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Walt Disney Imagineering to Outsource Audio Anamatronics


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Walt would not be happy with this.

>>Jake

 

 

 

WDI Animatronic Outsourcing Means Additional Layoffs

By C. W. Oberleitner

June 13, 2008

 

Ouch! Less than 24 hours after an internal Walt Disney Imagineering memo, with news of a strategic shift in focus for manufacturing operations was sent to employees, copies of the document leaked out and began popping up around Southern California.

 

 

From Your Desk to God’s Ear

The Orange Country Register today reported receiving a copy of an internal memo from Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive of Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) sent to all WDI employees.

 

The memo, according to WDI spokesperson Marilyn Waters, says the Disney Company will begin outsourcing the manufacturing of Audio Animatronic figures. The reason for taking this action, given in the memo by Vaughn, is the high demand placed on WDI staff and resources by producing these iconic Disney theme park figures in house.

 

What the memo does not say is that “some positions will be eliminated by this in order to implement these really strategic changes,” a WDI insider said. Overall, WDI believes that “only a small number of people” will be affected by the changes. No further specifics were given.

 

Audio Animatronics was the name Walt Disney gave to the flapping, talking, and singing mechanical birds that first appeared in Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Over the years, the technology has advanced, and Audio Animatronic figures can today be seen in Disney parks around the world, as plundering pirates in the Pirates of the Caribbean; the all-singing, all-dancing children of the world in It’s a Small World; as the very interactive Roz at Disney’s California Adventure Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue; and soon as Mr. Potato Head at the new Toy Story Midway Mania attractions at the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World.

 

The memo dated June 12,was sent to all Walt Disney Imagineering employees from Bruce Vaughn (Chief Creative Executive), Craig Russell (Chief Development and Delivery Executive), and Kevin Eld (Vice President of Disney Creative Production).

 

A copy of the memo was also sent to the Orange County Register by an anonymous source.

 

In an e-mail statement sent to o-meon, Waters went on to say:

 

The new strategy for our Manufacturing and Prototype Organization is to focus on greater innovation in prototyping and developing the next generation of Audio-Animatronics figures. This will involve strengthening our competencies in the creation of, unique Audio-Animatronics figures.

 

In the past few years, our industry has generated a number of highly-skilled, technically-proficient vendors who can supplement our teams with specialized expertise quickly and efficiently. The production of simple figures will now be managed by vendors with oversight by the WDI production team.

 

In recent years, WDI has been developing the next generation of Audio Animatronics through its “Living Characters Initiative.” The new generation of Animatronic figures is completely self-contained and roams, seemingly, freely throughout Disney parks and at special event venues.

 

The first of these was Lucky the Dinosaur, a six-foot tall, flower-loving dinosaur that pulls a cart full of blossoms—and presumably his electronics—around behind him. Lucky was joined sometime later by Muppet Mobile Labs, a sort of motorcycle apparatus seemingly operated by popular Muppet characters Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker.

 

Recently, a “life-sized” version of the title character from the upcoming Disney/Pixar film WALL•E was seen interacting with a somewhat startled public in downtown Los Angeles.

 

Waters added that WDI’s North Hollywood facility will “build some select, highly complex” figures, such as the Roz, Mr. Potato Head, and Lucky characters.

 

WED Enterprises—the forerunner of WDI—originally began building its own Animatronic characters because there simply were no third-party vendors in the business of making what are essentially robotic entertainers.

 

Just as the theme park industry blossomed as a direct result of the success of Disneyland and Walt Disney World, so, too did themed entertainment manufacturing. Today, there are dozens of businesses dedicated to meeting the manufacturing needs of this billion dollar industry.

 

Under the direction of WDI Imagineers, Chinese vendors built many of the figures used in Hong Kong Disneyland’s It’s a Small World attraction.

 

“Our industry has generated quite a few heavily-skilled and proficient vendors who can supplement our teams with simple figures with significant oversight by our production team,” Waters said. “This will allow us to focus on creating more sophisticated and advanced figures.”

 

Even as Waters was focusing on the future of Animatronics, Disneyland is preparing to celebrate the birth of Audio Animatronics. The 45th anniversary of the first Disney Audio Animatronic attraction, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, will take place on June 22.

 

As the attraction’s star performer, Jose, might say, “It’s time to stop clucking and get on with chow.”

