Design undergraduate travels to California as Disney Imagineering finalist, garners second place
Mon. February 22, 2016
Design junior Whitney Chen spent a fairy-tale week in Glendale, California at the Walt Disney Imagineering headquarters in January.
“I knew that this was an amazing opportunity to test myself as a visual maker and create wilder projects outside of class,” said Whitney Chen, “And because I am a Disney fanatic, I was so excited to design something that was Disney related.”
The team from The University of Texas at Austin included Design junior Whitney Chen, Cockrell School of Engineering senior Kevin Graham, Kevin Chen (B.S Mechanical Engineering, 2015), and Amy Woon (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 2015). They received second place at the 25th Imaginations Design Competition, put on annually by Walt Disney Imagineering, and competed against six teams from eight other universities.
“Everything I did was a part of a collaborative effort, but because I study graphic design and user-centered design, I focused on the visual elements of Hueroic,” said Whitney Chen.
This year’s challenge was to design a traveling experience that could tour small towns across the U.S. for families who do not have the opportunity to travel to a Disney park. This temporary venue would operate in each community for two to three days, should take no more than a day to set up and break down, and embodies the kind of family entertainment that Walt Disney envisioned when he first build Disneyland.
The team’s concept, Hueroic, takes guests on a journey to explore the wonder and beauty of art and imagination. Thrust into a black and white world where colors have never existed, guests are sent on a race against time to rescue a kingdom and unlock the major of color, light and inspiration.
“Mixing my ideation sketching skills and love for drawing, I designed the attraction's environments, considering the interactions between guests and the spaces around them,” said Whitney Chen. “I also helped my team create an identity for Hueroic, making a physical mock-up of our attraction, graphic posters, products, and logo.”
Throughout the competition, each team was advised by a group of mentors.
“Because our mentors were once finalists themselves, they were able to step into our shoes and relate to our design thinking,” said Whitney Chen. “Even though each team member and our mentors offered different specialties, our decisions were always influenced by the heart and purpose of Hueroic. I appreciated how our mentors would challenge us with ‘What if…’ questions, which led us to revise, expand, and make multiple iterations together as a team.”
Finalists present their projects to a panel of Imagineering judges which can open opportunities for internships at Disney Imagineering for students. Some eventually become full-time Imagineers.
“I was so entranced by the signage and graphic artwork at Disneyland that I will be going back because my first visit was not enough,” Whitney Chen said. “I want to ride all of the rides and try all of the food! This experience magnified my goals. As I move through my undergraduate studies, I will continue to dream bigger—theme park sized.”
Eric Kayne awarded fellowship and solo exhibition from the Houston Center for Photography
Wed. February 17, 2016
Eric Kayne (B.A. Studio Art, 1998) received a fellowship and solo show at the Houston Center for Photography. His exhibition, In The Pipeline's Path, will be on view May 13 – July 10, 2016.
Fifth Member of Fine Arts Faculty Wins Hamilton Book Award
Tue. November 10, 2015
Associate Professor Stephennie Mulder’s book on medieval Syrian shrines took the $10,000 top prize at the 2015 University Co-op Robert W. Hamilton Book Awards. Announced November 2, Mulder is the fifth recipient connected to the College of Fine Arts to receive the university-wide award.
College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster said Mulder’s receipt of the Hamilton Book Award is another great credit to the original scholarship coming out of UT Austin's Art History program.
“Our Art History faculty, one of the most productive research faculties in the humanities at UT, now accounts for five of the twenty Hamilton Book Awards ever given—an unparalleled winning streak for any department,” he said. “The Art History program is one of the research gems of The University of Texas at Austin.”
Mulder’s book, The Shrines of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria: Sunnis, Shi’is, and the Architecture of Coexistence, is the first illustrated, architectural history of these shrines, increasingly endangered by the conflict in Syria. Mulder, a specialist in Islamic architectural history and archaeology, holds a joint appointment in the College of Fine Arts’ Department of Art and Art History and the College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Middle Eastern Studies. She is the fourth Middle Eastern Studies professor to take home the Hamilton Award.
“It is enormously meaningful for me to have my work recognized among my peers at the university,” said Mulder. “I think that culturally, we tend to think of Art History as being less serious than some other fields. We tend to see images and works of art and architecture as aesthetically pleasing, but only worthy of study as a luxury or as a leisure activity—as only worth thinking about on a weekend visit to an art museum,” Mulder said. “But nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout the history of humanity, art has been at the forefront of how we have communicated about who we are and what we believe. Even before humans invented the first alphabet, created the first city, wrote the first history book, or conducted the first scientific experiment, we made art.”
During her career, she’s spent years in the field in Syria and throughout the Middle East and works on the conservation of antiquities and cultural heritage sites endangered by war and illegal trafficking. She is a founder of UT Antiquities Action, a group dedicated to raising awareness of the loss of cultural heritage.
“I have worked as an archaeologist in Syria since 1998, and fell in love with the country upon my first visit,” she said. “I began the research for this book in 2004, when I lived and worked in the vine-covered, winding streets of the ancient city of Damascus for a year and a half.”
During that research period, she never imagined that as she completed the book between 2011 and 2013, Syria would descend into a warzone.
“As this was unfolding, it was painful to write about a time in the medieval era when Syrian rulers used architecture to emphasize coexistence and sectarian harmony,” Mulder said. “My Syrian friend Ubayda lost his life during the time I wrote the book, and I dedicated the book to him and to the broadminded, cosmopolitan and democratic Syria in which he wished to live.”
Mulder has served as an expert for media reporting on the losses of those antiquities she studied. In September she was quoted in the International Business Times about the destruction of a 2,000-year-old temple in Palmyra. In 2014, she wrote an opinion piece for Al Jazeera arguing that the West’s desire to purchase ancient artifacts is the cause for looting, not the Islamic State.
She also used her expertise on the Middle East to co-write an op-ed for the Huffington Post with the History Department’s Erika Bsumek about the textual subversion techniques used by Middle Eastern artists in Western pop culture—particularly for the TV series, Homeland.
“Stephennie’s research may revolve around the 12th century, but it could not be more relevant to our current moment,” said Jack Risley, chair of the Department of Art and Art History. “The overwhelming reception to her book and her presence in the media, show that her research has consequence in the contemporary world, and that there is a role for scholars in public discourse.”
As her book gains recognition and support, Mulder said she hopes it illuminates those beautiful qualities of Syria that she researched, instead of the war-torn country in the news.
“Syria has always been a place where people of many faiths and beliefs lived together and created pragmatic systems of coexistence,” she said. “We can see in that picture a model for how coexistence can one day return to the region. Syria was and remains a beautiful country, with a rich and ancient past as one of the world’s great crossroads of human knowledge and civilization. I hope to see the day that it becomes so again.”