A little bit of Disney and pixie dust came to Ohio State Monday night. Former Disney Imagineer Mark Hickson spoke with students about his life and what it is like to help develop rides, attractions and shows for Disney.
Ever since he was a little boy, Hickson said he felt the magic of Disney and knew that he wanted to be an imagineer. The word “imagineer” is a combination of “imagine” and “engineer,” and someone with that job title does both of those things. A Disney imagineer will come up with a magical idea and then make it happen.
After each of his points during the event, Hickson said, “Never say it’s impossible.”
Growing up in California, Hickson was often around Disney. In 1959, he and his sister, Susie, had their photo taken at Disneyland, and it was used in the first issue of Disney’s Vacationland Magazine. He credits that as inspiration for becoming an imagineer.
“I bleed pixie dust,” he said.
After multiple attempts at working within Disney, Hickson gave up and got a job in ship building. It was not until 1988 that he got a card with Mickey Mouse on it which read, “We want to talk to you.”
Hickson said that he broke down because he knew he was going to have a job that he had always wanted.
His first project at Disney was as part of the project management team for Splash Mountain, an attraction at Disneyland. On the opening day for the ride, Hickson said he remembered the feeling of observing the final product.
“When we first opened up ‘Splash’ and I spent the entire day at the exit queue, we finally got it running,” Hickson said. “And we’re watching all these families and friends coming off, out of the exit, laughing and sharing and a little wet, and I stayed out there, like, all day. And it spoiled me. I learned that it’s really important to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Hickson left Disney in 1994 after the company downsized because of problems in the economy. He has since been involved in many different fields of work, but he said, “Once an imagineer, always an imagineer.”
Today, he runs a website centered on Disney-related news.
“We don’t pixie dust; it’s straight news, and even though I have many, many friends at Disney, sometimes Disney legal doesn’t like me because they want me to pixie dust,” he said.
After the presentation, many of the questions for the Q&A session were centered on how to get involved at Disney.
Maggie Steadham, a second-year in film studies and communication, said she was there because she wants to be an imagineer.
“I’ve always loved Disney and I love storytelling, so I’d like to be that person that puts together the stories for the different rides and areas of the theme park,” she said.
Chloe Egbert, a second-year in architecture, wanted to find out the next steps to take when applying to be an imagineer.
“’I absolutely love Disney and love the happiness it brings. So I want to be able to design and build structures that bring that to people as well,” Egbert said.
Hickson shared his story of loving Disney but thinking that working for the company was just out of reach. However, he ended up living out his dream job. He gave advice about networking and working toward a degree that will advance one’s career.
He also made sure the audience gained “the knowledge that nothing is impossible.”