Welcome to Disney Avenue's new segment A Few Questions With… This week I had the amazing opportunity to send a questionnaire to former Disney Imagineer Mark Hickson. Mark wanted to become an Imagineer his whole life and one day his dream came true by the arrival of a card with the WDI Mickey on it that simply stated, “We want to talk to you.” After that the rest was history and Mark became a member of Walt Disney Imagineering. Mark’s work as an Imagineer included several projects at WDW, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland, and other special projects like Disney Broadway Productions. Mark also has his own website, www.disneybymark.com, packed with wonderful pictures, videos, and stories that make it one of the best Disney sites on the internet. I would like to thank Mark for agreeing to answer my questions and I hope you find his answers as interesting as I did. And now A Few Questions with Mark Hickson:
1) First Mark, tell us how you got involved with Walt Disney Imagineering.
A former member of my staff at TRW Space Systems was working at WDI and when the word went out for someone needed to take over the project planning of Disneyland’s Splash Mountain, he proposed me. They sent me a card with Mickey on it saying “We want to talk to you.” From that moment on I knew I would be an Imagineer!
2) What was your first week like?
Orientations, meeting people, reading manuals, going to the studio and going to Disneyland. I didn’t get an office until the second week.
3) When did you start and what was the best thing about working for WDI?
I started in February of 1988. As for the best thing about being at WDI it was like a homecoming. All my life I wanted to be one, now I was!
4) What’s your hope for the future of Imagineering?
That it doesn’t get diluted. If you notice now-days they like to say everything was created by an Imagineer, like the Golden Oak development. That wasn’t done by the kind of Imagineers I worked with because it looks like 50 other gated communities across America. Nothing special except that it is on property and they named part of it after a Disney Legend.
5) How does someone become an Imagineer in your opinion? What degree, what type of school etc…
In most cases it is Pure Luck. If you’re talented enough to go to Art Center in Pasadena or Cal Institute for the Arts you can get an inside track. Working in the Parks is also a good idea.
6) What is the best advice you could give someone wanting to become an Imagineer?
It can be a very long journey… It took me 18 years. Just don’t give up!
7) How do you feel about the recent announcement of an Avatar themed land coming to Animal Kingdom?
An Avatar “Land” will screw-up the AK theme. It’s wrong and doesn’t belong there. I don’t think it will happen. Look for an Avatar attraction in Tomorrowland and a Marvel area at Hollywood Studios.
8) What are your feelings about the new expansions taking place in the US parks?
When I was at WDI I worked on TDL’s 5, 10, and 15 years master plans. I have yet to see a master plan for the US parks. One thing that makes me sad is the butchering and selling off of WDW’s property to the Vacation Club time shares.
9) How often do you visit the parks and which one the most?
Last year I went 5 times, twice to WDW and three to DL. One of the DL trips was for D23. All together it was 18 days. This year I know I’ll do more.
10) What changes, if any, would you like to see take place in the parks?
Eliminate the electric wheel-chairs except for really disabled people and only one attendant per disabled person, not a family of eight. I also want to see all cast members get a good raise with pre-paid health care too.
(I couldn’t agree more Mark, if not for the cast members I think the parks would be just like any other theme park out there; they deliver the magic and deserve the proper compensation just like the executives get! KM)
11) What changes, if any, would you like to see take place within WDI?
I have been away too long to comment.
12) Besides all his accomplishments, what in your opinion was the number one thing that made Walt Disney so special to all of us today?
He never stopped believing in himself and in the inherent good of people.