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School of Art alum working in Hollywood will visit campus April 7 to talk movies, animation

March 28, 2011
Mike Disa

Mike Disa

NIU alum Mike Disa, director and co-writer of soon-to-be-released animated film “Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil,” will return to campus next week to speak about his life and work in the Hollywood movie business.

Disa, who graduated from NIU School of Art in 1987 with a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in art and computer programming, will speak at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 7, in Room 100 of the Visual Arts Building.

The speech, titled “From NIU Art Student to Hollywood Director: How To Do It,” is open to the public. He will lead a “frank discussion about the skills and training required to break into the film business; an examination of animated film’s processes, techniques and opportunities; an overview of the studio system; and how to break into independent film making.”

Friday’s schedule is devoted to working with students interested in animation, illustration and art education.

It’s an opportunity Disa has longed to provide since his arrival in Los Angeles, where he quickly discovered intense pressure and competition among a group of hopefuls groomed specifically for moviemaking by film schools.

“NIU has a great liberal arts program that has served me well as a writer and director, and as I get older, the breadth of my art history training has come in tremendously handy,” said Disa, who previously taught animation at the California Institute of the Arts, one of many Golden State schools that supply the silver screen workforce.

“When I got to Hollywood, I realized I was in over my head, and that’s why I’ve always wanted to come back,” he added.

“I’ve always wished that someone from Hollywood with my job would have come out to NIU just once while I was there as art student and would have told me which books to read, which online classes to follow, which great art teachers you would have to study with for 10 years after school.”

Movie poster for "Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil"Disa’s credits as an animator boast several Disney features, including “Fantasia 2000,” “The Legend of Mulan,” “Tarzan,” “The Tigger Movie,” “The Heffalump Movie” and “Pocahontas.”

He also was the director and co-writer of Disney’s “The Origin of Stitch,” a short sequel to “Lilo and Stitch” that was nominated for a DVDX award.

Disa worked as a storyboard artist for “Barnyard, The Movie” and has directed several animated features for adult audiences, including “Dante’s Inferno” and “Dead Space Aftermath.”

It’s his work in children’s movies, however, that should appeal to NIU art education students.

NIU promotes a “visual culture” curriculum for K-12 art students that enables them to critically interpret the “pop” imagery surrounding them. That includes TV, film and video games.

“Everyone is excited about this visit,” said Doug Boughton, director of the School of Art. “In these tough economic times, it is always inspiring for our students to hear from distinguished and successful alums.”

Raised near Marquette Park on the South Side of Chicago, Disa’s love of art is in his DNA. His father, Mike, taught art for 42 years.

His love of film bears deeper roots.

“In every generation, there is that generation’s art form. One hundred years ago, it was painting. Centuries before that, it was architecture and sculpture,” he said.

“One of the things that struck me after I graduated from NIU and started looking around was that the really important art form of the last three generations has really been film. It combines the best of painting, photography, sculpture and storytelling, and has a direct and unique insight into the American consciousness. Film is, regardless of where it was invented, an American art form.”

Joining the film business required him to relocate in Los Angeles, “the place where I least wanted to be in the world, the most foreign place I could have moved,” he added. “But that is where this powerful art form is centered.”

Coming to NIU was an easier decision. Both his parents, including mother Judy, are alums. Disa also met his wife, writer Laura Hogan, here.

Disa personifies the “true” NIU alum, Boughton said.

“For a professional of his stature to volunteer this kind of time and energy is remarkable,” Boughton said. “His action epitomizes the spirit and commitment of true NIU alums.”

For more information about the April 7 event, call (815) 753-1473.