The Pyramid in Practice – Theming and Life Is Good


In this post, I want to take another look at Imagineering Pyramid principles in practice “beyond the berm” This time I want to look at Theming, and in particular, an example of “corporate theming”.

Let’s start with a refresher on Theming, described on page 44 in The Imagineering Pyramid:

Theming is all about using appropriate details to strengthen your story and support your creative intent. Theming means striving to make sure that your project delivers its message in a clear and consistent manner, one that supports and, if possible, enhances the intended experience.

So, what is “corporate theming”?

Later in the Theming chapter I write:

Other examples of theming include branding and the use of corporate logos and slogans, or what we might call “corporate theming”.

One of my favorite examples of corporate theming is the company Life is Good, Inc. Wikipedia describes this company as follows: “Life is Good, Inc. is a New England–based apparel and accessories wholesaler, retailer, and lifestyle brand founded in 1994 and best known for its optimistic T-shirts and hats, many of which feature a smiling stick figure named Jake and the registered trademark ‘Life is good’.” Up until a recent branding change in 2015, the apparel created and sold by Life is Good, Inc. was very distinctive and employed consistent use of design, lettering, and illustration style. Their theming helped reinforce the company’s mission of “Spreading the power of optimism” and their slogan “Do what you love. Love what you do.”

In this post I wanted to expand on this a bit with some pictures that illustrate the distinctive theming used on original Life is Good t-shirts.

Below are some pictures of a few of my Life is Good t-shirts (I have a couple of others as well, as do my wife and kids). You can see they all make use of a unique illustration and lettering style, including the original company logo on the inside collar.

Each shirt also features Jake’s face on the back, and a small tab bearing the company’s slogan “Do What You Like. Like What you Do®” (which I now realize I got wrong in the above quote – bad Lou, no biscuit!).


Other items featuring the original Life is Good logo and theming include hats, mugs, and even tire covers.

Beyond these examples, you can find hundreds of examples of classic Life is Good illustrations online. Many of the early Life is Good t-shirts and other items featured their mascot Jake. You can find an assortment of Jake images on Google here.

The consistent use of their specific lettering and illustration style helps reinforce the Life is Good brand and identity, make the brand easily recognizable, and help communicate the company’s message of optimism. And that’s what theming is all about!

Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!


My Imagineering Library – Dream It! Do It!

Here is a look at another item in My Imagineering Library: Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms by Marty Sklar, former Imagineer and Disney Legend.


A great Disney book by a true Disney Legend!

Marty Sklar started his career with Disney in 1955, one month prior to the opening of Disneyland. He remained with the company until retiring in 2009, and is the only Disney employee to have participated in the design and opening of all 11 currently operating Disney theme parks (Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea, Disneyland Paris, and Walt Disney Studios Park). Though he started in marketing, he quickly found a home at WED Enterprises / Walt Disney Imagineering where he eventually ended up leading the organization for more than 30 years until his transition to “Ambassador for Walt Disney Imagineering” leading up to his retirement in 2009.

This book is a “memoir” of the author’s 50+ years working for Walt Disney Productions/The Walt Disney Company, and includes chapters about the development of all of the theme parks, as well as a chapter about the author’s time at UCLA and his association with Coach John Wooden. It also includes “Mickey’s Ten Commandments”, a list of ten key principles for theme park design that have become legendary in their own right. The book also includes 3 additional lists of “Mickey’s Ten (more) Commandments”, focusing on leadership and followship. Because of the close working relationship the author had with Walt Disney, this book provides an intimate look at the impact of Walt’s death on the company.

The role that Marty Sklar has played in the success of the Walt Disney Company and Disney Theme Parks can’t be understated. In his early days at WED, Marty wrote many of Walt Disney’s speeches, presentations, and film scripts, including the script for the Epcot film (which was the last film Walt recorded before his death in December 1966). It was Marty Sklar who coined the famous definition of imagineering: “the blending of creative imagination and technical know-how.” Later he was pivotal in the design and creation of Epcot and every other Disney theme park since.

As a fan of Disney theme parks in general and Imagineering in specific, buying and reading this book was a no-brainer for me. Despite that, I was initially somewhat skeptical about this book, thinking that it wouldn’t provide the level of detail and insight that I like most in books about Disney parks and Imagineering. I was worried it would be a white-washed memoir that would retell the stories found in the other books in my Disney/Imagineering library. I needn’t have worried at all.

After reading the introduction, I was hooked. While many memoirs like this tend to gloss over details and omit “unpleasant” or controversial stories, this isn’t the case with this book at all. This book is a welcomed addition to my library, and one that I expect I will read and re-read again and again.

If I have one minor quibble with the book it’s the lack of an index, which would be helpful in finding stories about the many people that the author worked with during his time at Disney.

I strongly recommend this book to any fan of Disney theme parks. You won’t be disappointed!

[The above review was first published in August 2013 on Amazon and Goodreads.]

Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!

The Imagineering Pyramid on Hometown Reads – Boston


Hometown Reads is a community of authors and that shares book marketing best practices and other helpful ideas while providing authors a chance to meet and network with other published authors in their hometown.


