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So You Want To Be a Disney Imagineer? Read This First!

Mickey Minnie Cinderella Castle
Credit: Disney

Walt Disney Imagineering consists of the dreamers behind the dreams, the magic-makers behind the magic, and the keepers of the keys to kingdoms—in short, the folks who make the wonderful world of Disney parks come to life.

For some guests, this behind-the-scenes work is best left unseen and unheard. They just want to experience that Disney magic and not know how the proverbial sausage gets made. They couldn’t care less about who built the Disney parks; they just cared that they were there.

Walt Disney Statue

Walt Disney Dreamer Statue. Credit: Disney

Other guests want every possible detail, from the backstory of each roller coaster to the precise location of the hidden Mickey in the third scene from the left in the second room of the Haunted Mansion. People like John Hench and Mary Blair are icons to them, and Tony Baxter and Jason Surrell are living legends who make them squee when they see them at D23.

However, for a select few Disney guests and fans, Imagineering is more than just something over which to geek out; it’s a calling.

These folks want to move from being guests to becoming cast members, and not just the ones on the front line of the parks, but the behind-the-scenes wizards who combine artistry with technology in the cauldron of storytelling to make the Disney parks as magical as they are.

These are the future Imagineers who will determine the future of Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and every other Disney theme park around the world!

Disneyland Castle

Credit: Disney

Related: The New ‘Disney Legend‘ Imagineers Whose Work You Love at Disney Parks

However, as a niche career, there’s no explicit pathway to becoming an Imagineer. After all, the original generation got into the job because they were working in the film industry with Walt Disney himself, and the second generation got into it basically just by being huge fans of the first.

Now that Imagineering—and themed entertainment design in general—has come of age as a full industry, though, there are thousands of prospective creatively and scientifically minded people who want to break into the business.

But how can they do that? Perhaps by listening to those who’ve already made the journey.

Below are some of the best pieces of advice gathered from books written by current and former Imagineers, each providing its own unique insight into how to join their hallowed ranks. Be sure to check out all of these books, as they’re each packed with much more valuable insight into how to become an Imagineer!

Disneyland Castle Fireworks

Credit: Disney

Related: Story Driven-Experiences and Walt Disney Imagineering

John Hench (first-generation Imagineer, artist & designer, former Sr. Vice President of Imagineering)

From the design perspective, the Imagineers realize the art of the show in the Disney theme parks through the form of each park’s shapes and structures. Each attraction-each form-must take advantage of the space allotted to it. But at a place like Disneyland, form means not only landscape and architecture, but time and space as well. In order to communicate story and character to our guests, we Imagineers must always consider the elements of space and time: the spaces through which our guests travel within and between attractions, and the time it takes them to do this.

-Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show

Mark Davis (first-generation Imagineer, artist & designer)

What would I say to young designers? First, there are no hard-and-fast rules. Second, keep lots of ideas coming. I’ve learned an awful lot myself on things I would do or not do, or things I question. And very often I even put things down that I know are wrong, because I have to start someplace. I do many, many pencil roughs to get one of these drawings. Remember, Walt always said, “you can’t choose between one!” And I think the excitement that he found here is the same one I find. The idea of Walt Disney World was exciting-and had he lived, he would have had a number of other things going that would have been opening new doors for all of us. Even when we redo things here, it need not be a redo, because, like with animation, everything here is handmade, so invariably, we can improve and try something else.

Marc Davis In His Own Words: Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks

pirates-disney-caribbean

Credit: Disney

Margaret Kerrison (Disney Show Writer and Managing Story Editor)

Don’t let anyone tell you that this dream is impossible; that you should get a “regular job” that pays instead of pinning your hopes on a dream that you’ll never get. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Listen to your own voice. What does it tell you? If you believe that this is the career for you, then go for it! Use every ounce of your strength and will to achieve it.

What people don’t tell you is that your success isn’t based on whether you’re the most talented and brilliant writer in the room. It’s really about being gracious, persistent, hardworking, and passionate. You have to make sure you want it. Like really, really want it.

Immersive Storytelling for Real and Imagined Worlds: A Writer’s Guide

Related: Learn More About Margaret Kerrison, One of the Women Behind the Magic to Develop the Story of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Bob Weis (former President of Imagineering and Imagineering Ambassador)

I set myself about trying to learn everything I could about the Imagineering process and to meet as many talented people as possible. And that is the advice I give every Imagineer. Imagineering is like a compact university. It’s filled with interesting people and strange departments. The more you can learn about all of them, the more you have a chance to innovate and excel. . . . Keeping your sights set on everything that is happening-inside and outside Disney-is critical.

-Quoted in Marty Sklar‘s One Little Spark!: Mickey’s Ten Commandments and the Road to Imagineering

bob weis

Credit: D23

Related: After 42 Years of Disney Service, the Global Imagineering Ambassador Is Retiring

Marty Sklar (former President of Imagineering and Imagineering Ambassador)

[I]f you were an applicant at Imagineering’s door, it is not about whether you went to school at Harvard or MIT or California Institute of the Arts. It’s not about GPA or how you ranked in your class. It’s not about where you were born or what your parents do. It’s about you: what’s inside your head and heart.

If I get a “yes I do” or “yes I will” answer-if I could see into your head and heart and find most of these words as positive interest and behavior-you would be my next Imagineer.

One Little Spark!: Mickey’s Ten Commandments and the Road to Imagineering

marty-sklar-disney-imagineer

Credit: Disney

Related: Wise Words from Disney Legend, Marty Sklar, Are More True Today Than Ever

The Imagineers (via show writer Melody Malmberg)

Invite many perspectives. Collaborate. Never forget your passion-what made it great for you the first time you visited a Disney Park. Be an expert, a master in your field, and be a generalist. Nurture your desire to learn constantly. Be creative, be practical, be patient, be crazy. Have overwhelming talent and energy. Be able to blend ideas. Be fearless, be a risk-taker; gambles pay off. Be a good communicator-know your audience, know your peers. Go outside your area of expertise. Be curious. Be a great integrator of thoughts. Be able to work alone as well as in a group. Be open to new things, and learn from the past.

Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making MORE Magic Real

Storybook Circus Concept Art

Credit: Disney

Related: Walt Disney Imagineering Receives Three Prestigious Awards

Hopefully, all you future Imagineers out there reading this will find the inspiration you need to keep going, and maybe someday, you’ll be the one giving out advice like this.

Do you have what it takes to become a Disney Imagineer? Let us know your dream in the comments! 

About Andrew Friedenthal