Cooler weather brings many fun fall activities to Grounds, especially during Halloween. While Trick or Treat on the Lawn stands as the University’s most famous October tradition, in which the Charlottesville community is invited to dress up and visit student clubs to receive sweet treats, a newer Halloween tradition has also emerged — turning the famed Rotunda into a giant jack-o-lantern.
As a way to bring exciting Halloween festivities to Grounds, Jody Kielbasa, vice provost for the arts, proposed a spooky light show projection-mapped onto the Rotunda. Entitled “The Great Rotumpkin” — a clever pun on the Peanuts classic Great Pumpkin — the light show is making its reappearance for the third year in a row. The show is sponsored jointly by U.Va. Arts, the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts and the University Programs Council.
Kielbasa said that the idea for incorporating projection mapping for students originated during the University’s pandemic days, as he and his team searched for a way to supplement the missing typical University events.
“I was asked, ‘Can I throw a little joy around the Grounds of the University?’” Kielbasa said. “How can we do something that was kind of fun and a distraction outdoors where people could congregate safely? And so we launched a series of projection mapping events that happened on various parts of the Grounds.”
The series of projections around Grounds featured work from local artist Jeff Dobrow in partnering with The AV Company, a local audio-visual equipment service. These projects were not originally intended for Halloween but more so to provide a bit of artistic pandemic fun in place of canceled student activities.
Eventually, the Halloween season rolled around, and Kielbasa looked for another way to use Dobrow’s projection art to create a fun experience for students. Thus, the Great Rotumpkin was born. The event runs for a few days, from Oct. 27 to Oct. 31, and is free to anyone who passes by.
The light show — which repeats on a loop from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. — features a cast of spooky characters, from dancing vampires and skeletons to spooky ghosts on horseback, and is accompanied by a festive Halloween soundtrack. The short vignettes stop many passersby on the way back home from class or on the way to the Corner as they pause to take a closer look at the bright spectacle.
“To see the entire show it only takes 10 minutes,” Kielbasa said. “I know so many students will be out Tuesday for Trick-or-Treat On the Lawn and then going to parties later, so you know, my advice is [if] you're out walking around Grounds, drop on by for five or ten minutes.”
The light show is also accompanied by various mini events by the University Programs Council, including fun arts and crafts, warm treats and even a photobooth.
Though works like The Great Rotumpkin may seem effortless, the art of projection mapping is actually quite meticulous.
“What they do is they essentially 3D map every inch of the Rotunda,” Kielbasa said. “Then you can project 3D images that change the look of what's going on before you.”
Some of the projections appear to change the shape of the Rotunda, making it look like some of the columns and windows are warped or dancing. This is one of the charms of projection mapping that adds the perfect haunting layer to the fun light show.
This technology is not a new innovation for U.Va. It was used on Grounds during the University’s Bicentennial celebration in 2017, with large scale performances depicting the University’s past, present and future. This involved one projection that appeared to burn down and rebuild the Rotunda.
Though the University is well past its pandemic days, the tradition of the Great Rotumpkin seems to be going strong, and Kielbasa as well as U.Va. Arts is optimistic about its continuation.
“This is this third straight year of making an appearance for several days around Halloween, and we hope to continue it,” Kielbasa said.
The Great Rotumpkin is a look into the exciting possibilities of projection mapping while also providing a festive entrance into the holiday season, with exciting events like Lighting of the Lawn — another light show at the Rotunda — to come. In the meantime, students can enjoy the wonderful works of Jeff Dobrow and the AV Company’s dancing Halloween fun.