If you’ve always thought Imagineers—the creative elite who design immersive entertainment experiences for Disney theme parks and resorts—needed engineering or movie industry backgrounds, think again. In 2013, the annual ImagiNations Design Competition, established in 1992, was swept by a team of four Art Center Illustration majors: upper-term students Jennifer Cho and Sunmin Inn, and recent graduates Angela Li ILLU 12 and Sophie McNally ILLU 12. All on the Entertainment Arts track and already good friends, they collaborated on the project that won First Place and Best in Show in this prestigious competition designed to promote diversity and inspire curiosity about cities around the world.
The challenge was to identify one city anywhere on the globe and dream up an entertaining, recreational experience for its citizens and visitors. Judges looked for submissions that incorporated a great story into the design. The Art Center team drew its inspiration from the majestic Agathis australis, or kauri, a tree endemic to New Zealand that can grow to 150 feet tall and more than 50 feet in girth. Once plentiful, this “conservation-dependent” species now grows mainly in remote stands that proved inaccessible to loggers during a timber-industry surge in the early 20th century. The experience the team envisioned put visitors at the top of a kauri, where they would enjoy views of Auckland as well as appreciate the unique place of these ancient trees in New Zealand’s history and culture.
The team named the resort Ukaipo, a Maori word that describes nourishing or nurturing.
“The location was the key in this competition,” explains Cho. “None of us had ever visited Auckland, but we all want to go there! When we picked New Zealand, everything fell into place. It’s culturally rich and extremely environmentally conscious, and I think those factors took our project from being a cool resort concept with a fun back story, to being something really meaningful.” Li imagines Auckland to be “a place that brings many different people together, not just from all over the world, but locally, too.”
The students describe their process as a soup-to-nuts collaboration. The hardest part, they agree, was not determining what to include but rather figuring out what was best left out of their scheme. “We all had to listen to each other’s opinions,” says Cho, remembering certain sacrifices or compromises along the way. “I really feel we applied the term ‘collaboration’ to the fullest.”
The biggest eye-opener during the competition? “How close you can become with your competitors,” says Cho. “That was really unexpected and special.” Indeed, some of the toughest competition came from within: Art Center Entertainment Design major Jane Liu joined a team of Carnegie Mellon students, and their entry, an interactive boat ride they titled Legenda Emas at Jakarta, Indonesia, won second place in the stringent judging.
All the ImagiNations finalists were awarded a week of presentations and networking behind the scenes at Walt Disney Imagineering, where they met talent from other schools as well as a
number of Art Center alumni who have became accomplished Imagineers.
The four women on the winning team went on to land summer internships at Walt Disney Imagineering, and Li says she now aspires to work in the entertainment field as a concept designer.
This story originally appeared in Art Center’s Fall 2013 Dot magazine. Read more online about Art Center news and alumni accomplishments.