Imagineering Process Update

I know it’s been a long time since my last post. My apologies.

I wanted to post a brief update on the status of The Imagineering Process.


I submitted the final draft to my publisher, Theme Park Press. Right now we’re looking at a release in late March to mid-April. As we get closer I’ll have a better estimate.

I’ve also sent the final manuscript to some friends, colleagues, and nice folks who have agreed to write testimonial “blurbs” (or jacket quotes) for the book. So far I’ve received testimonials from:

  • Lee Cockerell, Former Executive Vice President, Walt Disney World® Resort and Best Selling author of Creating Magic…10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney, The Customer Rules, Time Management Magic, and Career Magic.
  • David Burkus, author of Friend of a Friend, Under New Management, and The Myths of Creativity
  • Sam Gennawey, author of Walt Disney and the Promise of Progress City, The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream, and Universal versus Disney: The Unofficial Guide to American Theme Parks’ Greatest Rivalry
  • Brian Collins, Former Imagineer & WDI Show Writer
  • Jeffrey A. Barnes, Dean of Student Success at California Baptist University and best-selling author of The Wisdom of Walt series
  • Louis L. Lemoine, Retired Walt Disney Imagineer and Disney Legacy Award recipient

I’m expecting blurbs from a few other folks as well, and will post an update when I have more to share.

So far the response to the book has been better than I could have hoped for.

As we get closer to the release I’ll share the testimonials here (as well as on Facebook and Twitter), and I’ll also be posting some snippets from the book that provide a high-level look at the seven stages that comprise the Imagineering Process.


More soon.



The Pyramid in Practice: Pre-Shows and Post-Shows in Pandora – The World of Avatar

This post looks at Pre-Shows and Post-Shows in practice in the Avatar Flight of Passage attraction at Pandora -The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.


The Pre-Shows and Post-Shows chapter of The Imagineering Pyramid, opens with the following:

“When you experience a Disney theme park attraction, it’s uncommon that you do so without some form of introduction before the attraction or a reminder after it. In fact, nearly all Disney park attractions lead guests into and out of the attraction in some way or another. This practice is…what Imagineers refer to as Pre-Shows and Post-Shows.”


Pre-shows prepare the audience for what they are about to experience and often help convey the attraction’s creative intent.

The Pre-Show to Avatar Flight of Passage includes an extensive queue and “training” video that explains what Guests will experience when they link to their avatars and climb on board their banshees.

The following video provides a good look at this Pre-Show experience:


Post-shows reinforce key ideas and themes, and most often include themed areas or interactive activities or games. One specific form of post-show is what’s referred to in the themed entertainment world as “exit through retail” in which guests are led through a themed merchandise shop as they exit an attraction.

The Avatar Flight of Passage Post-Show uses this “exit through retail” approach, taking Guests into a shop called Windtraders as they exit the attraction.

But beyond  simply selling t-shirts, buttons, and other souvenirs, Windtraders also offers two specific experiences that help reinforce key ideas and themes from Avatar Flight of Passage.

The first is the opportunity to “adopt a banshee”. Banshees are the flying creatures that Guests (and their linked avatars) fly on when they experience the attraction, and this experience allows Guests to take one home with them. Watch the following video to see how this works:

The other experience is the opportunity to turn yourself into a Navi action figure. There is an area with kiosks with machines that scan the Guest’s face and allow the Guest to select other options about their action figure, and the figure is made for you while you wait. Check out the following video to see how this works:

These experiences take the “exit through retail” type of post-show to a whole new level, and provide new and interesting ways for Guests to take part of the magic home with them.

Thoughts?  Tell me what you think in the comments!

Podcast Interview – Live From Barsaive

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Years ago I worked as a line developer for a role playing game called Earthdawn published by FASA Corporation. I referenced Earthdawn and some of the products I worked on for the game in The Imagineering Pyramid.

Recently some fans of the game started a podcast about Earthdawn called Live From Barsaive, where they talk about the game and the game’s setting (an area known as Barsaive, hence the name). I’ve been listening since the beginning, and have enjoyed the show quite a bit. It’s extremely gratifying (and humbling) to know that something I worked on so long ago (I worked on the game from 1992 through 1998) could be so well regarded.

The hosts of the show, Chad and Rachel, asked if I would be a guest on their show, and we recently recorded our episode. I had a great time. We talked for more than an hour, talking about Earthdawn,  The Imagineering Pyramid (they’re fans of Disney parks and have both read the book), and Disney parks in general.

The episode should be available soon. I’ll post again when it’s live.


