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Imagineering New Transmedia Projects with Disney’s Living Worlds Program

Walt Disney Imagineering has been using the Disney theme parks and resorts as centers for innovation in storytelling for decades, finding interesting ways to create rich experiences that play out across media. And while the team may be better known for joining narrative with animatronics and special effects for rides like the Haunted Mansion, the team has developed a number of more subtle transmedia experiences that experimented with location-based storytelling. For Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure (previously the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure), Walt Disney World visitors use a mobile phone to activate a series of clues hidden in Epcot’s architectural design, while Sorcerors of the Magic Kingom uses collectible cards to allow Disney World visitors to battle against Disney villains at magic portals scattered across the resort. And thanks to Walt Disney’s Living Worlds┬áprogram, you might have the chance to collaborate with the Disney Imagineers on your own great idea.

Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development (WDI R&D) announced the Living Worlds program during last month’s StoryWorld Conference as an effort to catalyze and support the growing transmedia community. Interested applicants are tasked with submitting a high-level proposal by December 1st for a location-based narrative experience intended to run for at least two weeks that gives participants the ability to influence the story without costing “more than the GDP of any single nation to mount.” The story cannot use any existing intellectual properties, including Disney properties. During the second round, select participants will be asked to flesh out the concepts into a more developed proposal for consideration.

Scott Trowbridge, Creative Vice President at WDI R&D, says he sees the program as an opportunity for applicants “to gain experience and expertise by giving them an opportunity to produce their work at a professional level.” He adds, “[w]e’re on the cusp of a significant evolution in narrative form. The combination of emerging technologies, societal shifts and audience expectations all combine to make this an exciting time for artists interested in breaking the frames for traditional storytelling.”

While the opportunity to collaborate with Disney Imagineering to realize your dream project is compelling, it’s important to be familiar with the terms and conditions that come attached to the application. While all applicants retain full ownership of their intellectual property, all submissions should be considered public and non-confidential, and applicants grant WDI “a fully paid-up, transferable, non-exclusive, perpetual, worldwide, irrevocable, royalty-free license” to their submissions, along with the right to sub-license the work to third parties. When asked for clarification on the terms, Trowbridge explained that “given that we are engaging [the] artists with the intent to produce their proposal, we must be granted the rights to do so, or in other words, a license to use their creative work, which must be transferable and perpetual.” Trowbridge stressed that WDI R&D would work with artists whose proposals were selected to set up an agreement and working relationship to develop the proposal through to complete concept and potential production.

There are a number of valid concerns associated with agreeing to an unfettered license as a condition of participation in the Living Worlds application process, and it’s worth noting that this program does not offer carte blanche to create narrative extensions to existing properties in the Disney and LucasFilm libraries: the focus is on original works. But if the idea of pitching your dream transmedia project to the Disney Imagineering team sounds alluring despite those factors, you might want to spend the next few days putting together your application. The information allowed for the first phase is fairly simple, limiting applicants to 1,000 words to describe a summary of the concept, story synopsis, platform details, and vision so the Saturday deadline is still manageable.

The application and additional details about the program can be found online at livingworlds.disney.com.

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