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Designing for Disney

Story by
Nancy Joseph
David Borning

David Borning's team earned first place in the 2016 Walt Disney Imagineering Imaginations Design Competition. Media credit: Isaiah Brookshire

Like most children, David Borning loved Disneyland. Unlike most children, he tried to recreate the experience after returning home. As a preschooler, Borning built models of Neverland after being inspired by the Peter Pan ride. Later he mocked up original rides in his bedroom using motorized Legos, then guided friends through the “ride” in wheeled office chairs. 

Now Borning, a UW drama design major with a minor in digital arts and experimental media (DXARTS), has taken his passion to a new level as winner of the 2016 Walt Disney Imagineering Imaginations Design Competition. The contest, sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering — the creative force behind Walt Disney Parks and Resorts — seeks out and nurtures the next generation of creative designers who can “turn fantasy into reality and dreams into magic” by combining engineering and imagination.

Borning was part of a four-person team that included an undergraduate and two recent alumni from Ohio State University. (He’d met one of the alumni at a Themed Entertainment Association conference.) All four team members live in different cities, so they developed their project through videochats. They and other participating teams were asked to design a traveling Disney Park experience that could tour small towns across the U.S.

 Plan for Mickey's Magic Garden

The team's plan for a Disney Park experience that could tour small towns across America.

The task was tailor-made for Borning, who was unsatisfied with the fairs that had passed through town when he was a kid. “I loved Disneyland, and I remember thinking that it would be amazing if the magic of Disneyland could be brought to other towns instead of always having to travel to it,” he says.

Borning’s team proposed Mickey’s Magic Garden, a traveling park with multiple themed lands, custom-designed rides, walk-through attractions, character greeting experiences, and a wide array of themed dining opportunities. The proposal earned Borning and his teammates a place in the finals and an all-expense-paid trip to Imagineering’s main campus in California. Over five days, six finalist teams presented their projects, networked with Imagineers, interviewed for internships, and toured behind the scenes where Disney magic is created. “Going to the finals was amazing,” says Borning. “We got to see things most people don’t get to see.”

I always knew this was what I wanted to do, but I thought there were so few jobs that it was impractical to pursue. Now I feel like I’m getting where I need to be.

Of course being awarded first place wasn’t bad either. Borning isn’t sure what led to his team’s win, but he suspects that effectively collaborating from different cities was a factor, as was the story the team developed for their design. Borning also created animatronics for the final presentation that provided a “wow” factor, including a talking willow tree and a dragon that lit up as part of the finale. “Some of the skills to build that I definitely learned in my DXARTS classes at the UW,” says Borning.

David Borning, standing at right, with his teammates.

“Going to the finals was amazing. We got to see things most people don’t get to see,” says David Borning (standing at right), with his teammates.

Borning has since been chosen for a professional internship with Walt Disney Imagineering, which will begin this summer. Winning both the contest and internship has strengthened his resolve to pursue his lifelong interest in interactive themed experiences.

“Having a passion for something doesn’t always mean that you’re going to be any good at it, so getting this kind of recognition has meant a lot,” says Borning. “I always knew this was what I wanted to do, but I thought there were so few jobs that it was impractical to pursue. Now I feel like I’m getting where I need to be.”