Joe Rohde Talks About His Retirement From Walt Disney Imagineering


Joe Rohde has recently done an exclusive interview with the Orlando Business Journal about his retirement from Walt Disney Imagineering and what’s next. Honestly, it really leans into what we’ve been talking about with studios and companies over on our Clownfish TV Youtube channel. No matter who you are you are just a cog in a corporate wheel.

In fact when they asked him about “projects always being up for evolution” he said:

You have to accept that all your projects move on to the hands of others. This is a very important thing. A design once it is done is meant to stand on its own, it either has the strength and powers to be its own thing, or it’s not a good design. So the idea that myself, or any creative person, needs to be there forever sustaining something, that just means it’s not good design. So I would say all the work I have done was purposefully done in a way that it should have continuity and participation, and that implies change, evolution, modification, participation of others and the ideas that may come in the future. That is what a good design is.

It’s understood that it’s more than you when it comes to being part of an entity like Walt Disney Imagineering, but even if you are synonymous with something like “Disney’s Animal Kingdom” you need to understand that it’s going to change and evolve and be passed onto others.

This is a point we keep making with creators that work for other companies. At the end of the day it’s theirs and they can and will make changes without you. Sadly, I think Disney is definitely going to use Rohde leaving as an opportunity to shove more IP into Animal Kingdom.

He also talked about What the key characteristics of an Imagineer are:

  1. “You must be able to work in an ensemble. A lot of art forms are very singular. They are about an artist and an artist’s points of view. Ours is not. We work in an ensemble. The strength of our work comes from the work we all do together. No matter how good you are or how much of a genius you are, if you expect to be an Imagineer you have to be prepared to work with others and have the work of others feed into, improve, modify and change the work you are doing. 
  2. You have to have this tremendous faith in the idea of stories, storytelling and the power of story. We don’t just build things, the things we build are only built so they can convey story.  
  3. There is just something about pushing the edge of the envelope. You have to understand that it’s not good enough to meet expectations. The way our brains are designed is based on expectations. If all you do is meet expectations, then you are basically invisible. You have to exceed expectations or you don’t even show up on the map.”

Again it’s about working with other people and having faith in that. I really do like how he talked about exceeding expectations. I wish Disney would get back on board with that and let the Imagineers do their jobs!

But what got me was where he says he’s headed next. To me this just supports the rumor that this was perhaps more of a pushing out than a choice.

I think it will be more diverse. I have a series of personal projects I’m interested in developing, some I can’t talk about yet. Some are personal artistic projects, some may turn into products. I’m also part of the Explorer’s Club, that ties into conservation work, expeditions and travel-related stuff, and that requires investments of time, like four to six weeks. So it’s going to a mixture of things that are some personal adventure and personal creative projects, but it’s diversifying. This is the kind of thing there’s only so much time in a life to pursue these things and now is the time for me.

As someone who’s worked in and around corporate America and in and around creatives, “personal projects” usually indicate that they were let go. If he was retiring or moving onto something else, they usually have that in play before they leave. This just seems more and more like it was a corporate decision than a personal one. At least from my years of experience seeing this kind of thing happen. But I will completely admit I could be wrong. We will never know what really happens because I’m sure it’s NDAed forever!

Either way, we are really sad to see him go. Yes, Disney Imagineering is a team effort, but he was truly a special one. He really cared about what he did and he was so excited about it. You could tell it was his life. I’m sure the parks will be lesser for it, even if he hopes that they aren’t.

Who knows maybe Universal will swoop in and hire him to consult on Epic Universe or some of their other projects. They’ve grabbed up Disney’s laid off Imagineers before and they already have some of their performers they let go.

You can see the entire interview on the Orlando Business Journal HERE.

What do you think? Comment and let us know.

Source: Orlando Business Journal


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