Walt Disney Imagineering

Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development, Inc.,[1] commonly referred to as Imagineering, is the research and development arm of The Walt Disney Company, responsible for the creation, design, and construction of Disney theme parks and attractions worldwide. The company also operates Disney Live Entertainment and The Muppets Studio and manages Disney's properties, from Walt Disney Studios in Burbank to New Amsterdam Theatre and Times Square Studios Ltd.[2] in New York City. Founded by Walt Disney to oversee the production of Disneyland, it was originally known as Walt Disney, Inc., then WED Enterprises, from the initials meaning "Walter Elias Disney", the company co-founder's full name.[3] Headquartered in Glendale, California, Imagineering is composed of "Imagineers", who are illustrators, architects, engineers, lighting designers, show writers and graphic designers.

Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development, Inc.
Walt Disney Imagineering
Company typeSubsidiary
IndustryEngineering, architecture design
FoundedDecember 16, 1952; 71 years ago (1952-12-16)
HeadquartersGrand Central Creative Campus, ,
United States
Key people
  • Bruce Vaughn (CCO)
  • Theme parks
  • Hotel resorts
  • Attractions
  • Cruise ships
  • Real estate developments
  • Entertainment venues
  • Design
  • Property management
ParentDisney Experiences
WebsiteOfficial website Edit this at Wikidata

The term "Imagineering", a portmanteau, was introduced in the 1940s by Alcoa to describe its blending of imagination and engineering, and used by Union Carbide in an in-house magazine in 1957, with an article by Richard F. Sailer called "BRAINSTORMING IS IMAGination engINEERING". Disney filed for a trademark for the term in 1989, claiming first use of the term in 1962. Imagineering is a registered trademark of Disney Enterprises, Inc.[4]



WED Enterprises


Walt Disney, Inc. (WDI) was formed by Walt Disney on December 16, 1952, with an engineering division tasked with designing Disneyland.[5][6] In light of objections from his brother Roy as well as those of potential stockholders, WDI was renamed WED Enterprises in 1953 based on Disney's initials.[5][6] In 1961, WED moved into the Grand Central Business Park.[7] WED Enterprises's theme park design and architectural group became so integral to the Disney studio's operations that Walt Disney Productions bought it on February 5, 1965, along with the WED Enterprises name.[8][9][10][11]



The unit was renamed as of January 1986 to Walt Disney Imagineering. In 1996, Disney Development Company, the Disney conglomerate's real estate development subsidiary, merged into Imagineering.[12]

Imagineering created Disney Fair, a U.S. traveling attraction, which premiered in September 1996. With poor attendance, the fair was pulled after a few stops. Disney Entertainment Projects (Asia Pacific), Inc., a new Disney Asian Pacific subsidiary, selected a renamed fair called DisneyFest as its first project, taking it to Singapore to open there on October 30, 1997.[13]

By 1997, Imagineers were in several buildings in Grand Central Business Park when Disney purchased the park. In September 1999, Disney Imagineering announced the Grand Central Creative Campus redesign of the industrial park with a new office-studio complex anchored by Disney Imagineering. Some of the buildings were demolished to make way for new buildings. The additional space would be for sound stages, production facilities and offices.[2][14]

As part of The Walt Disney Company's March 2018 strategic reorganization, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts merged with Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media segments into Disney Parks, Experiences and Products (DPEP), giving Disney Imagineering oversight of merchandise, games and publishing development.[15][16]

In July 2021, DPEP chairman Josh D'Amaro announced that approximately 2,000 DPEP positions would be transferred over the next couple of years to the Lake Nona area of Orlando, Florida.[17] In November 2021, it was reported that as many as 90% of the positions to be transferred are Walt Disney Imagineering positions, as DPEP relocates Imagineering's headquarters from Glendale to a new 60-acre corporate campus in Lake Nona.[18] The only Imagineering positions reportedly exempt from relocation were those dedicated to Disneyland or certain international parks.[17] The relocation was reportedly motivated in part by $570 million in tax breaks from the state of Florida, as well as Florida's business-friendly climate, lower cost of living, and lack of a state income tax.[17][18] This relocation was cancelled in May 2023 amidst a feud with Florida governor Ron DeSantis.[19]


WED Enterprises engineers examining a model for Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom in 1973

