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Orlando Becoming East Coast Headquarters for Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products

hopemax

Well-Known Member
In a lot of ways it’s a problem of being too inspired and too passionate. Being a theme park designer is now something to which people aspire. You can get a degree from known universities in themed entertainment design. So the inspiration in theme parks, and especially Disney’s parks, is no longer the real world but theme parks themselves.

Go look at Joe Rhode’s Instagram account and it’s about people, places, art and history. His fascination is with the real and he imitates that in his work. Herb Ryman was known for his traveling to paint. As was Marc Davis. Hench vigorously studied philosophy and design theory. When Walt brought in Nelbert Chouinard to teach the animators she didn’t have them copying animation but real life subject. When it came time to make Bambi they brought in real deer to study (Andreas Deja recently posted on his blog reactions to The Lion King from some of the old guard and Marc Davis complained the lions looked to cartoony). The lands of the parks were built very much as real places, or at least the illusion of real places whereas now they’re built as fake places. New Fantasyland 1983 drew more inspiration from European villages than the films that inspire so much of the land’s content but Nee Fantasyland 2012 is very much drawn from the movies first and foremost. The parks have moved from copies to copies of copies.

This has also combined with increasing specialization. The visual elements of theme have become something distinct, an application applied on top of a box. Disciplines have become more layered instead of melded together and intertwined.
I also point to the experience with different media as well. Movies and theme parks are different, but having movie backgrounds gave the original Imagineers the experience to naturally build a scene, and populate it in a way that really spoke to consumers. I've long though Emile Kuri was an underrated contributor to the success of Disneyland. Theme parks haven't really seen that sort of thing again until Stuart Craig and Alan Gilmore's contributions to the WWoHP. Innate skills that people who only design themed entertainment may not have honed.

We talk about the financial / creative pairings at the CEO level leads to success, and not so much about how a pairing between a movie production + theme park operations could be likewise beneficial. I don't know how much of a door goes between studio ops to WDI, but I would like to see what would happen if there were more of that again. But the good studio people might prefer to slide between studio projects or different productions studios, and don't consider themed entertainment as something they want to do or is a step back.
 

lazyboy97o

Well-Known Member
I also point to the experience with different media as well. Movies and theme parks are different, but having movie backgrounds gave the original Imagineers the experience to naturally build a scene, and populate it in a way that really spoke to consumers. I've long though Emile Kuri was an underrated contributor to the success of Disneyland. Theme parks haven't really seen that sort of thing again until Stuart Craig and Alan Gilmore's contributions to the WWoHP. Innate skills that people who only design themed entertainment may not have honed.

We talk about the financial / creative pairings at the CEO level leads to success, and not so much about how a pairing between a movie production + theme park operations could be likewise beneficial. I don't know how much of a door goes between studio ops to WDI, but I would like to see what would happen if there were more of that again. But the good studio people might prefer to slide between studio projects or different productions studios, and don't consider themed entertainment as something they want to do or is a step back.
The problem now is that so much of movie sets are digital that you can have the movie people insisting on something they didn’t really do.

It wasn’t just set designers. Disneyland also had a lot of architects who worked more directly on it in a way that does not really happen any more. Mid-century Los Angeles was also like a perfect moment in time to get architects who could do themed entertainment. Modernism was ascendant but the Bauhaus teaching model was still nascent, so many of those working still had a more traditional Beaux-Arts education. Many architects in the area did double duty as set designers and many set designers had architectural training. The eclecticism of Hollywood also extended into the built environment with a variety of homes and businesses being built as proto-themed spaces. So you had all of these people who understood how things get built and the traditional principles of building.
 

EricsBiscuit

Well-Known Member
Getting rid of people is meaningless if you don’t change processes, especially when you no longer have people with experience to know which process is critical and which is not.

Again, projects at the Disneyland Resort were not better managed. Does being in Florida really that meaningfully closer to Paris? What you describe would be more like returning to the older model where each resort was more separate from the others.
Let’s see what processes they change. Personnel is policy.
 

flynnibus

Premium Member
The whole Zach thing goes against the narrative that Disney hated "celebrity Imagineers" like Tony and Joe. Seems to me they just hated the way they would use their weight to push back against stupid ideas.

I don't think there is a comparison here at all. One, the bulk of those guy's significance was prior to the social media boom.

Two, Zach ain't on the level of those guys.

Three, we are in the social media boom now - Instagram is where all the under 35yrs are

Four, Zach just comes off as a spokesperson, not as a person with a social media presence. So it's not like this is one guy just don't his thing on his own.

