Christopher Rohrbeck ’19 Uses Science to Inform His Films
Christopher Rohrbeck ’19 grew up surrounded by both sciences and the arts. While his family has always been creative and has had a passion for the arts, Rohrbeck made it a goal to build a career in the arts.
Rohrbeck first learned that he wanted to go into film when he took art classes at Gallery 37 during high school. Gallery 37, which houses Chicago Public Schools’ Advanced Art Education Program, is located at Randolph and Wabash, so Rohrbeck would frequently see Columbia students while in the area. He chose to attend Columbia College Chicago to learn Cinema & Television Arts as it felt like a natural transition and to learn the skills he needed to be successful in the business.
Once Rohrbeck started at Columbia, he learned about the minors available in the Science & Math Department and thought a Biology minor would be a good addition to his degree. Ultimately, Rohrbeck decided to declare a Biology minor for three reasons. First, it could open doors in the future in case he wanted to pursue a career in the sciences. Second, Rohrbeck could work within the sciences alongside his film work. And lastly, Rohrbeck felt that he could use a background in Biology as an educational tool. “I love nature documentaries and things like that. It was always a dream I'd have, is making a documentary or a docu-series,” Rohrbeck said.
Rohrbeck was able to tie his Biology minor to his Cinema and Television Arts major while at Columbia. He decided on the topic for his Directing 3 project while in Arizona for a Paleontology field course. Rohrbeck decided, on that trip, to create a Sci-Fi film about the moon being made of cheese. Rohrbeck then researched fungi and molds that can live on cheese and created an alien species for the film. In his practicum project, Rohrbeck was able to bring a set to life by researching and understanding the plants, life and environments of tropical regions.
While at Columbia, Rohrbeck also participated in an independent project at the Field Museum, where he had an internship. The experience proved fruitful: a scientist at the Field Museum reached out to Rohrbeck to ask him to document what she does in her sciences to help her explain her work to family, friends and colleagues. Rohrbeck created a video to break down the science of geometric morphometrics or using science to measure minute differences in shape and form. In the video, Rohrbeck used a metaphor for turtle shells, as scientists can deduce what environment turtles live in from the minute changes in their shell shape. Rohrbeck was able to explain in the video the technology, science and math that scientists use to determine exactly what the animal’s function and purpose was. With the making of this video, Rohrbeck was able to make the complicated math easily consumed and easily understood.
Rohrbeck notes that, when it comes to succeeding in college, students get back what you put in. “I came to Columbia and even though I felt I might go into the sciences one day. I was very hyper-focused on what I wanted to do, filmmaking.” Rohrbeck took many of the filmmaking classes right away which allowed him the freedom to devote time and energy to other passions.
“You can carve out different niches and specialized niches at Columbia. If you know what your core major is going to be, and you have decided on that path, you actually have a lot of available free time even outside the Gen Eds to really explore your passions and get those minors.”
Rohrbeck is currently working as a COVID-19 Testing Coordinator for a FX show. He noted that he was able to play into his Biology minor to help him land the role as he knows the basics of virology. Rohrbeck has also worked to stay creative while in quarantine over the past year. Pre-pandemic, a 2020 goal was to write, direct and edit short films in each month of 2020, and even though the pandemic hit, Rohrbeck was able to achieve this goal. Rohrbeck's videos can be found on Project 321's Vimeo page. He recommends that other aspiring filmmakers “challenge [themselves] and set goals, because I wouldn't have thought we could have done all those films last year, especially with the pandemic, but just making the promise that we would and we would try every time, definitely had some great results.”