Discovering What Disney Imagineers Really Do

in Disney, Disney Parks, Theme Parks

Imagineering feature image

The term “Walt Disney Imagineering” often comes up when discussing the magic behind all the impressive works and marvels found throughout Disney Parks, Resorts, and even the Disney Cruise Line.

It’s a lofty job title—that of a Disney Imagineer. Even if you don’t have a clear understanding of what it means to be an Imagineer exactly, you’ve no doubt concluded that Disney Imagineers fulfill an essential role and purpose within the Walt Disney Company. But what is this role and purpose exactly? The answer is multifaceted, as Disney Imagineering assumes a versatile range of different tasks and professions. From vital research and development to creative engineering, here at Inside the Magic, we’re sharing the truth behind Disney Imagineering and enlightening you about everything that Disney Imagineers do.

What is Disney Imagineering?

Walt Disney Imagineering officially began on December 16, 1952, when Walt Disney established an engineering division of his Company to assist in developing and designing his conceptualized Disneyland project. Briefly known as Walt Disney, Inc. (WDI), the new division was renamed WED Enterprises in 1953.

As Disney Parks and Resorts continued to grow through the years, so did the extensive team of employees in this specific sector of the Company. With new Disney initiatives forever emerging, it was no longer just about having a staff of creative visionary masterminds and brilliant engineers to bring attractions to life. Instead, it emerged into a mega operation that included everything from landscaping, decorating, designing, and an innovative hospitality industry-focused team.

The change in name from WED Enterprises to Walt Disney Imagineering didn’t come about until 1986. That was when employees working within this division of the Disney Company were officially dubbed “Imagineers.”

Walt Disney alongside early Imagineers
Credit: Walt Disney Imagineering

Related: 90-Year-Old Treasured Disney Imagineer Revisits Beloved Rides

Fulfilling Many Roles

To say that Imagineers wear many different hats would be a vast understatement. In truth, Walt Disney Imagineering is the assumed umbrella term for over 140 diverse job titles under the direction of the Walt Disney Company. Furthermore, they do everything, from keeping things fresh, updated, and perpetually new at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, to concocting state-of-the-art Disney Cruise Liners. And it’s largely thanks to them and all their unending hard work that so many folks agree that any day is the best day to go to Disney destinations worldwide.

An impressive Disney Cruise Line ship
Credit: Disney

One of the broadest Imagineer subdivisions is that of the Walt Disney Imagineering Research Development, Inc. team, specifically. Members of this sector include those who are tasked with researching and developing ideas and new concepts and those who are actively involved in the physical building and construction of all finalized plans. This is the team behind the overall creation of Disney Parks, making needed additions, expansions, and changes when necessary. They’re also the masterminds responsible for planning out Resort layouts (with considerations to location and zoning). Furthermore, they plan, propose, and construct all your favorite rides, attractions, and even all those ingenious transportation methods.

It’s not all about engineering or drawing blueprints, though. The broader spectrum of Walt Disney Imagineering also calls on skilled professionals in many other trades, including concept artists, illustrators, graphic designers, architects, theater technicians, costume designers, writers, landscapers, interior designers, archivists, special effects experts, content experts, historians, and so many others.

Disney Imagineers are among the most brilliant and creative minds in bringing the Disney brand to the forefront. Their versatile job summary differs from other employment options within the Walt Disney Company, such as those directly involved in movies, television, and various forms of entertainment.

Walt-Disney-Imagineering-Working-Model-of-Pixar-Pier
Credit: Disney/Aaron Pool

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Storytelling is Central

No matter the official title a particular Imagineer operates under, one common objective that all adhere to is effectively engaging audiences through excellent storytelling. Presenting a story through one’s craft is what it’s all about. Just as there are many different art forms, there is an art of imagination at work in every Disney experience. Storytelling is ingrained into the backdrop and framework of every wall and curtain, every thematic callout at every venue. It’s prevalent in even the subtlest details, like the paint color used to convey a backstory at a Resort or even within an attraction. It’s why a specific scent is chosen over another to be pumped through the Smellitizers at a particular Disney location. It governs a landscaper’s decision to incorporate a plant species native to the environment showcased at a given attraction, adding that touch of authenticity. Storytelling even accounts for those more discrete, carefully implemented references that most folks admittedly miss yet are still present, awaiting the appreciation of a select observant few. The act of storytelling takes on a broad range of utilizations. And it’s up to the Disney Imagineer to effectively weave stories into every meticulous action they perform.

Imagineers working on model for Pandora--The World of Avatar model
Credit: Disney

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Where Do Imagineers Work?

Walt Disney Imagineering is officially headquartered at the Grand Central Creative Campus in Glendale, California. But that doesn’t mean that all Disney Imagineers work here simultaneously. With expansions to new locations in just the last few years alone, in addition to the fact that Disney Imagineers are often called to travel on assignments beyond the office, there is no single affirmative answer to that question. Because Imagineering primarily pertains to Parks and Resorts, you’ll find Imagineers onsite at just about any Disney venue at any given time, whether it be Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, or Shanghai Disney in China.

Sometimes, Imagineers are even flown to international destinations around the globe on special assignments. These instances often correspond with preliminary research and gathering observational notes and field data in conjunction with a tentative new project or attraction in the works.

Grand Central Creative Campus
Credit: Inside the Magic

How Much Do Imagineers Make?

Because many jobs fall under the Disney Imagineering title, the salary range differs based on one’s particular role. Experience level and seniority in a position also influence an Imagineer’s gross earnings. On average, though, a Disney Imagineer is estimated to earn around $90,000 a year. Of course, this number is only an average, as various employees earn more or less depending on the aforementioned factors. A concept artist, for instance, may make between $35,000 and $79,000, whereas an architect can earn between $62,000 and $138,000 annually.

Imagineer in construction
Credit: Walt Disney Imagineering

How to Become a Disney Imagineer

It’s no secret that Disney only hires the best of the best for any role they’re trying to fill. With that being said, getting into Disney Imagineering is tough! First, you need plenty of professional background experience that aligns with the position you are applying for. You also need the proper education and sometimes even additional professional training. This often includes a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree related to your intended line of work or successful completion from any special skills training programs or trade schools you may have enrolled in.

Even among the most astute, there are never any guarantees. But if you think you have what it takes, you can check out all the latest job openings with Disney Imagineering right here.

Mickey and contest winners on stage
Credit: Walt Disney Imagineering

Are you surprised to learn about the many different roles of a Disney Imagineer? Tell us in the comments which facts surprised you most.

in Disney, Disney Parks, Theme Parks

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