Disney Showcases Creativity and Cutting-Edge Technology at 2017 Grace Hopper Conference

Across all of Disney’s lines of business, technologists and artists work side by side to deliver world-class storytelling and immersive experiences for guests. The Walt Disney Company recently showcased the cutting-edge technology behind some of the latest Disney magic at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) 2017—the world’s largest gathering of women technologists—which, this year, drew more than 18,000 attendees from all over the world. More than 100 representatives from a range of businesses and roles across the Company were on hand in Orlando, Florida for three days of technology-focused content that highlights the ever-increasing contributions women are making in the field of computing.

At Disney’s booth, Disney technologists demonstrated advances such as Walt Disney Parks and Resorts’ Digital Access Point tech, which enhances guests’ experience by enabling them to easily and quickly gain entrance into some of our parks and attractions; and the real-time and near-time innovative custom integrated advertising experiences and custom content integration developed by ESPN’s Advanced Technology VFX Group. The force of innovation was strong at ILMxLAB’s “Trials on Tatooine” virtual reality demo experience and, in one of most talked-about offerings at GHC 2017, more than 3,000 attendees immersed themselves in Disney Research’s mixed and augmented reality experience, “Magic Bench.”

These demonstrations were presented by some of the talented women who are helping to shape the future of entertainment in their roles at The Walt Disney Company. Erin Ramos, an effects animator for Walt Disney Animation Studios, talked about how animators tackled the challenge of animating shoreline waves in the 2016 feature Moana with a blend of innovative tech and creativity. “At Walt Disney Animation Studios, story always comes first,” she said. “Everything we do is in support of that story, whether it be technology we create or software we create.”

The conference also provided the opportunity for Disney to meet, interview and extend offers to top female talent in the tech arena. Representatives from all segments—Disney|ABC Television Group, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, ESPN, The Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Lucas ILM, and Pixar—met with thousands of candidates throughout the event. “Disney is a great place for women in technology because you’ll find very active and vibrant groups who support you as a technologist,” said Mike White, senior vice president and chief technology officer, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, who notes that some of the opportunities for technologists at Disney include developing ride technology for Disney parks and resorts, developing games or interactive experiences, or creating the tech behind blockbuster animated films. “When you have a diverse table, you get diverse opinions and perspectives, and that’s what really makes our products great,” he says.

The Walt Disney Company sought to connect with women technologists at the start of their career through the “Tech Behind the Magic” experience. This student offering provided scholarships that enabled 20 female tech students from schools that include MIT, USC, Cornell, Georgia Tech and Florida State University to attend GHC 2017. In addition, the day before the conference, the students enjoyed an exclusive behind-the-scenes experience at Walt Disney World where they were given an inside look at the tech that powers the magic Disney creates for guests every day, from demonstrations of mobile ordering and a tour of the immersive land of Pandora – The World of AVATAR at Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the Frozen Ever After attraction at Epcot, which features more than 15 advanced Audio-Animatronics® figures across 11 immersive scenes.

Technology is essential to the evolution of the media industry, emphasizes Jamie Voris, senior vice president and chief technology officer for The Walt Disney Studios. “The way that we tell and consume stories in the future is going to be completely different than it is today, and I think we have this extraordinary opportunity to have a real participation in shaping what that looks like.”

“Our industry is changing, content is changing, the IP that we own is always expanding and we all know that technology is continuously changing,” says Susan O’Day, executive vice president, Enterprise Technology and chief information officer for The Walt Disney Company. “At Disney, we focus on embracing that and not being afraid of that change, but really leaning into it and moving into the future.”

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