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It is no secret that Glenn is a huge fan of Walt Disney. Glenn purchased Walt Disney’s 1953 Disneyland Prospectus last summer, and he has told his staff the document will serve as a guide to his plans in 2013 and beyond. From his remarkable creativity to his forward-thinking vision, Glenn admires and respects Walt’s ability to craft the ubiquitous and virtually all-encompassing Disney entertainment empire we enjoy today.
The Walt Disney Company is perhaps best known for its theme parks, movies, and animation, but there is a more niche component of Walt’s business that Glenn has taken a special interest in – the design and development arm known as Walt Disney Imagineering.
Disney once said that “Disneyland would never be completed as long as there’s imagination left in the world,” and he created Walt Disney Imagineering (formally known as WED Enterprises) in order to hold true to that principle. Founded in 1952 to oversee the creation and construction of Disneyland Park, the Imagineering team is now responsible for designing and building all Disney theme parks, resorts, cruise ships, and other entertainment ventures.
Ever wonder how the audio-animatronic robotics that allow objects to come to life in three dimensions in attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion came to be? How about the user-friendly FastPass queuing system that lets visitors bypass long lines? Or what about the massive re-design of Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland, which utilizes basic technologies like perspective manipulation to make structures appear larger than they really are and the more complex patent-pending swinging seat technology that will be incorporated into a roller coaster? Well, Imagineering is responsible for all that and a whole lot more. In fact, over the years, their talent has even been tapped for projects like the 1960 Winter Olympics and the design of stores like Children’s Place.
While the accomplishments of Walt Disney Imagineering have proven to be revolutionary, its founding actually served as a turning point for the Disney brand. Roy O. Disney, Walt’s brother and business partner, did not support the opening of a theme park, which left Walt to finance the project on his own. He decided to create a company, independent of the one he shared with Roy, which came to be known as WED Enterprises (the initials of Walt’s name – Walter Elias Disney).
According to biographer Bob Thomas, author of Building a Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire, Walt thought of WED as his “backyard laboratory,” a “workshop away from work.” He knew the preliminary idea of Disneyland would be far too abstract for investors to understand, and WED Enterprises allowed him to develop his ideas to a point where people would begin to recognize the potential.
Though WED provided a solution to a short-term problem (the funding of Disneyland), Walt had long-term plans for the endeavor. What came to be regarded as a money pit and experimental playground, ultimately created technologies that continue to drive profits for Disney properties to this day.
When Walt died in 1966, WED was acquired by Walt Disney Productions (now The Walt Disney Company), and Roy finally realized the breadth of his brother’s vision. When Walt Disney Productions was rebranded into The Walt Disney Company in 1987, WED Enterprises became Walt Disney Imagineering.
Today, the Imagineering studios are based in Glendale, California, but there are satellite offices in Disney parks around the world. Imagineers include illustrators, architects, lighting designers, writers, and graphic designers to name a few, and they are governed by the principle now known as “blue sky speculation.” This standard ensures that when it comes to the design process, there are no limitations.
It is this attitude that has allowed Walt Disney Imagineering to secure over 115 patents, all aimed at developing new models and improving old tricks. What separates Imagineering from the greater Walt Disney Company is its focus on innovation, void of the normal constraints of business that tend to stifle creativity. Walt believed that if you could dream it, you could build it, and Walt Disney Imagineering allowed him to ensure the imagination would never cease.
Glenn has made no secret that he has big… make that huge… plans for the future, and if his fascination with Walt and his Imagineering team is any indication, the sky is the limit.