This summer, two Virginia Tech students got to sample the magic at Walt Disney Imagineering as finalists in Disney’s 19th ImagiNations Design Competition, winning a 10-day trip that took them to the fantasyland of Imagineering’s Southern California studios.

Adam Ressa and Jessica Long, both spring graduates of Virginia Tech's Department of Theatre and Cinema, and Ryan Holman and James Loizou from James Madison University pooled their talents to form the Virginia Tech design team for the 2010 competition. Ressa, of Fairfax Station, Va., graduated in May 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering and a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts. Long, of Cape Charles, Va., graduated cum laude in May 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts.

Randy Ward, professor of theatre and cinema at Virginia Tech, advised and mentored the team.

Their work earned them a trip to Glendale in June as one of six finalist teams from throughout the nation. While there, the students had the opportunity to complete their projects, make professional presentations to the judging panel, interview for internships, and participate in the competition.

The team placed third in the nation. Said Ressa, “The best prize was getting to go. We met some of the most talented, dedicate,d and hard-working people while there. It was amazing.”

ImagiNations is a program designed and sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative arm of all Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide, to encourage students and professionals from a diverse array of backgrounds and skills to consider careers in creative and technical fields including digital arts, engineering, and next-generation interactivity.

The competition gives participants a way to showcase their talents and gain practical knowledge in design, with the opportunity to earn internships. While a position at Walt Disney Imagineering is often found on surveys of “dream occupations,” the company uses ImagiNations as a way to reach out to the widest possible talent pool for its future.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for students and graduates,” said Long. “Walt Disney Imagineering has always pushed the bounds of technology and entertainment, and through the ImagiNations program, young professionals may begin to explore the bounds of a variety of fields. This opportunity gives me a new taste for innovation and a chance to further my story.”

Using the Disney/Pixar movie WALL-E as their springboard, the Virginia Tech team created “The Millennial Museum” – a highly interactive, multifaceted attraction for a Disney theme park. The team describes it as a museum set in the year 3000 that misinterprets today’s culture.

In the spirit of WALL-E, guests are invited to look back at 21st century culture from the deck of the newly recycled Axiom, the former cruise ship that returned WALL-E and the human race back to Earth. Throughout the museum, guests witness a fusion of organic and synthetic life as never seen before. The “Green Zone” and “Atrium” house the world's largest collections of plant life in the 31st century.

 Danger and excitement await as guests excavate ruined cities in search of artifacts in a 4-D experience, “The Big Dig!” and exotic foods of the millennium can be enjoyed at the “Nutrition Station.” Guests also can stop by the “Junkyard” playground for recreation and meet some of the famous robots of the Axiom.

Teams demonstrated their creative, technical, artistic, and business skills by designing a ride, attraction, hotel, or a land within an existing Disney theme park or resort. Projects could also be the creation of an entirely new experience – a theme park, resort, themed restaurant, or something completely unique. Submissions were made as artwork, illustrations, visuals, building designs (floor plans or elevations), storyboards, developed story treatments (models), computer graphics, and/or video.

The concepts and presentations were evaluated by a team of Imagineers in Anaheim, Calif., Paris, and Orlando, Fla.

This year’s finalists included 20 students from nine universities. In addition to Virginia Tech, the teams represented Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Eastern Michigan University, The University of Arizona, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Taylor University in Upland, Ind. (Some of these teams are made up of students from different colleges and universities.)

During their two weeks at Imagineering, the six finalist teams meet and network with the technical and creative Imagineers responsible for Disney’s global theme parks and attractions located in Anaheim, Calif., Orlando, Fla., Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong. The Imagineers are also responsible for the cruise ships of the Disney Cruise Line; Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas; and a resort hotel and vacation club currently being built on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

Imagineers are famous for telling stories through 3-D attractions and experiences. The judges are looking in particular for the ability of technology, architecture, costumes, transportation, and attractions to support the story – and participants are advised to “begin with a great story before developing anything else.”

The judges apply the same criteria to the entries as they would to their own work – reviewing whether the concept is appealing, exciting, relevant and well researched; whether it provides an engaging guest experience; the technical and creative innovation; the quality of the presentation; and the ability of the attraction to demonstrate respect and inclusion for the diverse array of families who visit Walt Disney Parks and Resorts all over the world.

The projects and concepts presented are not necessarily intended to be built by Disney – they are a way for the entrants to demonstrate their skill and creative abilities. In consideration for the opportunities provided by Imagineering, submissions become the sole property of Walt Disney Imagineering and Imagineering retains all rights to use and/or display the submissions and the materials contained in them.


Written by Patsy Lavender.

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