DePaul film brings holiday magic to State St.

‘Merry Christmas
from DePaul’
holiday scene
will light up the loop
from November 7
to January 15

DePaul University will light up the corner of State Street and Jackson Boulevard with a new holiday tradition on November 7.

Merry Christmas from DePaul is a stop-motion animated film and 3D design created by faculty filmmakers Meghann Artes, Devin Bell, and some 30 students in the University’s School of Cinematic Arts.

Reflecting the university’s urban Catholic mission, the holiday scene will be unveiled at 5:20 p.m. on November 7 at 247 S. State St. and remain on display until January 15.

The premiere celebration will be preceded by a 5 p.m. screening of the short film in the lower level CDM Theatre at the same address.



Bringing magic to everyday life
Lavish Christmas window displays along State Street have been a tradition in downtown Chicago since the late 1800s, inviting locals and tourists to peer into magical worlds behind the glass.

“We all were children and played with objects and imagined them,” says Bell, an associate professor who has made films for entertainment company JibJab Media and created many of his own projects, including Fatal Vittles. “Stop-motion animation gives you permission to be a kid again.”

The new film took more than a year to create and moves viewers through three worlds: wrapping paper and festive decorations, baked goods and the memories that come from a kitchen, and the holiness of the Nativity.

“All these things are connected with the star,” Bell continues. “The star is such a significant symbol of Christmas, signaling that a Son is born. You’re going to see stars everywhere.”

Artes has drawn acclaim for using stop-motion animation with live actors in full-scale sets, including the award-winning short film, 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,” says Artes, an associate professor.

ALSO READ: Meghann Artes’ ‘Oh Baby!’ screens at Midwest Indie’s 2019 Female Filmmakers Night.

Taking the effort to Cinespace DePaul
DePaul animation students contributed to every facet of the production, starting with storyboards and fabricating objects and animating puppets. After building miniature sets in classrooms, the crew worked on a full-scale set at DePaul’s Cinespace studios, where they animated a life-sized ornament and a Christmas tree.

According to Bell, 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, he noted.

“Stop motion is such fun to problem solve,” he says.

When the team wanted to create a cozy fireplace, the students experimented with different material and decided on a reflective foil that was lit in different ways to catch light and glow.

“I think the thing about stop motion is that people know what they’re looking at is real,” says Artes, “but it’s doing something impossible.”

Learning through real world experiences
There are hundreds of objects within the film, all created by hand. 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 tight deadlines for class projects,” she says. “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.”

Working on a full-scale production was a learning experience for Tikal Rivera, who is 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,” said Rivera, adding, “It really hit me that I was making animation that would be seen by an audience.”

Connecting to mission
The project started with a spark from the Rev. Edward R. Udovic, C.M., in DePaul’s Division of Mission and Ministry.

Udovic reached out to the College of Computing and Digital Media to create a window to complement the beautiful Christmas decorations in the DePaul Center plaza and to create a signature holiday footprint for the DePaul community and thousands of Chicago residents and visitors.

“Father Udovic’s vision for this project comes from the shared belief that to fully support DePaul’s mission, people must know its story,” says Scott Kelley, associate vice president for mission integration. “The Christmas window is another example of how we tell that story in new ways, using new technology to reach new audiences,” said Kelley.

Faculty from The Theatre School at DePaul and the College of Computing and Digital Media are helping to put a bow on the project through set design and a musical score.

Associate professor Rob Steele, a composer and sound designer for cinema, created music for the film. Faculty members Noelle Thomas in The Theatre School and John Corba, director of DePaul Cinespace, designed and built the 3D display.

After the Nov. 7 unveiling, the Merry Christmas from DePaul window display will run daily from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. through Jan. 15. For more information, click on this.

Send your holiday updates to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton,