Imagineer Andy Milluzzi Helping Disney Parks Tell Magical Stories

Wednesday, June 14, 2023
Walt Disney Imagineering Senior Ride Controls Systems Engineer Andy Milluzzi has helped design projects for the Animal Kingdom along with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind attractions.

Walt Disney Imagineering Senior Ride Controls Systems Engineer Andy Milluzzi has helped design projects for the Animal Kingdom along with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind attractions.

Software and computer engineering alumnus Andy Milluzzi has one requirement for aspects of his life, work or play interests – it must be fun. 

Well, that’s not hard to accomplish when you’re an Imagineer at Walt Disney World, a place known as “the most magical place on Earth.” 

Since 2017, Milluzzi has helped bring a sense of adventure to current and future attractions through his expertise in high-performance computing, robotics, and engineering. And not all the thrills have been created for the millions of people from throughout the world who visit the central Florida resort annually. 

Last year, the 2012 graduate led a multidisciplinary technical team that designed a new spherical robotic enrichment device to entertain large cheetahs in the Kilimanjaro Safaris section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. The Cheetah Ball was a project mixing engineering, design and theming, and animal science that was featured along with Milluzzi in a “Chilled Out Cheetahs” episode of The Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom television show broadcast on the National Geographic Channel (also streaming on Disney+).

“Like any cat, they like playing with balls and respond well to them being thrown into the wildlife habitat. However, they quickly lose interest if the ball isn’t moving,” says Milluzzi, a Senior Ride Control Systems Engineer with Walt Disney Imagineering. “We needed to develop a durable object that remained in constant motion or moving just enough to keep the cheetahs from becoming bored … This is one of those after-normal-work-hours pet projects that I had for the past five to six years, but once we got deep into development, it quickly came to life.”

A similar concept was used to create another unique enrichment Hungry Hungry Hornbills device that mimics naturalistic foraging behaviors for Abyssinian Ground Hornbills that roam throughout Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. The brightly colored ground birds use their long down-curved bill to uncover turtles and other prey from within tree trunks. So, Milluzzi’s team designed a project that encouraged the hornbills to find toy pinecones and deposit them inside a simulated tree stump. This achievement would activate a radio-frequency identification device to release a clay turtle. A little more investigative work by the hornbill would uncover an appeasing treat – like what happens in their natural environment.

Much more ambitious projects had Milluzzi and other Imagineers creating aspects of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (opened in 2019), the most complex attraction at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The first-of-its-kind adventure puts fans in the middle of a climactic battle between Star Wars’ First Order and the Resistance, filled with legions of stormtroopers and other characters from the movie series. Enhancing the thrilling experience features trackless dark ride vehicles, motion simulators, and a version of the Tower of Terror’s drop shaft.

Based on the recent award-winning “Mickey Mouse” cartoon shorts, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway (opened in 2020), at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is the first ride at any Disney Park to star Mickey Mouse and friends, with Engineer Goofy’s train bringing up the rear. 

Then, there’s Epcot’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind (opened in 2022) that offers a crowd-pleasing ride adventure filled with such innovations as a reverse launch, the world’s largest fully enclosed roller coaster, and a 360-degree rotation along the journey.

And Milluzzi considers himself fortunate to be among an elite group of engineers who are working on a variety of other Disney Parks located throughout the world.

“As an Imagineer, I’m only looking forward at any new project that’s going into the parks. We’re always forward thinking,” he states. “I’m having lots of fun. On my worst days, I’m still having the opportunity to work on a Disney ride. There are so few people around the world that get to do what I do. It’s a very, very tough job to get.”

Milluzzi’s passions for Legos and Lego Mindstorms motivated the Westlake, Ohio, native to study software engineering and computer engineering, with a specialization in robotics, at Rose-Hulman, assisted by a scholarship from northeast Ohio alumnus and emeriti trustee Gregg Lowe. Along the way, Milluzzi became a Lego Community Partner and master creator, and developed an interest in mentoring youths participating in FIRST Robotics and FIRST Lego League programs. Master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Florida further enhanced his job prospects with Disney.

“Because of the quality of my Rose experiences, I’m technically very strong and tend to gravitate toward the bigger and more challenging projects with Disney,” he remarks. “I credit Rose and the people associated with it in everything I’m doing here. Rose made sure we were good, quality engineers. The personal attention provided along the way was so special as well.”

Those lessons have extended as Milluzzi concentrates on those attractions that put the “magic” in the Disney experience.

“At Disney, our project constraints are driven by the creative story. That story dictates everything else,” he remarked. “When we design a ride, it’s because creative wants the ride to cause a certain feeling at a certain point. As an Imagineer it’s our job to help capture those feelings through lights on a show’s set or even how the vehicle is moving. We’re not going for the tallest or fastest roller coaster; we’re trying to tell an appealing story. After all, the first element of a Disney job posting is ‘at Disney, we’re storytellers.’”

And Milluzzi is having lots of fun doing it.