I’ve been obsessing over little details lately, particularly when the details are wrong. Too much negativity can really wreck your outlook on life, so I just had to turn it around and talk about some people who get the details right. Back to my favorite subject, absent too long from this blog—Imagineering.
Walt Disney Imagineering is the division that designs Disney theme parks and they are crazy for detail. If you’ve been to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, perhaps you can visualize the following:
Imagine how the Tree of Life looks as you enter Disney’s Animal Kingdom parking lot. Maybe a little intriguing, teasing you with the tops of its leaves peeking out over all the other trees? Now think about how it looks once you come over the bridge in the park to get your first fully framed view of the icon. Pretty spectacular spreading out in front of you? Now, how does the tree look as you wind around beneath it, getting really close while you wait to see It’s Tough to be a Bug? What if, when you got close enough to touch the Tree of Life, you realized that the animals were just drawn on with spray paint and that the bark was just choppy concrete and cardboard? What if there was no detail?
The artists of Walt Disney Imagineering think like filmmakers, staging their theme parks using three basic “shots” — wide shot, medium shot and close up. In the Tree of Life scenario, the view from the parking lot is the wide shot and the view from the bridge is the medium shot. Both of these orient you, letting you know exactly where you are, but it is the view from beneath, the close up, that is so important to the success of the parks and the stories they tell.
Imagineers agonize over seemingly the most insignificant details because they know that is what separates the experiences they create from the rest of the pack. All the Disney parks are loaded with detail, with Animal Kingdom being one of the best examples. Everywhere you look, even everywhere you don’t, there are little touches that support the story—rockwork, roadwork, woodwork and bonework—all tiny little masterpieces that represent conscious decisions and actions by Imagineers.
Other amusement parks may try, from a design perspective, to match Disney but they typically miss the point. They work so hard to bring in the biggest attractions with the latest technology, all of which look spectacular in wide shot. It is when you come in for a close up, however, that you see something is wrong. In place of detail, they have slapped a few pieces of painted plywood onto a wall and have called it a story.
“There ya go. There’s your story, just like Disney. Now go ride the thing!”
A typical guest at one of these parks may not realize what is missing, but they can feel it. Yes, an individual ride may be thrilling but the emotional impact created by a well crafted story steeped in detail is just not there. The details do not support bigger picture.
Imagineers are people who have a love of something deeper. They understand, on a base level, that a great story is built upwards from a depth of detail, down to the last leaf imprint in the pavement. It is the attention to detail that lets guests lose themselves in the park experience. They know everything has been thought of, everything has been taken care of. Quite simply, everything is just done right. The wide shot may orient, but it is the close up that enchants. It is the detail that really tells the story.