Disney's Folio: Walt Disney Imagineering

When I was a kid, I used to daydream about my next trip to Walt Disney World by pouring over books like Disney's EPCOT Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow, the EPCOT pictorial souvenir from 1982, and the 15th Anniversary Walt Disney World souvenir book from 1986. I got lost in the conceptual artwork, the construction photos and the pictures of park models. At the time, you had nothing but souvenir programs, the rare book, and park maps. There was no Internet with fan communities sharing videos and photographs or blogging construction progress. An 8-year-old's journey into imagination had a lot less help than one has today. All we had were those books and guides to connect our minds back to that happy place in Florida.

I've still been able to keep those connections alive with Disney books and one of the bigger, more profound purchases I first made in adulthood was the Walt Disney Imagineering book, which covered over 40 years of pioneering brainstorms, legendary concepts and modern marvels. But after 15 years of release, there was a lot of catching up to do.

Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real maintains a focus on Imagineering projects that have been developed and created since the original Imagineering book’s release in 1996. As such, Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo’s DisneySea, Disney’s California Adventure and Disney’s Animal Kingdom all get the largest spotlight of Disney’s various parks and attractions. (Though the very recent development of Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland expansion, which is still years away from opening, is briefly touched upon.) Though new concepts in older parks and resorts sometimes step into that spotlight, the book largely works as a continuation to the previous version and NOT an all encompassing journey through the history of Imagineering.

Unlike the original which broke the Chapters into more creative topics, this version approaches the Imagineering process with a more concise, chronological tour through the minds of the Imagineers and their incredibly complex process. The first chapter, Theory, delves into the creative energy that fuels the Imagineering process, such as stories and research. The second chapter, Tools, looks at the execution of those ideas spotlighting tools like model-making, special effects and the language of color. One concept that I hadn't read of before was the Virtual Model Shop, which is exactly what it sounds like. The book shows a picture of an Imagineer using virtual reality to tour DCA's Cars Land. The book is a bit more freeform in its third chapter, Portfolio, which takes a current look at the people, ideas and projects fueling Imagineering.

The writing can at times be very cookie-cutter, rarely ever going too deep into the process, as it’s meant to cover as many steps in the Imagineering process as possible, with as minimal of a description of each of those steps. That is because they have wisely chosen to fill most of the space of the oversized book with photographs and illustrations, including some very fun gatefolds and fold-outs. But author Melody Malmberg does a good job conveying as much as she can in short passages. And clearly, Disney isn't going to give away all of its trade secrets.

That said, the beauty and glory of this book, much like its predecessor, is the vast array of concept illustrations, blueprints, model photographs and full-color pictures contained within the pages. Some of the material is presented in not only full-page gatefolds but also segmented fold-outs (all nicely protected by feisty tissue paper). One great segment overlaps a semi-opaque full page illustration and then a transparent blueprint over a photograph of Cinderella's Castle. The concept doesn't just support the Imagineering concepts being discussed within the book, but it adds the kind of repeat enjoyability that a book like this thrives off of. (Truly a coffee table book, this Imagineering book is certainly not a one-time read.)

If there was a star of this show, I would have to say it is DisneySea. The companion to Tokyo Disneyland is renowned amongst Disney fans for its uniqueness and architectural wonder, particularly given Tokyo's lack of accessibility for the common domestic Disney fan. The park gets its fair share in this book, especially as one of the pinnacles of Imagineering over the last 15 years.

So perhaps there is still room for my imagination, now progressively taller and grayer, to run free through the pages of a Disney book. Despite the wide variety of technologies available to immerse oneself in almost any Disney park, concept or ride, sometimes the best way to transport that imagination is to stare at a printed map or construction photo for hours. Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real is a great addition to your library and to the ongoing discovery of the Disney Imagineer's wild imaginations…and our own.