Since his freshman year of high school, Kyle Branch has thought about the Walt Disney Imaginations Competition. It would take nearly a decade and four tries for Branch to get the news: from a pool of 260 original teams, his was one of six to make it to finals.

“We worked really hard, but we never expected to make it all the way to finals,” Branch said.

Branch is a Cal Poly art and design senior with a concentration in graphic design. His passion for both theme parks and design makes Disney Imaginations a perfect competition for Branch.

“I’ve been passionate about theme parks forever,” Branch said. “I grew up going to Disney quite frequently.”

Disney Imaginations challenges teams of college students to design a conceptual guest experience based on a theme. This year’s theme was natural or ancient wonders of the world. Sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering, the competition seeks to discover the next generation of imagineers — the creative force behind Disney Parks & Resorts.

The six final teams will present their projects to Imagineering Executives on an all-expenses-paid visit to Walt Disney Imagineering in Southern California Feb. 4 through 8. Team members will network with imagineers, interview for paid internships and compete for awards. A cash prize will be granted to the top three teams.  

Branch, who hopes to intern with Disney, said the idea of exhibiting his project to the imagineers is “surreal.”

After three other attempts to make it to this stage of this competition, Branch said he credits the hard work and passion of his team for this year’s success.

Branch and the three students he worked with met at a theme park design internship during summer of 2018. The team includes Triet Nguyen of the University of Southern California, Brooke Pandos of Savannah College of Art and Design and Jessica Woody of the University of Florida.

Despite being scattered throughout the country, the team met via video chat every week beginning August 2018. Branch recalled several times where a team member would have to chat while driving in order to cram in the weekly meeting.

The team’s design is called Port Pharos. It imagines a rebuilt Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Walt Disney Imagineering said Branch’s project aims to “honor the history, architecture, and ecosystem around the Lighthouse of Alexandria.” It is imagined as a resort of ancient ships sailing around the water surrounding the lighthouse. The re-imagined lighthouse exhibits images of the ancient Egyptian sun god Ra, drawing parallels between the light of the sun and the light of a lighthouse.

Branch said he and his team are both excited and nervous about presenting their hard work in February.

“It’ll be a mix of nerve racking and a dream come true,” Branch said. 

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