We’ve seen quite a few changes made recently when it comes to the Walt Disney Company.
Not too long ago, Disney MASSIVELY restructured their media and entertainment businesses to focus on streaming. We’ve also seen a lot of shake-ups within the team of creators responsible for MAKING all the Disney magic, Imagineering. We’ve seen quite a few influential individuals retiring and others getting new titles. So, what’s the deal? What’s going on over at Imagineering and why should you care? We’re sharing all the details here with you.
What is Imagineering and Why Should We Care?
As Disney itself shares, Walt Disney Imagineering was founded by Walt Disney in 1952. Imagineering is the “creative force behind the memorable Disney experiences that connect and inspire across generations and borders.” Basically, Imagineering is the creative arm of the Disney company that designs and builds theme parks, rides, hotels, and cruise ships around the world. They also oversee creative aspects related to Disney games, merchandise, and other things. If you’ve ever seen something really cool from Disney and thought, “how’d they DO that?!” — that’s Imagineering at work.
One Imagineering job description explained that Walt Disney Imagineering (also referred to sometimes as WDI) is the “master planning, creative development, design, engineering, production, project management, and research and development arm of Disney’s Parks and Resorts business segment.” Imagineering represents more than 150 different disciplines — everything from project managers to sculptors, architects to financial planners, and everything in between.
Basically, Imagineering takes care of designing and building many of those experiences that make you want to experience the magic of Disney over and over again. From the way that Pandora’s mountains float in the sky, to the way that you feel when you soar over London on Peter Pan’s Flight — these are the people who help design it all and help make it happen.
So, why should YOU care about changes going on in Imagineering — retirements, new titles, etc.? Well, these people are the ones behind some of your favorite old and upcoming rides. If there are massive behind-the-scenes changes, that could mean some BIG changes IN the parks. And from what we’re seeing, we think there are some changes going on here that could really push the envelope in terms of future entertainment. We’ll explain… .
What Has Changed and What Could it Mean?
Some Big Imagineers Have Retired
First, we lost some fantastic, incredibly influential Imagineers as they retired from the Company. Imagineer Joe Rohde retired earlier this year after 40 YEARS with Disney. Rohde spearheaded or otherwise helped create SO many significant projects in the parks. Most well know was basically…all of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. He also worked on Expedition Everest, Pandora: The World of Avatar, The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Captain EO, portions of EPCOT, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission BREAKOUT! in Disneyland, and SO much more.
Rohde has now retired, which means his experience, his knowledge, and his unique talents and perspective are gone from Imagineering. That could mean that projects he was pushing for might get put to the side or other things he was working on might look very different as someone knew takes over. Whoever steps up to the plate to fill his shoes on projects he was working on will likely bring their own perspective to projects.
BUT Rohde isn’t “retired” retired. Soon after his Disney retirement kicked in, he announced he’s off working on new exciting projects, like taking us to LITERAL space?! Perhaps we’ll still get to experience his unique work in totally unexpected ways.
Imagineer Kevin Rafferty has also recently retired. Rafferty worked on a whole bunch of awesome projects over the years including Cars Land, Test Track, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and so many more.
Again, like Rohde, losing Rafferty means Imagineering is losing someone with a huge amount of knowledge and experience. Both of these men were long-time, major influences in Imagineering. It almost has a “changing of the guard” vibe to everything that a few of the respected veterans are stepping down. Perhaps to make room for new blood and new ideas?
But, the Real Focus Here is the Title Changes
The real focus here though is not so much on who has left, but rather on the internal changes being made in Imagineering that might give us a clue of where things are heading.
Recently, Bob Weiss, who was formerly titled simply “President of Imagineering,” got a new title — President, Walt Disney Imagineering — Creative and New Experience Development. Weiss’ LinkedIn describes the job as “Leading a multidisciplinary team focused on exploring, developing and bringing to market groundbreaking ideas.”
