Imagineering’s Hallway Culture – Graffiti Hallway Culture, That Is

| August 10, 2010

Disney fans have little opportunity to peek behind the scenes at Walt Disney Imagineering.  Adventures by Disney offers the “Backstage Magic” California itinerary that takes guest on a tour of Imagineering, but other than that, few fans see inside the place that created their favorite theme parks and attractions.  Former Imagineering show writer, Melody Malmberg, has published a new book titled “Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind The Dreams Look At Making MORE Magic Real” that gives readers a rare glimpse of Imagineering’s halls.  Continue reading after the break for this special look at the culture of Walt Disney Imagineering.

Image: Imagineer Eric Robison finger paints Mickey Mouse onto the Graffiti wall

Image: (left) book jacket courtesy of Disney Editions, and (right) Melody Malmberg (photo provided by the author)

Mel Malmberg said Walt Disney Imagineering is housed in a “boring, boring, boring industrial building”, in Glendale, California, a quiet suburb of Los Angeles.  Around 1991-1992, Imagineering encouraged artists to paint on a wall in a hallway that led past the Imagineering model shop.  The model shop serves as the omphalos of the building, and is the place everyone would eventually go to or walk past – the “belly button” of Imagineering.  The art on the wall became known as the “Graffiti Hallway” and was celebrated with parties.  Oftentimes, pieces would be satirical, irreverent and subversive, but there could be beautiful artwork included as well.  “The Graffiti Hallway is not as free as it used to be at Imagineering – one cannot just go up and paint whatever they want on the wall,” described Malmberg, but, over time, the hallway has continued to evolve.  Mel asserted the hallway serves as a metaphor for how Imagineering works, “it’s like people’s thoughts on the wall.”

Image: The Imagineering model shop. Photo by Jess Allen.

Image: Imagineers have creative license to satirize Disney icons on the Graffiti wall

In October 2004, the Graffiti Wall was re-done in tribute to artist, Senior Vice President for Imagineering, and Disney Legend John Hench who passed away the previous February.  Hench worked for the Walt Disney Company since 1939, originally with the Studios, before he joined what would eventually become Imagineering in 1954.  Hench designed attractions for the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York City, and helped with the master plan for Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland among other parks.  John Hench was also the official Disney portrait artist for Mickey Mouse, painting the portraits for the icon’s 25th (1953), 50th (1978), 60th (1988), and 70th (1998) birthdays.

Image: Imagineers Zofia Kostyrko (left) and Susan Dain (right) add paintings to honor Disney Imagineering Legend John Hench

Mel said John Hench was so beloved throughout the whole company, that people who do not necessarily consider themselves “artists” wanted to create pieces to honor him.  There were paintings, pastiches, photographic collages, or even just photocopies stuck on the wall all describing their feelings and emotions towards their colleague, John Hench.

Image: Imagineers Denise Brown (left) and Mike Jusko (right) work on a Dali-inspired pastiche as a tribute to John Hench who worked with Salvador Dali on a Disney project.

Mel went on to say Imagineering’s hallway culture encourages people to share with each other.  They ascribe to the philosophy that people passing in the hallway will brush up against each other, exchange thoughts, and great ideas will come of it.  Most of the work at Imagineering is done in teams, and the teams are constantly broken up and reshuffled to allow for cross-pollination of ideas.  Ideas and relationships get carried back and forth between teams.  She equated it to a Bell Labs type of institution or any other creative think tank.

Image: Ride Imagineers contribute a photo collage of their work at Disneyland.

Mel Malmberg’s new book, “Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making MORE Magic Real”, is full of stories and anecdotes behind not only the history of Imagineering, but also the process of Imagineering.  For more behind the scenes insights into the world of Imagineering and the Disney Theme Parks, be sure to pick up a copy of Mel Malmberg’s “Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making MORE Magic Real.”


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Category: Adventures by Disney, Disney World, Disneyland, Editorials

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