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This is long, but some of you might find it interesting. My husband and I met some new co-workers of his tonight for dinner. This married couple (I'll call them "Jack and Jill") just came from California -- they had been Imagineers at Disney since the early 80s. They left Disney because it had become too painful to work there anymore, so they ended up in Baltimore working for a large defense contractor.

Jack worked on just about every cool thing Disney did, from about 1980 onward. He helped design Tower of Terror. He helped do ToonTown. He did Splash Mountain (one of his kids provided a voice for one of the rabbits). He did Star Tours (his license plate and those of other Imagineers ended up as "numbers on the overhead buckets"); all of the robots and "inside show" gadgets were done by his shop. He worked on DisneySea, and had horror stories about Japanese customs. He offered to help in Hong Kong, but Disney said they didn't need him there, and he was finally glad not to be a part of it... "it's going to be horrible, like a big shopping mall. And the air is still horrible there; one of our friends has a wife and kid who have been deathly ill from the moment they set foot there."

I mentioned to him that I met Dave Smith last year when I flew through Burbank on my "Ohana Project," and he told me about his one encounter with Dave. They were redesigning something in Fantasyland (I think?) and throwing out the restroom signs that said "Prince" and "Princess." Dave said that they weren't identifiable as Disney property, so he concurred with throwing them out. John asked if he could have them instead -- and they ended up on his kids' bedroom walls.

Jack said that he had to go through the executive program, which included going to Disney World and being a character for 20 minutes. He was Br'er Bear. He said the costume was horrendous; it was hot, he couldn't see, and he lost track of his "handler." He got lost and was wandering around aimlessly, bumping into things, until he felt his handler tug on his costume and lead him back offstage. He said one guy, who very high up in the Studio, was bitching and moaning the whole time about having to wear the costume. He thought it was stupid. He ended up being "Tigger." He got into his costume, bounced off, and they lost track of him -- he just disappeared.

Jill worked on "Alien Encounter." She said the Imagineers warned the brass that the attraction was not scary and was very lame, but nobody would listen. Then Eisner came through with one of his teenage sons -- who said, "Dad, this is lame." Then they had to spend a lot of money revamping the whole thing.

I asked Jack why there was such a revolving door between Disney and the defense contractors. He said it was because both Disney and the defense contractors used strict project management techniques. Used to be, the Imagineers would get an idea and just sort of go with it, to see where it took them. He said that the shell of "Haunted Mansion" sat there for years before they figured out what to put in it. Same with "Pirates of the Caribbean." Now, everything is micromanaged to death, just like building an F-22 Raptor.

I said, "Maybe what they need is something in the middle, between those two extremes?" He said, "No, maybe what they need is to allow for creativity. Disney is a creative company; it's not a defense contractor. You can't run it the same way."

Finally, Jack told me about his last encounter with Frank Wells. Jack was at Disney MGM, working on Tower of Terror, and Frank showed up, just to say hello and ask how things were going. Jack said that Frank often did things like that. They had a nice chat about how the ride was coming along, then Frank said goodbye. It was dusk, and Frank was wearing those sneakers that have lights in the soles, which light up with every step. Jack said that, for some reason, he felt compelled to watch Frank walk away until he couldn't see the sneaker lights anymore. Just about two weeks later, Frank was dead.

That's about it.


~alice

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Great story, Alice. I know I sound like a broken record, but folks would do well to listen to these canaries in the mine shafts...


PHF
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that an interesting story.
Ann
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Thanks for the nice story Alice. I'll comment on a couple items.

Jill worked on "Alien Encounter." She said the Imagineers warned the brass that the attraction was not scary and was very lame, but nobody would listen. Then Eisner came through with one of his teenage sons -- who said, "Dad, this is lame." Then they had to spend a lot of money revamping the whole thing.

This sounds like where I work and probably where many people work. The people who actually do the work come up with the ideas and they are shot down. Then a manager/vp comes along and all of a sudden it's "his" (or her) idea and, oh my, how brilliant! It's instituted immediately! Corporate American culture, imo, is usually very suppressive of creativity amongst their workers. Maybe that's why more and more of them are flocking to third world countries where the people are suppressed and not accustomed to rights & freedoms but instead are taught from early on that even their thoughts are not to be their own. Their thoughts and labors are for the state to exploit.

Maybe this is somewhat what is happening with Disney. So micromanaged that they no longer benefit from the collective wisdon and creativity of mankind. Heaven's knows that with 50,000 CM's in Florida alone that they are a fair enough sampling of mankind. But with top brass-down management style, the only creativity that flows is what some tight-sphincstered honcho thinks he can get the credit for. (did I just say tight-sphincstered? Sorry!)

