Award-winning Themed Entertainment innovators Dina Benadon and Brent Young of Super 78 Studios celebrate and awaken creativity in others by restoring the home where Walt Disney was born, and establishing The Center for Early Childhood Creativity and Innovation (CECCI) in his honor.
“Helping people to develop that creative, innovative self that exists in all of us; and helping to foster that creativity through the family environment. That’s where I’d like to see CECCI grow, and give back to the world.” –Dina Benadon, Founder, Project Director CECCI at the Walt Disney Birthplace
The warm autumn sun of this typical Southern California morning is no match for the radiance of energy and intelligence that Dina Benadon brings into the room, as she takes time from her uber-busy day of running a themed entertainment company, while restoring the home of one of the world’s most iconic creative innovators (Walt Disney), and starting a non-profit in his honor (that will support the creative growth in the children currently residing in the neighborhood of his birth) to speak with Artzray about her work and her passion for celebrating and igniting creativity in others.
It seems fitting that Dina and her business-partner-husband (Brent Young) would be the ones to take on such a significant task, as they too (like Walt and Roy Disney) have built their business on hard work, the importance of relationships, and continual reinvention and evolution (from self-financed movies, to reels, to behind-the-scenes pieces, to tv animation, to video games, to media for aquariums, zoos and libraries, to theme park concept development and media, to their newest “flying attraction” and more); “risking it all” and almost going under various times, while never giving up and believing in creatively striving for something more, something new.
Together, at Super78 they’ve won awards for ground-breaking creative and technical achievements (as did Walt and his company); and have successfully worked in film, television, theme parks and beyond. They even live and work in the neighborhood where the Disney Bros. Studio once stood, and have often (coincidentally) made numerous important business decisions while enjoying a day at Disneyland.
The Walt Disney Birthplace Restoration Takes Shape
As they went about the work of restoring the home and readying it for others to enjoy, they began to uncover parts of the Disney story that had previously gone overlooked. Walt, Roy, and their sister Ruth were born in the home that Walt’s father Elias had built in 1893 from Walt’s mother Flora’s plans, in the working-class neighborhood of Hermosa in Chicago.
The connection to a never-quite-realized soda factory (O’Zell) emerged. And it was here in this home that Walt and Roy’s relationship really began, and where the seeds of Walt’s creative and innovative nature were first nourished and began to grow.
“How do we give back? How can we turn this (Walt’s first home) into something that we can give back to people?”
Dina realized that perhaps they could do more than restore the Walt Disney Birthplace and build an interactive museum. So, in addition to the plan of restoring the home, building a satellite visitor’s center and historic themed trolley tour filled “magically” with scenes from the neighborhood in Walt’s day, they obtained the rights to O’Zell and began making soda (profits from The O-Zell Soda Company help subsidize the home’s restoration). Plans also emerged to build a community center for the families in the area, a neighborhood creativity and innovation lab, dedicated to bringing out and nurturing these very skills in the children living in the community in which Walt was born—the Center for Early Childhood Creativity and Innovation (CECCI)—with the hope that Walt’s story might inspire this current generation of kids in the neighborhood to reach for their dreams too.
“I was always inspired by biographies; reading about people and seeing that anything is possible – that you can do anything you set your mind to, which is one of the things that really resonated with me personally about Walt Disney and his whole story. I mean this was a man who came from nothing. Zero. And the way his family was structured, and where he landed within that family unit, and how he was this whimsical child in this family of seriousness.”
“When we were initially considering buying the home…learning about the house, and learning about the history, and where he came from, made me love it even more…the more we learned about the story, the more we felt—how could we NOT do this—someone HAS to do this!
So we started with a concept drawing—it was the first thing we did—and that’s something I’ll tell you—if you have an idea, put a picture to it. Put it on paper. That’s the first thing you do. Because it not only conveys what’s in your mind to someone else, it also plants the seed in someone’s mind. They’re thinking about it now. Even if they say “No” the seed has been planted, and you can grow it from there. So that’s the first step—and we’ve won quite a few projects by doing that, by creating a concept drawing, that doesn’t cost much…a picture is worth a thousand words…”
…is that you can come from anywhere; you can do anything; believe in yourself; believe in your dreams; because they CAN become realities.
And it’s about partnership as well. Those are the two messages. Because the partnership that the family created, when Roy was little and was born there, taking care of Walt—that’s where that business relationship started, that lifelong partnership—and THAT’s what made the Disney Company what it is today. Walt had a number of failed businesses until he and his brother started working together—that’s what really solidified that dream…”
“It’s such an amazing story—the Walt Disney story—he embodies the idea that underlies CECCI. That whole (Disney) family is what CECCI wants to be for other families—for every family– to be that kind of inspiration for people. And again, it’s not just about Walt. And it’s not just about Walt and Roy, it’s about Elias and Flora, and the other family members because every influence we have as a child makes up who we became as a person. Everything. So that secret, unique recipe, whatever that is, that’s what we want to try to uncover digging through this forensic investigation of the house, and how we’re looking at paint samples, and we’re digging through dirt, and we’re looking at floorboards, and we’re analyzing everything as much as we can, because all of those ingredients that went into the Walt Disney soup, contributed to this amazing soufflé that is continuing to feed to the entire world…(Walt is) one of the world’s most creative innovators—of all time.“
Through CECCI at the Walt Disney Birthplace, Dina and her team hope to create what will be the flagship site for an immersive creativity and innovation program that will initially serve Hermosa and the surrounding community’s children aged 0-8 (along with their parents, teachers, and caregivers) at no cost to them, by providing resources for parents detailing how to encourage creativity and innovative thinking at home with their children; hosting events that celebrate and provide opportunities for creative and innovative growth; working with neighborhood schools and arts centers; and establishing hands-on immersive learning centers.
“It has to do with a partnership, who you surround yourself with—and Walt knew that…you are building your team constantly, and that team affects you in some way. It makes you, in that moment, achieve what you can because of all those people…There’s a symbiosis that goes on with people and with creativity and innovation, and I think that that’s the core of it. It’s like fusion food. New dishes and approaches come out of this marrying of different ideas, and out of it you get something crazy and delicious. And that’s innovation, it’s coming up with new combinations of different existing ideas to come up with a new path forward.”
“It always comes back to the people—at least it does for me. And having the opportunity to create something new.
Don’t get discouraged because people try to dissuade you from following your passions (by saying) it’s been done before. It’s all in your voice, and your voice might be the very voice who gets through, or the voice that actually says it in a way that changes the world.”
Dina Benadon is a former Board Delegate of the Producers Guild of America’s New Media Council (NMC) and the proud 2010 recipient of the Marc A. Levey Award. She has served as Vice Chair of the PGA NMC, and Vice President of the Themed Entertainment Association, Western Division. As a member of Women in Animation, Women in Film, and the TEA, her passions are networking, teambuilding, and community outreach through the fostering of creativity and talent. Dina was a speaker at Digital Hollywood in October 2015 on The Total Immersive Entertainment Experience in SXSW 2012 panel: Multiplatform Storytelling: Frontline War Stories. With twenty years experience developing and producing Special Venue media based attractions, Dina is the Co-Founder and Executive Producer of award-winning Super 78. Before establishing Super 78 in 1997, Dina launched her producing career working with commercial production studios throughout the 1990s including RSA Films, Propaganda, and Limelight followed by a five-year tenure at Rhythm & Hues. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Dina graduated with a BA in theater from the University of Southern California. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.