Spirit of WCU captured in 2012 holiday card

The Western Carolina campus is seen through a snow globe in the 2012 WCU holiday video.

The Western Carolina campus is seen through a snow globe in the 2012 WCU holiday video.

The idea for Western Carolina University’s 2012 holiday video card that struck a chord with Chancellor David O. Belcher and his wife, Susan, was one that Joseph Hader, videographer in the WCU Office of Public Relations, developed while brainstorming with Jonathan Cobrda, a senior from Greensboro majoring in musical theatre.

Hader and Cobrda reflected on how the season can be a busy, stressful time but that when the holidays happen people get to press “pause” and connect with their inner child, said Hader. They talked about the magic of snow and came up with an idea of surprising people on campus with snow, “Candid Camera” style, to capture genuine smiles and warmth in the footage, said Hader, who served as the 2012 video’s producer, director, editor and cinematographer.

Cobrda said snow just tends to make people feel youthful and gleeful. “No matter how many exams you’ve taken,  no matter how bad the break-up, no matter what trials and tribulations you may be going through, snow can brush all of those away and make you forget for a little while why you were so unhappy,” said Cobrda. “When it snows, this whole campus is awoken, and it just shines and comes to life. It’s a whole other world.”

Cobrda said he was honored to be asked to take part in the project, especially after being so moved by the 2011 holiday video card, which recorded more than 7,000 views and became the most watched video on WCU’s YouTube channel.

The video, which was released Wednesday, Dec. 5, at http://www.wcu.edu/seasonsgreetings2012/finale.html, opens with a living room image of a crackling fireplace, holiday lights and a nostalgic-sounding tune being played on the piano. The voice of the narrator, Steve Carlisle, associate dean of the Honors College, is heard over the music as footage transitions to the scene of the bustling campus as seen through a snow globe. Carlisle talks about slowing down to enjoy the season on campus and how the “Whee” is forever home.

Hader said the video was designed to convey the essence of what makes WCU so special. “Time marches on and WCU is changing and growing, but our hearts and who we are remain true,” he said.

Belcher said the video captures the excitement of the past year, including the opening of the Biltmore Park instructional site, the advent of the new era in Catamount football and the excitement associated with the new Health and Human Sciences Building. “I am particularly pleased that students were so involved in the production of the eHoliday card,” said Belcher. “What a great way to introduce these newest members of the Catamount family to the many alumni and friends who have been stalwart members of the family for years. I love this new eHoliday card tradition and am delighted that it so effectively communicates the excellence and the pride for which Western Carolina stands.”


Hader said ideas for the video had been kicked around for the past year and that work began in earnest in September. “I tried even harder to make this year’s video a cinema experience,” he said.

Hader worked, as much as he could, to use quality effects, including creating a custom rig involving adhering a solid quartz crystal ball to a wooden base that ultimately was hung upside-down and mounted to the shoe of the camera.

“The end effect with this custom rig is you are viewing the world through a snow globe,” said Hader. “Using the quartz ball, you see those tiny slivers of really unique light around the very edge of the quartz ball. You don’t get that with fake stuff.”

Hader used the tilt-shift effect to make the campus look like a toy set. “I would find the highest point to look down to get this city-of-ants kind of effect,” he said.

In addition, he worked closely with WCU alumnus Preston Jacobsen, who operates Local Yokel Weather and a snow-making business called Whee Make Snow. Jacobsen offered expertise and connected WCU with a Canada-based vendor for realistic, cinematic snow that could be used even on warm days.


The team set up an extravagant snow scene in the atrium of the Health and Human Sciences Building that Hader related to a behavioral experiment. “You don’t really know how people are going to react,” he said. “You hope people are really happy to see snow.”

Some people stopped and took pictures. Some walked around the snow. Others walked through it. Another twirled Edward Scissorhands-style. “One person said, ‘This is the best day of my life,’” said Laura Huff, director of eMarketing and holiday video card project manager who coordinated the organizing and planning for each shoot and the project as a whole. “We didn’t know what kind of shots we were going to get, and we were excited to capture a sort of wonderment and amazement.”

Snow scenes also were set up at the arch on WCU’s Central Plaza and at WCU’s new instructional facility at Biltmore Park Town Square. Patsy Miller, director of WCU Programs at Biltmore Park, said faculty, staff and students had fun participating.

“What a surprise they had when we showered them with artificial snow blown through a fan perched on top of a stepladder,” said Miller.


