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September 9, 2014

Imagineering Your Own Theme Park

Walt Disney Imagineers teach course on theme park design

Imagination and engineering are making their debut at the School of Cinematic Arts in the survey course “The Imagineering Way: Themed Entertainment Design.” The class invites all majors across USC to explore the techniques, artistry and career paths at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI).

With instructors Joe Garlington, a former Vice President at Walt Disney Imagineering and Luc Mayrand, a senior show producer at Walt Disney Imagineering, the course will offer a wealth of knowledge to students interested in fusing technical design knowledge with creative vision.

Getting the course on the schedule was a passion of USC Games Director and Chair of the Interactive Media & Games Division, Tracy Fullerton, who worked on interactive projects at Disney World. “This is a great example of a class that’s artistically and technically interesting from a business perspective — and something you can only do in Southern California.”

Students will get an in-depth look at the inner workings of creating themed entertainment from the fundamentals of design to story-centric place-making, culminating in an insider tour of Disneyland guided by a Disney imagineer. The real creative, structural and operational challenges of theme park design will be further explored in a lab component of the class that allows students to conceptualize their own theme park or attractions.

Guest lecturers like Joe Rohde, the Senior Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering and creator of Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, will speak to the students about their experiences as theme park designers.

As entertainment moves toward more immersive experiences with the rising popularity of interactive games and virtual experiences, Garlington says that understanding theme parks, a classic form of interactive entertainment, is more relevant than ever. “Theme park people have a deep understanding of how crowds behave and individuals behave in physical space.”

In the past, learning to build and design a theme park was a technical skill picked up through apprenticeships and learning by experience. However, Garlington says that teaching the topic in class will give students better insight into the intricacies of entertainment design. “Formal education provides a lattice work so you understand this side of the world you’re dealing with. The difference between informally trained and formally trained is that the informally trained don’t know what they don’t know.”