Adventures with Disneyland’s creative director

Photo by Deb Ferrell

– Deb Ferrell, jhP Creative Director

During a family spring break trip to Disneyland this year, I had the opportunity to meet and have dinner with the Creative Art Director and Concept Architect at Walt Disney Imagineering, Bo Bolanos.

My daughter and I met Bo at the Disneyland entrance and had no idea who he was at first. Bo was, per a friend’s request, scheduled to let us in to the park. He walked up to my daughter and me, decked out in a suit and tie. Then we began to chat. I asked him what he did at Disney and – in a very unassuming way – he responded, “I’m kind of like an art director.” To which my daughter said, “That is the field my mother is in.” From that point on, Bo and I hit it off and talked about our careers in art direction. I was amazed to learn how similar our careers are even though our creative fields are so different.

At dinner later that day, I asked how he got started with Walt Disney. He was a recent graduate in architecture and on a short-term freelance contract. As his last two days approached, he sketched a dream plan for the park. He simply felt inspired and took the initiative. His sketch covered the entire horizontal wall space in his cubical. On his final day, desk tidy and box packed, a top executive of Disney walked by and glanced at the sketches. He stopped and talked to Bo, conveying his disappointment that it was his last day with Disney. Then the executive left briefly and upon his return told Bo: “From this point on you’ll be moving to creative.” Now 28 years later, after working in various roles at Disney, Bo oversees the art direction for this historic, wonderland of a park.

I am inspired by Bo’s story, amazed to hear how he progressed from that young contract freelancer on a short-term project to now top Imagineer at Disney. And I can’t help but see the pure passion, vision and hard work ethic that led him on his career adventure. Today he walks through the park, still engaged, and even knows the best place to view the nighttime “World of Color” water show, which we were able to enjoy. His eyes twinkle when he talks about the inspiration behind the vintage buildings he redesigned and his detailed plans for the future. This man carries the heart and soul of Walt Disney himself and follows perfectly in the footsteps of the retired female art director who worked there for 50 years.

I was humbled to have met such a creative giant. I recognized that the same principles that fuel Bo also fuel me in my life and my creative career journey: Passion, inspiration, vision and a strong work ethic.

Here’s to you, Bo, and all creatives who take that initiative to follow their dreams.

 Deb Ferrell is the creative director at jones huyett Partners. She helps steer the creative team and project planning initiatives.