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‘The Great Rotumpkin’ reignites Halloween celebration on Grounds

After the cancelation of Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn, Jeff Dobrow’s latest projection show becomes a must-see for the Halloween weekend

<p>The translucent columns displayed an intriguing switch from the modern Rotunda to an abandoned prehistoric stone building covered in weeds with a pumpkin and purple witch cauldron rotating across the projection.</p>

The translucent columns displayed an intriguing switch from the modern Rotunda to an abandoned prehistoric stone building covered in weeds with a pumpkin and purple witch cauldron rotating across the projection.

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From Oct. 29 to Oct. 31, the “Brighter Together” series returned to Grounds to get the Charlottesville community in the Halloween spirit. 

The “Brighter Together” series first took place in March of this year with the initiative to congratulate the class of 2020 and 2021 and to safely reunite the community. The colorful augmented reality projections on various buildings on Grounds were made possible by technology-based visual artist Jeff Dobrow

The stunning projections by Dobrow were such a crowd-pleaser they were brought back to celebrate the upcoming holiday.

The projection mappings proved to be a smart and creative alternative in the wake of the University’s cancellation of the annual Trick-or-Treating on The Lawn — an event canceled the past two years due to COVID-19 guidelines.    

Families and students returned to the Lawn to see the University's most renowned building — the Rotunda — be lit up in the spooky Halloween aesthetic. 

“[I’m] absolutely thrilled because it’s another opportunity especially for children to see stuff like this and to be impacted and be wowed by it," Dobrow said, "And then hopefully, maybe be curious. Maybe somebody goes out and looks at it some more, puts two and two together and wants to learn how to do it." 

Dobrow’s extended experience in motion design and digital art is the driving force for the harmony of technology and immersive art in his work.

The tedious process begins by mapping out the building and creating a 3D model, which becomes the base of the animation. Various components — lighting, music and depth cameras — play a major role in the animation. Returning to the site, the technical infrastructure begins with placing 200-pound projectors and the special cabling in their location, creating an ideal canvas for animation to be projected onto the building. 

“When it's dark, the only thing you see is that and that brings everything to life, creating this magical illusion,” Dobrow said.    

The night began with tense and heavy based music while a variation of colors swayed their way up the Rotunda. A smooth transition saw the colors of purple, green, light blue and yellow transform the building into a mysterious mansion. The projection covered the entire north side of the Rotunda with waves of colors reaching the bottom of the steps. As the piano’s melodic minor continued, a white figure hovered at the top of the building before making its way down. The animated ghost moved smoothly, haunting the outside of the mansion before it faded away with only the lights inside the Rotunda remaining. 

Groups huddled together on their blankets in the cold fall night waiting for the next scene. It featured lighter music initiating with a whistling melody and then switching to an accordion and tambourine.

The translucent columns displayed an intriguing switch from the modern Rotunda to an abandoned prehistoric stone building covered in weeds with a pumpkin and purple witch’s cauldron rotating across the projection. A loud gasp and flashes from phone cameras rose across the audience as a huge orange jack-o'-lantern covered the entire Rotunda. The level of detail was amazing as the pumpkin shone in various angles.  

The third and final scene ended on a happy note with a calm tempo accompanied by the triangle, flute, violin and timpani. Children posed as their parents took photos of them in front of the projection. Trick-or-treaters in costumes took breaks in their hunt for candy to see the animated bats emerge from the sky to transition to an entertaining choreography performed by a trio of skeletons, leaving viewers astonished as sound equipment and only two large projectors were capable of displaying these interactive and descriptive scenes. 

“The Great Rotumpkin was a great display of what projection art has to offer," first-year College student Alejandro Erazo said. "The art designed by Jeff Dobrow blended very well with the structure of the Rotunda, and the displayed skeletons, pumpkins, ghosts and choice of music did a great job in encapsulating the spirit of Halloween as a whole.”

For Dobrow, having his art projected on the Rotunda is an “honor” and, likewise, the audience was honored to have Dobrow and the University host a family event for the community this Halloween weekend. 

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