Thursday, May 24, 2018

Traits of Walt's Imagineers

The Artistic Engineer with Mouse Ears
In my previous post I outlined the steps of Design Thinking, in the context of Imagineering:
  • Identify specific customer needs with Storytelling
  • Generate ideas with Blue Sky Brainstorming
  • Test and Learn about ideas with Rapid Prototyping
  • Pay attention to the details
  • Plus it up to exceed customer expectation
In this post I'm going to reveal a way for almost anyone to develop the traits of an Imagineer or at least figure out how many of them you may already have.


If you do a web search on "How do I become an Imagineer?" Google will currently return about 5400 results, some of which are actually written by former Imagineers, like Bob Gurr, who said;

"You have to have an inherent internal drive within you that has always encompassed a range of characteristics that I think most successful Imagineers were born with. Characteristics that one might not be able to purchase in college."

Bob then went on to say that the Imagineers he has known have had three things in common;

1) Permanent curiosity about everything
2) Fearless creativity
3) The ability to clearly express themselves in words and drawings.

Let's look at each of these and one way to learn them;

Permanent Curiosity about Everything

"The most important characteristic is to be permanently curious about everything, especially about stuff you don’t know, and stuff that does not seem relevant at the time."

Bob's advice to be permanently curious about everything is significant. This is one of the core principles of deep creativity. The more raw material (ideas) there are to work with, the greater the number of possible combinations. In addition, the hidden links between seemingly unrelated things (the ambiguities and unknowns) often contain the seeds of break-thru creative solutions.

One example of this is IDEO's Deep Dive Process.  Developing deep relevant knowledge is also the first step towards what Bloom's Taxonomy calls the Creating phase, where information can be put together in innovative ways. Walt Disney exhibited this sort of behavior constantly. It is also a fundamental trait of babies and children.  That is why DT recommends adopting the mindset of a novice.

Fearless Creativity

"Not being afraid to show others a dumb idea. Maybe it will lead to something practical."

Dozens of authors have written about the importance of overcoming fear. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review David Kelley commented:

"Students often come to Stanford University’s “” to develop their creativity. Clients work with IDEO, our design and innovation consultancy, for the same reason. But along the way, we’ve learned that our job isn’t to teach them creativity. It’s to help them rediscover their creative confidence—the natural ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out. We do this by giving them strategies to get past four fears that hold most of us back: 

1) Fear of the messy unknown
2) Fear of being judged
3) Fear of the first step
4) Fear of losing control.

Express ideas in both words and drawings

"Imagineers have the ability to clearly express themselves in words and drawings."

Visual Thinking - the ability to conceptualize in both images and words - is a key aspect of creativity. Artists and engineers both use their abilities to create images. It is the merging of these two skills which creates the Storyteller, who uses words and images to connect on a deep emotional level with the audience. This is something Disney has excelled at for decades and is also key element of Design Thinking.

Focus on the Guest (customer) in every phase

This one is so powerful it should probably have been stated first. Great Design, which seems like magic to the customer, comes from responding in a deep, empathic way, to guests' unexpressed needs. Its what enables the "How did they know I needed that?" moment of delight. This focus is often targeted at the end user, but the truth is the process starts with the very next person in your value chain - the person you deliver your work product to. Skip them - or anyone else - along the way and the quality of the end product will be reduced because someone's needs were overlooked or ignored.

So, how can you buff up your creativity toolbox and at least act like an Imagineer? Simple! Use the same methods to enhance your creative process. Fortunately, there are sources you can turn to for lots of free high quality guidance, provided you are willing to call the toolkit by a different name;

Human Centered Design Toolkit - (IDEO) 154 pages 34.4 MB pdf download

Use our Methods - ( - "a collection of methods for folks new to design thinking."

Creative Confidence - The book by David Kelley.

Rapid Viz - A classic introduction to rapid drawing techniques.

Designing Like Imagineers

Trying to Believe
Matt O'Keefe wrote an article for Theme Park Tourist in which he listed 8 Key Principles That Disney Imagineers Use to Develop New Attractions;

Don't Give Up
Fill Specific Needs
Blue Sky Speculation
Plus It Up

I liked where Matt is going and wanted to take it a little further. In order to do that I'm going to compare Matt's list with the principles of Design Thinking, as taught at the Hasso Plattner Institutes of Design, also known as the  Design Thinking and Imagineering are both associated with extreme innovation, so we might expect to see some parallels.

