When filmmaker Meghann Artes set out to make her latest film, she envisioned complex stop-motion animation, a dance number with a rainbow of colorful costumes and a whimsical, heart-tugging score. She didn’t need to look far to find the talent to bring her vision to life. Over the course of two years, some 94 DePaul students, alumni, faculty and staff contributed to her latest Project Bluelight short film, “Oh Baby!”
The result is a first-of-its kind collaboration among DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts – where Artes teaches – and The Theatre School and School of Music. “We’re used to doing curricular collaboration,” says David Miller, dean of the College of Computing and Digital Media. “This degree of creative collaboration across all three schools … I think is groundbreaking.”
Weaving together ‘smaller parts’
Along the way, Artes’ husband and producer, Joe Lyons, captured the making of the film for a newly released documentary that interviews the professionals and students who worked on set and behind the scenes, including filmmakers, animators, actors, costume designers and musicians from across campus. The film was supported by Project Bluelight, the DePaul production company that pairs faculty filmmakers with students to offer real-world experience in making professional films.
Having the documentary as a record has been a treat for Artes.
“When making a film this ambitious, one of the only ways to get through it is to break it down into smaller parts,” she says. “Watching the doc really has given me a sense of the size and scope of the project and how many amazing and talented people had to come together to actually get this project made.”
For Lyons, associate director of DePaul Cinespace, it was also a chance to show Artes’ creative process.
“During the festival runs on Meghann’s past two films, ‘Speed Dating’ and ‘Sleepy Steve,’ people would always ask how we made them and what exactly we did to create certain scenes and effects. This doc answers all of those questions,” Lyons says.
Magic, science and film
The inspiration for the film was very personal, as Artes reflected on her and Lyons’ journey to parenthood.
“I realized this kind of magical experience was luck and science all rolled into one,” Artes says. The documentary shows Artes working with colleagues in the same way she must approach parenting her three kids—with energy, patience and joy.
As a first step, associate professor Rob Steel in the School of Cinematic Arts wrote the score, then School of Music faculty member Tom Matta worked on the arrangements. In the documentary, Artes listens as Matta conducts music students in playing different versions of the score while director of sound recording technology Tom Miller records it.
Next viewers see Artes dancing along with actors from The Theatre School, including choreographer Kristina Fluty. Head of costume technology Deanna Aliosius also brought her expertise to design the look of a live-action dance scene, which was modeled after 1930s dance numbers by filmmaker Busby Berkeley.
Associate professor Brian Andrews, who teaches in the School of Cinematic Arts, explains how his team helped make the transition from live-action to animation look seamless.
“When visual effects are done right, quite often we disappear. We do all this work in order that you can’t ever see our footsteps,” he says.
Real-world experience on the set and behind the scenes
Giving students a chance to see how their talents can be applied in a different venue – and maybe even a different career path – is a benefit of this collaboration, explains John Culbert, dean of The Theatre School.
"The geographic distance between the schools is greater than the actual distance between these disciplines,” Culbert says.
DePaul alumna and filmmaker Ella Lubienski said it was exciting to see the schools coming together.
“I hope it fosters new connections, for students and faculty in general,” she says.
“Oh Baby!” currently is making the film festival circuit and recently won Best Experimental Film at the USA Film Festival. Many fests do not accept films that have been posted or screened elsewhere, so Artes plans to debut the short film to wider audiences this fall.