A former Imagineer friend of mine, inspired me to write my story on becoming a Walt Disney Imagineer. Here is the story -"Picture it..." that I shared with him.
Picture it… April 1974. Northwestern tip, town of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico... A young couple, Estela Robles Galiano, a university professor and artist, married to a civil engineer Jose A. Hernández Calero. Together, they are raising two young boys, ages 6 and 4, and expecting the arrival of what they hoped would be a baby girl, as the newest member of their family. After hours in the delivery room, and a c-section later, TA-DA!!! Eduardo was born! A cute and healthy baby boy, soon to be an extremely handsome, “modest”, open-minded, imaginative, and creative kid. Growing up, while his brothers were in school, his parents worked from home in their own respective office and art studio. His mother would always have an easel, and all types of art material for little Eduardo to paint and create. All his siblings were encouraged to paint, even on some of the walls of the house. While his mom prepared meals or ran errands, Eduardo would be sent to his dad's office, where he had a small drafting table and architectural stencils for him to create floor plans and elevations out of his imagination. When all the drafting pencils tips in the office were broken or heavily used (expensive pencil too, as I was reminded many times), Eduardo was sent to his grandparents. At times, the visits to his grandparents occurred sooner than expected, and they would take on their duties to entertain an inquisitive and artistic grandchild, taking on their “none-paid working shift” with pride. Otherwise, Eduardo would end up back with his mom! His grandmother was Ana Teresa-Galiano, a radio novel actress, and Jose Javier Robles was his grandfather, the closest to what a “Disney Imagineer” would have been for his time. He would build his own CV radio equipment in his shop, in addition of being a visual artist, a musician and a writer. Eduardo never took for granted the time he spent with them, “helping” them with whatever they needed.
All sketches and artwork created in those early years were celebrated and displayed as if they were original Van Gogh! To this day, his mom still has some of them. In many occasions, the boys were encouraged to participate in art exhibits. Eduardo’s first exhibit won him a first place for his drawing of “A Roster in a cage” (…eating corn from a plate… with a funky looking sunset”!). The president of the UNESCO of PR, Antonio Molina, known art critic in Puerto Rico and jury of the exhibit, wrote on Eduardo’s award: “He will be our next Picasso”! (Really, Picasso would have been jealous! LOL). While his siblings grew older, all learning the basics of drawing and painting, Eduardo was the only one who followed his mother’s footsteps, expressing his artistic interests at home and through his school years. He was a member of the class choir, the flute group, constantly creating cartoons, sketches, logos and signs for many of his classes’ presentations, and even for school murals. Eduardo’s artistic abilities led him to become an art instructor in summer camps. For his high school senior year, Eduardo was selected as the stage designer and makeup artist for their production of Jesus Christ Super Star, and he played the role of Peter. In preparation for the musical, he created a scaled detailed wood model of the entire stage, including original art design for 5 curtains, for the final construction reference. Earlier that year, Eduardo was also selected as the Student of the Year, being honored to represent his school at the Districts High School conference. He believed that this moment was likely where he first showed signs of being introverted, with a fear for public speaking (yikes!). At his senior prom, when classmates predicted the future for each student, his class unanimously agreed that Eduardo’s future was with Disney. As early as high school, his classmates knew his passion for the arts, and his increased interest in classical animation. Eduardo’s passion for all things "Disney" began after watching “The Little Mermaid”, which he watched way too many times, (seriously, way too many!), and further strengthened after watching other Disney classics and musical animated greatest hits like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and all the rest. Not only did he sing the songs while running all over his house, (Really people! …and some of you didn’t see it coming?) but he would also practice drawing the characters by pausing the VHS tapes over and over again. Eduardo was fortunate to have been raised and grew up in a totally immersive and creative environment, exposed to all types of artistic interpretations, loved and encouraged by all his family members, daily, for over 18 years… (Now, calculate his hours of experience!)
As high school drew to an end, Eduardo applied to universities outside of his native Puerto Rico since he was not interested in the Architecture and Industrial Design programs offered in the local universities. His closest friends were also applying to schools outside the island, motivating him to pursue those avenues. Architecture, an obvious combination of art and design, was once Eduardo’s mom’s dream profession, “strangely” made it to his list of potential career choices. The thought of moving out of Puerto Rico terrified him, as he would become the first and youngest family member to study away from “the island of tropical breezes”. After graduation, Eduardo was accepted to both Ohio State University and University of Miami-UM School of Architecture (He probably was accepted to other schools too, but he never found out!). The thought of a skinny Puerto-Rican (back then… not so skinny anymore or now), in the cold winters of Ohio, made his decision to go to sunny Florida quite easier, and an architectural summer program at UM, reinforced his choice for a stronger architectural curriculum. We have some Canes Over Here! Whoosh! whoosh! While at UM working on his bachelor's in architecture, Eduardo opted for a minor in Arts (Surprise, surprise!). He was inspired and loved every single credit he took in the art department. From the history classes, to the painting, to graphic design, to human body anatomy drawing classes, and to sculpting… Every art classes taken during his undergraduate career complemented his architectural profession. It provided him with the ability to conceptualize 3D ideas in his head, allowing him to visualize them, render them, and model them physically in paper, canvas, or in 3D wood and/or clay. He recalls one memory, during an architecture studio project reviews, where the professor reacted to his design and rendering by saying: “you aren’t designing for Disney, you have to pull back a bit”! Looking back, Eduardo knows the professor didn’t mean it as a compliment, but nevertheless, Eduardo was thrilled about the association and the Disney comment.
