Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The result of Research and Development

Back in the old days of WED Imagineering there was no separate Research and Development department. You know why? The whole place was one big R and D department!

Imagineers back then were a different breed of animal. They were allowed to multi task and provide whatever they could based on their individual talents. Sure there were separate departments then too; the model shop, MAPO, sculptors, designers, engineers, production specialists and more. But the working atmosphere was a lot more casual and Imagineers had much more freedom to experiment with different ideas. Each department consisted of individuals that were considered masters of their craft, and they were encouraged to advance their art.

About a dozen years ago or so an outside source convinced Disney Corporate that they needed a separate R and D department. So a crew of new inventors were hired and put into a new separate building with lock tight security. And no ordinary Imagineers were allowed in as a rule, only some of the top creative designers and executives.

At the same time Imagineering began to be run as more of a production shop, with every hour of the employee’s day to be strictly accounted for by job and task. After all, research and development was now a separately funded entity, so regular Imagineers no longer had any business wasting time on special projects or new ideas. Managerial hierarchies evolved to keep track of everyone’s time, and big new planning and scheduling departments were created to calculate exactly how it was being spent. Charts and graphs were created that assigned every required job a separate number, and every number was allotted a certain amount of hours. Every Imagineer’s work day needed to be accounted for by one of those numbers. Even today, they use that job number system and if a woe Imagineer goes for a little while without a number on their time sheet – they’re out. (Truthfully, long careers have and can be had by those that excel at obtaining job numbers to prove to management that they are always busy.)

Meanwhile, the R and D department flourished in their own world. They were well funded and answered to Corporate at the studio, totally separate from the rest of Imagineering. The interface they had with the rest of Imagineering over the years has been awkward at best. Although well meaning, it has not been a practical relationship, and they function as more like two separate companies.

I think it would be a good idea to try to merge the R and D department back into WDI, and get some more creativity back into the entire place.


Anonymous said...

This is obvious. Let creative people do creative things and a world of wonder will be created.
Let lawyers and calculator dweebs try to be creative then a world of blunders will arrive.
I don't see artists figuring out numbers and graphs and junk like that. Why are non-creatives allowed into creative positions?

Let the left brain do its jobs and the right do its.

Anonymous said...

As i said in a previous comment, IMO concept, is the most important part of Imagineering, Now, concept is one thing, but an idea needs developement, and R&D is whats going to mesh the initial concept together.

For example would you have a carpenter design and build a concrete house? No, he hasnt the knoledge to. But if say he conceptualises a house, R&D staff working with concrete can smoothe out any problems for a more comprehensive and acurate, and potentialy better design.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Very funny grOmmit... but seriously I think it's time they just cleaned house starting from the top down this time. When a tire goes flat you need to change it. And that old tire has too many patches already.

Anonymous said...

R&D at WDI has very little to do with what is conventionally known as R&D. In the last five years it has evolved into an organization that has to lobby for work with other business units while trying to support WDI Creative with "New Magic" New magic is a term ginned up to replace the original Special Effects department.

Pros and Cons

Pros The R&D facility and it's key staff members are the best in the business. The facility is well designed, specifically structured to allow innovation and creativity to evolve. Every resource, tool and material you might need are available or will be acquired quickly without the burdened process other Imagineers must endure.

Cons Just like the rest of WDI, there is no true leadership. Politics rule the day. Good PR is essential above all else. Only a small percentage of the staff have actual field experience and have no historical perspective of what has been done before within Imagineering.

Roger Alford said...

Who's that guy in the middle of the picture there? He seems to know what he's doing. :-)

pariartspaul said...

In reply to anonymous in the comment two above this one, you bring up some good points I think. Maybe a good thing to look into would be taking that department and somehow incorporating it better into WDI - that is moving them back into the main building and have them interact more on a daily basis with the rest of the place. Might be good for both groups.

As an aside, I realize it may seem presumptuous to Disney for all of us in this blog to be making these kinds of suggestions on how to run WDI or comment on how we think the parks can be improved. Well, none of it is new and it is not rocket science – basically we all just want the classy old Disney we used to love back. They know it and they keep ignoring it.

In my case, when I heard that there’s a potential to turn things around, I had a teeny glimmer of hope and thought I’d chime in with a few things, just for old time’s sake.

I stopped being a Disney fan some time ago, and the preview day at DCA was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. It was a truly numbing wake-up call if you could imagine such a thing. It said “Wake up Paul! – it’s OVER!” (And this from a guy who was an Imagineer and Disney supporter for 21 years!)

So I’m not a fan anymore and I actually like it. I don’t watch the Disney channel, I don’t go to the parks, I don’t buy their merchandise and I don’t go to see their movies. I haven’t blogged until now either. Once in a while I go to Mouseplanet out of morbid curiosity to see the latest thing they’ve screwed up or to Ebay to see what’s the next piece of company history they’re putting up for auction.

Can you imagine how many other thousands of fans my age they’ve lost? We’re older now and we’ve got money. If they were really smart they should consider getting us back their next big challenge.

To tell you the truth I don’t even care that much anymore. Enough for today.

TrondheimTrends said...

In response to Paul's comment, I am saddened. It does seem that Disney has decided out with the old and please the NEW. ( as seem in different areas)

I understand the need to move with the times, but also we need to remember that it all started with more than a mouse and will take more than the mouse in an updated outfit to keep guests and customers.

Noticed one of Disney's biggest marketing tools right now, VMK. Even as everest was advertised it led to a website on most of it's posters and ads. This led to a game that led to a prize that you could only get in vmk. Once in vmk, the player is lead to the need to visit parks and buy merchandise in order to keep up their status and popularity.

This is aimed at a younger audience (although it has trapped older as well) and has only proven the gear towards a younger and newer audience.

I hope that new ideas for marketing will be geared towards bringing back the generation that fell in love with Disney from the start. Maybe a better use of their Podcast with a website could help them to see what fans of all age ranges would like to see.

As an ex-cast member (and a hopeful Brains behind DCP later on) I am still a fan, but I see a need to not lose Disney lovers. Remember: Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.

I understand that you can not please everyone, but understanding the common dream will help Disney to reach more heights once again.