Georgia students sweep top spots in Disney's Imagineering competition

February 2, 2018, 12:23 PM · Congratulations to students from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, who last week won Walt Disney Imagineering's annual Imaginations competition for aspiring theme park designers.

Teams from SCAD actually captured the top two spots in the finals of the competition, which brought six teams of students from five universities across the country to Glendale for a week of meetings, interviews, and inspiration with Disney Imagineers.

This year's design challenge was to revive a ghost town into a destination attraction. Now, that might conjure images of Old West towns in an American desert, but not one of the teams that made the finals bit on that cliche. Instead, they imagined attractions based on an abandoned Alaskan mining town, a Japanese island mine, a sunken Chinese city, a Japanese hot springs, and — most audaciously — a "ghost town" set in the future, of abandoned satellites and space stations in orbit around Earth.

(Note to all the aspiring Imagineers out there — never assume any design constraints that aren't made explicit in the prompt. Try to discard all your assumptions and go for something that breaks out of that mental box.)

The winning team of SCAD graduate students — Carlos Ginatta, Michael Howell, Maria Mondloch, Maya Vyas — created "Caguaya," an exploration of the sunken ruins of the Jamaican city of Port Royal that aimed to entertain visitors as it educated them about not just the history of the islands and Caribbean piracy but also about marine ecosystems such as coral and the threat of global climate change.

Each year, Disney offers many of the finals participants jobs as interns with WDI, which leads many of them into careers with Disney or other firms in the industry. I recognized at this year's presentation several of last year's finalists, who now are working for WDI.

I will be writing a longer article about the competition for Alta Magazine, which will appear on newsstands later this year. (ICYMI, I wrote a piece for that new magazine last fall, too.)

The late Marty Sklar started the Imaginations competition in 1991 to expand and diversify the pool of candidates for jobs with Imagineering. If you are a college student who's thinking about a career in themed entertainment, watch for information about entering the next competition this fall.

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