Wednesday, September 27, 2023

In Memoriam: George Head

We are saddened to learn of the passing of George Head, a former Walt Disney Imagineer turned themed entertainment professor. At the invitation of Peter Weishar, then Dean of the School of Entertainment Arts at the Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD), Head, along with Bob Mond, SCAD’s Chair of Production Design, and former Imagineer and Universal creative Michael Devine, created one of the first degree programs in themed entertainment design at a major university or college.

InPark asked some of Head’s colleagues to reflect on his creativity, mentorship, and his legacy.

Peter Weishar, Professor of Themed Experience; Program Director, Themed Experience MS Degree and MFA track, University of Central Florida

George Head contacted me when I was a dean at SCAD. He was finishing his career at WDI and was interested in teaching. I immediately knew he was the right person for the job. I took his portfolio to the President of the University, and we actually created a new position for him. George and I worked together to create the first curriculum for Themed Entertainment Design. He then became the first Professor of Themed Entertainment in the country. George was an outstanding teacher and mentor to the students. He brought a wealth of industry knowledge and compassion into the classroom and was truly loved. He was also an exceptional colleague, mentor and friend to me.

Michael Devine, Owner, Devine Design Group; Professor, Production Design, SCAD

George was a great friend. He and I were office mates and for five years we traded lots stories and lots of laughter. He was quick with a compliment and valued humor as well as creativity. He was a highly principled man, standing up for the students and the industry he loved so well. He was an amazing teacher and mentor, spending extra time, taking extra care to help foster each individuals goals and guiding them to reach their dreams. 

As founding head of Themed Entertainment at SCAD he acted as advisor to the MFA students. He guided them through that rigorous and demanding program with clarity, compassion, humor, and kindness (all trademark George ways of being), steering them through that complex intermarriage of design and operations required of our industry. 

He knew so much and he knew so many and shared both unselfishly and with joy. He made my life better by being George and I know his students would echo that sentiment. I will miss him. 

InPark Editor Judith Rubin with George Head during IAAPA 2013

Bob Shreve, Former VP, Attraction Development, Herchend Family Entertainment; Retired Professor, Themed Entertainment Design, SCAD

I was privileged to work with George Head while he was Director of Show Quality Standard (SQS) for WDW.  Partnering with Patrick Brennan, Art Director at EPCOT, we met daily with George to work on maintaining guest experience in the Disney Parks.  George was the consummate mentor and partner. He showed us all how to listen and, in listening, to formulate responses that met the needs of the various technicians and artisans tasked with the numerous repairs and maintenance of myriad elements that form the Disney magic. A towering individual, George was nevertheless one of the gentlest men you would ever meet. His warmth and smile reduced anxiety quickly so that all who worked with him would relax and focus on the issues at hand. His approach has guided my entire professional career – keeping things light and, sometimes even humorous, often resulted in a much more focused attention to detail.  It certainly always encouraged participation.

I was thrilled when George retired and migrated to teach at SCAD. I could think of no better person to introduce talented young artists to our industry.  He inspired me to follow in his footsteps and work to mentor talented youth who want to enter the themed entertainment industry.  Our industry has lost a true guiding light – a man who touched hundreds of lives, guiding them, mentoring them and making our industry what it is today.  He will forever remain in my heart.

Monty Lunde, CEO, Technifex; Founder, Themed Entertainment Association (TEA)

I was 23 when I first met George Head. I had been working in the WED special effects department (now WDI) for almost two years, developing prototype effect systems for various attractions planned for the EPCOT park. George and I met when I was transferred to Orlando to lead the installation of the special effects systems for the Horizons project, which was to open a year after EPCOT opened. An experienced team was assembled to install the show systems for Horizons and included John Lindsay, Doug Esselstrom, Mike Kennedy, Dave Minichiello, Nancy Bugman and a handful of other seasoned individuals. All had been through the installation of major attractions during the building of EPCOT, or Tokyo Disneyland. Then, there was me. I was as “green” as I could possibly have been in terms of field experience. 

From the moment I stepped into the field trailer and for the next six months, George was there making me feel welcome, capable and like I had a true ally. When issues came up with the union laborers, George was there to help smooth the waters with his disarmingly calm demeanor.  When things weren’t working out technically, George was there to spearhead the strategic thinking necessary to solve the most challenging issues. When a situation simply called for more manpower, George was always the first to step up and lend a hand. George was the statesman, mentor and leader of our small group, doing great work for the Disney company. He was the one we all rallied around, and the friendships formed during that time have lasted 40 years.

When I think of George, I’m back in the WED office trailer and I hear his easy, booming laugh – unmistakable and infectious. George was a mentor and taught me how to manage under extreme circumstances with humor, thoughtful grace and respect for others. It’s no surprise he was loved everywhere he worked and by the students at SCAD. George was the real deal in terms of his humanity and genuine desire to help others be successful.  He will be deeply missed by all lucky enough to have worked and laughed with him. 

Bob Weis, former President and former Global Imagineering Ambassador, Walt Disney Imagineering, posted the following on LinkedIn:

George Head, among the most talented and passionate creative leaders, friends, and mentors I have known.

In this photo on the right with me, Bill Creber, on the DMGM back lot. We made shit happen. Thank you, George! We will miss you.

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