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WDW Radio # 745 – Inside Walt Disney Imagineering with Former Imagineer Nick DeSomov

I sit down with former Walt Disney Imagineer Nick DeSomov as we dive into the world of groundbreaking design and technology as Nick takes us behind the scenes of creating immersive experiences at the theme parks. From his work on the Magic Telescope concept to his role in bringing Disney characters to life and designing rock structures, Nick helps us explore the fascinating blend of artistry and innovation that goes into crafting the magic of Disney.

Nick DeSomov began his journey in the film industry at the tender age of 15, when he found himself working as a floor sweeper for small special effects studios in Hollywood during summer trips to visit his father. These experiences sparked his interest in the craft of filmmaking, leading him to learn the intricacies of mold-making and sculpting. Under the guidance of a dedicated mentor, Nick spent the next six years honing his skills and working on various projects. Although some of these projects may have seemed insignificant to others, they were milestones in his journey. Notably, Nick’s first venture was contributing to the iconic Star Trek The Motion Picture, where his tasks included applying stickers to phasers and tidying up molds. These humble beginnings laid the foundation for Nick’s future success in the industry.

In this week’s episode, Lou Mongello sits down with Nick DeSomov, a former Walt Disney Imagineer with a fascinating background in theme park design and cutting-edge technology.

In this episode, we dive deep into Nick DeSomov’s incredible journey from working on the iconic Disneyland concept to becoming a pioneer in virtual reality and advanced digital puppeteering.
Discover the secrets behind the creation of Disneyland Paris, as Nick shares his experiences in digitizing and crafting the park’s breathtaking rock structures. Get an exclusive glimpse into the meticulous attention to detail exhibited by Disney in seamlessly blending different lands and employing visual storytelling techniques.

Uncover the groundbreaking technological advancements Disney has been at the forefront of, from early prototypes of virtual reality to real-time puppeteering digital graphics. Nick sheds light on Disney’s investment in state-of-the-art technology and their research on improving roller coaster experiences.

But that’s not all! Nick also reveals intriguing insights about the unique relationship between Disney, the government, and the military, resulting in access to cutting-edge technology. Plus, hear how Nick’s expertise led to the creation of the first digital design studio at Imagineering.

Hold onto your hats as we explore the enchanting world of interactive characters and the behind-the-scenes process of bringing beloved Disney characters to life. From concept to playtesting, find out how Disney ensures the most magical experiences for guests in their theme parks.

But Nick’s journey doesn’t stop there! Learn about their remarkable new company, Strat, which aims to revolutionize manufacturing by bringing it back to the United States. Discover their flagship project, the Doll for all, a collectible doll designed for children with prosthetic arms or certain defects, empowering them with a relatable and inclusive toy.

Tune in for an episode filled with incredible stories, technological wonders, and a passion for bringing dreams to life. Get ready to be captivated by Nick DeSomov’s extraordinary contributions to the world of Disney and beyond.

Thanks to Nick DeSomov for joining me this week. Find Nick at Geekydom.com

The key moments in this episode are:

I. Introduction

  • Introduction of Nick and their background in theme park design and digitization

II. Working on the Magic Telescope concept for Disneyland

  • Nick’s involvement in designing the Magic Telescope concept
  • Importance of virtual reality (VR) technology in creating immersive experiences

III. Training and experience in 3D modeling and digitizing Disney characters

  • Nick’s training in 3D modeling and digitization
  • Contribution to digitizing the model for the movie Aladdin and Magic Harbor ride at Epcot

IV. Experience in architectural modeling and carving for film miniatures

  • Nick’s role in architectural modeling and carving for film miniatures
  • Assigned to work on a tabletop miniature of Disneyland Paris theme park
  • Creation of the Fantasy Land castle and surrounding berm area

V. Learning rock work and its importance in theme park design

  • Initial lack of interest in rock work and Nick’s role in learning it
  • Collaboration with show producer and rock master in finalizing pieces for building rocks

VI. The design and line of sight details in Disneyland Paris

  • Explore the seamless blend between different lands in Disneyland Paris
  • Importance of line of sight details and visual storytelling techniques

VII. Digitizing and coordinating the installation of rock structures throughout Disneyland Paris

  • Nick’s involvement in digitizing and installing rock structures in the park
  • Use of foam carving and GFRC techniques for creating rocks

VIII. Immersive experiences in Dragonslayer at Disneyland Paris

  • Description of the immersive experience in Dragonslayer, including animatronics and special effects

IX. Disney’s advancements in technology and influence on different industries

  • Disney’s pioneering work in virtual reality and other advanced technologies
  • Influence of Disney’s technology advancements on mainstream trends
  • Examples of Disney’s technological innovations, such as real-time puppeteering and interactive caves

X. Dreaming and exploring parts of Imagineering

  • Nick’s dreams and aspirations related to theme park design
  • Disney’s unique relationship with government and military in accessing new technology

XI. Creating interactive characters for theme parks

  • Process of conceptualizing and creating interactive characters, using Goofy as an example
  • Playtesting and adjustments based on feedback from children and adults

XII. Involvement in the Wally robot project

  • Nick’s role in working on the Wally robot and its various phases

XIII. Geekydom.com and co-founding Strat

  • Nick’s affiliation with Geekydom.com and collaboration with Blaze Gova
  • Introduction of Strat and its aim to bring manufacturing back to the US
  • Overview of Strat’s flagship project, the Doll for all, designed for children with prosthetic arms

XIV. Early experience in TV and molding for TV productions

  • Nick’s early experience in TV and working on molds and models for spaceships

XV. The journey to Imagineering and working on the EDL project

  • Nick’s journey to Imagineering and their role as a dimensional designer
  • Surprise about the emphasis on cleanliness at Disney

XVI. Enhancing queue experiences with temporary and interactive techniques

  • Examples of temporary techniques to entertain people in queues, such as reprogramming a Roomba vacuum cleaner
  • Use of 3D holographic imagery to enhance queue storytelling

XVII. Leaving Imagineering and working on the Adventure Dome in Las Vegas

  • Reasons for leaving Imagineering and taking on a challenging project in Las Vegas
  • Design and construction of the Adventure Dome within a tight timeline

XVIII. Unorthodox rock fabrication process for the Adventure Dome

  • Nick’s approach to rock fabrication and design for the Adventure Dome

Overall, the episode covers Nick’s journey in theme park design, their experiences at Disney and Imagineering, advancements in technology, and their current projects in collectible doll manufacturing.

Timestamped summary of this episode:

  • [00:02:29] Introduction to eclectic life of creating things.
  • [00:10:40] Assessment of skills leads to niche assignment.
  • [00:15:22] Disney’s tech gave me revolutionary design opportunity.
  • [00:21:13] Line of sight details create seamless theme park experience.
  • [00:27:54] Star Wars, Pandora, attention to details
  • [00:32:25] Disney tests characters for theme parks. Goofy is a popular character for testing. Play testing and adjustments determine success. Wally robot was a cute and fun success.
  • [00:39:22] Enhancements to queues include interactive robots, holographic imagery.
  • [00:44:25] Disneyland’s Magic Telescope for Blue Sky concept development. VR team with million-dollar graphic card. Digitizing Disney characters for Aladdin and Magic Harbor ride.
  • [00:50:06] Disney pioneers, influences and shapes future technologies.
  • [00:57:22] Challenging project in Vegas designing rock work.
  • [01:05:49] Geekydom.com and Strat: Collectibles and Manufacturing.
  • [01:08:15] Geeky Dom Studios: Remarkable work appreciated worldwide.

