During this time of social distancing, like many of you, I have relied on streaming services to cure my boredom. With the fast-paced nature of Drexel’s quarter system, I had a lot of catching up to do in terms of TV shows and movies. I have loved using my family’s Disney Plus account to re-watch all of my favorite childhood favorites and timeless classics, but I was craving something different last week. After spending more time than I’d like to admit searching through the service’s options, I came across “The Imagineering Story.”
This is a documentary broken up into a series of episodes that take us behind the scenes of Walt Disney’s Imagineering, a company made up of engineers, artists, and business people who have turned the cartoon company into a 12 theme park and cruise owning mega-business. This isn’t your typical documentary by any means — it shows all the hard work, creativity and money that goes into making “The Disney Magic” we’ve grown up loving.
I don’t want to give too much away by revealing all the secrets from the show, but I do want to highlight how students can learn so much from a television series documentary, which absolutely makes me feel way less guilty watching all the episodes straight through. From an engineering student perspective, the show is filled with how roller-coasters are built, how the robotic figures found inside rides can operate smoothly and more importantly, how the “impossible to be real” rides are designed. Working as a Disney Imagineer is a dream for many students and to see how engineers of all disciplines can come together to create some of the most iconic attractions of our time, is unbelievable.
The show breaks down the creative process into steps beginning with the idea pitch, then a concept design, followed by how this can all be mathematically possible. One of the most important lessons I learned from the series was that in order for engineers to succeed, whether you work for Disney or not, is to be creative. Just because your job requires math and science doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t think outside the box. Disney Imagineers prove that the combination of art and engineering results in rides like Space Mountain, the nighttime electrical parades and how Cinderella’s Castle can put on visual shows through projection.
Every detail in the Disney Parks is carefully decided by a team of artists who decide what colors appeal to the public, which colors won’t fade after many years, and how the stories can come to life based on the design of the ride, attraction or setting. In an episode the artists discuss the deeper meaning behind the colors they chose for the main entrance of Disneyland Hong Kong. Bright red and gold were used to symbolize luck and happiness, the same fortune the park was hoping to accomplish. By tying Chinese heritage into the park, it has helped visitors feel “at home.”
There was also a huge portion of an episode dedicated to how the Asian and African countries were depicted in the Animal Kingdom. Imagineers were sent out as field scientists to take pictures and sketch what they saw in many African and Asian countries so they could help recreate a similar space in the middle of Florida. While many people assume artists would only be needed when designing cartoon characters on a storyboard, the documentary series highlights the importance of graphic designers, painters, sculptors and so many more.
When Disneyland became a huge success, it only made sense for the theme park to expand and reach new corners of the country, which is how Disney World in Florida came to be. Without the stellar marketing and business tactics of the Walt Disney Company, it would have been much harder to gain a strong following of Disney lovers around the world.
The episodes walk through each of the 12 Disney Parks and the bumps along the way of this expansion process. Each of the 12 Disney Parks is unique to its area in terms of food, culture, rides and what they offer. For example, Disneyland Paris wasn’t as big of a success as the company wanted, partly because it was designed as an “American Disneyworld” relocated to Paris. While the engineers and artists can use sketches and designs to help build a new park, it’s the business people who truly know what changes need to be made to reach the audience of the area.
While the cultural changes can be made by respecting the city in which the park is being built, the TV series emphasizes the power of negotiation and the need for strong business leaders in the company. Despite not being a business major, I felt inspired to help grow a company into a household name. At the end of the day, it was the business people behind the scenes who turned the cartoon-making Walt Disney Company into a parent company of a dozen theme parks and a fleet of cruise ships sailing the whole world.
After watching the series, I have a newfound appreciation for disciplines I didn’t realize played such an important role in creating the “Disney magic” I have always loved. As cheesy as it sounds, the Disney Imagineering Story now makes me think of the company in a whole new light. Separately engineers, artists, and business people can accomplish things, but when put in a collaborative environment is why the Walt Disney Company has been able to remain at the top since the beginning, and why the company will continue to thrive.