Sunday, July 14, 2024

Bob Weis, collaborative creative pioneer

Now WDI president, Weis has emphasized a virtuoso team culture on all his projects

by Joe Kleiman

Bob Weis
Photo © Disney

Bob Weis is President, Creative and New Experience Development of Walt Disney Imagineering. He is best known for his Disney projects – most recently his leadership roles on the Disney California Adventure and Shanghai Disneyland parks. However, he also has a significant body of influential work in the museum and attractions fields and even military training simulation – pioneering projects that established new models, blurring the line between attraction and exhibit, bringing museum techniques to the theme park world and vice versa. 

Weis was named by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) to receive its prestigious Buzz Price Thea Award – Honoring a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements as part of the 27th annual TEA Thea Awards. He and the other Thea award recipients in 2021 will be celebrated in a series of virtual Thea Awards Case Studies later this year, and in the official Thea Awards Program publication (TEA expects to resume hosting its in-person Thea Awards Gala in 2022). 

To understand more about Bob Weis as a themed entertainment professional and his lifetime of distinguished achievements, InPark editor Joe Kleiman explored a series of projects completed between 2002 and 2009.

Profiled are: In Their Footsteps: Lewis and Clark; ACTION! An Adventure in Movie Making; Top of the Rock; Battle Stations 21; The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History; and CSI: The Experience.

What about Bob? Vision, empowerment, collaboration and trust

Bob has an ability to balance all of it. The complexities of the project, the needs of the team, the vision of the organization, the daily challenges and frustrations – and through it all he never loses his love of it. His steady approach allows him to take on intimate projects or scale up to something massive without losing sight of his leadership role and the vision the team is working toward. He takes his work seriously, but also has an amazing sense of humor – dry, insightful and super funny – that comes out when you least expect it and always comes from a place of keen observation. He is inspirational, the best of the best in this business, but also so humble and just lovely to work with.

Nancy Seruto

“At the heart of his style is the empowerment of the individual and the team, treating all with respect and trust,” wrote the Thea Awards Committee of Bob Weis in its official remarks, calling Weis a “world class visionary who is sincerely modest, selfless and kind,” with “a keen ability to align a very large effort…towards success among the more than 100 diverse disciplines required to create a multi-dimensional end product. A lover of history and cinema, whether overseeing a Disney theme park or a traveling museum exhibit, he was, as one of his team members called him, ‘never a micro-manager, but always a collaborator.’”

Rick Rothschild

“It’s kind of a life story arc,” colleague and former fellow Imagineer Rick Rothschild said of Weis. “He’s so well-suited to lead and organize and cast a group of people to do something, no matter the size of the project.” 

Interviewed for this story:

Rick Rothschild, Chief Creative at FAR Out! Creative Direction, former Disney Imagineer

Chick Russell, Executive Producer and Creative Director at Chick Russell & Company, former Disney Imagineer

Van Romans, President of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, former Executive Director, Cultural Affairs, Walt Disney Imagineering

Tim Steinouer, Creative Producer at Steinouer Creative, former partner at Design Island

Nancy Seruto, Owner of Seruto LLC, former Disney Imagineer

John Beckman, Director, Exhibit Design and Production at Adler Planetarium, former Director of Exhibit Design and Development at MSI, Chicago

Jen Bressler, Principal, Hunt Design

Kurt Haunfelner, Senior Vice President for Exhibitions at California Science Center, formerly Vice President of Exhibits and Collections at MSI, Chicago

Bob and Nancy and Van and Tim and Chick and….

Working with Bob, there was always a sense of entertainment regardless of whether the exhibit was permanent or traveling. I felt that Bob had a crystal ball – he was a few steps ahead of everyone, a visionary. 

Jen Bressler

Bob Weis had garnered a reputation for leading the design of Disney theme parks that, according to former Disney Imagineer and longtime Weis collaborator Van Romans, “mixed real stuff with Disney storytelling.” Weis spearheaded the team that designed the Disney-MGM Studios, opened in 1989 and renamed Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2008. The Florida theme park showcased a behind-the-scenes look at the making of television and movies in a fictionalized setting reminiscent of old Hollywood. At the same time, one of its highlights was a series of tours through a real production studio. Later, he would lead the team on the conceptual stages of Disney’s America theme park near Washington D.C. Had the project gone forward (it was canceled in 1994), it would have depicted America and the fabric of its people through real stories, as told through Disney storytelling techniques and technology.

Concept painting of Disney’s America. © Disney.

