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 Disneyland Park © Mike
© Mike

Thursday, August 01, 2013 | This article is listed in the sections Amusement parks and Magazine.

Dreams really do come true

Cinderella Castle at Disneyland Paris
Visitors to Disney theme parks from all over the world are repeatedly surprised by the attention to detail, unique attractions and countless stories that are told there. That successful concept is not left to chance – behind all these features, that make Disney parks so extraordinary, is the work of the big design and development arm Walt Disney Imagineering.

One of the reasons why Walt Disney himself founded WDI (Walt Disney Imagineering) on 16th December 1952 under the name WDE Enterprises, the initials indicate his full name, was because the opening of the first Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, was just around the corner and plans needed to be developed beforehand. The art term "Imagineering" describes its blending of "Imagination" and "Engineering", which fits very well to the field of the company. Creativity in combination with technical know-how should transform the dream worlds of the amusement parks into reality. Each attraction, each restaurant and each shop tells its own story which is developed by Imagineers and then brought to life. Let us take the theme ride "Pirates of the Caribbean" as an example: while writing the storyboard they determined the look of the attraction. Imagineers created both the artworks with individual scenes of the dark ride as well as the subsequent Audio-Animatronics, and the awesome setting which can be seen during the ride. Several job titles fall under the banner of Imagineering, among others, architects who are entrusted with structural statics and botanics who take care of the planting that matches with the corresponding theming.

Little elements that make the difference

Even inconspicuous objects play an essential role in the background story, for instance, the shop "Eureka Mining Supplies and Assay Office" has a rare lift. The former shop owner used it to go into a secret shaft where he smuggled gold from the adjacent mine of the Big Thunder Mountain. Although this lift does not attract much attention, it is the key feature of the whole shop design, and thus an important part of the background story.

For every new Disney attraction constitutes a new challenge for Imagineering, it is not surprising at all that, in the course of the past nearly 60 years, an incredible knowledge has been gathered which can be drawn on anytime. Numerous tricks are used to achieve a specific effect, such as the Cinderella Castle which is a rather neutral coloured icon in the US Disney theme parks, whereas Disneyland Paris has its iconic fairy tale castle furnished in a pastel pink colour, because diverse investigations showed that this tone achieves a pleasant effect on the often cloud-covered French sky.

Frontierland at night
The frequent use of watercourses and waterfalls to separate the themed areas also originates from a ingenious concept. Since every section has its own background sound, these elements serve as a sort of unconscious "sound neutraliser". Another psychological curiosity is to be found in Fantasyland: In order to make the fairy tale world even more adorable, the parts of the buildings were not constructed to scale, giving it all a slightly crooked look. In addition, the method of a distorted perspective allows the Cinderella Castle to appear far taller and more stately than it actually is. A stained glass window with changing images inside the castle or hammering sounds coming from an old mine shaft at Big Thunder Mountain are nice gimmicks that first-timers hardly notice – but guests who have already visited the park for several times certainly think that these little details make the difference between a Disney park and any other park. All these ideas and developments are down to Walt Disney Imagineering that makes every visit as special as possible.

Imagineers not only invents and designs its own parks – there are lots of other projects out there where WDI has a hand in, including a restaurant at the Los Angeles International Airport, manufacturing flight attendant uniforms for an airline or exhibits for museums. The headquarter of the company is still located in California, but, of course, every Disney theme park has an own branch.

© parkscout/MV/AF

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