Joe Rohde is a Creative Executive at Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, California. Imagineering is the creative arm of the Walt Disney Company that designs and builds everything from cruise ships, theme parks, rides and attractions, hotels and infrastructure systems for the company’s theme parks and resorts worldwide.
Joe is a veteran of more than thirty years with the company, starting his career as a model designer on Epcot, and continuing with projects in Disneyland in California, Walt Disney World, and Disneyland Paris Resort. Joe led the team that conceptualized, designed, and built Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. He continues today to oversee new attractions for that park, including the new Avatar project scheduled to open in 2017, and is also responsible for the creative design and content of Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa, at Ko Olina, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i.
The challenge of creating Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a park with a strong wildlife conservation message, involved years of research and negotiation with constituents from the scientific community, the world of zoos, and representatives of indigenous communities involved in the stories created in the park. In the process of developing the park itself, Joe was instrumental in the development of the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, which has allocated over ten million dollars to projects around the world. Among the conservation projects related to Animal Kingdom was the Mission Himalayas expedition, which Joe developed along with Conservation International to explore regions of the Himalayas where Tibetan oral traditions had preserved large biologically rich tracts of land. This research was incorporated into Expedition Everest, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The project took Joe and other Imagineers to the mountains of Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibetan Sichuan, researching the background details to incorporate into the very authentic environment designed for Expedition Everest. Joe’s travels for the research and production work were featured in a series of hour-long programs aired on the Discovery Network.
Joe continued the process of cultural exploration and integration with Aulani, the new Disney Resort and Spa. Working closely with a large number of Native Hawaiian thinkers, artists and cultural practitioners, Joe and his team were able to create a resort destination where Native Hawaiian images and voices speak for themselves about the meaning of Hawai‘i. Today, Aulani is not only a delightful vacation destination, but also has the world’s largest collection of indigenous Hawaiian contemporary art, and is the only resort in the islands with a Hawaiian language requirement for key cast members.
Joe speaks regularly about design and narrative and has spoken at NASA, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the TED conference, Portland Creative conference, and has been the keynote speaker at Siggraph in Boston and Yokohama, as well as many other venues. Joe is a graduate of Occidental College in Los Angeles and lives in Altadena, California with his wife and two boys. His personal adventures have taken him to many of the most remote corners of the world. He wears a collection of earrings from these adventures in his left ear, which has become very large indeed.