Thursday, May 18, 2006

What's in a Name?



The formation of WED Enterprises in 1952 was a major turning point for Walt Disney Productions and in the personal lives of Walt and Roy Disney.

As biographer Bob Thomas recounts in Building a Company: “Lacking any encouragement from Roy, Walt decided to finance the planning stages of Disneyland himself. He established Walt Disney, Incorporated, installing himself as president…”

“…Roy was deeply concerned that stockholders would be disturbed over possible conflict of interest between Walt Disney Productions and Walt Disney, Incorporated. He suggested that Walt change the name of his company, and it became WED Enterprises, the initials of Walt’s name (Walter Elias Disney).”

Walt said, “Well, WED is, you might call it my backyard laboratory, my workshop away from work. It served a purpose in that some of the things I was planning, like Disneyland for example… it’s pretty hard for banking minds to go with it… so I had to go ahead on my own and develop it to a point where they could begin to comprehend what I had on my mind.”

Author Steven Watts describes WED’s original working environment in The Magic Kingdom: “As these endeavors unfolded, Walt developed a special fondness for WED. He spent many hours roaming its premises, inspecting mockups in the model room, tossing around ideas, and brainstorming with the staff about potential projects. The pressures that attended the Disney Studio’s extensive production schedule of movies and television shows had become overwhelming, and Walt found a kind of respite by escaping into this smaller, more innovative group.”

WED was soon in the business of Imagineering, the Disneyspeak union of imagination and engineering.

Out of WED’s Imagineering braintrust came the theories, aesthetics, design and engineering of Disneyland, the advancement of three-dimensional storytelling, the development of robotic techniques in Audio-Animatronics and the perpetuation of an “architecture of reassurance” as inspired by Walt Disney’s personal sense of optimistic futurism.

The Disney theme parks we all know and love would never have existed without the risks taken by Walt and WED. In this protected environment, capital served the creative, mighty corporations funded new technology for our amusement and business was never “as-usual.”

WED was not operated for short-term return-on-investment, but was the playground of artists who excelled in making the impossible tangible, exploring new avenues of entertainment and imagining a bettered society through the miracles of science and industry.

But such a subjective enterprise was never popular with Walt’s longtime adversaries, “the sharp-pencil boys.” The experimental research and development at WED was considered a money-pit, though the end-results of Imagineering birthed the inspirational, lasting assets that still drive profits today.

As the holding company for Walt’s personal services and royalties for the Walt Disney name, WED became a divisive business point between Walt and Roy Disney as their small operation grew into a larger enterprise beholden to investors.

When Walt Disney Productions finally purchased WED’s design and engineering operations from Walt in the 1960’s, Roy himself intervened in the increasingly contentious negotiations by refocusing his legal team on the creative contributions of his brother, “Let me say a few words. You seem to forget how important Walt Disney has been to you and your lives. None of us would be here in these offices if it hadn’t been for Walt. All your jobs, all the benefits you have, all came from Walt and his contributions. He deserves better treatment than what has been shown here.”

After Walt’s death, Roy stepped in to realize his brother’s dream of Walt Disney World. WED’s legacy was all but assured.

But in 1987, as Michael Eisner reinvented boutique Walt Disney Productions as the global corporate entity known as The Walt Disney Company, WED Enterprises was rechristened Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) in the bargain. Gone was WED’s cool mid-century modern logo. In its place was the bland corporate brand and letterhead font.


Along with the name change came a chilling transformation in culture.

“There was a severe power shift at Walt Disney Imagineering in the early-90s, which completely changed the creative landscape. The best ideas no longer made it into the parks, and WDI fell victim to the kind of personal politics and rampant cronyism that is often associated with Hollywood studios,” reported SaveDisney.com in 2004. “Many talented Imagineers were laid off or put out to pasture, while finance executives were given the power to make creative decisions.”

Under WED, artists were nurtured and brought up in the company for a lifelong career. At WDI, creatives became contractors hired from project-to-project, when the work was not outsourced completely.

The theme parks were now seen as little more than branded retail outlets. Increasingly risk-averse new offerings, attraction closures, budget-conscious re-dos, and slapdash merchandise-kin dark rides documented the change.

WED had been the Toymaker’s Workshop, domain of artists, entertainers, designers and dreamers.

