The Rohde of Imagineering

JoeJoe Rhode presenting the-Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout Attraction

The first time I saw Joe Rohde, he was kneeling to take a photo with a small child dressed as Groot from the feature film Guardians of the Galaxy at Disney’s California Adventure. The family of the precious little boy had been desperately trying to get the large costumed character of Groot to pose for a picture for most of the morning.

Unfortunately, given the fact this day happened to be a media event for the opening of the new Guardians attraction, the only cameras the towering Groot figure was going to appear in front of, were those of local, national and international television.

Joe and the little Groot made a darling photo op, and frankly, a fabulous keepsake considering Joe Rohde not only was the lead designer for the new ride but a host of other Disney experiences. I happily shared with the family who they had just met.

 

Literally plucked from a teaching job to help work on Disney’s Epcot, over the years Joe has become not just an Imagineer but an innovator. Case in point, trying to prove that the idea of an Animal Kingdom in Florida could be more than a zoo, Joe and his team brought a tiger to the pitch meeting.

No one was mauled, and the park became a reality. Now, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has added Joe’s immersive creation ‘Pandora,’ an otherworldly experience based somewhat on James Cameron’s film ‘Avatar.’ The name Joe Rohde pops up constantly when talking new and Disney in the same sentence.

Never without his signature earrings, spending time with Joe Rohde feels like an adventure in itself. Passionate, animated and thoroughly entertaining, listening to Joe explain even the most droll detail takes on an unexpected intensity.

I would imagine most folks just enter a ride or attraction not necessarily realizing the long and thoughtful process that goes into giving every little element an elaborate backstory to rationalize our experience.

Joe clarifies “These are stories. Stories are not “nothing” stories everything they work for reasons. And one of the ways we know we are listening to a story is this is an extraordinarily high level of cohesion. The details in a story stick together at a much higher rate than the detailed information in the real world. And that’s because they’ve been deliberately governed and made to do so.”

The Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout attractionThe Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout attraction opened earlier this summer at Disney’s California Adventure

He kindly and bravely met us at an ungodly early pre-dawn hour to take us on a tour before Disneyland’s California Adventure welcomed guests just to share the ‘story behind the story’ of the new ‘Guardians of the Galaxy- Mission Breakout’ attraction.

“We are VIP guests, and the collector wants to show off his collection to his honored guests, that’s us. So as we watch the presentation video, clearly put together by the collector and we look at the objects in the cases, they instruct us about the whole principle of our security clearance which is when we raise our hand to be scanned so that the doors will open. Meanwhile, we’re looking at all the stuff around here, and then we meet the Guardians of the Galaxy on the screen, and this is our only chance to develop affection for these people we might not know. We might not know the Guardians of the Galaxy. We might love the film and have seen these wonderful films. I find them very charming, and a specifically interesting choice to open a world of Super Heroes with because they are so approachable, so human. But we may not know them. So we’re going to meet them here. So, all of their sort of quirky slight misanthropy comes through here. You know their odd relationship comes through here. ‘Oh that guy he must be in charge, and they have some kind of relationship going on and oh.. the little raccoon guy, he’s angry about something and what’s the little tiny guy.’ So you may not know, that’s Groot, that’s Rocket, Starlord, you don’t necessarily know this. You just know them as characters, these guys. I like them, I don’t like that guy. I like those guys, right. Cause you need to because that’s who we are here to rescue.”

That’s the story, and he’s sticking to it.

But die hard Disney fans also love the little surprises. Joe knows them all and apparently adds one on occasion.

“We’re all trying to find props, where we can props. So up here, we have this little odd mummy creature. It’s kinda based on those Inca Mummies that they find in the cliffs all wrapped up. Only this one has four arms and is clearly of another world. We created him without reference to a particular thing that existed so that he could be imbued with meaning and taken off in a story direction in the future. But everything that makes up that odd little mummy creature came out of my studio which is filled with beads and pieces of the cloth and replica skulls and gold leaf and stuff.”

Now that’s a collector item.

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Maria Hall-Brown
Maria Hall-Brown

Maria Hall-Brown joined PBS SoCal (KOCE) in July of 1997. She is the Executive Producer for Arts and Cultural Programming, and the producer/host of the weekly program LAaRT. In addition, she recently produced the first documentary film about cultural visionary/philanthropist, Henry T. Segerstrom: Imagining the Future. Other documentaries include: Be Brave: Samantha’s Story, Matters of Faith, Bulgarian Rhapsody, and Notes from Europe, as well as many holiday specials. For 16 years Maria worked as producer/reporter for the nightly news program Real Orange and the producer/host of author interview series Bookmark. She has garnered two LA Area Emmys and six Golden Mike Awards by the Radio Television News Association for her work. A proud graduate of the University of California, Irvine, she received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005. Maria is a passionate supporter of the Arts.

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