Frank Mezzatesta
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The Disney Years

Now that I am retired from Disney, I feel I can write some details of my career. So starting here I plan, now that I have time, to write a page for each of the 41 years I spent at Disney. As I start this endeavor I am reminded that much of the information online about the technology about Disney is incomplete, inaccurate, and many times just false. I'm told by my family that I should maybe write a book. So I have decided to put this part of my website together like a book to see how that flows.

So I'm living in Wheeling, Illinois, and Darlette, my girl friend, plans a vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida which is nice because it is January 1979 in Chicago and really cold with huge piles of snow everywhere. We are there in Orlando Florida enjoying our vacation and we take the train around the Magic Kingdom. Disney is building a new attraction called Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Little did I know that I would be opening that attraction 18 months later. So back from vacation I see an ad in Computer World to work in LA at Walt Disney. I apply and get a job as a programmer there. It is March of 1979 and that starts a very long career with Disney.

When I hired on, technically I worked for the Studio, Walt Disney Productions, for the first few years as the software department though physically at Wed Enterprises and worked only on their projects, our business cards and pay checks came from the Studio. WED Enterprises was the division of Walt Disney Productions that created all the ideas and built all the Disney parks. At this time there are two, Disneyland that opened July 17, 1955 and Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom that opened October 1, 1971. Over the years Walt Disney Productions was renamed The Walt Disney Company and WED Enterprises became Walt Disney Imagineering.

I'm going to refer to all my time at WED Enterprises and Walt Disney Imagineering as either Imagineering or WDI. At work whether in conversation or in emails, we all would say WDI. Well WDI is full of TLAs (three letter abbreviations) starting with WDI itself. Internally we called them three letter acronyms though that is not technically correct. Most were three letters but some were not. Some random abbreviations examples include:

TWDC - The Walt Disney Company
WDI - Walt Disney Imagineering
WDW - Walt Disney World
D/L - Disneyland
TDL - Tokyo Disneyland
EDL - Euro Disneyland (later changed)

DACS - Digital Animation Control System (retired)
SCU - Show Control Unit
RCS - Ride Control System
MES - Manual Emergency Stop
BTMRR - Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
SPAM - Space Mountain

When referring to an attraction one was working on in the early years, you would say like Big Thunder Disneyland or Big Thunder Walt Disney World. As more parks got added the terminology of how to refer to an attraction changed. So is it The Norway Pavilion, Walt Disney World? Or The Norway Pavilion, EPCOT? Or The Norway Pavilion, EPCOT, Walt Disney World? So I am probably going to refer to them as I did when they were built so that would appear not to be consistent. So I'm going to admit here and now I will not be consistent throughout my writing of how I refer to things. So please just deal with it.

Chapter 1 - The Beginning
I worked on both Ride and Show Control Systems. The Ride Control Systems were the most interesting for me and so that is what I mostly am writing about. I did software and hardware for many of these systems. What I liked about Disney was some of us were allowed to float between the two disciplines and not be forced to do only one. Even when I led projects, I still usually either wrote software or designed hardware as well. Some project I did all three (leader, hardware, and software). My first assignment in March of 1979 was to work on DACS which I will explain next as I talk about my first ride project, Big Thunder Disneyland.

Chapter 2 - Big Thunder Disneyland

Big Thunder, Disneyland (1979).

Chapter 3 - Big Thunder WDW

Big Thunder, Walt Disney World (1980).

Chapter 4 - WedWay People Mover, Houston Airport
In the early 1980's WED Enterprises thought they wanted to expand their business outside of Disney and build the WEDway people mover for other businesses like airports. Their one and only contract before scraping the idea was for the Houston Airport. It used an updated version of the Linear Induction Motor (LIM) technology first used at the Magic Kingdom in Tomorrowland in 1975. Overall the project was a success but with Epcot consuming all the engineers I think it was too much to concentrate on both businesses. After opening Big Thunder, Harry and I were asked to review some of the safety control algorithms. It was a very small part and I take no credit for this project. Coming from a Ride Control safety background we did point out a few deficiencies that the major consultant firm missed in their review. The issues were addressed and Harry and I moved on to other projects. As time went on with this consultant company, I believe many of the consultant jokes are actually true.

Chapter 5 - Some General WDI Information
A random discussion about the buildings on the Imagineering campus. The Big D Cafeteria and where it got its name. There were and still are a number of perks I have not seen at other companies and make you feel really special. Some thoughts on Ride uptime and reliability for the Parks. Inventing the magic and patenting some of those ideas. It was always very enjoyable working with Oriental Land Company on their projects.

