Disney Imagineers – the Forefathers of the Maker Movement


To some of you this might seem like a stretch,  but I want to state the case that being a “Maker” is actually a wonderful thing.

You might wonder why I titled this “Disney Imagineers – the Forefathers of the Maker Movement”. After all, people all over the world have been making things as long as one can remember.  But, as what we consider the Maker Movement, it’s formed on the grounds that someone, anyone, with very little to no training, or college education in a given field, can make really cool stuff.

Those people can range from artists to designers to school teachers to someone’s mom who got bored one day, and decided to make something unique and interesting. Or me. I really don’t know where to place myself among those folks, but even though I had never considered it in the past, I too am a Maker.

In fact, I remember one hiring manager – great guy who I have a ton of respect for, decided to pass me over based on the fact that I’m one of those folks. I wasn’t upset by that revelation,  but it got me to thinking about a couple things. What have I really made besides my R2D2 replica, and who else were makers that could prove in some way that being one is actually a great skill to have? A skill that adds to not only the abilities of that person, but also can be a great thing to have for any given company (hint: it all has to do with how resourceful and creative one can be, even in what seems like the most impossible situations).

Makers at heart are problem solvers, and have the willingness and curiosity to try new things and learn whatever they can (and quickly I might add) in order to solve a given problem. They’re willing to take on something they may have never done before in their lives in order to make something happen.

Let’s go back 61 years ago to 1955- the grand opening of the Happiest Place on Earth. For those who know their Disney history, you know the story that Walt wanted to make an amusement park like no other – one that was clean, both in the environment as well as the people who worked there (no Carnies), with memorable rides and experiences based on his studio’s movies, cartoons and characters – Disney’s IP.

The problem, at the time at least, was there really were no experts in creating such a place.

There wasn’t the Themed Entertainment Association, there weren’t classes at the universities or colleges teaching theme park design, and of course there weren’t Disney Imagineers — yet.

So Walt did what he did best, and gathered his animators and artists to create the design of the park – from the architectural concept drawings to the concepts and art for the rides, the Disney creative staff worked on what would become Disneyland.  He named them Imagineers – the hybrid name of Imagination and Engineering and formed WED Imagineering, known today as WDI, or Walt Disney Imagineering.

These folks were artists – creative in every sense of the word, and I’d argue the beginning of the what would eventually become the Maker Movement, because they designed and made things they really weren’t trained in (most of the animators were good cartoonists who learned on the job how to animate originally).

It wasn’t until recently that the Maker Movement that we all know started to take off with the advent of Maker Faires around the country and then the world.

Since my first “build” with R2, it made me look at things I’ve done in the past that most sane people wouldn’t attempt (btw everyone thought Walt Disney was NUTS to build another “amusement park” – referred to as Walt’s Folly). For instance, instead of building a house, why not buy a classic piece of California architecture and have it taken apart and moved to some land instead? That’s what my wife and I did nearly 20 years ago – we bought a 1953 California Ranch home in La Jolla that was to be torn down by it’s owners, and moved it to our 5 acres in the hills of San Diego’s east county, and we did most of the restoration work on our own.

After move 2
One-third of our house after the long haul from La Jolla to Jamul.
20 years later and still doing improvements.

More recently, my crazy builds that I’ve been doing, with no training or past experience, are a 12×4 outdoor dining table made from reclaimed palette wood, and a 24×40 f00t pole barn (okay, I did use some of my 1 semester of architecture class to design the structure). And aside from having someone help us set the posts, I’ve been doing all the work or getting some friends to help with the heavy lifting.



So yes, I’m a Maker -been one all my life that I can remember. And I’m proud to be one as I’m in pretty good company – Imagineers and Makers all over the world alike.

Now go make something 🙂





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