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Disneyland Article
Disney Imagineers Seek To Inspire The Next Generation Of Theme Park Dreamers And Builders

Main Street U.S.A.
Orange County Register
Brady Macdonald
January 22, 2020
January 27, 2020
Dreaming up a roller coaster that wraps around a mountain or a theme park land set in a galaxy far, far away is a puzzle that can only be solved with a mix of creativity and technical know-how.

“It becomes this problem-solving exercise of how do we do this?” Walt Disney Imagineering executive creative director John Larena said. “And then when we figure out how to do it, how do we keep it invisible to everybody else? How do we make the magic?”

Imagineering recently hosted a panel discussion at Disneyland for 400 Southern California STEM students interested in someday creating the next Rise of the Resistance dark ride, Marvel themed land or even a new Disney park.

“Magic is often a game of illusion, making you think it’s real,” Larena told the students gathered in Disneyland’s Main Street Opera House. “That’s really what Imagineering is. It’s easy to come up with an idea. Making it real is Imagineering.”

The goal of the hour-long panel discussion was straightforward: Inspire the next generation of future Imagineers.

“I hope that when you ride the attractions at Disneyland that it inspires curiosity,” Larena said. “How did they do that? How could I do it? How can I make it better? Because I can’t wait to ride something that somebody here works on and creates.”

Disney’s creative team employs a wide range of artists and scientists across more than 100 disciplines who combine imagination and engineering to create, design and build the entertainment company’s theme parks and the lands and attractions that fill them.

“I don’t know how to do real magic,” Imagineering creative executive Scott Trowbridge said. “We fake the magic. We use a lot of cool technology to do that.”

Imagineering uses everything from old school smoke-and-mirror magic illusions to computer graphics, special effects, robotics, video game engines and giant ride systems to develop Disney theme park attractions, Trowbridge said.

The five Imagineers on the panel all took different paths but shared a common interest in both the arts and sciences.

Imagineering show programmer April Warren was a nerdy kid who studied theater in college but also took advanced physics and math courses. Fellow show programmer Dani Bellar started college as a math major before switching to musical theater. Imagineering allowed Anisha Deshmane to blend together her diverse background in architecture, animation and location-based entertainment to tell technology-enabled stories.

“All throughout school I was really interested in science and technology, but I also was always drawn to the arts,” Deshmane told the students.

The big takeaway for the STEM kids: Pursue your passions.

“Anything that you’re interested in could be applicable,” said Deshmane, an assistant producer at Imagineering. “Just do the thing that you’re interested in and do it 100 percent. It’s OK if that thing changes.”

“At some point in life you’ll see all of those passions come together into one thing and you’ll go, ‘Oh, this is where I was meant to be’ because all of these pieces of my life are now fitting together,” Warren said.

Ideas for new Disney attractions come from every corner of Imagineering, Deshmane said.

“There’s no job at Imagineering that’s just sit around and come up with ideas and other people execute them,” Deshmane said. “The people who are doing the implementation are often the people who come up with the coolest ideas because they’re trying to figure out solutions to a problem.”

Those solutions always come from a back and forth between Imagineering’s creative and technical teams, Bellar said.

“Sometimes this is really hard and there isn’t an easy solution,” Bellar said. “It’s about hard work, perseverance and troubleshooting to get to the point where we find the solution that works. Solutions sometimes come from the craziest and weirdest places.”

Nothing Imagineering tackles can be done by a single person, Larena said. Every project requires a team of people working in collaboration.

“That’s what makes these things amazing,” Larena said. “All the work that goes into trying to make that happen, it usually ends up making it even better. We find opportunities from all the people that work on it.”

Each phase of an Imagineering project goes through a number of iterations along the way, Deshmane said.

“You start with an idea and you try something and maybe it doesn’t work exactly the way you want it to,” Deshmane said. “Then you try it again a different way and try it again a different way until you eventually get to the amazing end product.”

Being surrounded by people with so many disciplines at Imagineering — from robotics to architecture to sculpting — means there’s always an opportunity to be exposed to something new, Warren said. Her message to the STEM students: Never stop learning.

“There’s nothing you can’t do,” Warren told the students. “My parents always told me you can grow up and be anything you want to be. They never told me I had to choose. And so I don’t. I’m going to keep reinventing myself and doing new things and learning new things. And I think you all should, too.”

The Imagineering panel brought together STEM kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math from several Anaheim, Orange County and Southern California organizations, including Big Brother Big Sisters, Girls Inc., Girl Scouts, First Robotics, Stand Up for Kids, Higher Ground, Mind Research Institute and Tiger Woods’ TGR Foundation.

Michele Garcia is just the sort of STEM student that fits the Imagineering mold — a computer coder who is drawn to the arts.

“When I think of a coder I think of someone that sits in an office at Google,” said Garcia, 14, of Buena Park. “I never thought about combining coding and Disneyland.”

Any trip to Disneyland always gets Garcia’s wheels spinning with new ways to reimagine existing rides.

“I always think of different things to improve and innovate new ideas into the rides,” said Garcia, who attended the Imagineering panel with the Girl Scouts of Orange County.
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