Fans of Spider-Man are used to seeing their neighborhood superhero make acrobatic leaps on the pages of comic books and on the screen. But when guests see a human-scale Spider-Man flipping 85 feet into the air at Disney California Adventure Park’s Avengers Campus, the experience is magical enough to draw audible oohs and ahhs. How do you create an animatronic capable of delivering that kind of emotional impact? You turn to the innovators at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Walt Disney created Imagineering to bring together technical expertise with Disney’s creative talent to deliver one-of-kind immersive experiences. Almost 70 years later, Imagineers around the world, representing more than 100 different disciplines, include robotics engineers, designers, sculptors, architects, and writers.
“When people come to visit Disney, they want to enter a world where anything is possible,” says Josh Gorin, who leads Imagineering’s Blue Sky and Creative Strategy. “As Imagineers, it is our challenge to apply both creative and technical skills to make that magical world come to life. We have to keep upping our game—that means innovation in storytelling and technology.” It’s that approach to making magic that earned Imagineering a spot on Fast Company’s list of the Best Workplaces for Innovators.
INNOVATION AND COLLABORATION
Imagineers have been behind many of the most famous Disney attractions, from Disneyland’s iconic monorail to the first computer-controlled roller coaster. Imagineers also created the entire field of performance animatronics, a legacy that continues today with theme park attractions such as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Na’vi River Journey.
To create these iconic experiences, Imagineers have blazed a new path using engineering, robotics, digital projection, special effects, real-time rendering, 3D graphics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Their innovations have led to more than 500 patents over the years.
“At Imagineering, we live collaboration in a way few companies do,” Gorin says. “We cast our projects the way you would cast a film, bringing in individual, but complementary, talents—you may see some of the world’s best computer scientists, engineers, sculptors, and designers, all sitting shoulder to shoulder. They come here because they value a culture of multidisciplinary collaboration and the opportunity to create experiences that reach hundreds of millions of people.”
The new Spider-Man experience at the Avengers Campus is among Imagineering’s most recent accomplishments. The advanced robotic figure—Stuntronics—is able to autonomously execute complex acrobatics, including quadruple somersaults, using sensors and counterweights to instantaneously react to changes in wind and other variables. The project began when a research scientist was thinking about how figure skaters use their arms to vary their rotation. That led to a prototype, a stick with rotating counterweights that made flips through the air predictable and controllable. Over time, that stick gained a hinge, then another, before eventually taking a humanoid shape. Finally, after years of development and iterations, a life-size Spider-Man was waiting to fly above guests at Avengers Campus.
“When guests come to the parks, we want them to be wowed,” Gorin says. “But behind every wow are incredibly talented individuals and collaborators. We have seven decades of innovation behind us, and many more mind-blowing experiences in store in our future.”