The Pyramid in Practice – Repetition and The “it’s a small world” Effect

I recently attended a webinar entitled AGAIN: The Neuroscience of Repetition that reinforced for me the power of The “it’s a small world” Effect from The Imagineering Pyramid as an effective tool to reinforce your message.


The webinar was hosted by Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler and presented by Carmen Simon, author of Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions.

Some of the highlights from my notes from this webinar include:

Memory is at the root of all decision making – People make decisions based on what they remember.

Why use repetition?

  • Repetition builds patterns – your brain looks for patterns (as a means to conserve energy)
  • Repetition promotes understanding
  • Repetition converts short-term memories into long-term memories

If you’re interested in learning more about how repetition can help you make your message memorable, I suggest you check out the webinar replay.

Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!


The Pyramid in Practice – It All Begins with a Story and Frozen Ever After

This post looks at another example of how the Imagineering Pyramid principles are practiced in the Disney parks: It All Begins with a Story and the new Frozen Ever After attraction at Epcot.

(©2016, courtesy of Brent Dodge)

Let me start with a refresher on It All Begins with a Story, described on pages 22-23 in The Imagineering Pyramid:

Story is the essential organizing principle behind the design of the Disney theme parks.… When we design any area of a Disney theme park, we transform a space into a story place. Every element must work together to create an identity that supports the story of that place….

This quote, taken from Imagineer John Hench’s Designing Disney, underscores the significance of story in the design of Disney theme parks…

Story is the fundamental building block of everything Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) does when designing and building attractions. The Imagineers identify a core idea for each attraction they build, and it is that core idea, or story, that serves as the basis for every detail of the attraction. Decisions about an attraction’s theming (another tool that we will discuss later), lighting, sound effects, background music (BGM in Imagineering parlance), and other details are all based on how well they serve to support the story.


Frozen Ever After provides a great example of this principle at work.

Let’s start with the “story” of this attraction: Following the events of Frozen (the movie), the Kingdom of Arendelle has been invited to participate in a “Summer Snow Day” celebration, including a reception at Queen Elsa’s Ice Palace.

With that story in mind, now take a few minutes to watch this video that features a walk-through of the Frozen Ever After queue and ride-through (courtesy of Attractions Magazine).

Note that every detail about the ride and its queue is based on the story of the “Summer Snow Day”. As Guests make their way through the queue, they find all manner of items related to the “Summer Snow Day”, including:

  • An ad for a “Summer Snow Day Blowout” sale at Oaken’s Tokens
  • A poster announcing the “Summer Snow Day” celebration
  • A sign outside Oaken’s Tokens about the “Summer Snow Day Blowout” sale
  • The proclamation announcing the official “Summer Snow Day”

Beyond the queue, the ride portion of the attraction provide Guests with tours of the kingdom as part of the “Summer Snow Day” celebration.

There are lots of other details and thematic elements inspired by the movie in the queue as well, including hints about what has happened to several of the film’s characters since the events of the movie.

Thoughts?  Let me know what you think in the comments!


Imagineering Pyramid Endnotes

Looking for more information about the sources quoted in The Imagineering Pyramid? If so, I’m here to help!


My final draft of The Imagineering Pyramid contained more than 150 endnotes. During the editing process, my publisher felt, and I agreed, that extensive endnotes weren’t ideal for the audience we were aiming for, and so we cut the endnotes from the final published version of the book. However, I thought there might be some readers who might be interested to see the endnotes, and so I’m making them available here.

You can download the Imagineering Pyramid Endnotes here.  This is  also available from the Resources page.

So what are you waiting for? Go download the endnotes  today!

The Pyramid in Practice – Creative Intent and Frozen Ever After

This post looks at another example of how the Imagineering Pyramid principles are practiced in the parks, this time Creative Intent in the new Frozen Ever After attraction at Epcot.