The first city featured on Hometown Reads was Toledo, OH, and has added more cities and now features more than 40 cities.


Hometown Reads recently created a page for Boston and started accepting submissions from authors in the Boston area, so I submitted The Imagineering Pyramid. I’m happy to say that the book is now live on the Hometown Reads – Boston page. You can see The Imagineering Pyramid on Hometown Reads here.


Take a look to see if a city near you is on Hometown Reads. Who knows? Your next favorite book might have been written by your neighbor!

Thoughts? Tell me what you think the comments!

Pyramid Pairings #2: It All Begins with a Story / Attention to Detail


Pyramid Pairings are specific pairs of Imagineering Pyramid principles and how they work together. The second Pyramid Pairing we’re going to look at is It All Begins with a Story and Attention to Detail.

Let’s start with a refresher on these principles, from The Imagineering Pyramid.

It All Begins with a Story is described on page 25:

…“it all begins with a story” means using your subject matter to inform all decisions about your project.

Attention to Detail is described on page 37:

The principle underlying this tool is straightforward enough. This is all about paying attention to every detail.

As I noted in my last Pyramid Pairings post, It All Begins with a Story naturally pairs with nearly all of the other principles in the Imagineering Pyramid, since your story or subject matter will likely play a big part in how you employ the other principles. In the case of this pairing, the relationship between the principles is reciprocal – the story drives the details, and the details in turn help tell the story. Put another way, your story or subject matter will suggest certain types of details, and the specific details you choose to focus on can help reinforce your story. (This reciprocity occurs between other pairings as well, which we’ll explore in future posts)

Let’s look at some examples of how details can be both derived from and reinforce a Disney park attraction’s story.

The story of Town Square Theater in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World involves Guests visiting Mickey’s dressing room backstage at a magic show, so we might expect to see details related to magic in this venue. However, the specific details we find not only strongly reinforce the magic theme, but also reinforce Mickey’s part in the story as well. Some of the things we see backstage include:

  • Books entitled “Sorcery for the Stage: Apprentice Edition”, “The Magic Kingdom: Royalty’s Greatest Magicians”, and “The Magic Wand – Owner’s Manual”.
  • A crystal ball (labeled “Leota’s Crystals”, named for Madame Leota from the Haunted Mansion)
  • Yensid’s hat from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice short in Fantasia (also known as Sorcerer Mickey’s hat).
  • A poster for a “Band Concert at the Park” (from The Band Concert Mickey Mouse short film)

Another example of details reinforcing an attraction’s story can be found in Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The story of Expedition Everest is focused on the “Himalayan Escapes – Tours and Expeditions” tour company and their business transporting thrill seekers across the Forbidden Mountain, home to the legendary Yeti. Based on this story and subject matter, it’s natural that the details we’ll see would be inspired by the Yeti, but many of the things we’ll see serve to enrich the story.

As Guests enter the queue for this attraction, they pass through a number of areas that reinforce the story of the Yeti. First we pass through the Yeti Mandir, a temple dedicated to the Yeti that features several intricately detailed carvings of the Yeti. Among these are different representations of the Yeti.These different carvings reinforce the various myths surrounding the Yeti. We later pass through a museum featuring artifacts related to both the “facts” and legends of the mysterious Yeti. Of particular interest is the  “Mystery of the Lost Expedition” exhibit, which includes artifacts retrieved from the slopes of the mountain, including damaged camping gear and pictures depicting footprints and other evidence of whatever it was that attacked the expedition. The details here strongly hint at what might await Guests on their journey across the Forbidden Mountain.

It All Begins with a Story and Attention to Detail also work together in fields “beyond the berm”. Again, your subject matter provides a general idea of the types of details you might use in your project, and the specific details you choose can serve to strengthen and reinforce your subject matter. This post is an example of this at work. My story is how subject matter and attention to detail work together, so it makes sense that I would use examples of details in specific Disney park attractions and how they reinforce each attraction’s story. My hope is that the specific examples I chose work to reinforce my story effectively (you’ll have to tell me if I chose wisely).

Imagineering Pyramid Checklist Questions

To wrap up, here are some additional Imagineering Pyramid Checklists questions based on this pairing:

  • What types of details does my subject matter suggest?
  • What types of details can I use to highlight my story and subject matter?
  • How can I use details to strengthen and reinforce my story?

Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!


My Imagineering Library – It’s Kind of a Cute Story

Here is a look at another item in My Imagineering Library: It’s Kind of a Cute Story by Rolly Crump (a former Imagineer and Disney Legend), as told to Jeff Heimbuch.


I could tell you a little about Rolly and this book, but I’ll just let my review speak for itself.

A Great Book from one of Disney’s Early Imagineers

A great book full of stories about one of the early Disney Imagineers and his work at Disney and beyond.

As a self-styled “Student of Imagineering” I had to add this book to my Imagineering library, and I’m glad I did. While the book doesn’t delve into details around design process and principles that some Imagineering books do (the stuff I like most), it does provide a higher-level look at the Imagineering process, and for that alone it’s valuable to anyone interested in understanding the art and craft of Imagineering.

