Brian Crosby is the current Creative Director of Marvel Themed Entertainment for Disney, and it’s a role he was practically destined to hold. Growing up near Disneyland in Southern California, Brian developed both a Disney and Marvel fandom from an early age. After winning the Imaginations competition from Walt Disney Imagineering, Brian began as an Imagineering intern before making the jump to a full-time role, where he spent the next decade of his career. A few years after the Marvel acquisition, Brian made the jump to working in Marvel Themed Entertainment, where he currently ideates how to bring Marvel characters and stories into the real world, both at Disney Parks and beyond the berm.
In this podcast episode, I chat with Brian about his Marvel and Disney fandom, his work on projects like the Iron Man Experience at Hong Kong Disneyland and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout at Disney California Adventure, and his more recent work at Marvel. Be sure to also follow Brian on Instagram for Marvel content and beyond.
Which themed Marvel experience is your favorite, and which Marvel story would you turn into a new Marvel experience if you were in Brian’s role?
[Intro music plays under Matt]
Matt: Hello and welcome to the Imagineer Podcast, your unofficial guide to all things Disney. I’m your host Matthew Krul, and you’re listening to episode 127, of the Imagineer Podcast. In today’s episode we’re going to be chatting with Creative Director of Marvel Themed Entertainment, Brian Crosby. I had ran into Brian at Destination D23 in Orlando and was so excited to have the opportunity to chat with him on the podcast. I’m so glad he agreed to come onto the show. And as you’ll soon hear it was such an amazing discussion, we talked about Brian’s career journey starting out with Disney at Walt Disney Imagineering, talked a little about his Marvel and Disney fandom growing up, and over the last few years his work at Marvel, which has covered some pretty amazing experiences and attractions both within the Disney parks and beyond the berm. It was such a fun discussion and I really cannot wait for you to hear our conversation. Before we jump in I want to give a very special thanks to our sponsor, WDW Magazine. You can learn more and subscribe to WDW Magazine by clicking on the link in the show notes of this episode or by heading to ImagineerPodcast.com. At the end of the episode I’ll come back and tell you a little bit more about how you can connect with the Imagineer Podcast on all your favorite Social Media channels. And how you can help to inspire and create the future of this show, so grab some headphones, pull up your favorite armchair, and enjoy this episode of the Imagineer Podcast.
[Music swells and concludes]
Matt: Ever since Disney’s acquisition of Marvel in 2009, the historic comic franchise has reached new levels of popularity. Through the Marvel Cinematic Universe Disney has brought new characters and stories to millions of fans around the globe, and old stories and characters as well, and the Universe continues to expand as we now enter a new phase of Marvel films, a new era of Marvel series, a new beginning to Marvel theme park attractions, and a continued legacy of Marvel comics, merchandise, characters, the stories, and all this work takes a team of very talented people, and one man who was practically destined for this line of work is Creative Director of Marvel Themed Entertainment Brian Crosby. Growing up as both a fan of Marvel and Disney, Brian began his career at Disney at Walt Disney Imagineering, but about a decade later Brian made the jump to Marvel as the Marvel Creative Director of Live events, working on experiences at ComicCon, Marvel Universe Live, and beyond. In his current role Brian continues to think of new ways to bring the Marvel Universe to the real world. I am so excited to chat with him about his work, his fandom, and beyond. So without further ado, it is my sincere pleasure to welcome Brian Crosby to Imagineer Podcast, Brian welcome to the show.
Brian: Thank you, thanks so much for having me, it’s good to be here.
Matt: Yeah, it’s a pleasure. I am so glad that you and I had the chance to connect at Destination D23, at l-
Matt: – east for a brief day that you, that I caught you down there which was awesome
Matt: I think we met at the exhibit, the Walt Disney Imagineering: 50 Years of Walt Disney World Exhibit, right by the Dreamfinder –
Brian: Yes, [chuckles]
Matt: – The old Dreamfinder machine which was awesome.
Brian: Serendipitous some might even say
Matt: [Laughs] For sure, so I’m really excited to geek out with you like I said. And I normally start with the past, but for this one I thought I would actually start with the present. And you know you’re currently, as I mentioned, the Creative Director of Marvel Themed Entertainment, so what does that mean for those who don’t know what your role includes and how do you describe your role?
Brian: Sure. Well the way I like to describe it is that, you know, I’m not actively making comics, or movies, or video games. So then what do I do at Marvel? And the way I like to describe it is that I’m helping bring you know our library of 8,000 to 9,000, you know however many characters we are at now, to life in the dimensional space. So you know in many ways we are about creating experiences that let people step into these stories that they’ve fallen in love with through decades of fandom, whether it be through the comics, or the films, or whatever it is, whatever it is that’s bringing people into Marvel, we try to bring these stories to life, and tell completely new stories, you know as well, but ultimately let people experience the Marvel brand, the Marvel characters, the worlds in completely new ways. And that, that can be, we’ve certainly worked a lot in the Disney Parks space, but we’ve also done a lot of work in terms of other live events and traveling shows, arenas, arena shows, museum exhibits, comic conventions, location based entertainment. So I know that’s a very long winded answer to your question but essentially that’s kind of the gist.
Matt: No, that’s a perfect answer. You mentioned a few examples of things that you’ve worked on and we can tap into a few of those but before we get into that, like I said I wanted to start with the present before moving into the past just to kind of –
Matt: – frame the discussion for where you are now. But your backstory is really fascinating, and I kind of teased out in the beginning that I feel like you were sort of destined for the role that you have now, especially between your fandom and some of your experiences, so to go al the way back, cause like I said I did mention that you were a fan of Marvel and Disney, but –
Matt: – I know it goes beyond that, I mean what were some of your biggest interests growing up?
