Drawing Jennie: The Student Led Animated Short

Last fall, several Regent students set out to do the impossible. Like an audacious group of mountaineers embarking on a journey to surmount Everest, Jaron Weatherly, John Klaves, Courtland Hodges and their production team began working on what would be Regent’s first-ever entirely student-made animated short film dubbed Jennie. Students from all degrees, including film, graphic design, communication and animation majors, united behind this common goal. The result was the creation of a remarkable film and forging of unbreakable bonds, which will undoubtedly be carried into the workplace. Ultimately, Jennie is a testament to a group of talented students who painstakingly went above the standard quota to create a spectacular work of art. 

When Jennie was first pitched in December of 2021, most said it would be inconceivable to bring a film of this magnitude to fruition. Despite this, Jaron Weatherly held on to his vision and began bringing people together, sensing the Lord was moving him in this direction. Initially, many students were interested in the project, but increasing workloads soon revealed those who were perseverant, trustworthy, hardworking and reliable, creating a potent network of talented students analogous to the bonds between soldiers during wartime. Weatherly holds, “These are connections you want to keep for the rest of your life.”

The production of Jennie was exceedingly multifaceted and laborious. The animators worked relentlessly over twelve months to produce the finest work possible, consisting of weekly team meetings, even throughout the summer. Since the film is a 2D instead of 3D animation, every frame needed to be hand drawn (12 frames are in one second). Moreover, as Jennie underwent growth in the story, so did the dexterity of the animators. Bethany Thompson, an animator, noted, “While it took much hard work, it was worth working through the animation pipeline with such talented people from Regent. This film pushed me to work more efficiently and create quality content.”

The short film also features an original score, crafted by student composer Paul Zhao. This soundtrack has vocal enhancements by The Consolation, an indie-rock band from Lynchburg, Virginia. The band has also written a new song for the credits. “I could not be more excited to partner with such musically creative forces!” says Weatherly. “The gifts of the band and Paul will provide the auditory atmosphere of Italy and the emotion of our story.”

While many will see Jennie as a sweet tale illustrated by scintillating drawings and elegant music, this film is far closer to the heart for the writer, Jaron Weatherly. The story is based on his Italian great grandmother, Jennie Ardine, who moved from Sicily, Italy, in 1923. In the film, Jennie prepares to leave her home and board a passenger ship to New York City as she spends her last night in Italy surrounded by food and family. Weatherly remarked, “I’m just in awe; there is a deeper emotional resonance that these people have taken a year of their lives to bring a story of my family to life.” 

This film is especially home-hitting for those in a transition season. It relates to the deep nostalgic emotions embodied by those leaving their old homes behind and reminds us of the importance of embracing
new experiences. 

“If you will do what others won’t, you can have what others don’t.” This timeless quote by American author Chuck Holton embodies a quintessential truth behind the production of Jennie: Regent students can accomplish seemingly unattainable aspirations outside of the classroom when they commit themselves and work together. As iron sharpens iron, people are more adept in unity. Knowing this, Weatherly set out to bridge the previously unconnected gap between animation and film students. Courtland Hodges, co-director of Jennie, said, “The thing I loved about this project is the connection that’s been made between two groups that were previously disconnected completely.” Ultimately, the inspirational legacy of animation excellence and the indispensable relationships cultivated through Jennie is a tremendous accomplishment for the school and a galvanizing reminder for students to never stop creating. The film is set to be released on January 27, 2023—check out the trailer here!