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Creating Magic

Four students have been living in a kind of fantasy world for the past year.

“Students by day, hopeful imagineers by night,” says Patrick Carroll.

But dreams turned to reality when Carroll and his colleagues traveled to Southern California two weeks ago as finalists in the Disney ImagiNations competition. The team’s project, a Disney attraction called “Fantasia: The Lost Symphony,” scored second place in the prestigious competition.

Teamwork Pays Off

The team created sophisticated concept art for the project. In top photo, from left, Adam Newton, Patrick Carroll, Jay Brown and Michael Delaney.

Team members, who say they haven’t gotten a lot of sleep since they started the project last spring, brought diverse skills to the demanding endeavor. Carroll is a senior in electrical and computer engineering, Adam Newton is majoring in industrial and systems engineering with a minor in creative writing and Jay Brown and Michael Delaney just graduated with undergraduate degrees in art and design.

That’s par for the course at Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative division that sponsors the annual competition for college students. Its workforce—called imagineers—is made up of creative professionals in 140 disciplines, from artists and writers to architects and engineers. Together, they create all Disney theme parks, resorts, attractions, cruise ships, real estate developments and regional entertainment venues worldwide.

In addition to pitching their concept to a panel of imagineers, the students got to spend a week at Imagineering’s headquarters, meeting some of Disney’s brightest minds and taking a peek at the technology behind Disney magic.

“It was a jam-packed week,” says Brown. “It was incredible.”

Newton says he enjoyed going behind the scenes at the Disney attraction, Soarin’ Over California.

“Going back stage allowed us to really appreciate the magic on the screen,” he says. “It’s this gigantic contraption that I heard was inspired by a child’s erector set.”

Wind Beneath Their Wings

E Page was the lead show programmer for Disney's popular Soarin’ attraction, shown here in this 2001 Disney photo by Gary Kruger.

That brought a smile to the face of Elena Page, known to her friends as E. As an undergraduate in engineering at NC State in 1995, Page took first place in the ImagiNations competition and went on to work at Imagineering for nearly a decade. Her work on Soarin’ Over California earned her the theme park equivalent of an Oscar.

Back in North Carolina with a Master of Fine Arts in media design and a job as an animator and senior designer at SMT in Durham, Page was happy to volunteer as a mentor for the team. It’s a difficult contest, she says, and a challenging field.

“It’s getting harder and harder to deliver an experience that is truly unique,” she says.

Disney Inspiration

The students’ project was inspired by Fantasia, Disney’s 1940 film that featured classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski as the score for a series of animated scenes. They proposed creating a theme park attraction that would allow guests to conduct a new musical score and control various magical effects using their hands.

A still from an animation created by the students to help them pitch the project to Disney imagineers.

For the contest, they developed an exhaustive array of materials, including concept art, a storyboard, posters, a PowerPoint presentation, a scale model and an animation. To top it off, they even developed their own software program, called Camera Manager, and a working prototype of a device, a sorcerer’s hand, that could be sold in Disney gift shops to promote the ride.

With the competition behind them, the students have a new sense of excitement about the future, even in a tough economy.

“I’ve  gotten this taste of creative innovation,” says Newton. “Now  I want to have a job like that, a job that makes people ask, ‘You get paid to do that?’”