Brian: Ah, I mean well like you know I grew up here in Southern California, which is you know, where I am still to this day, so you know I grew up in the shadow of Disneyland, always loved going to the park. My parents would take us once a year, about around May, we were always psyched, you know I loved going to Disneyland, and my brothers did too, it always meant, not just Disneyland, but also meant we got taken out of school for one day. So that was enough to sell everybody on the idea –
Matt: [Laughing] Yeah
Brian: But we, you know we loved it, and to me going to Disneyland, the night before was like Christmas Eve you know to me. You know I’d be pouring over this book I had of Pirates of the Caribbean, I’m sure you and your listeners know exactly what I’m talking about, and you open it up and on the inside cover had kind of a fun map of the attraction and I remember going through, you know with my finger of what I was going to see on Pirates of the Caribbean. I’d listen to my Disneyland records, so I loved Disney Parks and Disneyland in particular as a kid, it was a big part of my childhood. But in addition to that you know I loved comics, you know I loved superheroes, you know I grew up watching things like Spiderman and his Amazing Friends, like watching Super Friends, you know that kind of stuff, so it was a big part of my childhood. My dad introduced me to the Batman 1966 TV show, so I loved that. And then I really discovered comics when I was about ten. I stayed home sick from school one day, and my mom she needed to run an errand at a local 7-11, and so I went with her even though I was sick, and I discovered these comic books. I didn’t know what they were at the time, but they were books with all my favorite superheroes on a spinner rack, and I asked, you know, I’m like what are these and they kind of explained, that they come out every month and they’re stories about you know Batman and Spiderman and you know Superman and so on and so forth and I was like awesome, and so my mom bought me one, it was Detective Comics #577, and I fell in love with the comic book medium from that moment. Then it was like this is great and then it was like going out to the swap meet the next week and finding more comics, and years later discovering comic book stores, and just became a very healthy addiction I’ll say?
Brian: But it certainly it sparked this love of storytelling, of superheroes, of art. The idea that I could work in this, that like people do this for a living, all of those ideas started to come to mind but it all really comes back to that first comic book in 1987. And so yeah I loved superheroes and superhero medium, and like I said, combining that with my love of Disneyland, never did I think that those two ideas would cross, but I’m, you know, here we are. [Laughs]
Matt: [Laughs] Yeah, here we are. I mean it’s kind of fortuitous the way it all turned out. I guess you know there’s a lot of different ways you can go with with that idea of wanting to in some way maybe wanting to work at Disneyland or work at in some sort of creative capacity, how did you sort of fine tune as you got a little bit older, what you wanted to do when it came to pursuing a career early on
Brian: Yeah, I mean, honestly, I mean I knew what Imagineering was only because in the early days of the Disney Channel they used to have this little segment called Imagineer That!
Matt: I remember that yeah
Brian: It was either Imagineer This or Imagineer That! –
Matt: It was Imagineer That! yeah
Brian: Okay Imagineer That, I had it right the first time
Brian: Yeah,so I remember those little segments, were really compelling and interesting, in particular I remember, one episode where the Imagineers got to, they worked on maintaining the Submarine Voyage attraction and they got to dive deep into, like SCUBA dive, down into the lagoon and maintain the Submarine Voyage attraction, and I thought what a cool job, these guys are SCUBA diving with like buried treasure and mermaids and sea serpents and all kinds of stuff, and I just thought that was such a cool thing. Um so but I had never really considered Imagineering as a job that I could do, you know even though I had heard of them. Really for me it was all about getting into comics, I wanted to be a comic book artist, I wanted to be like my hero Todd McFarlane I wanted to be a comic book artist so that was really my drive. And then I got my first job working in comics in 1999 on a very small small press book called Barbiespawn, for a company called David World Press. Very early days of internet comics and it’s exactly what you might imagine.
Brian: It was a combo of Barbie, like Barbie dolls, and Spawn, like Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, so it was –
Matt: That’s so interesting
Brian: – kind of a theme on spawn spoof thing. You know, was not the you know, how do I say it, it was not the greatest comic book story ever told. But it got my foot in the door.
Brian: So you know I’ll forever be grateful, just to have that first opportunity and experience. And so I did a little bit of that, I worked on those comics for a bit. Did not realy make a lot of money doing it, and I had a young family, so I decided to go back to school and I went to CalState Fullerton, California State Fullerton here in Orange County, studying illustration, with the idea of getting into comics at some point later on or getting into illustration or concept design or something like that. And then a really good friend of mine, a former Imagineer now, Josh Steadman, who’s worked on a ton of projects in themed entertainment, he was going to school a the time as well, and he called me up, this is 2005, and said hey there’s this design competition called Imaginations and if we, we’re going to submit an idea for an attraction and if Disney likes it we might get internships, and again I was kind of thinking, like yeah I need an internship, and that would be great, doing an internship at Disney would be awesome, and so that was really the motivation to me for entering the competition. And we entered, we came up with an idea, it was based on the Rocketeer film, and you know it was really Josh’s baby, he kind of he came up with the idea and you know really spearheaded the whole thing, he asked me to do the storyboards, and being that it was the Rocketeer, kind of 1930s superhero, I drew the storyboards as if they were like an old 1930s comic book
Matt: That’s so awesome
Brian: And Disney really liked, they loved our concept, and I got a phone interview out of that and I became an intern at Imagineering and that started a whole new life that I was not even prepared for.
Matt: That’s amazing. I have heard of course of about the Imaginations competitions, there’s not that many people I’ve interviewed who’ve done it, I think it is a relatively newer, when it comes to thinking about the length [laughs] and how –
Matt: – far back Imagineering goes it’s kind of a more recent –
Matt: – Opportunity. That’s such a great way to get your foot in the door. And I think Disney was probably compelled by not just the concept but the way that you told that story, like you said, that the storyboards cause I think that is really, Disney’s all about, especially Imagineering’s all about storytelling –
Matt: – You took, yeah you took that to floor to the next dimension.
Brian: Yeah it was never really about finding a new idea for an attraction, it was about who has the talent and the ability to tell stories in new ways or to think you know about these experiences in new compelling ways and I think that’s what they like about we had put together for that competition. And it really is a tremendous opportunity for young artists, young designers, you know to get their foot in the door in what is a very competitive industry, a very small industry actually. And you know I will be forever grateful to Marty Sklar and those who created that competition, you know it changed my life and it gave me an opportunity in a way that I could have never imagined. And really has altered everything for me.
