Bob Gurr was born in 1931 in Los Angeles, California, and is one of the famous group of Disney Imagineers. He is also an amusement park ride designer. While he has an impressive collection of work from his career, most of his famous work was done for the Disneyland theme park in California, and other Disney theme parks that came after it. In particular, Bob Gurr is believed to have designed most, and perhaps all, of the ride cars at the most famous Disney attractions, such as the Haunted Mansion, the Monorail, the Matterhorn, Autopia, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, as well as the King Kong animatron at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Bob was a graduate of the Arts Center College of Design in Los Angeles in 1952. Prior to that, he grew up quite close to Grand Central Air Terminal, which was, at the time, the premier airport in Southern California. Today, it is, ironically, part of the Disney Glendale campus. Growing up near the airport, Bob often watched the planes in fascination. He loved looking at the beautiful machines as they flew overhead, coming and going from a variety of interesting places all over the world. He also noticed the mechanics on the ground who made things happen. This inspired his young imagination and instilled in him his first desire to be an industrial designer.
Bob Gurr was honored for his work by being named a Disney Legend in 2004. However, his career began long before that, as an artist and designer in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He began working with Disney in 1964 when he helped to create the Abraham Lincoln animatron for Disney’s attraction at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. After that, Walt Disney brought him on board with the company, and he gave himself the title at the Disney Company of Director of Special Vehicle Development.
He worked for the Disney Company until 1981, when he left to form his own company, Gurr Design, Inc. In his own company, Bob created a variety of interesting things, such as the animated light spiders of the Jacksons Victory Tour, and the UFO spectacle of the closing ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics. It was also in 1984 that Bob Gunn joined up with a former Disney Imagineer named Dave Schweninger and co-founded the Sequoia Creative.
The Sequoia Creative developed, under Bob Gurr’s guidance, the animatronic serpent at the Adventures of Conan: A Sword and Sorcery Spectacular at Universal Studios Hollywood, along with the previously mentioned King Kong animatronic. The Sequoia Creative also built the impressive Tunnel du Temps at the Big Bang Schtroump show in France in 1989 (the park is now called Walygator Parc).
Bob Gurr’s reputation was so highly regarded in the design field that he was asked to build a pirate ship that sank several times a night at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino owned by casino magnate Steve Wynn. Bob was able to figure out how to make this seemingly impossible attraction work, and it became a hit with visitors to the casino and made Bob one of the top designers in the entertainment industry.
Bob also consulted on the building of the T-Rex animatron in the first Jurassic Park movie, and also consulted on building the titular character for the 1998 re-make of the movie Godzilla. When intricate, large, and sometimes complex animatronics were needed for any kind of attraction or movie, Bob Gurr became known as the go-to guy for them. He has a talent in that area like no other, and his work is creative and impressive.
He was awarded the Themed Entertainment Association’s THEA award for lifetime achievement in 1999. Another award came in 2004 when Bob received his designation as a Disney Legend at a prestigious and classy ceremony at Disney Studios in Burbank, California. In addition, Walt Disney so highly regarded Bob Gurr as a designer who had helped to make the Disney theme park so magical that he was given the special honor of having his name appear on Main Street USA windows in both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme parks.
Bob wrote a book about his experiences as a theme park designer in 2012, called Design: Just for Fun. This was a 216-page hardcover book that discussed his career at the Disney Company and at other places. The book has a forward written by Marty Sklar. While it has gone out of print, it is still highly prized by book collectors. Bob wrote a second book in 2019; this time, it was his memoir, called BOB GURR: Legendary Imagineer: Life and Times — Disney and Beyond.
Bob once said in an interview:
“If it moves on wheels at a Disney park, I probably designed it.”
Of the many things Bob designed for the Disney Company, he has often said that the one he feels sums himself and his career up the best is the Monorail. This is because he believes it represents a big and beautiful tomorrow for humanity and because so many adults and children have ridden it and have fond memories of being on it. He has said in interviews that even today when people bring up the monorail to him, he still gets a little teary-eyed with nostalgia and pride about it. Bob is proud of all of his work, but the Monorail means the most to him.
It is not a simple task to get good industrial artists for projects like theme parks. That requires a degree of imagination that most in the field simply do not possess. Industrial design does not lend itself much to imagination. However, Bob Gurr is one of the exceptions. He has even said it was easier for him when Walt Disney requested that something be built that did not previously exist. This is because a totally new thing did not require research. He and the other Imagineers could do what they did best — imagine it, and then build it.
Bob’s Notable Work:
- Disneyland Monorail
- Haunted Mansion
- Submarine Voyage
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- King Kong Encounter