WDI was the no-nonsense workplace of MBAs, real-estate developers, marketers and screamers.

The name of the game was now selling, not storytelling. Instead of WED’s otherworldly Pirates, ghosts and mighty microscopes, WDI built time-share condominiums, cruise ships and Mickey dolls that send consumer messages.

Yet this too has passed into history… Finally, after a very dark age for the Magic Kingdom, we stand at the dawn of a new era of empowered creators through the appointment of Pixar’s John Lasseter as the creative head of Walt Disney Imagineering.

As John told Fortune recently, “I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have all these new roles. I do what I do in life because of Walt Disney - his films and his theme park and his characters and his joy in entertaining. The emotional feeling that his creations gave me is something that I want to turn around and give to others.”

To that end, wouldn’t it be a fittingly symbolic gesture to return Walt’s original acronym – WED - to the division?

The return of WED Enterprises would loudly announce that the artists have come home to stay. Ideas are back in vogue. Innovation, quality and a reassuring experience beyond all expectations are once again the name of the game.

WED – Walter Elias Disney - is a name for Walt Disney Imagineering to live up to.


37 comments:

Klark Kent 007 said...

Even though this is a "symbolic" gesture, I hope it spawns a new era of a Nine Old Men, Mary Blairs, John Henchs, Sam McKim, etc.

mnmears said...

Ah, the power of simple symbolism. I hope they GO FOR IT.

I can't think of a better way to signal a return of Walt's guiding principles ...

And, let's be honest, that's exactly what many Disney fans and followers are hoping for -- the day when the almighty dollar doesn't get in the way of creating new classics for today that will last for generations.

That's one reason Tokyo Disneyland is so beloved. The top priority is quality and giving the guests "a good show."

There's a great story how the Oriental Land Company poured even more money into WDI for TDL's Winnie the Pooh ride. They successfully created something FAR MORE MAGICAL than what's offered in Anaheim and Orlando.

One is simply left to wonder why that same investment -- it has to be cheaper to recreate something successful once the blueprints are in place -- was abandoned.

I suspect Michael Eisner and many of the WDI staffers at the time knew they were giving the U.S. audience an inferior product -- excusing it as it's good enough for the budget allocated.

Quality wins out -- especially for a company in the dream-making and dream-fulfilling business. Walt lived by this business philosophy and those who have studied his life -- including some of the giants at Pixar like John Lasseter and Pete Docter -- know it.

The other thing is that Walt had a pretty darn good track record of pushing the technologies of the day to the benefit of his goals and product. The use of sound, Technicolor, full-length animated films, synergetic marketing of Disneyland through ABC while the park was still being constructed.

Compare that to a recent story about John Lassete's early days and trying to get Disney Feature Animation to embrace a computer animated film ... He was greeted with questions of "will it speed up production?" or "save money?" before he was sacked and landed a job with Ed Catmul at Lucasfilm.

Walt embraced such cutting edge technologies even if it meant selling a family car or cashing in an insurance policy. He simply wanted his product to be the best it could be.

Can you imagine the Silly Symphony "Flowers and Trees" in black in white as it was originally shot? Can you imagine the company today had Walt sticked to animated shorts and never pushed himself to explore the latest, the greatest and the newest?

Go John GO! Bring the storytelling skills and magic of yourself and the Pixar team to the theme parks. The crowd is simply beginning to build ... We're here ready to cheer you on and counting on the Wishing Star to see magic revived.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting, as I was reading about the haydays (sp?) of WED and the creative atmosphere there, it was reminding me of the stories I've read about Pixar. (Also reminded me of the Muppet Workshop, but I'm getting off track here.)

It's an interesting idea. Especially if it is done in combination with ideas from earlier posts about re-combining R&D back into the fold.

Personally, I think that component is more relevant than having the old name and logo back. I agree the name should be changed to show the new creativity, but I think there is potential that a new name could be just as evocative of the new atmosphere... just looking into the future as well as the past. Maybe something that combines WED and something new to show a melding of history and hope.

Will Robison said...

There's a whole large crowd of us who remember Disney as it was and want to see that come back. We're the quiet ones. We don't want to complain but our visits to the Magic Kingdom are filled with a lot of sighing over what has gone and what might have been. Our favorites have been replaced by cheap knock offs. The quality is down. The thrill is leaving. We don't want anything new, if it isn't done right in the first place.