Matt: Yeah, sure, you know you mentioned it’s competitive, and I know it’s a competitive competition, it’s a competitive industry. But I know that internship has got to be for many people that, for you like you mentioned, kind of that dream come true. How was that internship or what was that internship experience like? Was it like how, I guess another way to phrase it is how much work did they assign to you or how much sort of engagement did they or initiative did they allow you to take when it came to supporting projects at Imagineering?
Brian: So really as far as artistically zero. I was doing zero drawing, zero artwork, what I was assigned to do was work in the, what’s called the IRC or the art library if you will, and this is 2005 so a lot of, artists are just starting to make the transition into digital artwork, still at this time most of the artists at imagineering are working traditionally, paintings, sketches, you know paper drawings, physical stuff. And so I was essentially cataloging art for the art library to be preserved for generations to come and what was great about that was that all of the artists that worked in Imagineering were coming and bringing art to me and, to be filed, to be cataloged. And so that’s kind of what I spent the summer doing was working on all that stuff, and what was great is I had my portfolio underneath my desk and you know when some of them would come I’d say hey can I just get five minutes of your time to show you some of the work I’ve been doing, kind of pick your brain a little bit? And so it became this perfect location to get to know all the artists that were working at Imagineering. You know, get to know the Imagineers quite a bit. Through that, was able to springboard that into a fulltime job and even then when I started working full time, you know it was nothing glamorous, I was working in a department called visual imaging production, so again, zero drawing, I was putting together presentations, for the creative division, so you know wasn’t glamorous, you know it was a lot of hard work, it was a lot of late hours. But I knew what I wanted to do, so again I’m working with everyone in the creative divisions, so different producers and creative directors would come down and have their presentations put together and I’d have a chance to you know talk to them and get to know them, show them what I could do. And you know little by little just kind of chip away, at this and hoping to break into the division I wanted to be in, and one of the things that really was big for me was there was a conference room at Imagineering at the time and they used to have all of the 10 year menu, kind of strewn up around the walls, and I would go in there and see which projects were coming up, 6, 7 years down the line, and I would look at, for attractions that had not yet been identified, like hey in Paris in 2014 we’re going to do a D-ticket. You know, didn’t know what it was, didn’t know what story was gonna be told, just we’re gonna do a D-ticket at that time.
Brian: So I would look for those things that were way far out that I was assuming no one had given a ton of thought to, it was more just a placeholder then I would set up meeting with the various portfolio leaders of those resorts and go hey you know I see you got a D-ticket coming in 2014, would you mind if I just kind of took a crack at you now? And just started coming up with some ideas and that was how I got meet a lot of my tremendous you know mentors, people like Tony Baxter, and Robert Coltrin, and Dave Crawford, and Kevin Rafferty, and I mean names that you as an Imagineering Podcast, you know those names. And if your fans don’t know those names they should –
Matt: They should know those names
Brian: – Know those names. But ah, some of those people became really tremendous mentors and advocates for me, and I’ll be forever grateful to them for taking the chance on a young kid who was still in school, trying to figure my way through it. You know people at Imagineering, the artists there, I mean they’ve been there forever, some of them have been there for 30, 35 years, you know when you’re a young kid, fresh, still in college, for me I was still in college at that time. How do you break in how do you crack that nut and find your way onto a project? And thankfully having those kinds of advocates to get me onto different projects, was invaluable, so yeah forever grateful to all of them.
Matt: And you honestly did a lot of the, I think you had the sort of tenacity, and the, and honestly the way you went about it is incredibly smart because you showed your passion, you showed the willingness and the drive to take that initiative it’s something that I had spoken to one of your mentors, Tony Baxter, and he mentioned he did the same thing with Marc Davis and Claude Coats in particular, he would go to Claude Coats office and say hey I saw you’re working on this project I would love to work on this, it’s very much the same exact sort of you know curiosity and interest and drive and willingness to show up and put in some work and a lot of work and take some creative risks and let them know exactly what it is that you wanted. So it’s easy to see how you got from the internship experience to make it full time and I know you worked on some exciting attractions as well, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, you sort of you worked on the project, I want to of course talk about some of the Marvel experiences but –
Matt: – what are some of the other examples of attractions you’ve worked on during your time?
Brian: Yeah so I worked on Finding Nemo just for a short bit, kind of at the very end, just before it was installed, so I didn’t work on that for very long, but that was the very first thing I got work on to, even on a very small level, ah I got to work on It’s a Small World for Hong Kong Disneyland, I got to work on a lot of Blue Sky projects, so we were always coming up with new ideas and dreaming about new things, most of which will never see the light of day –
Matt: [Laughs] Right
Brian: – But that’s part of being a concept designer, worked on Tron Lightcycles for Shanghai, worked on quite a bit Star Wars content you know for about three years, was working on a variety of concepts Star Wars related, ultimately what became Galaxy’s Edge so kind of the very early days of what that land might look like. You know but certainly the Marvel content was where I found my bread and butter so to speak and was the perfect marriage of what I loved and grew up doing and wanted to do, in terms of being a comic book artist, but now I’m pairing it with my new career and passion as an Imagineer
Matt: Absolutely. And I think one of the stories I definitely wanted to [laughs] tap into, it’s a little difficult to find, but I do my research, I do my digging, I found a video that you had, that was recorded of you I think, I think it was a TEDx event on Shanghai –
Matt: – and you talked about the Iron Man Experience, which I know is one of the, you know, would have been a really amazing experience for you to develop and the story I thought was so interesting was, you were there helping to pitch the Iron Man Experience to the Hong Kong Government. I thought it was such an amazing story, and for those who might not be able to find the video, could you tell the story of how you made that pitch?
