Imagination + Engineers / by Helen Zouvelekis

We're not actually in front of Mt. Everest.

My family and I just recently completed a week long trip to Disney World in Florida, and while we stayed in Orlando, you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at our trip photos. We look as if we had traveled across the country, across the planet and galaxy, as well into the past and the future.

We experienced themed lands that were designed to look like the turn of the 20th century middle America, the Eiffel Tower of Paris, and castles based on children's fairy tales. How is it possible to have come across all that without leaving the 40 square miles that makes up the Disney World resort? Three words - Walt Disney Imagineers.

Imagineers, as they're known, are Disney's Imagination Engineers - the folks who design new rides and experiences, new hotels, new theme parks and cruise ships, as well as the technology that powers the rides, the themes for each new ride, and even includes the costume and set design. 

Their team is comprised of architects, industrial engineers, lighting designers, animators, graphic designers, and the list goes on and on. 

Main St., USA, at the Magic Kingdom

Main St., USA, at the Magic Kingdom

Similar to our work in architecture and interior design, the Imagineer's work is a collaborative process. In a way, Imagineer's are a design-build delivery, where the architect/designer also oversees the construction. This is one way for a famous brand such as Disney to maintain tight control over construction quality and ensure adherence to their strict design standards. 

Disney Blue Prints: Main Street USA

Blueprints, Cinderella Castle

Blueprints, Cinderella Castle

Magic Kingdom Fantasyland Castle

Magic Kingdom Fantasyland Castle

The Imagineers have been around since 1952, a few years before the first Disney theme park, Disneyland, opened its doors. They were the designers who fleshed out and designed what Walt Disney dreamed up. As you can imagine, they need to be extremely detailed, and did comprehensive research into the places and spaces they were designing. If they were designing the Main Street USA storefronts, they traveled to many neighborhoods, sketching, researching and detailing their inspiration, so that they may accurately replicate it in the parks. To really make the guest feel as if they're transported into a different city, or country, or even century, the Imagineers really provide as immersive an experience as possible. 

Concept sketch of EPCOT, Walt Disney World

Concept sketch of EPCOT, Walt Disney World

Concept sketch of Liberty Street, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

Concept sketch of Liberty Street, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

Concept sketches by Disney Artists

Concept sketches by Disney Artists

For example, there is one roller coaster ride named "Expedition Everest," where you are on an expedition at Mt. Everest base camp, in search of a Yeti. The ride, the structure that housed the ride, as well as the corresponding land outside the ride were meticulously researched and detailed, to make you feel as if you've really be taken to the base of Mt. Everest. Every little feature, such as the worn stones on the walking path, the tattered flags, and market place, are meticulously researched abroad and recreated in the park. 

"Expedition Everest"

"Expedition Everest"

Base Camp at Mt. Everest

Base Camp at Mt. Everest

 

So the next time you find yourself in a Disney theme park, look again. Are you sure you're still in Orlando, and not 1920's Main St. USA, or a base camp in Nepal?