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Walt Disney Imagineering

Walt Disney Imagineering
Founded 1952 (as WED Enterprises)
Headquarters Glendale, California, U.S.
Products Theme parks, resorts, attractions, cruise ships, real estate developments, entertainment venues
Parent Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
(The Walt Disney Company)
Website Walt Disney Imagineering
WDI headquarters in Glendale

Walt Disney Imagineering (also known as WDI or simply Imagineering) is the design and development arm of The Walt Disney Company, responsible for the creation and construction of Disney theme parks worldwide. Founded by Walt Disney to oversee the production of Disneyland Park, it was originally known as WED Enterprises, from the initials meaning "Walter Elias Disney", the company founder's full name.[1]

The term Imagineering, a portmanteau, was introduced in the 1940s by Alcoa to describe its blending of imagination and engineering, and used by Union Carbide in an in-house magazine in 1957, with an article by Richard F Sailer called BRAINSTORMING IS IMAGINation engINEERing. Disney filed for a copyright for the term in 1967, claiming first use of the term in 1962. Imagineering is responsible for designing and building Disney theme parks, resorts, cruise ships, and other entertainment venues at all levels of project development. Imagineers possess a broad range of skills and talents, and thus over 140 different job titles fall under the banner of Imagineering, including illustrators, architects, engineers, lighting designers, show writers, graphic designers, and many more.[1] Most Imagineers work from the company’s headquarters in Glendale, California, but are often deployed to satellite branches within the theme parks for long periods of time.


Imagineers are governed by a few key principles when developing new concepts and improving existing attractions. Often new concepts and improvements are created to fulfill specific needs. Many ingenious solutions to problems are Imagineered in this way, such as the ride vehicle of the attraction Soarin' Over California. The Imagineers knew they wanted guests to experience the sensation of flight, but weren’t sure how to accomplish the task of loading the people on to a ride vehicle in an efficient manner where everyone had an optimal viewing position. One day, an Imagineer found an Erector set in his attic, and was able to envision and design a ride vehicle that would effectively simulate hang gliding.[2]

Imagineers are also known for returning to ideas for attractions and shows that, for whatever reason, never came to fruition. These ideas are often reworked and appear in a different form – like the Museum of the Weird, a proposed walk-through wax museum that eventually became the Haunted Mansion.[2]

Finally, there is the principle of “blue sky speculation,” a process where Imagineers generate ideas with no limitations.[1] The custom at Imagineering has been to start the creative process with what is referred to as “eyewash” – the boldest, wildest, best idea one can come up with, presented in absolutely convincing detail. Many Imagineers consider this to be the true beginning of the design process and operate under the notion that if it can be dreamt, it can be built.[3]

Imagineers are always seeking to improve upon their work – what Walt called “plussing.” He firmly believed that “Disneyland will never be completed as long as there’s imagination left in the world,” meaning there is always room for innovation and improvement.[2] Imagineering also has created many ideas that have never been realized, although some, such as Country Bear Jamboree, do take form in one way or another later.


Over the years, Walt Disney Imagineering has been granted over 115 patents in areas such as ride systems, special effects, interactive technology, live entertainment, fiber optics, and advanced audio systems.[4] WDI is responsible for technological advances such as the Circle-Vision 360° film technique and the FastPass virtual queuing system.

Imagineering is perhaps best known for its development of Audio-Animatronics, a form of robotics created for use in shows and attractions in the theme parks that allowed Disney to animate things in three dimensions instead of just two. The idea sprang from Disney’s fascination with a mechanical bird he purchased in New Orleans, which eventually led to the development of the attraction The Enchanted Tiki Room. The Tiki Room, which featured singing Audio Animatronic birds, was the first to use such technology. The 1964 World's Fair featured an Audio Animatronic figure of Abraham Lincoln that actually stood up and delivered part of the Gettysburg Address (which was incidentally just past its centennial at the time) for the “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln” exhibit, the first human Audio Animatronic figure.[4]

Today, Audio-Animatronics are featured prominently in many popular Disney attractions, including Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, The Hall of Presidents, Country Bear Jamboree, Star Tours—The Adventures Continue, and Muppet*Vision 3D. Guests also have the opportunity to interact with some Audio-Animatronic characters, such as Lucky the Dinosaur, WALL-E, and Remy from Ratatouille. The next wave of Audio-Animatronic development focuses on completely independent figures, or “Autonomatronics.” Otto, the first Autonomatronic figure, is capable of seeing, hearing, sensing a person’s presence, having a conversation, and even sensing and reacting to guests’ emotions.[5]

