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Classical 101

Collaboration joins animation and early music

 Animator and CCAD adjunct animation instructor Tyler Newby stands at a computer console in front of the opening animation for Speculara projected on a large screen.
Jennifer Hambrick
Animator and CCAD adjunct animation instructor Tyler Newby runs a draft of the opening animation for 'Speculara,' an animation and early music collaboration with The Early Interval.

Digital animation and music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance may seem an unlikely pairing. But later this month, a cutting-edge collaboration between the Columbus College of Art and Design and Columbus’ resident early music ensemble, The Early Interval, will bring the two art forms together in live performance.

The Early Interval and faculty and student interns from the Animation Department of Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD), will present Speculara, a concert of live early music and animations, Sunday, May 7 at 7 p.m. in Capital University’s Huntington Recital Hall.

Jim Bates, creative director of The Early Interval, says the idea to join two artforms from vastly different times and places was inspired by a single basic objective.

“The actual goal was to get early music in front of people that haven’t heard it,” Bates said.

He approached Charlotte Belland, chair and professor of animation at CCAD, with the idea for a collaboration between The Early Interval and CCAD animation students.

“The connection between these two very different art forms is actually their similarities,” Belland said. “We consider animation visual music because it follows tempos, it follows rhythms, just like a piece of music there’s a beginning, middle and end. It expresses emotion. It’s set to time. And obviously music is visual math, and animation is math, and that overlap of being able to find that connective element is really important.”

Belland asked animator and CCAD adjunct faculty member Tyler Newby to lead the college’s Animation Lab Team during Fall Semester 2022, with the specific objective of exploring a collaboration with The Early Interval. In one of the team’s class sessions, Bates and The Early Interval performed medieval, Renaissance and early baroque musical works. Bates also gave a presentation about and the specialized musical instruments on which The Early Interval performs.

The students on the team made sketches inspired by the music. Over the course of the semester, some of those sketches – and many new drawings – were developed into animations to some of The Early Interval’s recordings and screened at CCAD in December.

The success of that exploration led Newby to select three students from his class to continue working with The Early Interval on the project this spring as paid interns on the Animation Lab Team. Speculara, a full-length live concert of early music and animations, is the result of their collaboration.

The concert’s title and opening animation, featuring a pair of glasses with snapshots from some of the concert’s other animations in its lenses, summarize the team’s creative process.

“The glasses are filtering the music and turning it into these visuals,” Newby said. “We’re taking this music from a different time and different age and we’re filtering it into (our animations).”

The musical works on Speculara span the Middle Ages through the 17th century and come from Italy, France, England and Peru. Their subjects range from medieval and Renaissance dances to more fanciful tales of werewolves and musical representations of animals and insects.

But instead of creating animations that illustrate each musical work’s theme, Newby and his team based their animations on intuitive responses to the music itself.

We created looping animations that kind of captured the feeling of what it’s like listening to (the music),” Newby said. “We did not know a lot of the history of some of the pieces. But being outsiders led to some of our imagery taking on unusual form.”

Joining the animations with the musicians’ live performances proved challenging. Live musical performances are full of subtle fluctuations in tempo, and software doesn’t allow for the creation of animations that can match the nuanced flexibility of live musical performance in real time.

“It took a second of just watching (the musicians). I had to watch them first. I had to see how they do things first to decide for this project that one of us had to be performing up on stage with them as well as controlling the animation,” Newby said.

The team also had to take a deep dive into researching the vastly different eras and cultures from which the musical works emerged. Camilla Boston, a senior animation major at CCAD, was serious about creating authentic-looking visuals for her animation for the Peruvian folk music work Navidad.

“For me it was really important that it not look like a medieval European set. This is distinct, and we want it to be accurate and respectful,” Boston said. “It’s been a lot of fun being able to research these things together, just being able to find accuracy and find the line between accuracy and interpretation.”

Camilla Boston's black-and-white sketches of traditional Peruvian celebratory costumes for her animation for 'Navidad'
Camilla Boston
Camilla Boston
CCAD animation major Camilla Boston's sketches of traditional Peruvian celebratory costumes for her animation for 'Navidad'

After graduation, Boston aims to work as a professional animator in character design and visual development, and working on Speculara gave her experience that will come in handy in that type of career. The project – linking live animation with musical performances – has also opened students’ eyes to career paths in animation they might not have considered before.

Support animation for live performances can be an actual career,” Belland said. “That could be an amazing, fulfilling career that might not have been what students expected when they showed up as freshman animation majors.”

The Early Interval and the Columbus College of Art and Design’s Animation Lab Team present Speculara Sunday, May 7 at 7 p.m. in Capital University’s Huntington Recital Hall. Tickets and information are available here.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.