Yesterday I woke up with a giddiness I hadn’t felt in years. I had happened upon Joe Rohde and had the awesome experience of being able to take time to thank him for his work, to listen to his stories about far off places, and get some enlightenment around design elements and principles. I was over the moon about the encounter, and it took quite some time for me to come out of the fog that it had all been just a dream and the things I had seen and learned I either already knew or had made up whole cloth as works of my imagination.
It’s ironic that this happened over the weekend of Destination D in Walt Disney World where Joe Rohde was actually taking time to present to guests. On Sunday, as I am sure you’ve all heard about by now, Joe Rohde took to the stage of Destination D with James Cameron to provide details of the stories that await guest in Pandora when it opens next summer. He also regaled guests with tales from other corners Disney's Animal Kingdom. I have had the opportunity to listen to Rohde in person once, during Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s tenth anniversary, and I am still taking away lessons from that presentation eight years on. I have only met Joe twice in person where, unlike my dream, I stammered through a thank you, received his autograph in a book, and was able to get a quick picture before moving along. That said, I could sit all day and listen to his stories.
You can find large swathes of Rohde’s sketches and notes in a couple of places, namely the book Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain – The Journey Begins and in excerpts from the Nomad Lounge menu, more on the latter in a moment. Joe Rohde is also one of those wonderful individuals who gives so much of himself on social media, particularly on Instagram. Almost every post is a miniature master class. From why is something the way it is (because there was space and we had to fill it), the historical and architectural basis for an item, art history lessons, life perspectives, and even a game of “what is it” now and then. Aside from the obvious educational components of these posts, is his willingness to engage with those seeking to pick his brain or have some level of discourse. It is a rarity in this day and age to find this level of education and engagement, and I respect him all the more for it.
These flashes from his Instagram feed, the detail in Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain – The Journey Begins, the tenth anniversary talk he gave on Animal Kingdom’s design, as well as the time I’ve already spent pouring over the photographs I took of the Nomad Lounge menu, that I think it is high time that Joe Rohde’s journal was given a place on our bookshelves. His sketches of snow leopards and wit around tracking animals in winter weather, the details of structures and culture found at the base of Everest, or the admiration and respect given to the Balinese artisans which help crafted Disney’s Animal Kingdom lead to an abundance of entries that enthusiasts around the world would love to read more of.
How many of us wouldn’t snatch up a book of his sketches and insights in an instant? Even if it meant creating a series of field guides to the various lands of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, in a similar vein to the Imagineering Field Guides, that would be just fine by me. Give DinoLand, Asia, Africa, and Pandora (once it's opened) each their own guide, and an additional volume as a combination of Discovery Island, Rafiki's Planet Watch, and Oasis. Each guide would obviously require input from other Imagineers, their stories and artwork, and I’m fairly certain that many of us would go on our own quests to obtain them.
There are a plethora of wonderful books on Disney’s Animal Kingdom, from The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, to the aforementioned Imagineering Field Guide and Expedition Everest volume. One of these days I promise we’ll get around to a single article reviewing them all. Until then, I love to dream about what an honest to goodness compiling of Joe Rohde’s journals and sketchbooks would look like. He is a living legend that I know many of us love to hear from and to listen to his stories, and short of special events or impromptu meetings via dreams, don’t have the opportunity to learn from him as much as we would like. A book dedicated to his works would really be a treasure for many of us.
And Joe, if you just don’t have the time to compile everything into a neat and tidy manuscript, which I’m sure you don’t with everything else on your plate, I would love to help you with that!