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So basically is this stating that WDI wont really be making the animatronics anymore the subsidizers will? And WDI will just "supervise" the creation. If so thats pretty crap Ive grown to love the WDI corp. as an individual company that can work by itself without the use of the ever so growing (and falling) economy around them. Soon enough there animatronics are going to be walking around the park saying Apple copyrighted on there butts. This is a sad day for Disney, a very sad day.

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^ If you think WDI is an individual, self-sufficient company that works by itself, you are completely and utterly wrong. A large amount of stuff gets outsourced and farmed out to vendors. That's just not how the company (and Disney as a whole) works. You can go on believing WDI does everything in-house, but you'd be living in a fantasy world.

WDI, as it currently exists today, is sort of a creative director, who then farms out the technical and engineering stuff. Obviously, some of the stuff WDI does is so highly specialized, they do need to create it in house, but if it's more common aspects, there's no doubt it'd get pushed to a vendor who can do it for cheaper.

AA's were once highly specialized, but now the parts and manufacturing are more common, so if an outside vendor can create one at a lower price point than in-house can do, then it allows more money in the budget for other things. Maybe one AA manufactured by WDI would cost $50,000 and an outside vendor can do it for $35,000 or something. WDI is still in charge of the creative direction, how the AA runs, what it does...they just don't manufacture it. The guest would not know the difference. If a vendor does a bad job, they won't be a vendor anymore. And like the article said, they will still be creating the cutting-edge AA's like Mr. Potato Head and the Yeti...they just won't be doing ones for lower level stuff like clones of It's A Small World and stuff like that.

 

This is not a bad thing, it frees up money and creative resources within the company.

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What else do you except ???? This is who they are now. I know they can do better than they have. Hell look at Tokyo Disney Seas. That's the most beautiful park in the world but who cares about quality and your own history? Not Disney.

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Once again one only has to bring up this video:

 

I was working at Disney when Lucky started development. From what I had "heard" about the project, it was supposed to do what Big Dog can do. A totally self-contained robot that could walk around.

 

It was YEARS in development and I would only guest cost millions of dollars. Now outside sources are doing it better. Why spend the money doing R&D to only get an inferior product to what someone else could produce?

 

Just buy their sh1t!

 

Yeah it sucks that some people may lose their jobs, but you know what? Big Dog kicked their asses. And that's what happens in this big, bad corporate world.

 

If I just spent years and millions on something that wasn't as cool as a video I saw on YouTube, I'd be cutting some positions too....

 

--Robb

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^ I think it's more along the lines of having the vendors do the menial stuff so the core WDI team can actually focus on getting their technology up to snuff. Some guy at WDI doesn't have to build 50 Small World dolls or a new figure for Spaceship Earth, which frees him up to work on new R&D like the Muppet Mobile Lab, Potato Head, or Lucky. Plus, WDI has higher set rates for their employees, whereas using a vendor for standard tech AA's can be accomplished much cheaper.

 

The question is whether we'd rather see WDI produce advances in the technology, or continue to stagnate just to keep everything "in-house". The answer is pretty obvious, but the die-hards will still find something to bitch about.

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^ That's really the point. I would say most people really have no idea who actually manufacturers Disney rides and they just all assume that "Disney makes them." When I tell people that most of DCA was made by the same people who make rides for Six Flags and Cedar Point, they had no idea.

 

When was the last coaster Disney actually built "in house?" Big Thunder Mountain???

 

--Robb

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^ That's really the point. I would say most people really have no idea who actually manufacturers Disney rides and they just all assume that "Disney makes them." When I tell people that most of DCA was made by the same people who make rides for Six Flags and Cedar Point, they had no idea.

 

When was the last coaster Disney actually built "in house?" Big Thunder Mountain???

 

--Robb

And that shows. DCA is the big hunk of crap. You guys are correct about the vendors. I really don't think that people care that every part says Disney on it. We all just want quality and that company does not care about quality (as much) anymore. Walt didn't design everything. He knew who to hire and who to bring in when he wanted something done. Mary Blair a Disney legend subcontracted for years. Now they seem to only hit it right once in a while but let's face it when was the last thing ( locally) that made your jaw drop? While most of the DCA crew is still employed the crew that brought you Tokyo Disney Seas is over at Think Tank now. Quality is not what is most important anymore.