This book is in essence a series of stories told by Rolly Crump, one of the first generation of Disney Imagineers. Rolly worked on many classic Disneyland attractions, including the Enchanted Tiki Room, it’s a small world, and the Haunted Mansion. These stories trace the path of Rolly’s professional life working for Disney (starting in Animation and later moving to WED/Imagineering), as well as his work outside of Disney, including projects for Circus World, Knott’s Berry Farm, Steve Wynn, the Cousteau Society, and others.

This book really showcases the breadth of Rolly’s portfolio, and it’s clear that he’s done an amazing amount of work in the themed entertainment world, including some of the better know Disney attractions.

Much of this book is based on some of the stories that originally appeared in “A Walk in the Park” an audio tour of Disneyland in which Rolly talks about the various projects he worked on at Disneyland, but this book elaborates on most of those stories. I also recognized several stories from an interview Rolly did with his co-author (Jeff Heimbuch), but again, the book expands on many of those stories.

I recommend this book to any serious Disney park fan and fans of Imagineering and themed entertainment.

[The above review was first published in August 2013 posted on Amazon and Goodreads.]

Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!

Pyramid Pairings #1: It All Begins with a Story / Creative Intent


Pyramid Pairings are specific pairs of Imagineering Pyramid principles and how they work together.

The first Pyramid Pairing we’re going to look at is It All Begins with a Story and Creative Intent. It All Begins with a Story naturally pairs with nearly all of the other principles in the Imagineering Pyramid – your story or subject matter will likely play a big part in how you employ the other principles. We’ll see more examples of this in more detail in future It All Begins with a Story pairing posts, but for now, let’s look at how it pairs with Creative Intent.

Let’s start with a refresher on these principles, from The Imagineering Pyramid.

It All Begins with a Story is described on page 25:

…“it all begins with a story” means using your subject matter to inform all decisions about your project.

Creative Intent is described on page 31:

…focusing on creative intent means staying focused on your objective.

The relationship between It All Begins with a Story and Creative Intent is a fairly straight-forward one. An attraction’s creative intent is always strongly related to its story. In fact, an attraction’s creative intent can sometimes be thought of as a specific treatment of its story. Likewise, your story or subject matter will always relate to your objective and the experience you want your audience to have.

Let’s look at an example from the Disney parks, and how an attraction’s story relates to the experience the Imagineers want their Guests to have.

The story of Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain at Disney’s Animal Kingdom surrounds the “Himalayan Escapes – Tours and Expeditions” tour company, located in the Tibetan village of Serka Zong, which takes thrill seekers across the Forbidden Mountain, home to the legendary Yeti, to the base of Mount Everest where they can begin their ascent to the mountain’s peak.

The creative intent of Expedition Everest is succinctly summarized by its description on the Disney park’s website: “Careen through the Himalayan mountains on a speeding train while avoiding the clutches of the mythic Abominable Snowman.” After passing through a temple and museum dedicated to the Yeti, Guests board a train and the begin their journey across Forbidden Mountain peacefully enough, but soon discover that the Yeti has ripped up the tracks, and their train hurtles backwards into the mountain where they narrowly escape the Yeti’s grasp before returning safely to the train station where they began. This experience is built entirely upon the story of the “Himalayan Escapes – Tours and Expeditions” tour company and its efforts to bring guests across Forbidden Mountain to Mount Everest.

It All Begins with a Story and Creative Intent also work together in fields “beyond the berm”. In any field or when working on any creative idea, your subject matter should be a primary source when developing and clarifying your objective. In the “Imagineering Game Design” and “Imagineering Management and Leadership” chapters of The Imagineering Pyramid, I noted that these two principles (along with The Art of the Show) form a sort of “continuum of narrowing focus” with which you can zero in on the specifics of a creative project. I also offered the following sets of questions to help navigate along this continuum.

Game design questions:

  • What type of game am I designing? (show)
  • ƒƒWhat is my game about? (story)
  • ƒƒWhat is the experience I want players of my game to have? (creative intent)

Management and leadership questions:

  • ƒƒWhat is is our mission? What do we do? (show)
  • ƒƒWhat is our specific job in fulfilling our mission? (story)
  • ƒƒWhat are we working on now? (creative intent)

Imagineering Pyramid Checklist Questions

Beyond the above questions, some other questions you might use to focus on this pair include:

  • How do my subject matter and objective relate to each other?
  • How can I strengthen or emphasize that relationship?
  • Am I basing decisions about my objective on my subject matter?


So that’s our first Pyramid Pairing. As I said, this pairing is pretty straight-forward. As we move through the various Pyramid Pairings that we’ll explore, I expect we’ll find some that will require a bit more discussion.

Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!


Video of Southborough Library Talk

As I mentioned in this post, last week I gave a talk about The Imagineering Pyramid at the Southborough Library.

Southborough Access Media recorded the talk and has posted it on their YouTube channel, or you can watch it here:

I think the talk went pretty well.

Once again, I want to say a public Thank You to the Southborough Library for hosting me, and to everyone who attended.

Take care!