When Sean Bautista was a young child, dreaming of going to Disneyland, he never imagined he would one day become involved in helping to create the magic that inspired him in his youth. Sean was fascinated by the images he saw on television about the Happiest Place on Earth. He would watch with rapt attention as Walt Disney would bring to life this magical wonderland. Walt did such a great job that when Sean’s teacher asked the children if they could visit any “land” in the world where would they like to go, the other kids said things like Fin-land, Eng-land or Switzer-land. But young Sean thrust his hand in the air and said, “Disneyland!” “After all,” an older Sean reflected, “who wouldn’t want to go to a place where they let little kids drive submarines?” His classmates laughed at his mistake. Sean had innocently thought Disneyland was a real country. But who is to say young Sean wasn’t right? To many people Disneyland is exactly that, a place apart from other places where joy, wonder, creativity, and happiness abound. And today Sean not only gets to visit that magical place, he actually gets to be a part of creating it.
Sean is best known by the general public as the technical consultant on the movie Planes. Many articles have been written about him, but it was his skill and expertise with trains that opened the door for him. Sean has loved trains since he was four years old and “fixed” his brother’s first Lionel train set. It never worked again, but it was the beginning of a love of building and restoring trains both big and small. Over the years, Sean has restored and rebuilt numerous trains. When asked why so many children seem to have a fascination with them, Sean reflected, “I think it’s because it’s the first time you are in control of the world. You get to plot out where it goes. Most people outgrow it and move on to planes and cars and then other things, but for the ‘foamer’, (an American term for a lifelong rail fan) it’s something in their DNA. Trains are great too because it transcends socio-economic barriers. Everyone loves trains.”
His experience, knowledge, and talent had become well-known in the “foamer” community. So much so that when John Lassiter, Chief Creative Officer for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios needed someone to help restore a very special train (see related article), his agent contacted Sean for the job. It would be two years before Sean would meet John in person but when he did, Sean realized they had one very special trait in common – an attention to detail. “It’s the detail that brings you into the vision,” Sean said. When working on his trains, it was something that he was passionate about and what caught John’s attention.
On one visit to Sean’s ranch, John brought Klay Hall, the director of the movie Planes, with him to test out the train Sean was working on for him. Klay and Sean started talking and Klay mentioned some of the problems he was having with making sure the planes in the movie looked authentic. Sean was only too willing to offer his advice for free. After hearing Sean’s obvious knowledge of the aircraft, Klay asked, “Have you actually flown this plane?” And Sean responded, “I’ve flown almost all of those planes.” What Klay didn’t know at the time was that Sean was also a lifelong pilot professionally. His passion for trains was only matched by his expertise in planes! Klay would find himself calling Sean with questions about one aircraft after another. Finally, Klay told him one day that it would be easier just to make him a consultant and so he did.
Sean is a technical consultant for both Planes and Planes: Fire & Rescue. His expertise with such a wide variety of aircraft has made him a real asset to the team. But it was Sean’s love of trains that built that bridge in the first place. Sean has since worked on many incredible train projects for the Disney theme parks as well as the Disney family. He has had the opportunity to help with trains in both Disneyland and Disney World and he had been commissioned by Diane Disney Miller to restore the train Walt owned at his home when his children were young for display in the Walt Disney Family Museum. Sean looked at the train and told Diane that if she wanted he could restore it to operating condition, but she told him she would rather leave it the way it was. She wanted it to be as “Daddy” had left it. Sean said, “It was just mind-blowing to be there with one of the only people in the world that could call Walt Disney, ‘Daddy.’”
A love for trains has connected Sean to the man he used to see on his television screen at home as a young boy. Walt shared a love of trains with Ward Kimball and Ollie Johnston, two of his famous Nine Old Men. Ollie shared his love of trains with John, and John shares his love of trains with Sean. Sean recalled the time he first heard the term “Imagineer” on one of those shows and he remembered thinking, “They pay people to do that?” Now, they pay Sean to do that, too. Although if you asked him, he would probably do it for free.
- To read Sean’s touching story about John Lassiter and Ollie Johnston go to Babble.com
- For some Planes: Fire & Rescue fun for the kids, click on the image below for a great full-color PDF booklet!