Which Disney theme park design or technological advancement mentioned in the episode are you most fascinated by and why?

Share your thoughts in the WDW Radio Clubhouse at WDWRadio.com/Clubhouse, or call the voicemail at 407-900-9391 (WDW1) and share your story on the show.


Episode Transcript

Click Here To Read The Full Podcast Episode Transcript

Lou Mongello:

Since I started this show back in 2005, I've always looked to not only share interviews with people from Disney who you've seen on screen or are well known and and credited for their work, but really also have and share conversations with you, with some of the important creatives and creators whose names you might not know, but whose work you've seen and enjoyed and appreciated for years, sometimes decades. And this week, I want to introduce you to Nick Desimov. He's a former Walt Disney Imagineer producer, designer, and maker of magic. Nick, welcome to the show.

Nick DeSomov:

Thank you. Thanks for having me. It's great being here. It's nice being able to sit down and just talk to you, discuss this stuff. I don't usually discuss too much of it because I'm always busy and doing things.

Lou Mongello:

Well, that's good. I love the fact that you're still creating, and I'm very excited to talk about with you because there are so many different aspects to your career, specifically at Disney and Imagineering. But I like to start at the beginning. I'm a comic book nerd, so I love the origin story. Give me a little bit of the Nick Desimov origin story and how you got started with Disney.

Nick DeSomov:

Oh, my. I don't know how far I need to go back. I'll briefly just cover how I got to the point where I got into Disney is I started working in the film industry literally when I was 15 years old as a summer job sweeping floors for small special effects studios in Hollywood. And that was during my summer trips to go visit my dad because I lived in Carson City, Nevada, and that was my start. So I learned how to make molds and start sculpting. And I had an apprenticeship with a mentor who basically worked with me for the next six years of my life. And that's what got me started, just having working on a lot of just these small projects. Well, for me were small projects, but some of them were major. Like, the first film project I worked on was Star Trek The Motion Picture, and all I did was put stickers on the phasers and clean up molds and things like that. So it was nothing spectacular.

Lou Mongello:

Yeah, but every Star Trek nerd like me is smiling ear to ear right now because you worked on.

Nick DeSomov:

Yeah. Yep. Good old Vijer. And then also I worked on a TV show where I learned how to make molds and start gluing parts to models for Spaceships was for a TV show called Project UFO. And it was in the 70s, so that was another job I had, and that was my introduction into what would just get me into some just a very eclectic life of making and creating things. So that gave me the experience of carving and working with sculpture and doing stuff with clay and working with foam and things like that. And my portfolio was building up where I had a lot of rock stuff, where I was carving stuff for various TV productions and things. And there was this moment in time where I had my portfolio put together. It cost $300 to print and color portfolio. So I had three of them that I spent my savings on. And there's just this book of stuff that I worked on, all my models and my carvings, all my sculptures. And I went through this book I lived in Los Angeles, so I went through this book called Project Blue Book. And it basically listed all the creative companies in California. And during this time, I'm looking at all of them, and there was about 50 of them that I was looking at, the 50 names, and one of them was called WDI. I had no idea what WDI was or Imagineering, right? I think it was listed as WDI Imagineering. And I was like, oh, it sounds really interesting. Imagineering, right? So it was one of the companies I set my book in. While I did that, I worked for two companies that kind of prepped me for Disney. And those two companies were one was called Technifex, and we did a lot of optical mechanical effects for Disney rides, and a lot of the stuff that you would see, the visual effects that you might see, like Pepper's ghosts and things like that. And the other one was called Art and Technology. And we sort of did other things for Disney and also for Universal and Late World and Korea. So a lot of theme park related stuff and museums and zoos in the La. Area. And so I was already working on Disney things, not really knowing what I was going to be doing later. But this company, two weeks later, after I sent my portfolio through, this company calls me and they go, hi, this is Imagineering. We'd like to bring you in for an interview. Yeah, okay. Yeah, well, we're at 14 One Flower Street. It's like, oh, that's like, just down the street, literally two blocks from where I was working. So I go, okay, great. So me knowing just the way I am, after I got off the phone, after my day of work, I got in my little Volkswagen Bug and drove down a couple of blocks. And I'm looking at the building, and it's just this kind of old squarish blocky set of buildings. It doesn't look that fascinating, but I noticed the marquee on the main road to the parking lot, and there's a mouse, and it's Mickey Mouse. I'm like, what is what Mickey Mouse what's Mickey Mouse doing on this imagineering thing? So two weeks later, I got my interview. I go in. I drive in, I park, I go in. I can't remember the guy who I interviewed, Mike well, his first name was Mike. Anyways, he's sitting there, and he's got my portfolio, and I sit down, and he looks at me. He goes, so he goes, what would you like to do? I went, what do you mean, what do I like to do? He goes, what would you like to do here? I said, well, what are you doing? And he goes, well, we got a few projects. We got EDL, which is of Disneyland, which I didn't know EDL stood for. We have Typhoon Lagoon. We have going on. We have some other things going on here, but look at your work. He goes, we want to hire you right off the bat. We need somebody to kind of work in our model division working as a dimensional designer. And I went, okay, you got to understand, I was like 22, 23 years old, and I'm working in the sex industry pretty much my entire career, starting at 15. And I had no expectation of what I'm getting into. But also, I was relatively astute with learning things on my own. I had bought my own computer. I had a little trash 80 color computer that came from Radio Shack, and I taught myself basic programming. And I was also learning generic CAD, which I thought was really fascinating because I could lay out these vector lines and do drawings and stuff like that in 2d that I did not know would push me into the next level of what I would end up doing at Disney. Because in the team that I was working with, I was the only one that had any computer. The. So I ended up working for EDL. So I decided to pick EDL. I go, that sounds know. Okay, let's go see what this does. They put me in this giant warehouse with a bunch of other modelers and sculptors. We all have our own little cubicles, and there's a guy running around sweeping floors. And I'm just like, oh, wow. There's a guy sweeping floors. For us, this is amazing because we usually have to clean up after ourselves. In most of the jobs I've done right, nobody ever cleaned up after me. So we sit down, and then I get introduced to what I'm working on as an example, I'm carving away, and stuff is falling on the floor, and all of sudden, a, there's a broom sweeping it up. I mean, literally, it's gone before I realize it, and I'm just totally fascinated with know, it's like, where am? Like, what did I get myself into? By this time, it was sinking in. I'm working for Disney, but I didn't realize the theme park aspect of Disney is what I was doing. I always aspired that maybe I would be an artist, know, doing animation, that kind of thing. Never thought about that I would ever work for a division that actually designed the theme parks and worked on that part of not.

Lou Mongello:

So you didn't sort of grow up going to Disney parks or sort of being enamored with the parks. This was, for you, something that was relatively new and novel.