“We were creating something entirely new that dealt with the reality of verified history,” says Romans. When designing the Disney-MGM Studios park, Weis and his team consulted with cinema history and industry experts. The attractions, such as The Great Movie Ride and the animation tour, used authentic film props to tell the story of film and television. In much the same vein, the Disney’s America team engaged historians and Smithsonian experts, with the plan to include iconic American artifacts from the Smithsonian and other museums as part of the attraction experiences.

Weis, a history buff and cinephile, always built upon what he learned from project to project. He and his colleagues had brought museum exhibition techniques to the theme park. Now he would bring theme park storytelling to the museum. But first, he had a film to make.

In Their Footsteps: Lewis and Clark (2002)

What Bob is masterful at is the strategic process of developing an idea and moving the idea into reality. He’s skilled at bringing in and organizing all the right people together. One of his greatest attributes is his strategic mindset. He’s able to provoke with properly timed and valuable “what if?”

Rick Rothschild

“Bob had gone through the Hollywood Studios park and Disney’s America, so Imagineers had seen him lead large projects built on strong ideas, but he felt that he was moving away from being down in the trenches,” says Rick Rothschild, who had worked at Imagineering with Weis on envisioning the US history theme park. “He made a seminal decision to leave WDI to start Design Island and have more direct hands-on involvement – and to make his movie.”

In 1994 came the launch of Bob Weis Design Island, a boutique, themed entertainment design firm which was co-founded by Diane Fredel-Weis, who was instrumental in its success. Along with Design Island, they also co-founded the film production company Fertile Films.

“In Their Footsteps” production team. From Left : Harlan Opdahl of Triple “O” Outfitters, Tim Steinouer Associate Producer, Greg Jones Editor, Bob Weis Writer-Producer, Cameron Roberts Director of Photography. Credit: Lewis and Clark Film Company

“Bob invited me to be Associate Producer on a documentary on the Lewis and Clark expedition,” says Tim Steinouer, who had previously worked with Weis on an unaired television show episode for another production company. The film would be “In their Footsteps.” Herman Viola, Curator Emeritus of the Smithsonian, had been a consultant on Disney’s America, and had remained in touch with Weis. Under the Fertile Films banner, Weis and Viola decided to make a documentary about Lewis & Clark’s trek through the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho.

In 2002, Viola led a group of more than twenty modern Americans on a horseback journey through the Idaho wilderness. Documenting the adventure were Weis, Associate Producer Steinouer, Editor Greg Jones, and Director of Photography Cameron Roberts. Subjects and filmmakers both rode for nine days, often for twelve hours a day, as Viola led the group to key spots documented by the Lewis and Clark expedition.

“Bob had this idea that he would edit everything shot at the end of the day on-site, so one of our crew on horseback was the editor,” says Steinouer. The closest we got to civilization was a rental car that a crew member drove out to camp each night, full of replacement batteries for the equipment and a satellite phone. Herman and Bob would sit on a log with the editor while he edited, then they’d give that day’s footage to the driver, who would sit on the roof of the car trying to get a signal with the satellite phone so he could transmit it to the Smithsonian for use in that day’s classroom presentations. When we reached one of our last stops, the Today Show was there to greet us.” 

Steinouer continued, “When we were packing the horses at the start of the trip, Bob nonchalantly mentioned a movie exhibition that was being considered in Chicago. When we finished our trek, we found out it had been greenlit.” 

Steinouer would up joining Weis at Design Island (now Steinouer Creative), eventually taking its reins in 2007, after Disney recruited Weis back into the fold to lead the reboot of the Disney California Adventure park.

ACTION! An Adventure in Movie Making (2004)

Bob received a call from Kurt Haunfelner [then Vice President, Exhibits and Collections] at Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago greenlighting the ACTION! An Adventure in Movie Making exhibit. At the time, I was working freelance TV and film in Orlando. I was brought onboard to produce the media for the show. We began working around 2003 on ACTION!  It was a natural fit for Bob – he’s a producer on all media.

Tim Steinouer

Weis would prove a trailblazer with his approach to ACTION! An Adventure in Movie Making for the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. By using tools that had heretofore been traditionally limited to filmmaking and themed entertainment design, ACTION! was an early, important example of blurring the line between attraction and exhibit. It laid the groundwork for many popular exhibitions, including Weis’s subsequent CSI exhibit. 

