Imagineering a Solution with Disney

May, 2017

Finding a Solution for Disney Imagineering

By Jim Glenn

Helping customers solve difficult problems is what we do at Titan Precision Manufacturing. The opportunity to make a client's day is quite rewarding, and we take it seriously. In the early 1990’s a call came in from Walt Disney Imagineering who had been a customer for years, located just down the road from our North Hollywood California facility. They had a spring issue and asked to have an engineer stop by to see the operating environment. I took the call, made the appointment with the Imagineers and went to the facility.

The situation got interesting from the minute I went into the facility which had both human and animal robotic creatures moving around, some complete but others in various stages of construction. Some didn't have heads attached and others didn't yet have skin so you could see all the mechanical workings inside. It was definitely one of the most interesting sales calls I had ever done.

We got to the problem area where I met with several Imagineers and they showed me a large turtle laying on its back. They explained that the turtle was part of an attraction being built for one of their parks. It was designed to go up and down as a stream of water hit it in the middle of the back with the turtle’s legs flopping up and down with it. Each leg had a torsion spring attached to aid in the movement. They demonstrated the operation and it looked fine to me so I asked what the problem was. Well, they knew it worked but their boss did not like the way the legs moved, because it wasn't natural enough.

The robot turtle didn't look natural enough!

I felt this was truly a challenge because what looks natural to one person, may not to another. How many people have actually studied the movement of a turtle in detail? I looked over the installation and how the springs were operating, thinking of just how many designs we could go through trying to please the boss. Finally, I asked some more questions, digging deeper into the complaint. What exactly is "unnatural" about the movement? The boss thought it was too floppy and should be more rigid. Again, the difficulty is that we weren't talking about pounds of resistance or something dimensional which can be measured.

For a torsion spring to operate properly, one leg must be anchored so that it does not move while the other rotates. They had a hole in the body of the turtle above the axle that the spring slid over which connected the turtles leg to the body. The other leg of the spring was attached to the leg of the turtle so that when the legs were forced to move in one direction they would return to their original position.

They did everything correctly and used the springs properly it just didn’t satisfy the boss.

My solution was to drill holes about a quarter inch apart in an ark from the first hole sort of like the numbers on a clock. Just keep moving the leg into the next hole increasing the resistance until the boss got one he liked. They did and he found one that he liked so the problem was solved.

While I did not sell them a new spring, in the end I had a happy customer and a really fun adventure at Disney Imagineering which not many people get to do.