Nick DeSomov:

It was new and novel because yes, I was not raised in Southern California. I grew up my school days, from third grade on up was in living in Nevada. I met my dad for the first time when I was 15 years old, and that was my introduction to Southern California. But when I was ten, my mother's boyfriend owned this big converted bread truck that he made into a camper. And he grabbed my sister, myself, my mom and himself, and we drove and we went to Disneyland. So I saw Disneyland for the very first. All my friends have been know the people I knew. Oh my God, Disneyland. Disneyland like, what is this place? What is this place? I got to see Disneyland for the first time and my eyes know were saucer wide and I was totally amazed at what I was looking at. And when I went on to Pirates of the Caribbean and saw the pirates and all in my head, I was like, oh my God, they're robots. They're robots. These are robots. Oh my God, this is amazing. This is amazing. I just couldn't stop talking about it. And then of course, going on the haunted house and all the adults because I'm ten years old and the adults are going, yeah, this is great, because they use holographic laser technology or something like that. They use holographs and all this technology and things like that. And you're going in there and you go, oh wow, of course, now I know all the secrets. That was my experience with Disney. And then all of a sudden, I'm sitting in a warehouse working on some early models and I'm working for.

Lou Mongello:

Let'S. Let's talk about some of the models and the projects that you're working on, because you sort of started off as this architectural model builder, and now you're sort of at Disney, where you're creating and helping to create some of these scale models of what are going to be attractions at.

Nick DeSomov:

You know, when you come. They need to assess you. They assess you to see what you're really good at. So they always find a good niche for people and they see what their abilities are. And I had a lot of architectural experience building miniatures for film and carving like environments, rocks and things like that for miniature stuff. And so the natural person or the project that put me on was the tabletop miniature of the entire theme park, right? So there's probably about eight of us working on this eight by four tabletops put together creating the entire theme park of Disneyland Paris. And so we're all giving certain portions. So our first phase of this was to start carving up the rocks, the mountains, big Thunder Mountain, anything that was landscape based, giving a slice of the corner of the rock I was working on. Just happened to be for me, it was happened to be the Fantasy Land castle, sleep castle, and all of the berm area and stuff like that. So that was my first carving that I got to work on. And this is all exterior stuff, by the way, at this time. So yeah, so that's the first thing they do. They put you on this kind of stuff. Then as you progress, as time goes by, you're accomplishing things. You finally get to the point where you got this finished. You're working with a show producer, and he's the one that's making the final decisions, but you finally get a finished piece, which in this case, we'll take Phantom Castle and the berm area, and it's like, okay, this is ready to chop up and to make it so we can build rocks out of this. And this is where my other mentor at Disney, his name was Skip Lang, he was my boss, and he basically was the guy who helped build Big Thunder Mountain in Disneyland. That was his projects that he did. And so he was the rock master, our rock guru that we all kind of learned our craft from. And he says, I need volunteers to learn how to do rock work. Please raise your hand, guys. Who wants to learn how to do this rock stuff and learn how to do this stuff? Nobody was raising their hands working on their model, right?

Lou Mongello:

It's not the sexiest thing to work on when you hear, I know, build the rock.

Nick DeSomov:

And I kind of felt bad in a way, but I'm looking at him, and he's a really nice guy. I love this guy. And we ended up becoming good friends later years. But I put my hand up, I go, I'll do it. And he goes, oh, great, well, I need two more volunteers. So a few more people ended up volunteering. What we ended up doing is learning how to do what we call slice and dice. It was the process of taking the foam rock models, and they're all built to scale. And you slice them up into eight foot wide, or if they're to scale, it would be eight foot by or yeah, it was like eight tall, ten wide at two foot levels. And you slice these models into these blocks, and those would end up becoming what you call cages. And those would be built full scale using rebar and pencil rod out in a boneyard somewhere, what they call the boneyard, and then put into stack up over some kind of huge support structure. It was some kind of I beam support structure. Weld it all together, and then they put the cement skin on there and carve it up. That became your Big Thunder Mountain or it became your Splash Mountain. And so the slice and dice process was very tedious because we had to take these blocks, these eight by six blocks, and then we had to slice them 2ft increments, right? And then so each block had all these little sandwich loafs that you had to do. And then you had to take those and you put them on a big sheet of E size paper, and then you had to register them to a grid, and then you traced them with your.

Lou Mongello:

For a second, Nick, let's give context for a second, because this is what this is the early was it maybe like the mid?

Nick DeSomov:

Yeah, right.

Lou Mongello:

To say that we're on the very early beginning stages of what would potentially be cutting edge computer aided technology and modeling and animation is an understatement. I mean, you're talking about using things in pencil where now we were just having a conversation earlier. You're able to sort of put designs and ideas into drawing, and artificial intelligence can augment that, but you're literally like slicing and dicing by hand and doing a lot of this work manually with paper and pencil.

Nick DeSomov:

Yeah. Yes. To the extensive effort it did to my brain. I go home and I would dream about slicing telephones and things in my know. I came back and I would always explore parts of Imagineering. Disney had a very unique relationship with our government and with military government for having first dibs on certain technology that came out, and other technological companies that were developing technology. So they always would have things that they had purchased. And they happened to have what they call a prohemis digitizer. It was a 3D digitizer, and it was like a pedestal, about 3ft tall with a grid on it. And it had this little stylus, and it used, like, magnetic resonance. And that little point on the stylus knew where it was in 3D space. And they also had AutoCAD. And I had my CAD knowledge, and I put two and two together, and I talked to the It guy. I said, hey, can we connect this? Can we have this talk to AutoCAD? Because it would be really cool if I could, instead of having to trace all this stuff, if I could just digitize the surface of the skin of these things and start working with that. And they set up the unit, and we did an experiment where instead of slicing and dicing, I took one of the blocks and started tracing those two foot profiles and created technically, the first 3D model that we ever did at Imagineering. But it was all wireframe and it was all based off of two foot increments. So Imagine a two foot by two foot grid for a rock surface. And it was just profiles, but it's the same profiles that we needed in order to build a rock. We started getting attention and everyone's gathering around, watching us. What we're doing. And I'm taking this, I'm laying those profiles onto a digital grid, which is an East Side drawing. And then we had a plotter, and we plotted out the drawings and went away. Goodbye bandsaws and goodbye drafting tables. We had a new process in play. And so because of that. They put me in charge of the first digital design studio for Imagineering. So I was in charge of the digital rock system that they came up with.

Lou Mongello:

And it's a system that would be used company wide, like not just for Disneyland Paris, but Paris was our prototype.

Nick DeSomov:

Project to actually do it with and then from then on, going into the future into now, that technology is what they use. It's been modified since then, but there's newer ways of doing things, especially scanning technologies and stuff like that. But the process of slicing it up and using CAD elements is still the same. And of course, that came to automating the rebar bending because before the rebars profiles had to bent by hand on a big surface tarmac that had a grid painted on it. And the poor souls out there sitting in the sun welding and bending these things, now it runs through. When I was there, we got it running through a rebar bending machine. So you ran the profiles from CAD and it went spit out the profiles and then all you had to do was stack them up in the proper width. And so we created Jigs for doing that. And then we had this whole process in play. Basically. I ended up pioneering Disney's digital rock system and enhancing it to the point where by the time I left there in 93, that was how all rocks were being done into the future. So that was my contribution to Disney.

