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WDW Radio # 721 – How to Become a Disney Imagineer – From the WDW Radio Archives

From the WDW Radio Archives…

We’re going back fifteen years this week, to a segment I called, “How to Be an Imagineer,” which was in response to a question I received (and still do) quite often since I first started the show more than 18 years ago. In 2008, Disney Imagineer Ed Romeo joined me to talk about his story and journey to become an Imagineer, as well as what working at and for Imagineering was like.

Ed shares his background, including how he worked at a grocery store and the Disney Store before eventually becoming an Imagineer. He emphasizes the importance of having a spark and a passion for Disney, and the qualities required to become an Imagineer, such as perseverance, the desire to learn, and a little bit of luck. I then offer some practical advice for those interested in becoming a Disney Imagineer, and Ed encourages future Imagineers to pursue their dreams and find alternative routes to get there.

This interview was the first of many conversations that I have shared on the show over the years that helped demonstrate that the road to becoming an Imagineer might not necessarily be one the path you think, and there are many different ways you (or your child) can become an Imagineer.

Share your thoughts in the WDW Radio Clubhouse, or call the voicemail at 407-900-9391 (WDW1) and share your story on the show.

But for now… sit back, relax, and enjoy this week’s episode from the Archives on the WDW Radio show.

You can listen to the original episode in it’s entirety at WDW Radio # 89

Links mentioned with timestamps:

Thanks to Ed Romeo for joining me!

Comment and share your questions, thoughts, and tips in our WDW Radio Clubhouse Community on Facebook or call the Voicemail and be heard “On the Air” at 407-900-9391

Listen to this week’s show and use the form below to enter our weekly trivia contest for a chance to WIN a Disney Prize Package!

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Click Here To Read The Full Podcast Episode Transcript

Lou Mongello (00:00:08) - Hello my friend, and welcome to another episode from the WW Rodeo Archives. I am Lu Mane, and this is episode number 721. And each week I'm gonna select an evergreen episode to share with you that maybe you haven't heard before or one you haven't heard in a long time. From interviews to top tens, relevant reviews, guides, way back machines and more, it's a great way to visit and revisit some of our favorite episodes, including ones that you have suggested I share from the archives. And also with this new episode in the feed, I'm also going to introduce and experiment with a couple of other different types of shows in a variety of formats, maybe a top five, show a Disney in a minute segment, little more Marvel and Star Wars, and other aspects of our fandom, and just see where it takes us. And this week, as I will for all the archive segments, I'm gonna take out just the relevant content and cut out the intro, outro contests and, and the out of date news and rumors.

Lou Mongello (00:01:01) - If you want to hear the full episode, I'll let you know the original show number so you can always go back in your podcast player or feed and listen to the entire episode. And this week we're gonna go back 15 years to a segment I called How to Become a Disney Imagineer, which was in response to a question I received and still do quite often since I first started the show more than 18 years ago. From 2008, Disney Imagineer, ed Romeo joined me to talk about his story and journey to becoming an Imagineer, as well as what working at and for Imagineering is like. And the interview was the first of many conversations that I've shared on the show over the years that helped demonstrate that the road to becoming an imagineer not only might not necessarily be the path that you think, but that there are also many different ways that you or your child can take to become an Imagineer. I'd love to hear your thoughts about my conversation with Ed in the WW Radio clubhouse over at WW Radio Clubhouse, or call the voicemail at four oh seven nine hundred nine three nine one four oh seven nine hundred nine three nine one. Share your thoughts or requests for anything else you might wanna see from the archives or on the show. But for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy this week's episode of the WW Radio Show.

Lou Mongello (00:02:27) - Believe it or not, one of the questions I get asked most often via email or voicemail, or even when I meet people, is how do I become an imagineer? And while the answer usually involves discussing what their interests or talents are, what they might want to do as an imagineer, et cetera, one of the first things that comes to my mind is, why are you asking me, ? I'm, I'm certainly not an imaginary. And believe me, while I'm flattered that they think that I have the answer, there really isn't a single answer to that question. And that's a very good thing. And why? It's because there is no one response. There is no right thing to say or do, or way to get your foot in the door. And there is no secret password to give you the keys to the executive washroom over at wdi.

