Lesson 2 -Disney Imagineering

What Is Disney Imagineering?

 Estimated completion time of readings, research, project and assignment = 3 hrs 

Standards addressed include:

• Creativity, Curiosity and Innovation

• Digital-Age Learning Environments and Learning Experiences

• Technology Operations and Concepts

• Research and Information Fluency

• Facilitating Digital-Age Work and Learning

• Engaging in Professional Growth and Leader



Select from one of the following

1. Research and view video to create a presentation on what Imagineering is and the function and purpose  of the Imagineers


2. Read and view video short biographies of 10 Disney Imagineers and then research and write a 1 page (max 500 words) on one Imagineer that impressed you the most

Option 1-Research and create a presentation on what Imagineering is and the function and purpose of the Imagineers

Latest from Walt Disney Imagineering 


Option 1: View 1 hour of videos and complete presentation

1.  60 Years of Walt Disney Imagineering | Bob Gurr Disney Parks  6 min

2.  Walt Disney and His Imagineers: An American Phenomenon | Lost LA | Season 3 | Episode 6  9:30 

3.   Disney's Imagineers  Go Behind The Scenes Of What Makes Walt Disney World Come To Life! 43 min

Project completion:

Tomorrow at 10:00 AM you need to do a 15 min presentation to Mr. Boeckmans  5th Grade class. They are studying Disney and the impact that Imagineers have on theme parks and attractions. Your presentation will provide them guidance in what they should research and question to be answered.

Suggestions for topics include:

Option 2: Read and view one of the videos below and read the  short biographies of 10 Disney Imagineers and then research and write a 1 page (max 500 words) on one Imagineer that impressed you the most. Alternate presentation is to do a audio or video recording of your findings

1.  Bob Gurr, Disney Imagineer | Talks at Google  60 min

Retired Disney Imagineer Bob Gurr stopped by Google to discuss his career which spans 40 years developing more than 100 designs for attractions ranging from the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Monorails to the design of the mechanical workings of Disney’s first Audio-Animatronics®


2.  Legends of Walt Disney Imagineering Panel w/John Stamos, Tony Baxter, Marty Sklar at Disney D23 Expo  60 min

3.  Read the summary biographies for the 10 Imagineers below and then  research and write a 1 page (max 500 words) on one Imagineer that impressed you the most. Alternate presentation is to do a audio or video recording of your findings

Imagineers Who Created Walt Disney World

Marty Sklar

Tony Baxter

Joe Rohde

Bob Gurr

John Hench

Claude Coats

Mary Blair

The Sherman Brothers

Marc Davis & Alice Davis

X Atencio

Posted on October 19, 2018 by Sarah Sands

Walt Disney was talented at a great many things – filmmaking, inventing, doing high pitched voices – but, perhaps the thing he was most talented at was spotting talent.

Yes, spotting talent is a skill, and Walt could sense the promise within someone and help coax it out of them better than almost anyone else. And, not only could he find great people to work with, but he gave them the tools to succeed and put them in an environment in which they could flourish. Which is to say, essentially, he was a darn good boss.

The culture of WED Enterprises (later Walt Disney Imagineering) enabled smart, creative people to design and build some of the greatest themed attractions on earth. But, while Walt's name is on all the signs, it's those people who truly made something special.

If you like Walt Disney World (and if you're reading this article, I'm gonna go ahead and assume you do), you owe your love of that place not to Walt, but to his Imagineers. Walt never set foot in the completed Walt Disney World – he passed away long before it opened. And while he absolutely paved the way for the resort, it was his Imagineers that truly made it what it is today.

If you're a Disney fan, you should know who these people are. Below, I've listed seven of the most important ones, but this list is by no means exhaustive. There are dozens more that I've left off who are no less deserving of praise. But, you have to start somewhere, so these seven it is.

Imagineers are some of the most creative, driven people in the world. They work endlessly to create the incredible rides and environments that have made the Disney theme parks so well-known. While they may draw inspiration from a movie or a current television show, many of the original Imagineers just had to dig deep and bring out the beauty within. Today, their legacy and those who have followed in their footsteps continue to make dreams come true. Let’s learn a little more about exactly what they were responsible for.

Marty Sklar

As strange as it is to think about, Walt Disney has been dead for nearly 50 years. His greatest creation, Mickey Mouse, is actually older now than Walt was when he passed. It has literally been a lifetime since Walt last walked the earth.

