Nigel Channing is the chairman of the Imagination Institute, a research and development group that celebrates technological innovation of the unusual kind and researches ways to literally harness the power of creativity.
During the annual Imagination Institute Open House and Inventor of the Year Award, Dr. Channing serves as a master of ceremonies and tour guide. While he is enthusiastic about sharing their latest discoveries with the public and often keeps a jovial public persona, he is wary of the chaos that exists under his roof, ranging from the inventions of Professors Szalinski and Brainard to the mischief caused by Figment. This chaos has resulted in Channing's Open House Sensory Labs tour focusing around "capturing and controlling the imagination" and finding mundane ways to stimulate people's creativity. During this chaos, Nigel finally learns that "Imagination should be set free".
As told in his autobiography Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Eric Idle was not cast as Nigel Channing until the last minute, with Raul Julia having originally been cast in the part before the health issues that lead to his death resulted in him dropping out just before shooting. When actress Marcia Strassman encountered him at the hotel she was staying at and explained the situation, Idle volunteered to take over.
Nigel Channing gained a highly negative reception after it was decided in 1998 to replace Journey Into Imagination with a new attraction based around him and the Imagination Institute setting of the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience film. Guests saw him as a poor replacement for the Dreamfinder and disliked Figment being sidelined to a cameo role. When the attraction was quickly retooled into Journey Into Imagination With Figment, Dr. Channing was turned into a target for the new Figment's mischievous pranks. Despite the attraction update, many fans were still unsatisfied and wanted the return of Dreamfinder.
When Marvel produced the Disney Kingdoms titles based on Figment, Nigel and the Imagination Institute were not used. Instead, a similar group known as the Academy Scientifica-Lucida was created and headed by similarly stuffy scientist characters Chairman Illocrant and Chairman Auckley.
Nigel Channing has chosen to present the Inventor of the Year Award to Wayne Szalinski, despite media criticism related to Szalinski's reputation as a mad scientist. He introduces the latest of Szalinski's inventions produced during his time at the Institute and managing to roll with the hijinks that ensue. However, he is terrified when the Shrinking Machine shrinks the auditorium and all of its inhabitants, quipping about the "hundreds of tiny potential lawsuits". Though the theater is restored, the ceremony ends in embarrasment as a enlargened Quark begins messing up much of the set.
On an Open House tour of the Imagination Institute, Nigel Channing presents his Imagination Scanner machine, a device capable of scanning and visualizing people's creativity. When the tour goes through the machine, the Scanner finds the minds of all the guests to be empty. Nigel proceeds to take the tour through the rest of the Institute's various labs in an effort to stimulate their creativity, which results in an overload during a second scan.
On an Open House tour of the Imagination Institute, Nigel Channing hopes to demonstrate through his Sensory Labs how the imagination can be captured and controlled. When Figment offers to join the tour and offer his insight, Dr. Channing immediately tells him to leave. From there, Figment interrupts Channing's dull experiments of Sound, Sight, and Smell with imaginative pranks. Nigel quits his tour before guests go to Touch and Taste and Figment invites him and the guests to his own upside-down Open House, which gives Nigel an epiphany to start thinking upside down and out the box. In an explosion of creativity, the Imagination Institute's Lab fades away into a Figment-filled dreamscape, with Nigel's face appearing on the moon in a final space scene.