In his 27 years as a Disney Imagineer, Bob Gurr was known for doing the impossible: He designed a submarine fleet, the cars of Autopia, and the Monorail that soars above the park on a single beam. With the opening of Tomorrowland in 1955, Gurr shaped a vision of the future (1986 to be exact) that still feels out of reach. Six decades after Gurr began creating ride vehicles for the theme park, director Brad Bird tapped him to dream up a mysterious object that would appear in Bird’s sci-fi adventure Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney (in theaters May 22).
The art of illusion is what inadvertently inspired Gurr’s career. As a teen in North Hollywood, he was taken with the imagination and technical brilliance he saw at the Burbank airport during World War II. To keep the planes safe from enemy attack, canopies made of camouflage netting and prop foliage were erected to cover acres of Lockheed aircraft, simulating a rural community when seen from above. “It was a thrilling place,” Gurr says. “I liked to go snoop. I wanted to know how they were built, why they were built, and what I could learn from them.”
After graduating from Art Center College of Design, Gurr moved to Dearborn, Michigan, and worked as a car stylist for the Ford Motor Company. He returned to L.A. a year later. By then he had already published the illustrated book How to Draw the Cars of Tomorrow. His blue-sky thinking caught the attention of WED Enterprises, Walt Disney’s private R&D lab, which was building Disneyland. Gurr would go on to create signature Disneyland attractions, from the PeopleMover to the animatronic Abraham Lincoln.
Both Gurr and Walt believed groundbreaking structures (like the Monorail) would eventually exist beyond the park. “Walt would bring people to see the advantages of a clean and simple transportation system,” Gurr says. “It was puzzling how cities weren’t interested in his vision of the future. The mind-set of a civic manager is never the mind of a creative futurist.”
Gurr still lives in the Valley and is inspired by today’s innovators such as Elon Musk and Richard Branson. He travels around the world lecturing on design, is an avid mountain biker, and has made a documentary film about Burning Man. The Department of Defense tapped Gurr to motivate kids into studying technology, engineering, and math.
“I’m 84, which means I have a 75-year view looking back,” Gurr says. “Right after World War II everything seemed like a great big beautiful tomorrow. I come from the era of radio with two knobs, and today I edit on Final Cut Pro. That’s a giant technological jump.”
Gurr’s Mighty Machines