Students Win Disney ImagiNations
Engineers lack imagination? Disney doesn't agree!
Nor do Jannae Fong and Molly Martens, seniors in Aerospace Engineering
and Mechanical Engineering. The USC team of Fong, Martens, and Joseph
Rothenberg, who is pursuing a BA in Animation and Digital Arts in the
School of Cinematic Arts, have taken first place in the 20th annual
ImagiNations design competition.
ImagiNations is a program designed and sponsored by
Walt Disney Imagineering
(WDI) to encourage university students to
consider careers in creative and technical fields including digital
arts, engineering, and architecture. WDI is a creative arm of Disney,
and is responsible for conceiving, designing and building the
corporation's theme parks, attractions inside theme parks, resorts,
cruise ships, and real estate developments. ImagiNations is part of
an overall Disney corporate strategy to look for diverse creative and
multicultural talent in an effort to ensure Disney stories, films,
theme parks, resorts, and TV shows remain relevant to an increasingly
global audience. The ImagiNations design competition gives
upperclassmen and graduate students a chance to demonstrate their
skills to WDI management and working Imagineers.
The ImagiNations competition begins with the team of 2–4
students answering the project challenge (from the
ImagiNations web site):
Knowing what you know about Disney parks and resorts and Walt Disney
Imagineering, and considering how the marketplace and guests are
changing around the world; design a unique, diverse and creative
experience that maximizes enjoyment for our guests.
This "experience" might be a ride, some other attraction, or something
entirely different. (The winning entry a few years ago was a GPS-based
device to give visually impaired guests the freedom to explore the
theme park on their own.) Once they've finished their design, the
team describes their creation including an overview, the underlying
story, the guest experience, images of the project, and the team
members' roles and contributions—all in a PowerPoint
presentation of 10 slides or less!
University of Southern California's team of finalists in Walt
Disney Imagineering's 20th ImagiNations Design Competition.
(L-R): Molly Martens, Joe Rothenberg, Jannae Fong.
Photo credit: Gary Krueger, Walt Disney Imagineering
The completed PowerPoints, about 167 entries this year, are sent to
WDI to be judged by Imagineers. Judging criteria include diversity
and global perspective; demonstration of talent and skills; quality of
presentation; merging of creativity with technological know-how;
emotional appeal; and team collaboration. The Imagineers pare down the
field to a group of semifinalists, then to a smaller group of
finalists. The finalists—6 teams totaling 20 students this
year—are invited to WDI headquarters in Glendale to give a more
detailed presentation as the core element in the competition. During
their visit the finalists also go behind the scenes at WDI, meet with
Imagineers, and explore the local Disney theme parks.
First, second, and third place winners are chosen from the finalists
based on the teams' projects and presentations. WDI awards the 3rd
place finishers a $500 prize; the 2nd place team, a $1000 prize; and
the 1st place team, a $3000 prize. An additional $1000 grant is
provided to the 1st place team, to be divided among the team members'
sponsors—universities or other qualifying non-profit
When the winners were announced on June 17, First Place and "Best in
Show" was the team of Fong-Martens-Rothenberg from USC won for their
project, "Adventure Is UP There!" As Jannae Fong describes it:
We designed an E-ticket dark ride inspired by the Disney/Pixar film,
Up where guests are members of the Junior Wilderness
Explorers Tribe 54 Sweat Lodge 12, and they need to earn their final
badge (the "Bird Watching Badge") in order to become Cadet
Wilderness Explorers. The attraction takes guests to Paradise Falls
and there, they try and find
earn their badge. When
guests race through the
jungles of South America to rescue
while trying to escape from the pack of
dogs that is pursuing them.
We conceived the story, ride layout and technology, and we started
working on our project last September. Our initial submission (a
10-slide Power Point presentation) was due at the end of March, and
we were notified that we were one of six finalist teams (out of 160
I believe) that won an five-day all-expense paid trip to the Walt
Disney Imagineering (WDI) campus in Glendale, CA on April 22. Our
final presentation was basically a bolstered up version of our
initial Power Point- we just added more artwork and tweaked the
layout of the presentation. (Our initial submission was modeled
after a scrapbook, similar to Ellie's "My Adventure Book" from the
film, and our final Power Point presentation was modeled after the
design of the Blue Sky Cellar at Disney California Adventure.) We
gave our presentation to about 30 WDI executives and ImagiNations
alumni on Wednesday, June 15, and then gave it again the next day to
100+ Imagineers who were not part of Wednesday's judging panel; the
awards luncheon was Friday, June 17. Our presentation was limited to
15 minutes and had to be memorized in its entirety, and a 5-10
minute Q&A session followed Wednesday's judged presentation.
Second place was awarded to a team from North Carolina State
University while third place went to the team of Scott Sabens and Dylan
Olson from San Diego State University for their thrill ride, "The
Curse of Mythica Mine." Dylan is a graduate student in the
Master of Engineering in Structural Design in USC's Sonny Astani
Department of Civil Engineering.
ImagiNations, it seems, is also a proven route to coveted Disney
internships. This year WDI offered internships to six of the
finalists and hired an additional eight interns from the