The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Learning through doing: Looking behind the scenes at John Musker’s visit to DePaul

Brian Ferguson speaks with John Musker on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024 at DePaul. (Juan Pablo Perez Voorduin/ Courtesy)
Juan Pablo Perez Voorduin
Brian Ferguson speaks with John Musker on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024 at DePaul. (Juan Pablo Perez Voorduin/ Courtesy)

The event begins six hours before doors open to the public. A committed mix of novice and experienced film students descend into the basement of the Richard and Maggie Daley building at noon on Friday, Feb. 23, to begin prepping for the special screening that evening. 

Within minutes, Room LL 105 has become indistinguishable from a film set. Cameras are assembled with haste around the main seating area. Two women shuffle around the space, one holding a mix of various cables and the other following behind with a bevy of lavalier microphones in hand. There’s a sense of pressure that permeates throughout the space, a good pressure, the kind that pushes students to rise above themselves and work as a team of professionals. 

This is the Visiting Artists Series, a weekly event where a crew made up entirely of students in Professor Wendy Roderweiss’ Live TV class organize a screening for a guest filmmaker. 

Last week marked a return visitor to DePaul: John Musker, co-director of “Moana,” “Treasure Planet,” and “The Little Mermaid,” among many other beloved animated Disney films. Now retired, Musker is embarking on a college campus tour showing off his first new project since 2019, the animated short film “I’m Hip.” 

Roderweiss said getting high-profile guests like Musker for the series is usually a challenge. 

“There’s a little bit of a process each time; some people are cold calls,” Roderweiss said. “With Team Deakins, it was an email that I sent, and I just kept emailing them until they said yes.” 

For many guests, it’s DePaul’s vast network of industry veterans that grants Roderweiss access to some of the most accomplished professionals in the film world. 

“Brian Ferguson, one of our animation faculty who worked on ‘The Lion King’, saw ‘I’m Hip’ at a festival, and also had seen the talk that John had done with it and asked him if he’d like to come back to DePaul.” Roderweiss said.

After set-up ends, the crew begins their first “cue-to-cue,” basically a dress rehearsal for the event. Already, there are problems: five minutes in, a light somehow comes unplugged. The head of the lighting department, Louis Alcade, immediately steps in to reconnect it to the grid. As soon as that problem is fixed, the mock moderator’s mic starts blowing out the speaker. Sound mixer Trinh Vo balances out the levels and students run through the rest of the set, constantly recognizing and solving problems along the way. 

Brandon Ollio, a grad student and Stage Manager of VAS, relies on people like Alcade and Vo to keep things afloat. 

“I’ve been very lucky with the amount of veterans that have been here and how great they are at not just very specific jobs, but the knowledge they have over everything.” Ollio said.

Another benefit of having veteran student technicians in the class was the development of a mentorship program. Students needing experience are assigned to another, more adept student to shadow and learn from them. Ollio started by shadowing Cassie Llanas, a former DePaul student and current DePaul professor. 

“On event days, Brandon and I are running around like crazy and we can’t be everywhere at once,” Roderweiss said. “If we have people who have done the job before, they can be a resource to educate other students when we can’t.”

After they’ve rehearsed all they can, the clock finally hits 5:30 p.m. John Musker enters the theater and sees the crew of 25 people waiting to introduce him to the space. He cracks a joke: “This is great! There are more people here than went to see ‘Treasure Planet’ when it came out!

When 6:00 p.m. arrives the event begins as Musker screens his short to rapturous applause. To finish out the night, Musker speaks with Professor Brian Ferguson and gives some advice to the film and animation students in attendance.

“Get your foot in the door by talking to people,” Musker said. “Even if it’s for a job you don’t love, it’s good to be persistent and to form a relationship with people who trust your work. From there, you build your way up to something you actually want.”

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