Brian: Sure, sure. So I mean just to back up a little bit –
Matt : Yeah yeah
Brian: I mean the Iron Man Experience kind of came about cause we were looking at bringing Star Tours to Hong Kong to you know, because Star Tours didn’t exist there, there had been a lot of work done, not by me by many folks, about how do we fit simulator boxes onto the Tomorrowland paddock and how do you make that work thematically with the way Tomorrowland was designed in Hong Kong. And we quickly got some feed- and I did a few sketches of what that might look like,- but we got some feedback very early on from the, our partners in Hong Kong that they didn’t really care about Star Wars, which you know kind of breaks our heart –
Matt: [Laughs] yeah
Brian: – As Americans who grow up with Star Wars as a part, you know it’s in our DNA, I was like oh my gosh, how do they not love Star Wars like we love Star Wars?
Brian: And they just don’t. They kind of looked at it as old sci-fi, like it didn’t look, it wasn’t cool to them or fresh or new. I mean this is before all the new movies –
Brian: – and everything and all that and certainly before Disney+ and the Mandalorian and all that, so no –
Matt: They think differently today
Brian: – Grogu, right no Grogu on the horizon just yet. But ah, but they love Marvel over there, they really loved the Avengers film, they loved the Iron Man films in particular, so they really gravitated towards that, it was new, it was hot, it was fresh and and so we said let’s start brainstorming different Marvel concepts for Hong Kong Disneyland. So we came up with quite a few different ideas and then you know one night about three o’clock in the morning it kind of dawned on me and I said to my wife, we did all that work to figure out how to get Star Tours into Tomorrowland, you know why does a simulator ride have to be Star Wars? Why couldn’t it be a Marvel simulator? And that, and they wouldn’t know any different in Hong Kong cause they don’t have Star Tours, it’s not like we’re putting another simulator right next to, right next to it and created the same experience it would be something new and ownable for Hong Kong Disneyland and so that was really the start of it. And then you know, I kind of on the way into work that day on my train ride I kind of started sketching out some ideas and doing some notes about what a Marvel simulator rid might look like, and I was working very closely with Robert Coltrin on the new concepts that we were brainstorming for Marvel Hong Kong, and ah you know I said I have this idea about what if we did a Marvel simulator and he said that’s just kind of crazy enough that they might want to do it, you know let’s kind of keep it aside as a dark horse idea, and cause we were actually presenting to Tom Staggs like that day.
Brian: Who was the head of Parks and Resorts at the time –
Brian: – So I put together a pitch board, we had our other pitch boards that we had already put together for the other attractions that we were pitching and but before we went into Tom Staggs we met with Joe Lanzisero and showed him all the concepts that we were pitching and said by the way we have this other kind of dark horse idea, of kind of a Marvel simulator ride. And whadya think? [chuckles] And he said ‘well it’s really cool, it’s crazy enough that they just might wanna do it, let’s keep it as a dark horse idea,’ you know like same note, right?
Brian: So we finally get into Tom Staggs, we present all the ideas to him, and you know you kind of read the room in those pitch meetings and we could tell that the reception was lukewarm to the ideas we had put out there. Well we said, we do have one other, one other idea and so we brought out this pitch board of the Marvel simulator ride essentially, and he very quickly said, ‘that’s it that’s what we’re gonna do.’ You know, and it was kind of one of those where we all looked at each other and like I think that’s what we’re doing, I think we’re doing a MArvel simulator ride –
Brian: And eh sure enough we were off and running, we were green lit at least from the Disney Parks and Resorts side. But now to answer your question, so we had to go and pitch this to the Hong Kong government and get them excited, about a Marvel simulator ride. So we certainly did a lot of brain storming about what that would do. We worked very hard on coming up with a compelling concept how do we make it unique, how do we make it different from Star Tours, and none of that that would really matter because they wouldn’t have Star Tours but you know we had to come up with something cool and fun and ah so we landed on this concept for an Avengers ride, an Avengers simulator, and I had pitched this thing internally at WDI countless times, like I pitched it to everybody, and I had the pitch down, I knew, we had all the Avengers showing up, we had Captain America showing up we had, had Thor, had Hulk, you know everyone was there –
Brian: – And I was very very dramatic in my pitching of this story, you know you had to make, it was part of the deal –
Matt: Yeah, of course
Brian: But the little bit of showmanship that comes with, with ah being a pitch man, a creative at Imagineering you got to have a little showmanship, and so we get into the Hong Kong, we get to Hong Kong we have to go pitch this to the government. They told me, okay first of all you gotta wear a suit, I’m a pretty, you know your viewers can’t see me now, but you know I’m a very casual guy, you know hoodie baseball cap that’s kind of me right –
Brian: – But they’re like ‘you got to wear a suit and when you pitch it to them just so you know, it’s disrespectful for you to be above them, so you need to pitch if from your seat, you need to be seated down, you know sitted down’ and I was like okay. And they said ‘just so you know these are very you know straight face you know poker face type guys you know they’re not really gonna respond to you, it doesn’t mean they don’t like it, they just, it’s just how they are,’ and I said okay, fine, fair enough, and they said but just do your thing but don’t expect a lotta reaction.