Among the opportunities while studying at UM, for his last semester, Eduardo join the “Rome Study Abroad Program”. It consisted of a full semester immersed in the Italian culture, based in the Washington University facility, in Campo Di Fiori, at the heart of historic Rome. This was a once in a lifetime most amazing experience, where one never stopped studying, exploring, and documenting with sketches and photos, the many places one learns from history books. Eduardo’s passion for architecture, sculptures, especially Bernini’s and Michelangelo’s fountains and plazas grew even more, while improving his ink sketching techniques with daily exercises. The memories of numerous nights, walking as one of the local, through the Campo di Fiori, seen the lights dramatizing the architecture, and listening to the running water while passing Bernini’s iconic fountain in Piazza Navona. Then turning through the small roads, passing the huge monumental Pantheon in Piazza Rotonda, and following the water sound, from a block away, getting louder until arriving at the Fontana di Trevi. (Eating a gelato and making a wish after throwing a few liras backwards into the fountain… Checked!), and continuing the walk, ending up at the Spanish steps, feels just like a dream now! The Study Abroad group covered visits throughout Rome, Italy’s most impactful architecture full of historic ruins and landmarks. While abroad, Eduardo visited Florence, Venice, a number of towns in Tuscany, Montepulciano, Siena, San Gimignano, Perugia, Bologna, Vicenza, Verona, Asisi, Tívoli, Pisa, Palermo, Agrigento and Taormina in Sicily, Pompeii, Capri, Naples and more... During and after the program, Eduardo had the opportunity… …to send credit card bills to his parents in 5 additional languages! (Oh Yes I did!) Eduardo extended the abroad experience by back-packing with three of his closest friends through Greece, Germany, Spain, France and UK. All the back-packing experience merged with the study abroad program, since the group of friends continued similar schedule from the university, waking up early in the morning to walk and visit the many amazing landmarks, cathedrals, ruins, museums, parks and plazas, continuing the explorations at nighttime, and often visiting the same location at different times of day or during festivals. Sketching became a way of life.
After graduation, Eduardo applied for an intern position with Walt Disney Imagineering in Orlando, Fl with the Master Planning and Architecture department. He was not selected at the time, believing that a more experienced candidate was given that opportunity. Eduardo’s graduation for his bachelor's degree, arrived pretty soon... ...but never as fast as his parent’s hoped. At the time of graduation, they visited him and were ready to bring him back to Puerto Rico. Despite all the love for his family and friends back home, Eduardo was not ready to go home. He remembers thinking and joking: “How can I convince my parents, and justify not going back home with them in that flight?”. Then he thought: “Got it!... Mami, Papi, I’m staying here at UM, and will continue to study and get my Masters in Urban Planning!”. (And It worked!) He enrolled in the Sub-Urb and Town Design program, with the School Dean, Elizabeth Patter-Zyberg as the program director and active professor! Eduardo was able to continue adding art classes credits, including some in metal sculpting and a proposed independent study on water fountains to his list, (inspired by all the ones seen around Europe), which allowed him to be approve for the School of Art in the completion of his second bachelor's degree from UM, this time in Art. During his master program, Eduardo had the chance to learn to design on a bigger scale, having the surrounding areas context in mind, larger than just a building or a building complex. He learned to identify successful criteria to create unique pedestrian-friendly destinations, and healthy environment for a neighborhood, up to a city scale. Eduardo’s main master project thesis was located in Montreal, Canada, where students visited and documented for the completion of their mixed-use residential project. All the previous documenting practice from the Rome program came very handy, when trying to sketch in the Montreal’s cold weather. (Good thing I did not go to Ohio State, Brrr!)
Eduardo’s professional background, talent, and traveling experience, present in his portfolio, opened the doors for him to work as a designer and illustrator in the architecture firms where he worked while in Miami, during and after his master program. He was responsible for designing private homes and an oceanfront apartment complex built in Puerto Rico. He collaborated on beautification urban planning efforts and charrettes, participated in the design of apartment projects, mix-used retail courtyard buildings, a college gateway, which were all built while working in Miami. In early 2000, Eduardo made the decision to move out of Miami, to move closer to Walt Disney’s offices in Orlando, hoping for an architectural or planning job with Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI). To fulfill his dream, he sent his resume to the Human Resources department, as he also applied for other jobs with local architectural firms in Orlando. As destiny would have it, the day he was accepting a great job offer from a local architectural firm in downtown Orlando, he received a call from WDI to fly him to Orlando for an in-person interview. One week later, Eduardo was hired as an Imagineer, his long-awaited dream job, joining the Master Planning and Architecture Studio at WDI! (Yup! the same studio where he applied for the internship a few years earlier). He celebrated his 20-year anniversary with Walt Disney Imagineering on July 2020! A great 20 year's dream “race” with lots of memories and great people that will continue to be in his life. The “magical” key to little Eduardo’s journey was: Have a dream and a goal, and don’t ever let any “noise” affect you from reaching it. Lots of practice getting better at doing things you have passion for, and never stop learning new things. And travel! Travel as much as you can, even if you end up hearing complaints about bills in different languages! Cheers to Eduardo for following his dream! And to all the special people in his life that loved him, respected him, and helped him finishing that race! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mami y Papi, for all your love, support (...and for not having a girl! LOL) …Cheers to an awesome brand new “marathon” on the horizon.