Anyone can experience a Disney ride. But this summer, a college student from the Ahwatukee Foothills is getting the opportunity to work with the Imagineers who design them.
Jeff Leinenveber is one of 20 college students from around the country currently in Glendale, Calif. for Disney Imagineering’s 19th ImagiNations design competition. Six teams designed potential attractions for Disney and are spending two weeks working with Imagineers on their designs, which they will present to 30 senior Imagineers.Finalists can interview for internship opportunities.
Leinenveber first thought about becoming an Imagineer in high school observing other guests during a trip to Disneyland.
“I had seen someone come off Space Mountain and they were smiling and beaming, and it was an epiphany moment, that there are people whose jobs are to create that happiness,” Leinenveber said.
The only problem was that Leinenveber wasn’t quite sure about a career path. He graduated from the Ahwatukee Foothills’ Mountain Pointe High School in 2007 and went to the University of Arizona, where he just finished his junior year studying visual communication with a graphic design emphasis.
Eventually, Leinenveber heard about the Disney ImagiNations Competition. Teams of two to four students develop ideas for Disney attractions and submit those to Disney Imagineering. The finalists spend two weeks in California learning about what it means to be an Imagineer and tweaking their ideas, which will then be judged by a team of senior Imagineers.
The winner gets bragging rights, but the teams that are finalists have already received the real award: getting a chance to work and network with Imagineers, said ImaginNations spokesman Frank Reifsnyder.
Imagineering is an interesting field not only because of the Disney history, but also because there are so many disciplines that can be pursued, Reifsnyder said. It’s not just engineers or architects, but a huge group with 140 different disciplines in Imagineering studios.
“We all have a common theme. We’re all story tellers at heart,” Reifsnyder said.
Leinenveber entered the contest with fellow graphic design student Bianca Kuo, architecture student Patrick Bradley and illustration student Lane Garrison. They started developing their attraction in August.
“It all started with the story. We knew Disney is very big on story first,” Leinenveber said. “It all just fell into place once we had this really solid backbone.”
Their story is about the Voyagers’ Cup, a competition set up by an adventurer’s society once every 20 years to uncover legendary objects. This ride tells the story of the 1940s-era race to find Pandora’s Box, which is hidden somewhere in Pandora’s Peak.
Guests pick one of three explorers to assist on their journey. They accompany the explorers on a “choose your own adventure” ride, solving puzzles and making choices in different rooms that impact the path they take through the ride.
While most of the other five finalist teams designed attractions based on well-known Disney movies, including Wall-E, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, Leinenveber’s team wanted to create its own story.
“A lot of what Disney has created and has become Disney history were original stories: The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean,” he said. While there is one Tokyo Disney attraction loosely based on explorers and writers Jules Verne and George Orwell were an influence, the Voyager’s Cup story is their own, Leinenveber said.
The students were scheduled to find out who won the competition Wednesday morning. But Leinenveber said he already won his prize – not only is he a finalist in the competition, he’ll be staying for a summer internship in graphic design. And he has been gratified to discover a huge group of people who love Imagineering as much as he does.
“You are touching so many people’s lives every day with your design and your thought process,” Leinenveber said. “When guests step in (attractions), it is 100 percent authentic and completely immerses them and they can get completely lost in the world.”