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The Disney Imagineer Building You a Real-Life Holodeck The Disney Imagineer Building You a Real-Life Holodeck
Though ideas at Disney aren’t always developed in a linear fashion—a prototype of an invention might be started years before the company finds the... The Disney Imagineer Building You a Real-Life Holodeck


Though ideas at Disney aren’t always developed in a linear fashion—a prototype of an invention might be started years before the company finds the place to put it into action, or an idea for something artistically cool might germinate for a bit before Research figures out the technology—Smoot has worked on a few things with a hard deadline, including the lightsabers for the Star Wars Launch Bay in 2015 and the Galactic Starcruiser in 2022.

While one could argue that not everything Disney makes is pure, inspirational magic, Smoot designs everything he works on to either entertain or spark joy. “There are engineers that have to work on things that can hurt people or that aren’t necessarily that good, and that’s never something I have to worry about,” Smoot says. Instead, he jokes, he just concerns himself with how Madame Leota will “float” through her seance room every few minutes for years on end. (He also had a hand in the operation of the Haunted Mansion’s stretching paintings, which were refurbished a few years back.)

Citing Arthur C. Clarke’s third law that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” Smoot says part of his work is about conveying a smooth and perfect sheen of surprise. When parents take their kids to a Disney park, they want those kids to have the same experience they did, even if all of the tech has been replaced.

Smoot points to Madame Leona as an example. Online, people had all kinds of theories about how Disney made the Haunted Mansion character fly—proof that Smoot’s tricks worked. “I read some descriptions from people who loved it and how they thought it worked, and without going into too much detail, I’ll say they were completely wrong and completely simplistic,” he says. “That’s when I said, ‘OK, yeah, what we did was good.’”

It’s this kind of impact that moves Smoot’s work beyond the realm of cool gadgetry. Paiva says that “when we look at potential inductees, we’re looking for inventors who have US patents that cover their work, which certainly Lanny has, but beyond that, we’re looking for inventors whose work has made societal, economic, and cultural impact.”

While Smoot’s Disney career has certainly wowed and enriched the lives of park goers and cruise ship passengers over the years, his work on teleconferencing at Bell was also an important factor into his induction, as was his work with aspiring young inventors.

“I’ve become a bit of a role model for young Black kids and people of color and women who have been looked over or not been in the room where things are done,” Smoot says. “I came from Brownsville, and I didn’t have a lot of money. Even today, I am one of the most thrifty people when it comes to building things. Some people say, ‘I can’t start my work unless I have this much money,’ but I’m like, ‘OK, I have a broomstick and I can take the keyboard apart…’”



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