Interview With a Legend: X. Atencio
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X. lives high on a hill in the San Fernando Valley. Its a nice neighborhood full of three car garages, swimming pools, and lush plant life. Approaching the house I had no idea that a legendary Walt Disney animator and imagineer lived anywhere near. Then I saw the nice Porsche with license plate reading C X GO stock in a Walt Disney Imagineering frame. Next a lawn gnome-esque Mickey Mouse revealed itself and reality began to sink in. I was going to meet Francis Xavier Atencio, animator, imagineer, script writer, lyricist, husband, father, and grandfather.
X. greeted me at the door with a jovial joke about my punctuality (the clock was striking just as I walked in). As we arranged ourselves in his family room for the chat I noticed the decidedly Disney decor. On one wall hung a marvelous collection of photos, drawings, and other memorabilia commemorating Xs illustrious career. In places of prominence were a few publicity stills with Walt Disney and X. at work and a retirement poster signed by many imagineers and animators. A small TV rested in one corner and a small bar in another. In the back sliding glass doors opened up to a deck, a pool, and a marvelous view.
X. grew up in Walsenburg a small town in southern Colorado. After graduating from high school he moved out to California to attend the Chuinard Art Institute. From there he joined the Walt Disney Studios as an apprentice animator. After a tour of duty in World War II, X. returned to the studio and worked on various shorts, feature films, and other projects.
Walt Disney had his hands in most every project at the studios and he recognized some untapped talent in X.. Walt sent X. to WED Enterprises (later renamed Walt Disney Imagineering or WDI) and had him write the script for Pirates of the Caribbean. Xs career as an imagineer continued to the present regime, signaled by the arrival of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. In 1996 X. was named a Disney Legend.
As we got to talking, I explained my interest in the world of Disney, including the fact that my grandfather was a contemporary of his at WED (X. knew him), my love of Disneyland, and my position as a writer for LaughingPlace.com. But I was still nervous as I flipped the tape recorder on.
LaughingPlace: Youll have to excuse me if Im a little nervous. Ive never interviewed an imagineer before. I hold them in high regard. They built the place that I love the most-Disneyland.
Lets start easy-why do people call you X., instead of Francis Xavier?
X.: Thats a mouthful, as you can see. I got the nickname X. when I was in High School. When I went to work at the studio it just carried on. I lost my first wife 20 years ago and have since remarried. When I met the lady Im married to now, she had a hard time introducing me to her friends as X. She said lets go to FX. So my later friends call me FX but professionally Im just X.