Columbia Engineering Announces Disney Imagineer Lanny Smoot BS’77, MS’78 as Class Day Speaker

Disney’s most prolific inventor will address the Undergraduate Class of 2024

Mar 22 2024 | Photo Credit: Lanny Smoot
Lanny Smoot

Credit: Lanny Smoot

Disney Imagineer Lanny Smoot BS’77, MS’78, a research fellow with Disney Research, has been chosen to address the Class of 2024 at Columbia Engineering’s Class Day celebration on May 13, 2024.

With a career spanning 47 years as a theatrical technology creator, inventor, electrical engineer, scientist and researcher, who holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Columbia, is Disney’s most prolific inventor with 106 patents to his name (and counting), 74 of which stem from his time at Disney.

At Class Day, Smoot will share his insights from a lifetime of inventing, a career full of milestones that received special recognition in January when it was announced that Smoot had been named to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

“It’s a thrill for me to address this year’s graduating class, knowing I was in their shoes 47 years ago,” said Smoot. “I want young people to follow their curiosity and know that a career in STEM can be as rewarding and exciting for them as it has been for me.”

Smoot joined The Walt Disney Company 25 years ago after working at Bell Labs and then Bell Communications Research for more than two decades. While at Bell, he pioneered the early development of video-on-demand technology, video conferencing, and early fiber optic receivers for use in harsh environments, among other achievements. After joining the Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development (R&D) site in East Hampton, NY, Smoot moved with his group to Los Angeles and later joined the most forward-looking wing of R&D, Disney Research, and became a Disney Research Fellow in 2014.

His creation of many magical exhibits and illusions can be seen throughout Disney’s theme parks, resorts, and cruise ships worldwide, including the extendable lightsabers and lightsaber training experience at Walt Disney World Resort; the interactive water harps at Journey of Water, inspired by Moana, at EPCOT; and Madame Leota’s floating head in the crystal ball and other special effects at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland Park. More recently, Smoot has been working on the HoloTile™ Floor, a moving, omnidirectional treadmill floor set to transform virtual and augmented reality experiences. 

“Lanny Smoot’s long and storied career is sure to enchant our Class Day undergraduates and guests,” said Shih-Fu Chang, Dean of Columbia Engineering. “In addition to his incredible success, Lanny has mentored dozens of young people who have gone on to have successful careers at Disney and elsewhere, and served as an inspiration to countless others. We can’t think of a better role model for our Class of 2024 as they prepare to start their own careers and make a positive contribution–to their professions, their communities, and society at large.”

Smoot is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including being named a 2020 TEA Master and winning three Thea Awards from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In May, Smoot will be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He is only the second person from The Walt Disney Company to achieve this honor - the first was Walt Disney himself. Smoot is currently featured as part of the exhibit “Breaking Barriers: Honoring Extraordinary Black Inventors” at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum in Alexandria, VA. The NIHF exhibit is being presented in partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the Black Inventors Hall of Fame.

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