IAAPA 2016: Disney legends talk Shanghai and 'building a brand for 1.4 billion people'

A host of Disney legends gathered in Orlando last week to discuss the making of Disney’s US$5.5bn €5.2bn, £4.4bn) Shanghai theme park, working on the project and what affect it will have on the Chinese market.

Hosted by BRC Imagination Arts’ Bob Rogers, who also hosted last week’s IAAPA Hall of Fame panel, this year’s Legends session was made up of Bob Weis, Craig Russell, Nancy Seruto and Marty Sklar.

The quartet discussed the experience of entering a new culture when working on Disneyland Shanghai. Weis, who helped design Disney’s Hollywood Studios park in Florida in the 1980s and was named president of Disney Imagineering this January, spoke of this cultural process and the need to make sure things were not lost in translation.

“I was meeting with a noted director in China,” said Weis. "We were asking for his help on projects and I asked him ‘do you know the Disney library? Do you know our characters?’ He said ‘Of course we all know the Disney characters, they’re beloved throughout China. Whoever tells you anything else, don’t listen to them because they’re known very well... We love Bugs Bunny’,” he added, referring to the Warner Brothers IP.

For Craig Russell, who is chief design and project delivery executive at Disney Imagineering, the sheer scale of a project like Disneyland Shanghai – not only in physical size but also in local reach – was one of the main challenges while developing the park.

“We are not really building a project in China, we’re defining the Disney brand for 1.4 billion people,” he said. “That was a historic opportunity and we only had one shot at it.

“The scale of it was something quite extraordinary for us. It ended up being this very interesting learning curve where you’ve got 150 very experienced Imagineers and then a couple hundred less experienced Imagineers. Then that scale included contractors and more and you’ve suddenly got 10,000 people working on the project. It was an interesting challenge in trying to help that many people up the learning curve, but we managed it.”

Nancy Seruto, creative show studio executive at Disney and the first ever female to be included on the Legends panel, elaborated on these challenges to realise Disney’s vision.

“What we do here is an art form,” she said. “You can’t just go to engineering school and learn how to build a ride. You might have something relevant but you really learn when you break into this field. When young people are coming to you and asking questions, you have to go back to the beginning and explain why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s not just about understanding the trade, it’s about understanding the end goal and the interconnectivity of everyone else on the site.”

Marty Sklar, who spent many years leading Walt Disney Imagineering, working on every existing Disney theme park until Shanghai, offered his insight, explaining how Disney pulled off the gargantuan feat.

“One thing that Disney did on this project was put people from every one of the sectors such as food, merchandise etc, from every one of its parks on the project.” he sad. “Watching them and seeing how they had translated that to this new audience was incredible.”

Addressing Disney rival Universal, which recently broke ground on its own China theme park, Sklar offered some key advice, not only for Universal, but for any developer wanting to invest in the Chinese market.

“Understand how Shanghai Disney is going to impact the Chinese audience and what changes that will bring,” he said. “Be responsive to that and the changes to the world five years from now, that’s really the key for them or any theme park operator in China.”

Disneyworld  theme park  visitor attraction  IAAPA 2016  Bob Weis  Craig Russell  Nancy Seruto  Marty Sklar  Shanghai Disney 
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FEATURE: Mystery Shopper – Disney Delights

A host of Disney legends gathered in Orlando last week to discuss the making of Disney’s US$5.5bn €5.2bn, £4.4bn) Shanghai theme park, working on the project and what affect it will have on the Chinese market. Hosted by BRC Imagination Arts’ Bob Rogers, who also hosted last week’s IAAPA Hall of Fame panel, this year’s Legends session was made up of Bob Weis, Craig Russell, Nancy Seruto and Marty Sklar.
The panel of Disney legends spoke in front of a packed hall, discussing the challenges in creating Disneyland Shanghai and the legacy it will leave in the future / Tom Anstey
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