We remember the thrill of the idea behind Westcot... and then we got Californa Adventure. We remember the excitement of a new Tomorrowland... and then we got a new tomorrowland... We have been disappointed so long that its hard not to get jaded. Yet we keep going back hoping that somehow the magic will be revived.

This is a wonderful step. One where money shouldn't even be considered. Sometimes you've just got to do, what you've got to do.

Its time to bring back WED! Its time to bring back the magic!

AnnualPass said...

No, guys. WDI is fine. WED won't be WED without Disney around. Focus on living up to WDI, first. From outside "WDI" held as much chocolate-factory mystique as any other tag. Make THAT name something to really be proud of at long last.

You have a LOT of work I wouldn't wish on anyone ahead of you - all of which is everybody's fault - honkey tonk nowhere DCA, the albatross of an empty lagoon for too long, the movie-tie-in-only rides and merchandise, moving the jets back, the stopping of trying to "fix" tomorrowland with different themes...focus on fixing what was screwed up, what's ahead, not what's behind and certainly not what you're called.

You know what, if you need a change, for that matter, take WD or WED or YENSID or any other reference to Disney out of the name until you guys earn and deserve it. Sort of like owning only 1 share of stock. THAT'LL be motivation!

PARISINJUNE said...

This past weekend, I attended a police inspection for proprer child car seat installations. Three different senior officers were kind enough to work on mine--I have a car brand that is relatively new to the scene and they all felt it critical to double check a concern I had after we properly installed the seat according to both manuels. It so happened that after the seat was in, the manuel appeared to be off a bit in it's registered alignment. One of the officers basically said to me "Don't worry about the manuel, I've pulled enough dead children out of improper car seats to know when to trust my eyes--the manuel is incorrect". Another officer concurred with the same confident assurance. I responded, "This also looks right to me, I'll trust you". Then the officer proceeded to check for any recalls that may have been on my car seat--even though it had only been on the market for six months.

My point to this is: the powers that be taught Walter an invaluable lesson about quality and experience on the day one of his parent's life was taken. Walter, deciding to save a few pennies and hire one of the newer staff to work on his parents home, paid the ultimate price--as have too many of our guests since the Eisner era. I think since we are on the topic of symbolism, something needs to be said for not just quality, but experience.

How many lives at our parks could have been saved if our executives had been taught Walter's lesson, or at least heeded it!

Anonymous said...

>Mickey dolls that secretly tracked consumer purchases.

Ya mean Pal Mickey? Horsesh#t. It does no such thing.

JPH said...

Complete and honest business sense. Give your most creative people a place to work, thrive and grow, and you'll reap the rewards through creativity and genius.

I continue to hope that the introduction of Pixar's creative genius will return Disney to its roots of quality and craftsmanship.

Truth Be Told said...

From Slashdot.org: Leave it to Disney to perfect that spooky technology with My Pal Mickey, an interactive talking plush doll that knows where it is inside Walt Disney World, and tells you trivia as you move through the park. Ah ha, but even better (at least from Disney's standpoint) is that, just like the Holy-Grams, My Pal Mickey feeds the info back into the central computer system, so Doctor Memory can track people's movements through the park in realtime.

Anonymous said...

This is all very interesting. For any Imagineer with more than 20
years of senority, the term "WED" has great cultural significance.
It may be derived from Walts name but it can still be a symbol for
what Imagineering originally stood for. WDI is a corporate
indentity, while the cool old WED logo was a powerful statement.


But,

Culture, logos, business models, even John Lassiter, none of this
will save Imagineering. As long as WDI's current leadership, and I
use the term "leadership" loosly, insists on denying that the
existing top heavy organizational structure is sound, no "recovery"
will occur. In fact, the cold hard truth is that this current
leadership will probably lead to the final and permanent demise of
WDI. Any business that operates day to day in the way WDI approaches it's current project portfolio deserves what it gets.

In the current paradigm, the Creative Group is in all out cultural war with the finance, project management and production side of the division. Distrust is rampant between creative teams. Senior VP's switch alliances to suit their current perception of which way the Pixar wind is blowing. The top creative executives assign key talent to pet projects and stack the deck with resources while choking off
resources to other potentially good ideas in development.

