Lucas Kaeding of Columbus, an electrical engineering major at the University of Minnesota, has been named a finalist in the Disney ImagiNations Design Competition.
He is on a four-man team from the University of Minnesota which is one of six selected by Walt Disney Engineering as a top entry in the 22nd annual event.
Kaeding attended Columbus Elementary, Century Junior High, and Forest Lake High School, graduating in 2009.
Did the public school system serve him well? “Absolutely,” Kaeding said. In elementary school, he spent three years in Odyssey of the Mind, a creative problem-solving competition. He credits Mrs. Miller for getting him involved and encouraging him.
“I especially liked Mr. Wing, my Spanish teacher in high school,” Kaeding said. “He fostered my creative spirit.”
The Spanish class also included a semester-long game of Survivor, with puzzles and quizzes, and students learned about other cultures. Recognizing that other people live differently was useful when he spent his spring 2012 college semester in Hong Kong, he said.
Another favorite high school class was Mr. Tungseth’s AP U.S. History. “He taught me how to think at a higher level,” Kaeding said, “and he’s fun to be around.”
In all, Kaeding said, he took seven AP classes, including history, English, chemistry, physics, and calculus.
Because the AP credits transferred to his university record, he felt comfortable taking a semester to study abroad. “If I didn’t pass anything in Hong Kong, I’d still be okay,” he said. He did pass his courses there, and got A’s in electromagnetism, communications, and computer networking.
It was during spring breaks as a child that Kaeding discovered his passion for Disney. “We went to Disney World almost every year since I could walk,” he said. “They develop a story and put you into it. In every Disney ride you feel like you’re a part of the story.”
These days the Disney rides are even more interactive, he continued. “You have control over the ride; you believe you actually are flying around in space.”
Most years the family went to Disney in Florida, but a couple trips were to Disney in California.
His parents would have moved on to other vacation destinations, Kaeding said, but for his enthusiasm. “Ever since ninth grade I’ve wanted to become a Disney Imagineer,” he said.
The ImagiNations competition is his chance: Disney uses the competition to find interns, and college students use it to try to get an internship.
“I’ve known about this since high school,” he said. Last year, when he was a junior, he recruited a team member to enter the competition, and together they reached the semifinals.
For the 2012 Disney competition, Lucas Kaeding and his teammate Allison Howard created a ride experience located on the Moon in the year 3012, based on the Disney Channel’s “Phineas and Ferb” cartoon. Riders travel through four seasons below a blue sky, thanks to 3-D projection technology.
This year, as a senior, he recruited three other University of Minnesota students to join his team: mechanical engineering student Isaiah Bergstrom, graduate-level artist James Cosper, and architecture student Arya Made.
And this year his parents don’t have to take him to Disney for spring break: The Minnesota team is one of six to make it to the finals. They will present their projects during an all-expenses-paid trip to California Jan. 28 to Feb. 1.
The six teams will meet with Imagineering executives, network with technical and creative staff, and interview for paid internships. The awards ceremony will be held Friday, Feb. 1.
The top team will receive a $3,000 prize plus a $1,000 grant to the sponsoring university or organization.
The assignment for this year’s competition was to pick a city anywhere in the world that does not have a Disney attraction, and design one.
Each member of the University of Minnesota team researched a city. They chose one that none of them had ever visited: Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
The other five teams in the finals are from Art Center College of Design, California State University–Long Beach, Carnegie Mellon University, Savannah College of Art & Design, and University of California–Berkeley. The cities chosen by those teams include London, Jakarta (Indonesia), and Auckland (New Zealand). One project would have people travel from Chicago to California, going back in time to the early 1900s. Another has guests interact with robots to create meals.
This year, Kaeding is hoping for a Disney internship. Six to eight students will be selected from the six teams, partly based on which area of expertise Disney is in need of. In addition to engineering and architecture students, the Disney competition is open to game designers, creative writers, and several other disciplines.
Before the two Disney competitions, Kaeding completed a similar project at the University of Minnesota. As a sophomore he organized a team to design and build a light show. It was featured in Spring Jam, a three-day music fest held on campus.
Guests entered a tent set up outdoors at the University of Minnesota Mall. Inside was a water fountain with music and a 10-minute light show, coordinated to give the illusion of being in a tropical jungle.
The music was Disney’s “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.” By using Ableton Live, a loop-based software music sequencer, the team was able to convert music, which they entered from a digital keyboard, to lights.
“Ableton Live allowed me to play a song in sync with the ‘notes,’” Kaeding explained, with the notes presenting as light colors. “It would send out a MIDI signal to my MIDI-to-anything decoder.”
The demo version of Live cost him about $100.
The signal to each lead activated an electrical switch that turned on lights. He chose fluorescent lights because of their bright colors and was able to buy all eight at Menard’s for $5 each.
Water was pumped to the top, then cycled down the tiers to collect at the bottom and start the ride back to the top.