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Joe Rohde announces retirement from WDI

Sirwalterraleigh

Premium Member
A punch in the gut. Rohde brought a unique style to WDI and WDW. Authentic, anthropologistic, with a mastery of artefacts and visual cues, creating worlds to be slowly explored intellectually and visually.

Rohde's style is an acquired taste for me, but as these tend to do, I am now firmly converted.

DAK now represents what a modern WDW could be like if it still aimed high. His little southwest kingdom of DAK and Lodge feel secluded from the infantilisation that has befallen the rest of WDW. In my heart, I think I realise what will happen next.

Can you spruce this up for me by throwing in a superfluous adjective or two??
Yes yes. When I'm 65, I will certainly be looking for the door...

I thought you were already like 97?!? 😳

Rohde several months ago already was covertly but publicly philosophising about his life and future. Realising that his number of productive years are now limited and needed to be carefully used.

There seems to be truth to his personal motives to move on. No large project at TWDC for the near future, while meanwhile this is his last chance to explore other interests. Baxter is a Disney man, he lived to design rides and tweak DL. Rohde's interests by contrast aligned with Disney almost accidentally, his creative interests are more varied. Their retirements are not necessarily equally a matter of being shown the door.

Puzzlingly though, Rohdes big projects were completed in 2017, so for three years his basic position has been the same. Time ticking away, with no new half a decade pet project in the pipeline. Pushed out after all, or despondent at Covid ending any hopes of a last inspired new project at WDI?

...now that’s more like it 👌🏻
 

Giss Neric

Well-Known Member
Yes, he took the package and it was to good to pass up. My company has lost many good engineers with 30 and 40 years of experience. They were offered a retirement package and it was the smart thing to do. He could do some consulting work on contract down the line.
Same thing happened with us. There are 4 employees who are supposed to be retiring in 2021/2022 but they were just forced to retire this year and were given the retirement package.
 

egg

Well-Known Member
I hear a lot about Mission Breakout being one of his low points and that’s a tough argument to make. While a lot of people here don’t like it, it takes advantage of their cheaper ride system to create a unique experience not even possible with Orlando’s, it hits the story beats real well for the tone of the ride, and even if you disagree, it’s getting better GSATs than any Tower of Terror. So the people have spoken.

A better example of less than stellar work would be Kali River Rapids or Navi River Journey, in my opinion.

Regardless, he’s done great things and I wish him the best.
 

Rteetz

Premium Member
I hear a lot about Mission Breakout being one of his low points and that’s a tough argument to make. While a lot of people here don’t like it, it takes advantage of their cheaper ride system to create a unique experience not even possible with Orlando’s, it hits the story beats real well, and even if you disagree, it’s getting better GSATs than their Tower of Terror did and it also

A better example of poor work on his part would be Kali River Rapids or Navi River Journey, in my opinion

Regardless, he’s done great things and I wish him the best.
All three of those you discuss are things he did the best he could with really. Kali as we know was not the original plan but budget constraints, same with NRJ, and Dino-land. Mission Breakout was a very different project for him but again one he tried to tie together as well as he could with story elements.

Looking more at Dino-land specifically that one they put such story into all the way down to the asphalt. It may have been cheap and less appreciated but that didn't stop the detail with the money they had. I think that is very much the brilliance of the man. He could take nearly anything and give it a heckuva story and theme.
 

egg

Well-Known Member
This right here is Joe Rohde’s finest moment:


All three of those you discuss are things he did the best he could with really. Kali as we know was not the original plan but budget constraints, same with NRJ, and Dino-land. Mission Breakout was a very different project for him but again one he tried to tie together as well as he could with story elements.

Looking more at Dino-land specifically that one they put such story into all the way down to the asphalt. It may have been cheap and less appreciated but that didn't stop the detail with the money they had. I think that is very much the brilliance of the man. He could take nearly anything and give it a heckuva story and theme.
I personally think Kali climaxes too early leaving people expecting more, and NRJ went too heavy on detail and light on story, which are design decisions. But yes, they are also both victims of budget constraints, and I agree with your overall point.
 

Sirwalterraleigh

Premium Member
All three of those you discuss are things he did the best he could with really. Kali as we know was not the original plan but budget constraints, same with NRJ, and Dino-land. Mission Breakout was a very different project for him but again one he tried to tie together as well as he could with story elements.

Looking more at Dino-land specifically that one they put such story into all the way down to the asphalt. It may have been cheap and less appreciated but that didn't stop the detail with the money they had. I think that is very much the brilliance of the man. He could take nearly anything and give it a heckuva story and theme.

I feel like you may have heard this question before...

...but why where they under those budget constraints??
 

champdisney

Well-Known Member
Had to deal with The Undertaker officially wrapping up his career this weekend and I am just now learning Joe Rohde is retiring from WDI. Two great legends within their respective industries. Sucks to see them go but what a ride... literally.

