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Wednesday
Nov042009

Fired From Imagineering

Why do Disney executives do the things they do?  Is it a lack of knowledge and experience?  Enjoy accounts of first-hand encounters with the most clueless of clueless Disney management.
 

 


More than one Imagineer has recently been given the boot from Walt Disney Imagineering.  Two of the more shocking to bet let go are Tim Delaney, a Vice President and Executive Designer and Valerie Edwards, WDI's head sculptor.

I figure there's not time like the present to share a few of my thoughts related to this topic: Uneducated and foolish decisions made by Disney upper management.  Let me begin by saying that I do not personally know either of these two artists.  I enjoy most of their work and have heard great things about both people.

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Tim Delaney- Imagineer since 1976.  He is know for his extensive work with the creation of Disneyland Paris.  Further back, he helped design Epcot's Living Seas (pre-Nemo, of course).  His critics blame him for giving us the often-hated Paradise Pier at Disney's California Adventure.  He is also criticized for portions of Tomorrowland 98.  Regardless, I always found his concept art quite stunning- especially the Epcot stuff.

Valerie Edwards- 21 years with Imagineering.  She is the daughter of Sleeping Beauty animator, George Edwards.  She states she was mentored by Imagineer John Hench for 17 years.  Her work includes character sculpts for the parks and cruise ships.  Recently she sculpted the bust of Barack Obama for The Hall of Presidents- quite the intimidating task of following in the footsteps of retired genius, Blaine Gibson.
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Why were they fired?

We know not.  The details are fuzzy at best.  Did they demand perfection more than was tolerable to the bean counting executives?  Did their less-popular projects eventually catch up to them?  Did Lasseter have anything to do with it?  Fear not, if speculation is what you seek, there is PLENTY of that across the web.  As for real answers, I have found none.  Since we don't know the specifics of these recent events, I'd like to share some observations of my own concerning sketchy decision-making amongst Disney leadership.  I worked as a Disney artist among other roles for a number of years.  WARNING:  The following accounts are real and may be terribly uncomfortable to read.

Oh how I wish I had a recording device

I wish I had a recording device handy during some of my many many conversations with good old Disney theme park execs.  Although some of these people are top-notch in my book, the bulk should never have reached such heights in my opinion- not by a long shot.  The top-notchers are those who have been visiting and experiencing the parks as guests for years.  They know the history.  They appreciate the history.  They don't consider the legacies of Walt and the other Greats to be inconvenient road blocks that occasionally slow them down on their journey through self-serving, career-building, pension-earning destruction of the very brand that employs them.

There are top execs who cannot name ten attractions.

No joke.  There are many who have never been on a Disney attraction if not with an entourage and camera men.  Not even kidding. I don't even want to know how many of their spouses have never been to the parks.  There are many who don't know that Pixar was not Disney until the acquisition.  In James Stewart's “Disney War” Michael Eisner himself is quoted that if they had asked him questions about Snow White and Disneyland and other Disney films in his hiring interview, he would not have been offered the job because he knew nothing of the answers.  


Speaking up- not a pretty site

Try saying in a board room full of management something like, “I don't think this fits the original vision of this company,” or, “that really goes against what we've always stood for.”  Talk about crickets and a lot of funny looks.  Talk about a conversation-killer inevitably followed by comments like, “well did you even look at your printout with all the numbers on it?”  I wish I were kidding.  These are the people making the decisions.  More than once I was pulled aside after a meeting to be told “you see, things cost a lot of money to maintain” (as if I thought it were free to maintain Disney rides).  One time, “you need to learn to act like the ideas of the higher-ups are good ideas even if they are not, and eventually you need to learn to believe that these ideas really are good- that's how you'll get ahead.”  I'll never forget the executive who couldn't seem to remember the names of those darn Magic Kingdom lands. “Jungleland, the Future Place, Western Area”.  Oh how I wish this was fictional- it is not.  “I have not made it to Animal Kingdom yet other than for that one backstage meeting.  I keep meaning to go but haven't had time during these first four years with the company”  These are THEME PARK executives.  Not Disney Store people or ESPN employees in Connecticut.  They have offices behind the parks and in Team Disney buildings and can see rides from their office windows yet some cannot name what they see.  Sorry, not naming names, too many to list.