Lou Mongello:

And it changed not just the process of crafting and designing, but executing too, in terms of concrete 3D printing and what would eventually be 3D printing. And some of the work that you did on some of the rock work that you did. And I think it's fascinating because and the reason why we were talking earlier, talking about rock work is not necessarily like the sexy side of creating attractions, but it's important because the parks and even things like cruise line experiences are storytelling in three dimensions. It's what Walt wanted. It continues to be the foundation of immersive storytelling in the parks. And the importance of placemaking, I think, sometimes gets overlooked because of the focus we have on audio animatronic figures, screens, ride vehicles, show scenes, et cetera. And the place making of the rock work, both from an exterior perspective and interior perspective. It's hiding in plain sight, like the beauty is hiding in plain sight. And I love the fact that a lot of this was done for Disneyland Paris, which I believe is arguably the most beautiful in terms of placemaking of all of the Disney parks. And the work that you did was not just on places like Big Thunder Mountain, but Pirates of the Caribbean and Sleeping Beauty castle, and rock work that would be taking place in the future, specifically in Disneyland Paris. Right? Some of the rock work there, and I love the castle, but Adventure Island and skull rock, even inside in Phantom Manor, and what I think is one of the most impressive and remarkable parts of the entire park, the lair of the dragon underneath the castle. Talk a little bit about the design and sort of the place making and the importance of setting that environment so that when we step foot through a threshold or into an enclosed space, we are instantly transported to somewhere else.

Nick DeSomov:

Yeah, there's a rule that working as an imaginary and working in that environment, you come in learning a lot about line of sight details, right the way a theme park is designed. Disneyland Paris is a very good example of that because they really used it to the max, and that's basically creating that blend from one land to the next. As you go around a corner, there's a slight transition, and then it's a perfect blend of a transition. So you never know that you're actually going into it. It's not like abrupt change where you're going from tomorrowland to frontier land or something like that. It's never going to be like that, but they're going to be elements that are designed. So as you do that transition, as you walk around that bin, it allows it so your eye starts telling that story. So it's a visual storytelling technique. As you go throughout theme parks, you will never see any details anywhere in those parks, from the garbage cans to the tops of the buildings that do not blend in on a theme level. And that's how you do it for dragonslayer. I did not scope the interior of dragonslayer. That was done by a young lady during that time period who was just really detailed and consumed in doing that cavern. She studied so much on working out those caves, and so she did the actual foam work on that. But it was my task to take that and digitize it and digitize it in a way and so we can lay it out into the park. And I coordinated the installation of all that rock, and then it was our team. There was five art directors that were sent from Imagineering that went there. And we all basically were responsible for the carving and teaching the carving and are directing all of the rocks throughout the entire park. I wouldn't say 100% of the rocks, so there's a lot of what they call GFRC, which is glass fiber reinforced concrete, which are molds of rocks. So Disney had some of those in a lot of areas. But the major rock, the big mountains, the big stuff, that's all done through foam carving and chopped up and digitized and then reassembled again. And so we were responsible. So my top responsibilities, my baby was Fandom Manor, the whole underground section, the crypt, that was my art director responsibility. And then exterior rocks were like African Harbor, the Sleeping Beauty's castle rock work. And then, of course, the coordinating. I was basically responsible for the coordinating of all the rocks throughout the entire three embark because it was my 3D data that had the placement, all those. So I was actually creating the guides and the installations for everybody so they can put those rocks in the right places, the right elevations and in the right order. So everything came together really good. So that was just a really tough project but a lot of fun. So it was a really great time. All that transitional stuff like getting back to the topic is especially for Dragons Lair and if you ever get a chance to go to Disneyland Paris, a lot of the transitions either you can start from the bottom where the waterfalls are, and you go into the lair and it all eventually gets you up inside the castle itself. Or you start from the castle and it's just like something out of some fantasy film. Like if you take Harry Potter for example, all those transitions, there's things in there that just, you know, there's something in there that you're going to see that's going to be going to blow you away. And of course they have a 60 foot dragon down there, audio animatronic dragon. And he's nestled inside of his little nest, which is part of this cavern. And he's sitting on top of the water, sort of sitting in the water. And there's a lot of steam coming up and he's got steam coming out of his breath and he sleeps and he snores and the transition is coming around those until you see him, you're going to see the tip of his tail or you're going to see the top of his head. And then there's sensors on him. So if you walk by, he'll wake up, his eyes open and the lucky one might get that big mouth and that big roar. So it's really cool. That's the level of detail that Disney puts now with just the way technology is. And of course I haven't worked for Disney since 2009, but I did go for my birthday last year. It was my celebration to see Star Wars land and everything in Florida. So to me I'm just glorifying the work that everybody does there and enjoying myself. Of course my wife is tagging along with it. I'm pointing out things, details and stuff like that. It's great, it's wonderful. And I cherish everyone who ever gets a chance to work and do that kind of work. And I thank them for doing such a great job too.

Lou Mongello:

I was just thinking it must be fascinating for her and other people to go to a park with you because they're focused on the Millennium Falcon, they're focused on the architecture of the building. And I have to imagine your eyes are going to the rock work and the way it is designed and the color and the texture and the shadows and the layering. So you must sort of go in because of the projects you worked on and the skill sets you had to develop and the learning process and advancements that happened while you were there. And then since you've been there, you must sort of approach the parks visually from a consumption perspective. Probably a little bit different than the average guest.

Nick DeSomov:

Yes. I always look at the layouts. I see where they're organized, how they place things, where the light is in your mind. You're like, okay, would I have done it that way? That's a great oh, I never thought of doing that, I tell you. I was working for Branch Technology a couple of years ago, and a friend of mine colleague went there before I had a chance to see it, and he went to the Star Wars land area, and of course, he knew I did rock work for Disney. And when he came back, he gave me a big hug. He goes, I looked at all the rock stuff, and he goes, I couldn't believe it was the most amazing things. He goes, thank you. I go, I didn't work on that. And he goes, yeah, but you told.

Lou Mongello:

Me all about it, but you helped to lay the foundation for what would come after. So I have to imagine you feel a little bit of pride saying, I helped sort of create what eventually would become this. And to that point, where do you think in any of the parks that you've visited, you think it is just an exceptional example of placemaking with detailed and rock work?

Nick DeSomov:

Well, definitely. I mean, if you look at the Star Wars area, it's fantastic. It's excellent. Also, Pandora in Animal Kingdom, just the transitions coming through and getting around. And starting with audio, you have all the vegetation and everything. And then if you look at the plants, the plants, you have the real plants and things that are probably very exotic tropical plants that they put in there. And then all of a sudden you see things that I don't recognize that and then you're hearing sounds and you're hearing things, and it's like that is not a normal animal that you know and you pay attention. You got to pay attention to the details. If you go to those parks, if you go to Pandora and Pandora is a great example. It's just look, watch the transition and pay attention to it, and look at the ground, the floor, the walkway that you're walking. On and the imprints that they put into the concretes and the tracks and listen to the sounds and you'll see just the integration of all the disciplines that come together to make it from electronics technology, audio visual painting schemes, architectural and the water, all the water features and everything. It's amazing. So I'd say I say that's a really good example. And of course, what is the big yeti ride? Yeah. Yes. Look at those transitions going through the queue line and stuff like that. That's probably one of. The best queue lines. That's one of my favorite queue lines because you're being engulfed in the storytelling of the culture that this mountain exists in. And it's a really good example of how the imagineers laid out that design and style well.