Brian: So I was already nervous, so they take us into this government building facility which I swear was like S.H.I.E.L.D. right –
Brian: – We’re going in secret elevators and underground tunnels and I’m like, I have no I idea, I’m like where are we, like this is nuts, so we get up to the top room of this tower, beautiful view of Hong Kong, the city. And you know the government comes in, we all stand up, they walk in and we all try and sit simultaneously and you know Robert, you know kind of gives that it was his he kind of gave the set of what we were trying to do and then he hands it me to pitch the story of this Avengers ride. So I start pitching it and nobody’s really reacting as expected. I’m doing it all from my seat, in my suit, very formal, but there was a part in that ride where Thor showed up. And as I’m starting to build up to this Thor moment you know I see one guy starts kind of nodding his head –
Brian: – he’s like okay, okay, and as I, as I, I notice and I’m like okay that’s my guy like I don’t, don’t know what his deal is but he’s the guy who’s seen the movies, he’s kind of into it, and he wants to get excited but he’s playing it cool, so I knew this was my guy. So I keep pitching it, pitching it, and I said at that point in the attraction, the clouds start to roll in, the lighting starts to crackle, the thunder starts to rumble and that can only mean one thing, and he leans forward and he goes THOOOOR [Graveled voice] –
Brian: And I go yeah, Thor that’s it and so, and uh, and we were off and running, I pitched the story, and he came up to me afterwards and he goes, ‘oh I loved your story, he’s like I’ve been a Marvel fan since I was a little boy, I watch all the movies, I read all the comic books.’ And uh we sold the idea, and obviously the attraction became the Iron Man Experience, so we drifted away from it as an Avengers concept and really focused on telling a great Iron Man story, which I think was was the right call, you know at the end of the day, cause really getting people used to this character introducing somebody new and starting with Iron Man and the same way the Marvel Cinematic Universe started with Iron Man, it kind of grounds you in a way before you get into the craziness of it all –
Brian: You know you can’t get into Guardians of the Galaxy just without anything right? You gotta start with, with Iron Man, a very you know human, you know character, so I think that was the right approach and it was a great way for us to get into the you know Marvel Universe, but also how, the first way to bring in a Marvel attraction into a Disney Park. Cause I think, philosophically, we had lots of conversations about this, how you bring Marvel into the Disney Parks is, was a whole nother challenge. You know the promise when you walk into a Disney castle park in particular, you know, and you know very well, there’s the plaque on the tunnel right, ‘here you leave today and enter the worlds of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy’. And the Marvel Universe is, you know, it hangs its hat on being the world outside your window, and being our world, like Peter Parker’s a kid from Queens who roots for the Mets and could go to Disneyland you know if he could you know string together a couple bucks, you know. You know he’s an average guy and so how do we bring those Marvel stories into these parks that promise fantasy and escapism when these stories are about today? And leaning into Iron Man and the Stark Expo, in particular I mean I think when we all saw the Stark Expo sequence in Iron Man 2 anybody who’s got an inkling of Disney fan in them went well that feels very familiar, you know –
Brian: – That feels you know that feels very Walt, that feels very World’s fair. Like you know having to the point of Richard Sherman write the song –
Matt: Right I was gonna say, that took it a step further
Brian: Yeah so the Stark Expo was a great hook for us to start to introduce this crazy universe into the world of Disney Parks.
Matt: Which is awesome and I know that we’re now getting, I said in the very beginning we’re sort of entering this new era where there’s more Marvel attractions and more Marvel Experiences coming to the Parks, and if I’m not mistaken I believe you also worked on Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! –
Matt: So what was that experience like? Cause I know that was a project that had a very short turnarounds compared to a lot of other projects at Imagineering
Brian: Yes, yeah [chuckles] in fact I remember working with Joe Rhode on that who ultimately became a tremendous mentor of mine, I learned a ton from him, a lot of what I do now in terms of the projects I’m working on I always have Joe Rhode in the back of my mind, in terms of process and working through story I mean he’s just you know just such a brilliant brilliant guy –
Matt: He is
Brian: – And a lot of fun to be around on top of that –
Brian: – You know he’s awesome I love of Joe. So yeah so working on that project that was, that was a challenge, but one of our conversations was you know if we are successful in doing this this is a game changer, because we’re gonna completely refresh an E-ticket attraction one that people already love, and already not very happy about that we’re changing this [laughs] –
Brian: So if we if we change if we change this and we’re successful and we convert all the naysayers and deliver a new E-ticket experience in time for the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, like this is a game changer. And so that, it was a challenge but one that we were really excited about and even you know we weren’t initially sold even on Guardians of the Galaxy cause you know we were heading in a direction on what we wanted to do with bringing those, the superheroes into that park. And so and we certainly we’d talked about other characters we might be able to fit in to that type of experience and again stripping away everything that you know about Tower of Terror and just thinking of it as a ride mechanism, right that creates a falling sensation, it drops you up, pulls you up, you know that’s the sensation, and then how do we tell a story with big bombastic superheroes that do lots of crazy things and how do we confine it to that little, that little space right. And the bigger the crazier the superhero kind of the tougher it becomes, so how do we keep characters captive? And then you can see where that idea starts to lead you know who who wouldn’t be able to breakout of a box, and you know well then what box are they in and you just see how it starts to steamroll, or snowball I should say, and then ended up being just a ton of fun to work with, working with the team from Marvel Studios and James Gunn who was you know kind of enough to direct that sequence, the different sequences we experience there and Tyler Bates and his music and that we leveraged for Monsters After Dark. And I mean the whole the whole thing just came together in such a big fun way, it was a lot of fun to do and you know whatta great team and again working with Joe was a dream
Matt: Yeah. You answered my question too cause if you didn’t bring up Joe, I was going to bring up Joe –
Matt: – and asked about your thoughts, so I’m glad you threw that one in there. And I think you definitely converted all the naysayers I think there might be, I still see some kind of hanging on but I don’t think they’ve really experienced Mission Breakout because everyone I talk to who has, they’re like oh yeah this is much better like this is fine, this fits, exactly –
Brian: And keep in mind I was actually at, I was at Marvel at that point. So I had, I had transitioned from Imagineering so Iron Man Experience I started as an Imagineer, and then about half way through its lifespan production I switched over to Marvel so I got to see Iron Man Experience through to completion at Marvel, and then you know Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant Man and the Wasp: Nano Battle! Those were all part of the my Marvel years
Matt: Yeah and you teed me up cause I was going to ask exactly about that transition, because you know Marvel was still, Marvel being in Disney was still relatively new and this type of position was not exactly one that had existed at Disney, so how did you make that transition from Imagineering into now being in the Marvel side?
