Tony Baxter steps down from Walt Disney Imagineering full time role, will serve as “part time advisor”

in Disney, Disneyland, Disneyland Resort, Theme Parks

tony-baxter

After more than thirty years creating legendary Disney theme park attractions, Tony Baxter has stepped down from his role as Senior Vice President, Creative Development at Walt Disney Imagineering. He’ll stay on board as an advisor to Imagineers but will no longer work full time for Disney.

Baxter made his name at Walt Disney Imagineering beginning back in the ’70s when it was still known as WED Enterprises. His Disney career began on Main Street USA at Disneyland when he was just a teenager. Ultimately he went on to help design famous attractions such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Journey Into Imagination, Splash Mountain, and the Indiana Jones Adventure, also having a hand on just about every project to enter a Disney theme park over the last three decades.

After informing a small group of Imagineers of his role change over dinner last night, Baxter today sent a letter to all Walt Disney Imagineers, highlights of which are reprinted below. (The full letter can be found at MousePlanet.)

AN OPEN LETTER TO FELLOW IMAGINEERS

Decades ago, Imagineering had the bold notion to start the 21st century 18 years early by unveiling the “future” at Epcot in 1982. This positive look at tomorrow had a numbing effect on the bleak vistas depicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. As a kid beginning my career at Disneyland in the mid 1960s, both of these “futures” were far off from a universe where Disneyland was the only Disney park, Mr. Lincoln was a state of the art attraction, and everything operated under Walt Disney’s guidance.

Today, while there is a new set of “futures” to explore, the time has come for me to evolve my role at Walt Disney Imagineering. Beginning this February, I will be transitioning to a position as a part time advisor. While I will not be here on a regular basis, I will continue to be available to any and all of you as needs arise. Though my time will be limited, my passion for the magic WDI creates will be just as strong.

Since early last year, I have been thinking about what I would say to all of you when this time arrived. It has been a wondrous 47 years spanning the opening of Walt Disney World to Big Thunder and Star Tours from Epcot’s original Journey into Imagination to Disneyland Paris and Indiana Jones. The Imagineers I have known and shared these times with have provided invaluable experiences not to be found anywhere else on earth.

[…]

Going Forward No company is perfect, and like any other corporation Disney has its own politics and challenges. We are artists, engineers, managers, filmmakers and musicians. But our company is unique; there is no place like it on earth. We are lucky. At the end of the day, it is my hope that this letter will add to the special culture that I have been privileged to grow in. I see the probability for that happening in my interactions with younger Imagineers like Michel, Josh, Zach, Dylan, Laura, Manuel, Vanessa and Brandon, which are beyond rewarding to me. At a time when “unlearning” is as critical as “learning,” it’s important to listen to the way these people think and enjoy the things they do. Creativity I have mined from their game-changing perspectives, now effectively influences my own design process. I hope that when their careers peak some decades from now, they will look back on our time together as I value the time I was able to spend with Claude Coats.

And now it comes down to the point at hand. I am not suggesting that I could be a mentor to you all, but that said, you should all have someone you can turn to in this manner. I do hope to be available to help support your ideas, give advice or even join a team whenever appropriate. My role will be one of supporting your visions in the best way I can, and encouraging you to maintain and build upon this already special place. I will have availability, and if you would like my assistance in any way, please e-mail Bruce Vaughn’s office to request my time.

This is not a goodbye, but hopefully a letter of introduction to the many of you that I have not yet had the chance to meet personally

Tony Baxter

Feb. 1, 2013

Walt Disney Imagineering also issued these official statements:

Today we announced that Tony Baxter is leaving his role as a creative development executive to become a part-time advisor to Imagineering. In this role, he will be serve as both a creative advisor to the business and a mentor to current and future Imagineers.

BRUCE VAUGHN, CHIEF CREATIVE EXECUTIVE, WALT DISNEY IMAGINEERING
“Tony has been involved in some of the most iconic Disney attractions around the world, and was the creative lead for our second international park, Disneyland Paris. Like so many Imagineering greats before him, his creativity, passion and knowledge will have a remarkable impact on the next generations of WDI dreamers and doers. We thank Tony for his immeasurable contributions to the Disney legacy so far, and look forward to the next chapter of his Disney story.”

