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Four HU Students Exceed at Walt Disney Imagineering

Jason Moore, Brittany
						  Henry and Edwin Jones in Hollywood, Calif. this summer enjoying some of
						  the perks of being in the FDL program

Justin Harris, Howard Mack, Nicole Knight and Nikkolas Smith compete in Disney competition.

Imagine a chance to work side-by-side to save the world with your favorite Disney character; together you and your animated sidekick can save "the House of Mouse." Four Hampton architecture graduate students realized this summer that with Disney, even this dream could come true.

Walt Disney Imagineering, creators of Disney theme parks and resorts, hosted its 16th Annual ImagiNations design competition on July 16-27, in Glendale, Calif. The competition searches for new talent across the country by offering students and professionals an opportunity to design rides, hotels, attractions and other designs for Disney theme parks and resorts.

"The competition is one of the best springboards for architecture students, it places students with state-of-the art everything. No other program or internship offers such a team environment for every professional level including interns," exclaimed Ronald Kloster, interim chair of the HU Department of Architecture, who recently returned from a trip to Walt Disney Imagineering.

Justin Harris, Howard Mack, Nicole Knight and Nikkolas Smith created World's Apart. The interactive attraction was derived from the animated Disney television show "House of Mouse." The attraction would allow players to interact with their favorite Disney characters and save the "House of Mouse" from known Disney villains.

Justin Harris, Howard Mack, Nicole Knight and Nikkolas Smith compete in Disney competition.

 The students learned about the competition from an elective that was offered in spring 2007. On March 31, they learned their project was a semi-finalist and later in July, their project was named a finalist.

"It was an international competition," stated Smith, a native of Houston, Texas, and the illustrator of the team. "There were two teams from Canada, one from the U.K, one from Brazil and the others from around the country." A total of 11 teams attended the competition in Glendale, Calif., home of Walt Disney Imagineering.

The competition called for teams to use creativity, technical, artistic and business skills. Teams also used engineering, architecture, computer graphics and other skills to enhance their projects.

"It's all about storytelling and we wanted to find a way to tell a story using technology that would connect the kid who always loved Mickey to his favorite character," explained Mack, who is from Suffolk, Va. "We came up with a holographic technology so that each player would have their own holographic character to follow them throughout. It's not a ride and not a movie, but the perfect in-between."

The HU team stood out among their competitors for many reasons. HU's team was the only team from an HBCU. Also, the HU team was organized of all architecture majors; other teams consisted of a more diverse group of skills. However, the team pulled together their strengths to become one of this year's most memorable teams at Walt Disney Imagineering competition.

"It was a two-week interview and we were dressed for the interview for the entire two weeks, we stood apart from other teams," stated Knight, a native of Raleigh, N.C. "Those who were in charge were very impressed."

The first ImagiNations competition in 1992 included a HU team as well. That year, HU's team placed first in the competition. Dexter Tanksley, a winner in that competition, is currently employed with Disney Imagineering as a senior project designer. Kloster has worked with Tanksley and this year's finalist as well. "We knew it here at Hampton, but Disney has confirmed it. This is a great group that works well together," stated Kloster.

"It's a real honor to be selected as finalists," stated Marilyn Waters a spokesperson for Disney Imagineering. "It can take years to get to the point these students did. They are definitely in the crème of the crop."

-Naima A. Gethers