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.”