Storyland Studios is proud to welcome veteran Walt Disney Imagineer Jim Clark as their newest Executive Director.
Clark’s 27-year tenure with the Walt Disney Company included work at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Tokyo Disneyland, with two decades at Walt Disney Imagineering. Most recently, he served as Senior Creative Producer for the Tokyo Disneyland Expansion, for which he helped develop the concept. Now, he’s thrilled to join Storyland Studios for the next phase of his career.
“I’m excited about the depth and diversity of projects at Storyland. There are going to be a lot of great opportunities here,” he said.
Clark had the unique privilege of working directly for Disney Imagineering legend Marty Sklar, the last employee to work directly for Walt Disney.
“We’re thrilled to have Jim as the newest member of our executive team,” said Ben Thompson, Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Global Clients at Storyland Studios. “To have yet another talented veteran Imagineer on our team–who learned firsthand from a legend like Marty Sklar–is an honour, and we’re so excited to begin working with him.”
Clark joined Imagineering during Sklar’s tenure as its head. In 2006, Sklar stepped down to become the Imagineering Ambassador, and Clark followed him to the Disney Studio lot in Burbank, where they worked together for three more years.
“He was a real mentor to me, and it was a remarkable experience to learn from a person who really had been with Disney theme parks from the very very beginning,” Clark said.
In addition, Clark was able to work with two other childhood heroes, Rolly Crump and Blaine Gibson. According to Clark, Sklar, Crump, and Gibson “lived up to their larger-than-life reputations.”
TOKYO DISNEYLAND: AN UNFORGETTABLE IMAGINEERING EXPERIENCE
For seven years, until mid-2020, Clark worked with the Tokyo Disney Resort portfolio team. In addition to concept development, he helped to develop a number of attractions for the Tokyo Disneyland Expansion. With a budget of approximately $750 million, the expansion spanned 12 acres and was the largest expansion in the park’s history.
Its anchor attraction is “Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast,” one of the largest ride-through attractions ever built in Tokyo Disney Resort. The attraction opened in September 2020, after being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guests move through the attraction on a trackless, dancing ride vehicle, where they encounter scenes from the iconic film, as well as 35 of the most sophisticated Audio-Animatronics figures and some of the most advanced special effects ever created for Tokyo Disney Resort. Including both the eight-minute ride-through and six minutes of show scenes in the queue, “Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast” is one of the longest and largest attractions in the park.
“We really tried to create something that was very emotional,” Clark said. “It isn’t a thrill ride. It is a dancing, musical ride, and if you are a fan of the 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast, the attraction can be a very emotional experience.”
Clark describes the ride as an all-ages attraction similar to Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion, but built with the best technology available today.
“The joy of riding the attraction comes from not just the special effects and the grand scenery, but the fact that all of the movements, and everything in the attraction, are all synchronized to the dancing of the ride vehicle,” Clark says. “The movement of the vehicle, the music, the special effects, the animated figures, the animated props–everything is all moving in unison. An extraordinary team of talented Imagineers from a wide variety of different disciplines worked together to make it all possible. It was a tremendous collaborative effort.”
CHASING THE IMAGINEERING DREAM
Clark grew up in South Florida, not far from Walt Disney World. Epcot opened when he was a child, and at age 12, he decided he wanted to work for Walt Disney Imagineering.
Over the years, Clark worked toward his goal of becoming an Imagineer. He attended the University of Florida, where he created his own major called Narrative Show Design, “a combination of theater, computer programming, film, and creative writing,” he said. He began working at Walt Disney World during college, where he worked at Magic Kingdom Guest Relations, and attractions operations at Epcot, and the Disney/MGM Studios.
Later, Clark moved to Disneyland while he earned his MFA in creative writing at CalArts. He then joined the ranks of the Imagineers.
A SPOOKY PASSION PROJECT-TURNED-PRODUCT
Disney was looking to develop new, interesting merchandising items, so Clark and a small team of Haunted Mansion fans got to work. They developed “Spirit Photography,” which was later sold in the Memento Mori shop at Walt Disney World. Guests could get their very own spooky pictures made–where they became a ghoul themselves, much like the 999 haunts in the Haunted Mansion attraction.
“You could get a lenticular of yourself transforming into a Haunted Mansion-style ghost,” Clark said. “We loved this little project so much because I’m a huge Haunted Mansion fan, and it was a real passion project.”
According to Clark, the Spirit Photography–also known as change portraits–was the embodiment of what he’d imagined life as an Imagineer would look like.
“I’d had this certain idea in my head of what it was to work at Imagineering, and doing the Haunted Mansion change portraits felt like what I imagined as a 12-year-old.”
During his years with the Walt Disney Company, Clark also worked in the Cultural Affairs department, contributing to the World Showcase Galleries and other museum-quality exhibits in the Disney parks. He was part of the launch of Disney Kingdom Comics, the first collaborative effort between Marvel and Walt Disney Imagineering, publishing Seekers of the Weird and Figment. Additionally, Clark produced video games with Disney Interactive.
LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM MARTY SKLAR
When it comes to mentorship, working with Sklar taught Clark a number of important lessons. According to Clark, much of Sklar’s personal touch as a creative leader was “the way he managed people.”
Clark said, “He treated everyone with respect and listened to everyone’s point of view. He literally managed 3000 people and 140 different disciplines, but he had an open-door policy. Any one of those 3000 people could walk through his door at any time. He treated everyone like he knew them really well.
“If there was a conflict or a disagreement between two members of his team, he would listen to the complaint, but he wouldn’t act on it or react to it. He would hear the other side, he would hear the other point of view, and he would find a compromise; they felt heard. Marty genuinely wanted to create the best possible product for the guests, and that served as his guiding principle throughout his career.”
STARTING A NEW CHAPTER WITH STORYLAND
Clark is excited to have begun the next phase of his career with Storyland Studios.
“There’s a lot of really market leading work at Storyland, and I’m very excited about the opportunities,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being able to talk about them soon, because there are some pretty remarkable and innovative things happening here.”
Storyland Studios imagines, designs and creates immersive experiences and environments that lift the spirit. For more information, visit www.storylandstudios.com.