This morning, the Orlando Sentinel announced that Joe Rohde, Executive Designer and Vice President, Creative for Walt Disney Imagineering would be retiring. He has been with the company for 40 years and has created worlds unlike anything we’ve ever seen in that time. His retirement is planned to go into effect on January 4, 2021.
When Rohde started at Walt Disney Imagineering, he was working on the most ambitious project at the time. He started as a model designer while EPCOT was still in its planning stages. He went on to work on projects at the Disneyland Resort including the refurbishment of Fantasyland. Of course, many fans still love Rohde for his work at the Adventurer’s Club at Downtown Disney in Walt Disney World Resort. Kungaloosh!
As Rohde matured into his career, he was presented with even more incredible opportunities. He is the lead designer of Disney’s Animal Kingdom as well as one of the lead designers of Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa. One of the incredible unique things about Joe Rohde that I have always respected is his love for different cultures. He will immerse himself in the cultures he is trying to portray and will tell their stories with the utmost respect.
One of the greatest examples of this was his work on Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. Rohde traveled to Nepal and talked to the locals about the yeti, who they believe is very real. The queue features carvings and art from his trips that come directly from the locals. This is a story told by the local people and communicated by Walt Disney Imagineering.
Most recently, Rohde was the head of the transformation of Tower of Terror to Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT at Disney’s California Adventure Park! He was also the head of Pandora – The World of Avatar which opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 2017 and transports guests into an alien world unlike anything they’ve ever seen!
Though Rohde is not officially a Disney Legend (yet) he has been given a unique gift, to be immortalized in a Disney Park. Rohde is the model for Harrison Hightower III, a corrupt member of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (SEA). SEA is represented in theme parks around the globe and has become a fun line to follow for continuity in these stories. You can find this sinister version of the Imagineer at Tokyo DisneySea’s Tower of Terror and a cameo in Hong Kong Disneyland’s Mystic Manor.
Personally, it is very hard to imagine Disney Parks without Joe Rohde. Ever since I was a kid, I loved to listen to his stories about the creation of theme parks. I feel like I grew up in a unique time where there was always a Disney Parks special on TV and it always featured Joe Rohde and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In a touching Instagram post that we linked below, Rohde ended it by noting “Working as an Imagineer has made me a good designer, but it is all of you who have made me a better person.”
Thank you, Joe Rohde, for making 40 years of magical worlds that we can continue to enjoy. Disney Parks would not have been the same without you and we hope you enjoy a fruitful and relaxing retirement! You absolutely deserve it.