New concepts and improvements are often created to fulfill specific needs. For instance, the Soarin' Over California ride system was designed to help guests experience the sensation of flight. During development, Imagineer Mark Sumner found an erector set in his attic, which quickly inspired the solution to create this experience. The ride effectively simulates hang gliding.[20][21] One of Imagineering's techniques, "blue sky speculation", is a process in which ideas are generated without limitations.[3] Imagineers may develop a bold idea in extreme detail, initially disregarding budgetary or physical constraints. It can take up to five years for an idea to turn into a finished attraction.[22] The company considers this the beginning of a design process, believing, "if it can be dreamt, it can be built".[23]

WDI partnered with the Khan Academy to create a series of online video classes called Imagineering in a Box, to allow students to "explore different aspects of theme park design, from characters to ride development..." The classes, which are organized into three main categories (Creating Worlds, Designing Attractions, and Bringing Characters to Life), are presented by WDI employees using multimedia lessons and exercises.

The Imagineering Pyramid


Past Disney Imagineers have shared 15 principles of Disney Imagineering, divided into five tiers. These are:[24][25]

Walt Disney coined the term "plussing" for the process of constantly striving to perfect Imagineering work. Disney believed that there is always room for innovation and improvement, stating, "Disneyland will never be completed as long as there's imagination left in the world."[20] This sometimes takes the form of returning to previously abandoned ideas, such as the rework of the Museum of the Weird wax museum concept into the present The Haunted Mansion.[20]

The Art of the Show


Disney theme parks are storytelling and visual experiences, also known as “The Art of the Show.” The use of theming, atmosphere, and attention to detail are essential in the Disney experience. Creative director John Hench noted the similarities between theme park design and film making, such as the use of techniques, including forced perspective.[26] One notable example of forced perspective is Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The scale of architectural elements is much smaller in the upper reaches of the castle compared to the foundation, making it seem significantly taller than its actual height of 189 feet.[3][27]

The attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean, evokes a “rollicking buccaneer adventure,” according to Hench. In contrast, the Disney Cruise Line ships create an elegant seafaring atmosphere. Minor details in theme park shops and restaurants are crucial; these include the menus, names of the dishes and the Cast Members’ costumes.[26] When guests walk down the area of Main Street, U.S.A., they are likely to notice a bakery fragrance,[27] reminiscent of suburban America in the 1900s. In addition to theme parks, Imagineering has devised retail stores, galleries, and hotels which have "stories" and create a specific mood. For instance, the Disney's Contemporary Resort features an A-frame structure, modern décor and futuristic features including a quiet monorail in the lobby. These details reinforce the hotel's contemporary nature.[23]

In 2010, Disney Educational Products produced a series of videos called The Science of Disney Imagineering. Each video was presented by Imagineer Asa Kalama and focused on a different science subject.[28] Each video featured at least one Disney attraction, to show how science was used in them. These science subjects include Gravity, Trajectory, Levers & Pulleys, Fluids, Energy, Design & Models, Magnetism, Motion, Animal Adaptations: Communication, Friction, and Electricity.[29]

Mickey's Ten Commandments


In 1991, Marty Sklar (then-president of Imagineering) presented ten commandments attributed to Mickey Steinberg (the vice president of Imagineering). They are:[30]

  1. Know your audience
  2. Wear your guest's shoes (don't forget the human factors; try to experience the parks from the guests' point of view)
  3. Organize the flow of people and ideas (ensure experiences tell a story that is organized and logically laid out)
  4. Create a "Wienie" (Walt Disney's term for a "visual magnet")
  5. Communicate with visual literacy (use a dominant color or shape or building to reinforce a theme)
  6. Avoid overload—create turn-ons (do not offer too much detailed information)
  7. Tell one story at a time (put one 'big idea' in each show so guests leave with a clear understanding of the theme)
  8. Avoid contradictions—maintain identity (avoid irrelevant or contradicting elements; make sure the audience has a clear idea of what is being said)
  9. For every ounce of treatment, provide a ton of treat (take advantage of the distinction of the theme park, which is that it encourages active participation, compared to passive entertainment)
  10. Keep it up (do not become complacent or allow things to run down)


Walt Disney in 1966, inspecting plastic heads for use in the Disneyland iteration of Pirates of the Caribbean

Imagineering has been granted over 300 patents[31] in areas such as advanced audio systems, fiber optics, interactive technology, live entertainment, ride systems and special effects.[2] Imagineering pioneered technological advances such as the Circle-Vision 360° film technique and the FastPass virtual queuing system.



