College student shows creativity to Disney

In two weeks, some of the best in the design business will pick the brain of Concord's Adam Newton.

He and his N.C. State University team are among 24 college students across the nation who will make presentations in Walt Disney Imagineering's 20th annual ImagiNations design competition June 13-17 in Glendale, Calif.

Newton and his fellow students - Jay Brown, Michael Delaney and Patrick Carroll - were asked to unleash their creative, technical, artistic and business savvy.

They could have designed something around a current ride, attraction, hotel or a land within an existing park or resort. But Newton and his team decided on something original: an interactive concert-turned-dark-ride based on Disney's 1940 animated film "Fantasia."

Several months of work will be evaluated by a panel of Imagineering executives, who use the annual event as a way to lure potential talent. The organization has turned storytelling into a three-dimensional experience and creates all the company's attractions, cruise ships, parks and resorts around the globe.

Six four-person teams will compete for a top prize of $3,000 and a $1,000 grant. Individuals will interview for a paid internship while being immersed in the creative process of Disney.

Newton, a senior at N.C. State, studies industrial and systems engineering and creative writing. He was born in Anchorage, Alaska, while his father was in the military, but has lived in Concord since he was 5. The Mount Pleasant High School graduate is the son of Chris and Sherri Newton, originally from Morganton.

Newton credits some of his ingenuity and drive to his Mount Pleasant Middle School theater teacher, Marnie Stoker, also his coach for Odyssey of the Mind, a national creative problem-solving competition.

"She thoroughly prepared me for this level of creativity, teamwork and innovation," said Newton, who answered five questions for Cabarrus News via email as he and his team prepared to compete.

The team's presentation to Walt Disney Imagineering executives is June 15.

Q. What is your project, and how will you present your idea to the judges?

"We created an attraction based around the 'Fantasia' movies," said Newton. "We wanted to give guests the experience of not only being immersed in this unique, musical world but also the ability to control it.

"Guests will find themselves caught in a world where music is power - the world of Fantasia. They must use that power to navigate this magical land, defeat the evil forces and escape back to our world. It's an experience unlike (any) other theme park attraction, so we're thrilled to integrate and show off this innovation. "

Q. How much work did you and your teammates put into this project, and how long have you been striving to be a part of this competition?

"Back in the days when Roller Coaster Tycoon was state-of-the art gaming (I was probably in elementary school), I realized the theme park world was where I wanted to work," said Newton. "As with many kids, 'when-I-grow-up' ideas constantly change, but I kept coming back to trying to figure out how to make it a reality.

"I found a large Walt Disney Imagineering book at a local bookstore, and a year later had my parents convinced we needed to visit Walt Disney World. From then on, I was hooked.

"In middle school, I stumbled across the competition and set it as my objective.... During my freshman year at N.C. State, I met Patrick Carroll, who also wanted to submit a project to the ImagiNations competition. In January 2010, after two years of toying around with ideas, we found two other designers and spent the next 10 months developing a story and the idea."

Q. Representatives from the competition say being part of the top six is a huge victory in itself, so how important is it for you and your team to actually take first, and what are your chances?

"Simply being selected as one of six finalist teams is a major achievement but when we started this project, we agreed we were in it to win it," said Newton. "It was an 'aha' moment, once we settled on our story and realized this was the ticket to first place.

"One bit of advice we were given ... was to create an attraction, where you can do or experience something you can't experience in your living room. We considered all that could encompass and created something that would be familiar for guests to operate, but on a level only a Disney attraction could offer."

Q. How does it feel to know that your ideas could be featured at Disney theme parks and attractions anywhere around the globe?

"To consider that our idea might even be a spark of inspiration to the Imagineers is still surreal to grasp," said Newton. "We dreamed big in our attraction, pulled out all the grandiose effects we could dream up, but still there's always room for improvement. To see this idea come to life would truly be amazing, yet the opportunity to collaborate with Imagineers on an attraction inspired by one of the many elements of our attraction would be equally amazing."

Q. What advice would you give students for future competitions?

"First, look up all the standard Disney motivational quotes," said Newton. "They really do help when you're in a staring match with a blank piece of paper just daring you to make the first move toward creativity. Something as simple as 'Dreams really do come true' at the top is enough to start the creative juices flowing.

"Impossible ideas are usually the next big ideas in disguise."