Monday, May 11, 2009

WWED? Armchair Imagineering with Eddie Sotto

Eddie Sotto is a former Senior Vice President of Concept Design at Walt Disney Imagineering; whose work on such projects as Main Street at Disneyland Paris, Indiana Jones: Temple of the Forbidden Eye, The Encounter Restaurant at LAX, and so many more, will ignite the smiles of guest’s for years to come. Mr. Sotto currently owns and operates his own design studio in LA, developing immersive experiences such as retail stores, restaurants, and other assorted themed experiences to a wide array of clients.

Concept Art by Eddie Sotto for Main Street

Concept Art by Eddie Sotto for Tom Sawyers Island, the catacombs of Jean Lafitte's conquests

When aspiring Imagineers and Disney park fans talk about Imagineering, there are many hot topics that oftentimes find their way to the forefront of the discussion. With 13 years experience with WDI under his belt, Former Imagineer Eddie Sotto kindly lent his time to us here at Imagineering Disney to give his own unique take on how he would tackle some of WDI’s most commonly discussed questions.

E.S: First off, this year marks a decade since I quit my job as SVP Concept Design at WDI. Much has changed since those "Eisnerian" years and it may seem presumptuous for me to spout off what I would have done or would do creatively as it it were some revelation or better idea, when in fact, better ideas no doubt have been discussed within the WDI "cone of silence", just never made public. Management would become deaf to the continual onslaught of creative ideas, often real breakthroughs became "cannon fodder" and got lost in the brainstorming shuffle. I read online suggestions many times that have a "why didn't they think of that" tone to them, when in fact, I laugh to myself knowing they did think of it, but as with most great ideas, they seldom see the light of day. So I'm doing this interview with the attitude that I don't know any more or any better than anyone else, but lend a perspective that might be interesting reading. Today's Imagineers have a tougher time of it given the economy, so it's to them and their endurance that my support lies.

A complete Tomorrowland overhaul was originally slated by Eisner to be done in the late 90's, but as we all know, it never came to fruition. We have seen updates to a few rides in Tomorrowland (Finding Nemo Sub's, Space Mountain) but many agree that Tomorrowland is in desperate need of a total refurbishment, as it has outdated itself many times over and does not adequately represent the hope and grandeur of the future that it is supposed to. What sort of things would you do to if you were to create "Tommorowland 2055"?

E.S: I have always been a big fan of the 1967 version as I thought it was very sincere and actually demonstrated a tangible future. You rode a Peoplemover, the Monorail brought you in and out of the land. The band rose up from the ground in a futuristic way. and of course a model of "Progress City" was there to show you how it all would fit together as at the time Disney was planning to actually build it! A hard act to follow. The land was designed in an Eero Saarinen inspired style (i.e.TWA Terminal JFK Airport) that represented its day, but was optimistic and very clean without being wholly minimal. Space Mountain is a beautiful and original design. It was not kitchy at all.

There are two ways to go with this. One is to create a retro, somewhat timeless concept that does not require frequent updates and is based on cute optimism. (Makes the most fiscal sense.) We have that now. The other is to set a goal to actually lead the future and risk being outdated by the time you open then keep it fresh. We are in the Digital Age with more innovation that there ever was in the 1960's. Here's where it could get interesting. Today's public is exposed to more beautiful industrial design than ever. Toilet brushes are now designed by Phillippe Starck and sold at Target. Guys like Steve Jobs have used design as a universal language for the future by making computers in themselves optimistically iconic and beautiful. And it sells. The Apple Stores have extended the device design into a seamless physical environment. The future CAN be fun, beautiful, cool and need not be beige plastic. By using natural wood, stone and glass in their stores, Apple conveys that the future is real and tangible, more than gold spray paint. This leads me to believe that companies and designers like Apple, Zaha Hadid, Calatrava, Pininfarina, and other firms that predict the future as design could be part of a new rebirth of Tomorrowland as a nexus of great optimistic experiences. Perhaps Digital LED walls and "buildings that think" or sense your presence. Stuff like that. Showcasing all that's green by it being the norm, not just green gadgets. Why not a "Volt" or "Tesla" Autopia?(This would take big moves as Oil Companies are the sponsoring of the future right now. It gets very complex and difficult very fast. ) The challenge with this is that it would have to reach out beyond what these firms would do in Vegas, a home show or a Mall, it would have to still have the impact of something truly unique and set the bar high. WDI adds that factor. All of this never takes the place of great Attractions, it's just the wrapper. Segways, Smart Cars, Free Ranging ride Vehicles, etc. Tomorrowland should reflect the optimism and bold creativity of Pasadena's Art Center Student Shows.

