Student’s animated film takes lighthearted look at Christmas tree tradition

UW-Stout graduating senior Katelin Plekkenpol crated an animation short film based on aliens trying to recreate a Christmas tree.
Pam Powers | December 14, 2018

A University of Wisconsin-Stout senior who graduated Dec. 15 has taken a twist on a classic Christmas song with her animated short film, “Oh! Christmas Tree.”

In her two-minute 3D animated film, Katelin Plekkenpol, an entertainment design major with a concentration in animation, takes a lighthearted look at two alien researchers sent to Earth by their home planet to help the alien culture better understand human traditions. As they reconstruct a Christmas tree, the aliens’ version of a Christmas tree turns out a bit different than the traditional one.

“There is not really a moral to the story,” Plekkenpol said. “They are trying their hardest. As long as you put your heart and soul into it, it doesn’t matter what other people think.”

Plekkenpol, from Belle Plaine, Minn., started working on the idea for her short film last winter and thought a Christmas theme might fit nicely with the time she was graduating.

While attending South Central Technical College in Mankato, Minn., for graphic design, Plekkenpol took one class in animation. “I fell in love,” she said. “It was so fun to do. It was so rewarding. UW-Stout had a good animation program that was close to home.”

Now that she has graduated, Plekkenpol plans to move to California and look for work in animation. Eventually her goal is to work with Disney Pixar in animation because those are films she grew up with. He absolute favorite animated movie is “Tangled,” the 2010 3D animated musical adventure film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, which is loosely based on the German fairy tale “Rapunzel.”

The film tells the story of a lost, young princess with magical, long blonde hair, who yearns to leave her secluded tower.

Plekkenpol works on her film “Oh! Christmas Tree.”

Making animated films attracted Plekkenpol because she loves to tell a story. “If I can tell a story and make someone feel something, that is super rewarding,” she said, noting she created “Oh! Christmas Tree” in the program Maya, a 3D computer graphics application.

Working on the film for two semesters has been difficult, but she has had to create every movement of the film herself, Plekkenpol said. “I think that is what people don’t appreciate — the time that goes into two seconds of a scene. It takes hours and hours to create and render. It takes lots of time.

“It’s worth it when you get to see other people’s reactions,” Plekkenpol added. “If  I can make other people laugh, I’m golden.”

Plekkenpol plans to use “Oh! Christmas Tree” as part of her portfolio and expects to enter it in a couple of film festivals including the first Red Cedar Film Festival to be held in Menomonie Wednesday, July 24, to Sunday, July 28, 2019. UW-Stout and the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts are co-sponsoring the event. Venues will be the Mabel Tainter and UW-Stout’s Harvey Hall Theatre.

Jesse Woodward, a UW-Stout lecturer of animation, was Plekkenpol's mentor for her senior capstone animation project. "Through her dedication, passion and numerous critiques Katelin has made creative choices and improvements to develop a rewarding animated short film," Woodward said.

Animation Career Review, a leading source of information for “aspiring animation, design and gaming professionals,” according to its website, earlier this year included UW-Stout’s program in three lists:

UW-Stout has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in game design and development and a Bachelor of Science in computer science-game design.

UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.



Plekkenpol works on her film “Oh! Christmas Tree.”