L to R: Bob Weis, Universal Creative’s Thierry Coup, and Chick Russell at the 2015 TEA Thea Awards. According to Russell, “I ran into Bob at the Thea Awards when I was working at Universal and we had just received multiple awards for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I was with my boss Thierry Coup!  Bob was very gracious.  Believe it or not, Thierry worked for Bob and me on the first design of Disney Studios Paris.” Courtesy Chick Russell.

Weis hired his longtime Imagineering collaborator Chick Russell, who had worked on both Disney-MGM Studios and Disney’s America with him, as the writer on ACTION! “Bob and I share classic film knowledge,” he says. ACTION! was a traveling exhibit in two parts. “The first part was a traditional museum exhibit,” says Russell, “with descriptions of what crew members do and with artifacts on display. We were trying to explain to young people that every kind of job imagined and skill needed exists in the film business. The second part of the exhibit was a soundstage letting guests be the cast and crew of their own film that they would make.”

Guests would produce a trailer for an adventure film. Three sets were constructed – a Paris cafe, the interior of a plane headed to Hawai’i, and the underwater lair of the film’s villain. “I wrote the script for this,” shares Russell. “People decided their roles. In each set, a little scene was recorded. We also had pre-produced B-Roll. A computer program would cut this together. Visitors would view the completed trailer in a screening room. It was professionally produced with sound effects and music, and they could email it to family and friends. Bob is so familiar with movies and studios that he made sure we made it look and feel like a real soundstage. If you walked around the back, you’d see canvas and plywood. Bob’s magic trick is to show how the illusion could be so convincing and real.”

In 2002, John Beckman, now Director of Exhibit Design and Production at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and Principal at Sage Creative Group (Hamilton: The Exhibition), was just settling into his new position as Manager of Temporary Exhibits at MSI Chicago when ACTION! was greenlit. “ACTION! was my introduction to Bob,” he says. “This all happened because we rented some successful traveling exhibits – such as an early Jurassic Park – and determined we should be making them ourselves, then travel them. The exhibit portion featured different jobs in moviemaking, done semi-chronologically. We used real props from the studios, but more modern props for the time that our younger guests would relate to. The oldest prop was from Titanic. There was an intro film that Bob shot in Morocco on the set of ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’ It featured Ridley Scott, Orlando Bloom, even the costume designer.”

“ACTION! was my first big museum project with Bob,” says Jen Bressler of Hunt Design, another long-term collaborator of Weis’s. “We did all the graphic and signage design for the exhibition.” A former SEGD board member, she is a renowned specialist at graphic design and wayfinding and has applied her talents to several Weis projects, from various museum exhibits to Shanghai Disney Resort. “What’s unique about working with Bob is even then, in that point in time, he had a habit of being a leader, but allowing everyone who works with him to have equal standing. There was a true sense of collaboration.”

“I was persuaded by the talent Bob brought in,” adds Beckman. “We had Brian Edwards and Roberta Perry of ETI working with us. Their computers seamlessly edited the film that guests got to take home with them. Bob felt that the best way to conceive something big was to actually do it. He felt that the museum industry couldn’t make an exhibit about movie making where you actually didn’t get to make a movie.” 

Top of the Rock (2005)

It’s always great working with Bob. He would get down in the weeds and work with the team to figure out solutions. With Bob, it’s always a collaborative effort. There’s this level of everyone being equal, no matter their experience or position.

Tim Steinouer

Nancy Seruto and Bob Weis. Courtesy Walt Disney Imagineering.

One of Weis’s long-term collaborators is Nancy Seruto, herself the 2020 recipient of the TEA’s Buzz Price Thea Award for Lifetime Achievement. After a decade and a half at scenic fabricator Lexington, which she left as Vice President of Design & Production in 2000, Seruto established her own boutique studio specializing in the design and production of traveling exhibitions and events. Among her credits are the traveling tour of the treasures of Tutankhamen, launched by AEG and National Geographic in 2005. Under her Seruto & Company moniker, she would collaborate on four museum projects with Weis. Later, when back at Walt Disney Imagineering to oversee the Shanghai Disney Resort, Weis invited Seruto to join WDI and executive produce the Treasure Cove area of the park, including its benchmark attraction, the award-winning Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.

Kurt Haunfelner

Seruto recalled her first meeting with Weis.Almost 20 years ago, Bob visited my newly formed Seruto & Company office – which was super small and unimpressive,” Seruto recalls. “He was working on a project in Chicago [the ACTION! exhibit] with Kurt Haunfelner. Kurt and I had worked on several projects together, and he suggested Bob talk to me. We had a lovely discussion, then as he left he picked up a card from the art show I was mounting. Looking at the card he said – and I will never forget it – ‘Now I know a lot more about you than when I walked in,’ and I could see he valued that I was also a fine artist, which meant a great deal to me. I’m glad I didn’t know more about him – his stature, his tremendous accomplishments. It might have made me nervous and impacted the ease with which we spoke at this first meeting.”