The art of the show

Over the years, Imagineering has conceived a whole range of retail stores, galleries, and hotels that are designed to be experienced and to create and sustain a very specific mood – for example, the mood of Disney's Contemporary Resort could be called “the hello futuristic optimism,” and it’s readily apparent given the resort’s A-frame structure, futuristic building techniques, modern décor, and the monorail gliding quietly through the lobby every few minutes. Together, these details combine to tell the story of the hotel.[3]

Imagineering is, first and foremost, a form of storytelling, and visiting a Disney theme park should feel like entering a show. Extensive theming, atmosphere, and attention to detail are the hallmarks of the Disney experience. The mood is distinct and identifiable, the story made clear by details and props. Pirates of the Caribbean evokes a “rollicking buccaneer adventure,” according to Imagineering legend John Hench, whereas the Disney Cruise Line’s ships create an elegant seafaring atmosphere. Even the shops and restaurants within the theme parks tell stories. Every detail is carefully considered, from the menus to the names of the dishes to the Cast Members’ costumes.[6] Disney parks are meant to be experienced through all senses – for example, as guests walk down Main Street, U.S.A. they are likely to smell freshly baked cookies, a small detail that enhances the story of turn-of-the-century, small town America.

The story of Disney theme parks is often told visually, and the Imagineers design the guest experience in what they call “The Art of the Show.” Hench was fond of comparing theme park design to moviemaking, and often used filmmaking techniques in the Disney parks, such as the technique of forced perspective.[6] Forced perspective is a design technique in which the designer plays with the scale of an object in order to affect the viewer’s perception of the object’s size. One of the most dramatic examples of forced perspective in the Disney Parks is Cinderella Castle. The scale of architectural elements is much smaller in the upper reaches of the castle compared to the foundation, making it seem significantly taller than its actual height of 189 feet.[1]

Theme park projects

Since its 1952 inception, Walt Disney Imagineering has created eleven theme parks, a town, four cruise ships, dozens of resort hotels, water parks, shopping centers, sports complexes, and various other entertainment venues.[1] Outside of the theme parks, a complete overhaul of Disney Stores was planned in 2009 with the help of Apple’s Steve Jobs. Disney was hoping to move away from the traditional retail model and toward more of an interactive entertainment hub.[7]

In mid-July 2009, blueprints and concept art for a Fantasyland expansion leaked online, and Disney confirmed the rumors at the September D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. Some aspects of the refurbishment will be open as early as 2012, and was completed in 2013, barring the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Princess Fairytale Hall. The expansion, which doubled the current size of Fantasyland, features a greater focus on the Disney Princesses. Belle, Ariel, and Snow White all have dedicated sections within the land where guests can experience highly interactive character meet-and-greet sessions in immersive movie environments. There are two new restaurants, the full-service Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Beast’s Castle and the quick-service Gaston’s Tavern. The current Ariel's Grotto area was expanded to include a new attraction called The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure.[8] In the middle of the expansion is a new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride which was opened on May 28, 2014, featuring a new ride system that allows mine carts to swing back and forth. Snow White's Scary Adventures has been replaced by Princess Fairytale Hall, where Cinderella, Tiana, Snow White, Jasmine, Rapunzel, Aurora, Mulan, Anna, and Elsa are having meet and greets which was opened on September 18th, 2013. The expansion also features an updated Dumbo ride with a doubled guest capacity and an interactive queuing system that will keep guests entertained while they wait for one of the park’s most popular attractions, as well as a rethemed version of Goofy's Barnstormer known as "The Great Goofini".

Current Imagineering projects

Project Park/Resort Opening Date
Stitch Encounter Tokyo Disneyland Summer 2015
Shanghai Disneyland[9] Shanghai Disney Resort 2016
Frozen attraction Epcot Early 2016
Luigi's Flying Tires Disney California Adventure Reopening Early 2016
Iron Man Experience Hong Kong Disneyland Fall 2016[10]
Pandora - World of Avatar Disney's Animal Kingdom 2017
Scandinavian Port featuring Frozen[11] Tokyo Disney Sea 2017
Fantasyland Expansion[12] Tokyo Disneyland In phases beginning in 2017
Star Wars Theme Park Florida 2018

Non-theme park projects

The Imagineers have been called on by many other divisions of the Walt Disney Company as well as being contracted by outside firms to design and build structures outside of the theme parks.

