Lanny Smoot, a Disney Research Fellow and longtime member of Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development, is being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He 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 in 2000 for the multiplane camera. Smoot and his fellow Class of 2024 inductees will be formally honored in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, May 9.
Upon learning of his induction, Smoot said, “I was honored and humbled at being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. With all of the inventing greats, however, I caught a true lump in my throat when I realized that I was only the second person at The Walt Disney Company being presented with this honor, and the first person was Walt Disney himself.”
For nearly three decades, Smoot has continued to push the boundaries of technology to bring to life awe-inspiring, one-of-a-kind experiences to Disney guests around the world. Throughout his illustrious career, he has worked as a theatrical technology creator, inventor, electrical engineer, scientist, and researcher, resulting in more than 100 patents—an incredibly rare feat that makes Smoot one of the most prolific Black inventors in American history, based on patents issued, according to Disney patent attorney Stuart Langley. Of that total, 74 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.”
Among his many accomplishments, Smoot is credited with giving Madame Leota her ability to “float” in the Séance Room at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland Park; crafting the state-of-the-art extendable lightsaber used by Disney Live Entertainment; inventing the Magic Playfloor interactive game experience on the Disney Cruise Line; producing the immersive Fortress Explorations adventure at Tokyo DisneySea; and designing the virtual and interactive koi ponds at the Crystal Lotus Restaurant at Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel.
When deciding which of his patents to highlight as part of his National Inventors Hall of Fame induction, Smoot selected “Where’s the Fire?” at Innoventions, previously featured at EPCOT. This interactive exhibit promoted fire prevention through engaging challenges; guests “shined” a special flashlight on the walls of a house and, through the magic of his technology, exposed hidden fire dangers and learned how to prevent them from happening.
Smoot is the recipient of many awards and honors, including three Thea Awards from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) for his work on the attractions Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and Kim Possible: World Showcase Adventure, as well as the Ghost Post limited-time experience inspired by the Haunted Mansion. In 2020, Smoot’s expertise in theatrical technology earned him the esteemed title of TEA Master.
Smoot’s forward-thinking inventions have also empowered the theatrical community to create new entertainment, illusions, and magic. He is currently working on the HoloTile floor, the world’s first multi-person, omni-directional, modular, expandable, treadmill floor. It allows any number of people to have a shared virtual reality (VR) experience, walk an unlimited distance in any direction, and never collide or walk off its surface. The HoloTile floor can also be an insert in a theatrical stage, allowing performers to move and dance in new ways, or stage props and structures to move around or appear to set themselves up.
Prior to joining Disney, Smoot completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering at Columbia University. Before Disney, he worked at Bell Laboratories, followed by Bell Communications Research. While at Bell, he received patents for his role in the early development of video-on-demand technology, video conferencing, and more.