After 40 years, Imagineer Joe Rohde is stepping away from Walt Disney Imagineering, announcing Monday that he will retire effective Jan. 4. 

Beginning with his work as a model designer on the Epcot project, Rohde has become one of most recognizable faces of Imagineering, and not just because of his dangling collection of earrings. He is revered among the Disney faithful for shepherding projects such as Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest, Pandora — The World of Avatar, and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission Breakout at Disney California Adventure. 

“ I’m very glad to have had that opportunity, and proud of the work that has been done, not just by me, but by all my fellow Imagineers, and especially those who worked by my side over the decades,” Rohde said in an Instagram post on his departure. “But 40 years is a long time, and this strange quiet time seems like a great opportunity to slip away without too much disruption. If I wait, I will once again be in the middle of another huge project and by the time that is done, I would be truly old. I’m not that old yet and there are things I want to do that cannot be done here.”

In his own post, Walt Disney Imagineering president Bob Weis said of Rohde, “While he is widely renowned for his unmatched expertise across numerous creative disciplines, he’s also an expert in every facet of leading and managing our projects, from setting the vision to feasibility, design and execution. His unyielding commitment to excellence across all aspects of projects, and his demand for authenticity and including diverse, indigenous cultures in design and production, are hallmarks of his projects and what differentiate them from all others.⁣⁣” 

Rohde’s departure follows a larger drain of talent from Imagineering, the division responsible for designing Disney’s theme parks. The company laid off 411 Imagineering employees based in Florida and California as part of the massive layoffs initiated in September as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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