Design Thinking follows a consistent, repeatable, process which was described by Herbert Simon as;

Define - Research - Generate - Prototype - Choose - Implement - Learn

Each phase of the process has methods and set of principles associated with it. Basically they address the questions of What, How and Why to do something in the context of problem solving.

I'm going to start by moving Matt's list of Imagineering principles around a little bit;

We start with Identifying a problem, or need(s) to fill.  This phase is what Simon calls Define and Matt calls Fill Specific Needs. The output of Imagineering's need identification is a document called the Scope of Needs, which is a list of what all the attraction "stakeholders" want, beginning with the Guests, including operations, maintenance, finance, etc. That's the WHAT part.  

How to identify a problem is addressed by Design Thinking's very well developed Interview with Empathy methods, which basically involve talking with real users in the real world about their experience and desires. This has a parallel in Disney's Storytelling, as successful empathic interviews typically trigger the customer telling a story that involves how they felt about a problem.

Why identify a problem or fill a need?  Filling needs creates happy customers. Put another way, it creates value. This is also where Plus It Up starts to come into play because exceeding customer expectations results in delighted customers. Plus It Up also relates to paying deep Attention to the Details.

Disney Imagineering's emphasis on the Guest Experience has a parallel in Apple's focus on look and feel (and WDI's "kinetics") which have to do with the emotional content and presence of their products.

How to generate ideas a.k.a Brainstorming is the most direct parallel, as both Design Thinking and Imagineering use the same term. That is done extensively in Disney's Blue Sky phase, where judgement is suspended and anything and everything goes.

Design Thinking also dives deep into explaining how to execute on developing and proving new ideas with Rapid Prototyping. Disney does lots of this during the Concept and Feasibility phases of their process.

Combined and rearranged the lists look like this:
  • Identify specific customer needs with Storytelling
  • Generate ideas with Blue Sky Brainstorming
  • Test and Learn about the ideas with Rapid Prototyping
  • Pay attention to the details
  • Plus it up to exceed customer expectations
Along the way, it helps to be curious, optimistic and persistent.

Follow this method and you'll be well on your way to creating solutions that suspend your customer's disbelief and making some magic.

Design Like Walt Disney

Much of what is called Design Thinking has its roots in work done by John Arnold, Herbert Simon, Robert McKim and Rolf Faste, starting in the late 1950's. Today, Design Thinking is closely associated with methods taught in Stanford's Product Design Program, Joint Program in Design, at the, and applied by IBM, IDEO, SAP, GE, GE Healthcare and Procter and Gamble. Other schools, colleges and universities are also offering theoretical and practical courses in Design Thinking.

Alcoa first described its method of blending of imagination and engineering, asImagineering in the 1940's. Union Carbide's Richard F. Sailer wrote an article called BRAINSTORMING IS IMAGINation engINEERing in 1957. Disney filed for a copyright on the term in 1967, claiming first use in 1962. Walt Described it this way, possibly as early as 1952;

"We keep moving forward - opening new doors and doing new things - because we're curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We're always exploring and experimenting... we call it Imagineering - this blending of creative imagination and technical know-how."

Both processes are multi-phasic and include brainstorming and storytelling. They both utilize in-depth investigation and broad-scope information gathering (ie; IDEO's "Deep Dive") to thoroughly understand all aspects of the situation. Both processes are also highly collaborative and focus on the emotional and cognitive experience of the user.

What are the differences and similarities between the methods taught at Stanford, used by IDEO and Walt Disney Imagineering? Are there common traits between one organization famed for its feel-good family entertainment and another known for solving "wicked" problems?

First, a review of what the says are the key phases of Design Thinking:

Empathize - Define - Ideate - Prototype - Test
Brainstorming, Storytelling, Rapid Prototyping, Testing and Interviewing for Empathy stand out as key activities associated with the phases. These methods also create artifacts associated with each phase, like storyboards and models.

My approach was to gather as much information as I could from both on-line and print sources where persons with first hand knowledge of Imagineering and Design Thinking explained the key elements of their design processes. Next, I looked for any significant correlations and parallels between them, both in terms of vocabulary and method; I also relied on my own experience applying the principles of Design Thinking over the past 30 years.

