It’s an odd thing to get a job working at a website and have your first day of work take place on a bona fide movie studio lot. However, that’s the experience that I was lucky to have when I recently joined Disney Interactive as an official Cast Member. It’s an experience shared by hundreds of other people each year as they start their jobs at The Walt Disney Company. They take positions as varied as animator, accountant, or engineer. Each Monday, the Walt Disney Studios Lot welcomes new employees to The Walt Disney Company by way of Disney Beginnings, the official Cast Member orientation program.
For some, a job at Disney is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. For others, it is a more curious experience. A love of Disney’s film catalog and parks is by no means a requirement for getting a job here, but fans are immediately rewarded by the Disney Beginnings class’ prestigious setting. Arriving at the heroically-named Zorro Parking Structure and then walking across the campus to the Frank G Wells Building where the day will begin is, in itself, a monumental moment. Trucks whiz by as they move between sound stages and the smell of freshly cut lumber wafts out from a set-build in progress. Somewhere around the corner of Minnie Ave and Dopey Drive it starts to sink in that you work at Disney. The Disney. But at that moment it’s a matter of following the blue orientation signage and not getting lost somewhere between the animation building and the Ink and Paint Department. You know you’re in the right place when you’re handed your very own Cast Member name badge with a very famous mouse on it.
A large part of Disney Beginnings is devoted to expressing the wide scope of the company at hand and how we all work together from our workplaces around the globe. Started in 1923, the “Disney Brothers Studio” has grown more than just a little in the years since. To illustrate this shift, Disney Beginnings hosts present each group with a slideshow featuring nearly seventy logos of different brands that make up the company, and those are just the most well known. Most Cast Members already know about Mickey Mouse and Disney’s important place in the history of animation, but don’t necessarily think about the television networks, book publishing division, adventure travel program, or online games that also help make up The Walt Disney Company. When Walt and Roy Disney were in charge, collaboration and synergy between the many parts of their growing business were core tenets, and that hasn’t changed.
Though not all of them take part in exactly the same orientation classes, Disney is made up of more than 150,000 employees around the world. As part of an Orientation class, you might tour the studio lot and sit down for lunch with animators of both the hand-drawn and computer variety, television market researchers, information technology specialists, or the sculptors who create toys and action figures; all of whom work at different Disney offices in the Southern California area. You’d head over to the historic animation building and watch a video on company history in the very room where Walt Disney used to review early animation on some of the greatest animated films of all time. You’d walk the lot, peeking in on television sets and stopping by the Walt Disney Archives. There would even be a stop at the employee store, home to some very exclusive Disney Pins that can’t be purchased anywhere else.
For me, getting to experience Disney Beginnings on The Walt Disney Studio’s own Burbank campus brought home the reality that this size is not a new phenomenon for Disney; it has always been a growing company. Just as the Lot includes a historic building preserved and transported from the Hyperion Studio location that preceded it, much of work of making Walt Disney Studios films has since moved on to other locations. After the day, I made my way out to Glendale’s Grand Central Creative Campus where Disney Interactive resides. But for my first day, it was an incredible experience to work on the lot where Walt Disney himself spent so much time laying the foundation for what Disney is today.