Lou Mongello (00:03:12) - And like I said, that's a very good thing because Imagineering has so many areas and so many disciplines and does so many different things, there are probably more opportunities to be a part of it than you might imagine. And more importantly, the path to becoming an Imagineer is probably less restrictive than you might think. Every Imagineer has their own story. And in this new series of segments, I'm gonna bring you some current and former imaginaries to the show to tell you their story and to help maybe give you not only a little bit more about them and their work, but imaginary itself and how that's what you really wanna do, how they did it, and how you might be able to as well. And my very first guest story is, I think, so appropriate for this first installment of, I guess we'll call it the How to Be an Imaginary segment, because when I met him and I learned of his path, I was both surprised and fascinated, and I think you will be as well. So I'd like to welcome Ed Romeo to the show. And Ed, thanks so much for joining me.

Ed Romeo (00:04:12) - No problem. No problem. Liz.

Lou Mongello (00:04:15) - It's great to have you here. And like I said, at the top of the segment, one of the reasons why I wanted you to come on was not only to talk about some of the great projects you worked on, not just in Walt Disney World, but really around the world. But because I was really intrigued by your story of how you got to Imagineering and if, again, tell us a little bit about your background before you joined the Disney Company.

Ed Romeo (00:04:36) - Sure. Um, uh, I went to college. I, uh, did the normal thing after high school, just went to college. I went, I worked at a grocery store. I was a box boy, and I became a, a cashier at the grocery store. And, um, I kind of have it into, uh, Disney, which was, uh, my mom who was there for an Imagineer for 25 years. And let me tell you, I did everything in my power not to use that, uh, in, in any way. I wanted to do it on my own. So one day I, uh, decided to quit my grocery store job, and I went and applied at the Disney Store in Glendale, in the Glendale Galleria in California. And, uh, it was around Christmas season, I was, uh, 19 years old. And, um, they said, sure, we'll hire you. And I, I, I remember filling out my application.

Ed Romeo (00:05:34) - It was for Christmas help only, and they basically told me, Hey, if we have a position for you after, we'll keep you, if not, um, come back next Christmas. So I was like, oh, you know, I'll take the chance. And I was filling up the application and said, do I have anyone that works at Disney? And I, and I tried so hard not to put, uh, well, my mom works at Disney, but I had to, and in my interview I interviewed and I got the job, obviously, and it was a crazy, it was right when the Disney store was just a fledgling. It was, you know, we only had I think about 30 stores when I started. And, um, I worked, I worked through the holiday season. I, you know, worked my butt off and then I, uh, they offered me a job after the season and I became a, a stock clerk, and I kind of took care of all the stock in the back room, and I kind of just worked really, really hard.

Ed Romeo (00:06:31) - And then from there, I became a, an assistant store manager, and then we had an earthquake, the Northridge earthquake. Um, and that destroyed the store that I was working in, which was in, uh, fashion Square in Sherman Oaks. And then I had an opportunity to work at corporate, and I really, really enjoyed it. I worked in the property management, um, area as a clerk. It was an entry level position, and I just kind of worked really, really, really hard and just kept, uh, moving along. And, uh, one day I decided to leave the company and, uh, I became a, a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department for about three months. And then I decided, you know, that's not what I wanted to do. And, um, I finally had to use my contact at Disney, which was my mom. And I had her submit my resume to someone. And I went through numerous interviews and I became, uh, a project coordinator for Disney's Animal Kingdom. And then that was back in 1990, I believe it was. And, um, just worked my way through and, and lo and behold, I became an imaginary, and it was the greatest experience I ever had.

Lou Mongello (00:07:48) - Now, I didn't even know about the police officer, sort of. Oh, yeah, I didn't tell you about

Ed Romeo (00:07:52) - That. I thought I did . Yeah. So I left Disney and then I came back to it.

