Disney Dreams

March 2020 View more

The Disney brand is widely known for telling engaging and compelling stories, but the engineering behind the immersive environments—theme parks, resorts, attractions, and cruise ships—is a bit more obscure.

Walt Disney Imagineering is the creative division responsible for designing these immersive environments, and its ongoing talent search includes an annual design competition. College students are encouraged to create iconic installations, on their campus or city, that serve as inspirations that honor the past while providing a vision of the future. And for one local resident, the competition fused his childhood dreams with the promise of a bright future with the company.

“As a kid, I always wanted to work for Imagineering,” says John Manos, a 2016 Naperville Central High School graduate. “I first heard about the Imaginations Design Competition in middle school, and wanted to compete all through school.” The competition is also popular at Georgia’s Savannah College of Art and Design, he says, where John is a senior majoring in production design with a minor in architecture. When the prompt came out, he put together a team that consisted of production design, architecture, user experience design, and illustration. “It was great to work with new groups and it made our final project have more depth because we each contributed something different.”

Along with Manos, teammates Nayelin Delgadillo, Chris Feliciano, and Oki Honda placed third for their project Urban Jewel, which restores and modernizes a lost public square in Savannah, Georgia. “Savannah is known for the public squares, which make it the first planned city in America,” says Manos, “but three of these squares were removed to build a highway. Our design restores one … as a new modern interactive space. Every guest who enters the square can touch an interactive wall, which responds to their touch by glowing. Each person who enters the square can add their light, and the Home Fire burns brighter. We wanted this space to create social unity between the different groups of people in Savannah, like tourists, students, and locals.”

Manos’s team, along with 16 other students from five other teams of finalists, received an all-expenses-paid trip in January to Walt Disney Imagineering in California. In addition to presenting their projects, the students met with Imagineers, interviewed for internships, and had behind-the-scenes tours.

Although Manos has lived in Naperville for most of his life, he’ll be moving to Orlando in May to begin a project coordination internship with Walt Disney Imagineering. “This has been a dream of mine for my entire life,” says Manos. “I’m so thankful for the opportunity to compete in the Imaginations Design Competition, which helped make it reality.”

Photo Courtesy Walt Disney Imagineering