Brian: Yeah well so, so the very very first thing we ever did with Marvel was actually a monorail wrap if you –
Matt: I remember that
Brian: – yeah to promote the first Avengers film. So that was the very first thing we ever did, I designed that, I designed this wrap with all the Avengers characters and made the monorail look like it was a S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicle, it was high gloss black, and had the heroes kind of flying alongside it. So that was the very first thing that we’d ever done and I really dove head first into everything Marvel related as soon as Marvel became a part of the Walt Disney Company like I was laser focused on bringing those stories to life, and really it goes back to when it was first announced back in 2009, which you know, keep in, this was like Christmas morning for me, you know when I open up my laptop that day and see the Disney logo and the Marvel logo on the same screen together I like couldn’t believe it like and the buzz around in the hallways was is this even real like we are, ‘are we gonna to do rides like based on the Marvel Universe like this is, this is nuts right?’ So and I was so excited and to the point where I remember we brought in the author of the Marvel Encyclopedia to speak to the Imagineers. And there was like I said, a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement and the author was going to speak to all of us in this, in this big conference room at WDI and I went in there, I was like sitting in the front row, I was so just like so, super nerdy about like I was so excited about it –
Matt: That’s awesome
Brian: – and so he starts going into all the deep cuts talking about the breadth of the Marvel Universe, decades of history and legacy and you know good guys becoming bad guys, and costume changes, and you know the phoenix saga, and the clone saga, like he’s going into all the deep cuts and I’m loving it, I’m like right there with him like this is fantastic and I wanted all the Imagineers to be like excited with me and I remember specifically turning around to look back at all my coworkers and just seeing like blank faces –
Brian: – Like this guy was speaking another language entirely and at this point only the first two Iron Man films and The Incredible Hulk had come out, and Thor was in pre-production, and so it was very early days in terms of the Marvel Studios Films so the larger awareness of even Thor or Loki, these characters were not in the public, you know pop culture zeitgeist just yet –
Brian: And but as a comic fan, I knew and loved them and so I knew that again, I was disappointed when I saw those blank faces but I also the lightbulb went off that this was a big opportunity for me and so I just started working anything and everything I could Marvel related, pitching new ideas big and small. And certainly there was a handful of us at Imagineering that were really excited about it, and we, you know and all of us kind of got really you know really dug in and so for for about let’s see, so that’s 2009 so for you know what’s five years or so
Brian: We’re doing all this and I get to know Joe Quesada who was the Chief Creative Officer of Marvel at the time and he and I just really hit it off, we became great friends, and he not only is he one of my best friends to this day but he is also one of my great mentors. And you know we really worked closely with Joe on all of those early concepts and and one day I was having breakfast with Joe and I said ‘hey, here’s a, here’s a crazy thought like we’ve been doing all this work with you guys have you ever thought about having like an Imagineer on staff at Marvel full-time?’ Throwing that out into the world and let’s see what happens. And Joe was surprisingly open to the idea, you know I thought like I’m just going through it out there we’ll see what happens and he’s like it’s kind of an interesting idea. I didn’t think much of it but then a few months later I got a call and there was interest in doing just that having you know somebody to come over to Marvel that could head up this new division would certainly be involved in the Disney Parks projects but also you know work on all the other things that Marvel was involved in that as, at Imagineering I wasn’t as aware of that those things were going on and so you know of course if there was one company that could have pulled me away from my job at Imagineering which I loved it was, it was Marvel, because this was a very unique opportunity like to bring these things these characters to life for the first time ever in Disney Parks like this is kind of historic and I wanted to be a part of it so I took the job. I jumped at it, and I’ve been able to work on, some you know certainly loved the work I did on the Disney Parks projects but now I’m really focused on kind of outside the berm and working on experiences around the world that are not you know just you know at the Parks and I’m having a blast doing all that stuff. So it really did kind of get me involved in a lot of new things that I didn’t even think about back then so yeah that transition was pretty easy at the beginning cause it started off really just being kind of an extension of what I had been doing already but then took on a new life with all of these other projects that I was not anticipating.
Matt: And I love the fact that you basically created the job that you wanted, so it was I mean it’s still following that thread of showing first of all having that passion very forward and present and letting people know this is what I’m passionate about this is what I want to do and then having the sort of creativity and the guts to go and say hey I’d love to do this and beyond just working on an Imagineering project, this is what I want to do this full-time –
Matt: And having that creative for that, you know having that role kind of come to life out of your vision is pretty genius, so I love that story. You know thinking about, we talk a lot about the experiences in the parks you mentioned you work on a lot that’s outside the berm so what is perhaps one example of something that you’re most excited about that you’ve worked on or you know something that I guess got you really excited at the time to develop outside of the parks
Brian: Yeah sure I mean they’re so many, we have our hands in projects all over the world right now. You know I think a lot of creative people will probably tell you the project they’re most excited about is the project they’re working on right now
Matt: [Laughs] Right
Brian: Which is kind of a cliche answer but like I really am excited about what we’re doing with Avengers’ Station you know there’s a version of Avengers’ Station that is in Las Vegas right now at the Treasure Island Hotel and Resort and that was really fun to do. We have escape rooms that are in Portugal, so for the first time we’ve dipped our toe in to what is a Marvel escape room look like? So we’ve created a whole complex of Marvel escape rooms called Marvel Mission, so we’re really excited about those. Let’s see we did Marvel Universe Live with Feld Entertainment, a traveling arena show so again it was doing a big big crazy Marvel show but now it’s not, it’s not an attraction where we can really have you look at a specific place you know it’s a big arena and how do we tell a story like that and what do we do that’s different and how do we bring these characters to life in new ways and bringing a whole slew of new characters to life, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Fist, you know characters who hadn’t been brought to life yet in that way so that was a lot of fun to do. And I’ve really grown to love some of the newer projects we’re doing we’re getting really involved in the professional sports space which has opened up a whole new arena so to speak –
Brian: You know
Matt: Pun intended
Brian: I know pun kind of intended yeah, and you know we’ve been doing a lot of great partnerships with, we just did one with ESPN where we did a Marvel overlay of a NBA broadcast, called Arena of Heroes and that was a lot of fun. And I’ve really started to love doing the conventions, you know I always kind of thought of that as like a marketing play at least initially but as I’ve you know when I was kind of handed the reigns to oversee our Marvel booth at San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con you know it’s really, it’s no different from what I would do in the parks, it’s storytelling but in a an immersive way but now we’re certainly trying to showcase a lot of the product, but we’re trying to create experiences for people, how do we do that? How do we create a great fan experience with Marvel music and cosplay and you know different product offerings and things like that and have talent signings and whatnot, it’s thinking about dimensional storytelling in a different way but always thinking about the holistic experience so bringing a lot of those same ideas that I learned as an Imagineer into all of these different events that our hands are in right now. So you know I’m excited to be a part of all this, you know the Marvel Universe is a growing place, and you know I’m certainly aware that we stand on the shoulders of giants like Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and so many others and you know I’m honored to be a part of that legacy, even a small small piece of it you know but it’s we’re having a lot of fun and these are all great partners that we work with and you know I’m proud of our team and what we’re doing right now
Matt: It’s amazing and it’s a lot of cool stuff that you’ve worked on. Of all the stuff you mentioned though I’m a huge fan of escape rooms, so –
Matt: – not saying I won’t go to Portugal to go to an escape room but you know think, think about bringing them here to the U.S. cause I would love to do that [laughs]
Brian: Noted, noted
Matt: Quick couple of fun questions about your Marvel fandom and then one last wrap up question, so if you, and I know these, these actually could be tougher sometimes, but do you have a favorite MCU film if you don’t have a favorite film do you have a favorite phase?