Imagineering is known for its development of Audio-Animatronics, a form of robotics, used in shows and theme park attractions that animate objects in three dimension (3D). The idea originated from Walt Disney's fascination with a mechanical bird that he purchased in New Orleans, which later led to the development of the attraction, The Enchanted Tiki Room. The attraction, which featured singing Audio-Animatronic birds, was the first to use this technology. In the 1964 World's Fair, a 3D figure of Abraham Lincoln was represented. The animated Lincoln delivered part of the Gettysburg Address for the "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" exhibit, the first human Audio-Animatronic figure.[32]

Today, Audio-Animatronics are featured in many attractions, including Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, The Hall of Presidents, Country Bear Jamboree, Star Tours—The Adventures Continue, and Muppet*Vision 3D. Guests have also had the opportunity to interact with Audio-Animatronic characters, such as Lucky the Dinosaur, WALL·E, and Remy from Ratatouille. The next wave of Audio-Animatronic development focuses on completely independent figures, also known as "Autonomatronics". Otto, the first Autonomatronic figure, debuted at the 2009 D23 Expo and can see, hear, sense a person's presence and emotions, and have a conversation.[33]



WEDway is a people mover system using linear induction motor (LIM) technology to propel vehicles along a pair of steel rails. This system was developed in the company's early years. The system is in operation at Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, United States. From 1967 to 1995, Disneyland utilized a version of this system which had rubber wheels placed every 9 feet along the guide-way.

Theme park projects

"Imagineers at Play" construction signage for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage at Disneyland in 2005.

Since 1952, Imagineering has created twelve theme parks, a town, five cruise ships, dozens of resort hotels, water parks, shopping centers, sports complexes and various entertainment venues.[3]

Current Imagineering projects

Project Park/Resort Opening Date
Island Tower at Disney's Polynesian Villas & Bungalows Walt Disney World December 17, 2024
Disney Treasure Disney Cruise Line December 21, 2024
Tiana's Bayou Adventure Disneyland 2024
Cotino Storyliving by Disney 2025
Disney Adventure Disney Cruise Line
Disney Destiny 2026

Other projects


Former creative director John Hench designed the "Tower of Nations" for the opening and closing ceremony of the 1960 Winter Olympics, whilst Walt Disney served as Pageantry Committee chairman.

Imagineering has collaborated with Disney Consumer Products on a number of projects for Disney Stores. The first store, in Glendale, was designed and constructed by a group of architectural Imagineers. Imagineering developed the now-defunct Walt Disney Gallery at the Main Place Mall in Santa Ana, California, and a Roman themed Disney Store at The Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas. After the purchase of the Disney Stores by The Children's Place in 2004, Imagineering helped design an exclusive chain of flagship stores, called World of Disney. These are located in resorts, Lake Buena Vista, Florida and Anaheim, California, as well as New York City. Another flagship store arrived at Disneyland Paris in 2012. An overhaul of Disney Stores was planned in 2009 with the help of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Disney hoped to transition from a traditional retail model to an interactive entertainment hub.[34]

In the 1990s, Imagineering designed the 24,000 square feet (2,200 m2) Club Disney interactive family fun center in Thousand Oaks, California. Although now closed, it was the first of several location-based entertainment (LBE) venues. In 1998, DisneyQuest, an 80,000 square feet (7,400 m2) high-tech, virtual reality arcade was launched at Disney Springs in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Another DisneyQuest in Chicago was launched a year later. In 2007, Imagineering oversaw design and construction of ships, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy. They also helped design exhibitions for the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles and developed the Encounter Restaurant, which is located at the top of Theme Building in Los Angeles International Airport. Moreover, they provided exhibits for the Port Discovery children's museum at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland, as well as the "Below Deck" sound show depicting Blackbeard's final battle as part of the Pirate and Treasure Museum in St. Augustine, Florida.

