Frank Mezzatesta
HomeWork HistoryDisney YearsMiniClassesThoughtsPatentsThea Awards
Oriental Land Company

Tokyo Disney Resort
The Tokyo Disney Resort including Tokyo Disneyland (TDL) and Tokyo DisneySea (TDS) is owned by The Oriental Land Company (OLC). Disney has creative control and does receive a small fixed percentage of the profit. Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983 just 6 months after EPCOT opened. I was working on EPCOT projects and only did a little overlap work on the Show Control System that was being used for both parks.

A Little Background
Imagineering's approach was to build the attractions just as they had done for Disneyland or Walt Disney World. When you read any of the books about Imagineering and pay close attention, its history was people from the Studio trying to bring TV shows and movies to the physical world of Disneyland. None of them were engineers. Imagineering was not founded as an engineering company or even a creative company with engineering. Instead it was like a character shop and special effects place. For me I was surprised at the contrast of engineering at Imagineering versus any of my previous companies. As for parks maintenance, yes when it comes to safety they are excellent and follow the same type of procedures as any airline. But the phrase "preventive maintenance" was much less a thing than the phase "run to failure" for non-safety related items.

Post Tokyo Disneyland Opening
After the park opened it became obvious to me there was a clash of approaches between Imagineering and OLC. Spoiler alert, I side with OLC. When it was time for the first post opening attraction to be built, it appeared that OLC wanted to enforce their approach. They were and are willing to spend much more money upfront for an attraction and are all about preventive maintenance. They escalated the use of their own vendors and only getting things from Imagineering that they could not find anywhere else. For Imagineering items their engineers grilled us on how were they designed and asked for the same kind of data one would have if it was a part for aerospace. I remember feeling embarrassed when I was asked for design and test data for the Big Thunder "speed sensor". We didn't have that data. To be balanced here, years later the engineering rigor at Imagineering became more in line with that of OLC.

Great Engineering Example
When OLC decided to build a Tower of Terror attraction, they decided to use different more modern technology for the Drop motor and drive. I agreed with this but it was risky not to copy something that had worked three previous times. They built a full scale "test tower" to test and tweak the new design. Can't argue with that approach. I assume that was very expensive to do, but it is an Engineer's dream to be able to test and make changes before finalizing a design. As I wrote about the first Tower of Terror in Florida, we built the real building and used that as the "test tower". We were told if it didn't work we could delay Opening 4 months to make changes but really the pressure was on to get it right the first time. If we selected the wrong motor, they would have had to disassemble part of the building to exchange motors and the lead time on custom motors this size was more than 6 months.

In Conclusion
For me, visiting TDL and TDS is a real treat. I know everyone says that Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World are clean and everything looks great, but to my Imagineer's critical eye, they look more like any amusement park compared to their Tokyo counterparts.

All to say I have a lot of respect for my colleagues at TDL and TDS. It was always very enjoyable working with them and I am envious of their final products.

Back to Disney Years