Lou Mongello (00:07:56) - Well, I mean, well, I mean, the thing that really intrigued me was that you go from the Disney store, almost sort of right, to Imagineering. Now you said you went to college. What was your degree in? Was it, you know, were you an engineer? Were you an artist? No. History.

Ed Romeo (00:08:11) - No, no. I just kind of, college was, um, just a thing for me. You know, it was, uh, I wasn't trying to be anything. I just kind of tried to take the easiest subjects I could take. And, uh, I, my major was history, but, um, I studied a little bit of animation and, uh, I did my own animation. I was an artist, I guess you can say. But, um, man, I, when I saw the talent out there, I just knew I wasn't as good as I could be.

Lou Mongello (00:08:41) - Well,

Ed Romeo (00:08:41) - And, uh, it's very hard, very competitive. And, um, it, you know, it, I just saw the masterpieces that some other pe other people were doing. So I just kind of stayed with the history path and, uh, you know, I, I got into Disney right at the perfect time because the Disney decade began, and, um, man, we had so many hits with Little Mermaid a lad and Beauty and the Beast. So it was a great opportunity. So, but I was a history major in college,

Lou Mongello (00:09:11) - And, and that just goes to really drive home the point that you don't have to have a background in drawing. You don't have to have a background in journalism or writing or engineering or whatever it is you could correct. Come from such a diverse, you know, and then you talk about really working your way up. I mean, you didn't even start in the parks, you started over at the Disney store, correct.

Ed Romeo (00:09:31) - I started with the Disney stores and, and, um, that was my, my shoeing. And, and I gotta tell you, a lot of imagineers, they start in so many different places. Um, some people worked at the parks. Um, one of the things that does, uh, help a lot is if you do work at the parks, um, you know, you get a little more exposure to what postings are out there, um, within the company. Um, and I know the company publishes, they, they publish postings all the time worldwide, but sometimes it helps to, to be there and, you know, seeing it and, and saying, Hey, uh, human resources, I'm, I wanna apply for that job. So, um, that's how I started. And like I said, uh, I left the company in, in 95, uh, for three months. And then, um, the opportunity came up, uh, for Animal Kingdom

Lou Mongello (00:10:25) - Now, and I

Ed Romeo (00:10:26) - Jumped on it

Lou Mongello (00:10:27) - U understanding that working at Imagineering for a Disney fan or a, a Disney World fan is sort of like the holy grail of, of, of Jobs . So just kind of share with us, if you can, what was like that first day like, and what was that first project that you got put on?

Ed Romeo (00:10:42) - Um, breathtaking. It was everything I wanted it to be and more, um, Lou, you're absolutely right with what you say is, um, Imagineering is a very, very special place. And, um, every, the first project I worked on was Animal Kingdom. I helped, uh, coordinate, I became a coordinator, project coordinator, which is kind of a backbone of, of a project is, you know, we're the glue that keeps the project moving. And, uh, the engineers do what they do and the artists do what they do, and we kind of just bring it all together. And, um, I helped on the production when people relocated the Florida, I kind of sat back and did all the follow up on, on animated figure production, um, architectural implementation production. So, you know, we had teams on both coasts. So I stayed on the West Coast and, um, kind of was the eyes and ears on the West Coast for the, the team down in Florida. And, um, God, the, I think the first breathtaking moment I had was, um, when we did Countdown to Extinction, the Dinosaurs, uh, which is called Dinosaur now. Uh, seeing those for the first time were just breathtaking, you know, and I kind of sat back and said to myself, God, I made it. I'm an Imagineer.

Lou Mongello (00:12:07) - Right. And then, and obviously it must have been a big learning experience for you as well. You didn't come in there with the knowledge, you sort of, I guess, learned on the job training.

