Mad River Rising
Like any creative work, it started with an idea. Or in the case of the animated film “Mad River Rising,” it started with an idea, a meeting, and a sketch on a scrap of paper.
Filmmaker Daniel Houghton ’04, a visiting lecturer in film and media studies, had the idea for a Winter Term class, and when he met with playwright Dana Yeaton ’79 of the theatre department faculty to discuss it, they agreed to adapt a full-length play by Yeaton into an animated short film.
The duo emerged from that meeting with a rough sketch illustrating what would become the narrative arc of the story, a story about a Vermont farmer’s recollections of the flood of 1927. Meanwhile a third alumnus, Anais Mitchell ’04, agreed (along with her collaborator Michael Chorney), to compose, perform, and record original music for the project. Thus was born the animated version of “Mad River Rising.”
The missing element was the animation itself—the hundreds and hundreds of hand-illustrated images that would make up the film. Nine Middlebury students labored for four weeks, from January 9 through February 3, creating every scene in the film, often re-drawing portions of the same scene over and over (with only the slightest variation) to convey motion in the film.
“Mad River Rising” premiered to a packed house of students and faculty in Dana Auditorium on March 1. The director, Houghton, introduced the film and explained how the project came together. He showed the rough sketch from the first meeting, introduced the student-animators in the audience, and revealed that he taught them just two basic facts about animation. “The rest was just a swamp of personal discovery for them,” he said, as the lights dimmed and film came up on the big screen.
The production schedule for a 13-minute animated film was ambitious; some might have even called it grueling. But there is no denying the emotional appeal of the finished product.