UI sends a statuesque holiday greeting
URBANA — The people in this holiday card look a little peaked. Gray, even.
Of course they're supposed to be sculptures, so the pallor is somewhat natural.
Alma Mater and her friends, Learning and Labor, come to life in this year's holiday video greeting card from University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise.
Filmed at the UI President's House, the video opens with a shot of the fireplace in the library. The camera pans back to show Learning and Labor playing a game of chess on the floor. Watching from her "throne" is Alma herself, sipping a cup of tea.
After a voice-over greeting by the chancellor, we see her in the foreground saying, "From our family to yours, Happy Holidays." The video then fades out to a shot of the real Alma Mater sculpture in the snow.
Bonus feature: As the credits roll, viewers can click on pieces of memorabilia around the room to watch imbedded videos about the historic Morrow Plots, Ebertfest and other campus highlights.
Hover on the portrait of Professor Tony Leggett, and you'll learn about the UI's 22 Nobel Laureates and other faculty honorees.
The circa 1920s Red Grange doll (which, it must be said, bears a resemblance to the murderous "Chucky") lists athletic achievements through the years.
The doll, ordinarily housed in Sports Information Director Kent Brown's office, was a gift from a donor for a future Red Grange display. Some of his co-workers aren't too fond of Chucky — er, Red — whose eyes "seem like they're always looking at you," Brown said. "I had to move it to a spot where you couldn't see it from the doorway."
Grange, whose career expanded into movies and other business ventures, endorsed a range of products from candy bars to socks to, apparently, scary dolls.
"It's certainly a conversation piece," Brown said.
Here's a link to the video.
Props for the shoot were gathered from across campus, including Paralympian Jean Driscoll's medals and Roger Ebert's "Golden Thumb" award, said Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs, whose office produced the video.
Theater students Katarina Spungen (Alma), Martasia Jones (Learning) and Kevin Silverstein (Labor) brought the Alma Mater figures to life. They look uncannily real — and a bit like Dickens' Ghosts of Christmas Past.
The students went through two hours of make-up and costuming for the video shoot last month, said Lisa Lillig, assistant director for client relations at Krannert Center.
Lillig used layers of water-based paints called "Snazaroo" to get just the right shade for Alma and friends. Make-up artists painted the actors white, then stippled on royal blue, green and more white. Blue and darker green highlighted the actors' eyes and other features. Finally, they were dusted with bronzing powder for just the right patina, Lillig said.
Lillig had never transformed an actor into a statue before, but "I think they look fantastic," she said.
She matched the make-up to the costumes, which were created at Krannert over the summer to be used as stand-ins after the iconic campus sculpture was shipped to Chicago for restoration.
Anne De Velder, Krannert's costume shop manager, studied the sculpture itself and historical photos to get all the layers correct. Alma actually has a dress and a separate cloak, and special dyes were created to "match the statue dead-on," Lillig said. Learning has some quilting on the front of her clothes, and Labor's apron is hand-painted leather.
Adriane Donley, Krannert's prop director, re-created the throne, which is actually a frame surrounded by sturdy pink foam and then painted similar colors.
"Poor Alma got a little uncomfortable sitting in it all day," Lillig said.
The students also posed for a portrait on the vacant Alma Mater pedestal, drawing gawkers and photographers.
"It was so much fun to see," Lillig said. "Here she is, in life form."