January 25, 2024 - 5:32 pm
Bari Jo Berman has a pretty neat job, plain and simple.
That’s because she is one of more than 5,000 Walt Disney imagineers who help design, create and build attractions and rides at the company’s theme parks, cruise ships and hotels around the world.
Imagineering is a word created by Disney that combines imagination and engineering.
“Some of these imagineers help create the physical ride itself, while some might be working on the lighting, painting or modeling,” she said. “There are so many different disciplines within it. I, myself, do visual effects, which is a very tiny subset of what imagineering is. But on the other hand, I still think it’s the coolest part.”
While in the process of obtaining a degree in economics, Berman said it became apparent quickly that numbers weren’t in her future. So, after doing a fair amount of soul searching, she came to the conclusion that working in the film industry was the direction she wanted to go.
“At that time there was animation software but it was super expensive,” she said. “I taught myself how to use it. The community was so tiny at the time that when I was getting help on AOL chat rooms, the people I was getting help from are now Oscar winners. We were all kind of in the same boat. Each person shared what they knew but no one had an ego or a name for themselves at that time.”
Prior to Disney, Berman worked on visual effects on IMAX films, commercials as well as feature films. That’s in addition to several years at Blizzard Entertainment, where she helped create video games.
Berman has now been with Disney for about eight years but getting the job was almost an accident.
“One day I had a buddy of mine ask if I wanted to come down and see what they were working on in imagineering,” Berman said. “I said, ‘Sure’. I thought we were just having lunch but that lunch turned into an interview with his boss and suddenly I had a job. I wasn’t looking but in this type of industry, it works off who you know.”
To that she added, “So many of the companies I’ve worked for have been dream jobs. When I started as an imagineer, I was not aware that it had such a mystique until you’re in the park. You have access to magic that few get to see. You feel it inside. You know what you’re working on is going to have such an impact on other people.”
Berman, who has lived in Boulder City for more than three years, said with her other jobs in film or video games, what was created often doesn’t have the same shelf life as does a Disney Parks ride or attraction, which can be around for 20 or 30 years or more.
“Something you’re working on may be multigenerational and that is very rewarding,” she said.
As an imagineer, Berman has had a hand in the Hyperspace Mountain (doing all the visual effects), Big Thunder Mountain, every Frozen attraction, Soarin,’ Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones and Haunted Mansion among others. While most of these rides predate her time with Disney, they are always fine-tuning, changing or tweaking aspects of the rides and attractions.
And the work she’s done has not been limited to Disneyland and Disney World, but instead Disney parks around the world, including Japan, China and France. Each visit may last as short as a week or several months, depending upon the size of the ride or attraction. And while each still has a Disney theme, they are unique in their own way.
“That is probably one of the best things about the parks,” she said. “They all have their own local flair. For example, in Paris they have the Haunted Mansion but they call theirs Phantom Manor, which has its own story and theme music. It’s interesting to see the different take on it. They all have something that is unique and a draw. You will never feel disappointed by visiting another Disney park.”
As a kid and later an adult, Berman said she always enjoyed the Disney parks not only for the fun they bring but she was always trying to figure out how they did certain things. Now as an imagineer, Berman looks at the park through a different lens but still appreciates Walt Disney’s vision nearly 70 years ago and the words he spoke on Disneyland’s grand opening in 1955.
“To all who come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land,” Disney said. “Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
That it is.
“It’s all about the escapism,” Berman said of the appeal of the parks. “You can leave your problems at the gate and have a lot of fun while creating memories that will last a lifetime.”