Meanwhile, Barbara Bouza got a new title at Imagineering as well. Bouza was named the President of Business Operations, Design & Delivery for Walt Disney Imagineering last summer. In that role, her job was to oversee daily operations, development, and project delivery. Now, according to her LinkedIn profile, she is President, Walt Disney Imagineering — Business Management, Design, and Development.
Her new position involves working “collaboratively with stakeholders across the business to design, develop, and execute projects for Disney.”
While Disney hasn’t really revealed any specific information about what these changes mean, we’ve got some ideas. From the looks of it, it seems Disney has essentially split the Walt Disney Imagineering President role into one position for creative development (Weiss’ role) and one position for more business-driven things (Bouza’s role).
This is similar to what was done with Disney’s media and entertainment side. There, Disney split things so the “creative engines” side could focus on developing new content, while the “distribution and commercialization” side is all centralized into another part of the organization.
So, what could the changes at Imagineering be pointing to? Well, it seems that this split would allow Weiss to focus on the creation and development of new ideas for the parks and let Bouza handle the business side of things. More focus on creativity and innovation could mean big advancements in what we see in the parks.
This could mean that experiences we can’t even dream of right now could be given the time and attention they need to grow and develop. Maybe we’ll see HUGE improvements on virtual reality? We’ve kept an eye out for new patents being filed by Disney, and there are lots that could show where the future is headed.
The world (and technology) is changing, and it seems Disney has recognized the need to push to new frontiers when it comes to entertainment. By allowing the creative and business sides to be split, it allows each of them to focus on their unique aspects of the business and really dedicate their attention to that.
Disney has already recognized that things are changing. Last year, we heard from Josh D’Amaro, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products during a conference. In that presentation, D’Amaro said “Why not take our guests to the moon? Or bring the moon to our guests? Why not dream as big as possible? And challenge the very meaning of the word impossible.”
What exactly is D’Amaro hinting at specifically? Is it things like Space 220, the Star Wars hotel, or is there SO much more coming? We have a feeling there are a lot of fantastic projects over at Imagineering that we’ll see in the future with technological advancements and more that will WOW us and the world, and raise the bar when it comes to theme parks.
It seems Disney also realizes that some guests are looking for really personalized, immersive, and customized experiences in the parks as well. Disney has worked on things like the Play Disney Parks app and other features, especially in areas like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to really build up an immersive story.
In terms of recent patents, we’ve seen some filed that show how the Star Wars hotel will take you to space, how Disney is working to develop more technology that’ll focus on your NOSE, a system that may be built to interact with the attraction you’re riding, and even a way that could make your bedtime stories REAL.
We’ve also seen Disney working on things like the Disney Genie app that is meant to help you build customized plans for your Disney trips.
Basically, we know or have an idea about SOME of the unique technology and improvements that are (or could be) coming our way in the future. But, with the changes going on in Imagineering and ideally a greater sense of freedom and time being given to those on the creative side, we have a feeling there will be SO much more on its way.
Overall, there’s still a lot about these changes in Imagineering that Disney hasn’t shared. Our thoughts here are based on our understanding of the arrangements and situation. What’s going on at Imagineering has a DIRECT impact on what we see in the parks and even outside of the parks with merchandise or other experiences, so this could matter in a big way.
Back when Walt Disney was designing Disneyland, he famously would refer to his brother, Roy, as the business side of the operation. Walt said he’d come up with the fantastical ideas and it was Roy who’d be the voice of reason and keep him in check. Sure has a similar feeling to what’s going on in Imagineering. If you want your creators to focus on creating, separating out the business stuff bogging them down in their day-to-day seems like a good way to encourage that. But, that side is still there making sure everything is moving along and viable.
This feels like a major paradigm shift in Imagineering and time will tell if it was beneficial. These title changes make us feel like some EPIC experiences could be on their way. We’re expecting big surprises out of Imagineering in the next few years. (Remember last week when Josh D’Amaro teased us with a real, working Lightsaber?! Yeah, they’ve got some tricks up their sleeves for sure.) Only time will tell what new things will be coming our way, but we cannot wait to see it all. Stay tuned for more updates and news!
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What do you think about the changes going on over at Imagineering? Tell us in the comments!