Disney’s Tilak Mandadi: Using Technology to Transform Storytelling in the Disney Metaverse
Tilak Mandadi, executive vice president, digital & global chief technology officer, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products (DPEP), provided a revealing and insightful keynote presentation that looked into how DPEP is using technology to bring Disney storytelling to life on the first day of IAAPA Expo | Virtual Education Conference.
He leads a team of thousands of digital, creative design, technology, data, and emerging products professionals around the world at Disney. DPEP is positioned at the compelling intersection of technology and creative and works on innovations that span theme park attractions and experiences, theme park operations, and the commercialization of those businesses.
But before discussing how DPEP is using technology to enhance its storytelling, Mandadi talked about the enormous global impact of COVID-19: “I thought it may be worthwhile to spend a few minutes on how we are dealing with the pandemic using technology and digital.”
Earlier in 2020, it launched Disney Magic Moments to bring the “magic” of Disney into people’s homes. Mandadi observed that it was amplified on social media channels and the company’s guest mobile network, reaching millions of guests. He said through its apps, Disney experienced 3 million guest engagements during the virus closures.
During the re-openings, he said there was a substantial need to educate and inform guests, and technology and digital were crucial enablers. “I remember the reopening meeting when we discussed and agreed to put into place a park and pre-reservation system for Walt Disney World, something never done before, and we needed it in...what? Five weeks flat? Well, our awesome team pulled it off and the rest was history.”
Mandadi then transitioned into storytelling and the Disney theme park “metaverse,” which he described as connected park where guests can truly interact with their physical surroundings using mobile devices to create converged experiences. He said Disney has evolved from classic linear storytelling, to interactive storytelling, to immersive storytelling, and now to personalized and social storytelling.
“The digital, data, and physical coming together organically with the story, we now have physical and digital converged experiences that are personalized and social, creating the theme park metaverse,” he said. “Also, because of digital dimension of these metaverse experiences, they can be updated frequently, keeping them fresh and relevant.”
Though he couldn’t share details about the work underway, he said he expects them to be the core of the guest experience in the years to come. There will be AI-driven virtual characters that will have personalized interactions with guests, and a far different realm will be the “Windows to the Wild” program at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The park will use technology like aerial drones, advanced radar, and camera monitors to give guests an up-close exploration encounters with the animals.
Mandadi noted that while the converged physical and digital worlds remain DPEP’s primary focus, the metaverse will not be limited to inside-the-park experiences. Extending the magic of Disney parks to guests’ homes is a real possibility.
He summarized by saying that experiences in the Disney theme park metaverse are physical and digital, perennial, personalized and social, in-park and beyond, and fresh and evolving, and all done with technology driving them, but not getting in the way.