Stage 28 at the D23 Expo felt more like a cozy living room than a theater Saturday afternoon when two much-anticipated Imagineering shows provided insights into what makes Imagineers tick. The first, Legends of Walt Disney Imagineering, brought together six remarkable people who’ve left profound marks on The Walt Disney Company. Moderator Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr, Don Iwerks, Alice Davis, Orlando Ferrante, and Kim Irvine shared fond memories about their legendary careers with a wildly enthusiastic crowd.
Orlando, who came to Disney in 1962 and worked on the installation of many attractions at Disneyland park and Walt Disney World, talked about starting a department known as PICO, the Project Installation and Coordinating Office. Don noted how some people later joked that the initials stood for Panic in the City of Orlando.
When Marty asked Alice to describe what she first thought when she saw the land on which Walt Disney World would be built, she quipped, “Do you really want me to say it?” She proceeded to divulge that people were being bitten alive by all the bugs, and related that her husband (and one of Walt’s Nine Old Men), Marc Davis, once cracked, “Didn’t Mr. Disney pick a wonderful place to build a park?” But when it opened, Alice recalls, “It was so exciting, a wonderful thrill. It’s a memory I’ll always take with me.”
Marty talked about the time when a second water park was being planned for Walt Disney World. He challenged three teams to come up with ideas, and conceptual drawings by each of the three were displayed on a long wall. Then-CEO and Chairman of the Board Michael Eisner walked into the room and definitively picked one before the pitches could be made. It turned out to be Blizzard Beach, and Marty had to explain to the members of the other two teams that their pitch wasn’t chosen.
The line to get into the Legends presentation might’ve been long, but the youngest member of a family from Los Angeles—who waited in line for nearly one hour to get into the hall—exclaimed, “That was definitely worth it!” the moment the applause subsided. Hear, hear!
Later in the afternoon, Marty hosted Imagineering’s Guide to Creativity and Innovation, bringing together Imagineers to chat about their current projects, how they approach challenges big and small, and what drives them to be so creative.
Mark Sumner, who’s had a creative hand in Test Track, Soarin’, and other attractions and who is now working on projects for the Shanghai park, smiled that he was here “to discuss the ‘neering’ in Imagineering.” The engineer by profession and senior technical director at Disney joked that he’s the only one on the panel who has to obey the laws of physics. “Hi, my name is Mark and I can’t draw. I was a nerd before being a nerd was cool.”
One of the afternoon’s most poignant moments came when Owen Yoshino, principal concept designer who’s worked on both Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, talked about returning to his hometown of Tokyo in March and being there when the earthquake struck. He spoke of how the park closed for more than a month, but continued to be considered by so many to be a place of hope and reassurance. He’ll never forget seeing “guests in tears, embracing Mickey when the park reopened.”
Imagineering may be a clever way of combining “imagination” and “engineering,” but there’s a whole lot of heart in there, too.
By D23′s David Sokol