Picture this: the year is 1955. I’m a tiny kid, sitting in my parent’s living room, watching “Disneyland” on the television. Of all the segments, I am the most inspired by “Tomorrowland.” Which makes sense. “Tomorrowland” is the part of the show about men in space, pioneering ways of technology, and the possibilities that the future held in store for humankind.
I sit there, gob smacked. What I’m seeing isn’t just science fiction. No, this is science facts.
The first time I ever laid eyes on “Disneyland,” way back in 1955, I asked my parents if it was really possible for a man to land on the moon. My parents seemed to think that Walt Disney, that famous weaver of dreams, had made the whole thing up. What he had done, in fact, was sneakier and more powerful than what my parents suggested.
What Walt did was create a vision – one that was so real and palpable that it burrowed into the psyche of a prepubescent boy, staying with him for the rest of his life.
I did not come from an artistic family. When I was presented with the opportunity to explore art and art history in a collegiate setting, I jumped at the prospect. I started off taking technical illustration classes. Sure, it was challenging, but I truly loved the work. My instructor told me that if I wanted to take my burgeoning gifts to the next level, I should look into a school called ArtCenter.
The first day I was at ArtCenter, I knew it was home. This was a place for truly motivated people – a place where ideas could take root and blossom into something extraordinary. I became 100% consumed with school. The more I submerged myself in academia, the sharper my tools got.
I’m going to dust off the V-word again here. What ArtCenter does is teach you how to turn your ideas into a vision. It is an extraordinary thing to learn how to create the image of an idea – taking something abstract and molding it into a reality that others can see and feel and experience.
My time at ArtCenter paid off in spades some years later when I went to work for Walt Disney Imagineering. I was there for thirty-four years, as a designer, Creative Executive, and team-builder on worldwide projects. All the same, I could barely fathom that I was now technically under the employ of a man whose dreams and genius had enthralled me as a child.
Of course, by the time I got there, Walt had been gone a long time. Disney in 1976 was little more than a cartoon company. Suffice to say, I wasn’t into retro art or the cowboy/western aesthetic. “Give me Tomorrowland,” I thought. I wanted to write the blueprint for the future!
Telling a story is integral to any creative endeavor. The way theme park design works is that you’re telling a story without words. How can you make fantastical, otherworldly places feel so real that a spectator wants to reach out and touch them?
Of course, there’s no one clear-cut recipe for this. What I have learned throughout the years is that it’s crucial to keep your mind wide open. One must never stop learning. If you can do this and keep your nose to the grindstone, the sky truly is the limit. If anything, I would encourage young creatives to shoot through the sky and aim for the stars.
In Paris, I was presented with the unthinkable opportunity of designing the new Tomorrowland. If my boyhood self could see where I’ve ended up, he would surely cry tears of joy. Even before we drew up blueprints, our team began with a solid foundation – engrossing writing, immersive storytelling, and building an understanding of our audience. That’s called transporting an audience, and that’s what ArtCenter taught me.
BS 72 Product Design
FullCircle Board Member
Creative Executive, Team Leader and Entertainment Designer at Walt Disney Imagineering