How I Made It: Bob Rogers makes an impression on museum and theme park visitors

Bob Rogers
Bob Rogers’ BRC Imagination Arts has created theme park attractions, museum displays, corporate tours and world expo pavilions.
(Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)

The gig: Bob Rogers, 64, is founder and chief creative officer of BRC Imagination Arts, a design and production company that creates what it dubs “visitor experiences,” including theme park attractions, museum displays, corporate tours and world expo pavilions.

Garage to global: The company began in his garage in 1981 as Bob Rogers & Co. Now based in Burbank, BRC Imagination Arts has worked with big names, including China Telecom, Disney World, Ford Motor Co., Heineken and Universal Studios. For the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Rogers’ team designed a display that showed the visceral hatreds of that time. For NASA’s Shuttle Launch Experience at the Kennedy Space Center, BRC helped re-create the shudder and noise of a launch.

Formative experiences: Rogers recalls enduring many dull school field trips. “When we were dragged off to museums, I was just bored silly. ‘Oh look, here’s someone’s collection of stuffed animals. Oh joy,’” Rogers said. “If you allow history and science to be boring, then you have not only failed yourself and failed your client, you are failing future generations.”

It’s all magic: Rogers, an amateur magician, spent a “wonderful summer” at age 18 working at the Disneyland Magic Shop. “It was the perfect introduction. My job was to demonstrate the trick and, while they were still amazed and dazzled, drag them to the cash register.” The shop’s real magician “told me ‘Bob, it’s not about you. They didn’t come here to see how magical you are. They came hoping to be magical themselves.’ Today, it’s all about the same thing, making the guest feel magical.”


Finding his way: Although the magic shop was Rogers’ first brush with the Magic Kingdom, it wouldn’t be his last. “Walking on the backstages in Disneyland, I was totally charmed,” Rogers said, “but this was not the sort of thing I was going to do with my life. And what do you know? I wound up kind of in that business.” Rogers went on to major in communications at Stanford University and earned a master’s degree in film from the California Institute of the Arts.

Disney redux: After graduation, Rogers joined the Disney training program, where he learned the ropes in all areas of the park. Rogers later worked at Walt Disney Imagineering during the development of the Epcot theme park. He co-produced the 1982 film for the France attraction, which still plays there.

Branching out: Rogers decided to form his own company when he finally realized he was good at what he did. “It’s like the line from ‘Harry Potter,’ the wand chooses the wizard,” Rogers said. Getting beyond a garage-based operation meant realizing that business is a team sport. “Hire people smarter and more talented than you are,” Rogers said. “I was teaching them. Now they teach and inspire me.”

A father’s influence: Rogers’ father, Howard, was a teacher and former mayor of Newport Beach. “Almost every evening, he was talking to some local resident about something like a pothole on his street.” That practice, Rogers said, helped shape how he built his company and worked with clients. “In the end, it’s the same thing. It’s about helping people achieve something. We take that with us into our work.”


Recognition: Rogers and BRC Imagination Arts have received more than 200 international awards for creative excellence. Rogers, who has been nominated twice for Academy Awards for short films he produced and directed, recently was elected to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors. That prompted a joke — “I’ve always wanted to start a speech with the words, ‘I’d like to thank the Academy for this great honor.’”

Never get complacent: Rogers recounted a surprising encounter with acclaimed science fiction author Ray Bradbury shortly before his 2012 death. “He pulled two pieces of paper out of his briefcase and held them up,” Rogers said. “He said, ‘These are rejection letters. I still get them. They arrived this week ... and they are form letters.’ Nobody ever has it made.”

Personal: Rogers lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Karen. They have two adult children and three grandchildren. Rogers said his hobby is work. “This is my golf,” he quipped. “This is my yacht.”

Twitter: @RonWLATimes