The Heart of an Imagineer

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I want to be a Disney Imagineer. And that’s been something I’ve wanted to be since I was 5 or 6, give or take. I believe as well that I possess what I call the heart of a Disney Imagineer.

And with that, a theory popped in my head the other day, and for the most part I think it’s pretty close, though there are some possible holes in it.

Recently I’ve had the blessing of being around a lot of Disney Imagineering folks lately – which in and of itself is pretty much living the dream. Everyone who knows me, longtime friends, colleagues, family, knows this is my dream job. That’s not to say when working for other companies I don’t give my all, and do the best I can do. In fact I do my best to go above and beyond, but I do it as if I were an Imagineer.

At my last job, I worked with a lot of very talented people, with quite a few having been Imagineers at one time or another. They were nice, extremely talented people, and I loved my job.

I have a lot of Imagineers in my LinkedIn, both current and past, and I noticed what I think might be an interesting trend. I’m basing this off of my most recent experiences with Imagineering — recently at the bi-annual D23 convention, and getting to sit down with, talk with, and work around a lot of really great, warm-hearted people.

Below are some photos from that weekend I spent with Disney Imagineers – and most closely with ones that have been there a long time and are VIP’s I never even had a clue as to their level of influence or place on the company ladder. To me they’re friendly, warm, inviting people who made me feel like I belonged. People that I consider friends (and I’m pretty cautious as to who I count as a friend).

This is R2 having a blast at D23, while I’m off to the side mingling with guests. My setup has the main controls in a messenger bag, and sounds over bluetooth from my iPhone. That way if someone glances my way, I can pretend I’m texting or making a call (“Hey honey, you gotta tell the kids about this awesome R2 they have here!”). Works all the time.

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Below: With El Fortuno – one of Imagineering R&D’s coolest animatronics to date. This uses facial recognition, collision detection, and is interactive with the guests.

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Helping an Imagineer make sure his architectural plans are perfect.

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With the Dude

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With Imagineering legend Marty Sklar

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And last but certainly not least, Jon Georges and his team, who are some of the nicest, warmest (and coolest too) people I have ever had the pleasure of working with – along with Her Universe’s Ashly Eckstein.

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Remember this is only a theory, and it’s not meant in any way, shape or form to be accurate, or upset anyone who might be reading this. So please bear with me.

I decided to take a look at a lot of my LinkedIn contacts — who are still there and have been for a long time (and through various layoffs), and those who were there a short time, maybe only during a project. There is a chance some or most were contract (and thus one hole in my theory).

What I noticed is they are all very smart, very talented people. The best of the best. “A” players. They have to be in order to maintain the level of quality that’s inherently Disney.

There’s something that I saw in a lot of Imagineers I worked side-by-side with at D23 – and the best thing I can label that as is the heart of an Imagineer. Walt Disney had it, and so do the people I spent 3 very long days with.

And that made me think, and look at other people who aren’t but were Imagineers. I don’t think they had the heart of an Imagineer. That’s not to say in any way that they aren’t talented or exceptionally nice folks. I’m sure they are to some degree or other.  And of course this is only coming from my view, and thus why it’s a theory.

But there’s a hole to my theory. Some of the guys I worked with at my last job had been Imagineers, and are very nice warm-hearted people, yet they didn’t make it to a long career as an Imagineer.  And I can’t explain that.

I’m going to take a stab though, that what makes a great Imagineer is a combination of talent (great talent), smarts, flexibility, adaptability, humor, imagination, being able to think big and then visualize or tell that to others so nothing is lost, and a very warm heart.  And lastly, I believe, they were born to be an Imagineer. That’s what I think differentiates those who get to work there on a few projects vs. those who are kept on as the main group.

I’ve seen this in a lot of Imagineers I talk with, got to work with, and keep in touch with. There are those I can see who will be there until retirement, and others who, as good as they are, are really there only for the short haul (and that could be 10 years). I think there’s a different level of passion in those who have dreamt of becoming an Imagineer since childhood, and kept that dream as well as child-like imagination alive their whole lives, especially when they land in Imagineering; to those who are there to learn, work on some really cool projects they can put on their resumé, and then move on to maybe having their own company.

And that’s okay. I have a ton of respect for those people who want to be in control of their careers outside a large organization like Disney. I’ve had a few of my own businesses — a digital content company and a video game company (both very successful) but it’s hard work and at the end of the day i’d rather be creating new things and not having to worry about chasing after money. Some of those folks are on my LinkedIn, and I count myself blessed to know them.

So, my theory, or thought – is that the people who are “lifers” in Imagineering, are those I described, and not only have the heart of an Imagineer, but were just born to be one. As I said, I know and have worked with and for people who at one time had been an Imagineer — and they’re extremely amazing people. But they weren’t meant to be one, I think, from the day they were born.

I’m hoping that WDI sees someday I have that heart, and I believe with that heart I was born to be an Imagineer. And maybe I can write about the amazing people and the things they do from inside the walls at 1401 Flower.

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2 thoughts on “The Heart of an Imagineer

  1. For imagineers the saying goes “Once an Imagineer…always an Imagineer”. As many will agree, not all of us who worked at Imagineering and are no longer there chose to leave nor was there a logical reason for it. For some of us the economy broke and decisions were made by people who really don’t know who you are or what your capabilities are. When I was there It was a corporation employing 130,000 people world wide. They had to cut 10 percent of the work force company wide through all divisions. People had to be let go. Our jobs were project based. What this means is your job depended on a project being in the Queue and being funded. If your project lost funding and you didn’t get a chance to move over to another, you maybe were out of luck. Now I have worked for Imagineering multiple times in my career. I started in the 80s and ended in the 2000s. I saw people who were there months away from retirement lose their jobs for no apparent reasons and these people were well known and loved in the division. The people who are still there today that are long lived serve a purpose and have high profiles in the company. Like any organization you have people with more political power and exposure than others regardless of what heart or talent they may have. Sometimes the dice does not role in your favor… Sometimes it does.
    I consider myself very lucky to have worked there and know that I probably will again.

    Keep making your connections and keep your persistence up and one day you will find yourself on the inside walls of the Flower street building, and when that happens you will see that the world pretty much runs the same there as anywhere else, but the people you will be working with are of high quality and talent to be sure and the culture is very unique mainly due to the history that supports those walls.

    • Hi Nicholas,
      Yes, I know a lot about (as I’ve heard from friends who worked there) the layoffs here and there in the past and know they still go on now. If you’re hired on a project basis, when at the end of that, there’s a high probability you’ll be let go unless you can get onto another project, or be lined up for it before the one you’re on is near its end. And then there are just the layoffs where 10% are seemingly randomly chosen. Been there myself at another company.
      As I said there were holes to my theory, as you’ve come and gone so many times. I know people who were there and are amazing talents, with good hearts. As you said, sometimes it’s a roll of the dice.

      I’m still making connections, keeping in touch with the one’s I know well, and hoping something happens before I’m at retirement age.. 🙂

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