Project Finance and Project Management senior executives have
vertually no respect for the creative types who reside upstairs in the "blue-sky" areas. They privatly consider them morons, with barely the cognitive power to shuffle a deck of cards. They mandate absolute authority over the construction process, using schedule and schedule only as the one and only true way to measure success.

What may surprise most Disnoid bloggers is that budget isn't always the easy scapecoat or reason for a projects failure at Disney. Process is the mantra at WDI now. The levels of control and oversight on the simplest of projects in most cases chokes success before it can bloom.
If process doesnt kill it, the current overhead rate will. Although rarely discussed outside Disney, WDI's cost burden to the rest of the Walt Disney Company is staggering. This is where the denial really kicks in. The theory has always been to lay-off employees to drive down costs. The insidious result is that you repeatedly chip away at the actual core competency of the division without addressing the real problem. Bascically, Imagineers, especially senior Imagineers are paid too much. The labor grade structures within the WDC and especially at WDI favor directors and VP's with perks and salaries that bear no resembalance to the real world.

I can hear the whining and cringing now. Not true, not true, not true!

There was a time when the quality of talent merited the
compensation we see. Not anymore. Not in the current themed entertainment industry. Let's try and put this in perspective.

A doctor with a speciality in Neurology on average, makes about
$180,000. He may have 7 to 10 years of schooling before he enters the field at full rate.

An Aerospace engineer level 3 will average $78,000.

A Theme Park Design Vice President with a Fine Arts Degree at WDI
$250 to $350K

Don't forget the benefits. The company gas guzzeling gigantic GM
urban assault vehicle, first class travel and accomodations, health
club membership, the list goes on.

It's not stupid, it's unconscionable.

If you want to talk corporate governance, you should look at WDI as a poster child for compensation out of control. They build theme
parks, they are not curing AIDS, launching the space shuttle or looking for ways to foster world peace.

The current cost for WDI to conceive, plan and build a theme park attraction is completly out of touch with reality. In the real world, if WDI presented a concept package to a potential client, they would be tossed out the door. But, because WDI has had a captive client for 50 years, the insanity goes on.
I would be afraid to ask just how many VP's and Directors there are
at WDI, but I am sure no one would believe it.

WDI would be much more successful as a much smaller entity.

Smaller size
Compensation commensurate with the industry.
A handful of executives that empower their senior creative and
production people to make decisions and then support them through the process, not second guess them and add "more Art Direction" to a team that is in progress.
Fast decision making when it's required.
No micro-managing

Don't expect John Lassiter to solve your problem. Your problem isn't creativity, it's leadership. The things John has been telling you, you already knew. You choose not to fix it.

If you delay much longer, John WILL fix your problem and it won't be pretty. Or, it could get worse, Jay Rasulo will solve the problem. I think one thing most Imagineers agree on is that what ever Jay does will probably be bad. And it probably won't "spawn a new era of nine old men, mary blairs, john henchs or sam mckim's."

The solution is obvious.

Painful ... yes
complicated... no

Digital Jedi said...

I really have nothing else to add. That was beautifully put. Well done.


Anonymous is quoted to have said:
">Mickey dolls that secretly tracked consumer purchases.

Ya mean Pal Mickey? Horsesh#t. It does no such thing."


[Ahem] Actually, the post says: Mickey dolls that send consumer messages. Not "track purchases".

BratStarMan said...

The answer is simple, although not easy. It's time to spin WED off as a separate company, which can thrive on it's own merits. The bloat will disappear quickly, and the lean, creative approach will thrive.

Anonymous said...

wow. its a scary road ahead for WDI, WED, or whatever it's future name will be.. but i agree with what has been said earlier. fixing the problems and getting it right should be priority one. earning the right to use WED, is a cause worth fighting for.

Theresa Z said...

WDI was the strict nanny to WED's childlike imagination and unending curiosity. It's about time the nanny lighten up and let the child be the child again. Any move that lets creativity be forefront is a good move in my opinion.

Allison said...

anonymous said...

If you delay much longer, John WILL fix your problem and it won't be pretty. Or, it could get worse, Jay Rasulo will solve the problem. I think one thing most Imagineers agree on is that what ever Jay does will probably be bad. And it probably won't "spawn a new era of nine old men, mary blairs, john henchs or sam mckim's."