My favorite conversation about the future of the parks goes something like this:  “There are boys ages 9 to 13 who are first-time Disney guests who say they are disappointed that Disneyland was not more like Six Flags.  These kids love Gameboys and the Wii and such.  How can we make the parks more relatable to them?  If they don't get what we are about, we need to change what it is that we are 'about'.”  One of many heated debates over Epcot's El Rio de Tiempo goes like this:  “Kids don't get it but they get the characters.”  I'd of course say, “WHAT'S NOT TO GET?  You are in Mexico on a little boat seeing things that don't happen in your home town.  It's great.”  “Yeah but the characters make them feel more comfortable in 'foreign' environments.”  Ummmmm.

Is there hope?

Will the 'New Golden Age of Imagineering' be what we all hope it will be?  Will John Lasseter and company be able to revive the long-lost culture of “quality first”?  I once asked John about how in the world he can juggle Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, AND Imagineering... his reply (with a half-smile on his face), “There's not enough hours in the day.  There's just not enough hours in the day.”

Reader Comments (16)

How could leadership up to the CEO be like this?? Don't know about Iger and friends but Eisner, Katzenberg, Wells and other in the mid 80's had no clue what was going on. Katz was put in charge of Animation yet he originally, with Eisner, said that animation was the first to go. They also wanted to sell the theme parks. Let's be happy that Roy E. and others know ALL about the Disney culture and heritage.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

What a sad state it is too see, especially when a company like Disney fires two very talented people seemingly without cause? I have had my own unfortunate and extremely brief encounter with Disney execs and was not pleased with the attitudes. I really wish that Roy and other Disney family members still had control over the legacy that Walt begans so many years ago. Otherwise, I fear that the spirit the park has will dwindle down over the years from some of these "Disney ignorant" execs wanting to change things to fit their "bottom line".

Don't let the magic that IS Disney bleed away!

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEric Ross

Right on brother. So true. Why have such a strong culture just to hire people ignorant of that culture who care nothing about preserving those ideals?? A mystery to me.

November 5, 2009 | Registered CommenterAdmin

They probably checked their personal email while on the clock and had to face HR for that no-no.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHHDMMDd

Tim probably said "no" to adding Stitch to one scene in every ride and Valerie probably said "no" to sculpting the many Stitches. This definitely warrants being FIRED!

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHHDMMDd

Maybe tim was designing his next big folly. Maybe the next entrance to a land was going to look like the hideous spinning beach ball mess we have at TL right now thanks in part to him (I know Tony Baxter is said to have made that call but still). Maybe he wanted to expand paradise pier across katella ave all the way to the katella cast parking lot. Who knows?

My point is, maybe there were some sketchy things a happenin' at old WDI that we are not aware of. Of course the more probable case probably includes executives being executives with little to no good judgment. Is it me or do all of the WRONG people get fired. Just sayin'

Eric, let's hope you are wrong about the dwindling down of the parks. Then again, "Disneymall" might an improvement over this "Disneyland" theme park thing. NOT.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTL98H8R

I can only imagine they make it a matter of personal pride- how detached they are from the "magic". As if being in upper management made them above all that. How childish. I agree, they should know the brand they represent. It's kind of hypocritical to require all employees to be versed in disney history while the managers don't have to go through a 'traditions' class.

My only experience with upper management was a positive one, actually. I was headed backstage at studios with another cast member after a long day when a man in a suit said hello. We exchanged a few friendly words as he picked up a piece of trash from the ground. My co-worker couldn't believe I didn't know who I was talking to. He later told me it was the man that was head over all of (what was then) Disney-MGM studios. That's exactly how management should be. Out in the parks, checking everything out, speaking with fellow cast members and even scooping up a piece of trash. Not bragging about disney ignorance.

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

Both got fired because they were over the age of 50. Eager Robert Igor (that is the original spelling of his name) has made it publicly clear that the Dizney company will be expunging all people who are not well-placed ass-kissers who are too old (experienced) to be pushed around and who have the unfortunate habit of actually needing and using their health insurance. Old people are a pisser, especially when you can hire a shit-load of 24 year olds from Cal Arts who are ass-deep in debt and who will work of $25,000 a year. They haven't got the talent yet? So what, that's their fault, not the company's. Fire the incompetent jerks. If they can somehow survive being the butt of all of the abuse of the endless cover-your-ass types, they'll get tired of getting beat up and go to some other company and give the "professionals" the ability to pat themselves on the back and piss about how no one has any dedication to the Dizney way of doing things with dedication.

The other thing is that they pissed off a few come-and-go zombies from the old days by not being ass-kissers then or now. Or, not being enough ass-kissers to please the zombies.

