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New book takes a behind-the-dreams look at the way Walt Disney Imagineering really works today

New book takes a behind-the-dreams look at the way Walt Disney Imagineering really works today

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Okay. Last week, JHM reviewed a new hardcover that would be the perfect graduation present for any artists and animators that are on your gift list. This time around, I'd like to talk up a book that would be a great selection for any would-be Imagineers you may have in your extended family. And that’s “Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real” (Disney Editions, May 2010).

I know, I know. There have been other books about WDI (1966's Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind-the-Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real” comes immediately to mind). But given that the Imagineers have added a lot of new techniques & technologies to their repertoire over the past 14 years, the folks at Disney Editions felt it was high time to take another trip to 1401 Flower Street.

Virtual viewing of Cars Land in the book "Walt Disney Imagineering"
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Now what makes “Making More Magic Real” different from any earlier Imagineering book is that it talks in depth about all the Parks & projects that WDI tackled from 1996 right through to … Well, tomorrow. The endpaper for this book is actually a beautiful piece of concept art for DCA’s soon-to-be-opening show, Disney’s World of Color.

Take – for example – Don Carson’s 1997 proposed design for Hong Kong Disneyland. Or – as this project was known back then – Disneyland Asia. What Don wanted to do was a pretty significant departure from what Imagineering had typically done with its Disneyland-type parks.

Map of Disneyland Asia from the book "Walt Disney Imagineering"
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

One of the more intriguing aspects of Carson’s plan was this theme park’s castle. Which was going to be located at the very back of the Park, rather than right off the Hub. What Don wanted to do with this iconic structure wasn’t your usual walk-through attraction or restaurant. No, what Carson wanted to do with the Disneyland Asia castle was put a ride inside of it. A Disney Fairy tale-themed “Once Upon a Time” ride-thru attraction to be specific.

Don also wanted this theme park’s Land of Fantasy (rather than Fantasyland) to go beyond the now-standard Alice in Wonderland-themed Mad Tea Party and Peter Pan's Flight. Carson wanted to include mini-lands within this part of that proposed theme park. So that Guests could stroll down a street in Agrabah, visit Belle’s village or even (if you dare) drop in on a den of Disney Villains.

Walt Disney Imagineering A Behind the Dreams Look at Making MORE Magic Real by the Imagineers
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Obviously Disney management (at that time, anyway) wasn’t willing to go forward with something as radical as what Don Carson was proposing here. Perhaps cost or practicality factored into the Company’s decision to go forward with construction of a far more staid & traditional version of the Magic Kingdom for Hong Kong Disneyland.

But that’s what makes paging through “Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dream Look at Making More Magic Real” so much fun. You get to see the early-early version of things. Take – for example – that autonomous walking platform, “Big Dino” …

Big Dino walking rig from the book "Walt Disney Imagineering"
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… Which was the predecessor for that acclaimed Living Character Initiative creation, Lucky the Dinosaur.

Of course, the other aspect of this coffee table book that will make it wildly popular with theme park history buffs is that it gives you close-up looks at things that never quite made it off the drawing board. Like Disney World’s Future World Theme Center project from the mid-1970s.

Ray Bradbury, Card Walker and John Hench look over a model for an early-early version of EPCOT
(L to R) Card Walker, Ray Bradbury and John Hench  look over a
model for an early-early version of Epcot.
  Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“And why didn’t that get built?,” you ask. Well, sometimes it’s because an idea that once seems quite promising to WDI eventually turns out to be problematic.

Take – for example – the Lighthouse at Alexandria. Which was originally supposed to be the icon for Tokyo DisneySea. The Imagineers put months into designing this structure only to then step away from the idea due to capacity concerns (i.e. There was just no way that WDI could build a viewing platform at the top of this deliberately-aged-and-rickety looking structure that could then safely accommodate all of the TDL Resort Guests who would want to experience this attraction on a daily basis).

American Waterfront painting by Scott Sinclair from the book "Walt Disney Imagineering"
Painting by Scott Sinclair. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

This is why “Making More Magic Real” would be a great graduation gift for the would-be Imagineers on your shopping list. This 192-page hardcover talks about all the factors that WDI has to take into consideration whenever they’re designing & then building a brand-new ride, show and attraction for the Parks. You see, it isn’t all about cool ride systems and neat special effects. Imagineering also has to take into consideration things like Guest safety, hourly capacity, or whether a character or a storyline is actually a good fit for a particular ride system.

Because when all of the right elements come together (i.e. the right character is tied to the right ride system which is then placed in the exact right spot inside of a particular Disney theme park), the end result really is magic. WDI can create the sort of Guest experience that people will talk about for weeks, months, even years after they’ve visited that park. Like that Walt Disney Studios Paris attraction they created which allows you to ride along with Crush as he and the other sea turtles from “Finding Nemo” were zooming through the E.A.C.

Concept painting of the Crush Coaster by Jim Shull
Painting by Jim Shull. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

That’s what makes “Even More Magic” different from all of the earlier Imagineering books out there. I mean, sure. You still get to see some spectacular artwork from WDI’s research library (Take – for example – this concept painting that Disney Legend Ken Anderson created. Which showed how the scary trees from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” could be translated / transformed for a theme park setting) …

Snow White's Scary Adventure concept painting by Ken Anderson
Concept painting by Ken Anderson. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… But this hardcover takes a much more practical approach to explaining how the modern version of Walt Disney Imagineering works. How the many arms of this division of The Walt Disney Company come together, using their specific talents & disciplines to create new rides, shows and attractions that people around the globe can enjoy.

So if you’ve got a recent college or high school graduate who’s interested in working for WDI someday, do them a favor and get them a copy of “Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dream Look at Making More Magic Real.” Which should give them a very good sense of how the modern version of Imagineering actually works.

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  • Just finished reading this book, and I have to say, while it is LAVISHLY illustrated, and just packed to the gills with great artwork and extras, I found the text utterly disappointing -- it was vague and insubstantial and spoke mostly in generalities. In fact, I wish it was more like this article! The anecdotes about Land of Fantasy and the lighthouse were just the sort of thing I would have expected to read about. Especially compared to the previous Imagineering book, this one felt like a featherweight.

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