Since his debut in the 1060s, Marvel superhero Iron Man—and his alter ego Tony Stark—has captured the hearts of both comic fans and movie aficionados. The current generation also embraced his heroic acts thanks to the Robert Downey Jr. blockbuster in 2008, which further highlighted Iron Man’s wit, cleverness and intellect.
These are also the very same traits, which bound the quintessential modern-day superhero to Filipino-American Ted Robledo, creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering, and proudly one of the superhero’s biggest fans in the world.
“Who doesn’t love Tony Stark? He’s a cool guy and the cool thing about him as a character and a superhero is that he is as much a self-made man as he is a self-made superhero,” Robledo told The Sunday Times Magazine in a sit-down interview at Hong Kong Disneyland in Lantau Island.
Created by Stan Lee, Stark is an industrialist and a genius inventor who created the Iron Man suit out of scrap metals and spare parts from weapons, first to escape his captors and later to battle a global terror threat. In contrast to his brothers and sisters in the fictional world of Marvel, Tony Stark was neither born with nor developed super powers.
“He created his suit to do things that he does. He’s a genius–he studied and worked hard and overcame many things in his life. I think that makes him relatable and inspirational to all of us–that we can one day become that kind of superhero,” Robeldo added.
As such, it was far from a struggle for Robledo to get to know Iron Man when he was put in charge of bringing the superhero to life in the newest Hong Kong Disneyland (HKDL) attraction, The Iron Man Experience. (See story below).
But he was under immense pressure, nonetheless, because of the fact that IMX—as the ride is fondly called—is the first ever Marvel superhero attraction in a Disneyland park anywhere in the world.
All the same, if the way Robledo conducted this interview with The Sunday Times Magazine a few hours after IMX’s official launch were the basis of how he felt about the project, he definitely showed no signs of uncertainty nor anxiety. If anything, the artist showed sheer excitement considering the opportunity to work with Marvel, the comic book publisher behind Iron Man, a privilege.
“It’s the first time that I’ve been able to work with the folks in Marvel, which is pretty amazing because I’m coming to it as a fan first. It’s a privilege to work on something that I am already a fan of, and to work for Stan Lee, the godfather of all these comic book heroes is extremely humbling.”
As creative director, Robledo was responsible for coordinating with various artists to come up with the new attraction. Specifically, he managed the creative development of designers and various artists with specialty disciplines for the attraction’s design and installation process.
In the sit-down interview, the imagineer—a portmanteau of words “imagination” and “engineer”—detailed that his IMX enabled him to work not just with IT specialists but with writers, graphic artists and musicians, among others, as well.
A modern-day inspiration
While one can almost say Robledo is much like Tony Stark in his imagineering, finding his place in the Disney division, which taps creative and technical professionals to create, from concept to construction the theme parks, resorts and attractions, was not as clear cut as that of superhero’s in his fictitious world.
Robledo received his Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Illustration from California State University but began his professional career–believe it or not–as a music schoolteacher.
Thereafter, he worked a designer in the graphic design and pre-press industries all while working as a storyboard and visual development artist for television projects in Los Angeles.
The proud Filipino-American, who was born and raised in California by Filipino parents, began his career in Disney as an artist for interactive and gaming studios. It was in this division he first learned the ropes not only in animation but also in management. With perseverance, he rose to the ranks.
And while most millennials are criticized for shifting from one career to another, Robledo justifies what seems as to be the impulsive nature of this generation with his zigzag rise in Disney.
“This whole notion of being a jack of all trades and master of none is something I heard a lot about since I was a kid. But the truth of the matter is, I think, no matter what, if you are passionate about something–passionate enough to work hard at it–it will pay off or contribute something positive one way or another,” the artist averred.
Robledo admitted he found it difficult to decide what he wanted to do at first. He loved music, animation, its characters, and even the idea of building physical things. He even dreamt of becoming a comic book artist when he was younger.
“But if there’s beauty in trying various things, it’s that it makes you a resilient person in the end.” Robledo added.
Asked if it was hard to rise among his colleagues in the cutthroat industry, Robledo replied, “I don’t think it’s any harder to say break into this industry that I am in as anything else. I would imagine if you’re an actor or an actress it’s just as hard.”
He explained that the key to get to where he is as an advice to aspiring artists is to find out what one really loves to do and then work really hard for it.
“Things become less difficult if you’re working at something you really love,” Robledo shared.
The artist admitted his advice are easier said than done but guaranteed all the same there is no other way around it.
“It sounds oversimplified but the truth is those two are the keys, plus never giving up. There might be things or people along the way who’d say, ‘That’s impossible, that’s too much to do,’ but I think the people who succeeded are the people who just don’t give up.”
Finally, with his latest project now up and running, The Sunday Times Magazine asked Robledo what fulfillment the job of a creative director gives him
“Obviously, from today’s IMX opening, I was fulfilled to see something that the team and I had been working for many years come to life, and be enjoyed by visitors for the first time and make it theirs,” Robledo said.
The IMX took three years to develop, and which Robledo describes as an incredible experience.
“It’s been an incredible ride for me, literally and figuratively,” he concluded as he flashed a confident smile that Tony Stark would give himself.