Disney fans will rejoice and educators are given another avenue to bring creativity back to the classroom with “Imagineering in a Box.” From the people that brought you “Pixar in a Box,” Khan Academy and Walt Disney Imagineering have recently released their follow up program called “Imagineering in a Box.” While “Pixar in a Box” showed the process of movie making at Pixar Animation Studios, “Imagineering in a Box” lets viewers in on the process of how Walt Disney Imagineering brings to life the Disney Parks. Guided by a variety of Imagineers, visitors to the site are led through three lessons: Creating Worlds, Designing Attractions, and Bringing Characters to Life.

Lesson 1: Creating Worlds

In the first lesson, there are ten different exercises that can be undertaken. From the beginning, Creating Worlds is all about the theme of your land, and how the theme plays such a vital part in the development of your land. A good theme will help establish a strong sense of place. Led by the Imagineers who take us through each exercise with a short video, we look at three distinct lands from Cars Land in Disney California Adventure, Pandora in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Treasure Cove in Shanghai Disneyland. Before a project is begun, Imagineer’s remind us to always ask the question, what is the story?

Story plays a vital part in the creation of any land in the Disney Parks, and as Imagineer Joe Rohde says in one of the many videos accompanying the exercises, in the Disney Parks, story is multi-sensory and not told in a linear way. The guests at the Disney Parks are the director of the story when they enter the lands. When the Imagineers construct a new land, they do it from the point of view that the guests are meant to play a part in the story that is happening around them. The guest is the center of the action and meant to feel like they belong in the story, and not just be observers.  

The following ten exercises are meant to not only educate but also help viewers to the site take on the role of Imagineer. Activities include choosing a land to build and determining the story that coincides with the land to drawing out what your land looks like. Site visitors can also explore what plant life design would look like in your land, and even creating a menu for a restaurant in your land.

As Joe Rohde illustrates brilliantly in one of the videos for this section, theme is paramount in the creation of the land. Rohde uses Disney’s Animal Kingdom as an example to illustrate how much a role theme plays in the creation of a land. He describes how if it’s a natural land like Animal Kingdom then the theme of the land dictates that the doors should be made of wood and rough looking and the hinges would be rusty with scratches on them, and then continues to describe in detail the miniscule elements that surround guests and how they need to be considered based on the theme.

Lesson 2: Designing Attractions

The second lesson in “Imagineering in a Box” focuses on the attractions that populate the lands. To the Imagineers, what makes a good attraction is where the thrill and the story lines up. Composed of nine exercises, this section aims to show that when you move people through an immersive world they need to be moved emotionally and physically. The theme of the land will influence your ride design. Before any attractions can be built, Imagineers need to have a solid grounding in the story of the land.

Site viewers are guided through the essential tasks that Imagineers need to follow when designing an attraction. Visitors are asked to look at how thrill and story are connected, brainstorming all concepts to seek feedback and create story boards that show what guests would see on the attraction. In this lesson visitors to the site can build a ride simulator of their attraction on the site itself and then are encouraged to build a scale model of the attraction.

Lesson 3: Bringing Characters to Life

The final lesson on “Imagineer in a Box” is Bringing Characters to Life. Through six exercises, site viewers are brought through the details and tasks Imagineers need to complete in order to bring the characters that inhabit a land to life. The ultimate question that viewers should be able to answer at the end of the lesson is what characters are compelling and who you want people to meet in your land.

Site viewers will complete exercises that have you focus on who is your character, what will they look like and wear. The follow up activities enable you to build a scale model of the skeletal system for your character and then finish off with an online activity where you can create a digital version of your character and program it to move.

In creating the characters that walk throughout your land, Imagineers need to think about what makes the characters tick, their hopes and dreams, and create a backstory that is relatable and connected to the surrounding land. Imagineers need to think like psychologists and by the time a character is walking around in the land, Imagineers should know everything about the characters, from how they walk, twitches and emotional responses, to what type of music the character would like.

My Opinion

Khan Academy and Walt Disney Imagineering has released a gold mine of fun for Disney Parks fans with “Imagineering in a Box.” There have been previous books released that describe the work of Imagineers like The Imagineering Field Guide editions but nothing that allows the public the chance to step inside and do some of the work that Imagineers do every day in creating these massive immersive worlds. The casual fan will enjoy watching the numerous tutorial videos led by Imagineers. Catching a glimpse at the behind the scenes work and understanding how some of our favorite attractions came to be, will only deepen the appreciation fans have for their favorite lands and parks.

“Imagineering in a Box” is not just a site for fan service, it is also a fantastic resource for teachers across North America. With the educator’s guide, teachers can examine what each lesson of “Imagineering in a Box” meets with connections to art, engineering, and math. “Imagineering in a Box” would be the perfect format for teachers who are new to the STEAM approach (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) and a fantastic new avenue for veteran STEAM teachers.

Education has become fixated on test results, and imagination and creativity has been marginalized in the pursuit of high marks. As Sir Ken Robinson has stated in his TED Talk, “Creativity is as important as literacy”. “Imagineering in a Box” brings creativity to a whole new level for students and teachers. Students will not only be brought behind the curtains of the magic that is used to build the Disney Parks but encouraged to unleash their own creativity in applicable educational activities. No matter the ethnicity or gender of the audience, students will see that a diverse group of people make up Walt Disney Imagineering, and that they too could one day be working as an Imagineer. The possibilities in the classroom are endless with “Imagineering in a Box” and I look forward to applying this in my classroom when school starts back in September.