January 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDowntown Glendale

So sad but so true. Disney is now a corporation in every sense of the word, extremely powerful and extremely self-serving. The "good 'ol boy network" is alive and well, dominated by those of the homosexual preference. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that lifestyle, I do have an issue with it being treated like a club you need to belong in order to remain.

The only way to truly enjoy Disney is to see it as two completely separate companies: the one you see and enjoy while at the parks and the ruthless evil twin that manages operations.

January 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermost hated

to Most Hated re: The "good 'ol boy network" is alive and well, dominated by those of the homosexual preference. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that lifestyle, I do have an issue with it being treated like a club you need to belong in order to remain.

What are you talking about? How would you know? Being homosexual is not a "preference" or a "lifestyle".

February 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergregr

Easy gregr.

While you may gay, I have numerous friends who are also and am as familiar with the lifestyle as one can get without being. I'm aware it's been proven to be genetic, but it's still a lifestyle, which is why there are entire marketing platforms dedicated to those of the same-sex persuasion. I'm the first to support homosexuals and equality, but it works both ways. I'm also the first to mow down any a-hole who is looking for any reason to pounce just because they have issues. While it seems you like to split hairs and instigate by harping on the perception of choice words, you're aiming at the wrong target.

March 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermost hated

Old post, but I found it incredibly helpful, and unfortunate.

The paragraph with the quote, "But did you look at your printout with all the numbers on it?" really strikes a chord for me. Even in my introductory accounting classes, they made it absolutely positively clear that it was not all about the numbers. Qualitative and subjective factors are always supposed to be considered before any decision is made. One business textbook I own has a blurb about asking yourself, "Does this decision go against the company vision?" before making that decision. That's what I was taught in school. Where did these guys go to school?

As a recent graduate with a degree in economics and a 3.7 GPA, I was interested in Disney's professional development program. However, it appears that someone who is not only smart and knowledgeable about business, accounting, finance and economics, but Disneyland as well, does not have a snowball's chance in Hell at moving up in the company.

I figured, hey, I'd be the perfect guy to work in Disneyland management. I was once a front line cast member. I know the park like the back of my hand. I did really well in college. I have a strong work ethnic. However, this post encourages me to pause and reflect on whether a career at Disney is right for me.

I want to believe that this post is inaccurate.

May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSpokker

I was a long time Imagineer. I fortunatly escaped after realizing that the WDI culture was dead forever. It was killed by senior management that seriously lacked integrity and did not have the courage to stand up for quality. They regularily through employees under the bus for personal gain. I thank God every day that I am gone!. I leveraged by Disney experience and have a great job because most companies on the outside value my Disney experience and dont realize the values of the Company are not there anymore.

June 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterescaped

Just got back from a trip to Disney, my first since 2006, and I hate the new Rio Del Tiempo. How cheap can you get? They first started talking about this, to my memory, back in 2004 when I still worked for DRC. There was a section of the Cast Portal that had all this information you had access to, and one section was about new and proposed attractions. It talked about adding the 3 Caballeros to this ride, and everyone seemed positive about it, as we assumed they'd be adding AA renditions of the characters. Imagine my disappointment when I find all they did was replace the on ride videos with cartoons of the characters, the biggest offender being the complete removal of the iconic carousel at the end, replacing it with yet another video screen. I hated it. And to top it off I tried to get a table at the san angel inn afterwards, because I could clearly see from the boat that there were at least ten unoccupied tables, only to be told they were fully booked and were holding those tables for priority seatings that may never show up.

I hadn't been this POd about the modification of a ride since they took out If You Had Wings, or when they gutted Journey Into Imagination (I don't care if Figment is back, Eric Idle is no Dreamfinder.)

June 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commenter7th

I can't believe that, what is wrong with people. If you have never been to a Disney park or know anything about it than don't work there. A place like Disney is more than figures and numbers. As a kid I didn't need to relate, I just loved being there and the older I got the more I understood. You think I really had any idea of what was really going on when I would ride Adventure Thru Inner Space? HECK NO, but it was fun and blew my mind. I miss the hell out of that attraction. It's a shame that we have to have something to make a connection with before we can except it as good. What happen to imagination and creativity old Disney was eye opening because it was new and not relatable.

February 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJon

This post alone is enough for me to stop going to Disney Parks. Luckily, my memories keep me going! Somebody hurry up and defrost Walt Disney from his frozen slumber and get him back in the office!

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbgeo

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