Ed Romeo (00:12:18) - I did. I did. And, um, I gotta tell you, it's, I had a lot of great mentors. Um, but you kind of just have to be a go-getter. You have to think on your feet, because every day is a different day. Um, every project is a different project. There's no, um, there's not a magic book we go to and say, Hey, we just, we just did this, let's do it again. I mean, every project has its own, um, problems or scenarios that we have to, you know, fires that we have to put out as, as a team. And that's one of the greatest things is, uh, at Imagineering, is you all work as a team and, um, uh, everyone's there to help each other. No one, you know, is gonna, no one's gonna let someone stumble. It's all, we all have the same goal as getting the magic done and getting it out there for the guests to enjoy. So yes, there's no, on the job training, I kind of just went in and you gotta prove yourself. I mean, no one's gonna hand it to you.

Lou Mongello (00:13:21) - Trial by fire, almost trial

Ed Romeo (00:13:23) - By fire.

Lou Mongello (00:13:24) - Welcome to the company projects.

Ed Romeo (00:13:26) - It's a, it's a, it's a magical fire and, and it's a lot of fun.

Lou Mongello (00:13:31) - Obviously your work wasn't just restricted to Animal Kingdom. You worked on not just theme parks, but cruise lines, and you also worked other places around the world. Tell us some of the other highlights of some of the other projects you worked on. Sure. I worked

Ed Romeo (00:13:44) - On the Disney Magic. I was, uh, a project coordinator on that as well. Um, and that was a great experience because that's what Imagineering had to offer. Again, with the, the cruise ship, it was a new, uh, business for everybody. And, um, I knew nothing about a cruise ship and how it was built, but when I, uh, went over to help the install team and coordinate stuff over there, it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Um, I've worked on Tokyo, Disney Seas. Uh, I was the architectural ornamentation coordinator, um, state side. And, uh, again, I knew nothing about architectural ornamentation, but I, as you work on a project, you gain experience and you gain knowledge. You just take that knowledge to your next project. You may not be an expert on it, but that's why we have architects and designers, they help you understand what's going on.

Ed Romeo (00:14:41) - Um, one of the things I, I'd like to think, um, is I don't, I'm not an engineer. I'm not an architect, and I'm not a designer. And I would tell my team that I go, you guys have to explain it to me in the simplest form, like, I'm a second grader and you're telling me how it, how it comes together. Engineers like to get technical sometimes. Um, but if you sit and listen, a lot of our designers, they can teach. They've taught me so much over the years. It, it, it's pretty incredible. So the cruise line was a, a whole new experience, um, to Tokyo, Disney Seas, again, another experience because I never had international experience, but I learned and had a team that helped supported my, uh, my learning process.

Lou Mongello (00:15:25) - Yeah. And that actually leads me kind of, you know, let's start talking about becoming an imagineer, because like we said, it, it's certainly a very coveted position. Like you, I'm sure everybody kind of comes from different areas, but it's not, imagining is not just for the, you know, most talented artists and the best sculptures. There's, so there's, from what I understand, you know, about 140 different disciplines. There's writers and animators and engineers, correct. And you can be an architect, you could be an it, you know, number two, not only do they have to come up with the ideas for these things, but they have to build them as well and, and correct execute on 'em.

Ed Romeo (00:16:01) - Correct. You're, you're correct, Luke. We have, um, Imagineering has, uh, you know, there's finance people, there's project management, which consists of project managers, construction managers, project coordinators. Um, there's theme lighting people, there are graphics people, there are interior design folks, there's architects. I mean, there's so many different aspects, um, of the company that, no, you don't have to be an artist. Um, I think one of the things that helps imagineers is they have that spark. They have that, that

Ed Romeo (00:16:43) - Disney magic, I guess is the word I'm looking for, um, that that cliche I guess I could say. But I knew a lot of people that were not artists, but they were financiers. Um, they were very coordinated people that had no prob, you know, working in a team environment. Um, you know, we didn't have to be artists. You let the artists, the artists know who the artists are. Um, it, it's kind of fun being in the project management aspect of it, which I wasn't, to kind of sit back and see the creative people create it, it, that I think is probably the most amazing thing. But no, you don't need to be an artist.

Lou Mongello (00:17:25) - But I think that there's probably has to be some inherent qualities that you need to possess in order to be an imaginary, or that maybe have the best shot at being an imaginary. And I, I have to think that things like perseverance and the desire to learn and probably maybe a little bit of luck to, to helps play a part. No,

Ed Romeo (00:17:42) - You do. And and I gotta tell you, and, and this is my own personal thing that I have, is you gotta love it. You know? Um, no project is easy. Um, every project is a challenge, but at the end when we open an attraction as imagineers and we turn it over to the park and we step back and we see that first guest come in, um, and then they come off and they just are smiling and laughing, and then you hear 'em go, let's do it again. And boom, that's when, you know, you forget about all the long meetings and the long days and all the craziness it took you to get there just for that. You see the smiles, you know, that our guests appreciate everything that we do. And we got some pretty tough guests out there,

Lou Mongello (00:18:39) - . Um, well, because of the level of expectation is so high when we come

Ed Romeo (00:18:43) - There, correct? Absolutely. Absolutely. I, I gotta tell you, one of the things, my crowning moment as ama as an Imagineer was back in June of 1999. And, um, I was the production coordinator on Tarzan Treehouse at Disneyland. And um, uh, I remember it was June 23rd, it was early in the morning and we're just putting the finishing touches on everything. And we opened June 24th and it was crazy. Finally, everything got done and at eight o'clock we opened the park and Tars Street House opened and we had a grand event. And I was exhausting. I got, I watched everyone go on and I smiled going, oh, this is great, this is great. And I went home that day and my wife was pregnant at the time and she goes, honey, time to go. So the day Charles and Street House opened was the day my daughter was born, and I told my wife, she gotta hold off on having the baby until we opened this attraction.

Ed Romeo (00:19:48) - And she did . And now that's my daughter's favorite, favorite thing at Disneyland, cuz she knows that she was a part of that somewhat. And that was my crowning moment as an Imagineer. Um, and till this day when my daughter and I go to Disneyland, we go to Tarzan's Tree House and she goes, dad, that's my tree house, right? And I said, that's your tree house. So we all have our special little things, um, that make us imagineers. And that's my, that was my crowning moment. And I've done big e ticket attractions and, but the treehouse at Disneyland is my, my, uh, my golden jewel.

Lou Mongello (00:20:28) - Well, and and when you use, when you tell stories like that, and we talk about words like magic, you know, we understand what you're talking about that, and you, you talked about, you know, use the word special and what do you think maybe it is about imaginary that makes it such a, a special place?

Ed Romeo (00:20:44) - It's the dedication of your architects, your engineers, your financiers, your coordinators, your project managers, the team, we all have a goal, and that is to give the best show to our guests. And that's what's the crowning jewel of imaginary. Um, that's my, that's my opinion. Um, it, it's a group of dedicated people that are the best at what they do. And like you said before, Lou, you don't need to be the best artist or the best animator or the best designer or architect or whatever. It's, there's, there's, you gotta have that magic, you gotta have that desire. It, it's, it's, it's an incredible thing. It it's a special thing's, very, very special thing.

Lou Mongello (00:21:34) - And you know, in defining, we were talking about the qualities that somebody possessed, you know, Walt talked about, and Marty Clark to this day talks about waltz four Cs, the curiosity, the courage, the confidence and the constancy. And it seems that something else, no matter what area of imagina imaginary you're in, you have to have that level of creativity, that ability to kind of think outside the box no matter where you are.

Ed Romeo (00:21:56) - You're absolutely correct. Yes. But like, and that's what makes it, that's what makes it special.

Lou Mongello (00:22:02) - Exactly. And, and like I said, the, the real the important part of this discussion is, is not just obviously appreciating the work that you and the other imaginaries have done, but making people understand there is no right or wrong way to try and get into imaginary. There's not one educational background, no degree that you have to have to work there. In fact, you, you might not even need a degree at all. A as long as you have a creative mind and look at the number of people from the company that start off, for example, just working in the parks names like, correct, Jason Crell and Tony Baxter was, you know, schlepping ice cream and, um, Kevin Rafferty was, was a dishwasher at the Plaza Inn.

