Lavish Christmas window displays along State Street have been a tradition in Chicago since the late 1800s, drawing locals and tourists alike to peer into magical worlds behind the glass. This holiday season, DePaul is creating its own Christmas window tradition for the Loop Campus near the bustling corner of State and Jackson. On Nov. 7, faculty and students will debut a stop-motion animated film and 3-D window display that captures the spirit of the season and DePaul’s Vincentian mission.
“This project pulls together the best of DePaul’s talent in the area of animation,” says JoAnne Zielinski, associate dean in the College of Computing and Digital Media. “We have our top animated filmmakers working with our best and brightest students to create something really innovative and unique and something they’re proud to share with the DePaul community,” she says.
The idea started with a spark from the Reverend Edward R. Udovic, C.M., former vice president for the Division of Mission and Ministry, to involve students in creating a Christmas tradition for the Loop Campus. Filmmakers and School of Cinematic Arts faculty members Meghann Artes and Devin Bell jumped at the chance to collaborate. Together, they gave some 30 DePaul students the opportunity to work on the professional-level production over three quarters.
“Fr. Udovic’s vision for this project comes from a long standing collaboration between Mission and Ministry and CDM based on the shared belief that to fully support DePaul’s mission, people must know its story,” says Scott Kelley, associate vice president for mission. “The Christmas window is another example of how we tell that story in new ways, using new technology to reach new audiences. The Vincentian Family has done the same for over 400 years,” Kelley says.
The window, along with the beautiful Christmas decorations in the DePaul Center plaza, create a signature holiday footprint for the DePaul community and thousands of Chicago residents and visitors, Kelley says.
Animators ‘from the same planet’ of play
The production gave Bell and Artes the chance to collaborate on a film for the first time, and to offer students an “immersive, professional internship experience.” The film was supported by Project Bluelight, DePaul’s film production company that enables faculty to create professional-level work and offer hands-on work experience to students. They started with a storyboard team, and students pitched ideas to their “clients” in Mission and Ministry.
“Meghann and I are from the same planet,” Bell says. “We share a similar playful, whimsical kind of thinking. It was a lot of fun pitching ideas back and forth.” The film moves viewers through three worlds, Bell explains. First through wrapping paper and festive decorations, then baked goods and the memories that come from a kitchen, then the holiness of the nativity.
“All these things are connected with the star. The star is such a significant symbol of Christmas, signaling that a Son is born. You’re going to see stars everywhere,” says Bell, who has made films for entertainment company JibJab Media and created many of his own projects, including “Fatal Vittles.”
Artes is a master of stop-motion animation and uses it in much of her work, including the award-winning “Sleepy Steve.” Earlier in her career, she worked as an animator for Sesame Street.” “Stop-motion is taking something that could happen in your everyday life and adding magic to it. It’s altering reality, and creating something really whimsical,” Artes says.
Teamwork, details bring film to life
The crew built sets in the Idea Realization Lab, in offices, and ultimately in a full-scale soundstage at DePaul’s Cinespace studio, where they animated a life-sized ornament and Christmas tree. Every moment in the film is stop-motion, shot frame-by-frame. This approach might sound laborious, but to stop-motion animators, it’s worth the painstaking attention to detail.
Animation student Gabi Fernandez helped with tests and making objects, once filling an entire drawer with prototype snowflakes. Viewers of the film will notice Fernandez’s creations: a cookie forest and gingerbread man.
“I’m used to working on my own, especially because of the tight deadlines for class projects. Working with a team made the whole process so much fun because you knew you weren’t the only one spending all your free hours trying to build clay cookies,” Fernandez says.
Working on a full-scale production was a learning experience for Tikal Rivera, who is also studying animation as an undergraduate. Rivera built rigs to animate, did set dressing and also helped with tests before the final shots. “It was really exciting to be able to work alongside my friends and create something that I was passionate about and was a reflection of all the creativity from the animators and artists on the team,” says Rivera, adding, “It really hit me that I was making animation that would be seen by an audience.”
Faculty from The Theatre School and CDM are helping to put a bow on the project through set design and a musical score. Composer Rob Steele in CDM created music for the film, and faculty members Noelle Thomas in The Theatre School and John Corba, director of DePaul Cinespace, designed and are building the 3-D display.
On Nov. 7 “Merry Christmas from DePaul” will be screened at 5 p.m. in the Daley Building at 247 S. State Street, in the CDM Theater, LL105. Then at 5:20, p.m. the window will be unveiled on the State Street side of the building. All are welcome to attend. The display will run through Jan. 15, 2020. For more information, visit http://cdm.depaul.edu/christmas.