amusement parks

My Imagineering Folder

When I was a kid my biggest dream was to work for an amusement park (this dream has been accomplished). The second part of that dream was to work for Disney as an Imagineer. As a kid, my definition of an Imagineer was the following: “the awesome people that build the rides.” Obviously, with age, years of amusement park experience, and a much larger vocabulary, that definition doesn’t quite encompass all that Disney Imagineers do.

Disney Imagineers are brilliant storytellers. From conception until grand opening, Imagineers are the driving force that creates an experience for guests that visit a Disney park. Every detail, from the font on the sign, to the shrubs out front, to the actual attraction itself is created by these talented individuals. This isn’t just a short process either; it can take years to design and develop these attractions. Imagineers are given the opportunities to dream, take a blank canvas, and create something that transports park guests to another world.

I could go on for days talking about different Disney parks, Imagineering, hidden Mickey’s, but instead, first check out this trailer for a brand new documentary by Leslie Iwerks which will be released in 2016, all about Disney Imagineers.

I watched this and immediately felt that excitement. I felt my creative juices flowing. I felt like that kid all over again, wondering what new world I would get to visit next time I visited Walt Disney World.

It’s a strange coincidence this trailer just came out, because very recently I came across the following:

CLICK TO ENLARGE - The outside of Cole’s 6th Grade Imagineering folder used from 1997/98 to dream up new amusement park rides.

Yes, it may just look like an old dated gray folder (from 1997/98 actually), but open it up, and there is a huge section of my childhood just sitting there.

CLICK TO ENLARGE - The inner contents of Cole’s 6th Grade Imagineering folder used from 1997/98 to dream up new amusement park rides.

In the 6th grade, after visiting Disney World just one time, I had begun to collect as much information about roller coasters as possible. I learned their names, designers, and locations. I thought Disney World didn’t have enough roller coasters. So, I spent my 6th grade study hall class designing  roller coasters, creating stories for them, and labeling every picture in the top right corner with the words, “Newest Ride at Walt Disney World”. Don’t believe me, take a look.

The Submarine – A roller coaster built next to a lake which included see through aquarium tunnels, and a shark attack.

CLICK TO ENLARGE - The Submarine – An original design from Cole’s 6th Grade Imagineering Folder.

Breakdown – A fully immersive experience which looks to have included both forward and reverse sections, a tunnel, a special effects showroom, an avalanche with styrofoam balls, and a collapsing bridge.

CLICK TO ENLARGE - Breakdown – An original design from Cole’s 6th Grade Imagineering Folder.

Thunder Road – A wooden coaster designed to be placed on a hill, complete with two tunnels. (I cannot completely remember the story for this one, but I believe it had to do with motorcycles).

CLICK TO ENLARGE - Thunder Road – An original design from Cole’s 6th Grade Imagineering Folder.

I had 14 drawings in all. What can I say? I had a big imagination, and I’m happy to report, that imagination never went away. My 6th Grade Imagineering Folder means a lot to me.

While I never became a true Imagineer, when I was at Worlds of Fun, I had moments in time where I felt like an Imagineer (a much smaller, no budget Imagineer). When I got the opportunity to develop new game ideas with my staff, that was a result of my love for Imagineering. We would sit around, toss up ideas, try to be creative. I even had a Disney Imagineer book sitting on one of my office tables for years. I felt even more like an Imagineer when we actually built the games, like this giant slingshot!

CLICK TO ENLARGE - Slingshot designed and fabricated by the 2011 Worlds of Fun Games Department for a brand new game called Pigs of Fury.

For me, Imagineering is much more than a “job” with Disney. Imagineering is this idea that with a little bit of a spark, one tiny little idea, you can create something extraordinary. You can take that one little idea, and with lots of hard work, a huge amount of patience, and a whole lot of drive, bring that idea into existence. Imagineering is reaching above and beyond to create that moment in time where dreams and reality collide to create something special.

Recently, I have been asked on quite a frequent basis if I’m “done” with amusement parks. Have I moved on? From now on, I think I might reply the following:
“Not yet. I’ve got big plans. I’m in the Imagineering phase.”