God, I wish I could retire this week too... 😓
 

DDLand

Well-Known Member
Joe Rohde is one of my favorite Imagineers of all time. He took almost perpetually awful circumstances and managed to defeat the odds over and over. He was the real deal. He didn’t just read about Asia or indigenous cultures, he went and experienced them. He knows art and history with incredible precision. The famously critical and demanding James Cameron has given Rohde high praise. Rohde evolved and stayed far longer than many of his peers. The stories he has told are some of my favorite. He is awesome.


I am usually hesitant to say someone is irreplaceable, but Joe might be irreplaceable. There just aren’t very many Joe Rohdes walking on the Earth. Every person who worked or interviewed him I’ve seen has been impressed. He’s just a ball of intense energy, passion, and knowledge. He’s weird, but in the best possible way. He takes his craft very very seriously. Some may argue too seriously, but I think the results speak for themselves. In an era of theme parks that will be remembered for mediocre Star Wars and Toy Story Lands, he produced really brilliant and clever things. It sucks to think we’ll never see another Joe Rohde project. As he would be the first to say, he has a team he leaves behind. They are also responsible for the projects as they exist. They’ll still make amazing things. But Joe had an ability to describe projects to laymen, and completely leave them awestruck. He was a communicator who could leverage amazing teams and communicate that to the rest of the company. You just can’t ignore him.


Some of my favorite Joe Rohde attractions...


Kilimanjaro Safari: This was, as far as I remember, the first E Ticket he ever led the design on. Everything in the entire safari is entirely manmade. There was nothing existing when they moved in to build it. Every hill, stream, tree, and rock is designed. It is beautiful and one of the great Disney attractions. It represents Disney at its very best. It also represents how Joe was able to learn and grow. When he built Animal Kingdom he had no clue what he was doing. One of the things he learned is that, often, a heavy-handed narrative is unnecessary. He realized that the Little Red story, while nice, was gratuitous. The (real) animals were all the story guests need. Let the animals be centerstage. It’s also timeless. I have to take my hat off for Michael Eisner too. This was a dark time for his leadership, but credit is due.


Expedition Everest: I love this attraction too. It’s stunningly beautiful. Like a work of art. This is one of the most magical attractions at Disney. It’s also very clever. Rollercoasters tend to be short and expensive. When a train is moving rapidly, the train goes through track extremely quickly. That elevates the cost of the whole attraction. Either that means a shorter ride or bigger price tag. See Tron Lightcycles for a good example of this problem. You’ll notice Expedition Everest handles this in a clever way. Everest has two major show scenes that bring the train to a complete stop. This is a super efficient use of a rollercoaster. The best thing you can do is be stationary, because that’s fewer rooms to decorate and less track to build. The two stops last for about 30 seconds. But you don’t feel cheated. They build the suspense. This is an example of how good storytelling (building suspense) can = good business. While some people make fun of sections of rollercoaster going through the dark, this also is good storytelling and good business. Suppose they would have decided to build cave walls for the all the scenes. That would have elevated the cost dramatically. This would have meant fewer thrills most likely. Most people would gladly take a longer rollercoaster in a dark room over fewer thrills in some cave walls. I would also argue that the dark is creepy and helps build the fear. But I know that it is more controversial… haha Expedition Everest is a case study for how business and art don’t have to be enemies. How Disney has failed to maintain the various effects at Everest show Disney did not learn its lesson. Compare Expedition Everest’s careful money-saving techniques to Rise of the Resistance. While Rise of the Resistance is technologically impressive, it’s less elegant in design. Everest also is, again, timeless. Totally timeless. In 50 years Everest as concept will still be breathtaking. It’s likely many E Tickets of our era will not age so well.


Flight of Passage: I still dislike Avatar in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I think it’s an awful fit. But I do have good things to say about Flight of Passage. Flight of Passage could have been a battle simulator where you “take out the RDA to wrest control of Pandora!” Instead, it is this thoughtful story. Starting out timidly, you make the first jump. You build up confidence until you encounter a monster that shakes your confidence. Again, like in Everest, you stop. This doesn’t have to do with suspense, but instead a renewed sense of adventure. Then you finish out the flight. The pacing is superb. When I compare the story to Millennium Falcon Smuggler’s Fun… Wow, it’s on another level. Also, a kind of a clever detail to look for. At the beginning of the ride, you’ll notice the RDA cut through sacred paintings of the Navi at the cave. They conquered it, and subdued the land. But at the end of the attraction, at the RDA base, you’ll notice the Navi have painted over the RDA facility. They have reclaimed it and made it their own. The story is complete. Just like the planet is coming back to life, the Navi are retaking their planet.


Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Aulani are both excellent. They put storytelling first. The 2010s were the time when Disneyland added Batuu, Tokyo DisneySea is adding Peter Pan and Frozen, and Epcot is adding Rocket Raccoon and Groot. In an era best described with the word “entropy,” he brought order to his creations. While Avatar required compromise, he did not compromise the story. That park remains meaningful and logical.


There were rumors of some type of Disney response to Epic Universe that would have included expansions to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Whether there was any credence to the rumors, I’m not sure. But it would make sense if Joe was designing things behind the scenes. COVID-19 would have made any new project untenable or impossible. I’m also sure the ascendency of Chapek was a bad sign. Is Chapek going to meaningfully invest in great things? Was it a firing or a happy exit? I hope it wasn’t firing, but Disney has proven they don’t care about retaining talent in theme parks. Chapek and D’Amaro have proven that they believe even the most talented Cast Members are expendable. Thus, it’s not a great leap to assume they would fire Joe too. As Michael Eisner once said, speaking of theme park operations, that monkeys could do their jobs. Yes, and perhaps that’s how they view Imagineering too.


In a time when Disney is becoming ever more soulless, they may have fired a man who brought real meaning to Disney. This sucks.


Thanks for some of the most beautiful and fantastic stories I’ve ever walked into! Enjoy retirement!
 

Sir_Cliff

Well-Known Member
DAK now represents what a modern WDW could be like if it still aimed high. His little southwest kingdom of DAK and Lodge feel secluded from the infantilisation that has befallen the rest of WDW. In my heart, I think I realise what will happen next.
This really sums up my feelings about Rhode leaving perfectly. DAK felt like a little pocket of "old" Disney that was still ambitious and original. Looking at all the other parks around the world, it's hard to imagine there's anyone at Disney that will put any effort into keeping it that way.

Your other post also really summed up what I think is the difference between Rhode and Baxter. I get the impression that a happy old age for Baxter would have involved continuing to play around with new Disney attractions, whereas I have my doubts Rhode envisions spending much of his retirement hanging around Disney parks unless he's being paid. Rhode was able to apply his many interests to designing attractions for Disney, but those interests went beyond his work for Disney and I imagine he wants more time to pursue them while he can. The circumstances, including a significant nudge from Disney, likely gave him the push to do that.
 
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tirian

Well-Known Member
Had to deal with The Undertaker officially wrapping up his career this weekend and I am just now learning Joe Rohde is retiring from WDI. Two great legends within their respective industries. Sucks to see them go but what a ride... literally.

God, I wish I could retire this week too... 😓
It’s like when Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, and Tony Baxter left a few years ago, or when Tim Delaney and Eddie Sotto walked away before that. These are legendary animators and Imagineers, leaving because the company’s priorities and commitments have clearly shifted.

It’s too revealing to pretend everything is okay.
 

JohnD

Well-Known Member
I don't think it was a firing. But he's 65 and put in 40 years. On that front alone, he hit all the right buttons for retirement. He probably could have continued on if he wanted to. But then COVID hit and the flexibility to work on whatever projects came to a halt. Budget constraints as well as health and safety became the primary focus which limits what can be done next. This is probably the best time for him to make his exit. He's definitely earned his retirement and I wish him well.
 

JohnD

Well-Known Member
Puzzlingly though, Rohdes big projects were completed in 2017, so for three years his basic position has been the same. Time ticking away, with no new half a decade pet project in the pipeline. Pushed out after all, or despondent at Covid ending any hopes of a last inspired new project at WDI?

I'm sure there were other external factors to his leaving but this year he's 65 and has worked for TWDC for 40 years. So he's hit qualification for retirement. The external factors to his leaving account for whether he would continue on or to retire now. He chose to retire now but definitely not before this year.
 

donsullivan

Premium Member
The practical reality of this is likely pretty simple. He hit eligible retirement age and given Disney's financial crunch there are not likely to be a lot of new projects of a scale appropriate to his experience and skills in the next few years. By the time something like that comes around again he'd be in his late 60's and not likely want to jump on something huge again. So it seems an appropriate and reasonable time for him to retire from Disney and he can go work on some personal project(s) he might have been interested in. While disappointing to lose someone of his talent level it doesn't seem terribly nefarious at all.
 

Sirwalterraleigh

Premium Member
The practical reality of this is likely pretty simple. He hit eligible retirement age and given Disney's financial crunch there are not likely to be a lot of new projects of a scale appropriate to his experience and skills in the next few years. By the time something like that comes around again he'd be in his late 60's and not likely want to jump on something huge again. So it seems an appropriate and reasonable time for him to retire from Disney and he can go work on some personal project(s) he might have been interested in. While disappointing to lose someone of his talent level it doesn't seem terribly nefarious at all.

I believe you’re spot on.

The sad part is not what this means for him...but for us - the consumers.

It’s not good...but completely predictable.
 

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