From 1995 to 1997, Imagineering oversaw the renovation of the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City.[35] Imagineering also remodeled the Times Square Studios in New York City in 1996, following the acquisition of ABC. In 1997, Disney purchased the California Angels and renamed the team to Anaheim Angels. Shortly, Imagineering renovated the Anaheim Stadium. Recently, Imagineering worked with charity, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), to create the teaser video and the story, as well as the theming of the 2016 FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST Stronghold.[36][37]

Corporate locations

Grand Central Creative Campus map

Since the 1960s, Imagineering's headquarters have been located in nondescript office buildings on the site of the former Grand Central Airport in Glendale, California, about two miles (3.2 km) east of Disney's corporate headquarters in Burbank. Many of these employees were set to be relocated to a new facility in Lake Nona, Orlando, Florida.[38] There are field offices at Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort. There are also offices located at:


  • Hench, John, with Peggy Van Pelt. Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show. Disney Editions, 2003, ISBN 0-7868-5406-5.
  • The Imagineers. Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real. Disney Editions, 1996, ISBN 0-7868-6246-7 (hardcover); 1998, ISBN 0-7868-8372-3 (paperback).
  • The Imagineers. Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real. Disney Editions, 2010, ISBN 1-4231-0766-7 (hardcover).
  • The Imagineers. The Imagineering Way: Ideas to Ignite Your Creativity. Disney Editions, 2003, ISBN 0-7868-5401-4.
  • The Imagineers (as "The Disney Imagineers"). The Imagineering Workout: Exercises to Shape Your Creative Muscles. Disney Editions, 2005, ISBN 0-7868-5554-1.
  • The Imagineers. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland. Disney Editions, 2008, ISBN 1-4231-0975-9, ISBN 978-1-4231-0975-4.
  • The Imagineers. The Imagineering Field Guide to Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Disney Editions, 2007, ISBN 1-4231-0320-3, ISBN 978-1-4231-0320-2.
  • The Imagineers. The Imagineering Field Guide to Epcot at Walt Disney World. Disney Editions, 2006, ISBN 0-7868-4886-3.
  • The Imagineers. The Imagineering Field Guide to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Disney Editions, 2005, ISBN 0-7868-5553-3.
  • Kurtti, Jeff. Walt Disney's Legends of Imagineering and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park. Disney Editions, 2006, ISBN 0-7868-5559-2.
  • Alcorn, Steve and David Green. Building a Better Mouse: The Story of the Electronic Imagineers Who Designed Epcot. Themeperks Press, 2007, ISBN 0-9729777-3-2.
  • Surrell, Jason. The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak. Disney Editions, 2007, ISBN 1-4231-0155-3
  • Ghez, Didier; Littaye, Alain; Translated into English by Cohn, Danielle. Disneyland Paris From Sketch To Reality. Nouveau Millénaire Editions, 2002, ISBN 2-9517883-1-2
  • Surrell, Jason. Pirates of the Caribbean: From The Magic Kingdom To The Movies. Disney Editions, 2007, ISBN 1-4176-9274-X, ISBN 978-1-4176-9274-3.
  • Surrell, Jason. The Haunted Mansion: From The Magic Kingdom To The Movies. Disney Editions, 2003, ISBN 978-0-7868-5419-6

