Disney is home to hackers and tinkerers alike – employees who animate characters with algorithms and invent cinematic worlds with cutting-edge visual effects. That’s why it was only natural for The Walt Disney Company to support recent hackathons at powerhouse universities across the country, meeting with talented young technologists to share the DisneyTECH story and have some fun along the way.

Disney supported three major hackathons since the start of the new year: Stanford TreeHacks, MakeMIT and LA Hacks. Each took place over the course of a weekend, about 36 fluid hours each of programming, building, snacking and almost no sleep. We helped make the experience fun with workshops, spontaneous lightsaber battles and lots of BB-8 giveaways.

Disney employees were there through it all, connecting with hackers and introducing them to the creative technology that helps bring the magic to life across our company.

TreeHacks

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Employees were out in full force at Stanford TreeHacks, representing Walt Disney Imagineering, Lucasfilm and Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media (DCPI). Disney team members gave talks to attendees and stayed up late with hackathon participants – some staying up until 4 a.m. (Saturday’s late-night work session turned into an all-out lightsaber duel, courtesy of Lucasfilm!) Stanford would welcome 630 hackers that weekend; at the closing ceremonies, teams pitched 84 innovative projects to judges, students and recruiters.

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MakeMIT

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At MakeMIT, Disney kicked off a three-day hack session with a captivating technology workshop. Two Disney Imagineers delivered the standing-room only Tech Talk in an MIT lecture hall.

During the hackathon, two Imagineers and two R&D Engineers from DCPI were able to assist, mentor and guide these hackers from everything to wiring, power, LEDs, electronics and software. There were over 30 teams who applied to our prize, “Most Creative Use of Hardware.” Disney employees even awarded BB-8 Sphero droids to exceptionally creative hackers at the event who built an interactive game “Bomb Diffuser” using hardware, software and firmware.

After the event, our leader of DCPI R&D presented an additional Tech Talk, which was attended by over 30 MIT Engineering students.

LA Hacks

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Finally, at LA Hacks, Disney offered sponsorship and mentorship to thousands of Los Angeles hackers. One of the nation’s largest collegiate hackathons didn’t disappoint – over 1,000 students poured into UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion for 36 hours of collaborative tinkering.

Disney technologists from The Walt Disney Studios, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media and Disney Parks & Resorts were there to help participants – answering general questions, helping them with bugs and even teaching them new software. One Disney technologist represented the Walt Disney Animation Studios on a Tech in Entertainment panel, introducing attendees to the impact of technology beyond Silicon Valley.

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Of course, Disney gave away more BB-8 droids, gifting the prize to winning participants in the “Best Use of Technology to Enhance a User Experience” category. Disney will also host the winners from LA Hacks at the Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media campus in Glendale, Calif.

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The hackathons at Stanford, MIT and UCLA demonstrated the boundless potential of talented young programmers and engineers across the country. As Disney’s technology story accelerates, we’ll continue to support technologists around the world as they build solutions for a brighter tomorrow.