I know that it may not make fiscal sense to try this and is hard to keep fresh, but to me if you are going to offer an "escape" to guests from their daily lives, a tangible hope for the future is a big part of fulfilling that. I know it was for me. This would have to be born of a corporate initiative to lead the future as Walt did with his Space and transportation passions.

Progress City

Architect Santiago Calatrava

Architect Zaha Hadid

Apple Store in NYC

There are always rumors swirling around the inevitable "5th park" at Disney World. Beastly Kingdom was originally supposed to be another section of Animal Kingdom, but has also been rumored as being its own separate park. Are there any particular themes or ideas that you would explore if you were to create that elusive next new park?

E.S: To build on the Tomorrowland notion, I say build Walt's "Progress City" for real as part of the Disney Vacation Club. He deserves that much. DVC members get to play "resident" in the Tower Rooms and Bungalows sampling the future, and regular guests can hop off the monorail and spend their ever loving guts out in the Amazon mall of the future and at the Google Restaurants. It would be the most talked about thing WDI has ever done (especially if you had to dress like they did in "Logan's Run"!). The Future Spa would be insane as well. (I working on that one right now) Peoplemovers are the main mode of transport, the Monorail bisects the resort, just like in the GE show. Do the Hub and spoke plan with a new tower in the middle (all green powered), ringed by a "minority report" wow factor indoor mall. The whole nine yards on crack. Tech Companies could fill it with their stuff. (i.e.The Microsoft touch table restaurant, etc) the Apple iSuite. Teslas and Segways, and of course there will always be an amazing wave pool for the kids and organic 20 calorie GE shapedChurros. You name it it's all there. Believe me, it would make so much money it's not even funny.

Microsoft Surface, new touch screen technology

California Adventure has been under scrutiny ever since it opened in 2001. Though it seemed to have started off on the wrong foot, the new 1.1 billion dollar expansion looks promising. What are your thoughts on this expansion? It is clear that the expansion (and a lot of Disney's new ventures) is very character centric, and Imagineers have been accused of creating a lack of original content lately. If you were to tackle the expansion of California Adventure, how would you go about it and what sort of things might you do?

E.S: The investment of 1.1 billion of (or whatever it is), is an unprecedented vote of confidence from the board to WDI and especially Bob Weis. It's huge. They are committed to doing whatever it takes to make the park work and additionally, so much of the money going into placemaking reveals a corporate long term approach to making the park a "place you want to be" as a top priority. This is a big sea change from the past.

I'm not sure what I would do that isn't being done. To me, DCA can in places be really difficult as you don't have a berm, so the "immersion" into another world is hard to begin with. You have to get the guest out of the old parking lot and into another time and place. The new entrance will do that for sure. If it were me, I'd try to squeeze in one more "wow" D or E Attraction, or level up an existing one to that status. I hope the Carthay Circle Theater will become something amazing as they had proposed. The "World of Color" show seems to be Fantasmic! on Crack. So the lake in the middle will become a great "engine" for the park. It needed that Disney "heartbeat" and a must see. All good. A minor touch would be to overlay a late 1920's overlay into Paradise Pier (layers of change) to differentiate it from Main Street (anyone who knew me on DLP could see that comment coming a mile away). The character imagery is from that time so they are halfway there now just add a bit more story texture. I loved the "Roaring 20's" area of Knott's back in the 80's and it had a great period feel that never felt overly cute. The architecture was done in layers, The 20's slapped right over the old 1890s. It kind of came off realistic in a way. Paradise Pier has a great kinetic energy with that coaster, something Main Street will never have. So there seems to be an opportunity to exploit that as I'm sure they will. I love seeing attractions they added that are borne out of California's past like the Pacific Electric RedCar. It's the history buff thing. That's just my two cents, the upgrades they are making are all top quality.

