Have a Thrilling Fourth of July

From l, Imagineering mentor Manuel F. Arredondo, and USC’s team of finalists in the ImagiNations Design Competition, Molly Martens, Jannae Fong and Joe Rothenberg.

Have you ever thought of creating your own thrill ride? Well, over at the Imagineering headquarters in Glendale, the winners of the annual Walt Disney Imagineering ImagiNations Design Competition were announced for doing just that. The competition is a program designed by the Imagineers to encourage university students to consider careers in creative and technical fields, including digital arts, engineering and architecture. Essentially, they nurture the spark in young talent to come up with the next great thrill rides.

First place and “Best in Show” was awarded to students from USC, Jannae Fong, Molly Martens and Joe Rothenberg. Their project “Adventure is UP there!” is a roller-coaster-style balloon ride through the jungles of South America, inspired by the Disney/Pixar film Up. The students said their idea was to take guests on a journey as they try to earn their final Wilderness Explorer badge.

Twenty college students from six universities were finalists in the 20th competition. ImagiNations is an annual program sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative arm of all Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide. It allows participants to gain practical knowledge in design from leaders in immersive storytelling and themed entertainment.

The teams work for several months to demonstrate their skills by creating a concept and presentation for within an existing Disney theme park or resort. The ideas are evaluated by Imagineers, and cash prizes are awarded to the top three teams. They are also interviewed for paid internships at the company, and have the opportunity for mentoring and networking with the Imagineers, who advise them to “begin with a great story before developing anything else.”

We’re told a position at Walt Disney Imagineering is often found on surveys of “dream occupations,” and the company uses ImagiNations as a way to reach out to the widest possible talent pool. From these people come the next big “Wow” in thrill rides.

There’s another thrilling competition from Disney. More than 30 Disney Channel and Disney XD stars competed in the Disney Friends for Change Games, which debuted over the weekend, and will be seen as interstitials during Disney programming for five weeks. It will culminate with a special half-hour show Sunday, July 31.

“The goal is to promote conservation and the power of coming together with friends and family to make a difference in the community, and the world,” reported China Anne McClain from the new Disney Channel series A.N.T. Farm. The pre-teen dynamo China is among the young stars who make up the four teams competing in fun physical challenges to benefit specific charities and Friends for Change community projects.

And another competition was going on at the El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana for the SAG Foundation’s Second Annual Golf Classic. The host of the “Actors Fore Actors” tournament was Joe Mantegna, the Criminal Minds star from Toluca Lake. There were dozens of celebrity golfers, including Andy Garcia, Ray Romano and Scott Bakula. The stars tee’d up to raise funds for SAG’s Catastrophic Health Fund, and Tom Welling’s team won.

Now here’s a nod to another winner: Kudos to Brad Ellis, who folks might recognize as the pianist who always backs up the kids on Fox TV’s Glee. Ellis, a heart transplant recipient, received the 2011 “Person of the Year” award at the third annual Donate Life: Hollywood Inspires Awards. Jack Black, Ryan Merriman, Grizz Chapman and Ann Lopez were also nominees for the honor. Ann, who lives in Toluca Lake, is a living kidney donor to comedian George Lopez, and she is a supporter of the national Donate Life campaign. TV and films that inspire organ donation storylines were also acknowledged and praised.

Just for fun, the acclaimed Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles will present the “Totally! Our 80s Show,” on July 9 and 10 at the Avalon Theatre in Hollywood. The concert is an all-1980s pop music program, the era of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Also, do not forget about the thrilling tradition of A Capitol Fourth concert special on PBS this Independence Day. Jimmy Smits will be host of an all-star line-up with lots of surprises as well as performances by Steve Martin, presenting his original song about the midnight ride of Paul Revere, plus Josh Groban, Little Richard, and Glee’s Matthew Morrison. Mark Ballas and Chelsea Hightower from Dancing with the Stars will perform as Jordin Sparks sings songs from Beauty and the Beast to mark the Disney film’s 20th anniversary. Of course the grand finale will be an awesome fireworks display for a great Fourth of July.