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.”

The Long Take

Watch this video, then we discuss…

While in college, I came within inches of pressing the button on becoming a “film” major (I decided against it, changed to an “education” major, left school, became a Games Manager, the rest is history). I almost picked “film” because the production aspect of making movies fascinates me. The clip above is a perfect example of why I’m fascinated. Any time I come across a behind-the-scenes clip, for whatever, I hit play, immediately.

So background, the clip above is taken from a small camera, which is placed on the top of a steadicam, which is being maneuvered in and out of people and objects for the final shot in the 2011 Martin Scorsese film, Hugo. In the film biz (can I say biz?), this is called a “long take,” a sophisticated uninterrupted shot that only crazy directors use (I made that last part up, Scorsese isn’t crazy, he’s brilliant) (*).

*Side note – Is it obvious why I changed my major? I can’t write about movies for even two paragraphs without geeking out over the intricacies of a “long take”, and then I don’t possess the ability to discuss the powerful narrative meanings that these shots convey without calling someone a crazy person.

So why are we discussing this? Watch that clip again, but watch everything but the people. Did you see the wall move? Did you realize there is member of the film crew following behind the camera holding a microphone in the air? Did you see the other crew member in the rafters holding a microphone? Did you see the cabinet move, and then move back again? Did you see the lighting change? There are even more little intricacies that go into this shot, but that’s still not what I’m getting at.

At 1 minute 41 seconds of the video, we learn everything we need to know about this shot. Did you hear it? At 1:41, there is a breath of relief, a breath of great accomplishment. The amount of planning that goes into something like this is extraordinary, the choreography, the lighting, the sound, the wall moving to make room for the steadicam operator to get a sweeping shot around one of our main characters then pan back towards the dancing, walk through the hallway, and focus in on the final frame of the film. That breath is the culmination of hours and hours of hard work. That breath is the feeling you get when you know you have done something great. That breath is what happens when you accomplish something with a team. That breath is what happens when you take a group of individuals that work hard together, strive towards a common goal, and achieve it.

I’ve gotten that breath several times in my life. It’s happened at the end of a long busy Saturday after helping thousands of people win prizes. It’s happened when I’ve watched members of my staff go above and beyond in their work. It’s happened when I was able to brighten up someone’s day by helping them with a problem. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but when it happens, you know it.

So while you ponder about accomplishments, or breaths, or teamwork, or whatever else moves you from this blog post. Let’s watch what the crew on Hugo accomplished with the clip embedded below, a side by side comparison of the behind-the-scenes shot, and the completed/finished shot that appeared in the film. It’s quite the accomplishment, and worth that breath. (**)

**For you film nerds out there, yes, I know ‘Hugo’ is a weird film to mention in this blog post. And yes, I know there are lots of great steadicam shots out there, like this oneand this onedefinitely this oneor my personal favoriteBut this one is still the greatest.