Yet, the Walt Disney Company still operates, and it still creates new films, TV shows, and, of course, attractions. But someone has to speak for Walt. Someone needs to be there to keep his spirit present. And that's where Marty Sklar comes in.

Sklar's been working for Disney since 1956, and in the years since, he's seen it all. He's been working with Imagineering since before it was even called Imagineering. He helped design and launch the 1964 World's Fair attractions. He wrote copy for Walt to use and read in his presentations to sponsors and to the public. In fact, one of those presentations was the famous EPCOT film – a production largely helped along by Sklar.

He's been there for everything. He's seen it all. He retired from Disney in 2009, but he remains the only person to be at the grand opening of every single Disney park. Someone has to speak for Walt, and at Disney, that person is still Marty Sklar. 

Marty Sklar

Marty Sklar was a legend, even among legends. To say what he did would take a few million words–instead, let’s list what he didn’t do. He never stopped until the day he retired.

If there was a classic Disney project, he had at least one finger in it somewhere along the line. Even more modern projects saw his touch, his flourish, here and there, until his retirement in 2009.

He passed away in 2017, long after receiving windows at both Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. If you’d like to read more about Marty Sklar, All Ears columnist Chuck Schmidt was a good friend of Marty’s and has written about him here.

So remember, every time you walk down Main Street look up and give those brightly painted windows a smile or a nod. You owe your vacation to them and all of those magical experiences.

Tony Baxter

Baxter, on the other hand, never worked with Walt Disney in that way. In fact, his career with the Walt Disney Company began much the same way as millions of others – he signed up to scoop ice cream on Main Street of Disneyland when he was still a teenager.

So the story goes, one day while on lunch break, Baxter went snooping around the backstage areas of the park, trying to catch a glimpse of the still-unfinished Pirates of the Caribbean. As he was doing his sneaking, he happened to run into none other than Claude Coats. Coats admired his gumption and his passion, rewarding the young Baxter with a tour of the ride.

A few years later, Baxter joined the ranks at Imagineering and Coats acted as a mentor to him. Over time, he worked his way through countless assignments, always producing top quality work.

Baxter was responsible for the original version of Journey into Imagination as well as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Star Tours.

His greatest attraction, however, came from an idea that was solely his. He wanted to create a ride based on the Disney film Song of the South, using the music from the film and some well-designed animatronics to tell the story. Eventually, a log flume got added into the mix, and the result was Splash Mountain.

Baxter stepped down from his lead role with Imagineering in 2013; however, he still mentors young Imagineers and designers and spends his time thinking of new and innovative attractions. So, you never know – we still may get another fantastic Baxter ride.

Tony Baxter

Once upon a time, there was a young ice cream seller sneaking around Pirates of the Caribbean before it was finished. This was in Disneyland’s early days and the wonder of audio-animatronics was a huge draw, especially for this young man.

Claude Coats caught him and turned him into the wonder he is today. Tony Baxter is responsible for such incredible attractions as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain, along with many others. However, trying to imagine the Magic Kingdom without those two strongholds in Frontierland is absolutely impossible.

Tony Baxter has retired from Imagineering but there are rumors that he does occasionally poke his head in to see how all the youngsters are doing. We’re certain he’s inspired many, the way Claude Coats inspired him.

Tony Baxter’s window (you can see the celebration when he received it here!) is shared with a few others above the Main Street Magic Shop.

See All Ears’ writer Jeanine Yamanaka’s tribute to Tony Baxter here!

Joe Rohde

You probably already know who Joe Rohde is, but it really is about time people start mentioning his name in the same breath as those legends above. That is why I put him here – not necessarily to introduce him to you, but to acknowledge that he has done as much to push Disney forward creatively as anyone.

If you do still need an introduction, it would go something like this:

Rohde joined Imagineering in 1980, where he worked on everything from the development of Epcot to the launch of Pleasure Island. His contributions to both remain beloved today – he worked heavily on the Mexico pavilion at Epcot, which remains one of the most well-themed in the park, and he also helped create the gone-but-never-forgotten Adventurer's Club.

Oh, and he is pretty much responsible for the most beautiful park in Orlando, Disney's Animal Kingdom. If you've ever been left speechless by the attention to detail of the Harambe Village, or stood in awe while looking at Expedition Everest, you've experienced what makes Rohde's work so special.