(©2016, courtesy of Brent Dodge)

Let me start with a refresher on Creative Intent, described on page 27 in The Imagineering Pyramid as follows:

“Creative intent can be thought of as the specific design goals the designers want to accomplish with a specific project. Put another way, a project’s creative intent defines the experience the designer hopes to create for their audience.”

Frozen Ever After opened on June 21, 2016 in the place of the Maelstrom attraction that had been part of the Norway pavilion since its earliest days. One question many fans had about this attraction is tied to its creative intent: What is the experience Guests will have when they ride Frozen Ever After?

How can we discern the creative intent of an attraction?  One place to look are park guide maps and websites which feature short descriptions that often convey (or at least hint at) each attraction’s creative intent. In this case, the Walt Disney World website provides the following description of the attraction:

Hoist the sails in Arendelle aboard an ancient Norwegian vessel as you set out into the wondrous wintery world of Frozen!

The newest Epcot guide map provides the following:

Board a wooden Viking ship and sail through the fantastical world of “Frozen.”

While helpful, those descriptions are a both little short on details. Fortunately, the attraction’s theming and pre-show both provide hints to its creative intent. Specifically, the Frozen Ever After queue features the following sign neat the load area:

(©2016, courtesy of Attractions Magazine)

This signs works in a manner very similar to the sign at the entrance to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Magic Kingdom (see page 30 in The Imagineering Pyramid). The creative intent of the attraction is built into its theming and pre-show. On this official “Summer Snow Day”, tours of the Kingdom or Arendelle are now departing. This is the same tour that the Guests will be taking when they experience this attraction.

Note: You can view a ride-through of the Frozen Ever After, including a a walk-through of the queue, here (courtesy of Attractions Magazine).

Thoughts?  Let me know what you think in the comments!

The Pyramid in Practice – Transitions and Soarin’ Around the World

As I mentioned previously, “Pyramid in Practice” posts will occasionally look at how some of the Imagineering Pyramid principles are practiced in the parks.

This post looks at the use of Transitions in the new Soarin’ Around the World film at Epcot.

Let me start with a refresher on Transitions. Transitions are described on pages 59-60 in The Imagineering Pyramid as follows:

“Transitions 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.”

“Transitions are also used between scenes within attractions and shows.”

On page 62, we look at a description of a different type of transition:

Most transitions are designed to allow for smooth change between scenes, but there are times when an abrupt change is more appropriate. In these cases, the Imagineers use a “crash cut”—a filmmaking term used to denote an abrupt transition.

The original Soarin’ film primarily uses “crash cuts” between scenes. The film abruptly jumps from scene to scene, and these transitions momentarily pull the audience out of the experience. Whenever I rode Soarin’ these crash cuts always reminded me that I was watching a film and took me out of the experience of “soarin'” over California.

The new Soarin’ Around the World film introduces new visual transitions between most of the scenes that help make the experience smoother and more immersive than the original.

(©2016, courtesy of Aaron Wallace)

[SPOILER ALERT: The following paragraph describes some of the scenes from the new Soarin’ Around the World film.]

These transitions take the form of things that we see and fly through as we travel from scene to scene. For example, at one point as we soar over a mountain top, we fly into some clouds and come out of those clouds near an arctic ocean. We then fly down near the water’s surface where the splash from a breaching whale fills our vision and we next find ourselves in Sydney Harbor in Australia. In a later scene, as we fly down over a herd of elephants in the African savanna, we fly through a dust cloud and emerge over the the Great Wall of China.

This use of transitions smooths out the experience considerably. Even though the jumps between scenes are quite distinct and noticeable, the transitions help lead us out of one scene and into the next, and the overall experience is far more immersive.

The film also contains a (not-so) Hidden Mickey! Keep an eye out for it!

Note: My comments are based on an online video of Soarin’ Around the World from one of the folks lucky enough to ride it earlier today.  I haven’t had the chance to ride this myself yet, but it’s *definitely* on my “To Ride” list for my next trip to Walt Disney World (tentatively February 2017).

