Local Breckenridge resident Derek Woods and his team from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) worked a little Disney magic last week in California.
The winners of the annual Walt Disney Imagineering Imaginations design competition were announced Friday, Jan. 31, with Woods and his team taking third for their idea “Ilhavela,” an Illumination Extravaganza in Rio de Janeiro that leads visitors and locals on a chase through the city, bringing people together from disparate regions.
Six finalist teams presented ideas that would transform existing infrastructure in a large, urban area into an innovative and, of course, magical experience for residents and tourists. At the Imagineering’s offices in Glendale, Calif., the students completed their prototypes for future theme park attractions and made presentations of their projects, as actual Imagineers would, for review by Imagineering executives.
Woods, currently attending UCLA, is part of a team of four graduate architecture students from his school who competed in the 23rd Imaginations competition from Jan. 27 to 31.
“In a word, it’s been amazing,” he said. “Disney has really allowed us to take the rein over here. We’ve toured the campus and got to see things people don’t usually see. It’s where the magic happens.”
Woods loves exploring the natural landscape around Colorado through mountain biking, dirt biking, snowmobiling, skiing as well as scuba diving. Along with team members Krysten Burton, Dema Hajmurad and Jacob Bloom, Woods got the chance to meet and network with Imagineers, go behind the scenes and interview for paid summer internships during their visit.
The “Ilhavela” project focused on 15 underused courtyards in Rio, which would be transformed to hold interactive projections. The intent, Woods said, is to create both permanent and temporary transformations to the city which work with Rio’s culture and history.
People would start by following butterflies projected throughout Rio, which would lead them to the courtyards. One courtyard, for example, would have an aquatic theme, where projections fish and dolphins would surround participants. The installation would be interactive, allowing visitors to cause ripple effects in the water, or make fish swim.
“The feedback from every team has been positive all around,” Woods said, after the first of two group presentations on the project last week. “I was extremely nervous for our first group presentation, but everyone seems happy to hear the ideas.”
Woods has been going to the Disney parks for years, and said he brought a book about architecture for some of the Imagineers to autograph.
“There’s no one here competing who doesn’t want to work for Disney,” he said.
The UCLA group was the only group composed entire of the same major. Woods said other teams had graphic designers, mechanical engineers and even stage lighting designers. He said one of the coolest things was to see how all of the different creative professions could come to work together — finding similarities in architecture and costume design, for instance.
“We’ve been learning all week that the smallest detail has to be coherent with the larger picture,” Woods said. “Every ride has a theme, every park has a theme, it all fits into the Disney theme on top,” he said. “Those layers work to express one style, a cobblestone or a door handle, it’s immersive.”
The projects and concepts presented are not necessarily meant to be built by Disney — there is a cash prize for first, second and third place — but rather a way for the teams to demonstrate their skills and creativity and make connections at the company.
Woods said he will be back in Breckenridge during Spring Break this year, bringing along 10 California schoolmates who have never seen snow.
“Whenever we’ve been introducing ourselves, I’m very proud to say I come from this small mountain town,” he said.