Student Animators Bring Touching Story to Life

Caroline Shaw conducts the Reno Chamber Orchestra alongside the visual storytelling of "The Mountain That Loved a Bird" at Nightingale Concert Hall.
Jared Libby

In an exciting twist of fate, Fe Danger, Visual and Performing Arts Instructor, and their Introduction to Motion Graphics class have teamed up with the Reno Chamber Orchestra (RCO) to bring our community a heartwarming visual experience of the timeless children’s story The Mountain That Loved a Bird, by Alice McLerran. This celebrated lyrical tale tells of a small bird named Joy that changes the life of a cold and barren mountain, an inspirational message of friendship that transcends generations and one adults can resonate with. It’s a meaningful journey that reminds us to spread our wings and soar, never forgetting those along the way wishing to fly alongside us. Student creativity brought the narrative to life on screen alongside the brilliant musicianship of the RCO, and attendees experienced a gratifying and brilliantly colorful production, leaving them with an appreciation for family and the strong connections linking us, no matter the distance.

“The Stories We Tell” multifaceted program included Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw’s musical telling of the fantastical book, with previous showings on Nov. 18 and 19 at the Nightingale Concert Hall. The student entry fee was five dollars with ID.

A Heart Without Dreams Is Like a Bird Without Feathers

The performance tells of the relationship between Joy and the mountain, a love so sincere that the mountain begs her to stay. She instructs her offspring to visit during their migration, as she must be on her way. Her daughters frequent the lonely precipice, and no matter how many years pass, she says, "You will always have a friend to greet you and fly above you and sing to you."

After a century of these fleeting appearances, the woeful mountain can stand no more and begins to weep. Its tears of grief cascade into a brilliant stream, and the following year, Joy presents a seed to plant within the mountain's fissures. It grows into effervescent foliage and woods rooted deep, inviting wildlife from across the countryside to its environmental splendor. Eventually, the mountain and neighboring terrain become magnificent, thriving dwellings, and this time, Joy returns with a stick to build a permanent nest. The mountain is whole at last.

Beside every syllable, Joy tenderly sings to the mountain, vibrant colors and hues bursting from the pages. As the spark of imagination reverberated with the narrative beats, students swiftly became adept at illustrating a diverse portfolio of avians whose shades, shapes, and outlines were peer-reviewed and considered to discover the perfect embodiment of Joy.

Piper Luckey, student co-director, discussed the course’s underlying techniques, their passion for animating, and how The Mountain That Loved a Bird was the perfect choice for the dream of combining artwork and sound in crafting something visually striking and relevant.

“It’s a story where the words are very illustrative, and the music alone can paint a picture, but having imagery behind it made by artists adds to the story. It starts so gloomily. The mountain has no friends, it’s dead, there’s nothing there. Joy comes in and brings life to the mountain and makes it somewhere others, including herself, could live in the future. It becomes a beautiful and colorful place to be,” said Luckey.

Animation is an enchanting process of innovation, and those working this semester to elevate a thoughtfully crafted piece from hand-drawn sketches to a digital presence gained skills that will follow them throughout their careers. Constructive ideas were gushing out of the minds of classroom individuals, a safe space where the ability to translate their original images into reality was celebrated and uplifted. A passion for drawing already instilled in their fingertips, now they were designing pictures that could glide across an azure sky to a harmonious tune or express the murmurs of a stoic obsidian peak, a collaborative undertaking with the Reno Chamber Orchestra striking the exhilarating chords.

Fe Danger seized a chance for their students to work on a legitimate production with an established organization, giving them credits toward professional animation and a wellspring of engaging artistic styles to explore and adopt.

“A project like this gets them thinking about how we can use motion graphics to add to seemingly non-visual productions and enhance the experience. I heard it was well-received and am more than proud of the efforts of my lead animators and the entire group involved, completing this on time and to such a successful degree,” said Danger.

Amy Heald, Executive Director of the Reno Chamber Orchestra, discussed her excitement with this partnership and how essential visuals are when blending picturesque compositions and pleasing melodies.

“We are so excited about this partnership. Kelly Kuo, our music director, approaches programming with a focus on community and where there are potential partnerships. With The Mountain That Loved a Bird, we knew there was an opportunity to create visual pieces. What Fe Danger and their students have created has blown our expectations and will enhance the performance experience for our audience,” said Heald.

“There is a fine line when adding visuals to an orchestra piece where you don’t want to draw away from the music but have them amplify the story on stage. Seeing the animations take shape and come into their final iteration has been a joy,” continued Heald.

Audience members immersed themselves in a fictional world that celebrates change, reminding us how those who support us are a means to flourish and gain a sense of fulfillment. The Mountain That Loved a Bird has wholesome and reflective takeaways for all ages. Not to mention, its pure spirit exudes nostalgic and childlike bliss. When did we lose sight of enjoying gentle subject matter at its face value? The phenomenal hard work of the students in the motion graphics course displayed their natural gifts firsthand, with a prestigiously lead score to accompany its imagery. The outstanding instructors deserve recognition for their guidance, perspective, and encouragement. May we all bloom as spectacularly as the mountain that loved a bird.

For more information, please visit the Visual and Performing Arts and Reno Chamber Orchestra websites.