WOW, this is SO true. This was the best post I've seen on this blog as far as being accurate and in touch with the real business of WDI. Excellent insight...thanks!

SilentSpectre said...

You should take many things posted on Slashdot with a grain of salt. Slashdot is full of conspiracy theorists who believe that every corporation is out to get us. I still read it, but keep that in mind.

However, Disney doesn't need Pal Mickey to track your purchases; it already does so if you charge your purchases to your Disney resort hotel room.

pariartspaul said...

"The solution is obvious.
Painful ... yes
complicated... no"

To anonymous who wrote the long comment above... you really know what you're talking about and I agree with all of it. WDI has morphed into something totally different than what it was formed to be. As I've said before, I think they really need to start over from scratch.

Ghostbuster626 said...

It is time for Don Goodman and Tom Fitzgerald to be shown the door. These are the guys who run imagineering and dont care about creativity or high quality attractions. They just build cheap "on the budget" rides and do overlay's to tie attractions into the latest movie.

BratStarMan said...

I work for a large organization, and it is interesting to see the parallels between us and what has happened with WDI. Imagineering has been replaced with accountaneering and budgeteering. To me, these approaches may produce short term profitability, but are disasters in the long term.

The general public is becoming more highly educated, and as a whole is more intelligent and discerning than the accountants think. Yes, you may fool the average person for awhile and skim off profits, but in the long term junk won't sell.

For a long time process has been king. To me process is a way to remove thinking from decision making - simply follow the process and the right answer will drop out of the spreadsheet. Unfortunately that's hogwash. Breakthroughs and success stories are suppressed by process. Bland ideas from bland minds is what process promotes. Plodding dullards have found a way to institutionalize process to develop incremental change (and fatten their wallets), but incremental change is not success.

Personally I am about to change my career precisely because I believe creativity is the pathway to the future. After all, what was the Renaissance about but a resurgence of the creative force? The time has arrived in this country to understand the bright and bold future that will be enabled by creativity and art. WDI is an anachronism, and I hope the bright minds at Disney will see the new way forward.

Mr. Dawes Sr. said...

Lots of vitriol here... Ghost, that seems harsh and doesn't lay the real blame where it probably belongs which is at the VERY top. I'm sure those guys don't wake up and say, "hmm, let's make some cheap rides today" or "damn, I can't wait to propose my She's So Raven idea." This stuff has been encouraged and often mandated from above. If you're going to single anybody out, you have to single out the whole organization, because at one time or another EVERYONE at WED has had to bow to some short-sided madness... even your most revered Imagineers (a-hem, Dinoland... and, a-hem, Tomorrowland '99). You either get on board or you get ousted (or worse, sidelined), somebody else will be there to take the corporate order. And please don't give me any of this "oh yeah, well I would have stepped down" business either--you know that's rubbish from pimply mousefreaks who live with mom and have nothing to lose but their annual passesports.

Now that WDI's been somewhat denuded, it seems for the most part down to those who actually DO understand the Disney legacy and tenants, and a fresh dose from Pixar will help. Now they probably just need the corporate pencilheads, strategic planners, and MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACKS to clamp it and go back to doing what THEY do best... whatever that is.

Fortunately, Iger and Lasseter get it, but it will take time. There are still way too many backseat drivers, wanna-be designers, and "folks who know best" lurking in all divisions of theme parks... and apparently now on the internet.

There, Ghost, a wack with my cane, you name-naming, mean-spririted spirit.

Anonymous said...

IMHO the WED thing is kind of pathetic, like bringing back the Brown Derby Restaurant for the upteeth time. Symbolic yes, but of an era that is too romanticized already. The tragedy is to rename it and have nothing fundamentally change. Then you've really done it. THAT is like Sinatra singing at 90. While we're at it, let's move the Studio back to Hyperion too. Why not eat Chili and drink Scotch Mist? Jim Jones would be proud. Whatever.

Mr Banks said...

Resusitating WDI and bringing it back to its former glory without changing the name back to WED is like bringing back the classic flavored coke but keeping the lousy 'new' coke name.

