Alumnus and President of Disney Imagineering Robert Weis continues innovation at Disney Parks

By Ethereal Violet Reyes and Minuet Bando, Oct. 5, 2021

From Shanghai to Tokyo Disneyland and back to the local Anaheim theme park, President of Walt Disney Imagineering, WDI, Robert “Bob” Weis continues to sprinkle his creative pixie dust by incorporating storytelling and diversity in every project he manages.

Weis shared that when exploring the importance of storytelling through his projects, the value of  reflecting the diversity of an audience in the Imagineering team is the key. According to Weis, the Imagineers had a “reckoning” that the great talent at Imagineering with diverse backgrounds were uneasy when it came to speaking up or contributing ideas in the space.

“The people who were determining projects and determining creativity was a fairly narrow group,” said Weis. “We had to really work on getting people comfortable, not only with speaking up in venues but also [in guiding others] with listening. Don’t always be the loudest voice in the room, it helps to hang back and let a new person contribute ideas.”

According to PolyCentric, Weis has received many awards for his commitment to innovation while working at WDI for managing the creation of the Shanghai Disney Resort, operating on Tokyo Disneyland and conducting the “five-year transformation and expansion” at Disney’s California Adventure Park.

Weis described his projects as his “children,” and he shared an appreciation of international projects like the Shanghai Disney Resort and local operations like building Cars Land and World of Color in the Disney California Adventure Park. “You almost think of them as eras of your life because these projects can last a number of years,” said Weis.

With light years of experience, Weis prioritized diversity and representation in his team of Imagineers across the world. The Shanghai Disneyland operation was one of the main projects where Weis wanted to prioritize bringing in local perspectives.

“We did a lot of focused work in making sure that we had Chinese talent on our team and that it wasn’t just a bunch of Americans trying to figure out how to build a park in China,” said Weis. “We had lots of creative talent that we recruited from China and had a lot of collaboration, working a lot on the language, development, translation, color and tried to localize ourselves as much as was possible.”

The 3D model of the Shanghai Disneyland castle design, as pictured above. (Courtesy of Jon George)

Dean Emeritus of College of Environmental Design Michael Woo first worked with Weis during a WDI program called Storytelling Through Design which occurred in the College of Environmental Design Atrium in 2017.

“I think to fully live out the concept that Robert Weis talks about, about the importance of storytelling and the connection between storytelling and design, this suggests certain kinds of skills that students need to learn, even if they think they’re only a designer,” said Woo.

Senior Director of Development Environmental Design Jenkins Shannon shared that for as long as she has known Weis, he was always passionate about helping students. He created the Bobby Brooks Memorial Interdisciplinary Design Studio. This program continues to provide architecture and landscape architecture students with the chance to collaborate with Weis and other Disney Imagineers. Weis established the program in memory of alumnus Bobby Brooks.

“He is humble and very easygoing, and one thing that is very obvious is he genuinely wants students to do well; he really just wants to help students,” said Shannon.

Weis advised Cal Poly Pomona students to advance their collaborative skills during their college experience.

“I think that one of the most important things to me is for students to realize that the idea of working on your own is kind of a school idea,” said Weis. “When you get into the professional world, you’ll always be collaborating… The most experience you can have working with others, the better it will serve you later.”

Weis’ priority is to maintain consistency in the “emotional connection” created with the Disney guests by preserving the park’s attractions and memories attached to them, while also creating new, innovative projects which will uphold Disney’s relevance.

“I think the ultimate goal for me is to always be trying to think of something that is innovative, and not necessarily more expensive or more elaborate, but that you always try to be on the forefront of creating something new,” said Weis.

Featured image courtesy of Jon George.  

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