Walt Disney Imagineers turn to tablets for inspiration

May 30, 2012

From the lush new Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii to the new Cars Land in Disneyland to the massive expansion of Fantasyland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney’s “Imagineers” have turned to tablet technology to save time and money in turning blueprints into reality.

"You're going to see tablets become the standard mode by which we work," said Joe Rohde, senior VP & creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering. "I started using tablets when I was working on the (Aulani) Hawaii project, but I hadn't really yet moved to cloud-based storage and really big files and things like that.

"It's obvious that these tablets are going to become incredibly powerful field art direction tools."

When building Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Rohde and other Imagineers would typically walk around with a 400-page Xeroxed reference book of images and windows and trees. Now all of that information is either stored on a tablet or saved in the cloud and accessed in the field via an iPad or Android device. 

“You can imagine the benefit of now having not only the reference material you’ve collected, but also access to the Web on location, and the ability to access images from anywhere in the world with data file storage,” said Rohde. “It’s really very empowering.” 

Disney's software Imagineers use tablets differently depending on the project. 

At the New Fantasyland expansion in Florida, they’re using the tablets in conjunction with Disney’s proprietary Building Information Modeling (BIM) tool. This process leverages innovative visualization tools very early on that allows the entire team to share the same vision from a technical and creative standpoint. 

Fantasyland is literally doubling in size over the next two years with new attractions like Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride and The Barnstormer featuring Goofy as The Great Goofini. 

In July 2012, the rest of the new Storybook Circus will open up featuring a second Dumbo ride and the Casey Jr. Splash 'n' Soak Station. This holiday season, Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Be Our Guest Restaurant, Gaston's Tavern, and Ariel's Grotto will open up. The new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will open in 2014. 

Walt Disney Imagineer Senior Product Manager Tim Warzecha says BIM is being employed to build all blueprints and designs in a 3D environment. These models include all the detailed specs, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural, and fireproofing. Within these models, Imagineers can look for conflicts or irregularities and problem solve earlier. 

Tablets get partners in the loop

The flexibility of tablets also extends to how Disney works with some of its partners.

“What we’re doing with the Fantasyland expansion is using the tablet technology combined with the BIM, which is allowing us to take our project into the field like we’ve never done before,” said Warzecha. “It’s allowing us to take some of our partners who can’t read the two-dimensional plan. 

“As an example, as we built our kitchen, we took our operating partners as well as the head chef, and we allowed them to walk through the 3D model to ensure the design layout was perfect. Before, we couldn’t do this until the kitchen was actually in construction.”

It’s also having a profound impact in the field. Imagineers can pull up the 3D recreation of a ride like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and use that for both pre-visualization and for cross-checking and problem-solving at the building site. 

“I can also get with one of my technicians, they can pull up the BIM model, and now I have that  on my tablet and I can go through the drawings, fly through the model and look at the space to make sure everything is correct,” said Warzecha. 

Jonathan Ackley, senior director at Walt Disney Imagineering, has used tablets with the creation of new interactive experiences like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom and Agent P’s Showcase Adventure. 

He explained that different teams of Imagineers at parks around the world are currently using a variety of tablets and tools in pilot programs, exploring new ways to make use of these portable devices. 

Disney also has quarterly summits where Imagineers get together to discuss what’s working and what could be improved with these pilot programs.

Mobile advances bring a cultural change

“Things we’ve become accustomed to doing in terms of sharing design ideas have more to do with social networking, have more to do with pre-visualization, have more to do with the use of handheld devices, so that it’s not isolated in terms of an applied phenomena,” said Rodhe. 

“It is like a cultural change. It changes the way you do the work and changes the way you think about the possibilities of what the work can be.”

That work is bringing 3D movies to life like the new Cars Land section of Disneyland, which opens June 15 and allows kids of all ages to actually drive Mater, Lightning McQueen and other popular characters from the hit films in a life-sized Radiator Springs.



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