Apr. 4, 2012
Colorful, custom-made puppets, captivating scenarios and a year of teamwork by Buena Vista University students culminated in the creation of "Pop Chef: Mix in Imagination with the POPits," a special webisode which will make its premiere on April 27.
"I have always wanted to do something with puppets – I like the on- and off-screen elements and how they work together," says Jerry Johnson, assistant professor of digital media. "I was talking to David Walker (assistant professor of theatre) about 'The Muppets' one day and naturally began talking about puppets. He said his Specialty Design class could make puppets for us. That's when the project started becoming a reality."
In the spring of 2011, students in Johnson's Electronic Media Production class began discussing how they could incorporate puppets into the existing "PopChef" show. They developed characters, gave them names and wrote stories for them to act out. Meanwhile, Walker's Specialty Design class started constructing the puppets. Dr. Bethany Larson, associate professor of theatre, and her Advanced Directing class got involved as well, working with the voice actors and puppeteers on various aspects of performance.
"It was a learning process for all of the students," Johnson says. "My class learned that producing video really is a team sport. We had real deadlines and everyone had a role to fill. We also had to work with different timelines and schedules, and we had to make sure the scenes and scenarios would work on video. The design class had to consult with us a number of times to get the colors, shape and mobility of the puppets to work for our set. All of the elements came together and were integrated into one show."
David Ekstrom, a junior digital media major from Odebolt, worked on the project as part of his video and advanced video classes. He provided the voice for Tom Broccoli, one of the POPits, and quickly learned about the intricacy of puppet performance.
"When controlling puppets, you have to do everything over the top because it is hard for the camera to pick up subtle movements of the puppet," David says. "It was a great experience, and I'm glad I was a part of this fun project."
The webisode, which is 12 minutes long, spotlights popcorn as America's favorite snack. The POPits - Tom Broccoli, Dinner Bell, Suzie Bake and Iron Chef – introduce popcorn in a fun and creative way by taking viewers on a tour of Farmers Best Popcorn in Rockwell City. Pop Chefs Dave and Tim Debris then put the favorite ingredient into a new recipe snack, Family Fun Corn.
"It might be a little silly since it was produced for children, but we tried to execute it in a way that would be entertaining to older audiences as well," Johnson says.
The webisode also contains an original song produced and written by Mark Haugen, a senior
media studies major from Waverly.
The collaboration was a success, but a time-consuming and arduous one. Johnson is proud of the final product, and he is quick to acknowledge the credit due to everyone involved.
"It took a lot of time and work from various people to get this done," Johnson says. "All three classes started last spring, we did some work for it over the summer and the advanced video class took over in the fall. It was experimental, and a little different, but it taught filmmaking techniques the students need to know in production and media. We used a lot of on-campus talent to make it work."
The short will premiere at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 27 on UCN Channel 3 on Mediacom and Knology in Storm Lake. The webisode will be available on the UCNTV channel on YouTube on Sunday, April 22.