A team of graphic design students from Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) captured third-place honors in Disney Imagineering’s 22nd ImagiNations Design Competition with its idea of an experience that immerses people into the golden era of train travel and the life of Walt Disney.
Amanda Madden, Anthony Martinez and Allie Wong were among 20 college students making up the six teams selected as finalists for this year’s competition. The CSULB team’s third-place finish, which came with a $500 award, was announced at an awards ceremony on Feb. 1.
ImagiNations is a design contest created and sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering to promote diversity and enable participants to showcase their talents and gain practical knowledge in design. At the same time, it allows Imagineers to look for the next generation of creative and innovative thinkers for potential recruitment.
Selected from more than 180 original entrants, the finalist teams were awarded all-expense-paid trips to Imagineering’s headquarters in Glendale, and during that time they presented their projects to Imagineering executives, met and networked with technical and creative Imagineers, went behind the scenes where Disney magic is created, and interview for paid internships. The culminating event of the trip was the awards ceremony.
“I was extremely excited and proud when we were announced as the third-place finishers,” said Amanda Madden, a senior who will complete her bachelor’s degree this spring. “Just having the opportunity to see Imagineering and interview for internships was like winning, but being announced as the third-place winners place was very exciting.”
For this year’s competition, participants were given a unique challenge: Pick one city anywhere in the world and design an entertainment/recreational experience for its citizens and tourists. The teams were instructed to start with a compelling story, make it a Disney experience, include the elements of their designs, and include the reasons behind their selection of the city.
Madden, Martinez and Wong earned this year’s third-place award for their creation of “Disney’s Holmby Martin Railway,” a four-day train trip where guests travel back in time through the early 1900s. Traveling from Chicago to California, guests cover the same tracks as Walt Disney on his way to success. Each stop has a specific relation to Disney’s life, and each room on the train has a special Disney touch to it.
“We wanted to bring a ride from Disneyland to life, and while we were brainstorming, I mentioned that Thunder Mountain was one of my favorite rides. Instantly we thought, why not make a train?” explained Wong, also a senior who will be completing her bachelor’s degree this spring. “Walt Disney loved trains, and we wanted to make one that would allow guests to follow the route of his life from Chicago to California.”
On the train, guests are immersed in the lifestyle of the early 20th century but with a modern twist of technology and design. Mickey, Minnie, Oswald and friends are on board for the guests to take photos with, and they also are be around for character dining. Through games, activities, environment, and the nostalgia of trains, the student designers hope to bring Disney from coast to coast.
“The judges loved the story behind it, and how it enabled people to make a personal connection with Walt Disney,” she added. “When we found out we got third place, we felt so honored to be recognized by Disney’s Imagineers. It felt really cool to think that they liked our idea, and one day we could be brainstorming ideas alongside them on their team.”
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the CSULB team is the fact that all three members already work for the Walt Disney Co., including Madden, who has worked at Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch BBQ for nearly four years, and Wong, who for two and a half years has worked as a facepainter/artist at stands in Disneyland, California Adventure and Downtown Disney.
Still, the opportunity to get an up close and personal look at Imagineering for the CSULB students was an enlightening and very positive experience.
Walt Disney Imagineering is the unique innovative organization that creates—from concept through construction—all Disney theme parks, resorts, attractions, cruise ships, real estate developments, and regional entertainment venues worldwide. The name Imagineering combines imagination with engineering.
“Being at Imagineering for the week was nothing short of amazing. It was so cool to go behind the scenes and see the framework of Disney and what goes into making it such a magical place,” Wong pointed out. “I loved getting to know every one there, as well as seeing the passion each of them had for their job and the Walt Disney Company. Being submersed in such an energetic and passionate company for a week has definitely influenced me to follow my dreams in hoping to work for Disney as well.”
Madden had pretty much the same reaction. “I have always wanted to work for Disney in the creative area, but I never really knew how to get there. Imagineering was some far off place that made all of these amazing things that I didn’t know how to access,” she noted. “Now that I’ve had that opportunity (to see it up close), I definitely would love to work at Imagineering. The environment is so creative and fun, and that is something that I hope to find in a workplace. Designing and being creative are not jobs to me, they’re fun and a place that appreciates that is my dream job.”
This year’s judges from Imagineering the same criteria to the entries as they would to their own work—beginning with the team’s ability to collaborate across different disciplines and backgrounds; the mastery of their individual skills; whether it provides an engaging guest experience; a good understanding of the local and tourist market in the chosen location, the ability to tell a compelling and engaging story, knowledge and passion for the Disney brand and Walt Disney Imagineering and that it is unique in that it is not limited to what guests already experience at Disney parks and resorts.
First place was awarded to a team of students from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena for a proposed hotel resort in Auckland, New Zealand; and second place went to a joint team from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Art Center College of Design for an interactive boat ride based on an Indonesian legend.
The ImagiNations competition is open to students from colleges and universities in the United States who are juniors, seniors or full-time graduate students enrolled in architecture, arts, animation, computer science, construction/project management, creative writing, design, engineering, game design, graphic/communications design, illustration, industrial design, interactive media design, interior design, landscape architecture, media production (digital, TV, film), theater design and production.