Those within Imagineering that believe in the old 'WED' are also people signing a pact, a pact that promises they'll gladly adhere to principles that assured success in the earliest days. How telling that things started to fall apart the day that WDI rolled off the press.

And to Theresa Z, excellent metaphor!

Merlin Jones said...

>>THAT is like Sinatra singing at 90. While we're at it, let's move the Studio back to Hyperion too. Why not eat Chili and drink Scotch Mist?<<

I am SO THERE!!! Let make it happen!

PARISINJUNE said...

Merlin- you never ceases to make me laugh!

What you young people fail to realize about that "romanticized" era is that it was an era where Captains of Industry were men of strength, power, and true leadership. They were like gods to be idolized. They were not only inventors of industry, but they were leaders that took care of the masses, and not some sniveling CEO with an MBA whose checking on his stock options every five minutes. There was a definite difference between the boys and the MEN. And if it takes bringing back Scotch mist and chili to make that happen, then maybe it's time for someone to yell "BAR'S OPEN!"

Lore said...

I like the idea of renaming WDI back to WED. When I first learned of WED, it seemed both mysterious and magical. When I found out what it stood for, it seemed even more magical.

As for salaries and personel. Low six figures is fine for a VP. I would, however, visit each VPs home and fire the ones with lame backyards on the theory that if you have a boring backyard, you're not likely to understand a theme park.

Anonymous said...

I worked as one of those creative consultants to WDI throughout the nineties in Florida, and of course greatly benefited from the corporate myopia that put the bean counters in charge and work into my hands. There is an irony in that, surely. But, being on the outside, yet involved in WDI's inner workings on an almost daily basis for years, gave me a perspective that is more balanced that what Merlin Jones' piece implies. If you're looking for reasons why the malaise set in at WDI, there's a lot of blame to go around, and Imagineers have to take some of the heat, too.

First, and through no fault of WDI, the absorption of Disney Development Company into WDI (which was really a hostile take-over by DDC for sure)embedded the bean-counters deep into the fabric of WDI, like a cancer. Those guys were awful, and they poisoned the pool in Florida, that's for sure.

Secondly, WDI's creative executives were a scared bunch. They may have had passion once, but they were as neurotic and paranoid as the best of them. They were all talk and swagger when addressing the minions, but when a higher-up executive contradicted their earlier ideas, or questioned their creative decisions, they'd back-pedal so fast your head would swim. Remember, I was a consultant attending these displays of cowardice as an impartial observer. I'd get paid whether the project got built or not. And it was often pretty eye-opening to see these big shots cower, sputter, and throw another guy under the bus when they were against the wall.

Then, there was WDI's often-present arrogance. It was well-known that other operating divisons loathed WDI because they were slow and expensive and condescending, and the internal accounting procedures that made other operating divisions pay for WDI's services was like salt in the wound. Even the best-intentioned Imagineer had to deal with this corporate baggage whenever he or she was brought into a project that required the cooperation of other divisions. I felt it, too, and learned to quickly identify myself as a hired gun to deflect some of the daggers and political roadblocks thrown my way.

And finally, I happen to have read a hilarious, and totally telling, memoir by a Disneyland working foreman and his obervations during a major Disneyland Pirate re-hab, where WDI (WED at that time) was tasked with converting the 5-seat boats into 6-seaters, without modifying the ride or the boat dimensions. He asked the innocent question, all other things being equal, wouldn't a boat, now holding more passengers than before, and therefore weighing more, cause problems when it went down the drops? The Imagineers put him in his place, made him feel like a pion for even asking, and told him to essentially run along. He goes on to describe these new and improved boats, loaded with their sandbags, bottoming out on the pumps, the cost in time and money to lower the pumps, the boats careening down the drops, throwing walls of water everwhere and jumping the guide tracks, boats crawling up onto the backs of other boats, guests getting soaked after re-opening, and so on. The final solution after all the wasted time and money? Run the six-seater boats, but never load guests into the sixth seat. Classic. The Project Manager on that job, based on my observations, may well be a VP by now.

WDI's a great institution but is only as good as its worst people. It is not immune to out-sized egos and bad management. It needs a dose of humility, lots of money, and above all, a drive for excellence that everyone will fight for, even if they feel their livelyhood is on the line. And then deliver the excellence regularly. And that is really, really hard to do.

