Culminating a nearly 30-year career at Walt Disney Imagineering that included work on some of Disney’s most popular attractions, Robert “Rob’t” Coltrin was named a Disney Legend in 2020. To his surprise, Rob’t was notified of this prestigious honor on August 25, 2020, during a private presentation at home with a few friends and his sister, fellow Imagineer Lori Coltrin, now retired. “It’s a huge honor,” he says, “and I am humbled to be singled out in such a collaborative company.” Rob’t was officially inducted as a Disney Legend during D23 Expo 2022.
In the 1980s, Rob’t came to Los Angeles after graduating from Cal Poly SLO and got a job assisting renowned television art director Bob Keene on dozens of shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Grammy Awards®, and Sammy Davis Jr.’s 60th Anniversary Celebration (for which he received an Emmy® nomination). He finally joined WDI in 1990 as a show set designer and over time moved on through multiple disciplines—including show design, concept design, and art direction—before landing in his final role as an executive creative director. He long specialized in brainstorming the story telling structure and initial design concepts that underpin every attraction, created during the early development phase known as“blue sky,” when all ideas are welcomed. “I would always create the initial ride layouts for my attractions,” he says. “Ride layouts are how we tell our stories. They’re like the director, editor, and cinematographer of a movie all rolled into one.”
Rob’t has had a hand in the creation of many attractions that have delighted Disney fans for decades, working on such popular experiences as Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, Expedition Everest, Mickey’s Philhar Magic, and Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. He holds a special place in his heart for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney WorldResort, which he created with his sister. “Even though I’d been there [at WDI] seven years,” he says, that was “the first time I leda project like that. So that’s special in its own way. It’s like your first baby.” More recently, Rob’t was a creative force behind some of WDI’s most ambitious projects, including two lands at Hong Kong Disneyland: Grizzly Gulch (with Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars) and Mystic Point (with Mystic Manor). He also conceived Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the MagicKingdom, as well as a major expansion at Tokyo Disneyland that included the wildly popular Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast. One of his last projects was Fantasy Springs, a brand new “port” at Tokyo DisneySea that opens in 2023, themed to Peter Pan, Frozen, and Tangled.
Rob’t’s key contributions to the conceptual phase of attraction development were immortalized by his colleagues in a portrait in the queue for Mystic Manor. The painting depicts Rob’t, imagined as an early twentieth-century aviator, identified as“Prof. R. Blauerhimmel,” which translates to “Prof. Blue Sky.” “They tell me it’s a tribute to the fact that I led the ‘blue sky’ team at the beginning of so many projects,” he says.
“Rob’t is a one-stop ideation and design shop,” says Kevin Rafferty, retired WDI Executive Creative Director, “because he is a storyteller, writer, director, choreographer, artist, designer, theatrical showman, engineer, musician, architect, and scientist—all wrapped up into one.” Among Rob’t’s collaborations with Kevin was the groundbreaking Toy Story Midway Mania!at both Disney California Adventure and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. They also created the immensely popular RadiatorSprings Racers, Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek!, Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!, and most recently, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
Whatever project he’s recounting, Rob’t is sure to mention all the other Imagineers who helped make it happen. “I remember one executive who said, ‘When people walk into our parks, they’re so overwhelmed because no one person could do any part of this,’” he says. “Well, of course, no one person could do that. It took ALL of us to do that! Imagineering teaches you the power of collaboration, the power of experts in literally 150 different disciplines, and putting them all together. As a creative director, if you can get everyone to follow your vision, stay on the same page, and move forward to opening day, then you’ve done your job.”