Storytelling - Tim Brown (IDEO)

"Though its not always necessary to make your audience cry, a good story, well told should deliver a powerful emotional punch."

"...a new idea will have to tell a meaningful story in a compelling way if it is to make itself heard."

"...storytelling needs to be in the toolkit of the design thinker."

Storytelling - Walt Disney

"The story man must see clearly in his own mind how every piece of business in a story will be put."

"He should feel every expression, every reaction."

"He should get far enough away from his story to take a second look at it... to see whether there is any dead see whether the personalities are going to be interesting and appealing to the audience."

"The thing that makes us different is... Giving it "heart"... We developed a psychological approach to everything we do here. We seem to know how to "tap the heart." Others have hit the intellect. We can hit them in an emotional way. Those who appeal to the intellect only appeal to a very limited group."

Brainstorming - IDEO

IDEO is so big on brainstorming they've got their own seven rules on their web site;

1. Defer judgment
2. Encourage wild ideas
3. Build on the ideas of others
4. Stay focused on the topic
5. One conversation at a time
6. Be visual
7. Go for quantity

Brainstorming - Marty Sklar

"Everyone starts with a blank sheet of paper..." "Here, what if actually means why not?"

"No one's going to stomp on you because you came up with a strange, weird idea..."

"These ideas are then shared with a handful of Imagineers who gather to bounce them around. We call this brainstorming." Usually, when a session begins, there are no certainties. To us, that simply means anything is possible."

"A brainstorming may last hours, days, even weeks." "The only rule during this time: there are no rules." "Every aspect is questioned, admired, debated, and turned upside down and inside out until that first sketch can take a daring leap off the napkin and grow into larger, more refined drawings and paintings. The brainstorming subsides when the basic idea is defined, understood and agreed upon by all group members. It belongs to all of us, keeping a rich heritage left to us by Walt Disney. Teamwork is truly the heart of Imagineering.

Storyboarding - IDEO

A central way that IDEO fleshes out the details of a design is to develop detailed storyboards or scenarios of a person using the new device.

Storyboading - Marty Sklar

"Our next step involves a little more imagination - and a lot more blank paper - as we define the details of the idea, and determine how it can best emerge to tell its story in a three dimensional world. Sketches are pinned onto large storyboards. Dozens of them are added, taken away, switched around, re-drawn, crumpled up and tossed out, then fetched from the trash can, un-crumpled, and put back up."

Modeling - (Prototyping) @ Stanford
The is so committed to modeling and prototyping they have an entire class (MS&E 488) and Lab devoted to it. It's a key step in every iteration of the process.

Modeling - Marty Sklar

Clay is molded, foam is carved, and cardboard and plaster are cut and glued together to bring the idea into three dimensions. Several generations of study models are built and rebuilt. First draft scripts undergo second and third revisions.

Persistence - Walt Disney

"Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it and work at it until it's done, and done right."

“When we consider a new project, we really study it - not just the surface idea, but everything about it. And when we go into that new project, we believe in it all the way. We have confidence in our ability to do it right. And we work hard to do the best possible job.”
"New ideas are continuously nourished as long as they have a shot at reality. If the spark of an idea is strong, it will never fade away. Even if it travels only far enough to appear on that first piece of paper, there it will patiently remain until the time is right for it to re-ignite."

Persistence - IDEO

In The Little Book of IDEO, the very first slide which appears is "Be Optimistic," close behind is Take Ownership.

Some Preliminary Conclusions

I typically allow the reader to draw their own conclusions regarding my blog postings, but in this case, I'm going to say that I found a significant level of correlation between the two methods.

Some may say the similarities are co-incidental. That may be true, but if it is, I suspect it's because at their cores Design Thinking and Imagineering are both about the same thing; Creativity that connects with the user/guest at a deep emotional level.

In my blog posting Making Walt Cry, I quote Walt on this point.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Project Management Lessons from Disney

Lesson One: Pay fantastic attention to detail
“When we consider a project, we really study it…not just the surface idea, but everything about it. And when we go into that new project, we believe in it all the way. We have confidence in our ability to do it right…and we work hard to do the best possible job.”