Anonymous said...

The most compelling aspect of this thread is the sincerity of the posts. It's quite obvious that some of the posters are either Imagineers or ex-imagineers. The pain and frustration is deep. It is tragic that an organization with the history, culture and integrity of WED has morphed into the pathetic back-biting disorganized smorgasbord of half baked concepts that is now known as Walt Disney Imagineering. It is running partially on it's history and the balance on a PR inititive thats sole purpose is to present WDI as THE leader in the industry.

Nothing could be further from the truth. For every Expedition Everest you have twenty over budget, lame brain also ran concepts that were either dictated by the Resorts or a pet project of a VP. Or, a lame attempt to suck up to Pixar. Apparently it's all Pixar, all the time now.

And as Anonymous pointed out, the Creative VP's have absolutely no backbone when it comes time to fight for whats right. The current Creative leadership has become overwhelmed with the never ending wait for direction from corporate or from Jay. Everyone is afraid to make a move. No one knows who is really in charge. Is it Jay ? Is it John Lasseter ? Where does Don Goodman fit ? He's buddies with Jay, Right? Tom is friends with John, right ? or is he ? Maybe it's Tony ? No wait, Tom actually does not like Tony so he must be out... But John Likes Tony's ideas... But Rick over rides Tony's NEMO concepts so it must be Rick is the guy.... Who should you follow ?

Is it any wonder most Imagineers need Maalox every night before they go to bed. How can anybody work effectivly in an environment such as this?

And that's just Creative. Wait till you jump over the fence to the production side of the house. Ouch ! Talk about tough...


Hey John .... I know your guy's are reading this and they must think most Imagineers are either morons or pychopaths but maybe the problem is just plain leadership.

Could you just set aside a few hours to to go over to Glendale and set these guy's straight ?

I mean, how hard could it be ? Tell WDI who is really in charge. Is it you or Jay ? Straight up, they deserve to know. And don't tell them it's Don Goodman or Tom Fitzgerald. Not acceptable. And if the "Unicorn" isn't from Emeryville, well, tell them now and get it over with. No one has any confidence that Jay actually understands WDI and what ever his plan is will just create even more angst for the remaining Imagineers. The Imagineers that really care deserve to know what lies ahead. John Horny has been telling them that "change is just around the corner" for YEARS ! It's time, get it over with.

Either pull the plug or change the team. One or the other. Put up or shut up. These people deserve better than this and if you can just unleash them and protect them from all the baggage they will amaze you. Or, on the other hand, it's a lost cause, let them know now. It's the only ethical thing to do.

Mr Banks said...

To lore:

That's pretty much the funniest posted comment on Re-Imagineering I've read yet. You're hired.

tcsnwhite said...

Quick Question-

for those of you who post on this blog that have worked for, or do currently work for, WDI-
Is John Lassiter going to be capable of changing WDI's current leadership and it's structure?

and does anyone know if the rumors of any change in leadership at WDI in the near future are true or not?

thanks for your time
tcsnwhite

Anonymous said...

There is no question that John can set in place the required change needed at WDI. The fact that he has not done so is very troubling. The excuse that he is too busy at the studio is wearing a little thin now. WDI is ready to implode and needs some action now.

Mr Banks said...

John has no official power till the Disney Pixar aquisition officially goes through. My understanding is that that will be in October.

Mr. Wiggins said...

Quoting Anonymous:
... The levels of control and oversight on the simplest of projects in most cases chokes success before it can bloom.
If process doesnt kill it, the current overhead rate will. Although rarely discussed outside Disney, WDI's cost burden to the rest of the Walt Disney Company is staggering. This is where the denial really kicks in. The theory has always been to lay-off employees to drive down costs. The insidious result is that you repeatedly chip away at the actual core competency of the division without addressing the real problem."


The amazing thing about Anonymous' post is how it also describes the toxic disfunctionality of the "leadership" at WDA, DTS and TVA!

Then again...

Maybe not so amazing, after all.

Scape22 said...

Wow...some good points but also a lot of garbage!

I agree that Imagineering is suffering from a leadership crisis. It all started when WDI was forced to become part of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. From that moment WDI really lost it's creative freedom and was overrun my the bean counters, lawyers, marketeers, and segmentologist.