The video shoot in the Health and Human Sciences Building, however, resulted in some unanticipated extra work for members of the housekeeping staff, said Studenc.

“Our folks thought they were doing a good job cleaning up fake snow in the main atrium area of the building, where the primary video shoot occurred, but we failed to take into consideration the fact that our actors would be tracking the fake snow throughout the building, and that the fake snow would be falling from their hair or clothing after they left the set,” said Studenc. “We do appreciate the efforts of the housekeeping staff in dealing with the aftermath of the snowstorm.”

At the consequent shoot at Biltmore Park, the fans were covered with plastic wrap and airflow on the floor turned off to prevent snow from entering the intake air ducts.

“We spent a little time brushing off the students before they went to class, and they were all good sports,” said Miller. “The snow went everywhere, but our graduate assistant diligently went to work with the vacuum cleaner. As it was happening, I thought that I had probably lost my mind to approve such an undertaking, since our facility is so new and beautiful. However, I had faith that the end result would be fun for all. After bringing in my home vacuum cleaner to clean up the snow caught in the crevices of the chairs, the place was back to normal by the next day.”

Then at the arch at the Central Plaza, the film crew used hoses and leaf blowers to clean the snow, which is biodegradable.


Holiday video card organizers also said that whenever they asked for help or participation, students, faculty and staff responded eagerly and enthusiastically at every turn. Nursing students developed and performed a choreographed routine as a nod to the Pink Glove Dance videos to raise awareness of breast cancer. Interior design students decorated the set. On a busy day at lunch, a student responded to Huff’s on-the-spot request for volunteers by gathering his fraternity brothers and friends to don caps and gowns for the video. Two of the video assistants, one who assisted Hader and the other who assisted with snowmaking, are incoming WCU students, said Huff.

Bruce Frazier, the Carol Grotnes Belk Endowed Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music, composed the music. Frazier said he met with Hader and Huff to discuss the concept, watched some of the video footage, heard the plans for the video and then the moods and emotions that would be conveyed in each section.

“There was a warm, fireplace mood, and then there was busy and hectic, and there was a special magical mood associated with snow and how it brings out the kid in us,” said Frazer. “I wrote little themes for each. In a place where the music needed to be magical, I pulled together some percussion instruments with some shimmer to them, bells and harp to give the feeling of the magic of the season.”

Students Hanna Austin, Christine Hughes and Eric Jackson joined him as musicians, and Rob Blair, Amy Brown and Kurt Conway served as the engineers for the recording. Frazier said composing and helping create the music for the video is the kind of project he always enjoys doing because it involves students and gives them an opportunity to produce music for something they will see be published on the Web and can include as part of their portfolio and in their ebriefcase.

“The project was a lot of fun,” said Frazier.

Meanwhile, Studenc and Jill Ingram, public communication specialist, patterned the script for the narrator somewhat after Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” with rhymes and cadences intended to bring to mind the holiday special.

A shake of the snow globe in the video results in a “shake” of the campus depicted within.

“Using Joseph’s concept of the holidays being a time to slow down, take a break from the grind and act like a kid again, we were trying to weave in a few elements about what made the past year memorable for WCU before several lines that are related to the theme of pausing to embrace your inner child during a magical time of the year,” said Studenc. “In our preliminary planning session, Susan Belcher suggested that we also include the sentiment of ‘there’s no place like home for the holidays,’ and that Western Carolina University is in many ways ‘home’ for those who view the video. Jill tackled that part of the script, and I think she nailed it.”


To give viewers a glimpse of what it took to put together, the crew filmed behind-the-scenes footage and shared a different video in the days preceding the holiday video card launch.

The footage was presented in “windows” that opened on the website in the days leading up to the video release similar to the style of an Advent calendar and shared via social media, said Huff. Zack Keys, a designer in Creative Services, developed the site and completed the technical implementation. Rubae Schoen, director of Creative Services, assisted.

“After seeing it all culminate in a coherent, wonderful, sentimental and nostalgic piece, I hope that viewers come away with a warm fuzzy, sentimental, nostalgic feeling toward Western Carolina University,” said Huff.

Susan Belcher said she too loves the video and thinks that it does indeed rise to the level of last year’s, which set the bar for WCU’s holiday video projects. “The magic, the music, the message, the joy – I love it all,” said Belcher. “It captures WCU and the true wonder that is this place. Thank you to all who created this holiday greeting and who helped make it happen. It took a ‘Whee village.”