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.



Sneak Preview of The Imagineering Process

Hey! Here’s a sneak Preview from “THE IMAGINEERING PROCESS: Using the Disney Theme Park Design Process to Bring Your Creative Ideas to Life”.

From Chapter 11: Another View of The Imagineering Process

If we strip away the details of each stage of the Imagineering Process and boil each down to its core essence or objective, we find a simple but powerful process suitable for nearly any type of creative project.


To bring your creative ideas to life, you…

…define your overall objective, including what you can do, can’t do, and must do when developing and building your project. (Prologue)

…create a vision with enough detail to be able to explain, present, and sell it to others. (Blue Sky)

…develop and flesh-out your vision with enough additional detail to explain what needs to be designed and built. (Concept Development)

…develop the plans and documents that describe and explain how your vision will be brought to life. (Design)

…build the actual project, based on the design developed in the previous stages. (Construction)

…test and validate your design at each stage to help solve and/or prevent problems that may arise during the design and construction process. (Models)

…present your project to your audience, allow them to experience it, and evaluate its success and effectiveness over time. (Epilogue)

This is how the Imagineers bring the Disney parks to life, and you can use it too!

More previews to come!


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

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!

Even More New Items for my Imagineering Library

I recently added a couple more items to my Imagineering Library, and as I am want to do, I thought I’d share some pictures.

The first is Disneyland: Inside Story by Randy Bright.


Like Disneyland: The Nickel Tour I found this on eBay at a “reasonable” price, and can’t wait to dig in. Most of the books in my collection are focused on Walt Disney World, and I’m glad to be adding some Disneyland books to my library.

The other new addition is a documentary about Disney Legend and former Imagineer Rolly Crump called The Whimsical Imagineer: The Incredible Life of Rolly Fargo Crump.


This is a great (but perhaps too short) film about Rolly and his work with the Disney company. For those interested in learning more about Rolly, I would recommend his book It’s Kind of a Cute Story and the More Cute Stories series of audio books in which Rolly shares, well, more cute stories about his work with the Disney organization (the latest volume is about one of his post-Disney projects, Knott’s Bear-y Tales).

Take Care!

More New Items in My Imagineering Library

I recently added a few more items to my Imagineering Library, and thought I’d share some pictures.

The first is Disneyland: The Nickel Tour – A Postcard Journey Through A Half Century of the Happiest Place on Earth by Bruce Gordon and David Mumford.


I found this on eBay at a “reasonable” price, and can’t wait to dig in. Most of the books in my collection are focused on Walt Disney World, and I’m glad to be adding some Disneyland books to my library. This also includes this next one…

Next is The Art of Disneyland by Jeff Kurtti and Bruce Gordon.


I got this one from Jeff Heimbuch, who is selling off some of his collection of Disney and theme park books. This book is filled with gorgeous concept art from Disneyland and it a welcomed addition to my Imagineering Library.

Last is Jack of All Trades: Conversations with Disney Legend Ken Anderson by Paul F. Anderson.


This is a new release from Theme Park Press (the same company that published The Imagineering Pyramid), and explores the life and work of Walt’s “10th Old Man”. Ken Anderson worked on several classic animated films including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and One Hundred and One Dalmatians and as an Imagineering working on Disneyland (including early designs for the Haunted Mansion) and Epcot Center. I’m looking forward to digging into this one too.


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!