For former Canfield High School graduate Christina Brant, presently a student at Carnegie Mellon University, this year has been a dream come true. She is one of four members of the university's team that won the 2014 Imaginations design competition.
Imaginations is an annual competition, created and sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering, that challenges top college teams to design an experience based on specific criteria. This year the theme of the competition was to design an experience for the millions of people who live, work and play in urban environments. Imaginations aims 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.
Brant's team, which included fellow students Matthew Ho, Angeline Chen and John Brieger, worked on a project called ''Antipode,'' which is a two-week-long festival of cultural exchange that simultaneously unfolds in Bangkok and Lima, Peru. Bangkok and Lima are antipodal to one another, meaning that they are on the exact opposite ends of the globe. The team designed magical ''whispering trees'' that serve as portals between the two cities and as an entry to the narrative surrounding the festival. Throughout the two weeks, memories ''stored'' in the tree in Lima will leak out into Bangkok, and vice versa.
Photos courtesy of Gary Krueger, Disney photographer
Christina Brant of Canfield is a finalist in Walt Disney Imagineering's 2014 Imaginations design competition. She is pictured here being congratulated by Mickey Mouse during the awards luncheon at Disney's Engineering headquarters in Glendale, Ca. last month.
''We actually had a very interesting design process,'' Brant said. ''We started the project by setting broad goals that we wanted to achieve and then every design decision was based on these goals. In our case, the main goal was to create a cultural exchange by highlighting rich histories and traditions, everyday life, and the natural landscapes of two distinct cultures on opposite ends of the globe.''
The project was designed and completed by the Carnegie Mellon team with a focus on details as well. It was enough to impress the Disney judges and give the team first place. The team beat out second place finishers from the California Institute for the Arts and third place finishers from the University of California in Los Angeles.
This marks the third consecutive year that a Carnegie Mellon University team has placed in the top three. In last year's competition, students from Carnegie Mellon University placed second for ''Legenda Emas at Jakarta, Indonesia,'' and in 2012 its team placed second for ''Create the Night Finale.''
For the Antipode project, this year's team worked in near-perfect unison. Brant said the team simply worked well together.
''The design process was both collaborative and iterative and we were constantly bouncing ideas off each other,'' Brant said. ''Once we came to our final design, we each worked on creating the visuals for our presentation based on our strengths, and most images were worked on by multiple group members. Images ranged from architectural renderings, vector drawings, character illustrations, concept art, and technical drawings. We were all very integrated into every aspect of the project, which made for a cohesive final presentation. The judges even commented on our integrated group dynamic.''
Working as a team was one of the things Brant said she gained from the whole experience.
''I learned the importance of collaborating as a team and utilizing each member's unique skill set to create a compelling project,'' she said. ''It is especially interesting working with people from diverse backgrounds because everyone brings ideas to the table with different perspectives and this can really enhance the outcome.''
She also mentioned that getting a behind-the-scenes perspective of Disney's creative process was interesting and helped inspire her to pursue her creative passions. She wants to follow the path of designing experiences both in the digital and in the physical world.
Just being a part of the competition brought much more than just winning. There is the possibility of ending up as a Disney Imagineering intern.
''Every year, several individuals from the top six teams (finalists) and semifinalists get offered internships,'' said Soledad Boyle, Intern Program Manager for Walt Disney Imagineering. ''From those, some have become Imagineers.''
She said the Imagineers presently have around 50 employees that have come through the Imaginations program.
As for Brant and her team, a question was posed as to what the magical whispering trees would do to the cell phone industry.
''Since the trees only communicate between opposite ends of the world and the magic only works between children, I don't think the cell phone companies have much to worry about,'' Brant said.