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The Magic of Co-op: Design Students to Work for David Copperfield This Summer

UC invented co-op in 1906. And co-op has since landed students in unusual situations: Underwater helping NASA to train astronauts…investigating at Three Mile Island…or even – this summer – helping illusionist David Copperfield.

Date: 6/13/2006 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Homer Liwag and Lisa Ventre

UC ingot  

In his Las Vegas headquarters, internationally acclaimed illusionist David Copperfield is betting on four University of Cincinnati co-op students to help him with major projects.

Studio where UC students will be working
The design studio that David Copperfield's staff is preparing for the UC students.

These projects include designs for future props and illusions as well as a redesign of Copperfield’s museum and warehouse where he stores and displays props from his own tours and television specials along with props from the past, including those of legendary master Harry Houdini. In addition, the UC co-op students will be designing logos, a brand identity and themes for a wide variety Copperfield enterprises, including current and future shows.

Homer Liwag, conceptual art and design manager for Copperfield Design, the team that develops all the design elements for Copperfield’s Las Vegas and international shows, explained, “We’ve wanted to add to our design team for a long time. We’ve been so swamped with projects. So, we thought, ‘Let’s get an intern.’ Then, the idea for one intern turned into four co-op students, and we figured to get students from the nation’s premiere design programs. That’s when we called UC.”

Liwag added that the students will work very closely with Copperfield on a daily basis to develop materials and venues for shows, the museum and possible future projects reflective of Copperfield’s brand of magic and illusion. Whatever the task of the moment, the students can count on one thing: David Copperfield will make an appearance in their design studio on a daily basis.

David Copperfield with design drawings.
David Copperfield looking over designs.

According to Liwag, “David is very hands on in all the design processes. He wants to be right in the middle of the design mix. The students can count on seeing him in their studio pretty much every day.”

The students – graphic design major David Mackey, interior design major Susan Retterbush, and industrial design majors Bryan Porter and Michael Run, all from UC's top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning – are prepared to jump into their projects.

Stated Retterbush, “I’m ready for it, for the creativity and the challenge of it all. I can tell it’s going to be very hands-on work, a very cool co-op…and different from the corporate environments where I’ve worked during my previous co-op quarters, but I’m confident that I can hold my own.”

Susan Retterbush and David Mackey
Students Susan Retterbush and David Mackey

Mackey agreed, “It will definitely be a lot of responsibility, and I have a few butterflies, but I think my past co-op experiences will help. On a previous co-op, I helped to develop environmental graphics for use in the Dubai Festival City in the port city of Dubai in the Middle East. So, I have some experience with big projects.”

In fact, the list of projects from Copperfield and his four staff designers is really too much for four co-ops to complete in one summer. Liwag laughed that the firm probably has enough work for ten design co-op students to complete in a year’s time.

“Whether for the show or for later venues, we’re asking the students to design intense experiences. We’re asking them to design state-of-the-art venues. Whatever sets, venues or props they design, everything must look very real and very detailed. Everything must  help to maintain an illusion’s effect on both participants and audience. We need unusual, authentic, immersive environments,” explained Liwag, an alumnus of UC’s industrial design program.

For the UC co-op students and their families, the coming co-op quarter will certainly immerse them in an unusual working environment set within a unique city. Interior design student Susan Retterbush explained that her family and friends have been excited to learn that she’ll be working for Copperfield in Las Vegas: “Everyone in my family is really excited. They want to come visit at some point, along with a long list of friends who say they want to visit too.”