"Roaring 20's" area of Knott's back in the 80's

Concept Art of DCA's new entrance

You had a lead role while you were with Imagineering designing the Encounter Restaurant at LAX. As far as I know, this is one of the few larger ventures Imagineering has worked on that wasn't directly attached to the Disney brand. I've heard this was one of your favorite design experiences; do you think that Imagineering should get more involved in these sorts of outside endeavors? And if so, what kind of projects would you have Imagineering seek out?

E.S: Only if you can learn something, break even and take the brand somewhere it makes sense to explore. LAX did all three. We justified LAX internally as a means to learn how to do a small project in a highly political environment like an airport and do it for a budget. Believe it not that project got a THEA award for best project on a limited budget.

As to what to seek out. Hmmm. If the recent fiasco with the DL Monorails is any indication, they learned some valuable lessons in transportation design. I'd love to see WDI close the "experiential" gap in the show between the airport and their new hotel initiatives with great light rail and trans solutions (Buses too!) that cities can latch onto (or begin by fixing the Florida property). Overhead is always an issue as to being competitive, so who knows where that will end up. I think they can get there if the company supports a futuristic vision.

Concept Art by Eddie Sotto of the Interior of the Encounter Restaraunt at LAX

Encounter Restaurant at LAX

Plain and simple, which Disney attraction (from any of the parks) is in the most need for a refurbishment? What would you do in designing this refurbishment?

E.S: Good question. So many of the obvious choices are in development from what I read, like "Star Tours", "Lincoln" or "Hall of Presidents". I'd bite off the whole of EPCOT, as it is a grand opportunity and a unique theme to develop as parks go. Money is usually the reason you don't see this stuff happen, so it's no one's fault that things are as they are. But if cash were no object, I'd want to really make Future World deliver on it's promise and send guests away with a "call to action" to make the future brighter. The voice of Future world could be "we are, not you should" as the future is shown to you by example not preached. Maybe look ahead to a better balance between where you use characters to deliver the content and make it something that sophisticated grownups can appreciate as well as the kids. Make it more legit. Private Spaceflight companies like Virgin Galactic should set up spaceport training centers right on site.

World Showcase could be much more relevant beyond the traditional cultures, as Italy to me is not just Lasagna, it's Ferraris and Ducati. Japan's Kyoto traditions may benefit from the contrast of the Ginza, Germany is always Oktoberfest, but also Porsche Design, UK is Fashion, and Rock and Roll. I love the pavilions but how can they be more expansive and satisfying. The Wine and Food Fest proves how rich they can be. The one attraction (to answer your question) might be to update the Energy Pavilion as alternative energy is the one thing on our planet that seems most relevant and in need of delivering on. Maybe there is an area to demo things like that as a post show? This pavilion has a great ride system and Dinosaurs, so there are some good "bones" to work with. Not to mention the capability to use 3D on those huge screens. Again, the sponsor has a big say, so it's never easy. I'm sure you'll find at least ten drawers full of ideas like this back at WDI.

Thank you very much for your time, this unique interview has given future Imagineers and Disney park fans alike a one of a kind and insightful perspective directly from a veteran Imagineer’s mind. It’s been a pleasure.

E.S: You are more than welcome, I hope these "armchair Imagineering" observations spur some interesting blogging and some good old fashioned hate mail.

Check out the Sotto Studios website to see some of Eddie’s exceptional work, as well as his other interviews featured on the Disney and More blog as well as which has just recently released an entire 4-part series of Interviews with the Eddie that are absolutely inspiring!

Also, feel free to leave your own take on these questions and comment on Mr. Sotto’s answers!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Interview with Eddie Sotto

Here is an in-depth interview with former Senior Vice President of Concept Design Eddie Sotto from Themed Attraction. Check out the links below and enjoy!

part one

part two

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mickey's Ten Commandments

I'm sure you have all heard the tale of Marty Sklar traveling up the Matterhorn to receive Mickey's Ten Commandments . . .

alright so I made that up, but stranger things have been written . . .

But these commandments do exist! Developed by Imagineering legend Marty Sklar, Mickey's Ten Commandments are the guidelines that every Imagineer follows while creating a new attraction.

