May 14, 2012 | Myrna Anderson
A Royal Pain is an animated student film about a dragon trying to imprison a princess who keeps escaping him. To bring this comic interplay to life, the composer of the film’s score, Logan Knoppers, relied on two instruments: the flute and the bassoon. “The flute is the instrument for the princess,” he said. “The bassoon is the instrument for the dragon … . It’s the clown of the orchestra, so I use it a lot.”
Knoppers, a music major, also used violin, viola, cello, trumpet, trombone and tuba in his score. In fact, Knoppers crammed 40-plus instruments (and the musicians who played them) into the recording session for A Royal Pain and threw in a conductor for good measure. “It was really, really difficult,” confessed Ben Ripley a junior music education and vocal major who held the baton that day. “It was conducting an instrumental ensemble, which I had never done before.”
A Royal Pain is one of five student films on which media production students, music students and graphic arts students worked together as teams. The collaboration was fostered by media production professor Brian Fuller, who wanted to give his student filmmakers the experience of working with other artists—as they would while making films in the real world.
They started with the music. “For filmmakers, the look of a film is everything; the music is an afterthought,” Fuller said. “They think, ‘We’ll just get a cello to noodle around in a major key, and that will convey the emotion we want to convey.’”
In search of better musical scores, Fuller asked music professor David Fuentes to recommend at least five music students to work on students’ films. Fuentes came through with seven.
David Noa, a freshman music major, provided the score for Bartertown: A Vegan Manifesto, a documentary about a local diner with a socialist agenda. “They sort of wanted an indie background track,” said Noa, a pianist who learned about composing for guitar for the film.
Austen Hwang, who only plays piano and harpsichord, likewise had to take up the guitar for Relationship Status: Married, a film he scored along with Jabez Bang and Cameron Boote. “It really is a pretty big shift in focus,” he said of the switch.
Sophomore Sean Mattson and freshman Ben Bilgen both played guitar—one on rhythm and one on lead—on the track for God’s Kitchen, a documentary about a Grand Rapids food kitchen. And sophomore Troy Vander Hoek used a lot of electric piano on Decoys: A Duckumentary, a film that explores the world about decoy carvers.
For each of the composers, it was his first collaboration with a filmmaker. “They wanted a little bit of conflict,” said Hwang of the crew that produced Relationship Status: Married. “I said, ‘So, you want diminished chords?’ and they said, ‘What’s that?”
Communicating was tough, Noa agreed: “The language is hard to get across if you don’t have any experience.”
The filmmakers, too, found it tough to work across disciplines: “There are questions about vision and who gets to speak into what aspects of the project like scoring, animating or design. We all have different visions and trying to have those mesh can be messy,” said senior Vanderput, who worked on animation for A Royal Pain.
“It’s terrifying to give slivers of yourself to another person,” Fuller summed it up.
Senior Taylor Wogoman, the chief animator on A Royal Pain, said that, despite its perils, he enjoyed the process. “He’s putting a score together, and as I’m seeing that, I’m seeing the film in my head,” he said of working with Knoppers. “That’s how animated films work, which was a big lesson for us. The music comes first, and everything comes alive around the music.”
Elizabeth Steiner, a senior graphic artist, drew the characters, props and scenery for A Royal Pain. Using Adobe After Effects and other programs, the animators (a group so large, they formed a special media-production class) put Steiner’s drawings in motion. “It was exciting, through each stage of the project, to see my sketches … move from a static space to a more three-dimensional one,” she said.
Steiner, who also created the film poster for A Royal Pain, was one of seven graphic arts students who worked on the student films. Beth Vander Meulen, Vince Impellizzeri, Jordan Howell, Jake Groenhout and Ethan Bascom also created posters for each of the films. The students were all recommended by art professor Frank Speyers, who, throughout his tenure at Calvin has partnered his design classes with real-world clients such as Steelcase, the Grand Rapids and the American Red Cross.
The movie posters are a tough assignment, Speyers said: “Successfully constructing the appropriate iconic solutions for a film is a tall order for any student.”
He and the other professors involved in the project enjoyed watching their student work in other media. “We need to look at what kind of skills the current musicians are going to need five, 10 years from now,” Fuentes said. “This project is a perfect example of that.”
Fuller is so enthusiastic about the results of the partnership that he plans to include business majors in the mix next year. They’ll work as producers for the films.
“Just to see them go at it with sparks in their eyes,” Fuller said. “That’s what’s not happening on YouTube ,” he said. “That’s what’s not happening with amateurs.”
The student films premiered at the spring Media Showcase, held May 10, 2012 at the CFAC recital hall. Just prior to its premiere, A Royal Pain was accepted as an entry in the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival.
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