I asked Jack why there was such a revolving door between Disney and the defense contractors.

Havn't heard this before Alice. What does it mean?

p.s. did you ever get your website up & running?
Paul T.

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Great story, Alice. I know I sound like a broken record, but folks would do well to listen to these canaries in the mine shafts...

When you say folks, do you mean the folks at the top in Disney?

Paul T.
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Havn't heard this before Alice [about a revolving door between Disney and defense contractors]. What does it mean?

In the 5 or so years I worked for Disney, I heard some anecdotal evidence about this phenomenon -- people moving back and forth between Disney and defense contractors -- so I wasn't too surprised that "Jack" confirmed that it was a relatively common occurrence. I hadn't figured out the possible explanation, though; once I heard it, it made sense.

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When you say folks, do you mean the folks at the top in Disney?

Sure, that's some of who I mean. But since the folks in the top in Disney are the ones creating the problem, I don't expect them to change their ways. I'd really like to see the Board of Directors noticing these phenomena. Ditto for the professional analysts who cover Disney, and the major shareholders.


PHF
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": ParrotheadFool When you say folks, do you mean the folks at the top in Disney?

Sure, that's some of who I mean. But since the folks in the top in Disney are the ones creating the problem, I don't expect them to change their ways. I'd really like to see the Board of Directors noticing these phenomena. Ditto for the professional analysts who cover Disney, and the major shareholders. PHF"

All very true. BUT---the top dogs in EVERY company AND all politicians would do well by "listening more to the canaries"! crpurdum
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Oh Alice, how kind of you to pass this on to us all. I am sure some here will just 'know' what you're saying and enjoy the 'inside' memories, but it was also appreciated and enjoyed by me for the small peak inside...

I said, "Maybe what they need is something in the middle, between those two extremes?" He said, "No, maybe what they need is to allow for creativity. Disney is a creative company; it's not a defense contractor. You can't run it the same way."

The same can be said for so many other companies in so many fields. Right now with our economy and world affairs still so UN-secure, everyone is pulling back and the bean counters (no slam intended - we need bean counters, too) have the only ear(s) of management everywhere. The manufacturing sector is suffering because new ideas and products are scrutinized to the extent that fear is keeping companies away from innovating. I hope this atmosphere changes soon...everywhere...

Nancy
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"Jack said that he had to go through the executive program, which included going to Disney World and being a character for 20 minutes. He was Br'er Bear. He said the costume was horrendous; it was hot, he couldn't see, and he lost track of his "handler." He got lost and was wandering around aimlessly, bumping into things, until he felt his handler tug on his costume and lead him back offstage. He said one guy, who very high up in the Studio, was bitching and moaning the whole time about having to wear the costume. He thought it was stupid. He ended up being "Tigger." He got into his costume, bounced off, and they lost track of him -- he just disappeared."

I happened to be Little John. At the time, it was the biggest costume of all of them. It is true the costume was like being in a stoked furnace. My peep-hole was in the chest of the costume and I am a fairly tall guy. I, too wandered away from the group and the "monitors" had to come find me after all the other characters I was with went back in. When I returned, I was drenched in sweat. The big difference between Alice's story and mine is that I had the time of my life. Surrounded by adoring kids wanting my (er..Little John's) autograph. My gloves were the size of large frying pans and most of the parents recognized my difficulty so they ended up kindly placing the pen in my hands for me and holding the autograph books right in front so I could see them. I gained a whole new appreciation for those who play the characters at the park. It was truly a magical experience!!!
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I heard some anecdotal evidence about this phenomenon -- people moving back and forth between Disney and defense contractors -- so I wasn't too surprised that "Jack" confirmed that it was a relatively common occurrence.

Thanks for the explanation Alice. The only thing that piques my curiosity is, if they didn't like the regimented heirarchy managerial aspects being cultured within WDW, why pray tell would they quit and go somehwere that wrote the book on that style? I mean, I can see the conflict of interest of working somewhere that creativity is supposed to be encouraged, yet being micromanaged. But I would think that Imagineers, being the creative people they are, would be jumping from the frying pan and into the fire to go to a defense contractor.

By the way, you mentioned the "revolving door between Disney and defense contractors." In my mind that conjours up a two-way flow. Is this what you intended and are there people leaving defense contractors to go to work for Disney?

