Recently a reader of the blog, David Blakeslee, sent us a set of questions and answers between himself and legend, Bob Gurr. Bob even addressed the very common question "How do I become an Imagineer?".
How Did you first hear of WED back in the day?
Bob Gurr: I never heard of them. I was asked to go to the Disney Studio, then was hired as a Studio employee, later transferred to WED after a one year stint with my office at Disneyland. But I learned all about WED in the first few weeks at the Studio.
What was that first studio week like, and what was your first experience with Walt like?
In late summer 1954, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about a new amusement park, complete with a beautiful painting of what was to come. Wow. Neat idea. Sure would like to design something there….Visiting Art Center College, my alma mater before going to Detroit…. I was asked if I did outside work in addition my regular Industrial Design job. I really didn’t, but I said yes. A few days later I was instructed to meet someone at the Walt Disney Productions Studio. Dick Irvine met me at the gate, then ushered me into the famous studio. They needed a car body designer…….bingo! The following Saturday I received a call at (ye gads)7:00AM. “Do you draft?” “Yes”. “Grab your tools and get over here”. Silence, dial tone. Roger Broggie was waiting for me… Nearby a little bare car slowly collected four guys with their feet on each tire, discussing what was to be done. One guy, slightly rumpled with a Roy Rogers wooden bullet belt, had his foot on one tire. I thought he was the father of one of the night guards. They called him “Walt”. You don’t suppose……? Yep, Walt Disney. No formal introduction, just get to work. Walt was collecting a lot of new folks on the Studio Lot. We were all gonna design Disneyland….Roger wanted me to draft up the little car’s mechanical parts so they could be produced in quantity, but he had lot’s of changes he needed. I was comfortable drawing up the body, but to production engineer a whole car? I was trained as a car stylist, not as a mechanical engineer. OK, I better learn fast. So, not only was I doing drawings at night during week, I spent Saturdays at the Studio drafting car parts, and learning just how much I didn’t know. So was everyone else. It was November 1954 and Walt said Disneyland would open in just eight months. Oh my gosh!
What’s your hope for the future of imagineering?
The current crop of Imagineers are the best I’ve seen, and their work on Shanghai will prove it.
Do you trust this next generation with WDI?
Yes, [they’re] a combination of ones with passion and historic understanding, plus well educated.
Are you hopefull for new advances in technological availabilty or do you think we should get back to basics?
Absolutely YES on technological advancements, the newest tools are the heart of their storytelling. Nothing is basic anymore… those simple days are gone, but good story [has] to be central to all attractions.
And finally, How does someone become an imagineer in your opinion? What degree, what type of school etc…
You might enjoy the following story from the upcoming book:
“How do I become an Imagineer? that’s the most popular question I’ve received over the years. I can certainly understand how Disney admirers have come to view this occupation as a dream job. I’ve worked with so many Imagineers that maybe I should attempt to describe the primary characteristics of these very creative folks for those who aspire to be one. For starts, you can’t just be one. You have to have an inherent internal drive within you that has always encompassed a range of characteristics that I think most successful Imagineers were born with. Characteristics that one might not be able to purchase in college.
There’s a big distinction between wanting to be an Imagineer and actually doing Imagineering work
The most important characteristic is to be permanently curious about everything, especially about stuff you don’t know, and stuff that does not seem relevant at the time. Walt Disney had this habit big time. If you are curiosity driven, you will absorb an untold wealth of information on the widest possible range of subjects…. The next big characteristic is fearless creativity. No idea is too stupid to articulate. No fear to show others a dumb idea. Maybe it will lead to something practical. If you are too timid to share ideas, then you’ll be the design wallflower in the room. I’ve seen two kinds of creativity; The great futurist, Syd Mead, spent hours going over ideas in his head, sorting out the path to the most successful creation before making the first sketch. Others send out a flow of ideas in a blizzard of words and pictures. The team now has a vast array to pick from. Same creativity, just different…. Another characteristic that you must have is communication skills. These can be taught, but the productive Imagineers have the ability to clearly express themselves in words and drawings. They can articulate new ideas in the clearest possible way.
Last bit of advice; College or not. Tough decision, especially economically. I went to Art Center to learn car styling. Art center does not teach car engineering. I engineered stuff. Everything I learned was on the job. I’ve seen bright kids start at a small shop as a gofer (go for, go get, etc), then work and learn their way up to professional project mangers. One fellow is president of a successful organization."
Bob Gurr designs:
A fantastic poster featuring Bob Gurr concept art. I purchased this at Disneyland a few years ago. The Disney Gallery (which was once above Pirates of the Caribbean's entrance-- now it's the Disneyland Dream Suite) hosted an Autopia show called "Autopia Yesteryear and Tomorrow" Presented by Chevron.
Bob's 1952 book, "How To Draw Cars of Tomorrow". Check out this must-read article about one of the earliest books on car design.
A young Bob Gurr at Art Center.