Lou Mongello:

And I love to how the rocks have sort of continued to evolve and they're vehicles for water features and adding a kinetic element. Pandora is a great example. The Moana, the journey of water that just is opening now in Epcot Center. Really, this integration as we're talking it this is what making me think, as I had a chance to preview it, and the integration of the water and the rock work and the storytelling and embedding of not just texture but design in the rock and how it pardon the pun flows so seamlessly with the water as a storytelling vehicle is really remarkable.

Nick DeSomov:

Yeah, there's early concepts like a lot of concepts I've worked on, especially in the 80s because I did a lot of concept work too in my stay. There a lot of stuff never sees the light of day and then maybe somewhere down the road in the future some of it might get reexposed. When I was back in the had to did some early living character concepts that were living fire, living water, living air like tornadoes and all of these things have a conscious and they can live. And when you encounter them, they will interact with you. And then basically when you do concepts like that, you speculate the technology behind it. That was basically put in the archives a bit to say, hey, we'll find a place for this and I wouldn't be surprised to see some of that stuff coming out. And what we came up with concept to see a waterfall that actually can talk to you and interact and tell a story or interact with another element in the environment, those are some really fun concepts I was able to work on.

Lou Mongello:

If you ever come to Epcot, I would love to go to Moana Journey of Water with you just to see your reaction, because I think some of what you are talking about has been integrated there. But you brought up something that I've always been fascinated with in the limited amount to a certain degree that we've seen, which is the Living Character Initiative in the park. I think it is an incredibly fascinating concept. We've seen it demonstrated a few times in things like Muppet Mobile Labs and Lucky the Dinosaur and Wally at D 23 Expo a number of years ago. Talk a little bit about your work in the Living Character Initiative, some of the approaches to the development of some of those different projects and how it sort of impacts guest engagement.

Nick DeSomov:

Yeah, a lot of that. We have to start it from the early on. We have to make sure people are going to be interested in this. If we come up with a living character. The first phases of this thing is like, okay, let's come up with a concept of what we see this doing. Who is the best character to start with? In our case, the best character we can come up with was Goofy. Goofy is a very well known character. He's very prominent. He also has a he's large. There's a lot of space inside for technology to be built that allows the person to interact with to do things. Like if we have precanned voices for Goopy to talk to a guest and the guest, hey, hi Goopy. And then he go, oh, hello there. He'll be able to respond properly and it's in the proper voice and stuff like that. So what we do, we build these prototypes. So we build the head. We get the head, we get the electronics working, the eye blinks, the mouth working, all this stuff that's all automated to the voice that's being projected out. So as soon as you hit that voice, the mouth is going to do the right thing and the eyes will do something. And then we run these through what they call play testing. And play testing is where we then set up a venue somewhere in one of our warehouses. And we bring in children and we bring in the adults, and we bring them in, and we bring them in and we let them in and we get their feedback and see what they think. What did you think about this experience with that feedback? That's how we start determining how it's going to work and whether it's going to be something that we want to keep going forward with. So if it passed a play test, if it passes what we call the play test phase, then usually then we'll take it to the next level, which is we'll make one working character and we'll put it out in one of the theme parks. And then we'll run it out there for an hour or two and get and see how people react to it. And then we'll do that for a series of times and then we'll make adjustments to it. And if it's something that looks successful, then this might be something we want to put in all the theme parks. So you always see a lot of testing in the theme parks of a lot of stuff, and a lot of people don't realize there's things out there that they might say that's really cool. What is that? It might be the first time that anybody's ever seen know Wally. It's interesting because when I went back when I came back, because I had a lot of experience outside of Disney, I ended up working on games and working for DreamWorks and I worked on projects for James Cameron and stuff like that. When I came back to Disney, they immediately put me in as a show producer because I just racked up all this other experience. And so I was able to work on the Wally robot for the producer as producing the Wall E and got to see him in all the phases that he was going through. So we had a full functioning, full scale Wall E and of course we did our play testing and we ran him around imaginary all over the place and then he of course got to make his trips to the theme parks. And that's probably the one that you got to see is when we released that particular Wally and that was so cute and it was so much fun. But for me, I had nothing to do with the technology, I had nothing to do with the aesthetics because it was already designed, but it was more or less just working with organizing the people to make sure things were just getting done on time. But being involved in it was still a great experience.

Lou Mongello:

Well, I think it was a huge stepping stone to some other stuff I want to talk to you about, which is where we as theme park guests have continued to evolve to and in I think was in some ways helped propelled by the Living Character Initiative. Because we no longer want passive experiences, right? We want some sort of interactive, often personalized experiences in the parks, not necessarily just with characters that we might meet or line up for. You mentioned earlier, you mentioned queues and part of what you did too was focus on enhancing the queue experience. So the time that you spent in line does not feel like time that you've spent in line.

Nick DeSomov:

Right.

Lou Mongello:

It doesn't feel like wasted time. It's not the dreaded time that we have this long wait. And we've seen this evolution from Soren and Epcot to some of the interactive screens on Winnie the Pooh. Even in Peter Pan, it's continued to sort of grow and evolve. Talk about some of the innovation that took place in this queue enhancement initiative for interactive theme park like attractions before you even step foot on the attraction.

Nick DeSomov:

So, okay, so to kind of set the base tone of what the initiative had to do is first of all, we know our initiative is to make queue lines more entertaining so that three hour wait doesn't feel like 3 hours. Okay? Now we also have to come up with a solution that doesn't shut the ride down while we're doing the installation, whatever it is that we're going to install. Right? So what is the technique, what is the technology that we're going to apply? There's a lot of smoke and mirrors that you can do that are very the illusions are fantastic, but it's very simple application. So you're not spending a great deal, the park closes down at night, you send a team in and you can do these alterations. Right? So those are the things that we had to take in mind because for Disney World, it was me and one other person we went to the parks in August, hottest time of year to be in Disney World. And of course, we're not allowed to take cuts in line to do our job. We have to wait in line because we have to experience exactly what everybody's experienced. So meanwhile, while we're waiting, we got our little notebooks. Of course we're acting normal. You don't wear your Imagineering shirt and your tag. You take everything off. So you have to be incognito. So we're in line and you're sweating and you're seeing where the air conditioning is working and where it isn't working, taking notes. We got to tell them about this. But we're looking at things like, so Big Thunder Mountain and I don't know of any what got implemented because by that time I was out, things moved forward. And of course I'm doing other things. But one of the things for Big Thunder Mountain is we wanted an experience where there were possible spirits or ghosts that exist in the mineshaft. As you're walking the underground part, as you're walking into the queue. And what if you could take your camera and you're taking pictures and then you're looking at your development and all of a sudden there's a ghost in the picture.

Lou Mongello:

Oh, wow.