1. Know your audience - Don't bore people, talk down to them or lose them by assuming that they know what you know.

2. Wear your guest's shoes - Insist that designers, staff and your board members experience your facility as visitors as often as possible.

3. Organize the flow of people and ideas - Use good story telling techniques, tell good stories not lectures, lay out your exhibit with a clear logic.

4. Create a weenie - Lead visitors from one area to another by creating visual magnets and giving visitors rewards for making the journey

5. Communicate with visual literacy - Make good use of all the non-verbal ways of communication - color, shape, form, texture.

6. Avoid overload - Resist the temptation to tell too much, to have too many objects, don't force people to swallow more than they can digest, try to stimulate and provide guidance to those who want more.

7. Tell one story at a time - If you have a lot of information divide it into distinct, logical, organized stories, people can absorb and retain information more clearly if the path to the next concept is clear and logical.

8. Avoid contradiction - Clear institutional identity helps give you the competitive edge. Public needs to know who you are and what differentiates you from other institutions they may have seen.

9. For every ounce of treatment , provide a ton of fun - How do you woo people from all other temptations? Give people plenty of opportunity to enjoy themselves by emphasizing ways that let people participate in the experience and by making your environment rich and appealing to all senses.

10. Keep it up - Never underestimate the importance of cleanliness and routine maintenance, people expect to get a good show every time, people will comment more on broken and dirty stuff.

Now go forth, follow these tenants, and don't forget to receive your communion!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

Many of you may already know about Randy Pausch's story. But for those of you that don't, then its about time you heard about his inspiring story. . .

Dr. Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in computer science. He was diagnosed in 2006 with terminal pancreatic cancer and told that he had only months to live. The school had an ongoing lecture series called "the last lecture" in which professors were asked to prepare a lecture as if it would be the last one they would ever deliver. For Randy Pausch, it became the truth. Though Dr. Pausch lived a decent while longer than his prognosis suggested, he passed away on July 25, 2008.

Why is this relevant to Imagineering? Randy Pausch did some consulting during sabaticals for Imagineering and helped develop the virtual reality Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride that had was featured at Epcot and Disneyland during the 90's. Randy also speaks a lot about his childhood dream to work for WDI and the persistance it took to realize that dream.

Here is the video of the entire lecture. Be forewarned, this lecture is an hour and sixteen minutes long. It is a very rewarding experience should you choose to watch it in its entirety. Notice that Pausch proudly wears his Imagineering shirt and name tag!

I understand that many people have time constraints, or a short attention span, so I've also included the reprised 10 minute version that Dr. Pausch presented on Oprah.

The worldwide popularity of The Last Lecture lead to a best-selling book adaptation, which summarizes the lecture and features more in-depth anecdotes and life lessons from Dr. Pausch. Even if you've watched the lecture, I cannot recommend this book enough, it has made a profound impact on me and should be a part of any future Imagineer's collection. Click on the cover below to head on over to and pick it up

A memorial plaque with a quote from Dr. Pausch was also recently added outside the Mad Tea Party attraction at the Magic Kingdom in his honor . . .

"Be good at something; it makes you valuable. Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome."
- Randy Pausch

Friday, March 27, 2009

Books Books Books!

No aspiring Imagineer is complete without some of the inspiring books that cover everything there is to know about WDI. So just in case you've overlooked one of these gems, click on the covers to head over to and pick a few up. Of course you can buy them from wherever, but from my experience amazon is usually the most affordable.

As for my personal recommendation, it depends on what your looking for. If your tight on funds or just looking for the best overall book, I would suggest picking up Designing Disney or Imagineering: a behind the dreams look. One book that future Imagineers may happen to overlook is Be Our Guest:Perfecting the Art of Customer Service. This book gives the reader an inside look behind the inner workings of Disney, and can oftentimes be found in university libraries.

Anyhow, on to the books!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Toy Story Mania coming to the Wii

Before I give my own opinion, here is the official press release from Disney Interactive Studios . . .