I don't see it as any different from the DPB personalities they built up over the years.
 

britain

Well-Known Member
The whole Zach thing goes against the narrative that Disney hated "celebrity Imagineers" like Tony and Joe. Seems to me they just hated the way they would use their weight to push back against stupid ideas.

Let’s hear Zach give an interview about how he disagrees with a choice the company has made. And then we will see what happens.
 

disneyC97

Well-Known Member
IMO, there's nothing in that picture that isn't disappointing. A bad forced perspective. Walls along a bridge that keep you from seeing a pretty good river scene (but what good is a nice scene if no one sees it?). The utter baffling conceit that there's a door in a mountain supposedly a mile from the castle that has the castle immediately behind that door. All leading to a warehouse room that's too loud, for food that's too expensive, with an awful SFX of flickering candles in which large groups of them flicker in unison making them look extra fake. One and done for me.
💯💯💯💯💯
 

egg

Well-Known Member
It kind of feels like someone is trying to “imprint his stench stamp” on the company because he knows his time as CEO is short. He had his “Master Ship Builder” sign erected at Castaway Cay less than 2 years after being installed as head of P&R, which seems like someone’s ego, and insecurities, running wild when they didn’t really build anything but want their name out there.
Tom Staggs had a sign there before. They just replaced his with a Bob Chapek one which was the logical thing to do.
 

Lilofan

Well-Known Member
Tom Staggs had a sign there before. They just replaced his with a Bob Chapek one which was the logical thing to do.
C'mon, no signage except for the damaged plane prop on the island airport runway leading to the adult beach that is still there at Castaway to pay tribute to the former "occupants" of the island before Disney took it over?😉
 

Sir_Cliff

Well-Known Member
I don't think there is a comparison here at all. One, the bulk of those guy's significance was prior to the social media boom.

Two, Zach ain't on the level of those guys.

Three, we are in the social media boom now - Instagram is where all the under 35yrs are

Four, Zach just comes off as a spokesperson, not as a person with a social media presence. So it's not like this is one guy just don't his thing on his own.

I don't see it as any different from the DPB personalities they built up over the years.
I agree and don't get the idea that Disney didn't like celebrity Imagineers. Sure, some people may have had a gift for self-promotion, but people like Baxter weren't exactly freelancing and giving interviews about their projects behind Disney's back. My impression was that Disney always found a Baxter or Rhode that became a recognisable name and face useful for promoting their parks. Thus, they rolled them out for TV specials and made them available for press interviews. Zach seems to be the latest iteration of that promotional exercise.

For me, a big difference between these people and Zach is that they actually worked on projects that people knew and liked before anyone really knew much about them. As fans, I'm sure almost all of us could rattle off attractions, lands, and parks that both had a big hand in developing. I have no idea what Zach has worked on before now.

I cut Zach more slack than most initially, but by this point even I find myself wondering why exactly I'm supposed to be listening to what he has to say or if he even has anything to say. As far as I can tell, there's no Big Thunder Mountain or Animal Kingdom in his past to show he knows what he's talking about.

I guess the bigger question is whether there is anyone left at WDI who has a Big Thunder or AK in their past.
 
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monothingie

Ask me about the Riker maneuver.
Premium Member
Funny you should mention Zach. I was talking to someone and joked they should reach out to him. They searched him up and their response was "they do what now?". Me - "Yeah, he's overseeing the Epcot project". Them - "That's...interesting they chose him out of a lot of others...". There's a more to it but it seems like he has some kind of reputation.

He doesn't even have complete control over his account as we've seen in the past.

Then again, we get incredible posts like "Epcot mannequins=story":
And this is the reason why I am not shedding a tear for WDI being gutted. If this is what they want to showcase as a crowning achievement, then they all should be looking for work elsewhere.
 

lazyboy97o

Well-Known Member
I agree and don't get the idea that Disney didn't like celebrity Imagineers. Sure, some people may have had a gift for self-promotion, but people like Baxter weren't exactly freelancing and giving interviews about their projects behind Disney's back. My impression was that Disney always found a Baxter or Rhode that became a recognisable name and face useful for promoting their parks. Thus, they rolled them out for TV specials and made them available for press interviews. Zach seems to be the latest iteration of that promotional exercise.

For me, a big difference between these people and Zach is that they actually worked on projects that people knew and liked before anyone really knew much about them. As fans, I'm sure almost all of us could rattle off attractions, lands, and parks that both had a big hand in developing. I have no idea what Zach has worked on before now.

I guess a bigger question is whether there's anyone left at WDI who has a Big Thunder or AK in their past.
I cut Zach more slack than most initially, but by this point even I find myself wondering why exactly I'm supposed to be listening to what he has to say or if he even has anything to say. As far as I can tell, there's no Big Thunder Mountain or Animal Kingdom in his past to show he knows what he's talking about.