Weis brought Seruto on board to manage production on Top of the Rock, a reimagining of the observation decks at Rockefeller Center in downtown Manhattan. The decks had been closed to the public for a decade and not only needed refurbishment, but an updated feel. 

Three-screen theater at Top of the Rock. Courtesy Rockefeller Center.

Another example of modern technology mixing with history, the Top of the Rock experience was multifaceted with a small gallery, a multimedia walk across a construction beam with a 1930s landscape projected below, and a 60-person three-screen theater showing a rotating selection of three films directed by Weis – on the famous Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, Tom Brokaw speaking on the history of news broadcasting at Rockefeller Center, and David Rockefeller on the development and history of the complex. Throughout the development and construction process, Weis and his team managed to bring the experience into the 21st century, while maintaining the historical integrity of the structure. “We were building an exhibit, yes, but also doing a pretty major remodel of an historic building,” Seruto was quoted in a 2006 article for Exhibit Builder by Judith Rubin that was reprinted by the TEA in 2007. “We cut through two floors of Rockefeller Center and we had to keep the building going for the tenants 24/7.”

One of the highlights of Weis’s Top of the Rock was the ascent from a history gallery to the observation floors themselves. Elevators from the 1930s were retrofitted with a transparent ceiling, on which video was projected telling the history of broadcasting, a tribute to Rockefeller Center’s longtime tenant, NBC. To increase the level of excitement, the elevator shafts were filled with animated LED lighting, complementing the see-through video projected on the top of the elevator carriage. The concept of an exhilarating elevator ride with projected images and lighting was nothing new for Weis – one of the concepts to come out of Weis’s management of the Disney-MGM Studios portfolio was the Tower of Terror. What made this unique was the execution.

Credit: tokyocheesesteak on YouTube.

“There was a lot of prototyping and a lot of coordinating with the facility elevator operations team,” Seruto told Rubin. “When you take away the ceiling on an old elevator, you have machinery, cables, I-beams, obstructions. To provide a clear view of the shaft through the now transparent ceiling, we re-engineered the cables and downsized the I-beam. Now they just form a minor obstruction that feels like part of the works you observe when looking up.” 

On working with Weis, Seruto notes that “some of my favorite memories involve traveling together for work. There is such little time just to talk in our busy work lives, so I treasured these moments. Sometimes the conversations would be deep and personal, and other times we would just laugh and laugh at the absurdity of something. Talking to Bob is like having an open conversation with an old college friend. On one harried trip, I had left my briefcase on the curb next to the cab driver who was loading the trunk, only he took off without my briefcase. My whole business was in there, and I was freaking out about it as we got to the airport. I know Bob skipped a number of calls just to stop, buy me a drink and to reassure me that it would work out. And it did work out. Someone turned in the briefcase – phew!”

Battle Stations 21 (2007)

Battle Stations 21 was the Navy’s attempt to upgrade training. Bob loved it because it was related to America. This was an opportunity for him – for all of us – to help our country.

Chick Russell

Crossing over into a very different field, Weis had the opportunity to utilize his skills as an attraction and exhibit designer in the creation of Battle Stations 21: a realistic, virtual training experience for the US Navy Training Center near Chicago. As a connoisseur of American history, Weis had worked on several military-themed projects. Disney’s America, as planned, would have had lands themed to the Civil War and World War II. Even Lewis and Clark’s expedition – which would have been the theme of a raft ride at the unbuilt park, and did become the subject of his film “In Their Footsteps” – was a US Army operation. Battle Stations 21 was one of the first major applications of themed entertainment design to training simulation, leading the way for other companies to provide similar training services for first responders, the military, and municipal infrastructure. 

“Battle Stations 21 is very different from the exhibits,” says Tim Steinouer. “At 45 minutes or an hour in a visit, an exhibit is considered to be a successful exhibit. This took 400 sailors and officers twelve hours, with no breaks, to complete a series of goals and exercises.” 