See also



  1. ^ "Statement of Information: Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development, Inc". Business Search. California Secretary of State. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Blankstein, Andrew (March 14, 2000). "Disney Reveals Plans for $2-Billion Glendale Project". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 9, 2016. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d Wright, Alex; Imagineers (2005). The Imagineering Field Guide to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. New York: Disney Editions. ISBN 0786855533.
  4. ^ "Imagineering – Trademark Details". Justia Trademarks. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Aberdeen, J. A. (2000). "Disneyland". Hollywood Renegades. Cobblestone Entertainment. ISBN 1-890110-24-8. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
  6. ^ a b Peltz, James F. (October 2, 1990). "The Wonderful World of Disney's Other Firm : Entertainment: Walt Disney created a separate company for his family. Retlaw Enterprises is now worth hundreds of millions". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 3, 2014. Retrieved July 19, 2012.
  7. ^ Blankstein, Andrew (September 2, 1999). "Disney Plans to Build Major 'Creative Campus' in Glendale". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 9, 2016. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  8. ^ Broggie, Michael (1997). Walt Disney's Railroad Story. Pentrex. p. 174. ISBN 1563420090.
  9. ^ Smith, Dave (1998). Disney A to Z — The Updated Official Encyclopedia. Hyperion Books. pp. 467, 601. ISBN 0786863919.
  10. ^ Stewart, James (2005). Disney War. Simon & Schuster. pp. 41. ISBN 9780684809939.
  11. ^ Gabler, Neal (2006). Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. Knopf. p. 629.
  12. ^ "Walt Disney Imagineering". D23: Disney A to Z. The Walt Disney Company. Archived from the original on September 6, 2015. Retrieved November 12, 2015.
  13. ^ Matzer, Marla (August 28, 1997). "It Didn't Play in Puyallup, so Disney Tries Singapore". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 23, 2015. Retrieved September 23, 2015.
  14. ^ Blankstein, Andrew (March 14, 2000). "New Disney Campus in Glendale to Hire 10,000". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 18, 2016. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  15. ^ Wang, Christine (March 14, 2018). "Disney announces strategic reorganization, effective immediately". CNBC. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  16. ^ Fact Sheet Walt Disney Imagineering 2019 Q4
  17. ^ a b c MacDonald, Brady (October 29, 2021). "Disney Imagineering relocation shifts creative balance of power from California to Florida". Orange County Register. Retrieved January 3, 2022.
  18. ^ a b Rice, Katie (November 7, 2021). "Disney's Lake Nona campus means big gains for company but likely staff losses, too". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved January 3, 2022.
  19. ^ Whitten, Sarah (May 18, 2023). "Disney scraps plans for new Florida campus, mass employee relocation amid DeSantis feud". CNBC.
  20. ^ a b c George Scribner and Jerry Rees (Directors) (2007). Disneyland: Secrets, Stories, and Magic (DVD). Walt Disney Video.
  21. ^ Mmartin (April 27, 2018). "Wishcasting Disney Legends: Mark Sumner - my 244th pick to be a Disney Legend". Wishcasting Disney Legends. Retrieved March 19, 2019.
  22. ^ "Meet Asa Kalama | Disney Educational Productions". April 3, 2015. Archived from the original on April 3, 2015. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  23. ^ a b Marling, Karal (1997). Designing Disney's Theme Parks. Paris — New York: Flammarion.
  24. ^ "The Imagineering Pyramid – An Overview". The Imagineering Toolbox. May 25, 2016. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  25. ^ J., Prosperi, Louis (April 14, 2016). The imagineering pyramid : using Disney theme park design principles to develop and promote your creative ideas. Imagineers (Group). [Place of publication not identified]. ISBN 9781941500965. OCLC 956510763.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ a b Hench, John; Peggy Van Pelt (2003). Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show. New York: Disney Editions.
  27. ^ a b "8 Key Principles That Disney Imagineers Use to Develop New Attractions". Theme Park Tourist. September 22, 2014. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  28. ^ "Meet Asa Kalama". disney.com. Disney. Archived from the original on April 3, 2015. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  29. ^ "The Science of Disney Imagineering: Buy All 11 DVDs". dep-store.com. Disney. Archived from the original on January 26, 2015. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  30. ^ The Way We Do Business. Walt Disney Imagineering Workshop 1991. Walt Disney Imagineering, The Disney Development Company. April 25–26, 1991. Archived from the original on September 21, 2016. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  31. ^ "Disney Blends Imagination and Technology to Deliver Landmarks in Theme Park Innovation" (Press release). Walt Disney World. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  32. ^ "The Walt Disney Company Home — Jobs and Careers". Archived from the original on November 2, 2005.
  33. ^ "Disney Autonomatronics Figure Can Sense If You're Happy". Disney Parks Blog. Archived from the original on November 11, 2009.
  34. ^ Barnes, Brooks (October 13, 2009). "Disney's Retail Plan Is a Theme Park in Its Stores". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved October 13, 2009.
  35. ^ Patterson, Maureen (April 1, 1998). "New Amsterdam Theatre". Buildings. Retrieved January 19, 2022 – via Free Online Library.
  36. ^ Merrick, Frank. "The Teaser is Coming!". usfirst.org. US FIRST. Archived from the original on October 15, 2015. Retrieved October 15, 2015.
  37. ^ 2016 FIRST Robotics Competition Kickoff Broadcast. For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. 2016. Event occurs at 28:50. Archived from the original on February 2, 2016. Retrieved January 22, 2016. Of course, we had tremendous help in doing all of this from our friends at Walt Disney Imagineering. Not only did they produce the teaser for us, but they helped us keep the story of this game front and center.
  38. ^ Bilbao, Richard (October 7, 2021). "Disney's Lake Nona move may accelerate hotel development in the region, says expert". Orlando Business Journal. Retrieved October 26, 2021.

Further reading