Brian: Sure, uh yeah my favorite MCU film is Captain America: The First Avenger.
Matt: Good choice
Brian: So, I go all the way back. I love the aesthetic of kind of World War II and the 1940s, I think that’s such a great great look I mentioned my love for the Rocketeer early on, so you know certainly I think it goes hand in hand with that. I mean I think the music from Captain American: The First Avenger is so iconic, like it’s probably the most superhero score I think I think Marvel Studios has, is my personal opinion, like it just kind of screams like a big superhero theme. And I thought the way they brought that character to life which this could have been, it could have been really cheesy you know you know but I think the going, having Steve Rogers go through do the USO Tour was a stroke of genius –
Brian: – to allow him to have that original costume and have it make sense and then how it evolves into something that still feels iconically Captain America but is but functional for World War II. And you know Red Skull is my favorite villain, and I think he’s just you know kind of Darth Vader in that way, whether you know who he is or not you know he’s the bad guy just by looking at him. Like he’s got a red skull and he’s got like a black leather jacket, that’s the bad guy you know, so yeah, yeah Captain America: The First Avenger is my favorite.
Matt: Awesome, I love that answer. I’ll ask you one more lightning round. You’ve already mentioned a couple of your favorite shows from the past but thinking about the Disney, I almost said the Disney Channel, the Disney+ originals, thinking about Imagineer That!, the Disney+ originals what’s your favorite so far?
Matt: For Marvel specifically
Brian: That’s a, that’s the first time I’ve been asked that one, I think eh, that’s tough, eh they’ve all been so different tonally, which I think is brilliant –
Brian: – Like it all feels like the MCU, but it all feels very different, like we’re watching Hawkeye right now, and it’s a much more like gritty, New York City you know kind of story, which typically I kind of gravitate towards, those, you know like the Punisher and Daredevil those are like my favorite characters, so I’m really loving what’s happening on Hawkeye. But if I had to pick a favorite, I think I would probably lean towards WandaVision. Because it was so different and so unique, and every episode, you know, weekly, episode-to-episode was like what, what is happening, like what is this –
Brian: – and leaning into the sitcoms and having the you know the iconic sitcom type theme for each episode, obviously the 1980s you know kind of Family Ties-esque episode really hit an emotional chord with me as a kid of the 80s but yeah I think WandaVision was such a such a brilliant, brilliant show and you know so really kind of bonded our family generationally, between my parents who were seeing the first couple episodes, being like oh that’s what we grew up with and then then it got me with the like Brady Bunch and Family Ties kind of 70s/80s era and then then you get into the 90s and then, it was just awesome the whole thing was fun. It was this, this onion, just layer after layer, of what is this, generated so much discussion. I love shows like that, I loved Lost. Lost was one of my favorite shows, and though a lot of people weren’t happy with the ending, I challenge people not to forget about the journey –
Brian: – of that show, like week-to-week, I mean at Imagineering we would have a like a group therapy session to digest what had happened on last night’s episode of Lost and we would really dig in, we had all these crazy theories about what was happening, it was so fun, and WandaVision kind of brought that back. I love that not all the episodes weren’t dumped at the same time, that it allowed us a week to marinate and discuss and question what was happening. Like I loved that whole approach, so I guess if I had to pick one it would be WandaVision for now.
Matt: I think that’s a great answer, I struggle with the same thing, figuring out my favorite, but you’re right that generational piece of it, we watched it with multiple generations too and everybody seemed to gravitate towards each week something different we got the ‘what is grief if not love persevering’ quote which is one of my favorites that’s come out of a show so far just such great stuff. So last question for you Brian we’ve talked about what I think is a really amazing career journey that’s still just beginning, I’m very excited to see where you go in the future but for those who are interested in sort of following, whether it’s a creative passion or any other passion they might have, what advice would you offer to someone who’s like I know I want to do this but I don’t know how to manifest into a job or into a career?
