Storyland Studios, the three-dimensional storytelling firm, has appointed Jim Clark, a long time Disney Imagineer, as its newest Executive Director. Clark has spent 27 years at the Walt Disney Company, with 20 years at Walt Disney Imagineering, during which time he has worked on projects at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Tokyo Disneyland.
Before joining Storyland Studios, Clark was working as Senior Creative Producer for the Tokyo Disneyland Expansion. Speaking on this new chapter of his career, he says:
“I’m excited about the depth and diversity of projects at Storyland. There are going to be a lot of great opportunities here.”
Working with legends
During his time at Disney, he worked with Marty Sklar, an Imagineering legend and the last employee to work directly with Walt Disney himself.
“We’re thrilled to have Jim as the newest member of our executive team,” says 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.”
Sklar was head of Disney Imagineering when Clark joined, and when Sklar stepped down to become the Imagineering Ambassador in 2006, Clark joined him at the Disney Studio lot in Burbank, where they were able to work together for another three 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,” says Clark.
Clark has also worked with other legends in the business, Rolly Crump and Blaine Gibson, and says that Sklar, Crump, and Gibson all “lived up to their larger-than-life reputations.”
Creating unique attractions
Until the middle of 2020, Clark had been working with the Tokyo Disney Resort portfolio team. Over the course of seven years, he helped to develop several attractions for the Tokyo Disneyland Expansion, the largest in the park’s history. This is home to the epic “Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast”, which features 35 of the most sophisticated Audio-Animatronics figures and some of the most advanced special effects ever created for Tokyo Disney Resort.
“We really tried to create something that was very emotional,” Clark says of the ride. “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.
“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.
“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.”
A passion for Imagineering
Clark lived in South Florida as a child and remembers Epcot opening at Walt Disney World. Aged 12, he knew he wanted to work for Walt Disney Imagineering when he grew up. While studying at the University of Florida, he created his own major called Narrative Show Design, “a combination of theatre, computer programming, film, and creative writing,” he said.
During his college years, Clark worked at Walt Disney World, at Magic Kingdom Guest Relations, attractions operations at Epcot, and the Disney/MGM Studios. Then, while working towards an MFA in Creative Writing at CalArts, he moved to Disneyland, and soon after he joined Imagineering.
An early project was the development of new merchandising items, where he and a team of Haunted Mansion enthusiasts created “Spirit Photography,” later sold in the Memento Mori shop at Walt Disney World. This allowed guests to get a spooky picture of themselves as a ghoul:
“You could get a lenticular of yourself transforming into a Haunted Mansion-style ghost,” Clark says. “We loved this little project so much because I’m a huge Haunted Mansion fan, and it was a real passion project. 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.”
While at the Walt Disney Company, Clark also worked in the Cultural Affairs Department, was part of the launch of Disney Kingdom Comics, and produced video games with Disney Interactive.
New opprtunities at Storyland
On lessons from Sklar, Clark says his secret was “the way he managed people.”
“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.”
As he begins work at Storyland Studios, Clark adds:
“There’s a lot of really market-leading work at Storyland, and I’m very excited about the opportunities. I’m looking forward to being able to talk about them soon because there are some pretty remarkable and innovative things happening here.”
Earlier this year, Storyland Studios announced that it has been chosen by Grupo Cataratas, South America’s biggest tourism operator, to design four new location-based entertainment concepts.