Thanks,
Paul T.
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The same can be said for so many other companies in so many fields. Right now with our economy and world affairs still so UN-secure, everyone is pulling back and the bean counters (no slam intended - we need bean counters, too) have the only ear(s) of management everywhere. The manufacturing sector is suffering because new ideas and products are scrutinized to the extent that fear is keeping companies away from innovating. I hope this atmosphere changes soon...everywhere...

I agree that creativity is stiffled in today's corporate mentality. And much of what Alice says could indeed apply to many companies. But Disney of all places is meant to foster a blossoming of the mind. The animation building was built with the dwarfs so as to inspire the imagination and creativity of those who work inside.

And so it is a double tragedy for a company that is built on imagination, to somehow suppress creative juices either through micromanagement or budget cuts or political infighting. On one hand, however, Disney must maintain a certain image and illusion and cannot necessarily trust the show to whomever feels the most creative that day. But the power of teamwork and collective creativity is far, far more powerful and effective than these top executives wearing Bugatti shoes who pay their taylors more money than they do Imagineers.

Paul T.
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My gloves were the size of large frying pans

Well now that's just plain funny. ;-)

Maybe it's time Disney created some high tech characters, using cameras and so fourth. Animatronic figures sort of, but with a human co-pilot! There you go Aloha! Turn that one in and move to the head of the class!

Paul T.
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are there people leaving defense contractors to go to work for Disney?

Probably not anymore, since Disney is outsourcing everything now and buying rides off the shelf, but at one time they apparently were. The female member of this couple, for example, left a defense contractor to work for Disney (and now she's back at one).

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I happened to be Little John. At the time, it was the biggest costume of all of them.

Aloha, how do The Handlers lose "the biggest costume" out there, the one standing head and shoulders above everyone? I mean, if his or her job is to "handle" you, how do they even make it backstage without you?!

"Oh, hey, look! It's time for my break!"

Amazing...

~ mike
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Hey, Alice got Post of the Day. Congratulations.

~ mike
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I'll bet Alice would have a high ratio of posts to Posts of the Day, if the Fool kept track of such things. Congrats!

-Steve
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"Aloha, how do The Handlers lose "the biggest costume" out there, the one standing head and shoulders above everyone?"

Hi Mike

Quite hosestly I do not know. I was in a group of maybe 15 different characters. What I do recall and probably the reason is that in my euphoria, when we first went out, I quickly moved away from the pack off to my own area. We were "let loose" in the back of Tomorrowland. I think they select that location for the rookie characters expecting it to be the least crowded area of the park. It was a Friday afternoon and there were no shortages of guests looking for autographs.
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I caught the following today at MiceAge.com, written by someone in Glendale:

Imagineering is apparently being used as a means for corporate to improve their fiscal outlook. A hastily put together reorganization of some of the WDI divisions was rushed into gear last Friday night. Tuesday night, a mandatory production division meeting was announced for Wednesday afternoon. This meeting was presided over, not by the division manager, but by company president Don Goodman. It lasted ten minutes, just long enough to rush through the new organizational chart. They took no questions as they "didn't have any answers since the reorganization happened so quickly". The new organization will be accompanied by layoffs. Those affected will be "notified personally in seven to nine days."

The feeling there is that the company is crumbling. Creative aspects are all being run by process managers. WDI is certainly not a happy place to work these days.



PHF
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Alice,

(my first post - yaaaayyy!)

As someone who has been a castmember since '88 in the creative division - I thank you. Thank whoever your 'friends' are as well.

I have watched THE happiest and most creative places to work go to the bean-counters and micro-minded.

Our parade manager one year was transfered in from the only dept. she ever worked at - custodial. Management, after all, is management(according to the 'new' Disney). She lasted a few months - our question was - how did it happen in the first place????

I could go on forever - I have anecdotes and stories from hundreds of events and people. All frustrating, all sad.

Yes I still work there (in a consulting role as full-time out there is waaaaayyyyy too scary - been offered it several times) and we begin work on the christmas parade this weekend.

We have known how lame 'mission space' is for months. It is a symbol or visual representation of everything Disney has become - Beautiful and inviting on the outside - boring and unfulfilling on the inside.

more to come - I'm a member now!!!

younganddumb
orlando
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We were "let loose" in the back of Tomorrowland.

Aloha, would that be back by the restrooms, kind of behind Carousel of Progress? I walked out of the Men's room once and literally bumped into Gepetto, as he was strolling by, followed by Pinochio and a few others...just curious...*!*

~ mike
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"kind of behind Carousel of Progress?"

Mike
You are correct, we entered the park back by the CoP.
Aloha
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