Lanny Smoot: First Disney Imagineer Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame

  • PublishedJanuary 18, 2024

Innovation Meets Imagination as Lanny Smoot Receives Historic Honor

In a groundbreaking moment for the world of creativity and innovation, Lanny Smoot, a Disney Research Fellow and a revered member of Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development, is set to be inducted into the prestigious National Inventors Hall of Fame. This remarkable achievement not only marks a milestone in Smoot’s illustrious career but also solidifies his place in history as the first Disney Imagineer to receive this esteemed recognition. He joins a select group of individuals, with the only other member from The Walt Disney Company being the legendary Walt Disney himself, honored posthumously in 2000 for his groundbreaking work with the multiplane camera.

The official induction ceremony for Lanny Smoot and his fellow Class of 2024 inductees is scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, May 9, where they will be celebrated for their extraordinary contributions to the world of invention.

Upon receiving news of his impending induction, Smoot expressed his profound humility and honor. He remarked, “I was honored and humbled at being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. With all of the inventing greats, however, I caught a true lump in my throat when I realized that I was only the second person at The Walt Disney Company being presented with this honor, and the first person was Walt Disney himself.”

Lanny Smoot’s journey through the realm of technology and innovation spans nearly three decades, during which he has consistently pushed the boundaries to bring awe-inspiring and unparalleled experiences to Disney guests across the globe. His multi-faceted career has seen him excel as a theatrical technology creator, inventor, electrical engineer, scientist, and researcher, resulting in an astonishing portfolio of over 100 patents—a feat that positions Smoot as one of the most prolific Black inventors in American history, based on the number of patents issued, according to Disney patent attorney Stuart Langley. An impressive 74 of these patents were developed during his 25-year tenure at The Walt Disney Company.

“At Disney Experiences, we’re committed to world-class storytelling, creativity, and innovation in everything we do, and Lanny Smoot embodies every one of those ideals,” noted Josh D’Amaro, Chairman of Disney Experiences. “As Disney’s most prolific inventor, Lanny continues to amaze all of us with his artistic ingenuity, technical expertise, and endless imagination.”

Among Smoot’s myriad accomplishments, some standout moments include bringing life to Madame Leota’s “floating” abilities in the Séance Room at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland Park, crafting the state-of-the-art extendable lightsaber for Disney Live Entertainment, inventing the interactive Magic Playfloor game experience on the Disney Cruise Line, producing the immersive Fortress Explorations adventure at Tokyo DisneySea, and designing the virtual and interactive koi ponds at the Crystal Lotus Restaurant at Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel.

When asked to select a patent to highlight during his National Inventors Hall of Fame induction, Smoot chose “Where’s the Fire?” at Innoventions, a captivating interactive exhibit that promoted fire prevention through engaging challenges. Guests would “shine” a special flashlight on the walls of a house, unveiling hidden fire dangers, and learning how to prevent them—a testament to Smoot’s commitment to using innovation for education and safety.

Lanny Smoot’s accolades extend far beyond his patents. He is the recipient of multiple awards and honors, including three Thea Awards from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) for his work on attractions like Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and Kim Possible: World Showcase Adventure. He also played a pivotal role in the creation of the Ghost Post limited-time experience inspired by the Haunted Mansion. In 2020, Smoot’s expertise in theatrical technology earned him the prestigious title of TEA Master.

Smoot’s forward-thinking inventions have not only transformed Disney attractions but have also empowered the broader theatrical community to create new forms of entertainment, illusions, and magic. Currently, he is working on the groundbreaking HoloTile floor, the world’s first multi-person, omni-directional, modular, expandable treadmill floor. This innovative technology allows multiple individuals to share a virtual reality (VR) experience, walk in any direction without collisions, and even insert it into a theatrical stage to enhance performances and create dynamic stage setups.

Before his time at Disney, Smoot earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Columbia University. He began his career at Bell Laboratories, followed by Bell Communications Research, where he played a pivotal role in the early development of video-on-demand technology and video conferencing, earning several patents along the way.

Lanny Smoot’s journey as an inventor, engineer, and Disney Imagineer continues to inspire and elevate the world of entertainment and innovation. His induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame is a testament to his unparalleled contributions, and his legacy will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on the realms of technology and imagination.

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