages of the Imagineering process. It’s also really what sets Disney parks apart from amusement parks. Every park, land, attraction, and venue in the Disney parks employs theming to help convey its story.

The Imagineers use theming at different ‘levels’ within the Disney parks, starting at the park-level, but there is also land-level, and attraction-level theming. For example, there are often distinct differences in theming between different lands. The theming employed in Adventureland is different than the theming of Tomorrowland. Much of the theming in Adventureland is based on natural materials such as wooden hand rails and wooden/thatched walls, while the theming in Tomorrowland tends toward fabricated materials such as metal hand rails and brushed steel walls.

The area of Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland is an ideal place for us to look more closely at how theming works, and to see the distinction between land-level and attraction-level theming.

The Splash Mountain marquee. Notice how the sign looks like something out an animated film.

In Frontierland, land-level theming involves lots of wooden structures similar to those found in pioneer settlements and the old west, such as wooden fences and lamp posts, and buildings with stained wood walls, large timber beams, and shingled roofs. Both Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain employ elements of this type of theming in each, but the two attractions also make use of specific theming and details that bring out their individual stories. The first distinction is the setting of each. Splash Mountain is set in the South during Reconstruction following the Civil War, while Big Thunder is set in Monument Valley in Utah. Another distinction is that Splash Mountain is based on an animated film—more specifically, the animated sequences from Song of the South, while Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is intended to be more “realistic”.

At the bottom of the big drop on Splash Mountain sits a giant-sized briar patch, with over-sized branches and vines covered with huge thorns. The briars have a unique look to them, as if they had been lifted out of an animated film.

These briars convey an animated film brought to life.

As you walk around the contour of attraction, you see a doorway and window built into the mountain. Just past this is a doorway with an overhead sign that reads “Briar Patch”, also built into the mountain. Like the briars, these structures looked like they had been lifted out of animated film and plopped into the park.

This doorway and window have an “animated” feel to them.
The door to the Brian Patch is another structure with an “animated” feel it it.

In contrast to the buildings in and around Splash Mountain, the buildings and structures near Big Thunder Mountain Railroad have a more ‘realistic’ look. Even though both attractions use similar features like fences, lamp posts, and rustic buildings, the specific details and treatments of the props and buildings help distinguish Big Thunder from Splash Mountain.

The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad marquee. Note the contrast in the wood used for this sign vs. the Splash Mountain sign.
The structures in and around Big Thunder Mountain Railroad look as though they come from the ‘real’ world.

“When the Imagineers tell their stories, they use appropriate details to strengthen their story and support their creative intent.”

The Imagineering Toolbox and Technical Communication

I’m taking a quick break from my “Tell Your Story Visual Companion” series to post about some upcoming events I’m involved in.

I’m grateful to announce that over next few months I’m being given the opportunity to talk about about applying Disney Imagineering and storytelling to technical communication and technical writing for the Society of Technical Communication (or STC) at both the national level and for some local STC chapters.

These sessions are based on the books in The Imagineering Toolbox series, The Imagineering Pyramid, The Imagineering Process, and Tell Your Story the Walt Disney World Way, and explore practices and principles used by Walt Disney Imagineering in the design and construction of Disney parks and attractions, and how those practices and principles can be applied to technical communication and information development to more effectively communicate with audiences.

Starting on Wednesday February 24, I’ll be teaching an online course entitled “Adding Disney Imagineering to Your Technical Communication Toolbox”. The course runs for five weeks on Wednesdays, February 24 through March 24 at 3:00 to 4:00 PM ET. You can learn more about the course here.

On Thursday February 25 from 7:00 – 8:30 PM ET, I’ll be delivering a presentation entitled “Adding Disney Imagineering to Your TechnComm Toolbox” for the Philadelphia Metro Chapter of the STC. You can learn more about this event here.

On Wednesday April 7 from 1:00 – 2:00 PM ET, I’ll be delivering a session entitled “Tell Your Story the Walt Disney World Way: Adding Disney Imagineering to Your Technical Communication Toolbox” for the Chigaco chapter of the STC as part of their “Wednesday Webinar Series”. You can learn more about events in the chapter’s “Wednesday Webinar Series” here.

