Today, we’re excited to share that Lanny Smoot, the Disney Research Fellow and Imagineer behind mind-blowing special effects like making Madame Leota float inside the Haunted Mansion and our state-of-the art Star Wars lightsabers, is being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame! Lanny is the first Disney Imagineer to receive this prestigious recognition and only the second individual from The Walt Disney Company to be inducted — the first being Walt Disney, honored posthumously for the multiplane camera.
For over 45 years, Lanny has worked as a theatrical technology creator, inventor, electrical engineer, scientist and researcher, resulting in an impressive collection of over 100 patents, a milestone not often achieved by many inventors. Seventy-four of his patents were created during his 25 years 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,” said Josh D’Amaro, Chairman, Disney Experiences. “As Disney’s most prolific inventor, Lanny continues to amaze all of us with his artistic ingenuity, technical expertise and endless imagination.”
Lanny has been instrumental in crafting iconic special effects and technical achievements at our theme parks and experiences around the world. Among these special effects includes Madame Leota’s ability to float in the Séance Room at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, the state-of-the-art extendable lightsaber used by Disney Live Entertainment, the Magic Playfloor interactive game experience on the Disney Cruise Line, and the immersive Fortress Explorations adventure at Tokyo DisneySea — Lanny’s groundbreaking inventions have been a source of boundless joy for our guests.
When deciding which of his patents to list for his National Inventors Hall of Fame induction, Lanny chose to highlight “Where’s the Fire?” at Innoventions, previously featured at EPCOT. This interactive exhibit aimed to educate guests on fire safety and the importance of fire prevention through engaging challenges. Guests were able to “shine” a special flashlight device on the walls of a house and through the magic of Lanny’s technology, they were able to spot fire dangers and learn to prevent these from happening in the future.
“As a life-long inventor, I am excited, delighted, and humbled to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame,” Lanny shared. “To be included alongside my childhood hero, Thomas Edison, and my lifelong role model, Jim West — the inventor of the electret microphone, is both exciting and humbling. And as someone who’s had the privilege of working at The Walt Disney Company, it’s especially meaningful to know that Walt Disney himself is also an inductee.”
Lanny is the recipient of many awards and honors, including three Thea Awards from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) for his work on attractions like Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Kim Possible: World Showcase Adventure and the Ghost Post experience. His expertise in theatrical technology also earned him the esteemed title of TEA Master in 2020.
Prior to joining Disney, Lanny completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering at Columbia University. He then worked at Bell Labs and later at Bell Communications Research, where he was a pioneering force in the early development of video-on-demand technology, video conferencing and specialized television systems for remote locations, among other notable patents.
Lanny’s forward-thinking inventions have not only shaped Disney’s entertainment landscape but have also empowered the broader theatrical community to create new magic, illusions, and entertainment. Currently, he is working on the HoloTile floor, the world’s first, and only, multi-person, omni-directional, modular, expandable, treadmill floor, where any number of people can have a shared virtual reality experience, walk an unlimited distance in any direction, but never collide or walk off its surface. Besides the immediate VR and gaming applications and potential theme park uses, the HoloTile floor can be an insert in a theatrical stage, allowing performers to move and dance in new ways, or stage props and structures could move around or appear to set themselves up.
We were able to take an inside look at the HoloTile, plus a tour of Lanny’s lab by the inductee himself!
The National Inventors Hall of Fame announced their Class of 2024 inductees at a ceremony held at Walt Disney Imagineering’s Glendale, California campus on Wednesday. Among those in attendance were kids who participate in Camp Invention (run by National Inventors Hall of Fame) and participants of one of the local FIRST Robotics teams mentored by Disney Imagineers. Wednesday was also National Kid Inventors’ Day, and a special opportunity to continue to inspire the next generation of inventors.
Congratulations to Lanny Smoot on this remarkable achievement and to all of this year’s National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees!