My short bio: I worked at Disney Imagineering in Burbank California for a little over a year on the Shanghai Disney project ( in the area development department, which is their name for Landscape Architecture. I was able to work for Imagineering because the landscape architecture firm I worked for at the time had a contract for a number of us to work for Disney. When Disney is designing a new park, hotel or major expansion they will contract for staff from local design firms come and work in the Imagineering office, so they don't have to hire and fire people. I'll answer what I can while trying to respect my NDA. I no longer work for Imagineering or that firm, and obviously my time was limited. If you want inside information or the newest rumors I would check out When I was working at Disney we would find out information about the project we were working on Miceage sometimes before we even got the information in the office.

Comments: 137 • Responses: 40  • Date: 

ibenedict12724 karma

Is upper management good to you as an employee or are you constantly pushed to be creative in a way that is similar to rushing art?

Tophloaf45 karma

Honestly they are great to work for. Things you might be expected to design or figure out in a normal architecture office in a day, you might have a week at Disney. They move slowly and think things through to make sure its really the best and most creative design it can be. They build things to be there for 60 years. If you're working for a developer they just want to make a profit and get out, so its a different mind set.

thefoolofemmaus19 karma

Can you describe how an attraction gets pitched, built, and tested? It seems like a very expensive R&D process.

Tophloaf22 karma

Once a project is thought up by an executive somewhere it enters what Disney calls "blue sky" which is essentially the brainstorming or conceptual phase of the project, maybe it gets scrapped here, maybe they find a direction and move forward. Then a team of architects, engineers, modelers, set designers, etc. will be assembled to begin planning the "land". Think Tomorrowland, several buildings, rides, open spaces, restaurants, menus, everything that goes into it. Architects design buildings, open space s are designed along with theming and set pieces, just like a normal architecture project. Things move forward over the course of a year or two until construction begins, then another year or two of construction depending on the size.

twosheepforanore11 karma

Have you ever read Devil in the White City? It sounds like the process is similar to planning a Worlds Fair, except without all the dead bodies in local hotel(s).

Tophloaf8 karma

I have, great book! Especially for architecture nerds.

Count_Ooga3 karma

Do the architects and engineers also work on the blue sky process? Or is that a separate group of people?

Tophloaf6 karma

Some of both. Key people from different departments will be in during the beginning of the project and then as the project fills out, they will continue to bring more people on.

Teleportable14 karma

When working on the Shanghai project what were some demographic related decisions that were made that may have been different if the attraction was considered for a park in another part of the world?

Tophloaf18 karma

Great question! Yes, smoking is much more prevalent in China than in the US and so there was some planning for that. Also the typical family that might visit would be 2 parents, 2 grandparents and 1 child. Compared to a typical American family which might be 2 parents and 2.5 children. Also, some thought was put into how they sell tickets because of this:

309234throwaway6 karma

So what were the changes for the greater adult skewing of guests? Different rides, more benches? How did you handle queuing as China doesn't really have a tradition of it?

Tophloaf11 karma

Much larger smoking areas that they don't have in the US, I think the lines remained the same. I remember hearing an interesting stat that they expect 40% of the park to be in a line at any point in time, in fact if they weren't in line the park wouldn't really work because its almost like human storage, so that everyone else has room to move. Definitely more benches and more ash receptacles.

justeeee10 karma

What was the most outrageous idea that was presented while you were there that was actually implemented? Was the end result anything like the original idea?

Tophloaf25 karma

Honestly the engineering for the castle its self is pretty incredible. There are multiple stories underground, tunnels connecting to other areas and a ride, its also the largest castle disney has ever built. Also, when architects design buildings on unstable ground they have to sink "piles" into the ground similar to the way you might think of a dock in a lake. Well the castle has 100+ piles that go over 100' into the ground, its an incredible piece of engineering.

NaughtyHobby8 karma

How would someone apply for this job? What are some skills/qualifications they're looking for?

Tophloaf11 karma

Here are the three ways I know to become an Imagineer.

  1. There is an internship program that is popular and some people get pulled up from that to become actual employees.

  2. Work at a design firm (engineer, landscape architect, architect) that regularly does work with Disney and you might have the chance to work on a Disney project whether its at your office or at the Imagineering offices. This is how I was able to work for Disney a few times.

  3. Apply/Network. This is a little tougher, but it happens. I also know some people who worked on the same project as me from a temp agency.

Fantomas26 karma

Hey I've always loved the idea of being an imagineer, just want to say you've lived my dream. What would be a good degree for someone who is interested in designing rides? I work for one of the largest companies in the world and it's great but I want to go back to school and design and test rides and attractions, would love to hear your opinion.

Tophloaf10 karma

Yikes, I wish I did. I would say architecture, civil/mechanical engineering, landscape architecture. But really almost anything. There were chefs coming up with menus, graphic designers designing signage or menus. Costume people, ride mechanics, modelers.

bricker855 karma

Can you share any of the difficulties and challenges (cultural, environmental, construction, etc.) of working on the Shanghai project?

Tophloaf9 karma

Sure. Language was a big one. We had to design in millimeters, which most of us weren't used to. Also, we shipped all the construction drawings to China to have them translated and sent back. But as anyone who has worked on an architectural project before knows, nothing is ever done changing, so there were endless revisions to this. Environmentally the soil was not great for building and so there was a LOT of additional thought that went into that. The availability of landscape material that met Disney standards was huge. They traveled ALL over China buying up nursery material, trying to find what they needed. Also there are a lot of different engineering practices that created difficulties between the construction drawings and the way the Chinese were used to building things.

Aichilev4 karma

can you elaborate more on the way Chinese built things as opposed to the normal way ?

Tophloaf3 karma

The one thing that comes to mind is that they wanted to use a spread footing for everything, which is unusual for the US. Consider a lightpole in a parking lot. You can usually see the cylindrical concrete footer sticking out of the ground. The footer is probably 12" diameter x 3' deep, allowing room for plants, etc. around it. Well in China they wanted to use a spread footing which means that the footing may have been under the soil but it would be maybe 12" thick and a 3' x 3' platform. It creates lots of conflicts with wiring, landscape, etc. as you can imagine.

challenge45 karma

Would you rather imagineer a ride for 100 duck sized horses or 1 horse sized duck?

Tophloaf3 karma

100 duck-horses all the way!

BeefChalupa4 karma

Is there a writing division to Imagineering, or for the Disney Parks in general? I'd love to write for Disney someday, but it's not something I've ever been able to find out more information on from anywhere available to me, and I've always wanted to ask an Imagineer on the off chance one would know.

Tophloaf2 karma

Unfortunately I don't know. I'm sure there is, I mean there was a translation department to make sure that "Buzz Light Year" made sense in Chinese, so there has to be writing. What kind of writing do you want to do? Like write the lines for the cast members on the jungle cruise?

SovietWarfare4 karma

Did you enjoy the job?

Tophloaf12 karma

I did, its a great place to work and be creative. Disney also treats their employees very well. 10/10 would work at again, if they let me after this AMA.

SwissCheese773 karma

What is the process of working with ride manufacturers on these projects. For example at Shanghai Disney, how far into the planning of the Tron Lightcycles ride did Vekoma get called in? Did they help you design the ride or was the design pretty much finalized by that point?

Tophloaf3 karma

I wish I knew, I think that came earlier than when I was there. Some rides are reused from other projects, some are brand new. With that one my impression was that it was predesigned and then people working in that area had to fit the predesigned ride into the land, but I didn't work on that. Thats just my impression.

nanogoose3 karma

How long do you have left to live before Disney's special forces team busts your door down and shoots you?

Tophloaf7 karma

Hopefully I haven't given away any trade secrets, I'm trying to respect my NDA and link to information that is already out there. That being said I'm actually typing from Disney Studios right now (different branch). So they shouldn't have any trouble finding me.

buried20kleague-13 karma

LOL. And here I was thinking this might actually be an interesting AMA. Also, I admire your death-wish, posting from the Studios. Good luck with that.

ETA: Or else you've been asked to do this as advertisement for Shanghai. Which I absolutely wouldn't put past Mickey's Social Media team.

Tophloaf4 karma

Sorry, doing the best I can. But there is a reason that there isn't a flood of people willing to "tell all". If I were doing this for Disney I'd probably have more interesting information :-)

fightingirishjd82 karma

Have you ever been to that secret club in Disney that serves alcohol all day and has like a 15 yr waiting list?

Tophloaf2 karma

Club 33! No unfortunately, even most imagineers have not been.

shinyblastoise2 karma

What's the.most common malfunction on the attraction?

What's the most irritating one to fix?

What's the scariest thing to happen to you while fixing one?

Tophloaf4 karma

Imagineers design the rides and attractions, we don't fix them. I'm sure someone in maintenance has better stories than me.

shinyblastoise2 karma

Sorry about That, Then here are some questions you may be able to answer

Why is there no nightmare before Christmas rides has it ever been discussed?

How does an idea be brought up is there meetings? Or like a head guy you go to and suggest it?

What's the worst attraction/ride idea you've ever heard of?

Tophloaf8 karma

There should be a Nightmare Before Christmas ride! Go to Disneyland during Halloween and you can get your fill! The worst attraction has to be Luigi's tires in Carsland. Its awful, even when it first opened they tried to add beach balls to make it more interesting, but they had nothing to do with the ride, so they were removed. Now the ride is just awful.

EyeGot5OnIt2 karma

Who was the GC/Construction group for these projects? Is it like a top 10 ENR design-build firm like DPR or a local company?

Did you get to work on-site at Shanghai?

Tophloaf3 karma

I don't remember at the time. There were stipulations that most of the construction companies had to be Chinese locals, which is pretty typical in a project like this. Unfortunately I didn't get to go to Shanghai. I think about 200 families relocated for 2 and a half years.

Victreebel_Fucker2 karma

So to your knowledge, would you say Miceage is generally reliable for rumors? Did you ever hear any flat-out wrong ones anywhere? I know you probably don't want to say too much, but the rumor mill is interesting to me. :)

Tophloaf3 karma

I think more often than not they are probably right. I don't read it very often, but I'm pretty convinced that someone on the inside has been allowed to operate it for some reason.

jcrankin222 karma

How did you go about getting a job as an Imagineer? Is it something they accept applications for, or do you need to know someone? My parents know a couple that work as Imagineers at the Florida park and I have always wanted to ask them. It sounds like an awesome job!

Sorry if this has already been asked :)

Tophloaf2 karma

See above. As with all jobs, it helps to know someone. Yeah I've worked at with the Orlando Team as well. Most of the work comes down from the California studio, but there is plenty of Orlando work from time to time. I'm sure they'd be happy to share their experience and maybe hook you up with an internship.

mealbudget2 karma

What design inside the Disney scheme do you admire the most? And what about outside of Disney?

Tophloaf3 karma

Honestly I love the new entry to California Adventure since they redesigned it, its gorgeous. Pirates of the Caribbean speaks for itself as a great ride because it consistently has a long line. Outside of Disney I'm a big art deco fan or Santiago Calatrava.

reddevved2 karma

What are the secret tunnels like?

Tophloaf2 karma

I wish I knew. I just know they exist and are built in so that staff can get from their car to their shift without having to cross a bunch of customers dressed like something that may not fit in the land they need to walk through.

reddevved2 karma

What do you do when not imagineering?

Tophloaf2 karma

Now I work in the film industry, no longer for WDI.

Shaysdays2 karma

Have you hidden any mickeys? Are the ideas for hidden mickeys something that comes from the bosses or is it something imagineers can do on their own?

Tophloaf8 karma

I don't think there is a formal process for it. I'm proud to say that I hid a few in some ironwork. The art director would have had them removed if they weren't wanted. Or vice versa added some if they felt like we should hide some somewhere.

AGallagher4102 karma

What was the process like in getting hired in that position?

Tophloaf2 karma

I was hired as a contractor through the landscape architecture firm I worked for, so basically my boss just told me I'd be going up to Disney for the next year and that was that.

rbarton8122 karma

Not sure if I'm gonna word this clearly...