Beloved "Toy Story" Characters and Theme Park Attraction Provide Backdrop for Family-Friendly Carnival-Style Video Game

BURBANK, Calif., (March 24, 2009) Disney Interactive Studios today announced Toy Story Mania!, inspired by the Disney/Pixar animated feature "Toy Story," will be released exclusively for the Wii home video game console this fall. Toy Story Mania! showcases an array of entertaining games based on the new Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort attractions, while featuring the iconic characters and humor from the popular Disney/Pixar "Toy Story" franchise.

"The 'Toy Story' franchise is a fun, dynamic and heart-warming series containing characters and themes that connect with every age group," said Craig Relyea, senior vice president of global marketing, Disney Interactive Studios. "Toy Story Mania! combines those popular elements with the unique antics of the new theme park attraction for the ultimate in family entertainment."

In Toy Story Mania!, players experience the fast-paced, zany fun of the Toy Story Mania! theme park attraction, which is an interactive experience requiring 3D glasses and involving rapid or quick-firing shooting galleries. In addition to galleries adapted from the attraction, the game includes new and original galleries and a series of mini games, all hosted by beloved characters from the movies. The thematically-connected levels are designed for up to four players of all ages with competitive and co-operative multiplayer options. Toy Story Mania! also includes bonus 3D features, transforming the game experience with eye-popping visuals.

The Pixar-created "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" have both had successful box office and DVD sales. The Disney Digital 3D™ theatrical re-release of "Toy Story" is in the works and will open in theatres on October 2, 2009, followed by the 3D re-release of "Toy Story 2" opening on February 12, 2010, leading up to the premiere of "Toy Story 3" in 3D summer 2010. Toy Story Mania! is the first video game to place characters from these films into a carnival game setting and is expected to resonate with fans of the films and the attraction, as well as gamers who like pick-up-and-play party games

Developed by Papaya Studio, Toy Story Mania! will be available this fall exclusively for Wii.

I must admit, at first, this sounded like a great idea to me. But the reason why it sounded like such a good idea was exactly what lead me to think otherwise. Every time I've been on the ride, I immediately want to jump right back in line the second I've finished. From an Imagineering (and business) standpoint, this is priority number one. An attraction's success can oftentimes be measured by it's re-rideability. This beg's the question, why would you give people the opportunnity to NOT have to visit the parks in order to experience an attraction. Now granted, I don't think sitting in your living room playing the wii version of TSM will be anything like experiencing the real thing (and not nearly as tiring for your arm!) . But there is something about the exclusiveness of our favorite attractions that make them special. The fact that that I can't just buy a game or watch a video and be satiated by anything but the real thing makes it that much more magical when I do go to the parks. Who knows, maybe this is purely financially motivated, and perhaps if nothing else will act as a big advertisment to get people to the parks. But I worry that these artificial experiences, especially as technology progresses, will begin to take away from the genuine experience.

Also, this just in. Autopia is coming out on Xbox 360. Looks intense!

But NO bumping

Monday, March 23, 2009

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Intrigued by the title? Interested in a quick and fun read? Do you like the idea of a compelling book set in Disneyworld? Am I asking too many questions?

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a fantastic little science fiction story that takes place in the 22nd century mostly throughout Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom. Now if you hear "science fiction" and get the urge to start running away like I mentioned the plague, you would be making a huge mistake. I would never consider myself to be a fan of the genre, and yet I genuinely loved this story. Its also refreshing to read a book that incorporates Disney in a unique way that isn't a children's book. Plus, no exaggeration, it took me about two nights to read it from first to last page and I was hooked the entire time.

Best of all, you can download the book for free here! No strings attached, right from the authors website. No time for books? or just can't read? (I hope its not the latter!) You can also download a free audiobook version here.

So if you have a decent imagination and a love for the parks, which is why you're reading this blog in the first place, then download this book pronto and let me know what you think!

a random note/tip before delving into this book is to read up on the wikipedia entry that explains what an adhocracy is. I had heard the word before, but it was helpful looking up the definition since its a term that is frequently used in the novel.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bon Appetit!

The newest character to debut from of the Living Character Initiative at the parks is none other than Remy from Pixar's Ratatouille! Guest's visiting Epcot's Chef de France restaurant can meet the little chef himself for the next 6 months.

here are some videos of Remy in action!

I think the living character initiative is very forward thinking, and a step beyond costumed cast members. Bringing these characters that wouldn't translate too well into costumes. . .

