RJ and Suzanne Ogren of Naperville can talk for hours about their vibrant careers in the early days of Walt Disney World -- the art and entertainment, the celebrities and camaraderie, the amazing Disney magic.
But they can't talk about it to everyone -- they're too busy acting in Wheaton Drama productions, writing novels about zombies and time-travel and illustrating for local businesses. So they're letting their new book do the talking.
In "Together in the Dream: The Unique Careers of a Husband and Wife During the Early Decades of Walt Disney World," the Ogrens give the perspective of an artist and a performer working at the storied resort and making its fantasy come to life.
RJ, a St. Charles native, is the artist.
He worked for four years in the 1970s in audio animatronics, which is Disney jargon for creating 3-D animated characters that move and speak. He completed artwork for Magic Kingdom theme park attractions like Peter Pan's Flight, Pirates of the Caribbean and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea -- even using his skill as a SCUBA diver to paint while underwater.
The job wasn't robotics, nor was it typical animation. It was combining art, motion and sound, and working to make sure the painted outer layers on characters inside Disney rides stayed in top shape.
"We took figures already in the attractions and made sure the skins looked good," RJ said. "We'd split up and make sure everything was in working order. If not, we could shut a ride down."
Other times, the show would go on while RJ was fixing artwork, carefully keeping his brush moving to prevent the acetone-based paint from drying and ruining the piece. Using heat and careful color mixing in a process that took six months to learn, RJ worked shifts starting early each morning to get each character's hue exactly perfect.
He repaired bullet holes in the Haunted Mansion, replaced the head of Dopey the Dwarf when it was stolen and learned to paint images that look normal in room lighting, glow brightly in black lighting and jump off the wall when seen through 3-D glasses. The 71-year-old still calls upon his black-light and 3-D painting techniques, recently completing black-light work for the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
This isn't the first book to tell the story of working at Disney World, but the Ogrens say it offers a look further into the park's history.
Suzanne, 70, tells the tale of being a performer.
She became a member of the "dwarf unit" when she got a gig portraying Sleepy in parades and dance shows.
Suzanne first worked as a monorail operator for 18 months while she and RJ pestered Disney decision-makers to give her an audition as a dancer.
Even becoming a monorail driver was a challenge. The Ogrens first moved from Miami, where they met in high school and later got married and started a family, to Orlando, as they said Disney only considered locals for hiring. With college degrees, they were seen as overqualified for jobs loading guests onto rides, but RJ was able to join the crew as a monorail operator.
When a job as an artist opened up, he was quick to take it. Still on the sidelines, Suzanne wanted in. Both Ogrens say they're lifelong Disney fans who always dreamed of working for the entertainment giant.
"Now I'm jealous," Suzanne thought once RJ got his post as an artist. "I want to make my Disney dream happen."
She lived that dream for 14 years, eventually moving into entertainment management, where she planned conventions and events such as wine festivals.
Once the Ogrens' Disney World days were over, they moved to Virginia then to the suburbs, where they've lived for 11 years.