GV Animation Students collaborate with GR Ballet


GVL / Meghan Landgren

Ayron Rutan, Staff Writer

The Grand Rapids Ballet highlighted local organizations as a part of their “Jumpstart 2022 Refocus” performance on March 25-27. One of those groups was Grand Valley State University’s animation students, who played a role in the Ballet’s 50th-anniversary celebration. 

Under the tutelage of GVSU film and video production professor and Animation Emphasis Coordinator Julie Goldstein, the students helped create digital backgrounds to accompany the dancers while performing on stage. Goldstein was particularly excited about the opportunity. 

It was an honor to be invited to represent GVSU for the ‘Jumpstart 2022 Refocus’ performance at the 50th-anniversary celebration of the Grand Rapids Ballet,” Goldstein said. “I was so excited to be able to involve the students in the process and give everyone the chance to participate in a project with the only professional ballet company in Michigan.”

To create the backdrops, Goldstein and her class worked with dancer Emily Reed. Reed guided the class with keywords related to the project. It featured four dancers, two songs and was inspired by words from a recording of Alan Watts’ “A Conversation with Myself.” Goldstein said she enjoyed the creative process, noting how easy it was to work with Reed. 

“The process was very organic as we were working back and forth with Emily in order to see what elements worked best,” Goldstein said. “We would generate hand-drawn animated cycles and insert the animation into rough sequences to see how the animation worked with the dancers. The forest background was generated with 3D animation in the Unity game engine. The composite tests were done various times until we reached the final version.”

Daniel Overway was one of the animation students who worked on the project. Overway said he was excited to be working with the Grand Rapids Ballet. 

“My primary thoughts at the time were ‘what kind of animations does a Ballet need, and are we ready to work for a client?’” Overway said. “I was also a bit excited to see how the experience of animating for someone would feel and how the planning process would go.”

One background that Overway worked on was that of a bird, which he said was his favorite because of its many colorful elements. 

“My favorite piece of background I worked on was a bird animation since it came out smoothly and the coloring went decently,” Overway said. “As for my contributions, I made some expression lines, but my primary focus was on woodland elements, so some mushrooms, flowers, a butterfly, dragonfly and a bird.” 

The opportunity to work with a company like the Grand Rapids Ballet was an experience that Goldstein said her class was extremely proud of and grateful for, as they believe it gave them real-world experience that would benefit them after graduating from GVSU. 

“I am so proud of both the animation and new media students who were involved as they were able to work on the fly and be flexible with the process,” Goldstein said. “One essential takeaway is that when working with a client, there are many changes that need to be addressed before the final project comes to fruition. The real-world experience seemed to make an impression on many of them and now they will be able to add this unique opportunity to their resumes.”

This experience gave students the chance to have real world meetings while still in the classroom.

“The biggest thing I got from this experience was meeting the client’s expectations,” Overway said. “We had an overall color chart so we could try and match the dancers’ costumes and I got the opportunity to experiment with different art styles so the animations would match with the background more.”