Nick DeSomov:

It's like, wait. Or there's a message that was written on a wall that you didn't see normally, right? And there were some very simple techniques that we could do that. So we did some temporary that could still be there. I don't know, some stuff on the walls that kind of proof of concept to see if the stuff was working. I won't go into what the effect is because I don't want to spoil it for anybody. But if it's there, if you go to Big Thunder Mountain in Florida, take pictures in the cave, if you have anomalies that show up on your camera, then we accomplish something. That was what we were thinking know, we look at very simple things like that. And then there was, I think for Splash Mountain, we were trying to figure out how to get people into areas as they were waiting in queue and then have some kind of entertainment faction going on and then they would get released into another area. So we had how do you corral people in sections so we can entertain a group of people at a time and then tell a story as they get into the ride. And then also we looked at using interactive robots, like one of the play testing that we did. I don't think this ever got used, but we basically reprogrammed a roomba robot vacuum cleaner. And it's just for a play test and we had it. So as you're walking along line, the roomba is contained as a robot. And he could be a character because you could put something, a skin on him, right? So in our case, we put like googly eyes and stuff like that. And then we have people all lined up around like we're in a cube. And then the thing is that if you could get the robot's attention and have them come to you, then it's a game, right? So who could clap the loudest and yell the loudest and start maneuvering the robot character to come closer to you? And then of course, that became a game. It's fun because we get everybody out there and everyone's going, hey, over here, clap, clap, clap. And then the robots all confused. And of course, the very first two or three times, it had no idea what it was doing and it was like doing nothing. And we're like, we got it to the point where it worked, but it wasn't like, do we want to take this? Is this something that are we going to make too much of a commotion over something that how fun is this thing, really? So that's a good example of things that we were looking at. Other very passive enhancements were in a lot of queues where there's nothing to look at. We could tell a story using 3D holographic imagery and there's a lot of technology that's been developed through the years that allow holographs to really poster size stuff that you could mount without worrying about backspace because it's just a wall right there. But if you light it correctly, you look at it, all of a sudden you're looking into an environment that's an entire world and as you walk by it, there's animation because it'll animate as you walk by it and it's all what they call there's no electronics involved, it's just through optics and motion. So we played around and had stuff made for various attractions to see if that's something that was very viable. I don't know, we have those in place. Somebody would have to say, hey, I saw one of those. So that's a good example of interactive stuff. And then, of course, any new attractions moving forward, that's the first thing to think about. Okay, we have to build this in because now we have the time to do it, right? So we're not taking old queues that are boring and trying to enhance them. And you can only go so far. We can do it completely from scratch. That's what you see when you go to Star Wars and Animal Kingdom and stuff. It's already thought of as you go through the queue line. So there's a lot of stuff that you do. So there's fun things to do until you get to your main ride, right?

Lou Mongello:

Because guest expectation is now starting to be there, right? I'm not expecting just sort of a passive queue with velvet ropes and stanchions.

Nick DeSomov:

In between and a TV monitor, right, a TV monitor. Put it on your safety belt, right?

Lou Mongello:

You're not going to have the Space Mountain queue videos anymore. But as we're talking about technology and the advances of technology, and again, not technology for technology's sake, but technology to enhance the storytelling. You also worked on not just some of the advances in technology in creating some of the spaces, but in creating spaces as a whole. You also worked on some of the CG and virtual reality experiences. Did you let you work on Aladdin's magic Carpet that was in oh, my God, totally forgot about and even some stuff in Disneyland Paris, right? We were working for stuff for Disneyland Paris, too, in terms of augmented reality and the concept, or at least the concept of sort of the magic telescope.

Nick DeSomov:

Yeah. So that wasn't for EDL in that respect. The Magic Telescope was for Disneyland. And again, all of this is Blue Sky concept development. And we will build out the technology and we'll test it. And then somewhere down the road, if it seems viable, then it gets installed. So, yeah, back to the magic carpet ride. When I came back from finishing EDL, they sent everybody home, right? So the park opened at the 93, and we came home in 92, right at the end of the year. And of course, you're on this big, long project. It's a five year project, right? And it's like, oh, God, what do we know? I go to the HR, what was equivalent to HR back then? And they go, well, what do you want to work on? I said, I heard I can't confirm this, but I heard somebody's working on virtual reality here. And they said, oh, that's John snotty's team. Yeah, we'll see what we can do. So they were able to get me in. And so I learned going in, I got to be part of John Snotty's VR team. And this big project they were working on was basically to get VR working with this visor system that was tethered to a pole, right? And you had to lean into it, and then you could rotate like this. So it had 360 degrees. There was no head tracking at any point. It was all done through mechanics. But what was really fascinating is that the machine, it was a VGX Silicon Graphics image generator. It costs a million dollars, the graphic card and the thing was a million freaking dollars. And you're like, Holy cow, this is amazing. But the graphics it was doing, it was like state of the art at that time. And we were doing 3D World, so I had to go through a course of modeling how to 3D model how to do low poly modeling for this, because, of course, they could only show I think it was like 50,000 polygons per view, any one type of view, but it could generate at 60 frames a second. And that included terrain and textures and things that applied to it. And so that was my training to get into 3D modeling as far as character work and things like that. And plus, all the digitizing I was doing, I was experimenting and prototyping digitizing Disney characters. So I actually got to digitize for the yeah, it was Aladdin with Robin Williams. There's a scene in the desert with the big panther opening its mouth and that whole model as a prototype, I was able to skin it and basically do a surface skin, polygon surface skin of it and hand it back off to the animation department. So whatever they did with it was their thing. But because I had the technology that I was working with, with Digitizing Rocks, they put me down and said, hey, can you do this? So I had all these models coming to me to digitize and do all these service scans. And then of course, one of them, I ended up doing a lot of scans for the Magic Harbor ride. So we ended up building props and environments and stuff. And that became a little feature attraction over at Epcot for the longest time. And then I think it ended up moving over to their arcade center. Yeah.

Lou Mongello:

Disney quest. Yeah, I remember seeing it in Epcot. It was like Disney Vision or whatever they were calling it. And again, because I was I still am like a techie nerd. And you know, it's one of the reasons that I became so enamored with Epcot was this not just demonstration of future technology, but the ability for us as guests to interact with it and see what the future was going to be. I remember making the first video call in the world, kiosks in Epcot, but they took this. And not only was it just a demonstration of technology, but like you said, they led to the Aladdin's magic carpet attraction over at Disney Quest, which really was sort of the first I know for me time that I was able to sort of see it in an environment that wasn't just the Imagineering Labs at Epcot, but an environment where you could actually use it and play with it.

Nick DeSomov:

Yeah, that got dismantled in like 2006 or 2007 or something like that. They took all that down. Yeah, it lasted for a very long time.

Lou Mongello:

It started to show its age.

Nick DeSomov:

As soon as the Oculus came out.

Lou Mongello:

But the build your own coaster and all those sort of interactive, again, high tech virtual, but also high touch experiences too, I think is really helped to sort of pave the way for not just where we are now, Nick, but I think sort of where we are going. Again, I think it's we and the generation behind us, we want not just tactile, but interactive and personalized experiences, not just passive viewing. So you've worked on so many relatively low tech, right? You were cutting rocks by hand and working on pencil and paper and then working through virtual reality, and you touched on briefly some of the augmented reality that you were working on for Disneyland. Where do you think the future of the theme park? And I know you did some work on cruise line and sort of the implementation of the theme park experience and even sort of the cruise experience is going well.

