Story is the essential organizing principle behind the design of all the Disney theme parks. Imagineers interpret and create narratives for Guest to experience in real space and time. – John Hench, Disney Legend and design genius for 60+ years.
To design an enhanced reality the visual elements of storytelling must be intensified, creating a vibrant, larger-than-life environment. The enhanced simple reality that Guests experience in Disney parks and resorts is created in part by heightened key sensory details, such as the sun-baked mud pathways and foot tracks of the African section of the Animal Kingdom.
A crack in a walking path is really the beginning of a story. The minute details that produce the visual experience are really the true art of the Disney-themed show. Remember for Disney, everything the Guest sees, hears, smells, or comes into contact with is part of the show. The details corroborate every story point, immersing Guests in the story idea.
Most of the first generation of Disney’s Imagineers – like John Hench – began their career in film and understood the importance of details in visual storytelling, but with a crucial difference: theme park design is a three-dimensional storytelling art that places Guests in the story environment.
So what does it take to create visual storytelling on with footpaths, sidewalks, and walking trails? For that, let’s go directly to the source: Disney’s Imagineers.
Behind the Scenes – Imagineering 101
Themed paving is an important aspect of the all-encompassing realism to which Animal Kingdom strives. Most of the early paving designs were a fairly straightforward mix of stamped finishes, but the team realized that, for roughly the same cost, they could embed stories into the Park’s footprint. A series of samples was developed and refined until each one had a place in the Park layout.
These surfaces have to perform all of the functional requirements of normal pavement. They have to hold up to the weather, to constant foot traffic, to parades, to after-hours vehicular traffic, and any unexpected abuse. The team had to develop ways to work in the expansion joints and cold joints that would allow the concrete to expand and contract with changes in temperature.
As each texture was being developed, designers studied variations in concrete color, stains, acid washes, and base textures. These textures were captured in silicone stamps so that they could be replicated over large areas. Elements that help to complete the look for a given place were then rolled across the surface, be they footprints, animal tracks, leaf patterns, or bicycle and truck tires.
Finally, all of these ingredients are captured in a “recipe” that is documented so that the paving can be replicated when necessary for purposes of maintenance or expansion.
What’s the story under your feet – and those of your Guests?
Most organizations are not going to even begin to approach the detailed design of Disney’s Imagineers in creating travel paths, flooring, walkways, etc. But the principle of what the Imagineers do is sound, and can be applied in any organization.
Transform your spaces – even those under your feet – into story places. Every element must work together to create an identity that supports the story of that place – structures, entrances and exits, walkways, and landscaping. Every element in its form and color must engage the Guests’ imagination and appeal to their emotions.