The team would take the skills honed in their design of attractions and exhibits and apply them to a challenging environment they had worked with before. “I had to write a twelve-hour script,” shares Chick Russell, “It was a twelve-hour script, but twelve different scenarios happen every hour, and all at the same time. There could be firefighting at one spot, flooding or watch or navigation in another. It was a wonderful way to use theme park storytelling, technology, and immersive design in a completely different way. The project made sailors feel like they were at sea for twelve hours. We made the whole soundstage look like a dock. Then they would board a missile destroyer. It doesn’t take much with sound effects and announcements to make it feel like you’re under attack. There were a number of videos produced to make it look like live TV. The training staff would act like they were really at sea in these different situations. Battle Stations 21 was the final test to see if Naval recruits could stand up to rigors and real conditions at sea.”

Weis at sea on a destroyer filming for Battle Stations 21. Courtesy Tim Steinouer.

We were at sea on a destroyer to film for a week – Bob, myself, and six crew members,” continues Steinouer. “We never broke the fourth wall in Battle Stations 21. This is probably the only themed entertainment project that is 100% immersive. Everything around you is in a ship. There are no variables. We had to come up with over twelve hours of audio and six hours of video. Bob had to have massive oversight of the art direction, media, coordinating. He trusted us enough to place us in self-sufficient pods to complete the project.”

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History (2008) and CSI: The Experience (2007)

Bob Weis is very wise, a good friend, and very helpful. He’s very fluid. It’s always a brainstorming session, a discussion of ideas. When I was with Bob, he was always searching with me, ‘How do we approach this idyllic structure?’ When in Washington, I told the team to wear ties to a meeting and Bob just laughed. He’s about ideas, never stopping, and always moving forward. There was always an exchange of ideas. Not just Bob’s ideas, because he’s very respectful of others and their concepts. Bob loved to take people to different venues – restaurants, the beach, his house. He kept changing the environment, and this brought out people’s ideas that we otherwise might have missed. He’s very casual, but he’s very focused and strategic on the end goal.

Van Romans
Van Romans with InPark editor Judith Rubin during the American Alliance of Museum’s 2015 Annual Meeting in Atlanta. InPark photo.

At Disney, Van Romans had assembled the various national galleries at EPCOT and, because of his hard work, had created a bridge between the museum world and the Disney organization. “I had designed galleries for the various countries, like Mexico and China, using a country’s national treasures. Eventually, we added a small gallery at The American Adventure. Disney had purchased the Tishman collection of African art, one of the largest private collections in the world. We had planned on exhibiting it in an Africa pavilion. We ended up using pieces from the Tishman collection in this new gallery, showcasing them with contemporary pieces by young African American artists. When the exhibit ended its run, I encouraged Disney to donate the entire collection to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.” 

Romans had continued his relationship with the Smithsonian, working with them and Weis on the development of Disney’s America and creating an exhibit at EPCOT celebrating the Smithsonian’s 150th Anniversary.  In 2005, he was named President of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. Two years later, the entire museum building, with the exception of the museum’s IMAX theater, was razed to be replaced by a new multi-million dollar building with new exhibits.

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History exhibits:

“We decided to rebuild the museum from the ground up,” Romans recalled. “We hired Ricardo Legarreta, a famous architect from Mexico, who was in his 70s at the time. He was absolutely wonderful. I needed an ‘A+’ exhibit designer who understands how to work with architects. Bob came on and, sure enough, he was the right guy. He totally respected Ricardo and it helps that Bob came out of architecture [Weis received a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona in 1980]. They worked beautifully together. Bob put together a great team, and they spent a whole week in blue sky. Bob was very responsible for not getting in the way of this famous architect, but actually working with him.”

Many of Weis’s collaborators joined him again in creating exhibits for the Fort Worth museum – Nancy Seruto, Tim Steinouer, Jen Bressler, and Chick Russell among them. “We had a great team!” shares Romans.

“I ended up writing and being a producer on every exhibit in the museum,” says Russell. “There was a portion on cattle raising and a part on the oil and gas business. Bob likes industrial things. And there was a big part about dinosaurs. We held focus groups with locals and talked with both stakeholders and experts as part of the creative process.” 

In the 1990s, the museum had produced a traveling exhibit called “Whodunit? The Science of Solving Crime.” The exhibit took guests through the processes of forensic science, examining clues both at a crime scene and in a lab. Throughout the experience, actual forensic investigators appeared on screen. 

Now, the museum wanted to resurrect Whodunit?, but with a twist. “When Bob came down to Fort Worth, we were in the middle of working on this forensics exhibit,” says Romans. Romans and his team at the museum were interested in integrating characters from a leading TV show into the new exhibit. He called Weis to see who he knew.