Any project can and should not be managed as a whole. Projects are the sum of many small details across many distinct process groups. Keeping track of these details makes the difference between a well and poorly managed project. Tracking the details, anticipating issues, responding to risk, and keeping watch over a other seemingly non-connected tasks are what keeps your project moving forward. Don’t get bogged down with your team. Your main role is to keep one eye on the end goal and keep the project moving in that direction. Always know where your project is, where its going and what challenges your team is facing, so you can effortlessly communicate these facts to key stakeholders.

Lesson Two: Challenge the status quo
“I happen to be an inquisitive guy and when I see things I don’t like, I start thinking, ‘Why do they have to be like this and how can I improve them?’”

How a project manager responds to issues and risk makes the difference between an “out of control” project and a project “within control limits.” One of the major steps of the project management maturity model is recognizing and avoiding past mistakes. When we ignore our project success and failure history, we are doomed to repeat it. Leading change within a project is occasionally necessary to correct inconsistencies, errors, omissions, and/or responses to new issues. Project management methods aren't “one size fits all” and existing business processes may not mesh with what your project is expected to deliver. You’ll need to determine exceptions to both project management protocol and normal business operations. Challenging the status quo and pushing the boundaries of accepted norms are occasionally required of a Project Manager to get the job done.

Lesson Three: Don’t forget about the quality
“I want a guest to walk into a five million dollar restaurant to buy a five cent hamburger.”

Project quality is embodied by a successful deliverable. Walt Disney was trying to set the scene for a quality and enjoyable experience within his Disneyland theme park. You may not want to set this lofty of a quality goal, unless you work for Disney, but as a Project Manager, you must ensure that every project deliverable meets the quality goals and customer expectations. The Project Manager walks a very narrow tightrope. Exceeding expectations can bring claims of gold-plating, while cutting quality to meet budget, schedule or scope constraints can lead to very unhappy stakeholders.

Lesson Four: People expect you to fail…prove them wrong
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

Based on the oft-quoted Standish CHAOS report of project success rates it is easy to see how some people, including your own project team members and stakeholders, can be skeptical of your ability to successfully deliver a project within budget, time and scope parameters. Fair or not, the Project Manager is expected to re-direct accolades of project success back toward the team, while on the flip side, accept full accountability when the project fails to deliver on its promises. How you manage the effort, including the team you are given, the communications you provide, the expectations you set and/or manage and the direct guidance you provide as you lead through issues, risks, milestone checkpoints and delivery acceptance are under your control. Make informed decisions and direct rather react.

Lesson Five: Team members make the project a success, not the project manager
“You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

Building a top-notch project team is an essential ingredient to the success of a project. Teams of technical or subject matter geniuses don’t always play well together. Ensuring a proper blend of subject matter expertise and a good team dynamic can turn a sluggish project into a streamlined project. By planning the team structure carefully, before the project is launched, future risk is reduced. Publicizing reward and recognition programs to promote “above and beyond” effort before the project even begins promotes positive attitudes and fair leadership right from the start. Equally important, having a plan already in place for correcting and/or negating the impact on the project of poor work or a discouraged and stressed out team saves valuable risk response time for other issues that may arise later during the project.

Lesson Six: Make meetings more productive
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

Project planning meetings, project status meetings, informal project discussions, and the dreaded elevator meeting. For all of these forms of project communication, preparation and planning are key. When project team members are sitting in a status meeting, they are not working on tasks needed to reach the next milestone. Keep this in mind when you prepare your meeting agendas and participant lists. Does the project team really need to sit through a recap of the tasks closed in the last thirty days? Probably not, since they are the one’s who closed them! An effective use of project resource time however, is a half-day workshop early in the project to define key project milestones, streams of work, tasks and time estimates. Always ask yourself why a meeting is better than other forms of communication.

Lesson Seven: Promote and champion change
“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

As a project manager, you are an instrument of change. Projects are usually created to fix or improve something and they have stakeholders who are positively or negatively affected by the result of the project you are managing. Simply starting a project can shake up the status quo and make people uncomfortable. Change requires clear and effective communication about why the project improves the organization. Change also requires a strategy for dealing with challenges to the project.

