Making Animated Films in the classroom
Just as creating your own text is an important part of becoming literate, making your own moving image work is an intrinsic part of developing media literacy. Making animation is a good route into this as children will be using tools they are familiar with, (pens and paper) and the technology is fairly simple, giving immediate feedback.
The young animators can also edit and refine their ideas as they go along without the pressures of actors and crew. More importantly, they will not be constrained by practical considerations such as needing helicopter shots or car chase stunt drivers. In addition, little editing is needed because most of the composition and structure is decided at storyboard stage and the ‘acting’ is done in the process of animating.
Before you try this in the classroom it’s essential that you make an animation yourself using one of the three techniques described below, right from the initial idea through to showing it to someone else. Only through making one yourself will you get a clear picture of the process and feel confident about tackling it with children in the classroom.
Perhaps the most important principle in creative work with film is that children should have more than one opportunity to do it. Their first film will be the one where they get used to the technology and make their mistakes. Their second and third films will be where they start to explore the imaginative possibilities of the medium and to focus on creating meaning. If you can’t commit to supporting this process of learning progression it will be better not to do any creative work at all.
Not confident with IT?
The biggest barrier for you (less so for the children!) is likely to be anxiety about the technology. But there is an increasing amount of simple but good software available as free downloads from the Internet. For currently recommended and tested routes and the most recent information, click here.
At school, you will probably need to obtain administrator access to install any program onto your computer. The key issue that may come up is saving the work successfully. If work is saved in the wrong place, or worse still, not saved at all, it won’t be possible to retrieve it and a lot of effort will be wasted.
What technique should I use?
The basic process involves loading a series of still photos into a computer, where a simple software program can play these images back at a chosen speed. So the process doesn’t necessarily require a camera or any other special equipment. If you have access to more than one computer, you can plan for children working in pairs (three or more is too many!) at computers so that your class can be making several films at the same time, or different scenes of one film for joining together later. Children can work on their film or scene, then save it and come back to it later. Alternatively, you can project the work on to your IWB so that the whole group can share in creative decisions. Being able to work informally in a relaxed way, rather than as part of a time- limited, high-stakes ‘project’, will support more successful learning.
Three easy options for doing ‘entry level’ animation in the classroom
1) Still camera and slide show – Playing a series of photos on screen with a soundtrack can be thought of as slow animation. You can use PowerPoint or PhotoStory. You simply take or download a series of photos, upload them into the computer and ask the children to choose some (perhaps just three or four to start with) and decide what order they are to be shown. They can make choices about the length of time each image is seen, and about the transitions from image to image. In PhotoStory and similar programs they can also select parts of the image and can move the ‘camera’ across the image. Sound (voice-over and/or music) can normally be added. The photos don’t have to tell a story: they could express a mood or reveal a location.
2) Pivot – This program can be downloaded free from the Internet. It should run on any PC and you don’t need a camera. The children can create their characters and backgrounds and then animate them. This is very easy and the children either already know it or quickly start using it at home. Go to http://pbone.it-mate.co.uk/pivot.htm to download it. The Mac version is called Stykz and can be found at http://www.stykz.net/. Sound can be added via the computer as a piece of music or voice over. 11 Explaining the basic principle of animation It’s important for children to understand the concept of ‘persistence of vision’ before they start doing any animation, and this is more easily done through practical demonstration than by explaining it. The children can all easily make paper rolls or spinners (see www.filmworkshop.com). If you can get flick books from a toy or novelty shop and pass them around, you can ask the children to look at the difference between one page and another, so as to get a sense of the changes that need to be made from one image to another in order to achieve a sense of movement, and how the changes can be bigger or smaller depending on the speed of movement to be shown.
3) Webcam and animation program – This is the simplest way of doing real animation in the classroom. The latest advice on suitable cheap webcams and free animation programs can be found at www.filmworkshop.com. The webcam enables the animation program to ‘grab’ a picture each time you click the mouse. The software can then play your animation back, showing 10 pictures per second, which will create the illusion of movement. Most programs have a section for recording sound so when you have finished you can add a sound track. Getting more than one webcam, if you have access to more than one computer, is good if you can afford it.
Explaining the basic principle of animation
It’s important for children to understand the concept of ‘persistence of vision’ before they start doing any animation, and this is more easily done through practical demonstration than by explaining it. The children can all easily make paper rolls or spinners (see www.filmworkshop.com). If you can get flick books from a toy or novelty shop and pass them around, you can ask the children to look at the difference between one page and another, so as to get a sense of the changes that need to be made from one image to another in order to achieve a sense of movement, and how the changes can be bigger or smaller depending on the speed of movement to be shown.
Allow some time for all the children to have a go at learning whatever animation software you are using and try out some simple movements. To start them off on using the webcam and animation program, they can animate and record a simple process such as moving a pen across the screen or a pair of scissors chasing off a pencil. The webcam should be positioned over the artwork and taped so it can’t move. The artwork must also be taped down. On the computer they will be able to see the webcam’s view of the artwork. Then they can move an object into shot and take a photo, then move it a bit more and take another, repeat this, and then play it back to see the pen move on its own.
This is a very important stage where the children can plan and edit their work. They need to be confident about turning a simple story into a series of four to eight key moments. You could simply ask them each to fold a sheet of A4 into 4. In each section they should then sketch out a key moment of a very simple and well-known story or process. It will be more fun if they each choose their own, but you can suggest examples such as a fairy story or a process like getting up in the morning. Emphasise that the artistic quality doesn’t matter: they can use stick figures and simple sketches, and some text under the pictures to help with the meaning.
The aim of this stage is simply to establish key turning points, cause and effect, or motivation. So when the finished sheets are shared, children can be asked questions that require them to develop their story and give it more depth such as “Why was he robbing the bank?”. To provide answers, the paper can be cut up and more squares can be added in order to cover all the important points of the story. Finally, you can use voting to choose the best six storyboards. The children can then work in groups to produce the art work and create the film.
The easiest animation by far is 2D cut out where the artwork lies flat on the table and the camera is suspended above it. Instead of paper characters you could use flat pieces of Plasticine or add other textures such as cloth. A little more ambitious approach is to create animation by painting onto Perspex, or by using watercolours onto absorbent paper. Another idea is to light a Perspex sheet from below (ie using a light box) and use sand or tea leaves to create images. Once you start to watch other animators’ work you will see wonderful examples of all these techniques. It is good to explore the world of drawn animation. The key factor here is that each drawing is traced from the previous one so that you build up a stack of images. The papers remain in the same position (using a hole punch, stapling the pad together or the more expensive peg bar and animation paper). Start with creating a loop (playing the sequence over and over again) of a bird flying.