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July 15, 2018

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Iconic Detroit statue comes to life thanks to two Notre Dame alums.

Bill Holland, from Notre Dame’s Class of 2000, worked with classmate Melissa (Gerst) Ford on a project to animate the Spirit of Detroit statue to help promote the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum.

When the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, which is located on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University just north of Saginaw, Mich., wanted to celebrate the 60th anniversary of arguably the City of Detroit’s most iconic landmark, museum archivist Melissa (Gerst) Ford had an idea. During a staff brainstorming session, this 2000 ND Prep grad thought that one of her fellow grads could help out with a rather unique way to highlight the "Spirit of Detroit" statue, a signature Fredericks' creation located in downtown Detroit. 

"As we prepared to celebrate this occasion, we began to think of ways in which we could engage the public and get them excited about this historic event," Ford said. "The museum kicked off our celebration with a gala event in downtown Detroit on May 12 at the One Woodward building overlooking The Spirit. As we were discussing other ideas to mark this occasion, one of my colleagues at the museum suggested we create a short animated film to better tie the sculpture to the museum that bears its creator’s name. I knew that Bill Holland from my class at NDP did animation work, and I immediately suggested his name as a potential animator for this project."

Ford is an archivist at the Fredericks museum, which is located on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University.

She said their concept was that the Spirit statue would come to life and then decide to visit the museum up at SVSU in honor of his birthday. 

"As the statue travels up Woodward Avenue and then I-75 to Saginaw, he visits several iconic landmarks, including Marshall Frederick’s gravesite in Birmingham. After an enjoyable visit to the museum, he then returns to his rightful home sitting in front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center."

With a general idea of the animation in hand, Ford then approached Holland, who now runs a video production and motion graphics company in Chicago, about the museum's idea. He was immediately hooked. 

In creating the nearly one and a half-minute animated video, Holland went for a representational interpretation of the sculpture and the various locations since his own work tends to be stylized. As part of his research for the film, Holland visited the Spirit in downtown Detroit, took photos from every possible angle, and recorded how the sun hit certain parts of the figure.

Holland runs his own studio in Chicago called Middlebranch Productions, Inc.

When he got back to his studio in Chicago, Middlebranch Productions, Inc., and began working on the project, Holland realized there were a few issues to overcome in creating the animation.
“When I measured the scale of the original sculpture, I realized the legs were far longer than the torso, so I had to create two master versions of the sculpture, one sitting and the other standing,” he said. It must have been the right move because the resulting 2-D cut-out-style animation brought the Spirit and the world he inhabits to life.
“This animation pushed my ability to translate reality into design," Holland said. “It had always been a dream of mine to be able to render some of the landscapes of my childhood as moving illustrations. I am grateful to the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum for giving me that opportunity.”

According to Ford, the museum is promoting the animation both online via social media and its website ( as well as sharing it with local media outlets and the City of Detroit. 

"Our hope is that the film will encourage people to visit the museum," she said. "Many people are unaware that there is a museum dedicated to Marshall Fredericks’s life and work on the campus of SVSU and we want to use this historic occasion to raise the visibility of the museum and encourage people to visit."


Ford added that she was excited to be a part of this project because it allowed her to branch out from her normal day-to-day activities as the archivist for the museum. 

"It was a great opportunity to enhance my skillset and learn about a medium that I did not have any prior experience working with," she said. "It was extremely interesting to see how an animated film comes together and all the different steps in the process."

When Ford suggested that the museum contact her former Notre Dame classmate about working on the project, she knew he would do a great job. She said she even remembered him working on film projects as a student at NDP.

"It was wonderful to reconnect with him and work together on this project," she said. "Sadly, due to the distance between SVSU and where Bill works in Chicago, all the work was done remotely via email and conference calls so we never actually got to meet up in person during the project." 

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at