In many ways, Rohde is the final proof of concept for Walt's vision. He's a generation removed from Walt's time with the company, and yet he still honors and follows those founding principals of story and attention to detail. Walt created something that was so special, it could not only live on without him, but it could thrive. All it needed was a group of extraordinarily talented people to keep moving it forward.

Thankfully, finding such people was one of the things Walt was best at. It seems the only thing he was even better at was teach that skill to others.

Joe Rohde

Some would call him the father of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Joe Rohde and his team are largely responsible for the entire park, inside and out. That means almost every detail from Asia’s food carts to Dinosaur (originally Countdown to Extinction) can be attributed to him in some way.

Joe Rohde Tribute in Animal Kingdom’s Tusker House 

You may have noticed a trend with the Imagineers in this list. Most of them worked directly with Walt Disney, at least for a small period of time prior to his passing.

Joe never got the chance. He joined Imagineering in 1980, quite a while after the Florida Project had gotten its feet wet.

His Main Street Window hasn’t been painted yet, since you must retire before receiving one, but you’d have to be mad as a hatter to think he won’t get one in due time.

Bob Gurr

Without Bob Gurr, the Magic Kingdom would not have the vast majority of its ride vehicles.

Though many were designed for Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom borrowed a lot of inspiration or simply copied designs from those early rides for its own needs. Gurr’s inspired hand drew the plans for those vehicles, especially when we refer to the vast majority of Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Frontierland (read more about this here).

Bob Gurr was named a Disney Legend in 2004. His window at the Magic Kingdom is placed above Main Street Fashion and Apparel.

And if you ever run into him in the parks today, be sure to ask for his autograph.

John Hench

If you design one of the most photographed buildings in the country, you are a special talent. And, if said building happens to reside in the middle of a theme park, you've done something utterly remarkable – you've made art out of tourism. And, not only did John Hench do that, but he is arguably more responsible for the visual aesthetic of the most visited theme park in the world than any other human being.

Hench began his career with the Walt Disney Company as an animator, and he was often regarded by Walt as one of his most talented artists. Eventually, he became involved with the planning of Disneyland, at which point his knack for theme park design became blindingly obvious.

He created Cinderella Castle. Who worked on the plans that made the Magic Kingdom such an amazing place? John Hench was tasked with the heavy duty of working over plans for the Magic Kingdom long before the walls started to go up.

Not only did he create Cinderella Castle — there’s also another attraction that you may have heard of. Maybe, just maybe. A little place called Space Mountain has John Hench to thank for giving it a home and an appearance synonymous with Tomorrowland.

His work as a lead designer on the Tomorrowland area of Disneyland is still regarded as a classic of mid-century design, and Disney fans the world over adore the sleek white look of his futuristic vision.

When tasked with the development of the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Hench eventually created two of the most iconic structures on the planet: Cinderella's Castle (the aforementioned most-photographed building) and Space Mountain.

We sadly lost Hench in 2004 after more than six decades of magic and wonder. He was honored with a Main Street Window naming him Dean of Design just above the Plaza restaurant in the Magic Kingdom; one of the highest honors for an Imagineer to achieve.

Hench started working for the Walt Disney Company in 1939 and kept an office at Walt Disney Imagineering up until his death in 2004. If the site of Cinderella's Castle makes you smile and gives you a momentary vacation even amid the most dull of dull days, you have Hench to thank for that sublime feeling.

Claude Coats

Claude Coats had a vision for the future. A vision in which there could be a great, big, beautiful tomorrow out there on the horizon.

Coats, was mostly a background artist in his film days, creating intricate and detailed paintings for films like Pinocchio and Fantasia. His backgrounds for Pinocchio, specifically, continue to be highly regarded among animators and Disney historians.

He worked on dozens of films before eventually finding his way to the theme parks. At Disneyland, he was one of the principal voices behind the visual aesthetic of the Haunted Mansion – designing many of the sets used in the final attraction.

Additionally, Coates worked on the 1964 World's Fair attractions, notably Carousel of Progress and the Ford Magic Skyway.

A master of perpetuating hope for what society could accomplish, Claude Coats worked on such classics as the Carousel of Progress and Horizons (just in case you didn’t get our little hint up there). He was also instrumental in the development of EPCOT in its early days. Coats designed, or assisted in designing, the vast majority of Future World.

