Walt and Randy: Life Teachers

by Mike Scopa
AllEars® Feature Writer

Feature Article

This article appeared in the September 16, 2008 Issue #469 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

A few weeks ago while in Walt Disney World I paid a visit to "One Man's Dream" in Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park. It's a visit I try to make on every trip to Orlando because I always come away from this attraction feeling more prepared to take on the world... as if inspired by all that I read, saw, and heard.

I remember a few years back spending an entire day at the Studios with one of my closest cast member friends, Jim McKinley. During that day we visited "One Man's Dream." As we left the theater with the film about Walt's life, we noticed we were both wiping tears from our eyes. We ended up talking a bit as to why we felt that film affected us as it did.

Jim's explanation was simple. "He's my hero!" he said.

There's something about hearing a Walt Disney World cast member proclaim that Walt Disney is his hero that just gives you a good feeling. When I heard those words I wondered to myself just how many other cast members felt the same way about this man who has been gone for more than 40 years. From then on I made it a point to always visit the attraction and try to pay as much attention as possible to Walt's words.

It soon became apparent to me that Walt Disney, for all his genius and zest for life, had emerged as a virtual mentor to many Walt Disney Company employees throughout the years -- and not just for cast members but for everyone.

So every visit I try to take away something from "One Man's Dream." However, just as I find myself learning much from the words of Walt Disney more recently I have come to learn more from another man... his name is Randy Pausch.

On July 25, 2008, Randy Pausch, associate professor of computer science, human-computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University, and author of "The Last Lecture," succumbed to pancreatic cancer.

I first heard about Randy Pausch about a year ago. Perhaps it was his link to The Disney Company that captured my interest. Randy Pausch, much like Walt Disney, was very much a visionary who saw virtual worlds and actually developed a course on building virtual worlds. Students taking this course were taught how to use virtual reality technology in the world of entertainment, in both video games and in theme park attractions. I have often thought of Disneyland as the first live virtual world... brought to us by Walt himself.

Randy Pausch was instrumental in helping the video game outfit Electronic Arts implement a few virtual worlds. He also one day found himself living a dream as he himself became a part-time member of Walt Disney Imagineering. Many of Randy Pausch's followers have felt that his dream of becoming an Imagineer guided him into the world of entertainment technology.

Back in the mid-'90s my family and I unknowingly experienced Randy Pausch's work. While visiting Epcot's Future World we wandered through an area of Innoventions and were witness to a demonstration of what was then described as "DisneyVision." That was what the Disney Company was calling its version of Virtual Reality.

What was more interesting is that my teenage daughter at the time was selected to help demonstrate what the Imagineers had been working on. I recall seeing my daughter sitting on some vehicle that looked a bit like a motorcycle of some sort and she was wearing a special headset. We were told that the screen above my daughter would display what she was seeing with her DisneyVision goggles. We were watching a prototype of an upcoming attraction called Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride and observing a virtual city of Agrabah. When my daughter turned her head to the right so did the directional on the screen. We were told to imagine that she was riding a magic carpet through the streets of Agrabah. This prototype, including the virtual Agrabah, was a project that was being developed by a team of Imagineers, including Randy Pausch. I recall that after the demo my daughter came up to me and said, "Hey Dad, when I looked at my hands with the DisneyVision goggles I saw Mickey's hands."

A Pausch touch? We may never know.

Eventually this project would come to fruition and find a home at DisneyQuest in Downtown Disney. Another DisneyQuest attraction that Randy Pausch had a hand in developing was the Pirates of the Caribbean Adventure in which guests sail their ship through a virtual sea of pirate ships and do battle with cannons to survive the trip.

As much as we marvel at the accomplishments of both Walt Disney and Randy Pausch I have noticed more of a link between these two men than just their passion for using imagination and technology to bring entertainment to their audiences. In watching the film at the end of "One Man's Dream," and also in reading "The Last Lecture" and watching the video, I am struck by how these two visionaries are reaching out to us and telling us how to approach life.

I guess with Walt it starts with the story of him taking his two daughters to an amusement park and dreaming of a place where families could enjoy the park attractions together. Eventually that dream materialized into Disneyland and the rest is history. We should not lose sight of the motivating factor, which was to enhance the family experience... to get more out of those park visits... to enjoy life even more.

It would be a disservice for me to try to paraphrase the words of Randy Pausch from "The Last Lecture." If you do happen to pick up his book, though, I encourage you to pay attention to Chapter Five, entitled, "It's about How to Live Your Life." In this chapter Pausch focuses on dreams, how to achieve them, the importance of working hard, and my favorite section on "Looking for the Best in Everybody." There are so many lessons to be learned from "The Last Lecture" that I feel it should be mandatory reading for all of us... just as it should be mandatory for all who visit Walt Disney World to visit One Man's Dream and soak in the words of Walt Disney while watching that film.

One of the sound bites that sticks with me from that film is when Walt says something about how he believes a good failure in our young life is important because it builds character. I think he also felt that such a failure at an early age makes us all appreciate things more as we get older.

Randy Pausch says we all have to ask ourselves, "Am I a fun-loving Tigger or a sad-sack Eeyore?" He also says something else at the end of his lecture that I think I can safely say Walt Disney would echo. Pausch says, "It's not how to achieve your dreams. It's about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you."

Walt Disney and Randy Pausch: dreamers, visionaries, but most of all, life teachers.

That's "Edutainment."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mike Scopa has been a huge Disney fan for as long as he can remember. He first visited Walt Disney World in 1975 and has returned many times (how many? he's lost count!) since. Mike is a contributor to the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and Cara Goldsbury's Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World, and has served as keynote speaker for the 2006 and 2007 MagicMeets. He is also co-host of the WDWTODAY Podcast and writes a regular blog, The View from Scopa Towers, for AllEars.Net: http://land.allears.net/blogs/mikescopa

Other AllEars® articles by Mike Scopa: http://allears.net/btp/mikescopa.htm


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