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CCA grad is a finalist in Disney design competition

A Canyon Crest Academy grad is setting out to be Disney's next Imagineer.

Kyle Branch, 22, of Carmel Valley, and his team have made it to the top six in Disney's 2019 Imaginations Design Competition.

The 28-year-old competition seeks to find the next generation of Imagineers, or Disney designers.

Teams were challenged to create an experience that features a natural or ancient wonder of the world.

Branch, a 2014 CCA grad and current senior at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and his teammates (Triet Nguyen from the University of Southern California, Brooke Pandos from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and Jessica Woody from the University of Florida) decided to base their project, titled “Port Pharos,” around the Egyptian Lighthouse of Alexandria.

The six teams will compete at Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale from Feb. 4 to 8. The top three winners will win cash prizes, and each contestant can interview to become an Imagineer intern.

Branch recently spoke about his excitement for the competition and why he wants to be an Imagineer.

Kyle Branch
Kyle Branch Courtesy

Q: What attracted you to compete in this competition?

A: I've known about the Imaginations competition for quite a while. Growing up in Carmel Valley, I went to Disneyland quite frequently because it was only just over an hour away. I really fell in love with Disneyland and the Disney Parks. From a young age, I've known that I wanted to become a theme park designer. That's always been my dream. I think I was around a freshman in high school when I found out about the Imaginations competition. I knew that as soon as I was eligible, I would enter the competition and compete. I've actually entered four separate times. This was my fourth time entering, and it's really exciting that we finally made it to the finals.

Q: What was it about your attempt this time that led you to the finals?

A: I definitely think it was the team that I'm on. I formed a team with other people that I met at an internship with Universal Creative in Orlando last year, and we all had a shared passion for themed entertainment and theme parks. In past years when I've competed, I had been on teams with other people who were interested but I wouldn't say they had the same level of passion that my current teammates have. I think just the different skill sets that everyone on the current team has brought to the table really helped us be successful.

Q: What was each member's role on your team?

A: Two people on my team are interior designers, so they've contributed a lot of conceptual renderings for the project. I have a graphic design background, so I've brought a lot of the branding side of the project to the table, like the logo, poster and the presentation itself. The fourth teammate has a media arts background. He actually is really passionate about concept architecture, which is basically architecture design but the very early stages, so really just coming up with ideas for what different buildings and structures could look like.

Q: When did you all start working on this?

A: I believe the project statement for the competition came out in late July. We formed our team within the next few weeks after that, and we worked from around mid-August through November. The deadline for the initial submission was the week of Thanksgiving. Initially, when we started working we were all in the same location, finishing our internship in Orlando. After that, we had to start working remotely, and that did prove somewhat challenging since we're from three different states. We have two people from California, one person from Georgia and one from Florida. I think what's helped us be successful is that we have stuck to a schedule where we meet every single week over a video conference call and we've checked in on each other's progress and made sure that the project is progressing the way we want it to.

Q: What can you share with us about Port Pharos? Why did you decide to feature the Lighthouse of Alexandria?

A: We were really drawn to the Lighthouse of Alexandria because even though it hasn't existed for many years — it's fallen into ruins — the Lighthouse of Alexandria has continued to have a really strong cultural impact on the people of Alexandria and the people of Egypt as a whole. We knew there was something special there. We were also really drawn to Egyptian mythology and, specifically, the mythology of Ra, the sun god. We kind of made that parallel between the light of the lighthouse and the light of the sun from Ra. That was kind of the foundation for our project.

Q: What challenges did you face along the way, aside from members being in different states?

A: One of the biggest obstacles was just at the very beginning when we were picking a location. The project challenge gave us quite a few different options, from selecting from all the different ancient wonders of the world and modern wonders of the world. They're all really amazing places with really cool histories. Early on, we thought of really cool ideas with multiple places. I think, probably, the most difficult part was really coming up with a strong enough concept to feel confident that we could carry the project forward all the way with just one location.

Q: How does it feel to be in the top 6 for this competition, especially after trying for four years?

A: It feels amazing. It's so rewarding, and I'm just so grateful that we've been given this opportunity to travel to Glendale to showcase our work, meet Imagineers and learn from them. It sounds cheesy, but this really is a dream come true.

Q: What do you hope to do after you graduate from college?

A: I really hope to find a job in the themed entertainment industry, working for a company that plays some sort of role in designing the theme parks that you can find around the world. I've been involved in an organization called The Themed Entertainment Association, and through that I've really learned how expansive the themed entertainment industry is. I've learned there are many, many companies out there. I feel like I'd be really happy if I was able to start my career working at a company that really directly focuses on themed entertainment.

Q: Did your education at Canyon Crest Academy help prepare you for this kind of job?

A: I think that school was really helpful in helping me discover some of my passions. It really does have some very strong art programs. I was involved in quite a few art classes while I was there, and that really made me realize that, as I progressed into college, I wanted to pursue an artistic, creative field.

I really want to encourage younger people to explore themed entertainment as a possible career option. Many people love Disneyland, especially people from SoCal, so I'm sure most of the people in Carmel Valley have been to Disneyland. Maybe the next time they go, they can think about all of the design work that goes into creating the magic that is the Disney Parks.

For more information about the competition, visit www.disneyimaginations.com.


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