Nick DeSomov:

Disney always pioneered a lot of early things that you tend to see later come our in our. I mean, they worked on the early prototypes for virtual reality. Of course, there were other companies that were doing that kind of stuff, but Disney was able to sink a lot of money and a lot of time into creating something that was really pristine and usable and viewable and kind of make people walk away and think about, wow, this is really cool. And you walk away thinking about the future. And a lot of the stuff that Disney comes up with is something usually in advance, you eventually see ten years down the way is coming out in our real world. For instance, like Turtle Talk in Florida and any of the visual interactive CG character stuff that you monsters Inc. And things like that, that were at Disney World, that technology was real time puppeteering digital graphics. You had a guy behind the scene manipulating joysticks and voicing the characters and interacting with the audience. So you have, know, real time interaction and real time feedback and all that stuff. It was pioneered by Disney. And then now you have digital puppeteering you can do in VR, and you can make your own YouTube videos. And I have some stuff on YouTube Channel I have that I played around with with some of the early technology of that. And it was fascinating to me because, my God, the only way I could play around with this stuff was this million dollars of apparati that Disney had developed. And now I'm playing with a $400 VR headset, and I can do exactly the same thing. So they're always been a pioneer to do that. So the type of future things that you see, it's amazing because it's hard to say because Disney has access to they buy you know, one of our jobs working in Blue Sky was to research companies that were developing state of the art stuff that like, what can this be used know accelerometers and things. Like, know things that were used for eventually to study roller coasters. So Disney would send out Imagineers and ride roller coasters and get all the telemetry data and to get that information and see how it was affecting people, the experience and things like that. And then tied into another virtual reality thing. They were able to do that. They had their version of interactive caves to display the new attractions by allowing people to walk through virtual reality, but without using glasses. Right. So you sat in a car and then the whole world generated. So this is all projected stuff. Now you have video walls and virtual studios that are used in the film industry. Right? Well, Disney has been doing that stuff for a long time, but they were using it for previewing attractions and making a ride better so they could spend less time on the design part and be able to perfect it when they start building it out in the field. That technology is everywhere now. So the things that now, god, I don't think I could project my low brain into that area because I try to stay on top of things where things are, but I don't have access to the same resources that I did when I was there. So I would love to be able to do that. But yeah, your imagination is as good as mine to try to think of what could possibly be happening.

Lou Mongello:

Well, yeah, to your point, when you were sort of visualizing some of these spaces and walkthroughs or flies throughs, you would have to go to the dish at Imagineering, right, this giant sort of room where the walls are sort of projected on. And now that technology is like ubiquitous, it's in your hands and everybody can sort of see what these spaces and places look like. And we as guests are doing it. We see sometimes Imagineers in the parks and they're holding up pads and sort of envisioning what the spaces can be transformed to. But I think always again, I just had a conversation with another former Imagineer recently talking about this balance of nostalgia and storytelling and placemaking and technology where the main goals still have to sort of remain the same, right. No matter what the utilization of the technology is. The goal for the end user, for us, as the guest has to obviously remain elevated, but still the same.

Nick DeSomov:

It's all about the suspension of disbelief, right? I mean, look at what they're doing with drones, right? The fleet of drones they send up and they can do these wonderful animations. I mean, you're going to see fireworks go away. They're going to have their place. But now you have these drones that's safer.

Lou Mongello:

They're programmable, they're spectacular.

Nick DeSomov:

They're spectacular. I think a component that will probably be utilized. And Disney does do it. It's augmented reality, right? They have a form of it that they do with their storytelling throughout the park, especially with the devices that you can carry in with your cell phone and the apps that you can interact with things. But when the optics are there, when you can wear a pair of glasses and Disney can then tune you into thematic elements that are now enhanced the park even more, right? I'd see that as a potential usage that they would use and they probably would adapt it a lot better than most at first, and then everyone catches on really quick. But it's funny because there's a lot of third party developers that are developing really cool augmented reality. We don't know what's happening over on the Imagineering mean, we know what Meta is doing. Well, kind of, but they have their behind the thing. I'm sure Disney's got their hooks into all of this know, and they might be able to present some of it in our enjoyment of exploring the parks before we get to do it at home.

Lou Mongello:

Yeah, and it's years from now, probably not that many, 5710, whatever it is. People go back and go, God, remember when they used to have those helmets on their heads with the big goggles in front and you couldn't see out? And like you said, what Meta and Apple is coming out with is remarkable now, but in a few years is going to be something that the same way we look back on. You were sort of laughing the way you talked about the initial Aladdin virtual reality experience. That's what the technology is going to look like in probably not that many years because it's doubling at exponential rates. Nick, you had such a fascinating career. I mean, I could talk to you all day because you've sort of had your handprints in so many different aspects of the theme park experience, the cruise line experience, the high tech and the low tech experience. And I have to ask you the unfair question, which, as you look back at your time at Disney, are there any specific projects or achievements or technologies that you worked on that you are most proud of? And how has it sort of maybe left a lasting impact on your continuing approach to design and innovation?

Nick DeSomov:

Okay, I would say the project, it's not a spectacular one, but it was the most challenging project I ever did, and it was the reason why I left Imagineering. It's not a story I tell very often, but why did you leave Imagineering? Well, this is why I left Imagineering, because I had a group of people come to me and they go, we're building a theme park in Las Vegas, and we have this rock work project, and we were told to talk to you because of what you developed for Disney. We can't nobody else wants to take this, and would you be interested? And I went, well, can you tell me more about it? So they flew me to Vegas, and we got to look at it. And it was so intriguing to me because the challenge wasn't the rock work aspect of it or the fact that it was a theme park. It was the fact that it was a nine month design build, which means it had to be designed, and it had to open to the public in nine months. And one of the people that recommended know, she goes, you got to talk to this guy, but you can't do this. It takes five years for Disney to design a theme park. You guys can't do. And of course, since I developed the technology that Disney was using, I knew the nuances of it. And I went and I looked at what they were doing. I said, I'll do. So it's probably the craziest move I ever did in my entire. Life, and it was the most challenging thing. So I packed up my wife, we moved to Vegas, we got a house over there and sat down. And so the project I worked on is the Adventure Dome, and it's a five acre theme park underneath a pink dome, and it's a Grand Canyon esque canyon rock work with a roller coaster. I think it's a double loop roller coaster and a flume ride. At least when it opened up, they changed a lot of the interior rides. So I had to do the area development of it, the rock work design, and figure out how to manufacture the rock work and install the rock work and do it in nine months. My approach, which was totally unorthodox, and Disney would probably never have ever approved of this. And of course, I don't consider it the best rock work ever. It's not. It's adequate. It does its job, but because what else can you do in nine months? That's the way I look at it. But I basically designed all the elements of the rock fabrication process completely from scratch. Digital and CAD.

Lou Mongello:

Wow.

Nick DeSomov:

From ground zero, knowing where everything was supposed to be. It was all built up completely digital. So there was no model. We had a model, but it was a model that was amorphous as far as we were concerned. They said, well, this is what we like it, but it doesn't have to look like this. Do what you can. Everything is based off of the initial model sculpt that was done, but we were given the priority to do the rock work and get it done. So I had to basically just redirect it and rear direct it to accommodate everything that we were doing and have it look kind of similar to what the original, the base model was supposed to be. And behold, we did it. We opened up nine months later and it was like, oh, my God. But I redeveloped and designed the way rock work was applied, which a lot of new systems are using. There's a third party that does a lot of Disney stuff, and they call it the potato chip method. Well, that was something I came up with. Developing Grand Slam, I developed an entire surface patch process of building rockwood so you didn't have to install these giant cages. It was more like putting a puzzle, 3D puzzle together, just off the thickness of the skin. And you apply all that stuff in that method that opened up to the public in 1993.

