He’s worked for some of the biggest names
in the country: the Walt Disney Company,
National Geographic, NASA and the
Smithsonian. Yet back in 1980, Bob Weis
was simply a Cal Poly Pomona student
armed with two things — a Bachelor of
Arts degree in architecture and big dreams
for the future.
A lot has happened since then.
“Originally, I thought I might go into
stage or film design,” says Weis. “I was
very lucky, however, because Disney was
in a growth period when I was graduating.
I met a Disney recruiter at Cal Poly
Pomona and that led to my first job.”
Eventually, he served as senior vice
president of Walt Disney Imagineering
for 15 years, where he led the design and
development of Disney-MGM Studios in
Orlando, Fla. Working closely with Disney
CEO Michael Eisner, he led a multi-disciplinary
team to execute the project, which
has attracted more than 80 million visitors
since opening in 1989. He also supervised
development of Tokyo DisneySea in Japan
from inception to final approval and was
instrumental in the development of Walt
Disney Studios Park in Paris.
“I knew back in college that I wasn’t
going to graduate and do mainstream
architecture — that’s really not where my
heart was,” says Weis, who balanced his
architecture studies with coursework in
Cal Poly Pomona’s theater program. “My
passion was somewhere between design
and entertainment, so I really targeted the
“The great thing about the architecture program was that it taught us about architecture,
but it also taught us how to think and solve problems,” says Weis. “By balancing
my architecture time with my time in theater, I learned more about story, immersive
storytelling in entertainment, and it put me in a position to be able to do architecture for a
company like Disney, as well as museums and other companies.”
In 1994, Weis left Disney to launch Design Island Associates, a successful entertainment
design and multi-media company specializing in new technology, destination
development, film creation and museum and exhibit design. The client list includes some
of the world’s most prestigious names, among them the Fort Worth Museum of Science
and History, Kennedy Space Center, The American Revolution at Valley Forge, Sony Retail
Entertainment, the Smithsonian, National Geographic, Rockefeller Center, Graceland, Port
of Los Angeles and National Harbor.
“The field of entertainment design, used in a variety of themed destinations and
hotels, is a mixture of storytelling, entertainment and architecture,” he says, “but it wasn’t
really that developed back when I was in college. It really only existed in theme parks like
Disneyland. Now, it has really exploded and has created a demand for people who can
design immersive environments that tell stories.”
Weis’ impressive achievements also include film directing. His independent film “Inconceivable” is currently airing on Lifetime. His documentary project “In Their Footsteps/Lewis and Clark” is airing nationwide on public television stations.
In 2007, Weis returned to Imagineering
and now serves as executive vice
president of creative at Walt Disney Imagineering
in Glendale, Calif. — the master
planning, creative development, design,
engineering, production, project management,
and research and development arm
of the Walt Disney Company and its affiliates.
His primary responsibility is leading
the current expansion of Disney’s California
Adventure during the next five years.
The expansion will include new Cars Land,
inspired by the hit Disney·Pixar animated
One person who’s helping in these
efforts is Weis’ 12-year-old son, Gabriel. “If you can see the world through a
12-year-old’s eyes, you can really get
attuned to what people actually see. As designers, we can fall in love with some
detail or something people might not notice,
but with kids, you get right to the heart of
what’s boring and exciting. So it’s very helpful
to see my projects through his eyes.”
“I really enjoy my work at Disney, but
I also enjoy working on documentary films
and nonprofit projects, like museums,
which I continue to do on the side,” he
says. “It all comes back to storytelling.
Whether it’s filmmaking, design, museum
work or theme parks, the one common
element is telling great stories — taking
people to new and interesting worlds they
haven’t been to before.”
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