Lanny Smoot (born c. 1955)[1] is an American electrical engineer, inventor, scientist, and theatrical technology creator. With over 100 patents, he is Disney’s most prolific inventor[2] and one of the most prolific Black inventors in American history.[3] Throughout his career he has worked to inspire young people, especially Black youth, towards STEM.


Lanny Smoot (born December 13, 1955[1]) is an American electrical engineer, inventor, scientist, and theatrical technology creator. With over 100 patents, he is Disney's most prolific inventor[2] and one of the most prolific Black inventors in American history.[3] Throughout his career he has worked to inspire young people, especially Black youth, towards STEM.[4][5]

Lanny S. Smoot
Born (1955-12-13) December 13, 1955 (age 68)
Alma materColumbia University
Brooklyn Technical High School
Occupation(s)Engineer and Inventor
EmployerWalt Disney Imagineering


Born in Brooklyn, NY, USA, he later attended Brooklyn Technical High School.[5] He attended Columbia University supported by a Bell Labs Engineering Scholarship and received his Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering. He then started work at Bell Communications Research (Bellcore). While working at Bell (later Telcordia), he also completed his Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering from Columbia.[6] Smoot worked at Bell for two decades, where his mentors included James West, co-inventor of the electret microphone.[7] Around 2000, he moved to Disney where he is currently a Disney Research Fellow.[3]

Notable work

At Bell, Smoot was known for his work on early development of video-on-demand and other video and fibre-optic technology.[8] He anticipated a future where anyone could broadcast video.[9]

At Disney, Smoot's accomplishments include the drive system for the Star Wars BB-8 droid,[10][11][12] interactive zoetropes for facial animation of objects,[13] eye imaging for superhero masks and helmets,[14] “Where’s the Fire?” at Innoventions (Epcot), many Haunted Mansion special effects, virtual interactive koi ponds in Hong Kong Disneyland, Fortress Explorations at Tokyo DisneySea, Power City" in Spaceship Earth (Epcot), and lightsabers for the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser experience. Other patented inventions include new ride technology and glassless 3D displays.[2]


1973 - National Achievement Scholarship Award.[15]
1987 - Most Promising Engineer Award at the first Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA), for significant contributions to the fields of optical communications and broadband networks, as well as consistent contributions to affirmative action activities.[5][6]
1996 - New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame Inventor of the Year.[16]
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, one of Smoot's award winning projects
2017 - Themed Entertainment Association Thea Award for "Ghost Post – Recognized for effects consulting for this “beyond the berm” experience inspired by the Haunted Mansion attraction".[17]
2020 - Themed Entertainment Association TEA Master (Theatrical Technology) "From Madame Leota’s levitating crystal ball… to special effects for Kim Possible’s park-wide scavenger hunts… to Luke Skywalker’s glowing lightsaber… Lanny Smoot has created some of the most magical special effects and technical achievements for Disney’s theme parks and resorts worldwide."[17]
2022 - Featured in National Inventors Hall of Fame exhibit on "Breaking Barriers: Honoring Extraordinary Black Inventors" [19]
2024 - Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame,[20] for his work on theatrical technologies and special effects.[1] Smoot is first Disney inventor to be inducted after Walt Disney,[21] who was inducted in 2000 for the invention of the Multiplane camera[22]


  1. ^ a b "Lanny Smoot". National Inventors Hall of Fame. 2024-01-26. Retrieved 2024-01-28.
  2. ^ a b "1987 BEYA winner receives his 100th career patent". Career Communications Group. 17 September 2021. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  3. ^ a b Reifsnyder, Frank (3 August 2021). "Imagineer and Disney Research Fellow Lanny Smoot Receives his 100th US Patent". Disney. Retrieved 2022-09-30.
  4. ^ a b Juneau, Jen (11 February 2022). "How Disney Imagineer and Inventor Lanny Smoot Strives to Inspire Black Youth to Chase STEM Careers". People.
  5. ^ a b c "Disney Imagineer inspires youth, builds gadgets of the future". Career Communications Group. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  6. ^ a b "Most Promising Engineer Award Winner". US Black Engineer. Vol. 11, no. 2. Career Communications Group. 1987. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  7. ^ Deen, Lango (2020). "Keeping the Promise of BEYA: Meet a First-Ever Winner". US Black Engineer. Vol. 44, no. 2. Career Communications Group. p. 10.
  8. ^ Lopez, Julie Amparano; Carnevale, May Lu (10 July 1990). "Fiber Optics Promises A Revolution of Sorts, If the Sharks Don't Bite: Television, Travel, Even Cities Could Be Much Affected, But Big Questions Remain - Mr. Smoot Projects an Image". Wall Street Journal. p. A1.
  9. ^ Allman, William F. (28 December 1992). "The wizard of television". U.S. News & World Report. Vol. 113, no. 25. p. 91.
  10. ^ Hazard, Camille (23 April 2015). "Un jeune fabrique le nouveau robot, BB-8 - Star Wars". Paris Match. Hachette Filipacchi Médias.
  11. ^ United States Active US8269447B2, Lanny Smoot & Dirk Ruiken, "Magnetic spherical balancing robot drive", published 2012-09-18, assigned to Disney Enterprises, Inc. 
  12. ^ Wait, Keith W.; Jackson, Philip J.; Smoot, Lanny S. (2010). "Self locomotion of a spherical rolling robot using a novel deformable pneumatic method". 2010 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. pp. 3757–3762. doi:10.1109/ROBOT.2010.5509314. ISBN 978-1-4244-5038-1. S2CID 18141151.
  13. ^ Barras, Colin (4 August 2010). "Future on display: Interactive inanimate objects". New Scientist.
  14. ^ Boda, Charles (21 March 2018). "Disney's New Glowing Character Mask Patent Could See Use in Marvel Park Experiences". Werner Travel Media, LLC.
  15. ^ "14 Black Seniors Awarded College Scholarships Here". New York Times. 5 April 1973. p. 89.
  16. ^ "Inventor of the Year". New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  17. ^ a b c "Congratulations! 2020 TEA Masters announced". Themed Entertainment Association. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  18. ^ Emanuel, Lauren. "As if by magic". United States Patent and Trademark Office.
  19. ^ "'Breaking Barriers' Exhibit Honors Extraordinary Black Inventors". National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2022-09-30.
  20. ^ "Announcing the 2024 National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees". National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  21. ^ Esquibias, Liza (January 23, 2024). "Disney Imagineer Lanny Smoot on Induction into Inventors Hall of Fame: 'I Never Saw a Black Engineer'". People. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  22. ^ "NIHF Inductee Walt Disney". National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved January 23, 2024.

Further reading

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