Remy by bryanpage.

. . . creates a really magical experience where guests can feel as though they are truly meeting characters like Remy face-to face. This is a great example of how Disney Imagineers continue to think of new ways to create unique and memorable experiences for guests every day.

Interviews with Imagineer Tony Baxter

Here is an little excerpt from a great interview with Imagineer Tony Baxter, Senior VP of creative development and the lead behind attractions like Big Thunder Mountain, Indiana Jones (Disneyland), as well as as many others.

"I had been a Disney geek since the day that Disneyland opened. I was fortunate to have been able to tour Imagineering just before I began working at Disneyland. The day that [Great Moments with] Mr. Lincoln came west--two shows were running simultaneously at the New York World's Fair and at Disneyland--I saw the show and I thought it was so amazing. I said, 'That's it. I'm signing up today to get a job here.' In the five years I worked at Disneyland, I sold popcorn, scooped ice cream, and eventually worked as a ride operator at the attractions. In the summer of 1969, I joined the Submarine Voyage crew.

I studied landscape architecture at Cal Poly and developed an idea for a Mary Poppins-themed attraction as a course project. A friend at Disneyland was able to get it to Imagineering where they passed it around. That led to a second, more in-depth tour of Imagineering. It was a reality check. They told me [my project] was pretty good for someone starting out, and then showed me the work that was done there. It was overwhelming, but it was sort of a kick in the can. As a result, I changed my career and school and went to Long Beach State to study theater design.

After graduating college, I applied at WDI [Walt Disney Imagineering, then known as WED--for Walter Elias Disney--Enterprises] and submitted my portfolio, which included an attraction I developed based on the film, The Island at the Top of the World. I had invested my entire senior year in the project. Ultimately, the film was not a hit--but I got the job.

I think Disneyland is unique, because it is theater and it uses a landscaped environment and architecture to tell its stories. So I was well versed in all three of those areas. It worked out well. I sort of stumbled into my profession."

Check out the rest of th interview here

Here are a few more interviews with Tony Baxter that are definitely worth a read.

2007 Interview with Tony Baxter

1995 Interview with Tony Baxter (a bit dated, but a bunch of great stuff)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Waste Please

When I'm at the parks, I always find myself rushing to the next attraction, armed with my fast passes. Maps!? No way, I know all of the shortcuts and the quickest routes. I'm sure many park enthusiasts like myself find themselves in this hyper productive mood, and with good reason of course. But unfortunately a result of this is that we miss all of the small beautiful details imagineers have added around the parks to add to the experience. Trash cans are one of those details, so lets take a look at some and see how many you can identify where they are located and in which park. Highlight the area below the picture to reveal the answer! Some may have their location incorporated into the design, so if you miss those . . . well then we may have some problems I think. . .

Epcot - World Showcase

Hollywood Studios - Tower of Terror

Magic Kingdom/Disneyland - Tomorrowland

Epcot - The Living Seas with Nemo and Friends

California Adventure/Epcot - Soarin' over California

extra points if you can tell me WHO this famous trash can is:

Disneyland/Magic Kingdom - Push the Trash Can in Tomorrowland

hint - this one is from one of the WDW resorts!

Polynesian Resort

Disneyland/Magic Kingdom - Main Street USA

Magic Kingdom - Liberty Square

Disneyland - The Haunted Mansion

of course you can tell which land, but which park? (its overseas!)

Hong Kong Disneyland - Main Street USA

Animal Kingdom - Africa

Disneyland/Magic Kingdom - Frontierland

Disneyland/Magic Kingdom - Fantasyland

Animal Kingdom - Dinoland

Magic Kingdom - Liberty Square

Animal Kingdom - Camp Minnie-Mickey

Hollywood Studios - Backlot

Animal Kingdom - Asia

The Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort

Disneyland/Magic Kingdom - Adventureland

California Adventure - Paradise Pier

So, how did you do? Any favorites? Some were pretty tricky! There are a lot of these little details throughout the parks that are worth taking the time to stop and notice. Now if you'll excuse me . . . I have fast passes to Indy, then I'm hitting Jungle Cruise, stopping for a Dole Whip, and avoiding the long lines at Pirates during the parade!