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Former Sandy student competes for Disney design competition

Apr 06, 2018 11:25AM ● Published by Keyra Kristoffersen

Kaho Horiuchi, Yumi Yamazaki, Kentaro Yajima from Otis College of Art and Design. (Gary Krueger)

Kaho Horiuchi and her teammates, Kentaro Yajima and Yumi Yamazaki, have found themselves living the dream of many when they not only competed in the Walt Disney Imaginations Design Competition, but won third place.

“I didn’t about know this competition until October,” said Horiuchi. “It’s just incredible and amazing.”

For the past 27 years, the Walt Disney Imagineering program has opened the competition to high school students across the United States to encourage students looking to study creative and technical fields including digital arts, engineering and architecture. Twenty teams from hundreds are chosen for an all-expenses-paid trip to Glendale, California to spend five days at Imagineering presenting their projects.

Horiuchi, who is originally from Nagano, Japan, spent three years of high school in Draper and Sandy before starting her degree in digital media at Otis College of Art and Design.

“Spending three years in Utah was just amazing. I really appreciated the teachers, schools and host families,” said Horiuchi.

She and her teammates found out about the competition in October of 2017 and were in a rush to complete the project, which centered on the theme “ghost towns.” The challenge was to take a real, abandoned ghost town, be it a historical landmark, living museum or themed experience from anywhere in the world, and revitalize it as a piece of themed attraction. The teams were asked to consider the historical and cultural attributes of their choice, as well as technological and environmental impact. 

Horiuchi and her team designed a place that they called Oniba, based on a hot spring that sits on a section of the Kinugawa River in Tochigi, Japan, which closed in 1991 after an economic crash. Since every member of the team is from Japan, it was easier to understand the connection to local life by choosing a place they were culturally familiar with. 

“The three of us are from Japan and a lot of the imagineering work is about connection with the local area and inspiration with the country or place,” said Horiuchi.

Hot springs are integral to Japanese culture and a popular destination spot, so the idea was already present. And as Horiuchi said, hot springs are more about relaxation than theme parks, so why not make something that’s a fun attraction and also relaxing?

Kinugawa means “mad demon river” and the river is surrounded by nature, so their story combined the healing aspects of the river with traditional Japanese demons, called Oni. At one point, humans and Oni lived together in relative harmony, until the human population grew so numerous the Oni were kicked out. After wandering in search of a safe place to call their own, the Oni, now called the Mabu, found this spot on the river and built Oniba from the ruins of the Kinugawa hot spring. Eventually, humans and Mabu become friends. Guests to the park can celebrate the story, encounter Mabu spirits and take home souvenirs. 

Each member of the team brought her own talents and ideas into the project, with Horiuchi working on 3-D and texture design. The drawing, 3-D modeling and rendering took about two weeks, and the rest of the time was spent building the story and coming up with ideas.

“Most of the time we were really just brainstorming and how we can bring our ideas to this competition,” said Horiuchi. 

Horiuchi began drawing and designing when she was 4 years old when her father brought home a new Macintosh and tablet to work on. Though her family doesn’t speak English, they’ve been very supportive of her dreams to study art and English in the U.S. She is currently working on her senior project at Otis and focusing on photorealistic renderings of humans and animals. 

This competition is one of the ways Walt Disney Imagineering hopes to find and help future theme park designers and top entrants not only have the chance to work and visit with Imagineers behind the scenes, but to have the chance to be interviewed for internships.

“I just really appreciate Disney Imagineering,” said Horiuchi. “It gave us this big opportunity and also the people in Utah that helped me and my family in Japan.”

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