WDI once got it's funding directly from the top, but now WDI is forced to fight for capital from each park.

There is no shortage of fantastic ideas at Imagineering. Unfortunately they are all collecting dust because we have been burdened with myopic leadership and an outrageous creative approval process. One simple solution....once a concept gets out of "Blue Sky" give one and only one creative executive the authority to shepherd it through completion. The current disfunction requires multiple approvals by a variety of "experts" displines, managers, engineers, lawyers, risk assessment professionals, park operational liasons, artist, project managers, estimators, coordinators and production experts, and government agencies to to "buy off" on the most trival of actions.

Did you know the current Nemo project has 4 VPs on it who are all giving conflicting direction to the doers? Vendors are licking their chops and project managers are going grey. Creative leaders would say that Project Management doesn't respect the creative process. Project Managers would say that Creative has run a muck. What would you say? I say leadership needs to get a spine. Creative Leaders and Business leaders need to get together and demand a leaner process. Accountability needs to be made clear and the layers of creative/executive approval need to be elimininated. I'd bet my pay check that that you would get a better product at a reduced cost.
A stable five year plan would help too. The ever changing Schizophrenic nature of the project menu keeps the place in chaos and creates the in-fighting so correctly described. Everyone angles for work on the project that is like to get funding next.

One thing that a lot of bloggers forget to consider is that Disney is a publicly traded company. Creating shareholder value is a mandate. It's great to be nostalgic about what Disney once was. Many forget that the Disney Company was at risk of collapse in the 80's. I'm no Michael Eisner fan, but the simple move of raising ticket prices (once very taboo) in the themeparks saved the company from certain demise.

Project Management is a necessary evil of producting $100M attractions. Many forget that Epcot came in $350M over budget back in the day when there was little to no project control.

If Lasseter is the savior everyone thinks he's going to be, I hope he does the following:

Empowers the project teams
Punts 90% of the Creative VPs
Squashes arrogance and rewards innovation
Stabilizes the 5 year project menue

Whether we are WDI or WED makes no difference except for the sentimental. Would the switch back really be some powerful symbol? I doubt it. I like Imagineering. It's a great Moniker

Mr Banks said...

Scape22
Excellent commentary. Seems inline with much of the political rumblings I've been hearing about for quite a while. Personally I believe it's time to wean the executive branch down to the core and completely reassemble the ranks. I'm definitely optimistic, regardless. I think there's a breath of fresh air coming to Imagineering.

Lastly, the change of WDI to WED should ONLY occur if there's a distinct and definite change in the culture of Imagineering. Somehow I trust that that will, somehow, someway, happen.

scrape22 said...

Mr. Banks:

I definetly agree with a total overhaul of executive row. One of the reasons I stay around is because of the smart people I get to work with day in and day out. Those same smart people are craving leadership and direction.

Again there is no shortage of great ideas and talent at WDI but there is an echo when you mention "Leadership".

Anthony Cataldo said...

My name is Anthony Cataldo, and I'm a 19 year old actor from New Jersey.

Everything you guys having been saying on this blog - exactly what I've been trying to put into words for years.

I hope to someday, through my acting, make a name for myself. After voicing my own Pixar character, I hope to hang around the studio and contribute to future Pixar projects in my spare time (as a guinea pig) and work with John Lasseter and WDI as a creative consultant for the parks. I'd love to help find new innovative ways to help further bridge the gap between the imaginative world of disney and the physical world of the parks. Through the use of new physical building materials, we can achieve angles and shapes never before conceived, and we can help guests transcend time, space, location, gravity etc. even more than originally imagined. We can find materials that won't need as much maintenance, materials that can withstand the elements and abuse from guests, as well as providing much more broad range of uses- materials that can be manipulated to fit any theme- to the point where the same materials used in multiple applications can never be identified as 'repetitious in form, nature, or appearance'... i'm not an animator or an engineer, but i hope to become an invaluable resource to the creative designers and innovators who have thankfully been able to infiltrate the Disney boardroom. John Lasseter, our Walt-in-training and Steve Jobs, a true innovative genius, will someday be my best buds! I'm going to make for a great figurehead for this organization- the organization that I live and breathe day in and day out :)

cataldo.anthony@gmail.com

Clinton Cimring said...

Great blog