Chapter 6 - Matterhorn Ride Control System, Disneyland

1981/1982 Matterhorn Ride Control System Redo (To be Written)

Chapter 7 - Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT), Walt Disney World

1982 EPCOT, Walt Disney World (To be Written)

Chapter 8 - The Horizons Pavilion, EPCOT

1983 The Horizons Pavilion, Walt Disney World, EPCOT

Chapter 9 - The Gift Giver, Disneyland

1984/1985 Disneyland 30th Birthday Computerized Contest System (To be Written)

Chapter 10 - Walt Disney World 15th Birthday Computerized Contest

1986 Walt Disney World 15th Birthday Computerized Contest System (To be Written)

Chapter 11 - Space Mountain Disneyland Ride Control System Redo

1987/1988 Space Mountain Disneyland Ride Control System Redo (To be Written)

Chapter 12 - The Norway Pavilion, EPCOT

1988 The Norway Pavilion, Walt Disney World, EPCOT

Chapter 13 - Disney-MGM Studios

1989 Disney-MGM Studios (To be Written)

Chapter 14 - Muppett Vision 3D

1991 Muppett Vision 3D, a New Show Control System (To be Written)

Chapter 15 - Splash Mountain Walt Disney World

1992 Splash Mountain Walt Disney World

Chapter 16 - Tower of Terror, Disney-MGM Studios

1993/1994 Tower of Terror, Disney-MGM Studios

Chapter 17 - Tokyo DisneySea

1995/1996 Tokyo DisneySea (To be Written)

Chapter 18 - A move to WDI Research and Development

In 1996 I moved from Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) down the street to Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development, Inc (WDI R&D). There I worked on a lot of projects I can't talk about but a few I can.

Chapter 19 - Some General WDI R&D Information

A quick story about who registered and Scott Watson.

Chapter 20 - GM Test Track, EPCOT

1997 GM Test Track, EPCOT (To be Written)

Chapter XX - The Big Dino
1999/2000 The Big Dino. In the March 2001 Discover Magazine an article called A Giant Among Robots discusses a robotic research project done by Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development. Bran Ferren and Danny Hillis thought up the idea and Danny led the initial effort. It was then handed over to me to carry it to completion. It was an amazing project mainly for its scale. Many have in the past and are still making walking robots, but I don't know of any 11,000-pound walking robots. Our internal name for the project was simply "The Big Dino".

Chapter XX - Air Launch Fireworks

2003/2004 Air Launch Fireworks (To be Written)

Chapter XX - Lucky the Dinosaur

2005 Lucky the Dinosaur (To be Written)

Chapter XX - Madame Leota Floating Head

2005 Madame Leota Floating Head (To be Written)

Chapter XX - The Magic Mirror, Disneyland Hotel

2006 The Magic Mirror, Disneyland Hotel (To be Written)

Chapter XX - Kim Possible Adventure

2006 Kim Possible Adventure (To be Written)

Chapter XX - The Muppet Mobile Lab

2007 Muppet Mobile Lab (To be Written)

Chapter XX - The All Electric Mr. Lincoln Head

2008 The All Electric Mr. Lincoln Head (To be Written)

Chapter XX - The ABC Start Here Stick

Ok what is this? (To be Written)

Chapter XX - Star Wars Land

2014 Start Brainstorming on Top Secret Land (To be Written)

Chapter XX - Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters

2015/2016 Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters (To be Written)

Chapter XX - Rivers of Light

(To be Written)

Chapter XX - Free Range Vehicles

(To be Written)

Chapter XX - Star Wars Light Saber

2019/2020 Star Wars Light Saber (To be Written)

Chapter XX - All Good Things Come To An End
So I was planning on retiring sometime in 2020 because I had just bought a wonderful house some 60 miles west of WDI. For all 41 years there I had lived within 10 miles of work. I hate to commute. When Covid hit and we were furloughing most of our staff, I decided it was the right time to retire, so I retired May 1st, 2020.

When I hired on in 1979 most of my jobs lasted 1+ years. So I planned on being at Disney for maybe three years or so. Many Imagineers spend decades there. First it is a wonderful place to work, but second each project can last 1 to 3 years depending on what your job is. So you blink and a few years go by. Now after your first project you want at least to do a second one. Well now you could be at 5 years. Well at least one more project. And so it goes and then you are at your 10 year Service Awards dinner and it can keep going.

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