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UNC and N.C. State students collaborate to create animated shorts with original scores

Alex McKeveny, music major, plays the piano in the Kenan Music Building Rehearsal Room on March 21, 2021. The UNC Advanced Composition class (MUSC 266) collaborated with an animation class at NC State to produce animated videos of original music pieces students wrote.

UNC junior Jason Reiser wants to be a film composer, so when he got the opportunity to score animated short films in Music 266: Advanced Composition, it felt like the perfect project for him.

During the fall 2020 semester, UNC students in an advanced music composition class collaborated with N.C. State University students in an animation studio to apply what they learned to create and score animated short films.

Students in UNC music professor Allen Anderson’s Advanced Composition class took the prompt "Dreaming Through Walls" and composed short pieces of music. At the same time, students in N.C. State associate professor Marc Russo’s animation studio began to create storylines for their animated shorts.

“We had this title ‘Dreaming Through Walls,’ which Professor Russo and I both described to our students as fanciful commentary on the condition we found ourselves in of having to relate to people at a distance, or that due to COVID we were separated from one another,” Anderson said.

While films are usually scored after they are completed, these students worked on the animations and music simultaneously.

The animators listened to the compositions and selected pieces to accompany their films. Once students were paired up, they communicated back and forth, taking inspiration from each other's work and tweaking things to arrive at their final product.

“They really had this artistic collaboration once they came together, once the composers got to see the story, once the animators got to hear the composition, to sort of craft the two things together to create the final animations,” Russo said. 

Because there were more animators than composers, some music was used for multiple films and some composers created more than one piece of music. 

Reiser, who is majoring in music at UNC, ended up scoring many of the animations.

“I was psyched because so many of the N.C. State animators wanted the piece that I wrote, so I ended up scoring like 10 of these animations instead of one,” he said. “I took on way more work than I needed to because it was a lot of fun and it was really cool stuff that I could add to my portfolio.”

Reiser edited his first piece to fit with multiple different animations and composed new pieces as well. 

He composed a new piece to accompany N.C. State senior Heike Schneider’s animation, titled "To Dream Alone," which he said was particularly inspiring.

“With Heike’s, it was like, I was done in an hour and it was one of those ones where everything just fell into place,” Reiser said.

Schneider said she felt lucky to work with Reiser.

“He’s a very talented composer and he worked with a lot of us and composed a unique score for us, whereas the assignment was only for the composers to make one piece and edit it to the needs of the animator,” she said. “That was really amazing to have some quality music written for a project that I’ve done, because that’s never happened before.”

Alex Mckeveny, a UNC senior majoring in music and business and another student in Anderson's class, said collaborating on the project over Zoom could be challenging.

“It was unique, I think not only because it was the first time I had written music for an animation, but also because it was during the pandemic, so we had to collaborate over Zoom, which was difficult when you’re trying to do music and video together, because you have to synch it up and you have to really be detailed about it,” he said.

Anderson said an advantage of communicating over Zoom was that the students could collaborate from a comfortable workspace instead of in the classroom. 

Anderson and Russo both said they felt the project was a success, and they hope to do something similar with future classes.

“In the end, I think they learned not only how to create the animations, they learned how to work with another artist that they didn’t know and they were turning some trust over to and how best to communicate in an effective way to keep the project moving,” Russo said.


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