Thoughts?  Let me know what you think in the comments!

Hidden Mickeys and “Winning the Brain Game” by Matthew E. May

In the chapter on Hidden Mickeys in The Imagineering Pyramid, I offered a simple exercise (borrowed from In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing by Matthew E. May) that illustrates how Hidden Mickeys work and how once you spot a Hidden Mickey, you never look at it the same way again.


The key piece of missing information is this: It’s the upper-case version of the most common letter in the English language. The letter exists in the white space.

If you still don’t “see” it, the answer is below (select/highlight the text between the words “Answer” to get the solution).

Answer It’s a capital letter “E”. Answer

Matthew E. May’s new book, Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking  revisits this example in the chapter about Fixation, one of the “7 fatal flaws of thinking” from the book’s title.


Fixation is May’s term for “functional fixedness”, a term coined by Psychologist Karl Duncker “to explain the difficulty people have in looking at objects and situations in ways differently than they commonly do or have in the past.” In simpler terms, fixation is our brains’ strong tendency to look for and create patterns.

In the case of this exercise, once our brain fills in the pattern in the image, we can’t go back and see it any other way. As May describes it (I’ve replaced the answer with [] in the excerpt below to help avoid giving it away):

“Most people cannot unsee the [] no matter how hard they try… even if they are successful for a split second, their brains flicker back to the []. What makes the image so indelible is the fact that your brain completed it. No “complete” [], no matter how elaborately or ornately rendered, could produce the same level of Fixation impact. Once you were given a clue, your brain created the image for you, without your having much say in the matter. The incomplete [] took on a new form, a life of its own – one with real staying power.”

I strongly recommend Winning the Brain Game to anyone looking to improve their problem solving skills, or looking to learn more about how we think about and approach problems. You can find my reviews of Winning the Brain Game on Amazon and Goodreads.

How does this apply to Hidden Mickeys?

What happens when your brain fills in the missing pieces in the image above is similar to the experience of finding a Hidden Mickey. Once our brains fill in the Hidden Mickey pattern, it takes on a new life of its own.

How can you use this idea in your creative projects?

  • Can you incorporate incomplete or partial images and help your audience “see” the real picture?
  • Can you help your audience participate and engage in your experience in a way that their brains help complete the message or pattern?


My Imagineering Library – HATCH

Here is a look at another item in My Imagineering Library, this time a book entitled HATCH: Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer by C. McNair Wilson.


The following review was originally posted on Amazon and Goodreads:

A Great Book About Brainstorming and Creativity

An insightful and engaging look at the brainstorming process by a former Disney Imagineer that will help anyone improve their brainstorming and creativity process. This is a book you will WANT to share with others (but buy them their own copies – you won’t want to let this one leave your library).

I had been looking forward to this book for a while, following the author on Facebook and Twitter, and even offering suggestions for cover design from time to time (only when the author solicited opinions), and was excited to finally get to read it.

The book starts with an explanation of the author’s “7 Agreements of Brainstorming”. In general, these sync with other “rules” of brainstorming (such as the “there are no bad ideas” and others used by Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI)), but this book drills into more detail on all of the rules outlined. I especially like the emphasis the author puts on separating “creative thinking” and “critical thinking”, which while it seems like common sense, is not common practice in my experience. Probably my favorite of the agreements is #7: Critical Thinking, because it provides an answer to one of the questions I’ve had about the Imagineering process – namely, how they move from generating lots of ideas (Blue Sky) to selecting the ideas to flesh out and develop (Concept Development).

Following the 7 Agreements, the book then explores other topics related to the brainstorming process, including the use of storyboarding, assembling teams, dealing with budgetary matters, setting up a suitable environment for brainstorming, and doodling/visual note-taking.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in creativity or the creative process in general. The examples in the book span a variety of situations (theme park design, community theater, birthday party planning, and others) and provide excellent case studies of how to apply the principles described in this book. You won’t be sorry you added this to your library.