At Walt Disney Imagineering, the sky’s the limit. There are never any problems, never disagreements, only happy Imagineers singing It’s A Small World all day long. Disney CEO Bob Iger runs by WDI every day to throw bags of money into the windows, gleefully shouting, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah! Happy imagining, one and all!” When the workday comes to an end, everyone grudgingly leaves their desks and sings Heigh Ho the whole way home. There are no sad faces. There are no rainclouds, only blue skies. Actually wait, no…I’m sorry, that’s not quite right (lesson for today—Disney cruise line activity directors are a little too chipper to make good sources).
It turns out Imagineers work very hard and run into philosophical disagreements and budgetary constraints all the time, but in one part of the dream-making process the skies are always blue. Tomorrow’s great attractions begin life in “blue sky” sessions—a time when Imagineers toss around ideas, no matter how strange or implausible, in search of the next E ticket. In these sessions the sky is the limit and once the best idea makes its way out, the wheels of production begin to turn. Design, pitch, estimate, redesign, construct and eventually happy faces asking, “Mommy, can we go again!”
One thing that deserves attention is this simple fact: the process of creating any Disney attraction begins with the “blue sky” phase, it does not end with it.
WDI is made up of dreamers and doers. Many would-be Imagineers have the dreaming part down pat. They would love to work in an environment where they can come up with ideas all day. Unfortunately it is the doing part that they have yet to master. Imagineers point out that there is no shortage of good ideas, only time and resources to bring the best ones to completion.
I like to think many Imagineers spent their early school days staring out the window with their heads in the clouds, dreaming about fantastic stories and far off places. Maybe as they got a little older, just dreaming wasn’t enough so they began to think of ways to make their imagination a reality. As their ideas and interests started to solidify and as they began to hone in on one thing they would eventually be able to do better than anyone else, they never lost their sense of wonder and excitement, that impulse to dream.
Imagineers will continue to stare out the window their whole lives, into that blue sky. They know, however, that while a fantasy inside their head was enough when they were little, there is alot that needs to be done if they ever hope to truly make that fantasy a reality and share it with others. They begin by dreaming, but they end by doing.
One thing is true—these Imagineers who pour so much of themselves into their creations do grudgingly leave their desks at the end of the day (but they probably don’t all sing Heigh Ho the whole way home). When you are the expert in your field and are in a place that allows you to practice your art, the day always ends too soon.
When I wonder why I can’t get anyone to listen to my great ideas, why they can’t see the same value that I see, I realize that maybe my head is still in the clouds and it might be time to get to work.
Contributed by: John Gray (NDI#194). John is the Imagineering blogger.