Lesson Eight: Plan to defend your project
“I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”

One of the main responsibilities of a project manager is to defend the integrity of the key project control parameters…scope, schedule and budget. That isn’t to say that the three tenets of the “project iron triangle” can never be changed. With proper change management protocol in place, project leadership decisions, and the necessities of project execution, can dictate changes to the original plan. However, one must always remain vigilant to the negative effects of scope and feature creep, gold plating and risk, regardless of the source. How many times have you been approached by a project sponsor or stakeholder who demands that you change the project without going through the bother of running the request through the integrated change control system? If you’ve succumbed to this peer pressure and the project gets derailed, you’ll be the one left without a chair when the music stops!

Lesson Nine: Innovation can come from inside the project team, not just from the stakeholders
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we are curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Allow your team members to be an integral part of creative problem solving for the project. By soliciting creative thought from your team members, you foster and atmosphere of innovation, stream-lined solutions, and increased team morale. Early on in the project life cycle, challenge your team to think creatively about developing solutions to the problem being addressed by the project. Be accepting to changing plans, approaches and solution ideas. Run some “proof-of-concept” sessions or trial runs to validate the ideas. Once the project team has landed on a particular approach however, that is the time to start bringing more control and managed change to the initiative. Locking in on the tasks needed to deliver a specific approach ensures execution on the idea. Allowing blue-sky thinking to continue without end causes uncontrollable work effort or worse, “analysis paralysis.”

Lesson Ten: Know when to manage, and when to lead
“You know, one day when a little boy asked, ‘Do you draw Mickey Mouse?’ I had to admit I do not draw anymore. ‘Well, then you think up all the jokes and ideas,’ he said. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t do that anymore either.’ Finally he looked at me and said, ‘Mr. Disney, just what do you do?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘sometimes I think of myself as a little bee. I go from one area of the studio to another, and gather pollen, and sort of stimulate everybody.’ I guess that’s the job I do.”

An effective project manager must know when in the project life cycle to manage, and when to lead. Typically, management activities occur during the initiating and planning phases of the project. The project manager must, by proper protocol, maintain a more “hands-on” approach to guiding the project through the initiating and planning processes. Defining the project scope, building a charter, developing cost estimates to include with funding requests, preparing stage gate presentations and generating a work breakdown structure with the project team are all direct management activities for the Project Manager.

 On the other hand, during the executing and controlling phases, the Project Manager should take a step away from the day-to-day operations of the project and transition into more of a leadership role. By using a “management by walking around” approach, the Project Manager can allow the team to focus on executing the plan (completing the work) while he/she communicates updates on progress, provides steering/coaching where needed and deals with issues and/or risks that may be experienced.

So in a nutshell, what are the ten things Walt Disney taught me about project management? 
  1. Believe in the project one hundred percent. 
  2. Balance the constraints of time, quality and budget very carefully. 
  3. Set a positive environment for the project from the very beginning. 
  4. Pay extraordinary attention to detail.  
  5. Walk the project path before ever taking a step. 
  6. Assemble the best possible project team and plan for both achievement and challenge. 
  7. Maintain clear and consistent communications throughout the project and be aggressively proactive in communications with the team and the stakeholders. 
  8. Listen to and understand the unasked question. 
  9. Be certain of project completion criteria. 
  10. Learn from both successes and failures.

Buzz Price and the Power of Yes, if...

Valerie J. Nelson's article in the August 17, 2010 Los Angeles Times,  paid tribute to Harrison "Buzz" Price of the Stanford Research Institute, who had passed away two days earlier. As you can see from the plaque above, Buzz was a Disney Legend.

Nelson referred to Buzz as "an engineer turned theme-park strategist whose research led Walt Disney to place Magic Kingdoms in Anaheim and Orlando..." The article also quoted Michael Eisner that Price "was as much responsible for the success of the Walt Disney Co. as anybody except Walt Disney himself..." 

What was it that enabled Price to have such a significant influence on Disney's success?

Price was frequently called on to evaluate the viability of Disney projects.  He developed a research method that suited Walt and Roy’s needs perfectly. The method took a “Yes if...”line of approach. 

Of this approach Price said; 

“Yes if..." is the approach of a deal maker.  It points to what needs to be done to make the possible plausible. "No because..." is the language of a deal killer.  Creative people thrive on ‘Yes if...” 