What is your favorite Disney property (Mickey, Star Wars, Frozen, etc.)? And were you able to work on projects related to it?

Tophloaf6 karma

Standard answer Star Wars or Marvel. Unfortunately no, but it was great to get to be a part of a park that will make thousands of people and kids smile and have a good time. Its incredible just to be part of the tradition. No matter what part you play everyone has a deep respect for the brand and what the parks have meant to so many over the years, its a great environment.

chellygel2 karma

How many hours were you working on average? How many hours were you working when a big deadline / project came up?

Thanks for answering!

Tophloaf3 karma

Typical architecture hours. 40-45 when things are going easy. 45-60 When they aren't, including one or two weekends. They did provide dinner when everyone was slammed though :-)

llama18922 karma

Would you rather fight 1 castle sized Mickey, or 100 Mickey sized castles?

Tophloaf4 karma

God a huge mickey would be scary, I can hear him doing his trademark chuckle in a really deep slowed down nightmare voice.

sumbahdee2 karma

While working on the fantasy castle in Shanghai, how was it like fitting cultural elements into it? For example are the designs more Asian as mostly the Chinese are visiting this Disney park?

Tophloaf9 karma

The tagline is "Authentically Disney, distinctly Chinese"

So they really tried to make it authentic and not some offensive, cheesey version of China that would offend. There are a LOT of Chinese people that worked on the project. Here is an article about some of that.

cormacwanderers1 karma

Are there any plans for new Disney Resorts that haven't been announced?

Tophloaf1 karma


8Xeh4FMq7vM31 karma

Did you ever play Theme Park Tycoon games/ Coaster simulations on the computer?

Btw, Shanghai Disney is looking great from the sneak previews. Love the Gardens of Imagination and Storybook Castle!

Tophloaf1 karma

Nope, I was more interested in it from the theming and the over all experience of being in that space. How to transform a field in the middle of China into a fantasy.

OriginalityIs1 karma

Wow, that sounds like an awesome gig! Can you give us a specific example of a project you worked on? Also, is there a certain project that you always wish you could have been a part of?

Tophloaf6 karma

I worked on the Shanghai Disney Resort. Mostly on the fantasy castle and fantasyland.

I would love to work on the rumored Star Wars land!

bricker851 karma

Every workplace has its politics and bureaucracy, and I can only imagine that's exacerbated when working in a large organization like The Walt Disney Co. What were internal politics like at WDI? How did egos shape what projects went forward and who worked on them?

Tophloaf1 karma

From what I saw it wasn't any different than any other office. The people who had been there a long time and were project directors were able to pick and choose who they wanted to work with or didn't. You just wanted to be one of those chosen!

29holden1 karma

I want to start my own theme park. What should I do?

Tophloaf3 karma

HAH! Best question. Well, acquiring any type of IP is going to be prohibitively expensive. You're not going to make a DC comics land or a anime land. I think your best bet is to have no theme at all and purchase old rusty rides that have been decommissioned from other parks, repaint and profit.

Option 2: Only use properties that aren't licensed like Fan-fic or Shakespeare.

Option 3: Buy a bunch of land NEAR Disney Shanghai and build a knockoff park and set your entry fees to have of Disney. It's China after all. Profit.

DJSullyz1 karma

What designs did Disney specifically look for in the landscape architecture? Was it symbolic of something or was it just another regular design?

Tophloaf2 karma

Some of it was regular design and necessary. Everything was extremely detailed though, because it would later be art directed in the field by one of the art directors, as opposed to a contractor. So every panel of fencing and railing was designed by hand, if you had a piece that was going to be a little short, you designed that too, rather than just let the contactor cut it. We even drew moss on the rockwork in CAD so that it followed the intent.

thenightcrawler1 karma

What did you study in college?

Tophloaf1 karma

Landscape Architecture

BigHatsAndLittleHats1 karma

What are your thoughts on topiary?

Tophloaf2 karma

Who doesn't love a good topiary!?