TONY BAXTER
“It has been a wondrous 47 years spanning the opening of Walt Disney World to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Star Tours, from Epcot’s original Journey into Imagination to Disneyland Paris and Indiana Jones Adventure. The Imagineers I have known and shared these times with have provided invaluable experiences not to be found anywhere else on earth. The future of Imagineering and Disney Parks is incredibly bright.”


Though not a Disney Legend by title (yet), Baxter’s legacy will live on in the parks, not only through his impressive work but also in a tribute in Big Thunder Mountain as Walt Disney World adds a new storyline featuring a character called Barnabas T. Bullion, whose portrait greatly resembles Baxter himself:

Over the years, we’ve bumped into Baxter at many a Disney event…

Opening of the Captain EO Tribute at Disneyland

Destination D: Walt Disney World

Reopening of “it’s a small world” with Disney characters added (seen alongside other legendary Imagineers Kim Irvine and Marty Sklar)

“Frankenweenie” exhibit at San Diego Comic-Con

…just to name a few.

Baxter has been instrumental in shaping some of the best Disney theme park attractions, but has recently quite publicly spoke out against the direction Imagineering has been headed in, including firing jabs at Epcot’s Imagination pavilion during a panel discussion at the IAAPA Expo in Orlando last year. (“I don’t think the Imagination Pavilion works anymore.”)

The first time I ever personally met Tony was around 10 years ago during the Walt Disney Imagineering ImagiNations competition in 2003. He served as a judge in the competition and I had a couple opportunities to chat with him on my way to a second-place finish. Though I never personally went on to work at Walt Disney Imagineering, his ability to even act as mentor to potential up-and-comers out of college (like myself) was obvious. He was eager and excited to be a part of the future of Imagineering and today, as he steps back to a lesser role, he’ll surely continue to assist all who look to him for advice.

So now it’s time to say “so long” to Tony Baxter – but not goodbye. His expertise and vast knowledge will still play a role in shaping Disney attractions, just not daily any longer.

14 Comments

  1. “… it is the 20th repeat ride, not the first that is the most important.” Well said, Tony. He did some great things, and hopefully will continue to advise on more great things to come. The man got it. He knew what it was about, and he will be missed.

  2. Jeff Lynch

    This is a sad day. There are no good imagineers left. They are all retiring and the newer ones have very poor imaginations and rely on too many cheap tricks that break down too much. What a sad day.

  3. Chaz

    Well good luck to him. He’s made quite a mark on Disney history and will be remembered for as long as people are still visiting Disney Parks. Still, I’m optimistic about the future of Imagineering. Every one of their attractions I’ve experienced has proven to me that I can rely on their creations to find entertainment, and I have faith that the future Imagineers Tony Baxter has mentored/will mentor will continue this tradition.

  4. david

    i saw him once in front of the haunted mansion. i knew i recognized him from someplace but couldn’t place him at the time. it was a slap-myself-in-the-head-moment later when i realized who i had seen.

    he’s contributed so much to the parks, at least he can leave knowing what an impact he’s had for people all over the world. how many of us can leave our jobs knowing that?

  5. Walter Wannabee

    Total BS flying here.
    Iger ordered Bruce to axe him solely because he dislikes Tony.
    It’s IGER who needs to be forced out of Disney — his ego could warehouse a dozen Michael Eisners.

    1. Jenny R

      Iger is 100 times better than Eisner. Disney had responded to new technology and pressures due to his leadership and will continue to be amazing. I agree there’s something fishy going on here, and I’m sad to see Tony go, but I’m sure the reason will come out one day.

  6. Inside squeaker

    A very talented designer, but a lousy leader. He helped usher in the era of egos that nearly destroyed this place.

    1. Gene R.

      Tony had been telling friends for a long time that he was going to retire on his next birthday. His birthday was February 1st.

  7. Geren

    Maybe I misheard or was being optimistic, but on episode 409, I heard the show director call one segment of Mickey and the Magical Map, “Journey Into Imagination.” With Tony Baxter departing DL and WDI, this is a fitting tribute.

  8. Rebecca Goltz

    Tony Baxter is a Wonderful Guy and has done lots for the Disney company! I hope that one day when I got to Disneyland, is to meet him and thank him for all he’s done. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is my all time favorite ride!

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