Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I had the chance to interview Marty Sklar and Melody Malmberg recently about the eagerly-awaited book Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real

Didier Ghez: Who is the author of the book?

Marty Sklar: Melody Malmberg. [Note: Joe Rhode’s wife]

DG: A great book about WDI was already released in 1996. Why did you decide to work on a new book on the subject?

MS: The first book, published in 1996, was highly successful… and is still in print in soft cover. However, at the time it was published, there were only six Disney parks around the world, with the Animal Kingdom under construction. Fast forward to 2010 and there are now 11 Disney parks – meaning five parks have opened since the first book was published. Additionally, a huge number of new attractions have opened in the six parks covered in the first book. Today, obviously, there is so much new material, so many new ways the Imagineers have thought of to create shows, so many new Disney-Pixar stories to bring in new ways to park guests … and new leadership at Disney corporate (Bob Iger), Parks & Resorts (Jay Rasulo when the book was prepared), and creative leadership at Imagineering (including John Lasseter) to speak about the importance of the Imagineers. In many ways, this was a “new playing field” on top of a remarkable history and foundation

DG: Could you tell us about the genesis of this specific book?

Melody Malmberg: Marty and Kevin Rafferty (the key writer on Book I) started bugging Disney Editions several years ago about doing a new Imagineering book, for the reasons cited above. However, there were so many park-related books already in the pipeline (Disneyland’s 50 anniversary publications, WDW picture book, Walt Disney’s Imagineering Legends, four Imagineering Field Guides, etc) so it was planned for a bit later on. When Tom Schumacher’s wonderful book, How Does The Show Go On? hit the bookstores, Marty really began pushing Disney Editions (especially about including some “special features” in the book). When Disney Editions put the new Imagineering book on its schedule, Kevin was too busy with park projects to work on it … Randy Webster had moved to Florida, and of course, David Mumford and Bruce Gordon had passed away. So a new collaboration was established, with me as writer, Marty as advisor, first Jody Revenson and then Wendy Lefkon as publication quarterback, Welcome (again) as designers, and the Imagineering IRC/Art Morgue staff as “finders of art/photos”. It turned out to be a great team!

DG: What are the main chapters of the book?

MM: Theory – the basic theories which have been developed over time that lie behind Imagineering’s creations; how and what Imagineers think about every day.
Tools – What Imagineers use to visualize, design, manufacture and build.
Portfolio – Highlighting specific projects since 1995, and talking about general ideas like updating, adapting, and translating, which are increasingly important as the parks become global.
While not a “how to” manual, this book gives insight into how Imagineers work, and how they approach their work.
The international focus, thanks to the Walt Disney Comapny’s worldwide expansion over the last 15 years, is new. We cover every park in case you have not purchased your round-the-world plane ticket yet.
How to Think Like an Imagineer, and the Imagineering Glossary and list of disciplines.

DG: Did the author interview many of the Imagineers to write this book?

MM: I talked to probably 100 people, mostly at the California headquarters, and covered the major disciplines and parks in this way; emailed a bunch more; solicited photos from the entire Imagineering cast via human resources, and even talked to the summer interns from 2008. Marty and I developed the list of “must talk to’s” and then we added from there, and I followed stories. The editorial board suggested topics and people to talk to and checked the work; text was contributed by Imagineers Kevin Rafferty, David Fisher, Jason Surrell, and Alex Wright; the art librarians worked on the illustrations.

DG: What are the most surprising discoveries that await Disney history enthusiasts in this book (both from an illustration and text perspective)?

MM: Fun “special effects” in the book like a layered Castle, a fold-out storyboard, and booklet of artwork specially chosen from the Imagineering Art Library. They are unique and help to tell the story of how Imagineers work.

DG: Disney park historians David Mumford and Bruce Gordon passed away and left a huge gap in the field of Disney history. Who is taking the relay today from your point of view?

MM: This has left a big hole in the Disney park side of historical knowledge and sources. On the Studio side, of course, Dave Smith is still at the Archives, and is conversant (or can locate) a great deal of park material. Even in retirement, Marty receives many calls/questions about park history, especially Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom and Epcot (and Marty is the only Disney cast members to have worked on, and participated in, the opening of all 11 Disney parks around the world). Jeff Kurtti, through his research for many books, and his work on The Walt Disney Family Museum, is an excellent source… and had collaborated with Bruce on books and concepts for the Family Museum. Suffice to say that there are lots of “tall stories” and “pseudo experts”

DG: Are you seriously working on your long-awaited autobiography? When will it be released?

MS: Unfortunately, I have been very slow in moving this project, but I will lose my excuses when my great new office (attached to his home) is completed in mid-April. However, I have been extremely busy because I have not learned to say “no”, and also I am doing my own e-mail now (typing for the first time in 30 years – you can see some of the issues in my formatting!). I have been making many speeches, writing for a number of publications, leading our Ryman Arts non-profit arts teaching foundation into its 20th year of serving talented high school artists in Southern California, serving on the Board of Directors of the UCLA Alumni Association and the newly formed Disneyland Alumni Club, etc. Very soon I will engage an agent to seek a publisher with an appropriate advance. (I can show three or four chapters I’ve written, and basically have a pretty good outline of the rest).


Maz said...

I can't wait for this book to come out. I just recently discovered the first Imagineering book and I devoured it. Your interview was the perfect tease for the second. Hurry up and get here May!


Disney's Folly said...

Been salivating over this one for a long time now and sadly watched that release date keep bumping later and later. I am happy that the release is now officially in sight. Great interview and appetizer for the book!

Nicholas Tucker said...

Great interview! Can't wait to get my hands on this book.

Nick said...

It's about time this book comes out!