His last major contribution to Disney was in his work on the development of EPCOT Center. He helped conceptualize many of the early pavilions, such as the Universe of Energy, World of Motion, and Horizons. He passed away in 1992.

Coats' greatest skill, according to the next legend on this list, was “turning sketches and paintings into three-dimensional adventures.” And, ultimately, that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Unfortunately, Coats passed away in 1992. He, too, was granted a Main Street Window. It is placed above the Main Street Athletic Club. He shares it with Marc Davis (and a few others), who will be mentioned later in this 

Mary Blair

If you’ve ever stayed at the Contemporary Resort, you’ve seen what an incredible artist Mary Blair was. That mural that you can see from the monorail? Yeah. That one.

That was all her.

The first and most important thing to know about Mary Blair is that she was the absolute coolest. Her art, more than anyone else's on this list, doesn't need to be explained. You see it, you smile. It makes you feel good; it makes you feel happy. And, importantly, you immediately appreciate it as art. You don't need someone like me to write an essay explaining why it should be considered art.

Blair's art is seen every day by millions of people. She provided the primary visual aesthetic of It's a Small World out at Disneyland (which was essentially copied over to the Disney World version). Her colorful and geometric style permeated early Disney films like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.

Mary Blair was also responsible for the look of it’s a small world. Her fantastic design work with Peter Pan transferred over to Peter Pan’s Flight and is even more awe-inspiring with the refurbishment it underwent a short while ago.

She passed away in 1978, only a few years after the opening of the Magic Kingdom. She, like the others on this list, has a window on Main Street.

The Sherman Brothers

Robert and Richard Sherman created a song that has been an earworm for generations. It’s one of the most-parodied songs on Earth and so well-known that the first few bars is enough to make someone scream in horror or sing along in delight. If you’re reading this, you know what it is. Sing it with us, because it’s a small world after alllll.

Along with an incredible amount of work on Walt Disney films (some of which that would go on to inspire attractions within the theme park), these are the guys that are the reason you’re still humming that song 3 days after you get back from your vacation. And we love them for it.

Other addictive songs we can credit them with include both of the Carousel of Progress’s theme songs, The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room’s highlight song, and One Little Spark from the original Journey Into Imagination.

The Sherman Brothers have a window on the original Main Street at Disneyland but not Magic Kingdom. Robert passed away in 2012. He is survived by his brother, Richard.

Click here to read more about the Sherman Brothers and their window on Main Street!

Marc Davis & Alice Davis

This pair is responsible, together, for nearly all of the classic rides you still know and love today. They were simply everywhere, often working together. Husband and wife, they are the only married couple that both have windows on Main Street.

Their list of accomplishments include the Country Bear Jamboree, it’s a small world (with Mary Blair), The Enchanted Tiki Room and the Carousel of Progress. The pair also did a great deal of work on Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion.

Marc passed away in 2000, though he is survived by Alice as of this writing. Marc shares his window with Claude Coats at the Magic Kingdom. Alice’s window only exists at Disneyland.

X Atencio

Have the crypt doors ever creaked or the tombstones quaked at you? Perhaps you’ve seen some grim, grinning ghosts come out to socialize. If not, certainly you’ve crowed along with the pirates; “Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirates life for me!”

I know I have.

The man born Francis Xavier Atencio, and known by Disney fans as X Atencio, is probably responsible for an obsession of yours.

He, like Hench, was an artist for the Walt Disney Company before the opening of Disneyland, but it was in the theme parks that he truly made his name. His first prominent role was in writing the script for the beloved-but-gone Adventure thru Inner Space – a kind of psychedelic stream-of-consciousness about the scale of the universe.

Two of his later attractions, however, are still around – Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion.

Atencio wrote the scripts for both attractions, including the iconic Ghost Host narration, as well as the lyrics to the two attractions' signature songs: “Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)” and “Grim Grinning Ghosts.”

We have X to thank for that. X Atencio was originally an animator before Imagineering was born with the opening of the Disney theme parks. It was he who wrote those world-famous lyrics and so much more. Some even credit the vast majority of the Haunted Mansion to his creative efforts.

Recently, we lost X Atencio in the later part of 2017. However, his Main Street Window exists in both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. His window can be viewed above The Confectionary with the title “The Musical Quill”.