Animation professor and students create a short film from a gospel poem

| Author: Hadlee Rinn, ORGS Intern | Media Contact: Kara Owens

Stephan Leeper, Animation professor, is working with undergraduate students, Chelsea Dunham, Stephanie Shaw, and Demi Huertas-Romero to produce an animated short film reimagining a black gospel poem. The Creation Poem by James Weldon Johnson explores the first chapters of Genesis as a “powerful Black Gospel sermon [which] captures both the majestic power on display at the inception of the universe and a Creator's poignant desire for intimacy that ultimately leads to the creation of humankind.”

In May of 2021, Leeper was awarded a Faculty Research and Creative Endeavors: Research Grant from CMU to support the animated film dubbed, The Creation Film. Thus far, Leeper and his team have created concept images, story panels of key moments, and a teaser trailer which can all be found on their website.

Stephan Leeper with studentThe students involved in the project have specific roles assigned to them. Dunham is responsible for environment design and animation, with an interest in storyboarding, layout, and concept design. Shaw is behind character design and animation, with a passion for cartoons and bringing characters to life. Huertas-Romero is the Colorist and Concept Artist on the project because of her interest in character creation, concept design, and color scripting.

Leeper hopes that the film will encourage a respect for humanity, beyond racial, cultural, religious, or political identity.

Beyond The Creation Film, Leeper, Dunham, Shaw, and Huertas-Romero were involved in creating and producing the 2021 Hell’s Half Mile (HHM) Film Festival Bumper titled, Rising from the Ashes. The bumper is played at the opening of the festival and at the beginning of every screening at the festival. Leeper says, “these last few weeks of break and leading into September, myself and a handful of animation students will be producing the 2022 HHM Film Festival Bumper. Last year was our first time out and we got a tremendous response, so we decided to come back for more.” The 2022 Bumper will be inspired by the classic 80s movie, Sixteen Candles, because it is HHM’s 16th anniversary.

This story is brought to you by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

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