Sunday, May 10, 2009

Claymation! Day One and prep for Day Two

I conducted my first class of "Thinking Outside the Box" last Thursday. I presented three cultural legends that revolved around magic boxes and showed an inspiration claymation animation ad (Sony Bravia Bunnies as well as "the make of" movie for that ad). I also showed a simple box to butterfly claymation animation. This was a demo for the specific project they would be creating. Below is a recap of what they learned and what I learned.

Above: two of the books I read to the class. The other legend, Pandora's box I summarized from a Greek mythology book I brought in.

Their first activity was to brainstorm ideas for their box transformations. I provided each child a sheet of paper with four squares. They were instructed to draw an image in each square that represented a different transformation concept. I explained what brainstorming was. I walked around and we shared some ideas. I pulled some ideas from what the children were drawing so that their classmates would get a feel for the variety of ideas they could throw out. I explained there was no such thing as a bad idea to share. Often we have to get the not so useful ideas out first to uncover to the ideas that are truly creative and outside the box.

Above: Brainstorming handout

What I should have done here was draw four boxes up on the board and then called up four different students to draw a different idea in each box. This would have reinforced the idea that each child needed four different concepts on the brainstorm paper. As it was, even though I went from table to table and explained this again and again, it was still confusing to some of the students. Some treated the four squares as storyboard squares to show the progression of one idea.

I will review and reinforce this brainstorm idea tomorrow when I go in for the
second class. This brainstorming concept is a tough concept even for adults. I have instructed a Visual Thinking class in the Engineering Department of Stanford University and found that it is very difficult for many to throw out ideas and brainstorm. The reason being no one wants to give a dumb or "wrong" idea. Many of us are taught not to share ideas unless they are fully formed and "correct". But often it is these very off beat or "wrong" ideas that trigger a better idea.

What each child came up with for their box transformation animation sequence is listed below. They each decide to create two transformations. We'll see how that works with our 15 frames. Ms. Illa took the time to review after my workshop on Thursday. She sent me this list of the kids' ideas.

Butterfly to puddle
snail to star
flower to umbrella
egg to eagle
tadpole to frog
fish to turtle
bee to butterfly
puddle to ice cream
shark to whale
fish to mermaid
guitar to bat (I can't wait to see this one...could have cool audio)
fish to elephant
colors to paint
seed to flower
boat to banana
turtle to basketball
egg to robot
book to TV
flying fish to bird
hammerhead shark to hammer
puppy to person
shark to hockey stick
whale to person

The students second activity was to draw in the key frames of their animation story. They needed to choose one idea from the brainstorm sheet and work out the animation sequence they would create with their cubes of clay.

Above: Storyboard handout.

The essential idea here was to begin with the key frames.
Step 1: They were instructed to take their chosen concept image from the brainstorm sheet and draw it into key frame 8 (the middle dark outlined box)
Step 2: The next frame they were to fill in was the key frame 5 (dark outlined box on top row). This image should be a shape that took the cube half way to being the final object.

I explained that drawing key frames was simply like creating a visual version of a written outline. In a written outline for a story or book report we start with the key points and place them under the headings "I., II, III, etc." These are the main ideas or points. In a written outline we then add in the supporting information indented under "A, B, C, etc." These are the tween frames in animation.

A visual key frame is that same as these initial first points written down for an outline. It is a visual representation of what happens in the briefest words. For example. The box turns into a butterfly is the main idea for my demo animation. Key frame 8 is a drawing of a butterfly.

What I should have done here was draw these 15 boxes up on the board and walk them through the process on the board. Mrs. Illa educated me on a technique called "Shout Out" where you bring up one student from the class to stand near you at the board. I ask a question. That student then picks the other students to answer my question and then that same student standing with me repeats and relays that information from the class to me. Somehow this telling another student your answer, rather than the instructor, helps focus the students and makes the activity more engaging. I will try this out tomorrow with my summary recap of our first lesson.

I also need to review that each frame, each box on the storyboard page, represents a click of the camera. A frame is one of the 15 still images they will be taking for their animation. Another student (in the roll of director) will need to be able to take this storyboard sheet and instruct you on how to move your clay parts for each frame.

In the second class we will be starting to create the clay parts for the animation. I have been struggling with how to store all these small parts for each child. On Friday I woke up thinking "Egg cartons!" Yep, that was my waking thought...take that as pathetic or inspired. It can be either. Anyway, after getting my children to school I googled local egg distributers and knew I had to reach out to an egg distributer in the area of Alum Rock. I learned this when I solicited boxes initially from Whole Foods in Cupertino and was informed by the manager that they donated only locally. At any rate, I was fortunate to find Olivera Egg Ranch on Sierra Road not far from Horace Cureton Elementary School. They generously offered me 30 cartons. My problem solved. I will pick these up before class tomorrow.

One of the nice things about teaching this class is that I can communicate with images and thoughts on my blog as well. The class has access to the internet and I will be inserting info for them into these postings.

Tomorrow each child will first be given an egg carton.
  1. They will write their name on top of it.
  2. They will write their name on the side.
  3. Each child will be given two different colors of clay.
  4. These two cubes are not mushed or changed. One is placed into the first egg carton scoop cavity and the second goes into the last scoop cavity. The first cube is frame one, the starting cube for the child's animation. The second cube placed at the end of the tray is the ending cube of the different color.
  5. Each child is then given two more cubes of the first color to create the key frame objects from their storyboards (images in key frame 5 and 8).
  6. Each child is given a second cube the color of the ending cube. This color is to be used as accent parts for the transformed object. i.e. the spots on the butterfly.
More clay will be handed out as needed.
I will have a pasta maker machine to help flatten the clay as well as a clay extruder tool. I hope that each child will complete their key frames. It would be great if some tables actually completed all their tween frames as well, but we'll see. If they do complete them we can start filming the following day while the other groups complete their clay parts.

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