Lou Mongello:

I remember going to the Adventure Dome at Circus Circus a long, long time ago. And if I remember correctly, there was like a giant, like, Bryce Canyon type mountain right in the center of this huge covered dome. I mean, it was massive. I'm assuming it's still there, but massive. Sort of indoor theme park. I remember the rock work in the surrounding area. It gave it this sense of natural life and light inside, surrounded by all these other attractions.

Nick DeSomov:

Yeah, it's still there. It's 130,000 surface area of the rock. Wow. I know that for some reason. Also, what was really unique about it is that because it was built on top of a parking garage with a six inch slab, we had to minimize the weight. Now, typical rock work that Disney does is cement, carved cement, top to bottom right, with a thickness of three to six inches. And the reason why is because you want to be able to carve in some really good details into that, and it gives you a lot of lead way to work with, and you can put planners and all kinds of things. So the way Disney rock works is very specific, and it's meant to last for 100 years. So with the Venture dome, everything from the slab to 10ft up is cement and from 10ft to the top. The tips of the peak is a product called K 13, which is a fire retardant spray on paper machete material that's used to spray coat steel beams in huge architectural buildings. And we dyed it, and when it goes on, it's very moist and wet. And you can carve it Limitly, but because it's 10ft above, nobody can touch it. So it doesn't feel like paper machete. But you can put some shape to it because of the shape of your cage work. And we spray that on there. We let that dry. We came back and blended all the paint. And people don't know. People don't know that now. They know if anybody knows, you know a secret that nobody's known to this day.

Lou Mongello:

All right, so the last question I have for you, and again, I have plenty more in my head, but you've been so generous with your time. I know you worked on, I'm sure, a ton of amazing and memorable blue sky projects that you I'm not asking you to divulge, but if there was one, if Nick had his own sort of blue sky project, whether it's something that you may have had some work on or something that you'd love to see implemented in the Disney parks Is there anything that for you you would love to see come to fruition?

Nick DeSomov:

Oh, man, that's a loaded question. I love working on anything that goes there. When I found out that Star Wars was being built, I was so jealous. I went, oh, my God, I want to be there. I want to be there. But I was committed to another job and working for a company and very happy doing what I was doing. But those projects don't come along, especially my childhood. I was 14 when Star Wars came out, and that was the spark, right? That was the flame that said, I'm doing this stuff. And when Disney finally was building the theme park, I went, oh, gosh, that's what I wish. So if it's anything like that, I think it was done for me already in Pandora. Pandora is the type of rock work. I'm very aesthetic organic. I love organic stuff. And when there's that kind of beauty that goes into it or fantastical and science fiction based, I think they picked the one that would have been the one I would have thought of. And the fact that I already got to visit it and enjoy it, that was great. So I would have to really think about it. And I don't want to spend any more time wasting you trying to think of that one project, because I could probably come up with five or six, but that's the one I wanted to do. Star wars.

Lou Mongello:

Nice. Well, again, you've had such a wonderful and fascinating and interesting career, and you're still doing what you love to do and making magic elsewhere. Talk a little bit quickly about what you do now and then if people want to find you and your work online where they can connect with you.

Nick DeSomov:

Well, the one main source is Geekydom.com. That's Geekydom.com that's sort of like my design studio. I have a friend of mine that run that little business with name is Blaze Gova. He's a formal imagineer. He did a lot of Disney classic Disney art for the collectible series, all the miniature porcelain stuff, really just fantastic sculptor, one of the best sculptors I know. So he's my partner in crime with Geeky Dumb. And so that it kind of exposes a lot of the past stuff I worked on and things that we can do for people, which is basically help prototype things out. But that work is now I'm going to dedicate Geeky Dumb to more the collectible stuff, more the fine tuned like product development and a lot of more efforts going into. The new company that I co founded is Strat. And Strat is basically the initiative of to is to bring a form of manufacturing back to the United States utilizing some new technology that we're developing. So it's something that I'm really excited about because one of our flagship projects that we're going to be responsible in manufacturing is going to hit Kickstarter in a couple of months. It's the Doll for all, which is an articulated collectible doll, 18 inch doll, fully articulated, but it represents pretty much children that have had I would say it's tailored for children who have prosthetic arms or born with certain defects and things like that. But there's no dolls that represent them. And there's a very common one called the Lucky Fin where they might just have a thumb on their hand. And so we wanted to do a doll that we could just put that type of feature and have it represent them as an individual so they have something that they can relate to. And there's no dolls or anything out there like that. And also it's something that would work in the hospitals too, or a lot of of the places where they work with children. So it's something that has a lot of, I think, positive value to it. And trying to figure out how to manufacture this thing is the hardest thing in the world. But I'm doing all the CAD work on it, and we're slowly building it. We got the prototype done, but now we're refining it for all the mold work.

Lou Mongello:

Well, I'm going to link to Geeky Dom Studios and I highly recommend, if you're interested, that you go and check it out, because some of the photos and the concept art and the videos that you have from your work in the theme parks and cruise line and imagineering and the living characters and that blue sky. AR scope that we talked about, as well as your work in film and TV and video games and products is remarkable. And it's incredible work. Nick, I sincerely appreciate you not only spending and sharing your time today, but all the work that you have done and put in over the years that is still, fortunately, being enjoyed by generations of Disney fans around the world.

Nick DeSomov:

Well, thank you very much and thanks for having me on your talk show. It's been a pleasure and enjoyed talking with you. It's great to talk to somebody who's a big Disney fan. I'm a big fan, always have been. I will be.

Lou Mongello:

All right, lightning round. What's your favorite Disney attraction?

Nick DeSomov:

Oh, FaceTime.

Lou Mongello:

Which one?

Nick DeSomov:

Oh, the one in Disneyland. And then it has to be Indiana.

Lou Mongello:

Jones in so, overall favorite Disney park around the world?

Nick DeSomov:

I hate to say this, but Euro Disney or Disneyland? Paris. It's beautiful.

Lou Mongello:

There's no wrong answers for any of these. Favorite restaurant in a Disney park?

Nick DeSomov:

Oh, blue bayou. Disneyland. Nice.

Lou Mongello:

Your personal favorite Disney character and oh, Disney character.

Nick DeSomov:

Yeah. I would say well, it has to be Mickey Mouse during the my mind just went blank. But the wizard cartoon. What's? The sorcerer.

Lou Mongello:

Mickey.

Nick DeSomov:

Yeah, sorcerer mickey. Right. Nice. I should have that at the top of my head. I'm getting too old. Perfect.

Lou Mongello:

This was nick, this was great, man. Thank you very much. Great storyteller. Great stories to tell. And I think stories that people don't hear about this side of the Imagineering work. People talk about Animatronics and the high tech and some of the stuff like that and not always some of the things in terms of the place making and the technology. So I really appreciate you sharing that with me.

Nick DeSomov:

My pleasure. I go on for hours. I got stories on.

Lou Mongello:

Listen, I know I had other things in my notes that I wanted to hit on. I'm like, I'll keep this guy here all day.


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