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Perhaps this is actually for the better? Maybe WDI will begin to focus on the overall story and the concept of new attractions again rather than the technology behind the rides/shows.

 

A while back I recall some official from within the Walt Disney Company even admitted that Imagineering had gotten too far off course from the storytelling element of rides and was more about trying to amaze people with advanced designs and engineering these days.

 

Take Lucky the Dinosaur for example. Yea, it's impressive, but overall the whole thing just seemed kind of pointless. It was like Disney was just using it to brag about the technology the company developed. I had much rather they spent those millions on some new ride concept instead of a single one-trick audio animatronic.

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This doesn't surprise me. Disney isn't going to waste time building AA's that another company can build just as well. They're going to focus on building the complicated stuff. Even that will probably be outsourced eventually, Disney can't stay on top of the AA industry forever.

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While most of the DCA crew is still employed the crew that brought you Tokyo Disney Seas is over at Think Tank now.

 

So now Disney can outsource jobs to them without paying the overhead costs associated with having them on the payroll. Win-Win. I know of a guy who is a friend of a friend who actually made more when WDI had to contract him as an outside vendor, but the costs were still probably less for WDI because all of the hidden costs (like insurance, payroll taxes, training, etc.) are no longer there.

 

Do you really believe that TDS didn't involve hundreds of vendors as well?

 

FWIW, everyone seems impressed by the animatronics on Mummy @ USF. Guess what? A company in Valencia (technifex) made those.

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While most of the DCA crew is still employed the crew that brought you Tokyo Disney Seas is over at Think Tank now.

 

So now Disney can outsource jobs to them without paying the overhead costs associated with having them on the payroll. Win-Win. I know of a guy who is a friend of a friend who actually made more when WDI had to contract him as an outside vendor, but the costs were still probably less for WDI because all of the hidden costs (like insurance, payroll taxes, training, etc.) are no longer there.

 

Do you really believe that TDS didn't involve hundreds of vendors as well?

 

FWIW, everyone seems impressed by the animatronics on Mummy @ USF. Guess what? A company in Valencia (technifex) made those.

One of my best friends was a top guy in WDI creative for 25 years. When things started falling apart after Frank Wells died he left. He has been hired back twice (as an outside vendor) Maybe I'm not making my point well here. I don't care who they use to make a QUALITY PRODUCT. There's the issue weather it's outside vendors or in house the quality of Disney's product (for the most part) sucks and that kills me to say that. IMO it looks like who ever comes in with the low bid gets the job.

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^That's exactly why it sounds like they are outsourcing. Well, besides cutting costs that is. Now someone's talent isn't being wasted working on a basic animatronic.

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Like other's have said, if you outsource the menial AA stuff, it does free up the creative folks to work on a next gen (and beyond) lucky. You have more focused resources and better chances for a quality product, not to mention all the cost stuff pointed out.

 

It sounds a little icky at first, but if "Lucky 2.0: Now with Fire and Karate Chop Action" comes out really great AND helps tell a good story, why not?

 

Lucky, Muppet Mobile Labs, and now Wall-E are stunning pieces of work, btw.

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I read an article on Jim Hill a few weeks back that says WDI has been slowly replacing full time Imagineers with outside consultants. It also said that there is a severe shortage of talent in the "consultant" space now that all of the parks in Dubai are under development. I wonder if this also has something to do with it.

 

Of course Disney is always going to be looking for ways to cut back on costs as well, but could it be that Imagineering has a smaller talent pool, so they need to focus their people on the bigger things?

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Honestly, I did get scared when I heard that Disney was going to Outsource. But the more I think about it, it makes sense. Have another company make the small stuff, and have your own people focus on the big stuff (i.e Lucky, Muppets Mobile Lab, Patato Head Barker,and life size Wall-E) I believe that this is a *ok* move. It does suck for the people that will be getting laid off. What I do have a problem with though, is recently people have been questioning if Disney will be on top of the theme park industry. Yes, other parks are coming out with rides like the Simpsons, and X2. People complain that TSMM isn't going to bring it's "A" game, so to speak. Well, if you look at the big picture, Disney will more than likely be on top in the next 5-6 years. With the refurbishment of DCA, the new Monsters Inc ride @ TDL, and the "rumored" pirate land @ HKDL, they are going to be pulling off some neat stuff. I can't wait to see what will happen now that they have time to focus on the BIG stuff.

>>Jake

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