I had the wonderful opportunity to interview two Disney Imagineers who are also moms just in time for Mother’s Day. One of Imagineer Danielle Urban’s first projects as a full-time Imagineer was to create one of my favorite Disney characters (Gelatoni)! She is currently working as a Producer on the Tokyo DisneySea expansion, Fantasy Springs. And Imagineer Liz Diaz is lead Ride Engineer for the highly anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Here are both interviews! This was a written interview without follow-up questions.
Danielle Urban, Producer, Walt Disney Imagineering
MS: How long have you worked for Walt Disney Imagineering?
DU: This summer will be just about 9 years at Imagineering. Time flies!
MS: What made you decide to become an Imagineer?
DU: As a kid, I was always interested in sketching and building scale models. In high school, I did a research project about Walt Disney which led me to a book about Imagineering. It was so inspiring to see the beautiful concepts, intricate models and Imagineers at work in the book. I couldn’t believe that designing Disneyland could be a job! From that point on, at the age of 16, it became my dream to become an Imagineer. This dream led me to studying architecture in college, which gave me the opportunity to learn about designing spaces and experiences.
MS: What was your first project?
DU: I started at Imagineering as a Design Intern for the Shanghai Disney Resort Fantasyland team, helping with presentations, providing sketches, and building study models. It was the greatest summer of my life! When I was hired on as a full-time Imagineer, I joined the Tokyo Disney Resort team, where one of my first projects as a Producer was to create a new friend for Duffy, the Disney Bear. So, my first project actually wasn’t an attraction or experience, it was a Disney character, Gelatoni!
MS: You have been working as a Producer on Tokyo Disney Resort portfolio. What have you been working on in that regard? And do you spend a lot of time (or live) in Tokyo?
DU: I have worked on a variety of projects for the Tokyo Disney Resort portfolio, but the latest project to open was Soaring: Fantastic Flight in 2019. It was my first new attraction to open as a Producer, and it was exciting to create a new backstory for Soaring specifically for Tokyo DisneySea. More recently, I have been working as a Producer on the new Tokyo DisneySea expansion, Fantasy Springs — more specifically the Rapunzel themed area in that land. It has been a dream to work on a project focused around one of my favorite Disney animated films. Up until travel was paused, I was traveling back and forth to Tokyo a few times a year for meetings and to check in on project progress. Tokyo is such an active and alluring city – I’ve enjoyed returning each year to explore a new neighborhood I hadn’t discovered before.
MS: Are there specific challenges with coming with working on a park outside the United States, and/or maybe aspects you really love about working in/for the Tokyo resort?
DU: Much like other international projects, there are language and cultural differences that make designing a little bit more challenging, but these challenges are what make the job interesting. As a Producer, I work with the Creative team to develop stories and scripts, so we have to do our research to know if our stories will resonate and translate well to our Japanese audience. Speaking of our Japanese guests, they are my favorite reason why I love working on the Tokyo Disney Resort portfolio. Their spirit, energy, and love for Disney is infectious, and I am inspired by their enthusiasm each time I visit Tokyo Disney Resort.
MS: It is almost Mother’s Day. How do you balance being a working mom with your job?
DU: I’ve recently become a mother, so the work life balance of being a working mom is a new thing for me. Before, becoming a parent, I was able to travel for business often and stay late for work dinners without any worry. Now, my days are incredibly structured with a routine so that I can be most focused and productive during working hours and then switch to “mom-mode” when my son gets home from school. But, in all honesty, “mom-mode” is always on in the background as I am constantly going through a mental checklist of everything that needs to be done: cooking, laundry, grocery trips, etc. It’s definitely a challenge that I know most parents can relate to, but the reward of being a mother has made the juggling all worth it.
MS: Do you bring your child to work and/or share with them what you do?
Photo courtesy Danielle Urban
DU: My son is only 14 months old, so he has no idea what I do for work! Since COVID, we’ve been working from home, so there are few days where I’ve had him with me and join design calls. We joke that he gets to make the Creative decisions during these calls. All kidding aside, I can’t wait to take him to Disneyland for the first time soon and begin making memories. I also can’t wait to take him to Tokyo in a few years to ride Soaring and visit Fantasy Springs.
MS: The Disney Wish will be bringing a Walt Disney Imagineering Lab to kids. For those kids who want to become an Imagineer, what would be your first piece of advice?
DU: Follow your dreams, but also, know that dreams often take a lot of hard work and preparedness to achieve. Follow your passion and work hard at being the best you can at it. If the opportunity presents itself one day to join Imagineering, you know you’ve prepared yourself for the challenges and rewards that comes with the job.
Liz Diaz, Sr. Ride Development Engineer, Walt Disney Imagineering
MS: When did you start working for Walt Disney Imagineering?
LD: I started working for Walt Disney Imagineering April 1st 2018. I’ve been at Disney since September 2016.
MS: What do you do as a Senior Ride Development Engineer – what would be a
“day in the life” while working on an attraction?
LD: As a Senior Ride Development Engineer, I work with a team to design, build, install, and test ride systems. A typical day for me varies greatly but right now I spend most of my days in the field testing with my team.
MS: Can you talk a little about your current project (or if not current, then the last one you worked on?)
LD: I am the lead Ride Engineer for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. In this role, I lead a large team of engineers, technicians, and operators from development through testing and into opening this innovative ride system.
MS: What is the aspect you enjoy most about working for the Walt Disney Company?
LD: The most rewarding aspect working for The Walt Disney Company is working with a greatly diverse group of people to create something fun and memorable for all to enjoy.
MS: Do you have a favorite attraction that you’ve worked on? And how about just to enjoy when not working?
LD: Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind has been my favorite attraction to work on. Not only for the technical challenges and opportunities I have been given but for the team that I have been working with every day. Toy Story Mania! is always a great one to play and enjoy with my boys.
MS: We are days away from Mother’s Day. How do you balance being a working mom with your work as an Imagineer?
LD: It is a tough balance to spend time with my boys and work the demanding schedule of an Imagineer. Although I may not be able to spend every moment with them, I focus on the moments I do have with them and make those moments count.
MS: Bringing your children to work means bringing them to Walt Disney World. Do you get a chance to do that?
Photo courtesy Liz Diaz
LD: Yes! We love to come and enjoy the parks. We always try to do some of our favorites as well as do something a little different each time.
Thank you to Danielle and Liz for answering my questions!