I guess the bigger question is whether there is anyone left at WDI who has a Big Thunder or AK in their past.
I can’t believe I’m about to do this. It makes me feel so dirty.

Tony Baxter ended up becoming something like a Vice President in his 20s after Magic Kingdom opened. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was originally him working under Marc Davis’ supervision as it was part Thunder Mesa and he did an end run around Marc to get his portion built as a stand along attraction when Disney put off Thunder Mesa. That was really his only project when he was put in charge of New Fantasyland.

Rohde had done work on EPCOT Center and Pleasure Island but had not really developed a full ride or even land when he pitched and was put in charge of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Zach’s sudden promotion is more odd because that sort of sudden jump just doesn’t happen any more. In a way he is like Baxter in that he was very young when he ended up in the right spot to be super promoted into an executive leadership position. The big problem is that whatever charisma he may have is completely buried by his corporate social media handlers who couldn’t spin a dud the way Rhode could by the shear force of his personality.
 
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WDF

Well-Known Member
I also point to the experience with different media as well. Movies and theme parks are different, but having movie backgrounds gave the original Imagineers the experience to naturally build a scene, and populate it in a way that really spoke to consumers. I've long though Emile Kuri was an underrated contributor to the success of Disneyland. Theme parks haven't really seen that sort of thing again until Stuart Craig and Alan Gilmore's contributions to the WWoHP. Innate skills that people who only design themed entertainment may not have honed.

We talk about the financial / creative pairings at the CEO level leads to success, and not so much about how a pairing between a movie production + theme park operations could be likewise beneficial. I don't know how much of a door goes between studio ops to WDI, but I would like to see what would happen if there were more of that again. But the good studio people might prefer to slide between studio projects or different productions studios, and don't consider themed entertainment as something they want to do or is a step back.

I actually think this is one of the reasons that Galaxy's Edge works. It was a collaboration between WDI and filmmakers at Lucasfilm. It feels very real and natural.
 

RogerThat

New Member
I believe that the relocation of WDI to Orlando is a positive move and will lead to an improvement in the quality of Imagineers and their work. Here are a few reasons:

  1. I live in Los Angeles and can tell you that it is not the oasis of creativity that it used to be. Of course there are creative people who live here and there always will be, but a lot has changed that has a direct effect on who WDI has been hiring.
    • The cost of living is beyond ridiculous and getting worse. To be able to support a normal middle-class life (house, kids, etc.) you need to be making $200k+ a year. How many Imagineers is Disney paying at that level? Even with that type of income, you are still looking at a crappy fixer-upper-type house in an area with poor schools and increasing crime.
    • This limits the talent pool and you end up with a lot of very young & inexperienced employees. They may be talented but they need mentorship and guidance which they are not getting as there is a massive void in quality veteran leadership at WDI.
  2. The culture and priorities of any organization are established and reinforced by leadership and at WDI that culture is being driven by suits focused on spreadsheets and people like Carmen Smith. Quality, creativity, and customer satisfaction have taken a back seat to ROI and check the box diversity initiatives.
    • Speaking of check the box diversity initiatives, Hollywood has become awash with people who are more concerned with political and social activism than telling a good story. This is especially true with the younger creatives and WDI is not immune to this. Placing importance on being more diverse and inclusive is a good thing, but when it is prioritized before telling a good story, you get substandard work. Harmonious is an example of this for me, WDI obviously thought they were being inclusive with this show (the languages, including Africa for some reason, etc.) and I am sure the echo chamber in Los Angeles thought it was amazing. But because the storytelling is non-existent and there is no emotional connection, the diversity message has no impact and people just see it as a boring show with a shallow diversity message.
  3. The relocation to Florida could help with:
    • Getting the Imagineers out of the Los Angeles echo chamber and the negativity that comes with that (see above)
    • Attract different types of talented people who would never want to live in Los Angeles and who are passionate about the job and dedicated to being an Imagineer. My guess is that a young Joe Rohde or Tony Baxter would have lived anywhere if it meant they could have an opportunity to work at WDI.
    • Provide an opportunity for a better standard of living. You could be an Imagineer and make enough money to stay there, buy a decent house, raise a family, etc.
    • Increasing the attention to detail and quality of the Florida parks, similar to what you see at Disneyland. Big new rides are great, but the small things make just as much if not more of an impact on the guest experience and keeps people coming back year after year. Too often it seems that they dump a big ride or project at Disney World and call it a day.
The one big caveat to all of this is the leadership at Disney. If some of what I listed above was part of their strategy, then I think it could work. If they only did this for cost reasons and nothing changes with the WDI leadership, then I don't think it will have the impact that it could.

