From the drawing board to the opening day of an attraction, Disney Imagineers are behind every step of building the rides fans love in Disney parks. But what does an Imagineer actually do?
Disney fans can look to Kevin Rafferty’s book “Magic Journey: My Fantastical Walt Disney Imagineering Career” for answers.
In his book Rafferty details his 40-year career, beginning in the dish room of the Plaza Inn restaurant in Disneyland, and leading to his role as Creative Director and Show Writer at Walt Disney Imagineering. As an Imagineer Rafferty has developed fan-favorite attractions such as Toy Story Mania, Test Track, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Cars Land and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which opened in March 2020.
Rafferty is truly a storyteller, conveying each chapter of his career with humor and memorable one-liners such as “Imagineering dreams come true because teams come through,” and “If you don’t risk it, you don’t get the biscuit.”
The book is a behind-the-scenes look into Imagineering culture and what it really takes to build immersive, three-dimensional stories.
In fact, as an Imagineer Rafferty is often led down wild and unpredictable paths. From the inside of speeding cars at the General Motors vehicle test facility to inside a recording booth with Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler.
In one unforgettable story in “Magic Journey,” Rafferty unexpectedly comes face to face with the Rolling Stones on a flight to New York. Miles high above the ground, Rafferty befriends the Stones who repeatedly insist he ditch his work obligations and party with them instead.
As it turns out Rafferty chose to follow through with his responsibilities, but says he hasn’t forgotten the experience. “My colleagues continuously give me a hassle for turning down the Rolling Stones,” says Rafferty.
While Rafferty may have passed on partying with the Rolling Stones, he has had an incredible career taking him to remarkable locations including Japan and down Route 66. From chapter to chapter in “Magic Journey,” it is unclear where Rafferty’s career will lead him. “That’s the great thing about being an Imagineer, you don’t know what’s next,” says Rafferty.
Originally Rafferty wanted to be an animator, “As a creative soul, I was always enamored and inspired and entertained by the entire world of Disney,” says Rafferty.
Looking back, Rafferty is happy the opportunity never presented itself. “I’m glad I didn’t become an animator because there was a storyteller inside of me waiting to get out,” says Rafferty.
And sometimes those stories just come to him. “You can be walking along and something will hit you like a ton of bricks,” says Rafferty. And in other cases, Rafferty is asked to design a specific attraction, which is how Toy Story Mania went from an idea on easels in the back of Rafferty’s pickup truck to a full-fledged attraction in two theme parks.
Indeed, Rafferty does have a knack for storytelling. Even when writing his book, Rafferty says he did not worry so much about the process of writing a book, but instead he simply set out to tell his first-hand account of working in Disney Imagineering.
Rafferty says his mentor Disney Legend Marty Sklar gave him some valuable advice. “You can’t make fun until you’re having fun yourself.” Reading “Magic Journey,” you can tell Rafferty took that advice to heart.