Walt Disney Imagineering Archives

January 30, 2016

Walt Disney Imagineering celebrates finalists in annual theme-park design competition


UPDATE: The team with students from Ohio University and the University of Washington won first place for its Mickey’s Magic Garden project. Second place was awarded to the team from the University of Texas, and the North Carolina State University team earned third place.

Potential Walt Disney Imagineers gathered this week in California for the final step in a prestigious talent search that began in the fall. The annual Imaginations Design Competition, sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), celebrated its 25th anniversary by doing what it does best: turning the spotlight on the next generation of talented theme-park designers.

For this year’s competition, students from American universities and colleges were given the following challenge: “Design a traveling experience that will tour small towns across the United States so families who do not have the opportunity to travel to a Disney Park can have a Park experience. This temporary venue will operate in each community for two to three days, should take no more than a day to set up and break down, and embody the kind of family entertainment that Walt envisioned when he first built Disneyland.”


Six teams were chosen as finalists, including one from the University of Florida. The news release from WDI describes its “Extravagizmo! Mickey’s Inventor Showcase” entry this way, “Uniting the timeless magic of Disney with the excitement of progress showcased at classic world’s fairs, “Extravagizmo!” proposes an extraordinary destination inspired by the possibility of the future. Through interactive, hands-on experiences, guests would join Mickey Mouse – and a new character created exclusively for the project – in a one-of-a-kind showcase of magic and innovation.”

Other finalists are teams with students from California State University, Fullerton; Columbus College of Art and Design; North Carolina State University; Ohio State University; Ohio University; The University of Texas at Austin; University of Florida; and University of Washington. Their projects invite audiences to “embark on an adventure to enliven a black and white world; go to camp with the beloved DuckTales crew; interact with Disney environments from “Finding Nemo,” “The Lion King,” “Frozen,” and “Toy Story”; take a trip through Mickey’s Magic Garden; and learn what it means to be a Scarer at Monsters University.”

Each finalist team was awarded a five-day, all-expense-paid trip to Imagineering’s main campus in Glendale, Calif. In addition to presenting their projects, while there, the students have opportunities to see where and how Imagineers work; network with Imagineers; and interview for paid internships. The winning team receives $3,000 (plus $1,000 for the sponsoring universities); second place is awarded $1,000; and third gets $500.

What exactly is an Imagineer? According to WDI, “Imagineers create immersive entertainment experiences, primarily for our theme parks and resorts. Every day, Imagineers bring art and science together to turn fantasy into reality and dreams into magic.” More than 140 disciplines exist in the organization, including artists, architects, engineers, writers, machinists, landscape designers, model makers, sound technicians, carpenters, producers, accountants, filmmakers, schedulers, estimators and more.

Daniel Joseph
Dex Tanksley

Disney Legend and Imagineering executive Marty Sklar founded the Imaginations Design Competition in 1991. My 13-year-old son, who hopes to one day be an Imagineer, had the good fortune to hear Sklar’s presentation “The Road to Imagineering” at the D23 convention in August 2015. Sklar introduced panelists whose paths to Imagineering varied but ultimately have led them to success. Two were winners of the Imaginations Design Competition: Daniel Joseph and Dex Tanksley. You can read about their winning projects and subsequent careers with Walt Disney Imagineering in my previous blog post here.

The project challenge for the 2017 Imaginations Design Competition will be announced this summer at


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