Disney Dream: In Person: Joe Lanzisero: Disney Imagineer

Joe Lanzisero, senior vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering“I don’t think there is a normal work day, I have the greatest job in the world,” said Joe Lanzisero, senior vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering. Lanzisero told Cruise Industry Newshe had been with Disney for some 30 years, and with Imagineering for 22, working his way up to executive level from starting as hands-on designer.

 Walt Disney Imagineering was started by Walt Disney with the idea of building a theme park and now has the responsibility to build, create and design theme parks, resorts and cruise ships.

Lanzisero oversees teams in Glendale (California), Tokyo, Hong Kong, and of course at Meyer Werft in Papenburg.

Suburban Life

“People are born with different talents and attributes, and I’ve always liked to draw, build things and make music,” Lanzisero said. “My family was always supportive of my creative endeavors, like building monsters in the garage.

“There was something about growing up in the 50s and 60s in suburbia, it was so ordered. People with creative minds needed to escape so we went out and saw movies and read comic books,” continued Lanzisero.

He was part of the first class of the now famed character animation program at the California Institute of the Arts before going to work for “the studio”.

Lanzisero was quick to credit his mentors, including fellow Disney Imagineer Rolly Crump and a former air force Colonel, Art Kishiyama.

 “Art brought understanding about strategic thinking and would always take a situation and think it out to the end using military strategy. The lesson was to be prepared and think through things, but remain flexible to change because a curve ball can be thrown at you anytime.”

Great Ideas Everywhere

Fireworks on Disney DreamLanzisero added that the love for his work came from his creativity, and that “every aspect at Imagineering is creative, even the estimators and engineers have to think in a creative way. Creativity is solving problems and looking at design or construction issues and coming up with as many different ways to think about them as possible. I get excited about working with people with big open minds, and look at the world in as many ways as possible.

“To come up with great ideas you have to be a risk taker. Walt Disney put everything on the line for what he believed in, always stretching things and pushing people. There are great ideas everywhere. The world is an amazing place filled with so much stuff – it’s easy to take something and regurgitate it, but sometimes you need to step out to the edge and be courageous enough to look for the fresh idea because it’s there.”


“I was very fortunate to be involved in a bunch of firsts for the company, including Mickey’s ToonTown. I had a background in animation so it was an incredible honor and one of my favorite projects since it was so close to my heart,” continued Lanzisero. “There were all those cartoons from the 30s, 40s and 50s, but they never really created a place where Mickey lived, so we got to create that.”

Lanzisero said that there was an experimental period with a traveling show in Asia that “kind of failed” prior to the Hong Kong park.

 “I always tell young designers that a good failure is important in your development as an artist. It’s great to be successful, but there is nothing like a failure to get you to step back and see what worked and what didn’t. I’m proud of everything, including the stuff that didn’t work as it helped me get where I am today.”

The Teen Club - Vibe - onboard the DreamAs an avid hiker, Lanzisero pointed out that there is work involved to get to the top of the mountain, but the reward is amazing.

“I try to think of my work that way. Now that I’m more of an executive, I have to realize it is about how people see the big picture and keeping them focused on it.”

Corporate Structure

One may think that the corporate structure of a major corporation would limit an artist, but Lanzisero welcomed it.

“Anyone can create with no limits,” he said. “That is actually easier.

“To have limits, corporate responsibility and the creative box defined will challenge you more as a person and a designer. The trick to working with big corporations is to understand what the corporation is about.

“Everything we do is about story telling, but to stand true to that and push it helps and focuses you and keeps you at the core essence of what we are as a company.”

Lanzisero explained that he loved having budgets and schedules, “as they keep you honest” but, “you have to know how to be smart, to understand what you are trying to achieve. And as a creative person, try to push those limits with understanding of your responsibility to the company.”

For a full report with exclusive pictures and interviews from the Disney Dream launch, read the 2011 Spring edition of the Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine, the most read publication in the cruise industry. Click here to subscribe.

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