Brian: Yeah, well I think it goes back to what you touched on a little earlier with how I’ve handled my own career, and you know I can only speak from my own personal experience and I know for everybody it’s different but I have always worked under the, you know whether it’s through what I, you know growing up playing baseball or trying to become a professional artist, or whatever it was; I was always under the impression that if I worked really hard and worked harder than anybody else that I could achieve my dreams, that’s what my parents taught me and I’ve lived by that, so I don’t think there’s any good substitute for hard work and personal sacrifice. You know when I speak to college students, and being in the job that I have, I have the opportunity to do that quite a bit, and I always tell students, no one’s gonna just show up one your doorstep with your dream job, this is not gonna, it’s not, at least it hasn’t been my experience. Like Disney and Marvel and anybody that’s in that conversation in terms of pop culture they’re not just like desperate for people like it’s a very competitive space and a lot of people wanna work at those companies so if you wanna work in that space, you gotta go after it and you gotta show why you’re valuable and how you think differently than everybody else and what makes you, makes you different, what skill set do you bring to the table. And so that’s kind of been my approach, is if there’s something that I really want, you know something I really wanna do I’ve gotta show someone I can do it, nobody’s gonna take my word for it, Disney’s not gonna take my word for it, Marvel’s not gonna take my word for it, anybody else you know. I can tell you hey I’m a great comic book artist you know but like great, well let’s see your comic book art then you know it’s like what can you do, either you can do the work or you can’t you know so I kind of live by that so you want something you gotta go for it and you gotta prove to people that you can do it. And I, when I was at Imagineering I remember thinking, if I’m not here working on my craft, somebody else is, somewhere in the world, and that person’s gonna get the job, that person’s gonna get the opportunity. So probably to my own, probably against my better judgment sometimes you know working crazy hours and having a pull out mattress you know like a mat that I would sleep on in my office at times, but I really wanted it, I wanted it so bad, I wanted to succeed there, I wanted to work on some of these amazing projects that the other Imagineers were getting to work on and I just kept doing that you know until I showed people, and learning, you know putting your stuff out there and letting people react to it you know you’re never gonna, you’re never gonna know and learn if you don’t put yourself out there, so I’d so stuff and have people critique it, you know tell me, tell me what I need to do to improve tell me what’s good tell me what’s bad, you know, mom thinks everything you do is great –
Brian: – you know, you gotta show it to people outside of mom, and don’t get me wrong I love mom I love, my mom is the best, she has my art hanging up all over her house. Although some of my Disney art is a little too dark and scary so she only brings it out at Halloweentime, but you know I think you gotta show people your art show people what you can do and prove to people that you can do the job
Matt: I love that, and hard work is definitely something I talk about a lot, so regardless of what career you’re in so I definitely appreciate and gravitate towards that as well. Well Brian this has been so much fun, I appreciate you taking some time to chat with me I’m glad we got to connect, I’m excited, like I said, to see where you go in the next ten years, to see what projects you work on I’ll be very closely interested in seeing what you’re doing so I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me
[Music plays softly underneath and swells after Matt concludes interview]
Brian: No It’s my pleasure you do a great show, and I enjoy your Instagram feed as well –
Matt: Thank you
Brian: – so I appreciate you having me on, it’s been a lot of fun
Matt: Absolutely, so much fun, thank you again
[Music continues to play softly underneath Matt]
Matt: And with that we close out episode 127 of the Imagineer Podcast I want to give a very special thank you to Brian once again, for taking time out of his busy schedule to come onto the show and chat about his career journey and some of hs favorite experiences working at Walt Disney Imagineering and of course working for Marvel. I want to turn this conversation over to you and hear a couple of things, first of all what is your favorite Marvel experience at the parks or beyond the berm so far? And if you were to play armchair Imagineer for just a moment or perhaps take a stab at Brian’s role and think about some of the experiences you could create what is one Marvel movie, show, comic that you would love to turn into an experience at Disney? You could send me your answers and feedback as always in so many different ways you can connect on social media, and I would encourage you to reach out in a direct message, or in a post, or even on your stories and let me know the answer to this questions and be sure to follow Imagineer Podcast on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn @ImagineerPodcast, on twitter @Imagineernews, and I would encourage you to join our Facebook Group – The ImagiNation also called the Imagineer Podcast Disney Fan Community, to chat about this subject and all things Disney with me and with other members of this listener community. If you don’t already subscribe to the show, make sure to hit that subscribe or follow button whether you’re listening on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Amazon Music, I Heart Media, PodBean, Stitcher, GooglePodcasts, or any other podcast app, that will ensure that you’re the first to know when new podcast episodes become available, and if you have a few moments to leave us a rating and a review in Apple Podcast, that does a lot to help this community out it lets others know what they can expect if they come across Imagineer Podcast on that platform and helps to continue to increase our relevance in the Apple Podcast store for anyone searching for Disney, Marvel, and beyond. And if you’d like to take your love of Imagineer Podcast to the next level, definitely look into our Patreon Group which you can find at Patreon.com/ImagineerPodcast I have links to that location in the show notes of this episode and at ImagineerPodcast.com, Patreon is a way you can help the show financially and in return get exclusive perks, benefits, and rewards, you can get things like access to a private Facebook group just for members, we do weekly Disney+ watch parties, you can get bonus podcast episodes, access to virtual events, and so much more these terms and conditions are subject to change depending on when you’re listening to the show so to learn what is currently available and what is being offered right now easiest way to do that again is by heading to Patreon.com/ImagineerPodcast and as always I want to thank the more than 100 member of our Patreon community, you definitely make a huge difference in our Podcast and our community. The easiest thing, and perhaps the best thing to do for the show though is very simple and that’s just to share it, whether you share out this episode or any other episode of the show, the podcast as a whole, or any of our social media posts, even if you just talk about it with friends and family who might enjoy the show who love all things Disney that’s such a great way to help this community out. Last but not least I want to encourage you as always to go after your hopes, your dreams, your goals, whatever they might be. I think Brian’s response to the last question, about showing up, working hard, and realizing if you’re not working hard to accomplish your dreams, whatever it might be, there’s somebody else working to accomplish the same thing. Not to be incredibly competitive, but just to know that if you put your all into it and you really make that dream come true through lots of hard work and perseverance you really can bring your dreams to reality. I think Brian is such a, Brian’s story is such a great example of how that can come to be. And remember always that inspiring quote from Horizons, ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’. Thank you so much for listening to the show and we’ll see you again in a future episode of the Imagineer Podcast.
[Avengers theme plays out the show]
Disney presents Imagineer That! with Tom morrow 2.0, ‘Any questions?’ [music plays] ‘Here’s a question that will make you flip, John wants to know why you don’t fall out of a rollercoaster when you go upside down? The answer will throw you for a loop, literally, come on’ car engine revs, drives off and music fades out