The Pyramid in Practice: Attention to Detail and Kali River Rapids

Imagineer Joe Rohde‘s Instagram feed is like an Imagineering Master Class, providing a steady stream of unique and fun insights into the areas of theme park design and placemaking.

One of his most recent posts is an excellent example of how the Imagineers use Attention to Detail to help tell their stories, and how the meaning of some details can change over time. This post deals with the placement of a boombox and stack of cassette tapes in the dispatching office at Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom.

As Rohde writes, the original Creative Intent of this detail (yes, even individual details within show scenes have their own Creative Intent) was to illustrate that the people working in the dispatching office were living in roughly the same time period as Guests. However, because that particular show scene has not been updated since it was first installed in the mid 1990s, to modern Guests the boombox and cassette tapes now suggest the dispatching office is from a time gone by.

It will be interesting to see if this ever gets updated as Rohde suggests, and if so, how.

Take a look:

This is a shot of the dispatching office in Kali River Rapids. Certain details begin to shift their meaning because the research trips that led to this design took place in the mid-1990s, which is getting to be a quarter century ago. For example, there is a boombox on the shelf and a little stack of cassette tapes next to it. While the boombox was not brand-new when we installed it, it was meant to indicate that these people were living contemporary lives, and have access to electronic equipment, and were not living in some kind of fanciful ye olde long time ago. However, now, a boombox and cassettes are themselves strange antiques from some jolly olde long time ago. I promise you, that even people in a small village in Nepal probably have better audio gear than this. I mean…they have smart-phones after all!! At some point, it is certain that these props will probably need to be upgraded… Replaced with props that while still not being new, are contemporary enough to show that we are talking about people who live with us, in our time. That is an important message, because, even though our first research trips took place a quarter century ago, every one of the conservation crises represented in every one of our stories has gotten worse since we started…so we still need to make our stories pointed in the right direction. If rainforests, and elephants, and gorillas, and rhinos, and indigenous cultures, all become a thing of the past, then Disney's Animal Kingdom will become a fantasy park… Not the adventure into reality that it is. #disneysanimalkingdom #animalkingdom #kaliriverrapids #dak #conservation #wildlifeconservation #design

A post shared by Joe Rohde (@joerohde) on

You can find this post on Joe Rohde’s instagram feed here.

If you’re interested in Imagineering and themed entertainment, I strongly recommend following Joe on both Twitter and Instagram.


Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!

The Pyramid in Practice – Theming and Imagination Dental Solutions


In this post, I want to look at a company called Imagination Dental Solutions and a somewhat unusual example of Theming known as “Dental Theming”.

Imagination Dental Solutions is an award winning design and manufacturing studio with a decade of experience creating themed environments for dental offices. That’s right, dental offices. And this is where “Dental Theming” comes in.

According to the Imagination Dental Solutions website, “Dental theming is the transformation of regular dentist office into an amazing and entirely different environment through the use if murals, gaming, and 3D elements….Our theming creates positive patient experiences. Children are excited to visit a themed dental office, making it easier… to provide them with a foundation for good dental health.”

I think this is a great example of theming and “using appropriate details to strengthen your story and support your creative intent”. The environments IDS creates are extremely detailed and elaborately themed, creating a transformative experience for their clients’ guests. The image below shows just a small sampling of the themed environments Imagination Dental Solutions has created over the last decade. You can see more at their website.

Copyright 2017 Imagination Dental Solutions. All rights reserved. Used without permission.


As a side note, Imagination Dental Solutions has a relationship of sorts with the theme park industry. Their parent company is  Studio Y Creations, “an innovator and leader in the theming and display industry… considered among the best companies in the world for designing and manufacturing three-dimensional displays.” One of Studio Y Creation’s clients is Canobie Lake Park, a small, family-friendly amusement park located in Salem, NH (a park near and dear to my heart and one I try to visit at least once a year). You can see some of Studio Y Creation’s work at Canobie Lake Park on their website.


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

Story vs Storytelling: An Excerpt from The Imagineering Pyramid

I was recently a guest on The Mouse Knows Best podcast, and one of the Imagineering Pyramid principles we talked about was It All Begins With a Story. Our discussion centered around the role of story and storytelling in the Disney theme parks and one portion of the It All Begins With a Story chapter of The Imagineering Pyramid in particular, so I thought I would share the essay we discussed here.


Story vs Storytelling

Imagineering has been using story as its “essential organizing principle” since its earliest days during the design of Disneyland, but the idea that “Imagineers are storytellers” is a more recent one, born during Michael Eisner’s tenure as CEO and chairman of The Walt Disney Company. Eisner frequently commented on the importance of stories and storytelling in the Disney theme parks, to the point where the meaning of the word story and its role in Imagineering has become somewhat clouded.

