Listen. Do you hear that? The mounting public outrage about how Walt Disney Imagineering has -- over the past nine months -- systematically reduced its head count? Cutting veteran Imagineer after veteran Imagineer? While the VPs who actually masterminded this staff cut all remain safe & snug inside WDI's executive suite?
What's that you say? You don't hear any mounting public outrage? Well ... I guess that means that the plan that Imagineering management hatched back in 2004 is actually working.
"What sort of plan?," you ask. To explain: The managers at Walt Disney Imagineering have grown tired with dealing with all the bad publicity that typically accompanies a big layoff at WDI. You know? The sort of staff cut that always follows the completion of a large-scale project ... like a new theme park, for example.
And given that 2005 was going to be marked by both the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland as well as the 50th anniversary of the original Disneyland ... Imagineering management felt that it was imperative that the press not associate the "Happiest Homecoming on Earth" with hundreds of WDI employees suddenly losing their jobs.
But -- that said -- Imagineering still wanted to significantly reduce its head count in 2005. But how do you do something like that without creating negative publicity for the Walt Disney Company? Simple. You use stealth.
"And how do you use stealth in a situation like this?," you query. It's easy, really. Instead of laying off a large number of employees all at once, what WDI managers chose to do instead was -- over a nine month period -- lay off a few people each week. Which (over time) allowed them to whittle their head count down to exactly where they wanted it to be in the first place. Without -- of course -- all of that accompanying negative publicity.
And when I say "stealth," I mean "stealth," folks. These layoffs are all being handled incredibly discreetly. Often these Imagineers' own co-workers didn't know that their fellow employees were being let go until they dialed their old extensions. Only to find that there was no one on the other end of the line to actually answer the phone.
And we're not talking about people in entry level positions, folks. We're talking about veteran Imagineers. People like senior show producer Bruce Gordon and concept artist Nina Rae Vaughn, vets who'd made huge contributions to Walt Disney Imagineering over the past twenty-plus years. Both Bruce & Nina had their jobs cut over the past few weeks ... And yet no one (outside of a few weenies on the Web) ever said anything about it.
"But ... but ... but," you sputter, "Then why aren't all the Imagineers who have actually lost their jobs speaking out about this? Making people aware of their plight?" It's simple, really. Walt Disney Imagineering is slowly but surely turning itself into a management company. Which means that -- in the not-so-distant future -- virtually every project for the theme parks will be handled by out-sourcing.
And who will WDI management then hire to ride herd on the development of these new rides, shows and attractions? You guessed it. Former Imagineers.
This is why you'll never hear people like Tim Kirk, Steve Kirk and Kathy Kirk (I.E. The veteran Imagineers who rode herd on the creation & construction of the most beautiful theme park that the Walt Disney Company has ever been associated with, Tokyo DisneySea. Only to find pink slips waiting on their desks once Tim, Steve & Kathy got back to Glendale) publicly bad-mouthing WDI management. The Kirks know that -- in order for their theme park design firm, Kirk Design, Inc., to prosper -- they have to maintain a good working relationship with Imagineering's current management team.
So -- in spite of what the Kirks may personally think of Tom Fitzgerald and Marty Sklar -- these three keep their mouths shut. With the hope that the Walt Disney Company will then continue to throw more design work their way.
And that's pretty much what's happening with the rest of the laid-off Imagineers. They're keeping their mouths shut ... for now. With the hope that -- further on down the line -- as Walt Disney Imagineering gears up on Shanghai Disneyland (Predevelopment work is already underway on this project. Which promises to be bigger and grander than Hong Kong Disneyland will ever be), that there might be a few consulting jobs available for former Imagineers.
Of course, not everyone at WDI is taking these stealthy job cuts lying down. With the hope that it will help make people aware of what is actually going on inside of Walt Disney Imagineering, they've begun circulating a cartoon version of what they think should be ...
Plus other veteran Imagineers (with the hope that maneuvers like this will then make them much less likely targets for future lay-offs) have begun forging alliances with Disney's corporate partners. Take -- for example -- that after-hours tour that Tony Baxter led last month. Where this Imagineering vet showed a senior animator from Pixar (as well as 30 of this Pixar employee's good, close personal friends) Walt's apartment as well as the backstage areas at the "Indiana Jones Adventure."
This behind-the-scenes tour was then followed by a special "Finding Nemo" version of Disneyland's "Jungle Cruise" (I.E. Where the guests had to use flashlights to find the 30 pieces of Nemo plush that were hidden along the banks of this Adventureland attraction). The festivities concluded with cake & punch at the "Enchanted Tiki Room."
Mind you, as this tour was going on, Tony Baxter kept pointing out the parallels between Walt Disney Imagineering and Pixar Animation Studios. How -- when you really think about it -- the Audio Animatronic birds in "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room" were actually the world's first computer-animated characters. You get the idea, right?
So will these sorts of extracurricular activities actually make Tony Baxter's position at WDI that much more secure? One would hope so. But -- then again -- it wasn't all that long ago that it was thought that (what with all the Disney history books that he'd written and/or helped produce over the past 10 years) that Bruce Gordon was untouchable. And look what happened there?
I'll tell you this much, folks. Nina Rae Vaughn and Bruce Gordon's dismissals (I.E. Two long-time Walt Disney Imagineering employees who were well-known, well-liked and seemingly well-connected ... but still their jobs got cut) have shaken a lot of people at WDI. The belief is now ... Well, if they could get to Nina & Bruce, everybody's job could now be in jeopardy.
And then there's that persistant rumor about how Imagineering management may take the gloves off in November. Going from stealth lay-off mode right to full-blown lay-offs. Cutting WDI's staff levels right down to the bone. As Imagineering finally transitions from being an actual creative arm of the Walt Disney Company to more of a management company.
Will this actually happen? Well, given that WDI management has become somewhat emboldened by the fact that no one's really talking about all the job cuts that have happened up until now, it's not all that unlikely that they may soon try to move things to the next level.
Of course, the big question is: Will the Walt Disney Company's incoming CEO actually allow this to happen? Well ... My understanding is that Bob Iger has already been briefed on WDI management's plans. More importantly, that he has supposedly given his tacit approval to the downsizing / out-sourcing project.
So -- over these next few months -- it's going to be interesting to see what actually becomes of Walt Disney Imagineering. To see if Sorcerer Mickey will really be replaced by Out Sorcerer Mickey.