Epcot Pioneers Share Stories and History
On Wednesday afternoon, IAAPA Expo attendees eager to learn about Epcot’s development and evolution gathered for the highly anticipated panel, “Legends 2022: Epcot, 40 Years in a State of Becoming.” Featured speakers included Bob Weis, global ambassador, Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI); Kartika Rodriguez, vice president, Epcot; Rick Rothschild, founder of Far Out! Creative Direction; and Jodi McLaughlin, executive portfolio producer, Walt Disney Imagineering. The conversation was moderated by Bob Rogers, founder and chairman of BRC Imagination Arts.
The discussion began with an acknowledgement of the impact and achievements of Marty Sklar, former executive vice president and Imagineering ambassador, who passed away in 2017. “Without Marty Sklar, Epcot would not exist today,” Bob Weis shared. “Card [Walker] told Marty, if anyone’s going to carry forward Walt’s dream of Epcot, it’s going to be you."
Since Sklar’s passing, Weis has worked to archive the enormous collection of materials that Sklar saved from his extensive career at Disney, many of which are original documents from the planning of Epcot. “It turns out we have more than a thousand boxes of Marty’s records that go back to about 1956,” he reveals. “The [Walt] Disney Archives recommends that there’s something above two million documents … they represent the largest single undiscovered archive in the company.”
Walt Disney and Marty Sklar’s shaping of Epcot’s ethos has been considered—and carried forward—by contemporary decision-makers as they plan for the park’s future. “Taking the legacy of Epcot, of Walt’s original vision, where Marty went with it, really inspired all of us to think about the Epcot of today and take it into tomorrow,” shares McLaughlin. “How do we leverage that in a way that’s positive, that’s future-forward?”
Rodriguez echoed this sentiment, detailing how new experiences, including immersive dining locations like Space 220, remain true to Epcot’s original focus on education and inspiration. “To see the kids come out and talk about ‘Hey, I think I know what I want to be! I want to be an engineer, an astronaut, or be a scientist’ … The experience is inspiring future technology and young individuals to want to do something in a science field.”
While Epcot has always been rooted in lofty, optimistic expectations for the future, selling the experimental ideas that drive the theme forward—especially to a Fortune 500 company—can bring challenges.
Rothschild detailed how contributing to his first Epcot project, “The American Adventure,” taught him to forge his own creative path within the company. “The notion of experimentation existed in all of us,” says Rothschild. “And the opportunity provided by Marty and all the leaders of WDI at the time provided that opportunity … that was part of the spirit of Walt Disney and was already in all of those who gave us the opportunity to try, fail … [Walt] gave us the opportunity to birth what is now 40 years old.”