Buzz added; “Walt liked this language.” It blended well with Walt's constantly urging his Imagineers to "plus it."

There is a direct parallel to "Yes if..." in Design Thinking; asking "What if?" and using "Yes, and..." rather than "Yes, but..." when brainstorming.

Fred Gleeck and Avish Parashar have a YouTube video that demonstrates the difference.

Improv Game - "Yes And" and "Yes But"

Before I viewed this video I had no idea that "Yes, if..." could be the basis for standup comedy. Gleeck and Avish's routine show how much more "Yes, but..." feels like an argument. An argument is probably not what you want to have during a brainstorm - or possibly any other time.

Placed on a continuum from No to Yes, it looks like this;

To end on a bit of a whacky note; this reminder from Monte Python of how much fun it is to have a really good argument!

Just remember, the next time a problem solving opportunity comes your way, work to get to the "Yes if..."side of things. It will go a long way towards developing a creative solution.

It worked for Walt.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Walt's Creative Process

In a document titled "Walt Disney World Background and Philosophy" and dated September 21, 1967, Marty Sklar, then director of WDI, sent a memo to "Those Concerned" regarding the "Florida Project." His reference may have been towards Walt's recent death, the future of Walt Disney World and the company.  Marty wrote;

"This assemblage has been prepared as a background and starting point for developing a "philosophy" for the Disneyland-style theme park in Walt Disney World. There is a great deal of other material, particularly articles about Disneyland, that might have been included. However, the intent here is to provide, as a foundation, Walt's thinking and philosophy as it was applied in Disneyland, and additionally Walt's thoughts apply to what we are now beginning."

Section 7 - Walt's Quotes re: Disneyland contains statements from various printed sources, primarily interviews with reporters from newspapers around the country during Disneyland's Tencennial Year.
These quotes form an outline of Walt's creative process;

On Improving Things:

"I happen to be a kind of inquisitive guy and when I see things I don't like, I start thinking; Why do they have to be like this and how can I improve them?"

On Developing Ideas:

“We call them gag sessions. We get in there and toss ideas around. And we throw them in and put all the minds together and come up with something and say a little prayer and open it and hope it will go."

On Curiosity:

"There's really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious ... and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We're always exploring and experimenting. At WED, we call it lmagineering - the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how."

On Courage:

"When you're curious, you find lots of interesting things to do. And one thing it takes to accomplish something is courage. Take Disneyland for example; Almost everyone warned us that Disneyland would be a Hollywood spectacular -- a spectacular failure. But they were thinking about an amusement park, and we believed in our idea -- a family park where parents and children could have fun -- together."

On Confidence:

"We consider a new project, we really study it - not just the surface idea, but everything about it. And when we go into that new project, we believe in it all the way. We have confidence in our ability to do it right. And we work hard to do the best possible job."

On Continued Growth:

"The way I see it, Disneyland will never be finished. lt's something we can keep developing and adding to. A motion picture is different . Once it's wrapped up and sent out for processing, we're through with it. If there are things that could be improved, we can't do anything about them any more. I've always wanted to work on something alive, something that keeps growing. We've got that in Disneyland."

Walt's basic approach; Be curiousSee a problemResearch deeplyBrainstorm and Move forward with courage and confidence, has parallels in other methods, but few of them also bring Walt's special ingredient; his "Pixie Dust." into the mix. Pixie Dust refers to being responsive to people's hidden needs, creating surprise and delight by giving them something that they wanted without being asked or told about it.

It's a framework for work and life that offers endless possibilities.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Patently and Exclusively Walt

Between May 26, 1931 and November 25, 1958 the US Patent and Trademark Office awarded Walter Elias Disney eight patents, each of which expresses an element of Walt's vision for the company and the park that bears his name, starting with an ornamental design for the toy figure of a mouse.

USD84233 - March 30, 1931

Her name was Minerva and she first appeared alongside Mickey in Steamboat Willie on November 18, 1928.  The comic strip story Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers introduced her father Marcus, his brother Milton and her grandparents Marshal and Matilda, uncle Mortimer and twin nieces; Millie and Melody. Of course, most of us know her better by her nickname; Minnie.

Walt's next step was to figure a way to synchronize filmed movement and sound, which he did, applying for patent protection for that process in US 1,941,34; Method and Apparatus for Synchronizing Photoplays, filed April 2, 1931.

