Saturday, April 23, 2005

Disney Book Recommendations: Walt Disney Imagineering : A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real

I've been an avid Disney collector since even before my cast member experience. Much to my wife's chagrin, I have Disney collections ranging from DVDs (previously LaserDiscs) to apparel to comic books to pins. I have letters, postcards, binders, booklets and posters related to my CP experience, cells and lithos, tapes of parades and specials, toys, games, and trading cards. One of my favorite collections, though, is my bookshelf of Disney books, ranging from coffee-table editions to small paperbacks. Having somewhat recently moved, I just came across the boxes containing these books and starting re-examining them.

One of my favorites is a fairly recent find. Walt Disney Imagineering : A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real was not a book that I was familiar with. I was walking thru a Half Price Books store and happened upon this gem for a paltry $6.99. I have a special attachment to the topic as I had a near life-long desire to work for either FA or WDI at the Mouse House that I have very recently gotten over (Of course, if the opportunity ever presented itself again...). In my many hits and near-misses in work opportunities with Disney, I even applied for, received an interview, and received a call-back for a WDI position in my younger days (which I had to turn down, as life and family got in the way). During my time with the Mouse, I went out of my way to dig out technical details of the goings-on behind the scenes, working on a Honor's College thesis on Disney underground. Thus, upon seeing this large, coffee-table sized paperback on the shelf, there was really no question as to whether I was going to buy it.

The book not laid out in a traditional chronological order, but instead in order of project types. There are sections on Audio-Animatronics, various ride designs, castle designs, multi-plane camera, cirlevision camera, visual communications, audio production, illusioneering, theme park design, restaurant design, and many other topics. Since the Imagineers are the authors, the perspective is from the inside, but since this is a company-sponsored book, not much is given away in terms of secrets and not much is pointed out in terms of failures. Still, it still chocked full of fun stories and unbelievable concept drawings, models, and other types of pictures and illustrations to illustrate the craft of these talented artisans.

The photos and illustrations really carry the book. The work of such Disney luminaries as John Hench, Marc Davis, Yale Gracey, Ward Kimball, Mary Blair, Walt Disney, and many, many others is represented here through these stories and photos. Every page is bursting with colorful concept paintings accompanied by photos of the completed product, construction photos, and photos of the Imagineers at work. This is one of the best collections of Disney work-in-progress theme park design that I have seen in print.

One of the amusing portions of the book, though, is the forward by one Michael D. Eisner, then the Chairman and CEO of Disney. To hear Michael talk of "being protective of everything Disney" and how the company (using Walt's words) keeps "moving forward - opening new doors and doing new things - because we're curious" is somewhat ironic, considering he has evolved into being the king of the sequel and Ron Miller's heir apparent in the realm of playing it safe and stifiling innovation. Rereading this forward gave me a good chuckle...

In conclusion, if you see this book (esp. at a discount or used outlet), don't hesitate to buy it if you are a fan of the design and behind-the-scenes stuff related to Disney theme park design. You can grab it at Amazon or any number of other fine booksellers.

Next time I'll hit upon another great behind the scenes book, Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture.

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