Last thing I wanted to mention, why does nobody want to call out Josh D'Amaro? He has been running the parks for over 18 months and was president of Disneyworld prior to that. While Chapek deserves to be criticized for many things, he is not making every parks related decision. When Chapek was running the parks, fans blamed him for more things than they did Bob Iger. D'Amaro could improve a lot of things (like bring back the parking lot trams) if he wanted to, but he doesn't seem to care. I think he has been getting an undeserved pass on a lot of what has been happening.
 

Lilofan

Well-Known Member
The leaders are the ones that approve projects. WDI comes up with concepts and pitch them. My guess is WDI comes up with great ideas all the time but management doesn't want those.

What this means is WDI is forced to pitch things to meet leadership's liking. This means as much "synergy" as possible.
One can't expect WDI to pitch an idea and dream of mgt having an open checkbook. It all comes down to what is in the approved budget to make these things come to life.
 

monothingie

Ask me about the Riker maneuver.
Premium Member
I can’t believe I’m about to do this. It makes me feel so dirty.

Tony Baxter ended up becoming something like a Vice President in his 20s after Magic Kingdom opened. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was originally him working under Marc Davis’ supervision as it was part Thunder Mesa and he did an end run around Marc to get his portion built as a stand along attraction when Disney put off Thunder Mesa. That was really his only project when he was put in charge of NeFantasyland.

Rohde had done work on EPCOT Center and Pleasure Island but had not really developed a full ride or even land when he pitched and was put in charge of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Zach’s sudden promotion is more odd because that sort of sudden jump just doesn’t happen any more. In a way he is like Baxter in that he was very young when he ended up in the right spot to be super promoted into an executive leadership position. The big problem is that whatever charisma he may have is completely buried by his corporate social media handlers who couldn’t spin a dud the way Rhode could by the shear force of his personality.
But…..Zach wore a retro EPCOT Center T-Shirt….he cares…so much.
 

Sir_Cliff

Well-Known Member
I can’t believe I’m about to do this. It makes me feel so dirty.

Tony Baxter ended up becoming something like a Vice President in his 20s after Magic Kingdom opened. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was originally him working under Marc Davis’ supervision as it was part Thunder Mesa and he did an end run around Marc to get his portion built as a stand along attraction when Disney put off Thunder Mesa. That was really his only project when he was put in charge of New Fantasyland.

Rohde had done work on EPCOT Center and Pleasure Island but had not really developed a full ride or even land when he pitched and was put in charge of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Zach’s sudden promotion is more odd because that sort of sudden jump just doesn’t happen any more. In a way he is like Baxter in that he was very young when he ended up in the right spot to be super promoted into an executive leadership position. The big problem is that whatever charisma he may have is completely buried by his corporate social media handlers who couldn’t spin a dud the way Rhode could by the shear force of his personality.
Very interesting overview of all three people and their trajectories. Didn't honestly know how the journey from just regular Imagineer to "celebrity Imagineer" went for Baxter or Rhode. Come to think of it, though, all I knew Rhode worked on before Animal Kingdom was as part of the Mexico Pavilion team and Pleasure Island.

So, it is interesting to hear that, to some extent, the ascent of Zach is not so anomalous in the longer history of WDI. Part of the reason I generally found it difficult to be hard on Zach's Instagram posts was that he seems to have been given some kind of PR role for the new Epcot projects and, as we've seen, his posts are submitted to his bosses to be cleansed of any personality.

I will say, though, that another area in which he somewhat fails as a new generation "celebrity Imagineer" is this issue of no-one knowing what, if anything, he has had a major role in developing before now. The only signifier offered of his dedication to carrying on the Imagineering tradition and that we should have confidence in what he says about the current Epcot redo is that he's got a lot of old Epcot merchandise. Maybe there are other projects to speak of, but I really have no idea what they are.
 

monothingie

Ask me about the Riker maneuver.
Premium Member
One can't expect WDI to pitch an idea and dream of mgt having an open checkbook. It all comes down to what is in the approved budget to make these things come to life.

Walt Disney Imagineering is given plenty of money.
EPCOT now and NFL are examples of how the entire process is broken. It's how corporate meddling and bean counting can take a good idea and ruin it. How can you expect to retain high caliber people and turnout high quality product if it gets gutted upon execution? Eventually it becomes exhausting and you're just left with the boot lickers and loud incompetents who churn out mediocre products.

I mean even something as huge as SWGE wasn't safe from this cancer, and was still cut back from it's original concept.
 

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