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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A Follow Up to the Open Letter to Potential Employers…

In my last post, my basic intention was to get the point across that I don’t want to work for an employer who is either disingenuous, can’t see the forest for the trees, or in other words, is so wrapped up financially in a failing product they don’t want to look at the truth, especially when asking someone – in this case any UX analyst, how to fix it. 

That is our job. To fix things when broken, and design a user-centric product if given the chance, if it’s not too late, or hopefully at the get go – before any dev work is even started.

Too many times I’ve seen a product that’s out in the wild and either kind of broken, as in it’s not living up to it’s full-potential of what it can be — or horribly broken, where it was a bad idea in the first place. 

9 times out of 10 when I come on to work on some other product and design it from scratch, my employer will ask me to take a look and give an analysis of a product they already have that’s live, and have even said they know it’s broken, and then ask how to fix it. I do my best to give them a professional analysis, using the template from usability.gov. 

And I think that’s where communication breaks down. I don’t throw in personal feelings to the analysis – I use research based on customer feedback, I look at what works and what doesn’t, I look at why links or mechanisms are where they are, and I look at unity within the product – does it look like it was well thought out when designed and developed.

And I report on that. From that I offer suggestions on how to fix things, how to get it on track and make the product (site, app, whatever) better- how to fix it to get more customers, get customer retention, and get customers to be their advocates and spread the word about their  product.

I design new flows and interactions, wireframes and visual design mockups (yes, I can do visual design). I provide a competitive analysis of what other products have or not, and why they may have better customer retention even though their product may not be as “cool”.

The breakdown is that they ask for a solution, but what I’m beginning to learn is most product owners don’t want a fix, especially one that’s going to point out the real problems- they mostly want some new feature that will distract the user/customer away from all the broken stuff. “What can we add that will make people go “Wow!”?” is usually the response. 

I love to fix things, find solutions to problems, create ground breaking experiences, and when I get the opportunity, design something amazing before it makes it in front of the coders. And then I’ll work side-by-side with them to make sure the product is what’s been designed and get it to launch. 

So if you read my last post and thought I was kinda being a jerk, I humbly apologize. That was never my intention – it was saying if you want to hire me and ask me how to fix an experience, then please (please), allow me to do what I was hired for. And I promise I will give you the most amazing user experience for your customers/users that can be imagined.

Thanks.  

 

 

The Back Door – Access panel

A few builders choose to not have a back access panel on their R2 – they just pop the dome off and reach down inside to get to whatever they need to work on. Being that I’m 6′ 7″, doing that is not an option…

So, I opted for a nicely made fiberglass and metal door, provided by a guy in the R2 builder’s group who goes by “Crash”.

This is the door with the laser cut aluminum painted Satin Dover White, which matches the color of the fiberglass- and happens to be what was closest to the screen-used droids. Why not just plain bright white? Details don’t show up (like all the neat panels) on film when  brightly lit. So, an off-white was used on R2 in all the films. And for the most part it looks pretty white anyway. Once he’s dirtied up a bit it’ll add to the effect of a well-used droid.

Door, metal outer skin for detail, and one of the power couplers mounted.

Detail skin mounted, glued and clamped for drying.

Once the skin was in place and the glue well-cured, it was time to add on the home-made coin returns.

One done and one waiting to dry

So now that I have the door done, I had to figure out how to keep it attached to the body. My first attempt was using good old cabinet closures….

Standard cabinet closure.

The idea was to put four in, one basically at each corner. So I tested it by attaching one closure at a time using the screws to the wood frame, and the clip to the door using JB weld.

The closure aligned but not screwed into place. Yet.

As I did each one and tested it (after lots of trial and error with the JB Weld not holding well enough, until I let it REALLY cure), it seemed like it would work well. The problem though is because the internal frame is at an angle, as much as one or two closures would work, four would not- geometry was against this plan…

So, back to the drawing board to figure out what else would work. The whole cabinet door idea was still stuck in my head. This time though I went for magnetic closures. And like a charm they worked very well.

Nice metal plate glued into place.

One magnet mounted.

The door ready for testing.

SUCCESS!!! It stays closed very nicely.

One thing I did need to do was add some angle brackets inside the door near the bottom to keep it from slipping down as the droid would be moving along.

More updates as I make progress. Among those will be more on the legs, the feet, and eventually the fully interactive dome!

Leg Work

 

Yep- about time for another post on the progress of my very own R2D2. I’ve been spending more time lately on the legs – outer and center.

The first issue I had when I got the legs off eBay from someone was there was a lot of finish work to be done. Bondo, skinning, and other things. So I skinned them with styrene, gluing them and stapling the styrene on. Not a good idea, as the staples show (duh), and the glue got a little lumpy. So thanks to sanding and the magic of Bondo, they’re coming along nicely. Below is one outer leg, ready for final primer, sanding, then color.

So as I’m taking a small break from those, I decided to move onto the center leg and make some custom beefy ankles out of styrene. The beauty of styrene is it’s easy to work with, glues together nicely with plain old model glue, and I have lots left over from the skins on the robot. Plus, half the fun of doing this is BUILDING it, not just assembling a bunch of parts I bought online.

Drawn and ready to cut.

Cut and ready for gluing. Added the small notch or window which will have a backing.

So once the ankles were done, it was time to glue them onto the center leg.

Glued and drying

As far as the outer legs, one of the issues was that the groove towards the bottom of the legs didn’t match up to the booster covers. I know that most people wouldn’t even notice this, but as a builder, and wanting to be pretty close to screen accurate, I did.

The booster cover groove doesn't match.

The solution was to Bondo the existing groove on the legs and then cut in a new groove that lines up more closely to the booster covers.

Marking where the new groove should be.

New groove guide lines

The new groove cut. Just need to bondo the old groove.

Up next- The back door.