Corporate locations

Since the 1960s, Imagineering's headquarters have been located in a nondescript office building on the former site of the Grand Central Airport in Glendale, California, about two miles (3.2 km) east of Disney's corporate headquarters and studio lot in Burbank.

There are two field offices at the Walt Disney World Resort, required for the sheer size of the resort. There are field offices located at;

Walt Disney Imagineering Management

Walt Disney Imagineering

  • Chief Creative Executive - Bruce Vaughn
  • Chief Financial Officer - Craig Parker
  • Chief Development and Delivery Executive - Craig Russell
  • Principal Creative Adviser - John Lasseter
  • Senior Vice President, Executive Designer - Joe Rohde
  • Senior Vice President, Creative Development - Tony Baxter (retired)
  • Senior Vice President, Creative Development - Eric Jacobson
  • Senior Vice President, Chief Technology Officer - Scott Watson
  • Executive Vice President, Senior Creative Executive - Tom Fitzgerald
  • Executive Vice President, Resort Development - Don Goodman
  • Executive Vice President, New Ship Development - Frank de Heer
  • Executive Vice President, Creative Research and Development - Scott Trowbridge
  • Executive Vice President, Producer - Kathy Mangum
  • Executive Vice President, - Bob Weis
  • Creative Vice President for Tokyo Disney Resort - Joe Lanzisero
  • Technology Executive, Practice Technologies - Joseph Joseph
  • Director of Theme Park Development for Lucasfilm Attractions - Ian Jackson
  • Director of Theme Park Development for Shanghai Disneyland - Mike Montague
  • Director, Field Art - Jim Crouch
  • Director, Project Integration - Rolando Mendoza
  • Director, Art - Kim Irvine
  • Executive Project Management - Paris France - Aslam Amlani
  • Senior Concept Writer - Kevin P. Rafferty
  • Senior Show Producer/Director - Kathy Rogers
  • Senior Concept Designer - John Gritz
  • Senior Concept Designer - Michel den Dulk
  • Senior Concept Writer, Creative Development - Michael Sprout
  • Principal Fabrication Designer - James George "Jim" Armagost
  • Principal Concept Designer - Scot Drake
  • Principal Concept Designer - Owen Yoshino
  • Principal Show Artist - Heather Greene
  • Principal Show Artist - Tod Mathias
  • Show Writer, Creative Development - David Fisher
  • Manager Prototype Fabrication - Patrick Krugh
  • Mechanical Lead - Rick Taylor
  • Senior Financial Analyst - Raya Sandjaja
  • Sculpturer - Scott Goodard

Prior to 2007, Walt Disney Imagineering was headed by a President. After a corporate shake up, It was decided that the President role would be dropped. Bruce Vaughn and Craig Russell now both head the division. All creative executives now directly report to Vaughn and Russell.

Walt Disney Creative Entertainment

  • Vice President, WDI Creative Entertainment - Kevin Eld
  • Vice President, Creative Development; WDI Creative Entertainment - Michael Jung
  • Creative Director and Vice President, Parades and Spectaculars - Steve Davison

Former Walt Disney Imagineering Management

  • Vice Chairman and Principal Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering 2000-2007 - Marty Sklar
  • President, Walt Disney Imagineering 2000-2009 - Don Goodman
  • Chairman, Walt Disney Imagineering 1995-1997 - Peter Rummell
  • President, Walt Disney Imagineering 1997-1999 - Ken Wong
  • President, Walt Disney Imagineering 1987-1996 - Marty Sklar
  • President, Walt Disney Imagineering 1979-1989 - Carl Bongirno
  • President, Walt Disney Imagineering 1952-1964 - Bill Cotrell