Later in April, I’ll be delivering a session entitled “Tell Your Story the Walt Disney World Way: Adding Disney Imagineering to Your Technical Communication Toolbox” at the STC Rochester Spectrum 2021 virtual conference. My session is scheduled for Monday April 19 from 2:30 pm to 3:20 pm ET. You can learn more about Spectrum 2021 here.

In June I’ll be delivering a presentation entitled “Tell Your Story the Disney Way: Applying Disney Imagineering to Technical Communication” at the STC Summit as part of the Content Design and Delivery track. My session is scheduled for Monday June 7. You can learn more about the STC Summit 2021 here.

Finally, in September, I will be facilitating a workshop for the Rochester chapter of the STC focused that workshop explores “The Imagineering Toolbox”—the tools Disney’s Imagineers use to design and build Disney parks and attractions—and how technical communicators can use these same tools when designing and developing engaging and effective user experiences for our audiences. Dates and times for this are workshop are TBD.

A huge THANK YOU to the STC folks who are giving me these opportunities to talk about Imagineering and technical communication!

#stc #techcomm #wdi #imagineering #imagineeringtoolbox

TYSVC: “Read”-ability – Pirates of the Caribbean

We’re staying in Adventureland for our next stop. Just across the way from Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room is one of the best spots to find examples of a key Imagineering principle – something I call “Read”-ability.

In many ride-based attractions, particularly dark rides, guests pass through scenes fairly quickly, so the Imagineers need to help the audience understand each scene quickly and easily. They solve this by creating images or scenes that can be ‘read’ quickly by audiences.

One of the best attractions for examples of “Read”-ability is Pirates of the Caribbean.

This sail and mast form the marquee outside of Pirates of the Caribbean

We’re going to look at two examples of “Read”-ability here. The first is in the Fast Pass Queue.

At the end of a passageway in the Fast Pass queue, the queue turns to the left at a wall that features a barred window. Looking down into the window you’ll see a room, possibly a jail cell, with two skeletal figures sitting at a small table with a chess board with only a handful of chess pieces still in play. The rest of the pieces sit on either end of the board, suggesting they had been claimed during the game.

It takes only a second or two for you to read the scene and understand what’s going on.

Arr, it looks like it’s a stale matey!

There’s a story about this scene that during a refurbishment, cast members moved the pieces on the board, and then couldn’t remember where the pieces were supposed to go. According to the story, they fortunately found notes about the scene on the back of one of Marc Davis’ drawings.

The next, and my favorite, example of “Read”-ability comes near the very end of the attraction. As guests move through the burning city, they enter a jail area where small groups of pirates are locked up behind bars while flames burn in the distance behind them. The boat then approaches a jail cell holding a trio of pirates. Outside the cell, just beyond the outstretched arms of the pirates, a dog sits holding a set of keys in its mouth.

Like with the chess scene, it takes only a few seconds for guests to understand what’s going on here.

“Here, doggy, doggy…”

“When the Imagineers tell their stories, they simplify complex subjects.”

Next: Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Theming!

TYSVC: Pre-Shows – Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

As we leave Liberty Square, we travel through the cut-through just past The Diamond Horseshoe and make our way to Adventureland for an example of one Imagineering’s Wayfinding principles – Pre-Shows!

Pre-shows prepare the audience for what they are about to experience. They are the parts of an attraction that you experience before you enter the attraction itself. The Imagineers use pre-shows to enhance the experience for their guests, put them into a particular mood, or even provide them with background information that help all of the elements of the show make sense. In some cases, pre-shows can also help convey the attraction’s creative intent.

A great place to see a good Pre-Show is Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.

The marquee outside of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

In this example, the Pre-Show features toucans Claude and Clyde, who tell a story that sets the stage for show to come. The Pre-Show happens a inside a small stone temple across a small tropical lagoon surrounded by plants and carved tikis near the show’s queue.

Claude (the green toucan) and Claude (the blue toucan) welcome guests to Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, and let them know what to expect when they enter the show building.
Another look at Claude and Clyde.

“When the Imagineers tell their stories, they introduce the audience to the story before the story even starts.”

Next: Pirates of the Caribbean and “Read”-ability!