How a Disney Imagineer Got a Dream Job Working on a Spider-Man Stunt Robot

Imagine taking Disney movies and characters from the screen and bringing them to life in the real world. It’s everyone’s job at Walt Disney Imagineering. This division of The Walt Disney Company brings together all kinds of different disciplines in the arts and sciences to make movie and television magic a reality at Disney theme parks.

These teams help create complex attractions like the Amazing Spider-Man stunt show at Disney’s California Adventure Park. The show brings Marvel’s Spider-Man to life in front of you, including mid-air swings that make it easy to get lost in the story. But this show took years to prepare – partly because the Spider-Man flying through the air is actually a stunt robot.

But what does it take to land that dream job building Spider-Man? We spoke with Disney Imagineer Morgan Pope to get a sense of his eventual work experience at Disney and get some behind-the-scenes insight into the creation of Marvel’s robotic hero.

Morgan Pope played a vital role in bringing Spider-Man off the screen at Disney’s California Adventure Park during the Amazing Spider-Man stunt show.

Jesse Orrall/CNET

Meet the Disney Morgan Pope Imagination

Pope is a researcher at Walt Disney Imagineering. He helped create and develop the Spider-Man stunt robot for several years.

“What makes working at Disney different from a normal robotics job is that what we produce is ultimately magic,” Pope said of his job, noting that every day could be completely different. from the previous one.

Depending on where he is on a project, he might physically build something, write a bit of firmware, or assemble a small mechanical thing for testing purposes. He says his favorite thing is the people he works with.

“Being part of a team of people who are good at what they do and excited about what they’re trying to create is something so special,” Pope said.

Pope’s specialty is in robots and physics. For the Spider-Man project, he worked closely with Tony Dohi, who has a technical background with degrees in mechanical engineering and design. In addition to Dohi, Pope said the project ultimately had more than 100 people collaborate to build the web hero.

reading-college

Pope loves to read so much that he almost became an English major in college. Things took a turn after an encounter with another student.

Morgane Pope

Getting to Disney

Going back a bit, we asked Pope how he got his start in robotics, which he notes started when he was attending Harvard and pursuing a major in physics. Pope met a graduate student, whose work on robotics sparked some inspiration.

Pope says he thought, “Oh, my God, that’s the coolest thing ever. And wouldn’t it be great if I could do that?” This meeting marked him. After a few months, Pope decided to pivot. He earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Stanford, and during that pursuit ended up in a graduate program where he worked on little robots that climbed and glided — oddly suited before his eventual stint to work on the much larger Spider. -Man.

Then, like many other jobs, finding your way from Stanford to Spider-Man involved a connection: One of his professors knew a Disney research employee who served as a jumping-off point to his current position.

“It was never a linear path to his particular work,” Pope says. This makes a lot of sense, considering that Walt Disney Imagineering employs a wide variety of professions, including architects, designers, and engineers. Remember that the real goal is to perform magic. It’s not just about building a robot or designing a costume, it’s about the whole illusion. Achieving these goals requires all kinds of talent, and at the time of this writing, Disney’s Imagineering division is hiring a civil engineer, software engineers, show director, and design interns for everything the division prepares next. .

prototypes-of-spider-man-stunt-robots

Creating a believable robot required many revisions.

Jesse Orrall/CNET

Learn more about the Spider-Man robot

The origins of the stunt robot for Spider-Man start much like the little robots Pope worked with: initial concepts included a small box with moving weights inside. These weights would allow the small box to change the speed at which it rotated. A box isn’t exactly Spider-Man, so they continued. Continued iterations led to a stick man, then a pneumatic figure and an electric version. At least 10 different prototypes were developed on the way to what now stands at Disneyland.

During development, actor Tom Holland from the latest Spider-Man trilogy visited the building where Pope and his team were testing. Along with getting a first look at his character’s robotic counterpart of Peter Parker, the team asked Holland to sign the robot, which he did graciously. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige also signed the robot during his own visit, and both signatures are now etched on all other 3D-printed chest plates for robots used in the show.

The future

Disney Imagineering is in constant development, with stunt robot Spider-Man being the latest to debut. Disney Imagineering projects will likely find their way into the many other Disney park expansions currently in development, from Hotel Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser which is about to open at Walt Disney World, in a Moana-themed area currently under construction at Epcot.

“I think there are so many opportunities to create spectacular dynamic robots, and there are so many challenges,” Pope said.

Maybe we’ll see robots that can run and jump on their own. If you are interested in your own Disney Imagineering activities, check out Walt Disney Imagineering.

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