Notable Disney Imagineers


  • Hench, John, with Peggy Van Pelt. Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show. Disney Editions, 2003, ISBN 0-7868-5406-5.
  • Imagineers, The. Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real. Disney Editions, 1996, ISBN 0-7868-6246-7 (hardcover); 1998, ISBN 0-7868-8372-3 (paperback).
  • Imagineers, The. Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real. Disney Editions, 2010, ISBN 1-4231-0766-7 (hardcover).
  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Way: Ideas to Ignite Your Creativity. Disney Editions, 2003, ISBN 0-7868-5401-4.
  • Imagineers, The (as "The Disney Imagineers"). The Imagineering Workout: Exercises to Shape Your Creative Muscles. Disney Editions, 2005, ISBN 0-7868-5554-1.
  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland. Disney Editions, 2008, ISBN 1-4231-0975-9, ISBN 978-1-4231-0975-4.
  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Field Guide to Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Disney Editions, 2007, ISBN 1-4231-0320-3, ISBN 978-1-4231-0320-2.
  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Field Guide to Epcot at Walt Disney World. Disney Editions, 2006, ISBN 0-7868-4886-3.
  • Imagineers, The. The Imagineering Field Guide to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Disney Editions, 2005, ISBN 0-7868-5553-3.
  • Kurtti, Jeff. Walt Disney's Legends of Imagineering and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park. Disney Editions, 2006, ISBN 0-7868-5559-2.
  • Alcorn, Steve and David Green. Building a Better Mouse: The Story of the Electronic Imagineers Who Designed Epcot. Themeperks Press, 2007, ISBN 0-9729777-3-2.
  • Surrell, Jason. The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak. Disney Editions, 2007, ISBN 1-4231-0155-3
  • Ghez, Didier; Littaye, Alain; Translated into English by Cohn, Danielle. Disneyland Paris From Sketch To Reality. Nouveau Millénaire Editions, 2002, ISBN 2-9517883-1-2
  • Surrell, Jason. Pirates of the Caribbean: From The Magic Kingdom To The Movies. Disney Editions, 2007, ISBN 1-4176-9274-X, ISBN 978-1-4176-9274-3.
  • Surrell, Jason. The Haunted Mansion: From The Magic Kingdom To The Movies. Disney Editions, 2003, ISBN 978-0-7868-5419-6


Disney Educational Products created The Science of Disney Imagineering, a series of 11 videos made around 2010. Each episode was hosted by Imagineer Asa Kalama,[15] and focused on a different science subject. Each episode featured at least one Disney attraction, which features the science subject as a main element of the attraction, to help explain the subject. The series featured episodes about Gravity, Trajectory, Levers & Pulleys, Fluids, Energy, Design & Models, Magnetism, Motion, Animal Adaptations: Communication, Friction, and Electricity.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e Wright, Alex; Imagineers (2005). The Imagineering Field Guide to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. New York: Disney Editions. ISBN 0786855533. 
  2. ^ a b c George Scribner and Jerry Rees (Directors) (2007). Disneyland: Secrets, Stories, and Magic (DVD). Walt Disney Video. 
  3. ^ a b Marling, Karal (1997). Designing Disney's Theme Parks. Paris - New York: Flammarion. 
  4. ^ a b Walt Disney Imagineering
  5. ^ Disney Autonomatronics Figure Can Sense If You’re Happy
  6. ^ a b Hench, John; Peggy Van Pelt (2003). Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show. New York: Disney Editions. 
  7. ^ Barnes, Brooks (October 13, 2009). "Disney's Retail Plan Is a Theme Park in Its Stores". The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2009 
  8. ^ Jay Rasulo (2009). Disney World Fantasyland expansion announcement & makeover concept art (YouTube video). YouTube. 
  9. ^ "Shanghai Disney Resort Website « About the Resort". Disney Parks. Retrieved February 28, 2012. 
  10. ^ Tom Staggs (2013-10-08). "Marvel’s Iron Man Coming to Hong Kong Disneyland in 2016". Disney Parks Blog. The Walt Disney Company. Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  11. ^ Oriental Land Co. Publicity (2015-04-28). "Themes Decided for Disney Parks Development" (PDF). Oriental Land Co. Retrieved 2015-05-09. 
  12. ^ Oriental Land Co. Publicity (2015-04-28). "Themes Decided for Disney Parks Development" (PDF). Oriental Land Co. Retrieved 2015-05-09. 
  13. ^ Coup, Thierry (September 2010). Interview With Thierry Coup, VP of Universal Creative. (Interview). DIS Unplugged. 
  14. ^ "Bill Novey and the Business of Theme Park Special Effects". 
  15. ^ "Meet Asa Kalama". Disney. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 
  16. ^ "The Science of Disney Imagineering: Buy All 11 DVDs". Disney. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 

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