Pyramid Pairings #3: It All Begins with a Story / Theming


Pyramid Pairings are specific pairs of Imagineering Pyramid principles and how they work together. The next Pyramid Pairing I want to look at is It All Begins with a Story and Theming.

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.

Theming is described on page 44:

Theming is all about using appropriate details to strengthen your story and support your creative intent.

Since theming is about strengthening your story, the relationship between these two principles is a natural one. In fact, theming has an especially close relationship with both It All Begins with a Story and Attention to Detail, as the description of it specifically references both story and details. Also, as mentioned in The Imagineering Pyramid, one way to look at theming is as being the combination of It all Begins with a Story and Attention to Detail (we’ll look at the pairing of Attention to Detail and Theming in a future post). Also, like the pairing of It All Begins with a Story and Attention to Detail, the pairing  of It All Begins with a Story and Theming is also reciprocal – the story drives the theming, and the theming in turn helps tell the story.

A great example of story and theming working together in the Disney parks is the “kit-of-parts” technique used in A Bug’s Land in Disney California Adventure, described by Imagineer Alex Wright in the The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World:

In kit-of-parts design, a defined set of elements—which can be configured in multiple ways to achieve the intent—is available to the designer. The logic of a kit-of-parts is applicable to the world of the bugs in the film and in our land because the “kit” is defined by the elements that would be available to the characters in order to build the world in which they live. In the case of A Bug’s Life, the environment is comprised only of things that are within the reach of the bugs, either found in their natural environment or left behind by humans.

According to the ‘a bug’s land’ at Disney California Adventure Park Fact Sheet, “Guests shrink down to the size of a bug at Flik’s Fun Fair and enjoy the attractions, which are designed to delight younger children and their parents.” This story is strengthened through the use of the “kit-of-parts” theming that takes the form of human leftovers such as rest rooms housed in an empty and worn-out tissue box, a bench formed of used Popsicle sticks, a circus tent made from an umbrella, light posts made of discarded bendy straws, and other items.

It All Begins with a Story and Theming also work together in fields “beyond the berm”. Again, your subject matter can provide a general idea of the types of theming you might use in your project, and the specific theming you choose can serve to strengthen and reinforce your subject matter.

A good example of story and theming working together is the “corporate theming” used in the original Life is Good apparel (which I elaborated on in a previous post). Life is Good’s mission of “Spreading the power of optimism” is communicated through the consistent use of their unique illustration and lettering style.

Imagineering Pyramid Checklist Questions

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

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

Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!


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