Walt Disney once said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
Michael Dobrzycki ’98 has been adding his creativity and imagination to the park for nearly two decades. As a senior graphic designer for the Creative Studio of Walt Disney Imagineering in Anaheim, he’s put his mark on the visual identity of several iconic Disneyland attractions—Autopia and Dumbo, just to name two—as well as newer limited-time events like Star Wars: Season of the Force.
With every new addition, he helps keep the magic alive.
"Let it go. Let it go."
If you are a parent with a child under the age of 12, this refrain from the uber-popular Disney movie Frozen probably sounds familiar. It definitely does for Dobrzycki, whose daughter fell in love with the tale of the two sisters, Elsa and Anna.
Having worked for Disney for most of his professional career, he knew early-on that Frozen was destined to be a classic and began sketching out ideas to bring the story to life at the amusement park.
“A few years ago, I had the chance to work on an update to the Storybook Land Canal Boats. I served as the creative designer and field art director for the new Arendelle scene from the movie Frozen,” said Dobrzycki. “Having a daughter of an ideal age to appreciate Frozen made that job very gratifying, both personally and professionally.”
While Dobrzycki spends most of his days designing and generating ideas at the Walt Disney Imagineering-Anaheim office location—he will regularly don a safety vest and hard-hat to work on location and see his work come to life.
He spent many nights and early mornings overseeing the installation of the new features to Autopia, one of Disneyland’s original opening-day attractions. For Autopia, Dobrzycki developed five new show set scenes and updated its design aesthetic.
“Currently, I am working with creative teams that are bringing exciting updates to some other classic Disneyland attractions, such as Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Space Mountain, as well as leading the design effort for the upcoming Tropical Hideaway in Adventureland,” he added.
The Artist's Way
For Dobrzycki, this high-profile work involves both a collective effort and concentrated attention.
On a regular basis, he will juggle a number of concurrent, deadline-driven creative projects while working in what he describes as an “intensely collaborative environment.”
Beginning with a very general idea, with a lot of group input, the work eventually begins to take shape and narrow in scope.
“I prefer to really focus on an individual design element without interruption or distraction,” he explained. “As difficult as it is to do so in today’s work environment, I really try not to multitask when finishing my production artwork. I am rarely satisfied with the end result if I have not given it my full attention.”
He adds, “I really enjoy the fact that I get to work with some of the most accomplished and talented designers in their fields, on projects that are incredibly meaningful to people all around the world. I also find it both humbling and satisfying to think that millions of people get to experience our work every year.”
How It All Started
“I think that if I had to describe my career course in a word, a good one would be organic,” said Dobrzycki, who joined the Disney Company as a regular cast member at Disneyland park while still in college.
“I have always been willing to take on new duties and responsibilities as they present themselves, allowing (not forcing) my role to grow within the company. Often, these new roles required very different skill sets and might have different, sometimes competing definitions for success. I think that working in this way helps me to be a better and more understanding team player,” he added.
At Whittier, Dobrzycki majored in art and history. According to him, it was the strong connections he formed with professors at the College that allowed him to develop his academic and artistic strengths.
“I will always be indebted to art professor Kim Russo for being infinitely patient with me as I was trying to figure out what I wanted to express in my drawings and paintings,” he said. “And I still consider the lessons that Professor David Sloan taught me about conscientious fabrication and the selection of materials for dimensional design on an almost daily basis.”
Moreover, he believes it was at Whittier where he gained the confidence to make a career in the visual arts.
“My undergraduate experience was a period of great joy and personal growth for me,” said Dobrzycki. “I am convinced that the interdisciplinary curriculum and focus on making connections between broad topics makes me a better problem-solving designer today.”
In addition to his work as a graphic designer, Dobrzycki has taught at the college level and is an accomplished painter, carpenter, puppet maker, and sketch artist whose work has been featured in more than a dozen children’s books and small press publications over the last few years.
Editor's Note: Since the time of this interview, Michael Dobrzycki has been promoted to Art Director at Walt Disney Imagineering – Anaheim.