Thursday, August 28, 2008

Interview with an Imagineer: Part One

Disney's theme parks are amazing. They are full of fun, excitement, and magic. You have probably visited one of the numerous parks, and, if you have, you most definitely loved it. These parks, as you may know, are created by the Walt Disney Imagineers. These Imagineers have been around since Walt Disney decided he was going to make entertaining attractions for the masses. They develop, revise, construct, paint, and engineer every single piece of the Disney parks. Whether it be a themed restaurant or a parade, a ride or a walkthrough, the Imagineers are the ones who create every single aspect of it.

If you couldn't tell, Imagineers are really awesome. And, just for you, here is the first part of a three part interview between me and an Imagineer, Kevin Brown.

1. How did you become an Imagineer? Was becoming an Imagineer your career goal?

I became an Imagineer by sheer coincidence. My roommate in college was an art major with a great sense of humor and a wide variety of interests. After college he taught art and submitted his portfolio of artwork, and a model as I recall, to Walt Disney Imagineering. He got a job in the model shop and pretty swiftly demonstrated that he could wear many hats - artistic, conceptual, show production, and more.

Cut back to me: while my pal was teaching art, I started working on the entertainment staff of the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire created by Phyllis and Ron Patterson. My major in history and interest in theater was a useful combination and after a while I was busy helping write shows, direct shows, schedule shows and generally coordinate the activities of more than a thousand performers for the Faire weekends.

One day I got a phone call from my college friend (you have to use your imagination here: there were no personal computers to send email, and a phone was a large and clunky plastic thing, generally attached to a wall or sitting on a table.) My friend wanted to know if I would consult with Imagineering about how the Faire was put together, because Disney was considering trying something similar out in front of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride. I said "sure." I met with the team working on the idea, and sketched out for them what elements made up the Faire and how the pieces worked together.

That was my fortuitous foot-in-the-door moment, Imagineering now knew I existed, and I knew they could sometimes find me useful. Fast forward a year or two (sorry, memory gets fuzzy) and I got another call from Imagineering: "Would I consult with them on a dining experience that would rotate out different historical themes and entertainment: viking, Elizabethan, Dickensian?" I said "sure." Since it was a complicated idea, it took months of work to conceptualize it, write a trial script for a show, and make presentations to Imagineering management. Towards the end of the process, right after making a presentation to a Disney executive, my friend's boss turned to me (we were standing in a parking lot at the Disney headquarters in Burbank) and asked "Do you want to work with us full time?" I thought for a second, and said "sure."

So there you have it - I never had Imagineering in mind as a career goal, it just ...happened. The reason it happened is part luck, and part something else. Because my college roommate was very talented, Imagineering hired him. Because I had certain talents and skills, my friend "opened the door" for me to Imagineering. What's the moral of this story? Grow your talents and skills ...Find other talented people ...Be ready so when that door opens, you can say ..."sure!"

2. Were you ever involved with Walt Disney, or was he before your time?

Walt died in 1966 when I was 11, so I never met him. Like all kids of my age, I had watched him on TV many, many Sunday nights, as he introduced the show appearing that night on "The Wonderful World of Disney." Shortly after I joined Imagineering in the later 80s, I had a dream that I was at Disneyland, and there was Walt - his mustache and hair snow white, but looking much the same. He was getting ready for some sort of press event at a new attraction at the park: a land of a miniature, scaled-down America circa the 1830s, when railroads first appeared. Walt had a stack of plaques with him, and he briskly motioned me over and had me restack or sort them while he did another task. Then he picked them up and off he went, as little 1830s trains rattled across miniature tracks around us. It was a cool dream - I didn't know it at the time, but Walt was a passionate train buff all his life.

3. What was your favorite part of being an Imagineer?

Being around really intelligent, really creative people. Everybody had something to say - everbody had something to share! We told each other stories about places we traveled to, great experiences we had, and amazing sights we had seen. We waved our hands around a lot. The writers loved jokes and puns, so we would crack each other up endlessly. The artists could talk about color and light the way good chefs talk about food and fine meals - it was hard not to drool! It was great to be around people from so many backgrounds and disciplines, that were all united in one thing - making stories into physical places for people to enjoy. We got to see our dreams get built, and admired.

I'd have to say another really nice thing about being an Imagineer was that when you told people what your job was, they smiled.

Those were are all answered by a real Imagineer! Keep checking back for "Interview with an Imagineer" parts 2 and 3 for even more intriguing questions and answers with Kevin Brown, Walt Disney Imagineer.

1 comment:

Robert Andruszko said...

Did you ever do the other two parts of this?