Carnegie Mellon Team Brings Home Top Honors In Walt Disney Imagineering Competition

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An image from the contest entry. (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Imagineering.)

PITTSBURGH—Two future architects, a budding computer scientist and a communication designer are members of an interdisciplinary Carnegie Mellon University student team that brought home first place in the Walt Disney Imagineering “Imaginations” competition last week in Glendale, Calif.

Started in 1992, Imaginations challenges teams of students from universities across the U.S. to showcase their skills and talents by designing a Disney-related project. It also serves as a platform for Walt Disney Imagineering to scout the next generation of creative and innovative thinkers for possible internships with the company.

The CMU team included Matthew Ho and Christina Brant, both fifth-year seniors in architecture, John Brieger, a senior in computer science, and Angeline Chen, a junior majoring in communication design.

Team members (l-r) Christina Brant, Angeline Chen, John Brieger and Matthew Ho, (c) Disney Photographer Gary Krueger. (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Imagineering.)

In this year’s competition, teams were tasked with selecting a large, densely populated urban environment and designing an experience that temporarily or permanently transformed the city for the enjoyment of its residents and visitors. The CMU team developed a cross-cultural experience a person couldn’t encounter in his or her lifetime, by creating an experience that involved antipodes — two locations literally across the world from each other. In this case, Bangkok and Lima, Peru.

Their project, aptly titled “Antipode,” took the form of a two-week cultural-exchange festival that unfolds simultaneously in each country. The team created a backstory, in which two children long ago stumbled upon magical “whispering tress” — one each in Bangkok and in Lima.

“The trees allowed them to talk to each other from opposite ends of the globe,” Ho said. “They grew up together, sharing their lives with each other through the magic of the trees. Eventually, the trees filled up with their memories and stopped working.

“The Antipode Festival celebrates The Great Stumps — remnants of the magical trees that are converted into stages at a public park in each city,” Ho continued. “These serve as the central points for the festival, hosting cultural performances and the opening and closing ceremonies. In the Closing Ceremony, the Great Stump sinks into itself to become a live portal between Lima and Bangkok, where guests can see, hear and communicate with their counterparts from the other side of the world.” 

The students submitted a presentation to Disney Imagineering in November that contained original images and photomontages of their proposed experience. The team was named one of the six finalists in December, and earned an all-expense-paid trip to Walt Disney Imagineering the last week in January to present their work to a panel of Imagineering judges. They also went behind the scenes to see what makes Walt Disney Imagineering — and Disneyland — tick.

“We’ve been socializing with Imagineers, learning what they do and seeing projects. It’s been awesome,” said Brant, who has a second major in human-computer interaction. “It’s been interesting to see the collaborative process and how things work.”

At the end of the week, the CMU team took first place based on criteria Disney Imagineers use to critique their own work: the team’s ability to collaborate across different disciplines and backgrounds; mastery of their individual skills; whether the project provided an engaging guest experience; understanding of the local and tourist market in the chosen location; the ability to tell a compelling and engaging story; and knowledge and passion for the Disney brand and Walt Disney Imagineering. This is the third consecutive year that a CMU team has finished in the competition’s top three.

In addition to earning a cash prize for their work, the CMU team members gained practical knowledge of design and multidisciplinary collaboration during their process.

“I learned how to work with people who have different backgrounds and skill sets, and how those can be melded into an overall proposal or product,” Brant said. “When people have diverse backgrounds and experiences, you have different opinions and ways of viewing things. And I think that really challenges and pushes the project further.”

For more on the Imaginations competition, visit

Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 |