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Celebrating Black History Month: Imagineer Lanny Smoot on Innovation & Invention at Disney Parks



This February, join us all month long as we celebrate Black History Month and honor the cultures and contributions of our Black cast members, creators, fans, and guests. Across our channels, we’ll be sharing the stories of our Black cast members and celebrating the ways they bring their unique perspectives to Disney – starting with Lanny Smoot, Research Fellow at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) Research & Development, who is pushing the boundaries of technology to bring to life amazing experiences for our guests to discover. Recently, we celebrated with Lanny as he accomplished the incredible achievement of receiving his 100th patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office – a total that now reaches 102 patents, the most earned to date from anyone at The Walt Disney Company! 

Lanny’s passion for creating and inventing began early in his life, and it all started with his father. “Growing up, our family did not have a lot of money,” Lanny shared. “My dad was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades and taught himself how to make many mechanical gadgets, including several of my early toys. One of my earliest childhood memories was him bringing home an electric bell, a light bulb, some batteries and wire. He set up the bell to ring and the bulb to light, and that light lit my career!”

Those early experiences put Lanny on the path to build a career with WDI in technology and research – a place where he could both invent and entertain. Today, as a Disney Research Fellow, Lanny’s role represents the highest level of technical research achievement at WDI. “My mindset is to create things that are fun, entertaining, often surprising and, hopefully, a bit ahead of their time,” he said. “At Disney, I can work on cutting edge technologies that are designed to make people happy. What’s not to like?!”

Lanny and the Research & Development team find new applications for technology and create brand new inventions to bring their creative vision to life. According to Lanny, “We’re always trying to give our guests new experiences – things that they have not seen anywhere else in the world. I’m proud to be a part of the research and development organization at Disney because we are constantly adding to our parks, our cruise ships and more.” 

“Some ideas that we create won’t ever be seen by guests,” Lanny added. “We pick the best of our technologies to finally roll out, and we’re constantly inventing, and constantly trying to live up to Walt’s dream – that our work will never be done as long as we have guests to entertain.”

The creators, inventors and technologists at Imagineering are always pursuing new possibilities – and technological advancements created by Lanny and his fellow Research and Development Imagineers help make their visions a reality. Lanny and his team have invented many new technologies, interactive systems and special effects that our guests can now experience across our parks, cruise ships and consumer products – such as creating unique special effects to allow the ghostly Madame Leota, a disembodied head encased in a crystal ball, to float in the Séance Room in the Haunted Mansion attraction. (Watch the video above for more.)

Imagineer and Disney Research Fellow Lanny Smoot

Besides inventing, Lanny is incredibly passionate about inspiring students to enter the world of STEAM, especially students of color. He recently served as a judge for an Innovation Challenge for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) students, put on by Disney on the Yard. 

Lanny shared how important these types of programs are to future inventors and how important it is to share the accomplishments of Black Americans. “We need to give young students – especially Black students and people of color – experience in these fields. The Walt Disney Company is digging deeply into this by making sure that we mentor diverse young people, and I’ve done that many times myself.” Lanny enjoys mentoring young adults striving to imagine new possibilities and create advanced technologies, as these ideas and inventions will propel us into the future.

For more inspiring stories like Lanny’s, stay tuned to the Disney Parks Blog and follow along on Disney Parks social media as we continue to celebrate Black History Month.


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