Making Memories

Last week was the 4th of July. It was the first 4th of July that I had off from work in 12 years. That’s not a joke, seriously, 12 years. I didn’t really know exactly how I was going to spend it, but I did sleep in. When I checked my email on the morning of the 4th of July, I had the following message waiting for me:

For Cole:

Last year I was moved to write an email to the staff at ‘This American Life’ after hearing a rerun of their ‘Amusement Park’ episode. In honor of the Fourth of July, I’m forwarding an excerpt of it to you:

“Six years ago, my wife became fed up with all of the things that were wrong with America, and moved us from our California home to the UK. Though politically I have always agreed with her views, I have always felt that there was more to my country than the negative things she saw. But while it has always been very easy for her to point out shootings, urban sprawl and the crassness of pop culture as examples of America gone wrong, I have had a difficult time pinpointing what’s right or great about America, and the reasons I miss my homeland as much as I do. I had always loved This American Life, and listened to it every week while we lived in California, but it was only recently that I discovered I could get the program on a podcast. In the months since I made this discovery, I have been able to hear for myself every week concrete examples of the things I miss.

Last week, the news of the cinema killing in Aurora, Colorado, gave my wife just one more perfect example of the horrors we had fled, and I found myself in despair that perhaps I had been deluding myself that there was anything left back home that was worthwhile anymore. After all, how does one counter a negative as big as mass murder?

But then I listened to your recent podcast about amusement parks. I’m sure it sounds crazy, but the story of Cole Lindbergh and his antics at the Worlds of Fun park were like a shining beacon from across the ocean. Britain isn’t all that different from the US, but I have never met anyone here at all like Cole, and hearing his story, I could point to him and say to myself, “THAT’s what the rest of the world is missing!” The concept of a man making his living doing exactly what he wants to do, loving life and finding success while making people happy — there is something profoundly American about that, and I loved hearing about it. In his own small, ridiculously silly way, Cole Lindbergh is helping to keep America great. Please don’t laugh when I tell you that I got the same lump in my throat listening to Ira’s description of him singing and dancing with his teen-aged staff as I do when I watch the end of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. I hope Cole finds a way to keep his dream going, and I thank you for letting me hear his story.”

Again, happy Fourth, Cole. Rock that Uncle Sam hat for me.

Tom M.

I’ve read this message multiple times, and I’m still rather speechless about it. There is one part that sticks out to me though, one thing that I immediately think about, and anyone who truly knows me might be able to pick it out as well. It’s something that I pride myself on; making people happy. To know that this little Games Department in Kansas City could bring joy into someone’s life thousands of miles away is for me both heartwarming and overwhelming.

Each year, I tried to train my staff that we were never really in the business of getting people to play games; we were in the business of creating memories. I pushed my staff to make an impression. Make it so that ten years after that guest wins the prize, when they find it sitting in the bottom of their closet, they can pull that prize out, look at it, smile, and immediately be flooded with the memories of the time they won it at the amusement park.

I’ve been faulted for having such a romantic point of view about winning prizes and making memories. But, when I get messages like the one above, I get that romantic feeling all over again. It’s a great feeling.

Thank you Tom, for not only making my day, but the day of all those games employees who still believe in making memories.

Summertime and Change

It’s summertime. The weather is changing (*). School is out. The BBQ’s are firing up. Fourth of July is approaching. It’s the summer, and it feels unlike any summer I’ve ever had before.  There’s something missing, something different, and if you know me, or know a little bit about me, it’s rather obvious to know why it’s different.

(*) When it comes to weather change, here in Missouri may just take the cake. It’s entirely possible/plausible to walk ten feet and feel a temperature change.

This is my first summer without the amusement park in my life. This is the first summer without the games department in my life. It’s the first summer that I’m not working 60+ hour weeks, rain or shine, Monday-Sunday. It’s the first time in 12 years that I’ve had consecutive Saturdays off. I can’t put into words how weird of a feeling it is.

This site would not exist if I was still working at the park, but the crux of saying that is that the site would never exist if it wasn’t for the amusement park in the first place.

When I left the park, I made a farewell video, something close to my heart. It was difficult to do. I still have a hard time watching it without getting emotional.

I got a message today from a friend of mine, an employee still at the park, it read the following, “Just letting you know we still miss you,” and included this photo:

Click to enlarge - Cole’s name written on the back wall of a games section, seen in the video “The End”

I immediately replied, “Miss you guys too.”