Overuse of the term story and the strong emphasis on story and storytelling employed by WDI is considered somewhat controversial on some internet blogs and discussion boards. Many online commentators believe that to say that Disney attractions all tell a story is to overly simplify what WDI does. Some critics even go as far as to suggest that the Imagineers at times rely too heavily on telling stories with their attractions. And while the idea that “Imagineers are storytellers” is often promoted by the Disney company in their own blogs and videos about WDI, there is an argument to be made that some of the original Imagineers didn’t consider themselves storytellers at all.

One example is Disney animator and Imagineer Marc Davis, who didn’t believe that theme park attractions were a storytelling medium. Davis went on record several times regarding his views.

In The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion, Jeff Baham quotes from “Marc Davis and the Art of the Haunted Mansion”, an article published in issues 30–31 of Haunted Attraction Magazine:

You know, the first guys that worked on [the Haunted Mansion] could never sell it to Walt because they were trying to sell this story about this bride who was left standing at the altar, and this groom had died a horrible death. The thing was, I found out—and Walt agreed—that this was not a story-telling medium. These attractions at Disneyland and Disney World are experiences, but they are not stories. You don’t have a story that starts at a beginning and goes until the end…. These things I worked on had no story at all, and I think they worked, too.

In The Disneyland Story, Sam Gennawey quotes Davis from issue number 16 of The “E-Ticket” magazine:

My point of view on all of these attractions is that they are a series of experiences. You aren’t telling a story in the Haunted Mansion any more than you are trying to tell a story in Pirates of the Caribbean.  You’re showing some pirates in a lot of interesting situations, but you don’t really have a beginning or an ending. They’re a series of situations, not a story. I think that is why Walt never bought the Haunted Mansion in his time.

Davis believed that theme park attractions provide their audiences not with a story, but with a series of experiences. In his resignation letter, Imagineer Tony Baxter writes: “Legendary Imagineer Marc Davis once said, ‘We don’t really have a story with a beginning, an end or a plot…. It’s more a series of experiences … building up to a climax.’”

In a letter to Jack and Leon Janzen from The “E-Ticket” magazine, Imagineer Christopher Merritt quotes Marc Davis when he writes:

I think it [the Hatbox Ghost] was a good idea at the time. Remember, the mansion had been worked on for a number of years, and Walt had never bought what they had come up with. I don’t recall why we took this [the Hatbox Ghost] out, but we were no longer trying to tell a story about the bride. Walt’s attitude was that he didn’t want a story, but a series of experiences and situations. Perhaps this figure didn’t lend itself to this.

In an essay that opens the Imagineering chapter of the book Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man, Imagineering executive Marty Sklar acknowledges Davis’ views, saying: “In joining the Imagineers to create what he called “experience rides”, Marc Davis became the most prolific Imagineer of his time in developing ideas and drawings for Disney park attractions.”

But even if we agree with Davis, that doesn’t mean that story hasn’t been, and isn’t still, a foundational tool in the Imagineers’ toolbox. I believe some detractors have gotten themselves too hung up on the word “story” and some of its narrative connotations, and this has led them to forget the role that story has always played in the design of Disney theme parks.

As Didier Ghez writes in Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality:

Walt Disney was, foremost, a storyteller. As a result, everything starts with a story at Walt Disney Imagineering. Every detail of every land in the park has to be backed up by a story, a “mythology”. Often, the story would never be a part of what the guests would experience, but was used as a strategic outline in guiding the design process. It is the thread that holds it all together, the script from which all the elements flow coherently: design, models, color, backdrops, props and costumes.

And it’s the essence that distinguishes a Disney park and its lands from all other parks.

“Story”, then, serves as an elegant shorthand for “the core idea that underlies each attraction”. I recently discovered that this view is shared by at least one current Imagineer. In an essay entitled “A Story by Any Other Name” in The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney California Adventure at Disneyland Resort, Imagineer Alex Wright explores the idea of story and explains how WDI employs a broad definition of story that is intended to encompass all manner of experiences that guests encounter in Disney parks. In his words:

It’s often said that everything we do at Imagineering is about story—and it is. But that phrase in and of itself is really just shorthand for a much more nuanced idea of what “story” means in our medium of Disney parks. It doesn’t mean the same thing that it would mean if we were writing a book, making a movie, drawing a comic strip, or even standing on a stage telling a story to an audience. None of those media are approached in exactly the same way by the creators in those fields, so why would we expect that this one wouldn’t follow its own path?

Following this introductory paragraph, Wright examines how story can have different meanings depending on the type of attraction or venue, and how guests serve as collaborators in the storytelling that takes place in the parks.


Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!