Bob Weiss is an absolute legend of The Walt Disney Company. His long career at Disney’s Imagineering spanned over 30 years and included projects such as Tokyo Disney, the creation of Disney’s MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios), and Disney’s Transformation of California His Adventures. I’m here. In his career, in 2016 Walt was promoted to president of Disney He Imagineering. Weiss built a career and a home at Disney. It’s the only job he’s ever had as a fresh out of college. Unfortunately, in January 2023 his Bob Weis will retire. Recently, he sat down with fellow Disney employees to discuss his illustrious career.
Talk about getting your first assignment.
When I joined Disney, I had increased work on two major projects: EPCOT in Florida and Tokyo Disneyland. EPCOT was a much higher priority, with a large team at its headquarters in Glendale, CA, and the entire company with various resources behind it. The Tokyo group was much smaller, as most of the work was to be done in Japan. As a young man who hadn’t traveled much, he went to distant places like Tokyo to work with a group of senior Imagineers and kids like me who had just graduated from school. I liked the idea. So I decided to go to the Tokyo team.
How was working at Disney’s first overseas theme park?
As a coordinator, I took on the fields of design and art. This included managing the process of translating design intent for our collaborator, Oriental Land Company (OLC). I had to learn almost everything, from how to make a steam locomotive, how to paint vehicles and signs, to even understanding the architectural decoration of a castle. It gave me a better understanding of how the company works and how different groups support each other.
Another thing I learned is the importance of being generous with our overseas collaborators. The Japanese have a rich and historic culture and it was important for us to understand that and work closely with local vendors and craftsmen. We’ve gathered some amazing talent that we’ve never had before. But we really got to know and trust each other. That was the key to the success of this project. When Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983, audiences embraced it as their own and it quickly became a national landmark.
Tell us about your next big project, the park known today as Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
When Michael Eisner and Frank Wells joined the company as senior leaders, they quickly prioritized the growth of Walt Disney World. One of the things that caught our attention was EPCOT’s new pavilion celebrating entertainment. As we considered ideas, it quickly became clear that this could be an entire park, not just a pavilion. And with access to a vast library of classic movie stories and characters, the possibilities really opened up.
The park was originally conceived and built as a half-day experience. For example, guests could visit in the afternoon after flying into Orlando. But his first year drew nearly double the expected attendance. To increase capacity, we quickly added stage shows such as Muppet*Vision 3D, followed by Sunset Boulevard and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. And today, with the recent additions of Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disney’s Hollywood Studios truly rivals Walt Disney World’s other parks.
Years after the first Tokyo Disneyland opened, you were asked to help envision a second gate to Japan. Please tell me how it happened.
We wanted to offer Oriental Land Company something that complements the original park, yet is bold and different. We started to stick to the “land” part of “Disneyland” and then to its natural counterpart, water. From there, we came up with the idea of a park that connects various ports around the world, and that became the concept of Tokyo DisneySea. I put together a proposal and submitted it to the OLC and it was exactly what they were looking for.
You oversaw the transformation of Disney California Adventure Park, which began in 2007. How did you enhance the experience?
The original park didn’t resonate with audiences as much as we had hoped, so I was asked to lead the creative side of a vast reimagining plan. When we spoke with our guests to understand why they couldn’t, we discovered a recurring theme. That is, there is an invisible “something” that they got from other parks that they didn’t feel at this park. One of our main goals was to infuse the parks with something elusive called “Disney magic.”
Like everything we do in Imagineering, we started with a story. He converted the entrance sequence to Buena, as Walt in Los Angeles would have known in the 1920s and his 30s, to Vista Street. We added Cars Land and The Little Mermaid attractions to immerse guests in Disney storytelling. Opened the nightly spectacle “World of Color” so people had an incentive to stay until the evening. We put in 1,200 trees and extracted elements that would be in a non-Disney amusement park.
Little by little we made changes throughout the park. By the time it was completed, Disney California Adventure had truly come into its own. It is currently one of the most popular destinations and continues to grow through recent enhancements such as Avengers Campus and Pixar Pier, as well as plans for future additions.
His last major project before being appointed President of Imagineering was to lead the creative side of Shanghai Disneyland. What was that experience like?
China is a vibrant place with a dynamic culture, and we knew we couldn’t deliver Disney as it is. Bob Iger coined a phrase that perfectly sums up our mission. He’s “real Disney and obviously Chinese.” This has allowed us to diversify our team to include local writers, artists, artisans, makers and more. They had a huge impact on the park, teaching them everything from color theory to proper use of language.
We have a long history of building Disneyland-style parks, but we wanted this to be unique and local. We got to try a lot of new things…we built the biggest castle ever, reimagined the traditional Main Street USA and turned it into Mickey Avenue, and brought a stronger character presence to it. I decided not to do Frontierland because I didn’t think it was relevant, but I made Tomorrowland on a bigger scale. Instead of a traditional Adventureland, we created Adventure Isle and an entire pirate-themed land. And we’ve taken what people think of as a ‘hub’ to the next level, making it its own land of attractions and magic.
The Shanghai Disneyland premiere was a beautiful moment. It was a huge project. With a theme park, two hotels, Disneytown, a subway line, a lake and boats, he is a 7 square kilometer site. Day one saw the culmination of people’s efforts moving from a muddy field to a fully realized magical place. And to see the public come in with such a sense of awe and amazement – it’s very emotional to stand there and watch it.
Walt Disney Imagineering just celebrated its 70th anniversary. What thoughts can you share with your fans about the organization’s legacy and future?
The late Marty Sklar of Imagineering once said that Disneyland is a place built on tradition and full of things he wants to preserve. But he felt equally strongly that our park is not a museum. The secret of imagining throughout our history has been finding a balance between constantly evolving and moving forward while ensuring that people get the classics they cherish.
I would also like to express my respect and admiration for the Imagineers and their relentless dedication and passion for excellence. Our projects are heavy and everyone spends a lot of time. But we get to work with some of the most talented people in the world. have a great opportunity to see And when you see your guests enjoying what you’ve worked on, what we’ve created will be around for decades, providing joy and inspiration to generations of family and friends. I was exhausted after a big project, but remembering this always lifted my spirits and I look forward to what comes next. And as we embark on his next 70 years, I’m a firm believer in Walt’s wonderful words: “We’re just getting started.”