US 1,941,341- April 2, 1933

This invention may have come out of conversations between Walt and Carl Stalling about whether the animation or the musical score should come first. Among other things, The Silly Symphonies cartoons, which were produced between 1929 and 1939, explored ways to develop musical scores that Walt'a animators could easily coordinate with their animation.

While working with Walt, Carl Stalling pioneered the use of ”bar sheets,“ which allowed musical rhythms to be sketched out simultaneously with the animation storyboards. Stalling left Disney in 1930, the same time as Ub Iwerks. Finding few outlets for his craft in New York, Stalling re-joined Iwerks at his new studio in California, and did freelance work for Disney and others.

Ub Iwerks, Walt Disney and Carl Stalling
On December 30th, 1933, Walt decided to protect a pair of characters that would be the heart of one of the most successful of his early animation efforts. The Three Little Pigs was released on May 27, 1933 by United Artists. Produced by Walt Disney and directed by Burt Gillett, it won the 1934 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The Three Little Pigs cost $22,000 and grossed $250,000. It was later selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

USD 91990 and 91991 - December 30, 1933
Sticking with stories that featured wolfs, Walt next applied to protect the image of a little girl with pudgy hands and a little red cape, who's grandmother needed protecting too. Little Red Riding Hood appeared in both a Laugh-O-Gram and the Silly Symphony titled Big Bad Wolf.

Rather than using animation cels, Red Riding Hood was mostly made by photographing inked lines on paper. In 1980 it was on the American Film Institute's "10 Most Wanted Films for Archival Preservation" list. A print of the film was discovered in a London film library in 1998, and restored.

USD92167S - March 7, 1934

Disney was constantly pushing both his art and the tools to produce it. By 1936 he was working on ways to speed up the filming process - as evidenced by patent 2,201,689 aptly titled Art of Animation.

It describes ways to improve the process of producing animated cartoons and specifically relates to ways of properly and accurately placing images with respect to a background, thereby creating accurate shadows. US2201689A was filed September 1st, 1936, but would't issue until 1940.

The need to speed things up is evident by the number of films Disney had in the works. Thruout 1937, the studio would release a new short film roughly every three weeks. Disney also began story development on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The first animation cells for Snow White would be sent to Ink and Paint in January, and then on to the Camera Department on March 13th. 

On May 30th, Roy Disney concluded negotiations with Bank of America to obtain a loan of $630,000. That would be equal to nearly $11 million dollars today. Roy would be back at Bank of America in September seeking another $327,000. Final animation work on Snow White would be completed on November 11th.

On December 21st, RKO premiered Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Hollywood. It was the industry's first full-length animated movie. The $1.5 million needed to complete the film nearly bankrupted Disney.

US2201689A - September 1, 1936

World War II would rage from September 1, 1939 to September 2, 1945. In the midst of that Walt would apply his creativity towards supporting America's troops at home and building relationships abroad. The studio would produce dozens of films for the Department of Defense and a small feature called Saludos Amigos featuring José Carioca, the Brazilian cigar-smoking parrot.

USD13466S - August 11, 1942

Walt had one more South of the Border trick up his sleeve. The Three Caballeros third member is a pistol packing rooster named Panchito Pistoles. Panchito appeared in several Disney comics, including Don Rosa's The Three Caballeros Ride Again and The Magnificent Seven (Minus 4) Caballeros. Panchito did not appear in Saludos Amigos, because Walt hadn't created him yet.

USD136368 - June 15, 1943
Over the next ten years, Walt would shift his focus to much bigger things, culminating in the opening of Disneyland in July of 1955. 

There would be two more individual patents filed before this death. The first was for a ride in a rocket ship.

US 2,861,806 - July 17, 1956.

Next was for a much more down to earth attraction; the Tea Cups, simply referred to as a Passenger Carrying Amusement Device. Arrow development, the prime vendor for several of Disneyland's opening day attractions, would build it and later re-deploy the design at the 1961 Seattle World's Fair as the Space Whirl.

Des 180,585 - July 17, 1956.

Space Whirl - Seattle Worlds Fair

Note that both of these patents were filed one year to the day after the opening of Disneyland. They were also the last patents Walt filed where he was the only listed inventor.