The hosts of the Season Pass Podcast sat with Bob Gurr (in the man’s house actually) and fed him questions from twitter. People asked the usual—favorite project, best thing about this or that—but one listener wanted to know something specific.
“Ask him if he knows how to fix the Yeti.”
The podcast crew laughed and groaned. Here we go…that stupid Yeti again. One more thing that should be great but just isn’t and no one knows what to do about it. Bob Gurr quieted the room…
“Why yes I do.”
Expedition Everest is Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s premiere attraction and the huge audio animatronic Yeti is the ride’s crowning jewel. The roller coaster dives around and through Mt. Everest, having near misses with the Yeti until finally coming face to face with the giant beast.
The ride is fantastic, but the Yeti itself is a marvel of engineering. Disney wanted this attraction to have a memorable grand finale. The result was an enormous, lunging, swiping audio animatronic that could move so fast and exert so much force that it needed its own support structure and foundation independent of the rest of the building (Imagineers like to say that Expedition Everest is really three buildings in one—the ride track, the mountain and the Yeti).
The Yeti is a marvel of engineering…and a total failure. Walt Disney Imagineering wanted to make the creature as real as possible, so it needed to be big and fast and heavy (the fur alone weighs 6,000 lbs.). All that speed and all that force combined with all that weight meant that the machine was a ticking time bomb. Once the Yeti was switched on it began to tear itself apart. It only functioned for a few months before Disney shut it down.
“Why yes I do,” Bob Gurr said as he blew a “kiss” to the engineers who designed the Yeti.
“You want to create the drama of the size of that very, very threatening creature,” Bob mused. “Alright, stop at that moment and figure out, ‘What is the lightest, simplest thing that I could do to do that?’ “
Bob Gurr understands “kiss”—a classic design principle meaning “keep it simple, stupid.” He did not say, “You want to create the size of that very, very threatening creature,” he said, “You want to create the drama of the size.” A very different thing.
The final, grand reveal of the Yeti lasts only a few seconds. The massive audio animatronic was a marvel of engineering, unfortunately a marvel of engineering wasn’t the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal was a feeling, an emotion, and a well told story. Bob knows this. He should approach design challenges from an engineering first perspective (*note: this line originally identified Bob Gurr as a “licensed engineer,” but he is not as stated in the comments of the “about” page), but he perfected his craft under the watchful eye of Walt Disney. To Walt, story was king. Bob understands that, as an engineer in the entertainment industry, his job is to support the story. There is no need to create something so big and so complex when the drama of size, not size itself, is required.
Keep it simple, stupid.