Ed Romeo (00:22:38) - Absolutely. And I was a cast member at the Disney store. So, you know, it, it's, we all come from different walks of life. Some we started within, but we all have one thing in common, a love for what we do. And, um, we love to entertain people and we enjoy people having pleasure off of what we do. And it, it, it, it, it may sound corny, but it, it's really a special thing. And, um, one thing Imagineering does for everybody, and, and we're gonna see, we're gonna repeat it again, is even if you're not the artist or the creative lead or anything, you are made part of that team and everybody is recognized from top to bottom on the success. And that's also what makes it a special place. You don't, not just one person stands out and the old cliche of there's no I in team. So, uh, that's true. At imaginary, it is definitely a special place because at the end of a project, everyone all stands back and has the same response of how wonderful it is. Now this project is opening and people are enjoying it.

Lou Mongello (00:24:05) - So really maybe Ed coming kind of full circle and, and wrapping things up, I, I think it doesn't matter what your background is, it doesn't matter what your degree is in, if anything is just that desire to, to be the best at what you do and what you want to do, and correct the ability to, to work creatively with others and in other disciplines. And, and like, you know, I hate to keep quoting Walt, but he says, you know, the imagineers, they're dreamers and doers, and obviously you are a perfect example of that.

Ed Romeo (00:24:32) - I appreciate that. And, and like I, and, and like you stated before, once you get in, you make what you want out of it. Um, yeah, the, the hard step is getting in, but that's, that's for anything and, and for future imagineers out there and people who want to be imagineers, if it's your dream, you'll make it happen. Um, but sometimes you gotta go through back doors or you have to take other routes, alternative routes to get to your dream. But if you really want it to happen, it, it will happen. Um, uh, it, that's how it happened for me, um, between, uh, my mom and myself. We've had over almost 40 years of Imagineering experience and um, it's a, it's a very special thing. It's a very, very special thing. And uh, and uh, if you want it, if anyone wants it, they can go out and get it. Just gotta find a way. There's no easy way to become an imaginary. Cause I get that question all the time is how did you become an Imagineer? And I, and I don't even know how to answer that question. I just did . I had an opportunity and I was able to take, take it and, um, I guess look at all those postings online because that's where, um, a lot of people are found. Right. You know. Right. So

Lou Mongello (00:25:57) - I was gonna say for for practical purposes, uh, if you do want to kind of take that first step and see what's available, one of the best ways to find out what positions are available is you can go to disney careers.com. Remember too, Imagineering doesn't exist just in California, but Orlando as well, they're also gonna start opening up professional internships. I'll put a link in the show notes to the Disney website, the careers website, we can find out about professional internships and Imagineering. And two, you know, like we were talking about some of the other people that came up the ranks, actual experience with the company is helpful. Go work at Walt Disney World, whether it's the college program, a seasonal position, an internship, or just any kind of job that you can get in the parks. So many people started there and that might be a great way to do it. And, uh, you know, you too can live the dream. And, and Ed Romeo, uh, you are definitely proof of that. And I really want to thank you for taking the time to come on, for sharing your stories. And obviously, you know that millions of people every day still appreciate all the work and, and you and the other imaginaries have put into the parks for us.

Ed Romeo (00:26:57) - Well, thanks Lou for having me and, and I appreciate that. And, um, again, we, we don't, we do it because we love it and, um, it's a special thing and, and, uh, we want everyone to enjoy it. And again, I getting my, my first imaginary ID tag was one of the, one of the special days of my life. And I will always cherish that. And, and, uh, it's a good thing. It's a good thing.

Lou Mongello (00:27:26) - Excellent Ed, thanks so much.

Ed Romeo (00:27:28) - Thanks Lou.

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