Disney is one of the most iconic and admired brands that exists today. Apple, Tesla, and Nike are also in that same tier. When you utter any of those names, everyone recognizes it and knows what it stands for. Part of the aura of each company is building the team that can deliver on the promise of that mystique. This is where Disney truly stands out.
Decades before Netflix and Amazon, Disney was producing beloved films, and then moved into creating theme parks that deliver the same magic. Creating those theme parks involved essentially building a new city from the ground up. Those projects required a massive array of talented people, and two of them are now working with REX Engineering Group.
William Blake, an electrical engineer, and Shawn Shahfar, a mechanical engineer, joined the REX Engineering team earlier this year. I sat down with them to discuss their journey into engineering, their adventures working at Disney, and their transition to the commercial engineering industry at REX.
How did you get interested in the engineering profession?
Shawn: “I kind of saw in myself, when I was at the age of 10, I knew I’m going to be a mechanical engineer. And that was my goal, because my cousin was a mechanical engineer, and he was in an MEP firm, working as a senior manager. And since then, I pursued my grad, undergrad, and Ph.D. program.”
William: “I come from a family where my siblings are electrical engineers. So I just followed the path basically, and I enjoyed it.”
What’s super interesting, of course, is the Disney mystique. What was it like to actually work there?
Shawn: “Disney has a lot of different branches and companies supporting their engineering and consulting work. I mean, they have maybe around 45 different branches around the world. Walt Disney Imagineering is the heart of Disney for the theme park design for the whole from the design to the end of the construction.
So, what we do is sit down with the artists, architects, and creative departments, and come up with ideas. They ask me, ‘Shawn, what do you think? What do you think would be a good thing to do on this ride? What do you think we should have for the future?’
We went through this exercise for every single part. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mechanical engineer, or if you are an estimator, they asked you to come up with those ideas. Then Creative comes up with the final decisions, because you are all Imagineers, and being an Imagineer was a prime time of my life for almost 28 years.
And that was the time that I enjoyed working internationally and locally, meaning California and Orlando. International means Asia, Europe, and all around the world. So it was a fantastic experience for me to learn more about engineering, creativity, production, and dealing with the feeling of the people who get so excited about our projects. And it was a fantastic experience.”
William: “What I liked about Disney was we were kind of hands-on. We could see everything, Cast Members could just walk to the site and see the power distribution, and substations. It’s all about teamwork, and cooperation with a lot of folks. I got exposed to project management work.
We had other benefits of course. You could go to the park.”
Is there a project that stands out for you?
William: “I worked on many projects. The one that stands out for me is the new “Jungle Cruise,” in addition to “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Shawn: “I’ll put it this way. The theme park that stands out for me, is not the projects, because if I want to go through projects, I maybe worked on around 450 projects throughout my 28 years. Tokyo DisneySea theme park stands up there because of the quality and time that we spent on that job. Everyone who walks into the park feels like they are in heaven. It’s for me the number one choice. And the other one that we have is in Shanghai. That is incredible. I worked on it for about seven to eight years.”
What is the Disney culture like, and what did it enable you to bring to REX Engineering?
Shawn: “The first rule of law is quality. The second thing is it’s family oriented. So we were in this social milieu where we want to create something for the family that has a good quality so it has to have a history behind it. It means we have to put our heart and soul into that.
We lived together as Disney employees or cast members. It wasn’t just like working eight hours. We traveled to so many different places together. We attended the meetings, which lasted until 9 or 10 pm.
One thing I can bring to REX is the work. Another thing is that we feel like a family together. Here, we are not individuals that come in from eight to five and know nothing about each other. That family or that personal touch brings a lot of quality to our communication with each other.”
Will: “Disney, they are very, very cautious about the safety code. Because of all these guests at the park, they are very, very hands-on and it has its own set of guidelines and standards.”
Shawn: “There are three different layers. One is the local code. One is the international code, and then there’s the “Mr. Disney code” — that one is the toughest one.”
About William and Shawn
At REX, William is Electrical Department Manager and is using his 25 years of professional experience to design electrical systems for REX’s client projects.
Shawn, in turn, supervises design responsibilities around MEP (mechanical/electrical/plumbing) systems for client projects.