“CSI happened when Bob and I were in a cab from La Guardia to Top of the Rock. We started talking about CSI – could the CSI cast host the exhibit? It turns out that one of the studio liaisons on ACTION! knew the show’s executive producer, Jerry Bruckheimer. A day or two later, we were told to make a pitch. Bob is incredible at pitching ideas. He’s comfortable to listen to. It doesn’t sound like a sales pitch. He’s very engaging, and that makes you want to engage with him.” 

SLIDESHOW – CSI: The Experience. All images courtesy Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Unlike ACTION!, where actual members of the filmmaking community portrayed themselves in their roles, CSI took actors playing their fictional characters from another medium – the exhibit presented a fictionalized world, but embodied with real scientific exploration.

For Seruto, her projects with Weis often evoked personal experience and personal history. At Top of the Rock, she would stand on the observation decks, staring at Ellis Island, recalling her father, an emigree from Sicily. “I felt like my Dad was with me and this project ended up being a way to honor my father,” she said. 

Working on the CSI exhibit evoked another family connection for Seruto. “My good fortune is my sister is a forensic toxicologist and was running the Baltimore Police Department lab,” she said, “I was able to reach out to her and ask her to help me navigate the subject matter and make sure we were interpreting it correctly. That was another great family connection because to work alongside your sister who for your whole life is in such a completely different field than you, and learn about each other’s work, was bonding and great and a really wonderful way to get to know her.” 

Weis returns to Disney

There’s a familiarity with being relaxed, having faith in your team, giving leeway. With Bob, you can change things and do things slightly differently. You would come up with something unique, and then be encouraged to do more.

Chick Russell

Russell recalls that “about the time the whole Fort Worth concept was done, I got a call from Bob. He had decided to return to Disney.” Back at Imagineering, Weis would oversee a number of high-profile projects, including the revamping of Disney California Adventure and the design of the new Shanghai Disney Resort. In 2016, he was appointed to the ultimate team leadership position – President of Walt Disney Imagineering. 

“When working with him at Imagineering in the 90s,” says Russell, “I thought Bob would be great to run Imagineering. We learned so much at WDI. We learned to put ourselves in the shoes of the guests. We learned that story is the most important part of what we do at Imagineering. There were so many great people that I worked with, including Bob. Bob had a talent for pulling the best people on to his team. He knew how to cast people – people who would collaborate and work together.”

Bob is very adroit at looking at how things are developing, motivating and exciting the team. He empowers the team; he doesn’t micromanage them – that comes with respect, it comes with a certain ability to understand personality types in the process and how to motivate. He truly gained his leadership reputation early on and Marty Sklar [former President of Walt Disney Imagineering] clearly noticed this. Bob was not just taking advantage of having you on his team. He cared about his people; people responded with devotion to him and the project as a result. He stood up for what he thought was right.  He was adroit with working with management, instead of bowing to it.

Rick Rothschild

Kurt Haunfelner had this to say: “I’ve known Bob as a friend and respected colleague for many years. I have close friends who have worked with Bob and they all say something similar – ‘a class act, a pleasure to work for, a humble leader who mentors and empowers his team, someone who takes risks…a visionary guy!’ I’ve never heard a negative word about Bob. There’s an expression in sports, ‘he’s a players’ coach.’ In the experience design world, the same could be said about Bob. He puts team first, self second.”

Bob Weis. Courtesy Walt Disney Imagineering.

“As President of Walt Disney Imagineering,” Seruto says, “Bob brings three key traits that will help the company grow into the future:

• Vision for where the company can go, of its total potential and with clear insight on how it can and should adapt to meet the challenges of a complex and changing world. 

• A deep love for Imagineering and tremendous respect for the people who built it, but also such enthusiasm for the new and future talent that inhabit those hallowed halls. 

• Again – his humanity, his empathy and love of people and the work we do.”

Editor’s note: We took a tribute approach to this story, interviewing Bob Weis’s creative collaborators to learn and share their experiences of working with him. Heartfelt thanks to all of them, and to Walt Disney Imagineering, for their cooperation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joe Kleiman is News Editor for InPark Magazine. He has 25+ years management experience: in tourism, museums and attractions, in the giant screen industries and as a zookeeper. Kleiman served as part of the executive management team that opened the Thea Award honoree National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia and has provided consultation services to a number of museum projects. He lives in Sacramento, California with his fiancé and two dogs.

Joe’s blog, “Themes, Schemes, and Dreams” can be found at He can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on twitter @ThemedReality.

Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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